44-40 vs 45 Long Colt vs 45 Special?


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epijunkie67
November 5, 2005, 12:48 PM
I've got a lever action in 45LC and was considering getting one in .44 mag. Then I got to thinking about one in 44-40 instead. Case size is almost the exact same size as the 44 mag. But after I started a little online research I see that the max pressure for a 44-40 is only about 13000 CUP and for my 45LC it's about 14,500 CUP. So I check 44 special and see it's almost the same.

So my question would be, is there any real difference given rifles of the same length between these three calibers? It seems they're all about the same size and pressure. Shouldn't performance be about the same?

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Father Knows Best
November 5, 2005, 01:23 PM
Performance is indeed about the same. The 44-40 and 45 Colt have similar case volumes -- large! They were originally designed as black powder rounds. One of the problems you run into when using them with smokeless powders is that you leave a lot of empty space in the case, which can lead to eratic results with position-sensitive powders.

The 45 Colt shoots slightly larger and heavier bullets (230 to 255 grains standard) than the 44-40 (typically 200-225).

The 44 Special is almost identical ballistically to the 44-40, but in a slightly smaller case.

One advantage of the 44-40 over the other two, at least if you want to load black powder cartridges, is the bottlenecked case. It is thinner in the neck than the straight-walled 45 Colt and 44 Special, so it obturates and seals the chamber much better. That results in almost no blowback and a cleaner action. The bottleneck also helps with extraction. With smokeless powders, though, there really isn't much of an advantage, and the 44-40 can be a little trickier to reload.

Sunray
November 5, 2005, 01:42 PM
"...bottlenecked case..." Not exactly, but not a straight walled case either. Depends on the manufacturer. Some makers put a slight shoulder, some just a taper. Have a look at the brass from the 4 makers Midway sells. None of them are the same. http://www.midwayusa.com/eproductpage.exe/showproduct?saleitemid=482951
Rumour has it that the .44-40 is a pain to reload because of the wee shoulder. I'd go with the .44 mag and load it to .44 Special velocities. The brass is a bit cheaper too. $56.99 per 500 compared to around $70 per 500.

Father Knows Best
November 5, 2005, 02:14 PM
It is indeed bottlenecked, even though the bottleneck is so slight that it is difficult to see with the naked eye. A SAAMI-spec 44-40 chamber, for example, is .4590 at the bottom of the shoulder with a 4.5 degree shoulder angle leading to a .4455 diameter at the base of the neck. The decrease is only .0135", so it's not obvious, but it is indeed there. The fact that raw brass may not have the shoulder doesn't mean anything. Once it's been sized, it will have the shoulder.

I load tens of thousands of rounds of 44-40 every year. I find it to be only a little more challenging to load than 44 Special or 45 Colt. The shoulder has nothing to do with it, however. The difficulties arise from the thin neck, which is easy to crumple, and the fact that the bottleneck means that carbide dies are not available. Thus, you need to lube the cases. The issues are then compounded by gun manufacturers who put .4295 barrels (same as .44 Special and .44 Magnum) on guns chambered in 44-40, while the original spec for 44-40 was a .4265 barrel. Most reloading dies are set up for .427 bullets, which often don't give great accuracy (and can cause leading) when fired out of a .4295 barrel. The obvious answer is to load .430 bullets, but when your reloading dies only expand the neck enough for a .427, trying to force a .430 bullet into the case will often cause that thin neck to crumple.

The solution is to use the right dies and exercise care in setting up your press. I use Redding 44-40 dies in a Dillon RL550B, but I use the .44 Special/Mag powder funnel because it expands the neck more than the 44-40 powder funnel.

Cosmoline
November 5, 2005, 02:33 PM
From everything I've heard, the .44-40 is just about *the* perfect levergun/revolver combination cartridge. A lot of serious levergun shooters swear by it.

MrAcheson
November 5, 2005, 03:11 PM
All three are very similar ballistically. I generally

The .44-40 is great for keeping an action clean with black poweder, but is the hardest to reload. Not only is it bottleneck/tapered/whatever, but the case is quite thin and can be easy to mangle.

.45 colt was never a rifle cartridge historically, but it works in most cases. If your lever is a modern marlin or 1892, you can shoot pretty hot .45 colt hunting rounds with performance similar to .44 mag. If you're shooting a '73 or '66, this is a very stupid thing to do.

It is my understanding that .44 special was created because a lot of handloaders blew up their .45 colt revolvers with hot loads. The special leaves slightly more metal in the cylinder. It is probably the easiest smokeless handloading cartridge because it has the least excess case volume to cause problems. I believe that .44 spec is probably the cheapest of three calibers to buy commercially too.

mikec
November 5, 2005, 04:18 PM
It is my understanding that .44 special was created because a lot of handloaders blew up their .45 colt revolvers with hot loads. The special leaves slightly more metal in the cylinder. It is probably the easiest smokeless handloading cartridge because it has the least excess case volume to cause problems. I believe that .44 spec is probably the cheapest of three calibers to buy commercially too.


From the web: Smith & Wesson introduced the .44 Special in 1907 as a smokeless powder cartridge. Its case was based on a lengthened version of the older .44 Russian black powder cartridge. The .44 Russian had an impressive reputation for accuracy and so does the .44 Special.

Archie
November 5, 2005, 04:50 PM
It is my understanding that .44 special was created because a lot of handloaders blew up their .45 colt revolvers with hot loads. The special leaves slightly more metal in the cylinder.
Mr Acheson, I believe you are recalling the late Elmer Keith's comments. Brother Keith said he hotrodded the .44 Special because the .45 Colt experiments he conducted blew up.

As noted, the .44 Special was introduced in 1907, an outgrowth of the .44 Russian. I could be wrong, but I doubt many reloaders blew up .45 Colts prior to the large scale availability of smokeless gunpower to reloaders. Crazy Elmer didn't start blowing up guns until the late '20s - early '30s.

Father Knows Best
November 5, 2005, 04:56 PM
Smith & Wesson introduced the .44 Special in 1907 as a smokeless powder cartridge. Its case was based on a lengthened version of the older .44 Russian black powder cartridge. The .44 Russian had an impressive reputation for accuracy and so does the .44 Special.

Yup. That's why us cowboy 44 afficionados refer to the 44 Special as the "Long Russian" and the 44 mag as the "Extra Long Russian." They're both just lengthened versions of the c. 1873 .44 Russian cartridge.

mikec
November 5, 2005, 04:59 PM
Now comes the question, did Saint Elmer have his failures because the Colt was weak or was it because of the balloon head cases?

Father Knows Best
November 5, 2005, 07:38 PM
Now comes the question, did Saint Elmer have his failures because the Colt was weak or was it because of the balloon head cases?

The Colt is a weak design. There just isn't a whole lot of steel left in the cylinder when you ream out six .45 caliber holes. The thinnest point is actually between the chambers, and it's easy to crack them at this point with heavy loads. Of course, the balloon head cases didn't help. Also, modern Colts undoubtedly have much better metallurgy than the ones from the 19th and early 20th century.

Still, there's a reason heavy .45 Colt loads are labelled "Ruger only." There's enough space in those cases -- even the modern ones -- to turn the average Colt into a frag grenade.

AH-1
November 6, 2005, 02:51 PM
I've got a lever action in 45LC and was considering getting one in .44 mag. Then I got to thinking about one in 44-40 instead. Case size is almost the exact same size as the 44 mag. But after I started a little online research I see that the max pressure for a 44-40 is only about 13000 CUP and for my 45LC it's about 14,500 CUP. So I check 44 special and see it's almost the same.

So my question would be, is there any real difference given rifles of the same length between these three calibers? It seems they're all about the same size and pressure. Shouldn't performance be about the same?

if your shooting a win 92 action or clone navy arms/emf/rossi ect the 44-40 can be loaded pretty hot and be safe.I just mine for paper/plinking and its alot of fun but if I had to use it for hunting it can do double duty.
I only use starline brass and the lee factory crimp die.no problems in reloading if you go slow and take your time.
there are 3 pages good reading
pete
http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BQY/is_11_49/ai_109351856

MrAcheson
November 6, 2005, 11:39 PM
Mr Acheson, I believe you are recalling the late Elmer Keith's comments. Brother Keith said he hotrodded the .44 Special because the .45 Colt experiments he conducted blew up. You are correct, sir. Thanks to everyone who is wiser than I.

The Colt is a weak design. The words "by modern standards" should probably be appended to that. Back in the late 1860s and early 1870s when the SAA was designed, you couldn't load a .45 colt cartridge with enough black powder to blow one of these guns up. Even with more energetic modern BP substitutes like triple7, you'd probably be hard pressed to grenade one.

The problem is that smokeless powder changed the whole dynamics of throwing a piece of lead down range. Smaller powder charges and higher peak pressures, etc. It isn't the Colt's fault and the design has held up pretty well all things considered.

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