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Because the first .38 cartridges were used in converted "Navy" cap and ball revolvers whose barrels which were not replaced were .36 caliber.
 

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Also likely because ".36 Long Colt" sounds stupid.

IIRC, my old cap & ball .36's used .375 balls; which makes a ".36" bigger than a ".38" is. Go figure.
 

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Well,if a .36 colt used a .375 bullet & a .38 Special uses a .357 diameter bullet then logically there's a missing link somewheres that used a heel(.22lr)type bullet to shoot a .375 dia bullet out of a .357 case.Unfortunately my brain is stopped at ye olde .38/200 rounde.I canna' remember any more.

Edit.I'm a dunce..38LC is the heel based round

nevermind

ramble ramble ramble :headbang:
 

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The 41 Colt (LC) is a heel based round also. BTW, the barrel/bullet is interchangable with the 38-40rd. I use a 38-40 cylinder in my 41LC Colt SAA and it shoots very accurately.

RIKA
 

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revolver bullets used to be outside lubed, like a .22 is. They had a reduced diameter "heel" on the bullet, like a .22 does. When they got enough comlaints about debris sticking in the lube, preventing chambering, they went with the bullet down inside of the case. that meant either smaller bores, or larger OD barrels, cylinders and frames. It was MUCH cheaper to just use smaller OD bullets.
 
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