.44-40 - I am confused.


June 25, 2005, 09:08 AM
One of the local gunshops took in a pair of NIB firearms from a guy, both in beautiful condition. They were a Navy Arms rifle and a Ruger Vacquero, both in .44-40. I asked to see a box of .44-40 ammo and they had some PMC (Cowboy loads I think). But I was surprised to see that they appeared to be straight-wall cartridges. I thought that the .44-40 had a slight bottle-neck. You just don't see this cartridge around here very often.

I was tempted, but broke.

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June 25, 2005, 09:11 AM
44/40 does have a very slight bottle neck.
If they were straight wall .45s must have been put in a 44/40 box

June 25, 2005, 09:23 AM
44/40 on ther left.
The difference is quite small, you may have miised it

June 25, 2005, 09:34 AM
Thanks for thge pics. The cases were marked 44-40 so they should be correct. You may be right, it was late in the day and I was a bit tired so I could easily have missed a slight bottle-neck.

Do you shoot .44-40? If so, do you consider it a good round?


June 25, 2005, 10:15 AM
It's almost more of a taper than bottle-neck (though there is a shoulder).

June 25, 2005, 10:17 AM
I shoot the 44-40 from an Uberti. I load 6 grains of HP-38 behind 210 bullets I cast myself, sized to .427. Good load, accurate... and I think it approximates the original loading.

Is it a good round? Well... there are better. ;)

It's a bit annoying to work with the cases since the mouth is paper-thin. And extra care has to be taken or else the rounds won't chamber.

.44 Special is the better round in every way: more accurate, potentially more powerful, easier to reload. So why do I bother? Same reason I fire a Colt 3rd Model Dragoon from time to time... history.

It's a rewarding experience to me to handle and fire a round with the rich history that 44-40 has. I guess it's a hobbyist/niche round. If you get one, please do give some consideration to reloading and even casting your own bullets.

Be safe and have fun! :)


June 25, 2005, 04:21 PM
I have an Uberti Cattleman and a Rossi 94 in 44/40

I got both as new for $200 and $179. Probably for the reasons that StrikeEagle mentioned

I have fired both but not enough to comment on the round other than to say that it is accurate in those two guns for shooting cans off of logs

June 25, 2005, 10:12 PM
As above, the round is more tempermental than say a .45 Colt. I have a Colt SAA .44-40. Neat to shoot, but (I guess either due to the slight bottleneck or very thin case) sometimes the rounds back out and lock up the cylinder

My "shooter" gun is a Ruger Bisley in 45 LC. I was just shooting it today at a gravel pit. I pulled it out and told one of the guys to take a shot at a dirt clump maybe 40 yards away. He just laughed and said he could never hit anything over 15 yards with a pistol. A few warm up shots and he was hitting it pretty consistently.

When I worked at the gun shop, I let quite a few people shoot it and many were amazed at how well they could do.

Father Knows Best
June 27, 2005, 05:48 PM
The bottleneck is indeed very slight. SAAMI spec for a 44-40 chamber is 0.4710 diameter at the base of the cartridge, and 0.4435 at the mouth. That's a difference of just .0275, or 1/36 of an inch. By comparison, the 44-40 and 44 Remington Magnum case are almost the exact same length (1.248 from rim to mouth). The 44 mag, however, is 0.4600 diameter from the rim to the neck, i.e., it is "straight" while the 44-40 narrows from .4710 down to .4435.

The 44-40 can be a challenging cartridge. The thin case mouth means it is a little less forgiving of some loading errors, such as undersize expanders, oversize bullets, not enough bell to the mouth, etc. The biggest problem, however, comes from the variability in the firearms it is chambered for. In the old days, 44-40 firearms had .426 +/- .001 bores, which called for lead bullets sized to .427. At some point, however, many manufacturers started putting 44 spl/mag barrels on their 44-40 firearms. Colt, for instance, offers dual cylinder Single Action Army revolvers chambered in both 44-40 and 44 Special. Since the 44 Special/Mag barrel is a slightly larger diameter, that's the one that got used. Even in single chambering revolvers, however, many manufacturers now put 44 spl/mag barrels on ALL their 44-40 products.

Since the 44 spl/mag barrel is .4295 in the grooves, you need .430 or .431 bullets for best accuracy. Fitting .430 bullets in 44-40 brass, however, can be quite a challenge. 44-40 expanders are usually sized for the smaller .427 bullets. Modern brass is also thicker than the old days. Even if you use the correct expander for .430 bullets, you may find that the resulting 44-40 cartridge is more hourglass than bottleneck, and may not fit in a SAAMI-spec 44-40 chamber.

The only real reasons to prefer 44-40 over 44 special or magnum these days are: (1) authenticity, if you're a cowboy shooter; and (2) black powder. The 44-40 round was introduced in by Winchester 1873 (as the .44 Winchester Central Fire, or 44WCF) and, along with the 45 Colt, is the round that won the west. It is also an excellent black powder cartridge. The thin neck ensures it will expand and seal the chamber better than any straight walled case, which keeps all that fouling from blowing back into the action and jamming up your rifle. The slight bottleneck also eases extraction when chambers are dirty. Both of those factors helped make the repeating rifle successful. Winchester knew what it was doing.

I load thousands of black powder 44-40 cartridges every year, as I compete in the cowboy action shooting black powder categories. For general revolver shooting, though, the 44 Special and magnum are better choices.

June 27, 2005, 06:26 PM
I'm looking at buying a 3rd generation Colt SAA in 44-40. Would you expect it to have the correct dimension 44-40 barrel or the 44 Special barrel as described above? I intend to reload so where would I obtain the correct components. I'm not keen on having the empty case move back and lock the cylinder. How do you un-jam the revolver at that point? Thanks for any assistance. Bill

Father Knows Best
June 27, 2005, 06:36 PM
Colt is one of the few companies that still puts the smaller dimension barrels on their firearms. That assumes it's a dedicated 44-40 revolver, however, and not a dual cylinder model. The only way to be sure is to slug the barrel. I slug any 44-40 firearm that I buy. Most are .429, but I find the occasional .426 or .427.

If you're not sure what you have, slug it. Until then, use .427 bullets. You won't get the best accuracy if it turns out that it has a .429 barrel, and you might get some leading, but you won't blow it up. Trying to cram .431 bullets down a .426 bore, however, could be a problem.

Reloading components are available anywhere. All of the major bullet companies offer 200 grain lead bullets sized to .427, .428, .429, .430 and .431. You just need to know what to order. By the way, commercial 44-40 ammo has .427 bullets.

I use Winchester and Starline brass, and Winchester LP primers, but anything will work.

For reloading, just make sure to get the right size case mouth expander to work with whatever bullet size you will be loading. For instance, the Dillon 44-40 conversion kits come standard with an expander (powder funnel) sized for .427 bullets. If you ask, however, Dillon will give you the 44 Special/Mag funnel sized for .430 bullets at no additional charge.

Also, I've never had a problem with a 44-40 case backing out and jamming a revolver, and I've fired literally tens of thousands of them out of dozens of revolvers. That sounds like a problem with his particular gun. It is not a problem with 44-40 in general. In the unlikely event it happens to you, take the gun to a 'smith and have him diagnose and fix it.

The only time I've had a revolver jam at the rear of the cylinder was not from spent cases backing out -- it was from high primers. That's just a matter of taking time and care when you reload. If you don't seat the primer all the way, it will protrude and can hang up, whether it's a .38, a 44-40, a .44 Special, a .45 or anything else.

June 27, 2005, 08:20 PM
I'll look at the Colt 44-40 in the morning to make sure, but I think it said 44-40 on the 7 1/2 barrel. If so, I should be OK. Thanks for the wealth of information. I suspected high primers might have been the culprit creating a stuck cylinder, but glad to get a second opinion. Regards, Bill

Father Knows Best
June 27, 2005, 10:18 PM
Even if it says 44-40 on the barrel, you should slug it to be sure. I've seen Colt 44-40 barrels as tight as .425 in the grooves, and as loose as .430. You can get a cheap slugging kit, or make one yourself. All you need is a soft lead slug tha is roughly bore diameter, and a hardwood dowel. Just drive the slug through the bore with the dowel and a mallet. If it was large enough, the lands and grooves of the rifleing will be clearly and evenly imprinted on it. Mike it, and you'll have your groove diameter.

Until then, assume it is .426, and load it with bullets no larger than .427.

Bullet Bob
June 28, 2005, 07:29 AM
FPrice, it sounds like you were looking at a box of loaded cartridges, but it's worth noting that when buying empty cases for reloading there often is not a taper, or bottleneck. They are shipped "straight", and the slight taper is put on by the reloading dies.

Jim Watson
June 28, 2005, 08:27 AM
Many sources say you will get better performance with bullets to fit the chamber throats instead of worrying about the barrel dimensions.

It might all be moot.

A lot of .44-40 revolvers have small chambers and you might well be limited by what will chamber freely. Brass thickness varies a good deal, too. I had a .44-40 cylinder fitted to my 3rd gen Colt .44 Special when I had the action worked over and found that it would accept .429" bullets in Winchester brass, but not in Starline. Some of the Remington brass I had would not chamber in the sixgun with anything; it has to be limited to my Winchester. I would buy .428" bullets if readily available, but they are not real common so I just load .427". SASS pistol targets are seldom small or far.

Father Knows Best
June 28, 2005, 09:07 AM
Good point, Jim. That's what I meant when I referred to problems with SAAMI-spec chambers being mixed with 44 special barrels. With a 44 special (.4295 major diameter) barrel, you should be loading .430 lead bullets for optimum accuracy and minimum leading. Here's the problem -- SAAMI spec 44-40 chambers are only .4435 at the case mouth. A lot of modern brass is too thick in the neck to allow you to load .430 bullets and still fit the cartridge into the chamber. For example, Starline 44-40 brass averages .007 thick at the case mouth. That means that a .430 bullet loaded in 44-40 Starline brass yields a cartridge that is .444 in diameter at the case mouth. You can't fit a .444 peg into a .4435 hole, and if the tolerances add up in the wrong direction it will be even worse. I even have trouble with chamber fit in a significant percentage of rounds when I load .429 bullets in Starline brass.

You can solve the problem in three ways. First, you can just load smaller (.427) bullets. For cowboy shooting, the slight loss of accuracy will indeed be so small that it won't matter. You may start to see some leading of the barrel and forcing cone, however, particularly if your loads are toward the warmer end of the scale.

Second, you can try to use the thinnest brass available. Some guys I know swear that Starline is thicker than other brands. Starline tells me that ain't so. I do know that I have fewer chamber fit problems with Winchester brass than Starline, but it doesn't completely solve the problem,

Finally, you can do what I did and enlarge the chambers slightly in the neck area. I had a custom 44-40 cylinder reamer made up by Dave Manson of Manson Precision Reamers. It is .003 oversize in the case neck while keeping the SAAMI spec dimensions everywhere else. It allows me to load even Starline brass with .430 bullets and have no problems with getting them to chamber and unload easily. It only takes about 10 minutes to ream and hone the chambers on a 44-40 revolver, and it is time well spent. I've done about a dozen of them for myself and friends who have 44-40 revolvers with 44 special size barrels.

Incidentally, I always check the cylinder throats at the same time. Some manufacturers (Ruger, in particular) are notorious for having undersized throats on their 44-40 revolvers. Undersized or oversized throats will destroy accuracy quickly. You can't do much about oversized throats (other than rebarrel and rechamber for a larger cartridge), but undersized throats can easily be remedied with an inexpensive throat reamer. On a 44-40 revolver with a .4295 barrel, I like the throats to be .4305 +/- .0005.

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