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Old August 27, 2018, 02:21 PM   #1
ligonierbill
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Gaining some respect for 44-40

Except for us old time cartridge nuts and cowboy action shooters, this round is pretty much dead as a practical caliber. Blame the .44 Special. Yes, the Special shades the old WCF ballistically, and it's rumored to be easier to load. (I have not found this to be true.) But I will argue that it ain't half bad, even by modern standards.

I started loading 44-40 when I got the itch for a Colt single action. In Colt's words, a .45 Colt is a Single Action Army. The 44-40 (Sam was not going to put "Winchester" on his barrels, not even the W) in the same pistol was called the Frontier Six-Shooter, and it came out 4 years later. Now you could feed your rifle and pistol the same round, a big selling point. But the selling point to me was I already had a Ruger Blackhawk .45 and was loading some "Ruger only" rounds that one would not want to fire in the old Colt. So, I went with the 44.

A "spec" load of Unique sends a 200 cast out of my Cimarron/Uberti 4 3/4" at 845. The same load goes 1,270 from a Uberti '73 clone. Not bad. Now, the .44 Special does better. Still loading a 200 cast over Unique, I get 1,100 out of a 5 1/2" Blackhawk and about 870 out of a 2 1/2" Bulldog.

What I really like is loading true black or Alliant Black MZ in the 44-40. ("Shooting on the dark side" in the cowboy action world.) The old balloon head cases packed 40 gr of, I presume, FFFg. Loading FFg in modern Starline cases, I can only fit 32. That's good for 750 out of my pistols. BMZ is another story. Loading down a drop tube, I can get 37 gr of the substitute in my cases. (Big grains, lots of air space.) Good for 900, probably more like the old days. Have not managed a read on these out of the rifle, but guessing about 1,300. The old cowboys and sod busters didn't have it too bad, in firearms at least.

So, if you want a mild shooting, but still capable, handgun round, go...44 Special. It's really better. But if you're thinking of cowboy action (I highly recommend it) or just wanting to relive the late 19th century, you won't be giving up much.

PS: I know a lot of CAS guys shoot .38 Special mouse fart loads. Very fast, but not near as much fun as a real smokewagon.
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Old August 27, 2018, 04:39 PM   #2
44 Dave
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The .44-40 brass seals powder blow back and keeps black powder guns cleaner.
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Old August 27, 2018, 04:47 PM   #3
ligonierbill
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Well, I was shooting BMZ, not true black, yesterday, but the guns cleaned up with surprisingly few patches. That's after 30 rounds from each pistol and 60 from the rifle.
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Old August 27, 2018, 08:36 PM   #4
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You might grin a bit wider if you were to load Olde Eynsford or Swiss, or even Triple 7.
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Old August 28, 2018, 01:19 AM   #5
Model12Win
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ligonierbill View Post
Except for us old time cartridge nuts and cowboy action shooters, this round is pretty much dead as a practical caliber. Blame the .44 Special. Yes, the Special shades the old WCF ballistically, and it's rumored to be easier to load. (I have not found this to be true.) But I will argue that it ain't half bad, even by modern standards.

I started loading 44-40 when I got the itch for a Colt single action. In Colt's words, a .45 Colt is a Single Action Army. The 44-40 (Sam was not going to put "Winchester" on his barrels, not even the W) in the same pistol was called the Frontier Six-Shooter, and it came out 4 years later. Now you could feed your rifle and pistol the same round, a big selling point. But the selling point to me was I already had a Ruger Blackhawk .45 and was loading some "Ruger only" rounds that one would not want to fire in the old Colt. So, I went with the 44.

A "spec" load of Unique sends a 200 cast out of my Cimarron/Uberti 4 3/4" at 845. The same load goes 1,270 from a Uberti '73 clone. Not bad. Now, the .44 Special does better. Still loading a 200 cast over Unique, I get 1,100 out of a 5 1/2" Blackhawk and about 870 out of a 2 1/2" Bulldog.

What I really like is loading true black or Alliant Black MZ in the 44-40. ("Shooting on the dark side" in the cowboy action world.) The old balloon head cases packed 40 gr of, I presume, FFFg. Loading FFg in modern Starline cases, I can only fit 32. That's good for 750 out of my pistols. BMZ is another story. Loading down a drop tube, I can get 37 gr of the substitute in my cases. (Big grains, lots of air space.) Good for 900, probably more like the old days. Have not managed a read on these out of the rifle, but guessing about 1,300. The old cowboys and sod busters didn't have it too bad, in firearms at least.

So, if you want a mild shooting, but still capable, handgun round, go...44 Special. It's really better. But if you're thinking of cowboy action (I highly recommend it) or just wanting to relive the late 19th century, you won't be giving up much.

PS: I know a lot of CAS guys shoot .38 Special mouse fart loads. Very fast, but not near as much fun as a real smokewagon.
Samuel Colt died in 1862, 11 years before the SAA was released.
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Old August 28, 2018, 05:18 AM   #6
ligonierbill
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I stand corrected. Company name was still alive, I believe.

Regarding Olde Eynsford, I need to pick some up. I'm told that their 1 1/2 grade is the bee's knees in 50-70 paper patched loads. And maybe some FFFg in the 44, like the old days.
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Old August 28, 2018, 10:49 AM   #7
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I’ve seen 1, 1 1/2, and 2F all praised for larger calibers. But I’ve also seen some praise 3F in things all the way up to 12 ga, which baffles me a bit as I’ve read the quicker acceleration can deform the pellets and blow the pattern. Of course those using 3F aren’t using cartridges where you’d likely want/need to reduce the load a bit. But then maybe not if one were using one of the many weaker powders.
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Old August 28, 2018, 09:37 PM   #8
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My thinking is that the original 44-40 cartridges were only very slightly less powerful than the 45 Colt. I have read several times over the years that the 45 Colt was the most powerful handgun cartridge in America until the advent of the 357 magnum. I consider that just so much baloney as the 357 magnum is simply a smaller hammer. Sure, it shoots faster and flatter, but if you put 200 grain bullets in a 357 magnum, I think it would fall short of original, black-powder, 44-40 ballistics. If you load real fffG black powder in your 44-40, packed in and compressed with no filler wads, I think you will find that it's not such a mild cartridge after all.
Mike and Yvonne Venturino put together an excellent article called, "Old West Pistol Performance", for HANDLOADER magazine, #244, December 2006, that documents quite well how powerful the 44-40 and 45 Colt really were. Today's so-called, "Cowboy", ammo is totally misnamed, being intended as mild target ammo for a particular shooting sport. The 44-40 and 45 Colt were truly the magnum revolver cartridges of the Old West.
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Old August 29, 2018, 08:46 AM   #9
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I suppose it depends on which iteration of the .45 Colt we are talking about. With the balloonhead case holding a true 40 grns of powder pushing the 250-255 grn bullets then certainly. But it kept getting neutered until it was more like a Schofield using 28 grns and a 230 grn bullet, which still was no slouch being akin to what the original .45 ACP was designed with in mind.

With 25 grns of 3F Triple 7 and a 255 grn bullet from a 7.5” ROA Mike Beliveau showed nearly 500 ft/lbs of energy.

I’ve often read that those cartridges were loaded with 2F. However I know the Hazard’s paper cartridges used during the Civil War used what was known as Pistol Powder and it was 4F and powerful like Swiss, Olde Eynsford, and Triple 7. I haven’t found any documentation claiming what granulation was used in the late 1800’s, but it seems odd they’d neuter the performance, unless it was the military rounds and by their doing. I have read that it was an officer taking part in the testing that didn’t like the recoil of the original loads and had it reduced. Maybe the decrease was also due to powder granulation used.

Last edited by rodwhaincamo; August 29, 2018 at 03:16 PM.
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Old August 29, 2018, 03:00 PM   #10
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Any problems with case setback ? The argument for straight walled cartridges in a revolver is the brass grips the chamber walls better.
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Old August 29, 2018, 03:13 PM   #11
ligonierbill
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Case setback? Not observed in my firearms. And I went through 120 rounds from the replica Frontier Six-Shooters and '73 last Sunday. Finished cleaning up the cases yesterday, and all is well.
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Old September 1, 2018, 11:08 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pathfinder45
I have read several times over the years that the 45 Colt was the most powerful handgun cartridge in America until the advent of the 357 magnum.
That's a new one. What I have often heard (and have not had reason to doubt) is that the .44 caliber Walker Colt was the most powerful handgun until the advent of the .357 Magnum. But the Walker Colt wasn't a cartridge firearm, it was a percussion cap revolver, and it was huge. It wasn't intended as a sidearm, it was intended as a "horse pistol," to be carried by a cavalryman in a holster attached to his saddle. The .44-40 cartridge held 40 grains of black powder -- the Walker Colt held 60. It fired a .454" lead ball at 1,000 to 1,350 feet per second and was considered "effective" to a range of 100 yards.

Not to shabby for a revolver.

By contrast, the .45 Colt cartridge held 28 to 40 grains of black powder and achieved a muzzle velocity of "up to" about 1,000 feet per second.

In short, the .45 Colt in a SAA was a handgun. The Walker Colt was a hand cannon.
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Old September 2, 2018, 06:34 AM   #13
mehavey
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What is "Case Setback"?
(never heard the term before)


...honest
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Old September 2, 2018, 11:44 AM   #14
ligonierbill
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I presume the question referred to bullet setback. Light crimp eliminates that.
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Old September 2, 2018, 01:48 PM   #15
SIGSHR
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Case setback is when the brass backs out of the chamber, often tying up the gun. The best example is the S&W M-53, shooters found the 22 Jet backed out regularly. The problem there was the round was too high pressure, without a bolt face to hold the rim in place, the tapered case did not grip the cylinders walls properly. It seems the lower pressures and more gradual case taper of the 44-40 do not cause that.
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Old September 2, 2018, 01:51 PM   #16
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Properly-pressured, the case always backs out of the cylinder (or stretches at rifle pressures) to re-seat the primer* up against the recoil shield.
If it doesn't (i.e., low pressure), the primer stays backed out and ties up the cylinder/rotation.

*(which has backed out)
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Old September 8, 2018, 04:03 PM   #17
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getting back on track......

In the previously mentioned article, Mike Venturino was getting 1,011 fps with black powder loads in a 7-1/2" barreled .44-40 Colt revolver. Not bad at all.
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Old September 8, 2018, 07:27 PM   #18
rodwhaincamo
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Can you give a bit more detail on his load? Powder type, grains, and bullet?
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Old September 9, 2018, 01:49 PM   #19
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Well, a lot of gun magazines have come and gone, but I still have the one containing this article: "Old West Pistol Performance", for HANDLOADER magazine, #244, December 2006. In the article, Mike Venturino used the RCBS 44-200-FN RN/FP cast bullet for his 44-40 experiments. Modern cases will not contain the same volume of powder as original cases, but Mike was able to pack 36 grains of Swiss FFFg powder into Winchester cases to obtain 1,011 fps with only 21 fps variation and, "really snappy!", recoil.
In my view, it's one of Mike's very best articles, and if you are really interested in doing some of this, you simply must buy the magazine for that one article alone. Mike goes into every detail you need to do it right; my comments here only scratch the surface. Buy it here: https://www.wolfeoutdoorsports.com/b...loader-issues/
In the article, the 45 Colt performance was quite impressive as well. Just buy the magazine......
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Old September 11, 2018, 06:01 PM   #20
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I load 44 WCF with real BP, couldn't tell you the weight, I just fill the case with 2 or 3F to 1/8 inch from the top of the case and compress the load when seating the bullet, a Mav-Dutchman 200 grainer. However, I have a Rossi Model 92 replica, and have a couple boxes of clearly marked hot loads just for it. 2400 or 110 with a Remington 200 grain JHP. Getting close to 1600 fps in that rifle, 16 inch barrel.
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Old November 22, 2018, 05:33 PM   #21
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Quote:
If you load real fffG black powder in your 44-40, packed in and compressed with no filler wads,
I shoot .45 Long Colt a lot and load all of my own cartridges. My favorite hunting load is 42 grains of Olde Eynsford and a 200-grain Buffalo conical. Out of a standard 8" barrel New Model 1858, I have gotten 1300+ feet/sec. as a max reading. Average output is around 1250 feet/sec.

Now THAT is a lot of gun right there. That is more than .357 Mag performance if you are also counting the stopping power of that .45 caliber slug's massive cross-section. The above is my main load for dropping them big hogs and I seem to never have a problem taking down even the heavyweights. The recoil from the old warhorse is never as extreme as the .44 or .357 light frames but at these velocity and power levels, it definitely kicks and you do feel it pretty heavily. The combined CRACK of the bullet going supersonic and the regular roar of a martial-caliber black powder revolver firing has got to be one of the most satisfying things an old-fashioned and simple man like me can ever enjoy It is not a wrist-breaker, but if ye' ain't used to shooting big bore handguns, the recoil from a full-powered .45 LC black powder loading is stout and will give ya' a waking call.

Some fellas seem to think that old time cartridges were weak and underpowered probably because they base their knowledge off of those Cowboy Action loads that are sold commercially. Well, the one thing that makes 'em different is that these modern Cowboy loads are meant for competition only. Ain't gon' need too much power to ring up some steel. When yer' tryin' to live as close to the cowboy way as possible, now that's another story I use 42 grains for hunting and defense against bear/large predators. Same bullet but 38 grain loading is for carrying and home protection. They don't feel that much different and they are interchangeable for either purpose. For shooting paper I use about 18 grains with filler. Saves up on powder by a big margin and I still get to enjoy shooting the big cartridges.
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Old November 22, 2018, 09:14 PM   #22
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I love 44-40's but if you use hot smokeless loads in a rifle you have to keep them separate from loads used in a revolver. I paint the case heads of those red with a sharpie.
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Old November 23, 2018, 06:48 AM   #23
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By the way, Colt marked their guns .44WCF until about 1900.
Same with .38-40, and .32-20.
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Old November 24, 2018, 03:45 PM   #24
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Every once in awhile I think about acquiring a .44-40 Revolver, but the urge goes away as soon as I think about reloading it. I know it isn't hard, but it isn't a straight-walled case either. So I believe you would have to lube to resize just like the bottleneck rifle cases. This is something I don't do for .45 Colt or .44 Special.... So seems like 'more work' . But I suppose, bring out the .44-40 for the 'occasional' black powder shooting session, it wouldn't be to bad. So maybe I'll end up with one yet.
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Old November 24, 2018, 04:24 PM   #25
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Yes the cases have to be lubed and it is a learning experience but easy once you get everything set up right. The main issue is most dies still size to the old standard of .427 and modern 44-40's are .429. RCBS cowboy dies size to .429 or you can use a .44 mag expander plug.
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