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  #1  
Old 05-27-2005, 02:16 PM
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Newbie reloading question re .44-40


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Hi all,

Well, I finally got tired of the cost of .44-40 ammo ($17 and up for a box of 50, no thanks) and a friend has offered to get me started by tutoring me on his RCBS single-stage press. I've got a Lee 3-die set on order and large rifle primers, which is what Richard Lee's reloading manual specifies.

Now, I have two .44-40 firearms: an Uberti 1873 rifle with a 24" barrel and an American Western Arms Longhorn revolver (Colt SAA clone).

Questions:

1) Any suggestions as to what brand and weight of bullets to get? The factory ammo appears to all be 200 grain RNFP, but I wonder if different weights would be optimal for each gun.

2) Suggestions for powder? The manual lists Win. 231 and Hodgson Universal Clays for 200-grain lead bullets, and Unique for 200-grain jacketed. I presume a slower-burning powder would be better for use in the Uberti.

Looking forward reading about others' experiences.

Regards,
-The Duck
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  #2  
Old 05-27-2005, 02:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by duckofdeath
Hi all,

2) Suggestions for powder? The manual lists Win. 231 and Hodgson Universal Clays
Oops. Should be "Hodgdon".

-D
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  #3  
Old 05-27-2005, 05:06 PM
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.44-40 tips

This is one cartridge that I have spent some time on getting things right.

The cases tend to be very thin (like all WCF numbers) so you have to be careful with them. You can't slam these in and out of the shellholder, catching the mouth on the edge of the die. They won't survive. Work a little more carefully and slowly with this one.

Bullet pull in the case neck has been a problem for me; bullet not tight in the case after seating. Probably due also to thinness of material. Even if sized right, thin brass won't hold as much tension as thick. I got RCBS to make me an expander plug measuring .425 and that took care of most of that trouble. A more positive approach is to use a Lee "Factory Crimp Die" to crush the case mouth into the side of the bullet, but this shortens case life. Using a regular steel Lee die set, they use a different process to flare the case mouth that doesn't use an expander plug, so this is good as long as they get the sizing die right (mine still sizes a little loose to my tastes). Yes, I have both Lee and RCBS die sets for this caliber. If I were made of money, I would try a couple of other brands just to see how they work also. Such is not the case. I am not poor, nor am I rich; I am right in the middle and ****ed glad to be there.

You can get lead bullets in the 200 to 205 grain range, which is a standard weight that measures .427. Lead bullets in 225 grain weights are also available. Jacketed bullets of 200 grains are available from Winchester and Remington and are supposed to be sized .426 and .427 respectively. With that .426, you can see bullet pull problems creeping in again. I think Winchester goes for the smaller size for reasons of potential liability, since this cartridge has been around so long and bore sizes vary some.

Reloading data for this number is not much trouble anymore, now that Cowboy Action Shooting has revived it somewhat. Check on the internet and you can find all kinds of data for it. I stick mostly to tried-and-true Unique loads of 8.0 grains with lead bullets as mentioned above in my Smith & Wesson Model 544. Sometimes I back down to 7.5 grains. I load jacketed once in a while using the same data.

Be sure to slug the barrel of any .44-40 that you are going to load for. Some manufacturers just bore them .429 or .430 and "call it good." A true .44-40 should have a bore diameter around .426-.428. You can see how using a smaller bullet in a larger bore could introduce problems with accuracy. With revolvers, it is always wise to check the bore size of the cylinder and make sure that the cylinder throats are not smaller than the barrel bore; another problem for accuracy.

Of course, the usual caveats apply; be sure your gun is safe to shoot, have a gunsmith inspect it, your gun is different from my gun, blah blah blah.
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  #4  
Old 05-28-2005, 05:50 AM
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DoD -

We took data for the 44-40 last summer. Started off taking the data out of completeness, ie, we had data for most of the other lever gun cartridges on our website, but didn't have data for the 44-40. We started off taking data for the very standard 200gr rnfpl... and almost cut the data taking short. It's not that it shot *that* badly, just 4" groups aren't very rewarding (and when the afternoon temps run over 110degF and it's 88 miles round trip to the range, etc). Then we tried an experiment... we had used the same Marlin 1894S for all the 44 cal (.429) data taking (44mag, 44spcl and 44 russian), and after such there was one thing one could say about bullet weights and accuracy: if you wanted frying pan size groups, shoot the short bearing surface light ones, the 200, 215gr'ers (if you wanted "groups", go heavier). The experiment we tried was: to shoot .429" sized (same diam as the 200gr official 44-40 bullets), 44 mag 240gr'ers... and came away thinking the 44-40 was Marlin's best/most accurate 44 cal lead shooter. [may be worth noting: we had spun the 44mag barrel off a 1894S to allow us to mount the 44-40 barrel, with the intent of taking the data, and as soon as that was done, replacing the mag barrel... a year later: the 44 mag barrel is still on the shelf, and the 44-40 has become a ground squirrel popper.]

The 44 mag bullets we tried (remember: we're talking lead only, NOT jacketed) were the 240gr Keith swcl, and then the 240 rnfpl. From the first box of swcls it was obvious that the extra bearing surface was necessary in yet another cartridge. When we moved to the rnfp, that's when the love afair began: 110deg, 88miles, and were looking forward to each range session [I know - too much recoil over these decades had taken its toll]. The resulting data is on our website (url below, look under levergun data/studies). If you have a chance to find/cast some 240 rnfp's - shoot them, and I strongly suspect you'll never look at the 200's again. Of note: for the CAS types, because the 200 and 240's share the sames noses, visually, the a 240 loaded cartridge doesn't look out of place where 200's are expected [the 240 swcl, does look wrong at a CAS event] - but'll shoot a whole lot better. The dies we used were rcbs's standard cowboy's - don't know the diam of the expander, but whatever it is it work ok. Of the 200 pieces of brass we used to take all the 44-40 data on our website (think: 10 shots per data point) - we only lost 1 piece (split). So, yes the cases are thin, but if you don't overload them, a dozen plus reloads should be easy.

do shoot straight,
greg
www.gmdr.com

nb. we also tried .430 and .431" bullets, hoping to avoid the special order nature of .429 44 cal bullets, but neither worked well: the 430's were hard to chamber, the 431s had problems with the bullet seater die, and even worse chambering problems.
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  #5  
Old 05-28-2005, 09:31 AM
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.44-40 tips

I forgot, you asked about separate loads for revolver and pistol. For LEAD BULLET LOADS I don't know if this is worth monkeying around with. For the trouble of making and stocking two different loads to be fired in two different weapons, the value received in performance might not be worth the effort. After all, the .44-40 is more pistol-like than rifle-like. Sure, we have seen Jimmy Stewart firing Mod 73 Winchesters in .44-40 across mountain ranges, but that's Hollywood. This is only my opinion. Since I shoot for recreation, I don't always try to squeeze out that last drop of performance.

Since you have a modern rifle, you could get respectible improvements in performance with jacketed bullets and higher powder charges. I have not done reloading work with rifles in this caliber.

Before .44-40 got revived with CA shooting and data was scarce, I used to look at .45 Colt data as a model for .44-40 comparison. Their characteristics are similar. When you look at lead bullet data (standard loads) for .45 Colt pistol versus .45 Colt data for rifle, there is very little difference (if any) in powders and charge weights.

If it turns out that one of your weapons is bored .429-.430 rather than the true .44-40 size, just use .429-.430 LEAD bullets with the .44-40 dies and you shouldn't have any problems.

One more thing. I find that I have to keep a close eye on case trim length in this caliber. Thin, bottle-neck case (even if slight) equals brass flow.

Last edited by gschwertley; 05-28-2005 at 09:55 AM.
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  #6  
Old 05-28-2005, 09:53 AM
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When seating bullets in a .44 WCF, be as certain as possible that the bullet is ABSOLUTELY straight before GENTLY raising the ram. Any cant in the bullet will result in a bulge in the case neck that will interfere with chambering. Unlike straight walled cases, the .44 WCF case neck is so thin that it will not help guide the bullet in place. Raising the ram too quickly or forcibly can accordian the casemouth if the bullet gets hung up in the case neck. Reloading this cartridge is truely a labor of love.
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  #7  
Old 05-28-2005, 09:59 AM
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Have to agree with gschwertley.

If your 44-40 is a very recent, then there is a good chance that the bore is .429" (a la 44 RemMag) - and if that's the case, then you can use any of the 44 mag/spcl/russian lead bullets. [our best groups have been with .431"s]. On the otherhand, if the bore is a more traditional .427" (as ours), then you should probably go with .429"s [we shot .427, .428, 429, 430 and .431"s - .429's were *our* ticket, YMMV].

W/re using 45 LC data - there's plenty of it, just remember that the Colt is a 5% larger cartridge and as such Colt loads will run a little hotter in the 44-40. The other approach is to use 44 rem mag loads (a 4% smaller case, and then always assume the loads will shoot a couple fps slower). Either way works. When we shot our 44-40 data, since we haven't been to the 45 LC yet, it was based on our 44 mag data, scaled up slightly, and then chrono'd.

do shoot straight,
greg
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  #8  
Old 05-28-2005, 10:08 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by duckofdeath
I've got a Lee 3-die set on order and large rifle primers, which is what Richard Lee's reloading manual specifies.
Although the .44 WCF is classified as a rifle cartridge, it's primer pocket is cut for large pistol primers. The proper primer for this cartridge is the large pistol primer according to Lyman, Winchester, RCBS, Alliant etc.
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  #9  
Old 05-28-2005, 12:17 PM
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DoD -

Per MK's comments: just a heads up - our 44-40 data uses WLR primers [(mistakenly?) following RCBS and Vectan's lead - their data quote C200 and WLR, repectively (Accurate, Hodgdon, Hornady, Lyman and Speer quote their data with LP primers).] We shot both, found the 1894S liked the WLRs better, so we dropped the WLP data - the difference in velocity btwn the two was less than the error bars (though the SD/ES values favored the LR [kind of strange in that the supposed difference btwn the WLP and WLR is the thickness of the cup and not the amount of priming glop... maybe the thicker shell transmits a crisper image of the firingpin impact, leading to more regular primer ignition???]).

greg
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  #10  
Old 05-28-2005, 01:05 PM
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.44-40 tips

Gmushial:

I visited your site; very impressive and obviously the result of a tremendous amount of work. Lots of good data there; I like the variety of powders listed. I have some Vectan powders and some Scot Solo 1250 that can be tough to find data for in some calibers. The Vectan book is good and has lots of good stuff in it, but like anything, it can't have it all.

I am going back and look at some more of your data for other calibers, like .32-20. I am going to learn more myself as a result of answering DoD's initial query.

Also, I will try the .429 bullets in .44-40 myself in the future. Previously, I was "just going with the flow" and using the "recommended" size.

I like this internet exchange of ideas concept; we didn't have it when I first started reloading well over 20 years ago. You can now learn more in a week than you might be able to in a year the "old way."

DoD:

I was at a gun show not long ago and saw Winchester factory loads of .44-40 for sale at two different vendors. They were priced over $30 per fifty, so your $17 ain't bad.
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  #11  
Old 05-30-2005, 05:43 PM
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Re: Newbie reloading question re .44-40

Hello,

Just want to give a big "Thank You!" to everyone who responded. This is a wealth of information, and I am very grateful for the answers.

Gmushial: I second the compliments regarding your website. I think it's great that folks like you go to the trouble of gathering this data and sharing it with fellow shooters.

I've bookmarked gmdr.com and this forum, and will be using both as references when I start reloading. Thanks again.

-The Duck
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  #12  
Old 06-05-2005, 01:04 AM
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A mate of mine just sold me his 44-40 he barely used it in the 5 years he had it and its in great shape being fairly adventurous (read curious and inquisitve) we had a look through his reloading manual and the only loads we found were at blackpowder pressure of 14000 psi where the same 'mild' load in .44mag is up to 28000 psi. Now in our way of thinking if you can but the exact same gun (Rossi 92) in 44-40 and .44mag then you should be able to increase loads for the 44-40 up to a mid level 44mag load. I know the brass is thinner but if loads remain reasonably mild then all should be well and good, am I right? I'm not trying to make a 44mag of a 44-40 just get better performance and better hitting power.
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  #13  
Old 06-05-2005, 06:32 AM
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I am thinking that your theory is possible with the drawback of shortened case life due to increased pressure. The casemouth of a .44 WCF is extremely thin leading to early failures at this point.
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  #14  
Old 06-05-2005, 03:38 PM
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I can live with shorter case life if my shots kill more effectively wounded game is far worse than a dead case
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  #15  
Old 06-05-2005, 08:50 PM
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This has been done in the past, but you'll hardly find published data anymore, for high-pressure .44-40 loads, due to liability reasons.

Unfortunately.... unless you can find some published data, you're pretty much on your own. See if anyone you know has any older Lyman manuals.
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