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Old November 9, 2008, 08:02 AM   #1
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Cartridge Comparisons?

Greetings :-),

I've heard commentary from various people that the 19th century .44-40 round was a higher powered round than the .45 Colt, while others have touted the .45 Colt as the most powerful cartridge in the world until the .357Mag (or perhaps the .38-44). I've also heard that the S&W .44Spl, as chambered in the original New Century revolver, could be safely loaded to outperform the .45 Colt and almost equal the .44-40 (?).

Now I know such comparisons are somewhat arbitrary. I also know that the .45 Colt had both a full power and a reduced velocity load (.45Army), which seems to parallel the modern 10mm Auto/.40 S&W relationship.

I was hoping to get some feedback on this issue from more knowlegable folks.


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Old November 9, 2008, 09:18 AM   #2
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The concept of "power" that underlies your query was something of a foreign one in the 19th century. The .44-40, .44 Russian, .45 Colt & etc. all threw a 200-250 grain round nose lead slug a 600-800 feet per second. Down at that performance level, you can make mathematical calculations of "superiority," but the terminal ballistic effect from a handgun would be indistinguishable one from the other.

It's not until we get well into the 20th century that "power" became an issue. The .44 Special was perhaps the first effort to rise above the crowd, and then S&W never looked back (.38-44, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum). One should keep in mind that the early big bores (as defined in the first paragraph) were considered to be effective without being particularly challenging to shoot, unlike the Magnums.

So, if you wants to know the literal answer to your question, just go to the ammo manufacturer's web page of your choice, and compare your selected figure or figures of merit (momentum or mass x velocity, muzzle energy).

Note that the .45 ACP is still considered to be an effective anti-personnel round, with ballistics that are comparable to the late-19th century "big-bores."


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Old November 9, 2008, 09:58 AM   #3
Jim Watson
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Unfortunately, I cannot find my magazine with the article on real black powder revolver loads, but as I recall:

The original .45 Colt 40 grain powder 250 grain bullet load is very powerful, it will exceed 1000 fps in a 7.5" barrel. The lighter military and commercial loads are less powerful but still substantial. Commercial smokeless loads approximate the BP ammunition.

The .44-40 orignated as a rifle round with 40 grains powder and a 200 grain bullet. The lighter bullet gives it only a slight velocity advantage over .45 Colt in revolvers, black powder will only do so much in a given barrel length.
The .44-40 has never been considered a high powered round. Its thin brass and the thin chamber walls of typical guns limit its performance when loaded with smokeless. There were some insanely hot loads recommended for the 1892 Winchesters at one time, and there are some very worn, loose, and battered 1892 Winchesters that got a lot of them, too.

The .44 Special was never offered by the factories as a high powered revolver round, either. It is just a lengthened .44 Russian and no more powerful.
Elmer Keith and his contemporaries went to .44 Special for heavy HANDLOADS because the revolvers had thicker cylinder walls and he was getting tired of blowing up overloaded .45 Colts.

It was usual to shoot heavy handloads in the S&W New Century "Triplelock" because that was the most modern revolver of its day. It did not have the alloys and heat treatment of later models and it would be foolish to hot load one now. Elmer could get his fixed, you can't.
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Old November 9, 2008, 01:54 PM   #4
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The 92 with it's double locking lugs is a stronger action than the 94. The 44-40 can be loaded to 44 mag pressures and the .45 Colt can be loaded beyond.
44-40 cases won't last long loaded like that tho.
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Old November 9, 2008, 07:11 PM   #5
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"...most powerful cartridge in the world until the .357Mag..." The .30 Mauser had the highest velocity, after 1893, until the .357 Mag came along. Mind you, it wasn't a BP cartridge.
The .44 Special didn't appear until 1907 and didn't use BP either.
BP cartridges get their "power' mostly from the weight of the bullet.
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Old November 9, 2008, 07:56 PM   #6
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That's half of the equation...

BP cartridges get their "power' mostly from the weight of the bullet.
Force = Mass x Acceleration.

The above holds true with either smokeless or BP.

BP, however, couldn't do really well with small bore chamberings, or generate the chamber pressures of our current smokeless rounds. So you're somewhat forced to use heavier bullets to get the energy downrange.

Regardless, the .45 Long Colt BP load mentioned previously in this thread is by no means a slouch in the performance department, either in velocity or bullet-weight.
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Old November 17, 2008, 12:11 PM   #7
Mike Irwin
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"The .44 Special didn't appear until 1907 and didn't use BP either."

Actually yes, it did.

All indications are that the .44 Special was originally developed using black powder, and was available for a number of years loaded BOTH with black powder and with smokeless.

I've seen factory sealed boxes of .44 Special ammo from Remington that are loaded with black powder.

Why a cartridge developed this late in the game was available with black or smokless doesn't make much sense to me.

There were three cartridges from around this time frame called "Specials," the .32 Winchester special rifle round and the .38 and .44 Specials.

The only thing they seem to have in common is that they have some tie to both black powder and smokeles.

The .32 Special was, supposedly, developed to give the handloader who didn't trust smokless a round that he could reload with black powder.

To my way of thinking that just doesn't make a lot of sense given that the .32-40 Winchester was available at the same time and was roughly as powerful as the .32 Special when both were loaded with black powder.
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