Winchester's 44-40 High Velocity "Draw Set", 1903

This is a 1903 44 W.H.V. “Draw Set”. This was Winchester’s first year production of this cartridge. The cartridge in this set contained 20.8gr of Sharpshooter powder. Dissected REM-UMC loads of the time-frame also used 20.0gr of Sharpshooter. By 1945, Winchester’s cartridge powder samples had dropped to 14gr of Sharpshooter powder and discontinued. Remington still sold HV loads into the 1970’s, but they were no more than normal pressure/velocity loads. Remington’s final offers were called “Express” loads and matched Winchester’s normal “substandard” load performance by 1979.










164891439_480080883027765_8324421010584667460_n (2)

Contained 20.8gr of Sharpshooter

9 Likes

lowest pic powder?

Here’s a thread I believe you can appreciate

5 Likes

It contained 20.8gr of Sharpshooter

5 Likes

Thanks for the link. I always used the National Center for Forensic Science, over 900 examples to include duplicate samples from earlier years.

https://www.ilrc.ucf.edu/powders/sample_detail.php?powder_id=898

6 Likes

The 44-40, as it is known currently has a more correct and more traditional name, the 44 WCF, for Winchester Central Fire. This moniker separated this cartridge from the older 44 used in earlier model Winchester and Henry rifles.
Folks today tend to think of the 44 WCF as a pistol cartridge, but nope, it was first and foremost a rifle round.
Being conceived when the only powder was black, the brass case is on the weak side. It functions fine within design parameters, but it is definitely not a cartridge happy to be hotrodded. The factory did of course soup it up, and in the process made a very specialized cartridge.
The reason for the WHV M-92 stamp is because the high velocity version was intended only for the Winchester model of 1892, or more simply put, the model 92. The 92 boats the strongest action of any short action levergun. 20 years or so ago, I made some loud noises to this fact, and even stated the action could tame the screaming 454 Casul. I was taken to the woodshed for daring such on the old sixguns board. A wee bit later a certain Brazilian firm did just that.
So, essentially, Winchester had no worries about its model 92 as a home for those hot WHV loads. The same, however was not true of the literal plethora of guns made for the 44WCF.
Now why is that? Well, because the outside dimensions of both the standard and the high velocity versions were identical.
The 44 WHV M-92 wasn’t the only cartridge to benefit from factory performance enhancements, but it’s one of the best known.

5 Likes

Very good reply MAK, thanks for participating. I too have been blasted many times about hot-rodding the 44-40. But first I thought I would back up a little bit to add some information some other folks might be interested in…

The Name
When Winchester introduced the 44-40 back in 1873, it did not even have a “name”. Winchester’s 1st style ammo boxes were noted by having the call-out “44/100” in the upper right corner, just like the Henry boxes BUT the cartridge picture had “Model Winchester 73’” on it as well as the call-out “for the Winchester Repeating Rifle of 1873’”. The cartridges did not have a headstamp like they do now days. The headstamp was not applied until about 1884. The second ammo box was much different. The 44/100 was dropped and there were only one of two ways to know if this was the ammo the shooter wanted. One, by looking at the cartridge picture to see if it had “Model Winchester 1873’” on it or looking at the end flap where it said, “44 Winchester Model 1873’ Central Fire”…more than likely why it was soon referred to as the “44 Winchester”. One must not forget there was already a 44 Winchester out there, the Model of 1866.

Cartridge Box History and details: Winchester 44-40 Ammunition Box Labels - Google Sheets

Winchester’s Second box, 1st variation, from 1876-1877, had the same top label as it’s predecessor but the end label had changed. The end label now featured the call-out “44 Cal W.C.F. Model 1873”.

Winchester’s Third box stayed virtually unchanged from 1877 to 1890 and is the typical black powder box most see see floating about today. The top label refers to the cartridge as the “.44 Cal Model of 1873’” and the side label shows the photo of the 1873 as well as the call-out “Winchester 44 Caliber C.F. Model 1873”. Again, the cartridges were headstamped .44 W.C.F. Co. by 1884. Most of the other “dash” cartridges were also stamped WCF, like the 38-40, or in this case…the 38 W.C.F.

Marlin worked closely with the Union Metallic Cartridge Company (UMC), and by 1886 UMC added the -40 on their boxes. Marlin had been designating their rifles as the “.44W” until the “44-40” call-out was born!

By 1900 even Winchester was using the name 44-40, and it was so stamped on the 1903 44-40 High Velocity ammunition. Winchester’s catalogs of that time (1913) showed two offerings, the 44-40 High Velocity and the 44 Winchester. The 44 Winchester term was dropped by 1954 and the term 44-40 Winchester was used.

The Cases
As most know, Winchester used very fragile cases that also featured the weak balloonhead primer pockets. The metal used to make the cases was not what we use today. Many cases were made with a Gilding metal or other mixes. Winchester specifically stated on their HV boxes, DO NOT RELOAD. This was definitely due the the Semi-balloonhead primer pocket. I have shot a lot of these with black powder loads and finally got a pocket failure. I have a photo of it somewhere.

The primer pocket designed changed over the years until they finally had no “recess” on the inside at the bottom of the case. By then, the production of the High Velocity had long been gone. To see my pressure tests using black powder and semi-balloonhead cases, check here:

Back to the 44 HV loads
The 44 HV loads were first offered in 1903, ironically as a “Low Pressure” high velocity load, not suitable for revolvers or the Winchester 73’. We all hear about the difference in pressure curves between smokeless powder and black powder. Here is where it gets technical. It is my understanding the Winchester used Dupont No.2 smokeless powder for normal velocity loads and Sharpshooter smokeless powder for their HV loads. Eventually switching to Sharpshooter smokeless powder for all smokeless loads by 1930.

Dissected Cartridge Data link;

If the early black powder loads created 14,000psi and the early smokeless powders created less pressures…then here is why we get the 11,000psi that we know so well today. Although smokeless powder created less pressures, they were still ruff on the old black powder components. Ironically, now days…black powder loads create less pressure than yesteryear and the reduced smokeless pressures result in the lower overall power we see today.

Data dated Feb 1917 shows the 44 Winchester service pressures to range between 13,000 CUP and 16,500 CUP and HV service pressures between 18,000 CUP and 23,500 CUP. This is where it is easy to get CUP data and PSI data confused with each other.
There is no magic formula to translate cup to pis, however…in our case with the 44-40, SAAMI tested both. 13,000cup max and 11,000psi max. Because this is a low pressure cartridge and with basic math to translate, we can get close comparisons as long as we don’t go too low or too high. Now, what we can use to get a higher comparison is to use Lyman’s 49th handloading manual. Lyman lists HV loads for the 44-40. With these loads, I compared the pressures and came up with 18,000psi should be close to 22,000cup. Notwithstanding the difference in loading components, bullet designs, seating depths etc, these loads can not be treated the same across the board as can be seen in some of my testing results.

Also on the 44-40 HV load boxes, it specifically calls out the Winchester 92’. LYMAN calls out 19 firearms chambered for the 44-40 and 9 strong actions safe for the HV loads to include Marlin’s Model 88’. Folks can argue and complain all day long, but the HV load data is in the LOADING MANUAL…I didn’t just come up with it :wink:

To end…for those naysayers…Winchester manufactured and sold the 44-40 HV loads for over 30 years…along with 45-70 HV, 38-40 HV and many others.

5 Likes

cat fight GIF

2 Likes

No catfight here, chief. Savvy is just passionate about one of the iconic cartridges from our history, and I’m just passionate about, well, whatever I’m passionate about, ill leave it for others to decide, or care, or whatever.
Maybe it’s hard for some to grasp in a world with 500 Wyoming Express, 475 Linebaugh, and 50 AE out and about, but the 44-40, as it’s referred to, is still in pretty significant circulation.
I wish I had a better memory, yet I do recall Mr. T. penning a piece on black powder and sixguns some years back, I believe using Blue Dog bullets. The velocities he achieved with the 44-40 should put to rest any idea of it being a modest plinking cartridge.
Then there was the Duke who replicated the old yellow pine penetration tests, and the black powder loads he crafted were a close second place.
I had the great honour, for a short time, to participate in this tradition, and I will say that the 44 WCF is inherently accurate.

4 Likes

So, what is it about the difference between black and smokeless in the 44 WCF?
First off, all black is not created equally, and it comes in different grind sizes, but the most important thing to remember about good black powder is that it is ridiculously easy to ignite.
When folks say that smokeless and black have different pressure curves, what there saying is that smokeless turns into a gas that violently expands, while black releases it’s energy in an explosive flame. Probably the reason fireworks are the repository for black even today.
There is way more energy in that gas, and that’s why pretty much everything commercially available is smokeless. The caveat is that for a man with the knowledge and means, black is still viable today, and in the old sixgun cartridges like our 44-40 here, it will deliver more power with less pressure than smokeless. Not opinion, just fact.

4 Likes

Not sure why MAX82 thought that was a catfight…I didn’t know that’s what the gif represented although it was indeed two cats fighting. I certainly missed the gest!!

I was tickled to death MAK had a passion for it and participated in the discussion. Heck, I was just talking too much I guess. Once I get started, it’s hard to stop!

I do find it interesting that when I do post links to my topics…out of, this particular topic for example, 36 people that “viewed” the topic, (according to my analytics) only 2 or maybe 6 actually visit the website where all of the information is published in detail. 2 visited the powder link and 2 visited the HV link. Out of the two that visited the HV link, ZERO time was spent reading the page. Of the two that visited the Powder Transition page, 13 minutes and 34 seconds was spent on that page by at least one or a combo of the two.

It is an awesome cartridge, and I am glad when just one person enjoys the information.

4 Likes

Sounds normal

Sounds normal also except getting the inside stats, which are a let down now but it’s early, these do get read steadily and there’s a chance for more interest down the road

Sounds divine :laughing:

4 Likes

Absolutely, once a lot of folks visit, then its harder to tell what’s what because they can come in from other sources.

2 Likes

Here is one by Sixgunner, doesn’t mention the bluedogs.
I’ll look a little more.
.

TAFFIN TESTS

…JOHN TAFFIN

THE .44-40 WINCHESTER (.44WCF)

“Winchester '73, The Gun That Won The West” had as its most serious chambering, the .44 Winchester Center Fire. Introduced in the same year as the .45 Colt, the .44-40 looks much like a .45 that has been necked down to .44 giving a slightly bottlenecked cartridge for ease of feeding in the lever action Winchester.

Something was just not quite right for the two gun man who had to buy two different cartridges for his sixgun and carbine, and since the .44-40 and .45 Colt were both loaded with 40 grains of blackpowder over 200 and 255 grain bullets respectively, and since the .44-40 brass was only .020" longer than .45 Colt, it made a lot of sense to chamber the Model P sixgun for the .44-40 and this was done in 1878. Although the .45 was never officially labeled the Peacemaker, the .44-40 Colt sixguns were barrel marked “COLT FRONTIER SIXSHOOTER”.

In popularity, the .44-40 was second only to the .45 Colt in chamberings of the Colt Single Action followed by the .38-40 (.38WCF) and .32-20 (.32WCF), both of which were also chambered in the Model '73 Winchester. All three WCF cartridges were chambered in the beautiful little Model '92 Winchester carbine, but were totally eclipsed with the coming of smokeless powder and the ultra-modern .30-30 in 1894.

Colt made something over 150,000 .44-40 Frontier Sixshooters, and in 1888 introduced their Flat Top Target Model. These were simply Single Action Armys with the top of the frame flattened and the installation of a rear sight moveable for windage, as furnished on the original Ruger Single-Sixes in 1953. Elevation was accomplished by a movable blade in the front sight held in place by a screw. Very crude by today’s standards, but a start towards modern target sighted revolvers. Less than 1000 Flat Top Target Models were made with only 21 being in .44WCF.

Colt also chambered the big New Service double action revolver in .44-40, and Smith made a few Frontier Models in both single action and double action in .44-40 and a few Triple-Locks also saw chambering in .44WCF. By 1941, the Colt Single Action was removed from production and the .44-40 was dead and buried and looked like it would stay that way.

When Colt resumed production of the Colt Single Action in 1955, followed by the modernized version of the Flat Top Target, the New Frontier, in 1962, the calibers were .45 Colt, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, and .44 Special. None were produced in .44-40. The Colt died again in 1974, only to be resurrected in 1978. This time before it was removed from production for the third time, it was once again chambered in .44-40 in both Single Action and New Frontier versions with a few Sheriff’s Models being made with both .44-40 and .44 Special cylinders.

The Seville was also produced in very small quantities in .44-40 with a few dual cylinder .44 Magnum/.44-40 revolvers being made. All sixguns chambered for the .44-40 now are being brought in from Italy by such companies as EMF and Cimarron. I have had experience with four .44-40 Italian made sixguns, a three-inch Sheriff’s Model, a five and one-half inch Dakota, a seven and one-half inch Bisley replica, and a seven and one-half inch Remington copy. All four shot extremely well with the Bisley capable of one hole groups at 25 yards and the Remington capable of one-inch groups at the same distance.

A number of years ago I read a test report on the Remington copy in .44-40 in which the author got three to four inch groups at 25 yards with factory ammo in the 1875 Remington copy. I expected the same when I received my nickle-plated .44-40, but I slugged the bore first and found it to be .431". Since factory jacketed bullets run .426" in the .44-40, it is easy to see why the accuracy was so poor. By using cast bullets of .431-432", the Remington rewarded me with one-inch groups.

Many years ago, I purchased a “patina” Bisley through Shotgun News for $160. It proved to be in good condition, but the bore slugged .432" and the cylinders would not accept bullets larger than .428". The old barrel came off, was replaced by a seven and one-half inch .44 Special barrel of .426" groove diameter and that old Bisley has given groups of one-half inch using 9.0 grains of Unique and the Lyman #42798 .44-40 flat-point bullet.

These two experiences spotlight one of the problems in loading for the .44-40. There seems to be no real standard for barrel groove diameter, with specimens running from .426" all the way up to .432". Sixguns in .44-40 chambering must be measured as to groove diameter and treated accordingly.

That is certainly not the only problem in loading for the .44-40. Since it is a bottle-necked cartridge, carbide dies, so prevalent and so taken for granted for straight-walled pistol cartridges, are out and the extra steps of lubing and then wiping the cases free of lubricant must be added to reloading the .44-40. A small nuisance to be sure, but a nuisance none the less.

The worst problem with the .44-40 is necks that are paper thin. I lose a few cases everytime I reload, always for the same reason, I ruin the case necks either by starting a bullet crooked or getting a case off center and hitting the mouth on the bottom of a die. With other pistol cartridges, one can usually stop quickly enough to keep from ruining the case. With the .44-40, the slightest mistake and the case is gone.

And I emphasize mistake; by working slowly and carefully, cases will not be ruined. I’m just not that patient and I have to pay the price of a few lost cases each time the .44-40 brass is reloaded. This week’s run of 164 cases is now down to 162, one case lost as the mouth hit the bottom of the decapping die, the other crumpled by a bullet as the neck was not expanded quite enough. I started with 200 cases in 1981. If .44-40 brass was no longer available., I would certainly be more careful.

Like the .45 Colt, the .44-40 has also been saddled with the “weak brass” syndrome, and like the .45 Colt, the problem is not brass but the sixguns that these cartridges have been chambered for dating back more than 100 years. A long time standard load for the .44-40 with the Lyman #42798 bullet has been 18.5 grains of #2400. This load has been published in numerous books and magazines. This load proved to be too hot in my New Frontier and I have settled on 17.5 grains of #2400 as a maximum load with the Hercules powder.

Older relaoding manuals have seperate sections for reloading the .44-40 for the Model 92 Winchester and they list loads that use nine grains more #2400 than my maximum sixgun load and eight grains more than my maximum H4227 load. So much for the weakness of .44-40 brass, BUT such rifle type loads would be like hand grenades in sixguns. When using reloading manuals, especially some of the older ones, please make sure the .44-40 section is for sixguns.

The original loading of 40 grains of blackpowder cannot be duplicated in modern solid head .44-40 brass. The most I can get into a case and seat the #42798 bullet properly is 35.0 grains of FFFg which gives slightly over 900 fps. The same volume of Pyrodex P raises the miuzzle velocity to 1000 fps and both loads will group in two inches at 25 yards.

My favorite powders for the .44-40 are Unique and H4227. Unique and Lyman’s #42798 bullet just seem made for each other and in tests with three different .44-40 sixguns, all with seven and one-half inch barrels,the following results, five shots at 25 yards, were obtained. The Remington is a replica from Uberti, the Bisley is a 1912 manufactured Colt with a new .44 Special barrel, the New Frontier is a .44 Special with an extra .44-40 cylinder.

REMINGTON
BULLET #42798
LOAD 9.0 GR. UNIQUE
GROUP 1 1/4"

BISLEY
BULLET #42798
LOAD 9.0 GR. UNIQUE
GROUP 5/8"

COLT NF
BULLET #42798
LOAD 9.0 GR. UNIQUE
GROUP 1"

This is outstanding accuracy by anyone’s standards for any caliber and certainly for any revolver, be it of modern manufacture, replica, or seventy-five plus years old. No one can fault the .44-40 when it comes to accuracy.

Switching to H4227, which seems to deliver accuracy nearly equal to Unique, I prefer 20.0 grains for slightly over 1100 fps. Hodgdon’s H4227 has been the answer for a number of large capacity cases such as the .44-40 and .45 Colt, and 19.0-20.0 grains of H4227, like 9.0-10.0 grains of Unique, performs exceptionally well in the these two old big bore veterans. In some sixguns of these two calibers, H4227 has been the only powder that would give good accuracy.

Winchester’s WW231 is another favorite with the .44-40 and 8.0 grains of this fast burning powder gives slightly over 1000 fps with the #42798 Lyman bullet and shoots into less than one-inch with the standard five shots at 25 yards.

Two “heavyweight” bullets that I use in the .44-40, are Hornady’s swaged 240 grain hollow point semi-wadcutter and Bull-X’s 240 grain bevel base semi-wadcutter. Surprizingly, the soft Hornady hollow point does not lead my New Frontier barrel even when driven over 1000 fps. For serious defensive work, either of these bullets at 900-1000 fps would be my choice, although the chance of ever employing the .44-40 for this would be extremely remote.

The appeal of the .44-40 is nostalgic, not practical. However, it is a favorite cartridge of two sixgunners, and fellow gunwriters, that I respect immensely, namely Hal Swiggett and Mike Venturino. When they say the .44-40 is a good cartridge, we best listen.

Anything that can be accomplished by the .44-40 can be topped by the .44 Special . However it is one of those cartridges that hold a certain fascination and if power were the only criteria in a sixgun, only magnums would be sold. Such is not the case however.

Although not thought of as a target load, my tests over the past ten years have shown the .44-40 to be capable of target accuracy even in unrefined single action sixguns. And although more deer, and larger game, than anyone could count have fallen to it, it is certainly not a good choice for hunting. However, it is an excellent small game and varmint load and I have taken many a big Idaho jack with mine. It is one of those relaxing cartridges that I find myself appreciating more and more for plinking, woods loafing, and just plain enjoyment. When the wrist has taken all the punishment it can stand from full house .44 Magnum and .454 loads, out comes the enjoyable big bore, the .44-40.

A few years back, I decided to make a thoroughly modern .44-40 by converting an Abilene to a .44 Magnum/.44-40 dual cylindered sixgun. Obtaining an extra .44 Magnum cylinder, I had it rechambered to .44-40 and J.D. Jones also sent along a .44 Magnum T/C barrel that had been rechambered to .44-40. I safely attained 1350 fps in the seven and one-half inch Abilene, and 1750 fps in the ten-inch T/C, both using a hard cast 200 grain bullet. No problems were encountered with the brass as such, but a problem did surface.

If I had done my homework first, I would have consulted a chart of case dimensions and found that the .44 Magnum measures .455" outside neck diameter, and the .44-40, with its paper thin neck and designed for .426" bullets, goes only .443". That means that any .44 Magnum that is rechambered to .44-40 is already at least .012" oversize at the neck portion of the cylinder. The constant expansion when fired, and then resizing back down, results in a high rate of brass loss from neck failure. For conversion to .44-40, it is best to start with a .357 or .41 Magnum.

HIGH PERFORMANCE LOADS .44-40 WCF

FIREARM: COLT NEW FRONTIER BARREL LENGTH: 7 1/2" TEMPERATURE: 80 DEGREES
BRASS: WINCHESTER .44-40 PRIMER: WINCHESTER WLP CHRONO: OEHLER #35
BULLET/LOAD MV
LYMAN #42798/8.0 GRAINS UNIQUE 814
9.0 986
10.0 1107
9.0 GRAINS HERCO 808
10.0 989
11.0 1144
16.5 GRAINS #2400 1206
17.5 1284
18.0 GRAINS H4227 1062
19.0 1135
20.0 1185
35.0 GRAINS FFFg 909
31.0 GRAINS PYRODEX P 1010
6.5 GRAINS WW231 752
7.0 809
7.5 910
8.0 1025
5.5 GRAINS BULLSEYE 793
6.5 910
6.5 GRAINS HP-38 779
7.5 903
8.5 GRAINS HS-6 687
9.5 771

LYMAN’S #42798, NOW #427098, STANDARD .44-40 CONICAL FLAT POINT OF 205 GRAINS.

3 Likes

yikes, extensive, I got lost in it, picked up on the thin case problem, not that I’ll be reloading these, haven’t even set up a loading station yet

2 Likes

There is a lot more information on the 44-40 website.

4 Likes

You mean there’s more? :flushed:

3 Likes
4 Likes

Hmm, not the article I recall.
One thing folks got into in the 80s was magnumitis. I disagree with with the intensity of the max loads listed here, because 44-40 brass was never intended for such pressures. I recall the old warning, “safe in my gun”, your situation may be different.
I’ve got it from reputable sources that loads in excess of 25,000 psi can, and do result in case failure. Now, there are a number of variables that can modify that, in either direction, but as the article hints, the 44-40 shines in accuracy, not in chasing velocity records.
I want to say that the article I referred to appeared post year 2,000. It also focused only on black powder loads in 19th century sixguns, including the legendary Colt SAA.
-M

albroswift Al sixguns.com
September 9

MAK:

I do recall Mr. T. penning a piece on black powder and sixguns some years back,

Here is one by Sixgunner, doesn’t mention the bluedogs.
I’ll look a little more.
.

TAFFIN TESTS

…JOHN TAFFIN

THE .44-40 WINCHESTER (.44WCF)

“Winchester '73, The Gun That Won The West” had as its most serious chambering, the .44 Winchester Center Fire. Introduced in the same year as the .45 Colt, the .44-40 looks much like a .45 that has been necked down to .44 giving a slightly bottlenecked cartridge for ease of feeding in the lever action Winchester.

Something was just not quite right for the two gun man who had to buy two different cartridges for his sixgun and carbine, and since the .44-40 and .45 Colt were both loaded with 40 grains of blackpowder over 200 and 255 grain bullets respectively, and since the .44-40 brass was only .020" longer than .45 Colt, it made a lot of sense to chamber the Model P sixgun for the .44-40 and this was done in 1878. Although the .45 was never officially labeled the Peacemaker, the .44-40 Colt sixguns were barrel marked “COLT FRONTIER SIXSHOOTER”.

In popularity, the .44-40 was second only to the .45 Colt in chamberings of the Colt Single Action followed by the .38-40 (.38WCF) and .32-20 (.32WCF), both of which were also chambered in the Model '73 Winchester. All three WCF cartridges were chambered in the beautiful little Model '92 Winchester carbine, but were totally eclipsed with the coming of smokeless powder and the ultra-modern .30-30 in 1894.

Colt made something over 150,000 .44-40 Frontier Sixshooters, and in 1888 introduced their Flat Top Target Model. These were simply Single Action Armys with the top of the frame flattened and the installation of a rear sight moveable for windage, as furnished on the original Ruger Single-Sixes in 1953. Elevation was accomplished by a movable blade in the front sight held in place by a screw. Very crude by today’s standards, but a start towards modern target sighted revolvers. Less than 1000 Flat Top Target Models were made with only 21 being in .44WCF.

Colt also chambered the big New Service double action revolver in .44-40, and Smith made a few Frontier Models in both single action and double action in .44-40 and a few Triple-Locks also saw chambering in .44WCF. By 1941, the Colt Single Action was removed from production and the .44-40 was dead and buried and looked like it would stay that way.

When Colt resumed production of the Colt Single Action in 1955, followed by the modernized version of the Flat Top Target, the New Frontier, in 1962, the calibers were .45 Colt, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, and .44 Special. None were produced in .44-40. The Colt died again in 1974, only to be resurrected in 1978. This time before it was removed from production for the third time, it was once again chambered in .44-40 in both Single Action and New Frontier versions with a few Sheriff’s Models being made with both .44-40 and .44 Special cylinders.

The Seville was also produced in very small quantities in .44-40 with a few dual cylinder .44 Magnum/.44-40 revolvers being made. All sixguns chambered for the .44-40 now are being brought in from Italy by such companies as EMF and Cimarron. I have had experience with four .44-40 Italian made sixguns, a three-inch Sheriff’s Model, a five and one-half inch Dakota, a seven and one-half inch Bisley replica, and a seven and one-half inch Remington copy. All four shot extremely well with the Bisley capable of one hole groups at 25 yards and the Remington capable of one-inch groups at the same distance.

A number of years ago I read a test report on the Remington copy in .44-40 in which the author got three to four inch groups at 25 yards with factory ammo in the 1875 Remington copy. I expected the same when I received my nickle-plated .44-40, but I slugged the bore first and found it to be .431". Since factory jacketed bullets run .426" in the .44-40, it is easy to see why the accuracy was so poor. By using cast bullets of .431-432", the Remington rewarded me with one-inch groups.

Many years ago, I purchased a “patina” Bisley through Shotgun News for $160. It proved to be in good condition, but the bore slugged .432" and the cylinders would not accept bullets larger than .428". The old barrel came off, was replaced by a seven and one-half inch .44 Special barrel of .426" groove diameter and that old Bisley has given groups of one-half inch using 9.0 grains of Unique and the Lyman #42798 .44-40 flat-point bullet.

These two experiences spotlight one of the problems in loading for the .44-40. There seems to be no real standard for barrel groove diameter, with specimens running from .426" all the way up to .432". Sixguns in .44-40 chambering must be measured as to groove diameter and treated accordingly.

That is certainly not the only problem in loading for the .44-40. Since it is a bottle-necked cartridge, carbide dies, so prevalent and so taken for granted for straight-walled pistol cartridges, are out and the extra steps of lubing and then wiping the cases free of lubricant must be added to reloading the .44-40. A small nuisance to be sure, but a nuisance none the less.

The worst problem with the .44-40 is necks that are paper thin. I lose a few cases everytime I reload, always for the same reason, I ruin the case necks either by starting a bullet crooked or getting a case off center and hitting the mouth on the bottom of a die. With other pistol cartridges, one can usually stop quickly enough to keep from ruining the case. With the .44-40, the slightest mistake and the case is gone.

And I emphasize mistake; by working slowly and carefully, cases will not be ruined. I’m just not that patient and I have to pay the price of a few lost cases each time the .44-40 brass is reloaded. This week’s run of 164 cases is now down to 162, one case lost as the mouth hit the bottom of the decapping die, the other crumpled by a bullet as the neck was not expanded quite enough. I started with 200 cases in 1981. If .44-40 brass was no longer available., I would certainly be more careful.

Like the .45 Colt, the .44-40 has also been saddled with the “weak brass” syndrome, and like the .45 Colt, the problem is not brass but the sixguns that these cartridges have been chambered for dating back more than 100 years. A long time standard load for the .44-40 with the Lyman #42798 bullet has been 18.5 grains of #2400. This load has been published in numerous books and magazines. This load proved to be too hot in my New Frontier and I have settled on 17.5 grains of #2400 as a maximum load with the Hercules powder.

Older relaoding manuals have seperate sections for reloading the .44-40 for the Model 92 Winchester and they list loads that use nine grains more #2400 than my maximum sixgun load and eight grains more than my maximum H4227 load. So much for the weakness of .44-40 brass, BUT such rifle type loads would be like hand grenades in sixguns. When using reloading manuals, especially some of the older ones, please make sure the .44-40 section is for sixguns.

The original loading of 40 grains of blackpowder cannot be duplicated in modern solid head .44-40 brass. The most I can get into a case and seat the #42798 bullet properly is 35.0 grains of FFFg which gives slightly over 900 fps. The same volume of Pyrodex P raises the miuzzle velocity to 1000 fps and both loads will group in two inches at 25 yards.

My favorite powders for the .44-40 are Unique and H4227. Unique and Lyman’s #42798 bullet just seem made for each other and in tests with three different .44-40 sixguns, all with seven and one-half inch barrels,the following results, five shots at 25 yards, were obtained. The Remington is a replica from Uberti, the Bisley is a 1912 manufactured Colt with a new .44 Special barrel, the New Frontier is a .44 Special with an extra .44-40 cylinder.

REMINGTON
BULLET #42798
LOAD 9.0 GR. UNIQUE
GROUP 1 1/4"

BISLEY
BULLET #42798
LOAD 9.0 GR. UNIQUE
GROUP 5/8"

COLT NF
BULLET #42798
LOAD 9.0 GR. UNIQUE
GROUP 1"

This is outstanding accuracy by anyone’s standards for any caliber and certainly for any revolver, be it of modern manufacture, replica, or seventy-five plus years old. No one can fault the .44-40 when it comes to accuracy.

Switching to H4227, which seems to deliver accuracy nearly equal to Unique, I prefer 20.0 grains for slightly over 1100 fps. Hodgdon’s H4227 has been the answer for a number of large capacity cases such as the .44-40 and .45 Colt, and 19.0-20.0 grains of H4227, like 9.0-10.0 grains of Unique, performs exceptionally well in the these two old big bore veterans. In some sixguns of these two calibers, H4227 has been the only powder that would give good accuracy.

Winchester’s WW231 is another favorite with the .44-40 and 8.0 grains of this fast burning powder gives slightly over 1000 fps with the #42798 Lyman bullet and shoots into less than one-inch with the standard five shots at 25 yards.

Two “heavyweight” bullets that I use in the .44-40, are Hornady’s swaged 240 grain hollow point semi-wadcutter and Bull-X’s 240 grain bevel base semi-wadcutter. Surprizingly, the soft Hornady hollow point does not lead my New Frontier barrel even when driven over 1000 fps. For serious defensive work, either of these bullets at 900-1000 fps would be my choice, although the chance of ever employing the .44-40 for this would be extremely remote.

The appeal of the .44-40 is nostalgic, not practical. However, it is a favorite cartridge of two sixgunners, and fellow gunwriters, that I respect immensely, namely Hal Swiggett and Mike Venturino. When they say the .44-40 is a good cartridge, we best listen.

Anything that can be accomplished by the .44-40 can be topped by the .44 Special . However it is one of those cartridges that hold a certain fascination and if power were the only criteria in a sixgun, only magnums would be sold. Such is not the case however.

Although not thought of as a target load, my tests over the past ten years have shown the .44-40 to be capable of target accuracy even in unrefined single action sixguns. And although more deer, and larger game, than anyone could count have fallen to it, it is certainly not a good choice for hunting. However, it is an excellent small game and varmint load and I have taken many a big Idaho jack with mine. It is one of those relaxing cartridges that I find myself appreciating more and more for plinking, woods loafing, and just plain enjoyment. When the wrist has taken all the punishment it can stand from full house .44 Magnum and .454 loads, out comes the enjoyable big bore, the .44-40.

A few years back, I decided to make a thoroughly modern .44-40 by converting an Abilene to a .44 Magnum/.44-40 dual cylindered sixgun. Obtaining an extra .44 Magnum cylinder, I had it rechambered to .44-40 and J.D. Jones also sent along a .44 Magnum T/C barrel that had been rechambered to .44-40. I safely attained 1350 fps in the seven and one-half inch Abilene, and 1750 fps in the ten-inch T/C, both using a hard cast 200 grain bullet. No problems were encountered with the brass as such, but a problem did surface.

If I had done my homework first, I would have consulted a chart of case dimensions and found that the .44 Magnum measures .455" outside neck diameter, and the .44-40, with its paper thin neck and designed for .426" bullets, goes only .443". That means that any .44 Magnum that is rechambered to .44-40 is already at least .012" oversize at the neck portion of the cylinder. The constant expansion when fired, and then resizing back down, results in a high rate of brass loss from neck failure. For conversion to .44-40, it is best to start with a .357 or .41 Magnum.

HIGH PERFORMANCE LOADS .44-40 WCF

FIREARM: COLT NEW FRONTIER BARREL LENGTH: 7 1/2" TEMPERATURE: 80 DEGREES
BRASS: WINCHESTER .44-40 PRIMER: WINCHESTER WLP CHRONO: OEHLER #35
BULLET/LOAD MV
LYMAN #42798/8.0 GRAINS UNIQUE 814
9.0 986
10.0 1107

9.0 GRAINS HERCO | 808 |
10.0 | 989 |
11.0 | 1144 |

16.5 GRAINS #2400 | 1206 |
17.5 | 1284 |

18.0 GRAINS H4227 | 1062 |
19.0 | 1135 |
20.0 | 1185 |

35.0 GRAINS FFFg | 909 |

31.0 GRAINS PYRODEX P | 1010 |

6.5 GRAINS WW231 | 752 |
7.0 | 809 |
7.5 | 910 |
8.0 | 1025 |

5.5 GRAINS BULLSEYE | 793 |
6.5 | 910 |

6.5 GRAINS HP-38 | 779 |
7.5 | 903 |

8.5 GRAINS HS-6 | 687 |
9.5 | 771 |

LYMAN’S #42798, NOW #427098, STANDARD .44-40 CONICAL FLAT POINT OF 205 GRAINS.

3 Likes

I disagree with with the intensity of the max loads listed here, because 44-40 brass was never intended for such pressures. I recall the old warning, “safe in my gun”, your situation may be different.
I’ve got it from reputable sources that loads in excess of 25,000 psi can, and do result in case failure. Now, there are a number of variables that can modify that, in either direction, but as the article hints, the 44-40 shines in accuracy, not in chasing velocity records.
I want to say that the article I referred to appeared post year 2,000.

It also focused only on black powder loads in 19th century sixguns, including the legendary Colt SAA.

-M

For rifles,
The 44-40 High Velocity max loads were manufactured by Winchester from 1903 to WWII but last advertised sometime around 1938. That is nearly 30 years of high pressure loads in semi-balloonhead 44-40 cases. The trick is that Winchester warned against reusing the cases.

I have been shooting excessive pressure 44-40 loads for nearly 15 years. Some up to 21,000psi which should be close to 30,000 cup. I have never had a case failure although I do get split case mouths from brass that has been stretched from constant use and over worked resizing and mainly when the LFCD was used on oversized bullets. I have most documented. The results of side splits, I never experienced, is typically caused by over sized chambers or over expanding chambers when fired (revolvers). I have experienced a primer pocket failure on an early 1880’s brass case…with black powder loads…as expected with such old brass and weak primer pockets. Remington had much stronger brass but also caused chambering issues with oversized bullets. All semi-balloonhead cases were not created equal. Early cases “deeper” than improved cases over the years as time progressed.

Original 44-40 velocities of 1,325fps works just fine and the 1,500fps loads just retains a bit more energy downrange at 300 yards. If this was not needed, there would not have been any improvements in the design of cartridges from there on out. It is always important to get everything one can get out of a cartridge. Shooting the black out of the ace of spades from 10 feet at 300 fps to impress a kid is down right ridiculous…sarcasm!

For revolvers,
I tested black powder loads in original 1880’s unheadstamped brass. A full compressed charge, replicating early dissected cartridges, created 14,000psi (slightly less than 17,000 cup) @ 1,373fps while the same basic compressed load in modern Star Line brass only creates 8,953 psi @ 1,226fps which parallels original ballistic reports.

Early smokeless powders created less pressures BUT the smokeless pressure curve proved “more harmful” to the weak steel firearms. Ironically the early, less pressure smokeless powders were not recommended by Colt for their revolvers until 1909 AFTER pressures increased from improved powders but also after stronger steel was used. Eventually later smokeless pressures regained the 15,000 to 16,000 cup pressures which were eventually reduced by SAAMI max specs recommendations down to 13,000 cup or 11,000 psi.

With the advent of modern conversion cylinders for the 45 Colt and 44 Magnum frames for the 44-40, it is evident that the weak link in revolvers is the thickness of the cylinder walls, at the cylinder lock detent and not the frame itself. I shoot 21,000cup 45 ACP loads in my Uberti 45 Colt conversion cylinder and I shoot 18,000psi 44-40 loads in my Uberti 44 Magnum frame single action revolver with a conversion cylinder.

I added a several pages to the website a while back that covers these issues. Again, yo0u can lead a horse to water but ya can’t make him drink it.

I have reloaded 13,000 psi (not cup) 44-40 HV loads in the same brass cases many many times and have yet to have an abnormal case failure (Star Line). I have also reloaded quite a few times, heavy 18,000 psi (22,000ish cup) IMR-4227 loads, also with no issues…YET!

Winchester created over pressure loads 70 years before the +P, +P+ standard designations.

I acknowledge there could one day be a failure, and if it doesn’t kill me, I will document and share the data.

Here are some links…I prefer actual in depth test results myself…

44-40 SAAMI Specs

44-40 Pressure testing

44-40 Blow-Ups and Barrel Bulges

+P, +P+ and Magnum designations?

44-40 Clear Ballistics Gel tests

44-40 Pressure Test Results Overview

Heavy Loads For The M92’ Winchester, Shooting Times, Feb 1973 by C. George Charles

3 Likes

Yes, that is correct to observe that variances in chambers have a lot to do with brass life. One reason why a little not so secret involved sizing brass half to no more than three quarters of the way to the case head. Such practice enabled the brass to sit tight in the cylinder, improving accuracy.
We’re talking about building loads that are healthy, but not running on the edge of possibility. Firing and sizing will work harden brass, which weakens the alloy, but brass that is put to too high stress can fail the first time.
It’s a basic rule of thumb that sixguns, even when overloaded, aren’t very good at exhibiting pressure signs, which is why old timers usually built specific loads for specific guns.
Keep in mind that before the arrival of the 357 Magnum, all heavy loads were constructed in 38 Special brass. Big guns like the Outdoorsman and the New Service had the steel to take those rip snorters, but the brass was very often just single use. Even so, handloaders who built hot 38s took a lot of heat, and not a little grief for the practice due to the number of spectacular failures that occurred amongst the rank and file reloaders.
Those hot 38s were only for the best and strongest of guns with exceptional tolerances, not for the smaller, more lightly constructed guns.
The top loads listed above may work well in an N frame, or New Frontier, but be too much for lesser guns. It’s always best to develop loads from start to determine one’s and one’s guns sweet spot.

3 Likes