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Old March 30, 2012, 11:16 PM   #1
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Testing .44 Mag loads

OK guys, here is the situation. I made up my first "solo" (unsupervised) handloads last week, .44 mag 240 grain lead SWC with 6.3 and 6.7 grains of Trail Boss. Here is the post about that:

Since the 6.7 grain load seemed to shoot better I made up a new batch of loads to do more testing. All components are the same except charge weights. I made 12 rounds (two cylinders worth) of each load from 6.5 to 7.0 grains in 0.1 grain increments. I used the Perfect Powder Mesure and hand weighed each charge on a RCBS 505 scale to achieve the best charge weight consistency I could get.

I made up some sand bags to use as a shooting rest. I have plenty of the old charts and standard targets to use for accuracy testing.

I also have use of a Chrony Beta Master unit so I can now get velocity data for my handloads. It can handle six strings of ten shots before you loose data from previous shots. If I want to keep all the data I will have to write things down on paper or get a laptop (and required accessories) and hook it up to the Chrony. For now I will keep a paper record but I plan on getting things onto a spreadsheet shortly.

Given what I have to work with I would like your input on how to go about testing these loads, or any other new loads I develop in the future. Here are some of the things I'm thinking about...

Range: Is there a standard distance for testing? Would testing at greater distances, let's say 50 yards, be more indicative of accuracy or would there be an unacceptable risk of other factors causing induced errors?

Combined data collection: I can't see any reason not to chronograph at the same time I shoot for accuracy, as long as I don't forget about and inadvertantly shoot the Chrony.

Load rotation: Should I shoot one round of each loading in order, cycling through all six charge weights before I shoot the second round of the first load? This would eliminate accumulated fouling from skewing the data. Would it be better to shoot a cylinder full of each load, rotating through all six loadings in order twice, so that I'm sure that I get two shots of each charge weight from each chamber? This would keep chamber-to-chamber variations from skewing the data.

I know that the idea is to eliminate as many variables as possible in order to isolate the effect of just (in this case) charge weight. Am I being too anal about it or am I on track with my approach?

As always, any input is truly appreciated.
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Old March 31, 2012, 08:37 AM   #2
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I have never used Trail Boss and don't know anything about it.
One load I did use, for what I called 'powder puff' target shooting was 5.5 gr. of powder. I used it considerably and learned a couple things in the process. This is a very tiny amount of powder, relatively speaking, in the large .44 mag. case. How you hold the revolver before shooting makes a huge difference in performance. e.g. 'primer up' and 'primer down'. Knowing this and being on the range, I was able be consistent on how I handled the gun to get consistent results. Another shooter might not know this. Also, with small charges it is possible to accidentially get too small a charge. This results in vastly, and scarily, increased pressures. I do mean "vastly". It will brown yer pants, for sure.
My procedure was to test for excess pressure before going for accuracy. I would load two rounds with each increased increment of powder. Shoot. Examine. Then load two more up to where exessive pressure was starting to be indicated. Then back down a bit and load up a batch and go have fun.
For accuracy testing, I say, 25 yards is just fine.
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Old March 31, 2012, 10:07 AM   #3
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240 grain lead SWC
If you cast your own like me, the first thing is to weigh each bullet before lubing. After i find the perfect load, i do not check the weight. The base of the bullet is most important. Then test at 50 yards. Mount a scope if possible. The lube will condition the bore, so cleaning is not needed if using the same lube/powder. The .1 gr variation is to small. Go at least .3 gr. I use Unique & W296. Shooting 5 each at a time.
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Old March 31, 2012, 10:50 AM   #4
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Get a cheap scientific calculator so that you can do average and standard deviation, etc. That's what I did before I bought an Alpha Master that did it for me.

A lot of folks like 25yds for accuracy. Your load of trail boss sounds like it isn't going to do more than 700fps, but I could be very wrong. I've got an unopened can of TB sitting here that I just never got around to playing with.
Kel Tec PF-9 Review
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Old March 31, 2012, 11:49 AM   #5
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I do a lot of loads for 44 mag and special. First off I would do them in .2 gr increments and I load a minimum of 3 maximum of 5 each. The advantage of your 2 cylinders each is MORE SHOOTING which is always better. Also I never go above the 80% of max load on the first try. I’m lazy and don’t like pulling bullets.
Would testing at greater distances, let's say 50 yards, be more indicative of accuracy
Not for me, my eye sight is not what it used to be for longer ranges and hand guns. But if you can pull groups less than 3 inches at that range then go for it. For me all Handgun testing is done at 15 or 25 yards depending on barrel length and my ability to see. Rifle 44 mag 50 yards and across sand bags.
You need to take as many variables out of testing as you can and the shooter will be the #1.
The big thing is take everyone’s suggestions and try them all and find out what works for you.
I think you might want to try some other powders. I have used Trail boss for light 44 specials in short barrel guns because it’s a VERY fast powder. It meters well and does a great job of filling cases but I got erratic velocities in 44 mag with longer barrels.
I would try longer burning powders like Herco or even a magnum powder like 4227 or H110 in the lighter loads. Since your shooting it out of a long barreled Ruger I think a slower powder will work better for you.
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Old April 1, 2012, 04:58 AM   #6
Mike / Tx
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Since your looking at the lead bullets and shooting for accuracy you might also want to look into picking up some Unique, possibly some AA-5, and some 2400. Usually I would not throw the AA-5 in there, but two weeks ago I was shooting with a friend who was loading it under cast for his 44, and the accuracy was awesome and the velocities were right in the 1150 - 1250fps range, and VERY consistent. It was enough to make me reconsider some I have sitting on my shelf.

That said, and I know this has been cussed and discussed, I always start out with new cases trimmed to length. I have found that is does make a difference in my loads. Once I decide on the intended purpose I work from there. I hunt with my revolvers and shots might be ranges from feet to out around 100yds, so I want everything as tight as possible. I usually test at 25 until I am cutting 1" and them move out to 50.

I throw all my powder from a RCBS Uniflow so I usually stick with well metering powders. Once I have decided, like mentioned above, what I am looking for in velocity and or bullet weight, that will also dictate which powders I choose from. Overall I use Unique, 2400 and 296 for 95% of my revolver loads. This will take me from mild to wild with out having several different powders dedicated to one particular load. When I set up I use the small drum in the Uniflow, and I use 1/8 turn increments depending on the powder being use. This usually works out around .2 - .5 of a grain. I will load and shoot 6 rounds for group through my chrono as you mentioned. It doesn't hurt anything to do both as long as your rested so you don't shoot the chrony.

Once I hit the velocity range I am looking for with a particular bullet, or a great group, I will then load up a dozen or so and shoot a group with each chamber of the cyliner to make sure one isn't causing a flyer. I have had this happen with several loads through the year with no explanation as to why. Once I am confident everything is good I move on out to 50yds. If the load is still good there and everything is stable bullet wise, I might move out to 100 depending on where I am, or what I am shooting. For the most part, my 41, 44, and 454 all are shot for group at 100yds from a good rest. If the groups is 6" or less I am happy, and most times they are less. The 45 Colt I resolve to 50yds but have shot it out to 100 and while it takes a while to get there it does an great job of holding them together if I do my part.

Primers will also play a big role in your loads accuracy, especially with lead bullets. They are a bit easier to move out of the case so you might want to play with several to see if they help or kill your groups. I usually don't go top end, and once you have a known load it's easy to drop a grain or two and swap out the primer and work right back up. My personal fav's in order are Winchester, CCI, and Wolf. I find the latter has produced some groups which exceeded anything I got with the others by a fair margin with certain bullets, especially cast, in the 44 and 454. Not sure why just happens and I am not knocking it.

One last thing, and as above with the trimming it draw fire from some folks, is the crimp. While there is no substitute for good case tension, a crimp can be overdone, and when it happens accuracy suffers. Like I mentioned I shoot out past 25yds on a regular basis and do so both from a rest and offhand. I usually try and only use enough of a crimp to actually hold the bullet in place and nothing more. This can quickly be found once you hit the velocity level your looking for, and with cast that might be at the point you see groups spread or leading starts. Once there you can load up a dozen or so rounds and check real quick to see if you have enough. I load 6 rounds, then fire two, and measure the others for creep. If I see nothing I fire the next two and recheck, of none fire the next round. Usually if there is going to be any it will show in the last round, as it has been through the other five firings. If there is movement I set a bit more crimp and repeat. Once there is no movement I recheck my groups across my chrono, and usually things are as good or better than with the tighter crimp. This is where the trimmed cases REALLY shine, as everything is more consistent.

Might be a lot of steps, but when I am done, I know that my ammo is the best I can make for that particular revolver, and if the groups aren't there it isn't he gun, or ammo, that needs work.
Mike / TX
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Old April 1, 2012, 07:58 AM   #7
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Thanks for all the input, I do appreciate the more experienced hand loaders who take the time to share their experiences and results.

Rifleman 1776, Trail Boss looks like a bunch of tiny "donuts" and seems to take up a lot of space for the weight. Fluffy is the adjective that comes to mind. Probably not much chance of a short charge with this powder as it would be readily seen in the case. It definitely does the job filling the case right up. Almost to the point where the 7 grain loads look like they may be slightly compressed, but if you shake it down there is enough room to seat the bullet without compression of the powder. It's made for lead bullets and seems to be geared for lighter loads used in Cowboy Action shooting. I am looking to develop light recoiling target loads in the hopes that I can get my daughter interested in shooting the .44 mag. She likes .38 Special just fine, not so much .357 or .44 mag loads. We'll see how these work out. I also have some 200 grain cast bullets to work up a load for so those will be next.

243winxb, I don't cast my own and hope I never do as I would never stop kicking myself for scrapping 700# of lead last year...

totaldla, Hodgdon load data lists 828 fps for 6.0 grains of TB and 917 fps for the 7.0 grain load with 240 grain lead SWC. I am not certain what they used as a test platform. I will be shooting in either the Ruger SRH (9 1/2") or S&W 629-1 (5 7/8"). It may be that I end up with different loads for each revolver, but isn't that part of the challenge of hand loading?

Ozzieman, I think I'll start with targets at 25 yards and see how it goes. I can always load up some more to check how they do at longer ranges. Larger sample groups alwyas yield better data and yes that means more shooting. I guess I'll just have to force myself to have more play time.... uh, dedicate more time to research.

Mike/Tx, I do have some Unique and 2400 on the shelf to try out, along with CCI, Winchester, and Wolf primers. There were only two sleeves of the Federal primers so I just wanted to use them up first. I can always go back and make the same loads with the other brands of primers to see what differences there are. Since these were development loads I did hand weigh every charge for uniformity. I used new Remington brass and did not even think to trim it first, thanks for that tip. I know that consistant length is necessary for uniform crimps from one round to the next. Your tips on the crimp and checking for movement are excellent. I have never brought my digital calipers with me to the range but I will do so in the future. Thank you very much for giving me another tool in my reloading arsenal.

Once again, thanks to all of you for your input.
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Old April 22, 2012, 06:45 AM   #8
Mike / Tx
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Well I got a few loads worked through pretty quickly this past week using 2400. I started off with my go to primer the WIN WLP and after several laods found nothing whcih groups within my satisfaction. I started off at 17.5grs and worked up through 20, with 18grs being the best range. I strongly feel tht if I had more time I would have tweaked it in a bit better by swapping primers, but time was short so I did what I could.

I used the MP mold listed on the following sheet as,

Available MP molds via Feb

The HG-503 HP 432" mold is awesome. This comes with three sets of HP pins and you can either check with Mihec to see if he still has some of the FP pins or reverse the HP's for solid pours. Trust me when I say, this will be one f the best molds you will have on hand for pouring up great boolits. It is based upon the original Keith design and has equal driving bands and scuare lube grooves. They need to be run at about 730 degrees however, but once there they simply drop loads of bullets in a really quick manner.

Don't be afraid to contact him via email to check what he has in stock. It usually takes him about 2-3 days on average to get back with you and the prices listed on the sheet are the price you pay. If you order more you get a bit if a discount, which might not be much but it helps. So far in the last three months I have purchased 6 of them between my friend and I . Since we both hunt together and shoot the same calibers we simply split up what we each wanted and will swap back and fourth when needed.

Well got to run, hope this helps.
Mike / TX
Mike / TX
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Old April 22, 2012, 07:23 AM   #9
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This is from the Hodgdon reloading site.

240 GR. LSWC CAST IMR Trail Boss .430" 1.620" 6.0 828 19,100 PSI 7.3 917 21,600 PSI

6 grns minimum of Trail Boss is 828 FPS, 7.3 grns maximum is 917 FPS.
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Old April 22, 2012, 07:41 AM   #10
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I have been using this same load (6.5 gr. Trail Boss & 240 gr. lead SWC) for some time now as a practice load. Real nice to shoot and at 50 yards has about the same point of impact as my regular jacketed loads in my Blackhawk.
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Old April 22, 2012, 10:04 AM   #11
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Here is a link to my tests with .44Mag and Trail Boss. I settled on 8.0g for my load with this powder under 240g SWC.

Trail Boss .44Mag Tests
A clinger. When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. Single Action .45 Colt (Sometimes improperly referred to by its alias as the .45 'Long' Colt or .45LC). Don't leave home without it. Ok.... the .44Spec is growing on me ... but the .45 Colt is still king.
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