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Old August 9, 2021, 07:08 PM   #1
cdoc42
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Speer shot capsules for .44 Magnum

It’s been said, when you get older, you get wiser. But I tend to review my current handloading techniques as I go along, with the thought that my youthful enthusiasm might have been blurred by less attention to detail.

And so it is with my return to handloading Speer shot capsules for my Ruger .44 Mag Super Blackhawk. I can recall a friend and I successfully used my now questionable recipe for pheasant hunting on a commercial Pennsylvania south-central enterprise. It was in 1983 when such pheasants were $9 each. The owner questioned what appeared to be an absence of shotguns, and when I displayed my .44 Mag and shotshell cartridges, he asked if we would mind if he came along with his dog. Clearly, he was anticipating a lot of wounded birds.
At the end of the hunt, the owner enthusiastically displayed the 9 birds we downed, while announcing, “They got them with handguns!!”

So what’s my concern now? What’s left in inventory from that period are 8 cartridges containing 63 pellets of #6 and 3 containing 102 pellets of #7-1/2.
These were fueled by 8.0 gr of Unique, but I can’t find where I obtained that recipe. The Speer box displays a recommendation of 7.2 gr of Unique, for use with shot sizes 7-1/2, 8, and 9. But that’s for a 6-1/2 inch barrel in .44 Special.

So I started from scratch, using #6, #7-1/2 and, #8, in 5 cartridges of each size.
I filled the capsules to the maximum, ensuring the base caps would fit, then physically counted the number of pellets.

#6 = 68 pellets, weighing an average of 129.7 grains.
#7-1/2 = 120 pellets, weighing an average of 134.1 grains
#8 = 156 pellets, weighing an average of 143.2 grains.

I then weighed various cleaned, sized, and primed cases and found R-P, Midway, and PMC averaged 113.9 to 114.7 grains, while Federal and Starline averaged 119-120 grains.

So, HOW did I get away with using the same charge in cases of assumed variable internal capacity with projectiles that differed in 3 weights?

Despite my previous use without any injury or unexpected interruptions, this now “wiser” elder stands, cautiously awaiting any comments that might shed some light of comfort on my continued production.
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Old August 9, 2021, 08:01 PM   #2
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So, HOW did I get away with using the same charge in cases of assumed variable internal capacity with projectiles that differed in 3 weights?
well, to begin with, you're shooting SHOT, and your accuracy standard is minute of pheasant (in this case).

Next, the plastic shot capsule doesn't have the same resistance to the rifling that a lead of jacketed bullet does,

and third, and probably most important, you're shooting a lot LESS WEIGHT than the regular lead bullets.

The first old Speer manual I grabbed shows 8.0gr Unique as a max charge in the .44 Special with a 215gr bullet.

Your heaviest shot charge is only a bit over half that weight. It makes a considerable difference.

Also, always remember that listed max charges in the books are NOT the safety limit of the gun. They are well below that. So, even if you happen to accidently stick a toe over that line, you will not be eaten by dragons.

I'm fairly sure Speer's recommended charges on the old box are what they found gave the best shot performance, which isn't about the fastest speed, but about enough power and a decent pattern.

8gr Unique throws the 215 slug at about 1000fps from a 6.5" barrel in the old Speer book. SO, a 140gr-ish shot charge would likely be in the 12-1300fps range with that powder charge, and that is the standard operating velocity range of all shotguns shooting shot, because going faster results in patterns getting worse,

Add in the spin effect from the pistol's rifled barrel and a lighter charge might actually give a denser pattern, but since you got your limit of pheasants, I'd say what you used worked just fine.
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Old August 9, 2021, 10:14 PM   #3
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Thanks, 44. I'm thinking it might be useful to pattern the loads at say, no more than 15-20 yards and drop the charge if the patterns are blown. Isn't it unusual that Speer would recommend the same 7.2gr charge with all 3 shots sizes and have no relationship to weights? As you can see, stuffing those capsules full of different sizes does not produce capsules of equal weight.

But if 8.0 gr reveals no problems with pushing 143gr of #8, the only issue with using 8.0gr with the two lighter, but larger shot loads is lousy patterns, as you suggested.

Aside from pheasants, I had an opportunity to take out a rather large Norwegian rat in our yard who was burrowing under dead grass I used as mulch. I got within 10 yards and it stood up to look; I dusted it with a load of 6's.

I'll see if I can test them this week.

Last edited by cdoc42; August 9, 2021 at 10:19 PM.
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Old August 10, 2021, 12:04 AM   #4
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My Speer 13th manual lists 6.8 grains of Unique with 7 1/2, 8, or 9 shot in the 44 magnum with an overall length at 1.600". Shows a velocity at 1097 fps in a 6" barrel. Says added velocity can effect patterns? They do use regular LP primers and not magnum primers. I've tried them with lead shot from 8 up to lead #2 shot. 6 shot makes a good load in my 7 1/2" barrel and even though I haven't hunted I believe it'd do well on small game out to 10-15 yards? Don't put a shot round in another chamber and shoot a full powered 44 mag load as it can and does unseat the capsule and prevent the cylinder from turning. It does need a light crimp on the plastic capsule but easy as they will shatter. The spread is said to be an inch per foot? 10 ft then a 10" diameter pattern etc.
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Old August 10, 2021, 09:44 AM   #5
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Also, if the original load was for 44 Special and your gun is a magnum, it can likely handle a bit more pressure. But the real question will be what load patterns best, I think. You should have some fun finding out.
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Old August 10, 2021, 09:54 AM   #6
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Thanks, rg1, that's the info I was hoping to receive. I wonder if the difference in acceptable patterns is due to the recommendation to use the same charge, irrespective of the difference in weight of shot sizes in the capsules. You may have found the 'sweet spot" of #6 with 6.8gr of Unique.

As we all know, normally we reduce the charge of the same powder when the same caliber bullet weight increases. In this case, the recommendation is to use 6.8gr with

#6 = 68 pellets, weighing an average of 129.7 grains.
#7-1/2 = 120 pellets, weighing an average of 134.1 grains
#8 = 156 pellets, weighing an average of 143.2 grains.

However, as 44AMP pointed out, the plastic capsule doesn't offer the same bore flow resistance as does a jacketed or lead bullet, so maybe it's all inconsequential.

I'd love to chronograph the loads to help answer the question, but I don't trust the capsules will expand only after they exit the sky screens and motion detector units.
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Old August 10, 2021, 08:15 PM   #7
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You're working with loads, pressures and projectile weights well below the regular working level for the gun and cartridge. What can be a significant change at regular working load levels or especially top end levels is rather insignificant with the light charges you are using for shot capsules.

It really is that simple.
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Old August 11, 2021, 02:12 PM   #8
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Pattern results

I patterned the .44 Mag shotshell loads today. I can just give a summary because I can't get the tabled results to present here.

I used a Ruger 7-1/2" Super Blackhawk fired from a standing position on a bipod at 10 yards. The retaining cap on the capsule hit all targets close to, or inside, the 11-inch circle. I used a 30 x 35-inch paper target with a 3-inch bull inside 11-inch and 16-inch circles.

My original loads with #6 and #7-1/2 had fewer pellets because I didn't spend the time to maximize the load at that time. I used 8.0gr of Unique at that time. The new loads have 7.0gr of Unique, which is close to Speer's 6.8-grain suggestion.

Unique 8.0gr with #6 delivered 52 of 63 (83%) total hits. 13% were within the 11-inch circle, and 21% were within the 16-inch. The whole pattern distribution was much better than #6's with 7.0 grains.

Unique 7.0 gr with #6 delivered 44 of 68 (65%) total hits. 4% were within 11-inches and 16% were within 16 inches. The entire pattern was terrible.

Unique 8.0gr with #7-12 delivered 80 of 103 (78%). 5% were within 11 inches, 20% within 16 inches. The pattern distribution was not bad.

Unique 7.0gr with 7-1/2 delivered 79 of 120 (66%). 9% were within 11 inches, 17% within 16 inches. The pattern distribution was terrible.

Unique 7.0gr with #8 delivered the best pattern over the entire 30 x 35" target, but also had the most pellets due to shot size.
It delivered 101 of 156 (65%). 8% were within 11 inches; 21% were within 16 inches.

Note the 8.0gr loads produced a higher number of total hits and the patterns were better than the 7.0 gr loads, so it seems my original loads were not a bad choice.

Last edited by cdoc42; August 11, 2021 at 02:41 PM. Reason: Can't present table
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Old August 12, 2021, 04:01 PM   #9
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Years ago, I played around with shot shells for pistols: 45 ACP for my Colt Combat Commander, 357 for my Python, 38 for my Diamondback, and 44 for my Redhawk. Best performance was from the 38 Special, and it was pretty lame. I don't remember exactly, but it was about 60% pattern in 36" at 30 feet. The patterns opened up pretty fast beyond that distance due to rifling spin. The TC HotShot capsules gave the tightest patterns, but some of the capsules themselves hit the pattern board without releasing the pellets, so I suspected they were just barely releasing the shot. Speer shot capsules worked OK, slower 38 gave better patterns than the 357 using the same shot capsules. The 45 shot loads used cut-down 410 shot cups in a shortened 308 case with a crimped gas check overshot wad. It was all fun, but I would have never tried hunting birds with any of them. I did shoot a few rabbits with them, they worked sufficiently well for that.
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Old August 13, 2021, 08:27 AM   #10
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If you'd bought a Dan Wesson instead of the Python, you could have had a custom smooth bore barrel made for it. I wonder how much eliminating spin would help the pattern.
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Old August 13, 2021, 01:12 PM   #11
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If you'd bought a Dan Wesson instead of the Python, you could have had a custom smooth bore barrel made for it. I wonder how much eliminating spin would help the pattern.
Eliminating the rifling caused spin does improve the patterns.

HOWEVER, a "custom" smoothbore HANDGUN makes the gun an NFA item, and requires the Federal legal paperwork, approval and tax stamp because it's now in the same class as a "sawed off shotgun".

This is why the T/C Contenders set up for shot still have rifled barrels. So they can be sold and owned as ordinary handguns, not NFA weapons.
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Old August 13, 2021, 04:47 PM   #12
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"This is why the T/C Contenders set up for shot still have rifled barrels."

Reminds me of how I kicked my rear the other day when I got into this discussion. I had a TC .44 Mag barrel but sold it as I saw no need for it to compete with my other .44's, and the .223 and .410/.45 Colt barrels were enough.

It would have been great to see the difference in pattern in my above experiment.
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Old August 13, 2021, 06:10 PM   #13
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I have one of the T/C .45Colt/,410 barrels (and I would point out that they are .45 barrels NOT .410s) with the internal "choke tube" which I call "the straightener". It has grooves, but they are straight, not spiral like rifling. I believe the idea is to "undo" some of the spin caused by the rifling. Can't say how well it works, I've never tested shot patterns with and without it. What I can say is that it MUST be removed before firing bullets. Factory says so, I take their word as good.

Had one of the .357 "Hot shot" barrels (or what ever they called them, I forget now,,,) which had the same kind of tube "straightener" but it was external to the barrel. Also had to be removed before firing bullets.
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Old August 13, 2021, 07:33 PM   #14
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The NFA connection hadn't occurred to me. But you could get a barrel with a twist rate for round ball. Maybe one turn in two yards or so. That should help.
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Old August 13, 2021, 09:40 PM   #15
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44AMP said: "Can't say how well it works, I've never tested shot patterns with and without it. What I can say is that it MUST be removed before firing bullets. Factory says so, I take their word as good."

I never tested shot patterns but I have used it on bird hunts - pheasants and chukars, but with great German Short Hairs. I can honestly tell you that TC .410-choked, .45 caliber barrel did just as well as any of my campions and they were using their favorite 12-Ga shotguns. It's like pointing your finger at the target. Pressure might be on, because you only get one shot, but it was a very memorable blast!
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Old August 13, 2021, 10:40 PM   #16
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The thought just occurred to me, but next time I shoot .410s I'll try to find the wad/shot cup and see what rifling marks are visible on them. If you find any of the .44 shot capsules check what's left of them, as well.

Right now, I'm thinking about how much of the shot capsule is actually engraved by the rifling, creating spin.

Also wondering about the same thing shooting .410 through the .45 bore of the contender. Obviously enough of the base obdurates the bore, but is it just a think skirt that the rifling really can't grip well to cause "normal" spin rate?

and, due to inertia, in either case, how much of the spin is actually imparted to the shot inside the cup or capsule??

I've seen the "donut hole" in shotpatterns fired from pistols, it seems to vary in size and location with different guns and loads, and the range you pattern at. My guess is that is because of the amount of spin that particular combination gives the shot.
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Old August 14, 2021, 08:09 AM   #17
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Thinking about what you said above in relation to my "experiment," I did not see any evidence of the capsule impacting the target. I believe all the large holes I saw were caused by the end cap that sits on top of the powder, and, as stated, they all hit at or just inside the 11-inch circle I drew. My thought is if the capsule itself can be fractured by an excessive crimp, it most likely breaks apart to release the shot, and my guess is the spin imparted plays a role. If that plastic capsule was fired through a smooth bore, my bet would be we'd see evidence of the capsule impacting the paper, maybe even having retained some shot.

Effective patterns are probably related more to the distance. As pointed out by Unclenick, Speer's recommendation for use in a .44 Special will differ when used in a .44 Magnum.

I reviewed my data above again and noted that 8.0 grains (vs Speer's recommended 6.8gr) delivered 83% of the 63 pellets on the 30 x 35-inch target. When the charge was dropped to 7.0gr, the delivery dropped to 65% and only 10 pellets entered the 16-inch circle, whereas the 8.0gr load had 21% of 63 in that 16-inch circle. I recall there were huge holes in the 7.0gr load where shot was totally absent and I called the pattern distribution "terrible" compared to the 8.0gr load.
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Old August 14, 2021, 12:36 PM   #18
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Hmm. Interesting thoughts. It might be you could guarantee stripping the capsule in the rifling with a very fast twist. Another possibility is intentionally encouraging core stripping, maybe by packing the shot in some kind of grease to encourage the capsule to slip over it.
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Old August 14, 2021, 05:25 PM   #19
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My guess would be that the heavier mass of the shot charge giving it greater inertia will let it "outrun" the light plastic capsule once it leaves the bore.
Add in that the capsule is most likely scored (and probably cracked) from the rifling and the stress of firing, and might even be spinning, I'd expect it to shatter or at least come "off" the shot rather quickly.

Not sure if packing the shot in grease would add anything or not, because while slippery, under the right conditions grease can be sticky, too.

Regardless of how it happens, it seems to work well enough.
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Old August 14, 2021, 05:45 PM   #20
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It is stunning, ifs not amazing, how a collection of thoughts about an unknown phenomenon can lead to collaboration.
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Old August 15, 2021, 02:02 PM   #21
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I'm hoping that means you are going to undertake to test all the ideas, while we sit back and sip a good quality aged whiskey and nod approvingly.

The core stripping I referred to would be the capsule accelerating to spin while inertia kept the shot from following it. At muzzle exit, the greater mass of the shot would slow the lighter capsule much more than the capsule could add spin to the shot. It would be in proportion to their relative moments of inertia around the spin axis.

The term 'core stripping' comes from the phenomenon occurring in some jacketed rifle bullets where the copper jacket is accelerated so rapidly it slips over the lead core, failing to bring it fully to rotational speed. When such a bullet exits the barrel, the core is spinning more slowly than the jacket is, dragging the jacket rotation down while the jacket spins the core up less.
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Old August 15, 2021, 06:34 PM   #22
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"I'm hoping that means you are going to undertake to test all the ideas, while we sit back and sip a good quality aged whiskey and nod approvingly."

It all depends on whether I find something better to do because the most time-consuming thing was measuring, cutting, and taping the old rolls of exam table paper to make the 30 x 35" targets. Counting all the holes was another issue, especially when my wife interrupted me at hole #46 with a question that made me forget which number I had just counted......
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Old August 15, 2021, 11:02 PM   #23
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especially when my wife interrupted me at hole #46 with a question that made me forget which number I had just counted.....
Use a multi color pack of magic markers. Circle or "dot" each hole, change colors every ten holes. Not foolproof, but if you lose track, you don't have to go all the way back to the beginning.
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Old August 16, 2021, 09:37 AM   #24
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Wife-proof should be good enough. IME they have a sixth sense about interrupting when you are counting.
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Old August 16, 2021, 11:17 AM   #25
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44AMP, that's a good idea. I found a wife-proof solution, though. I ignore her and count out loud and she gets the idea. Taking a swig of that good aged whiskey, then keep counting, also makes an impact.
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