Recent purchase, S&W .44 Russian, American Bulldog ????


April 27, 2013, 04:51 PM
Ok, I'm sorry if this isn't the location to ask this if Mods need to move my thread, I don't have a problem..

I'm a recent sign

I bought a .44 Russian caliber American Bulldog revolver, with a box of Ultramax .44 Russian LFP cartridges. I was told it is a S&W, but there isn't any markings on the revolver indicating it is, in fact, a S&W manufactured weapon. It has a pretty tight cylinder, or at least I don't detect any slop in the fit on the cylinder pin, and the bullets feel tight in the bullet chambers. It has a barrel length of 2.5" and is Octagonal, with the " American Bulldog" stamped in the top surface of the barrel. No other markings on the outside visible surfaces. Only the s/n stamped onto the left side of the handle frame.

The gun is Nichol plated, and from the condition I see, it isn't gonna be a collector item, but it is a usable revolver. It has some surface rust blemishes on the cylinder and the area where you'd rest your fore finger in the ready. The hammer is completely devoid of Nichol plate and has a rusty look.

I found only one stamped number, located under the left side hand grip. I read it as being a 4 digit number, 56xx....

I've searched several Bing, and Google searches, and found only one reference of S&W numbers this one might fall into. It indicated it as being a 1910 N Frame, with the 4 digit serial # beginning 5xxx.

I'm really wondering if it is a S&W, just so I can say what it is for sure. Beyond what the general history of the Russian manufacture placing the beginning of this caliber in the 1880's, and that about 110,000 were initially made, I don't know where my revolver fits into the history curve.
Not only that, whether it is a S&W and not some copy. I don't know about the 2.5" barrel, since none of what I see as examples online, are less than 5-7" barrels.

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Ron James
April 27, 2013, 06:35 PM
Your Bulldog is a Iver Johnson , American Bulldog, First Model, 1882-1886. the 44 cambering is for 44 Webley and is a black powder frame It should not be fired with modern smokeless ammo, even a lighter cartridge such as the 44 Russian. Sorry, it is not a Smith and Wesson and probably has never even been in the same room with a S&W:). Since it is considered dangerous to shoot any thing but black powder cartridges in it, I don't consider it anything but a " Wall Hanger ". Sorry about that.

April 27, 2013, 07:07 PM
Whoa, you mean it is really a pre-turn of the 20th century gun? I will take it under advisement about shooting it. I had read that already, in my searches. I was planning to take it to a local gun shop and ask them to evaluate it....but this puts another angle on the picture that I hadn't figured on. It has not been test fired by me, but I was told it was a working, and functional gun.

For a green newbie, what happens in a bullet or chamber where the era of ammo was black powder and had less muzzle velocity, than the smokeless powder cartridges? Exploding the chamber or just a general frame stress?

Ron James
April 27, 2013, 07:23 PM
Smokeless powder has a shorter ( I believe, I may have it backward ) sharper power curve. I don't think it will blow up ( but I've been wrong before ) but it may very well put excess stress on the firearm which may result in cracks and looseness. Remember, early black powder firearms were not steel, but cast iron. Iver Johnson didn't go to a stronger smokeless frame until 1909. In firearms it is always safer to err on the side of safety. In aviation we used to say that there are " old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no , old bold pilots ". It could be a saying in firearms that there are old shooters and there are reckless shooters, but there are very few " old, reckless shooters that still have all of their extremities, such as fingers, eyes, hands. " Just something to think on:)

April 27, 2013, 07:46 PM
I like the sayings, :D and very likely more true than just a funny saying....

I guess the possibility of getting BP ammo, with the present climate of ammo shortages isn't likely to be easily gotten, if at all. I don't reload, and even if I did, i wouldn't have proper dies, anyway. I guess you could use the Russian cartridge and ask someone to do some reloads. EXPENSIVE:what:

April 27, 2013, 07:53 PM
Oh, one question.....uhh, maybe several:confused:

If the gun is an Iver Johnson, why doesn't it have some sort of marking to that effect?

How could I convert the s/n to a possible date of manufacture range?

If I'm only planning to use this as a personal defense weapon, and were to come up with some proper BP ammo, there shouldn't be any reason to be able to use it, correct?

Ron James
April 27, 2013, 08:18 PM
!. Life was simple at the turn of the 20th century, Many firearms only had " Trade Names ", not uncommon at all., This way they could be sold at a discount but not hurt the manufacturers name for selling " cheap guns".

2. The late Bill Goforth's Book on Iver Johnson, Arms and Cycle Works, 1871-1993. However, you are not going to get any closer that those 4 years.

3. I can't answer that, only you can. I personally would find something more modern. You can find modern ( after 1910 ) Iver Johnson and H&R firearms chambered in either 32 or 38 S&W caliber for under a hundred dollars. While not the best choice for self defence, the ammo is a lot easier to find and will suffice.

April 27, 2013, 08:42 PM
Ok, thanks, you 've been very helpful. I sure like the feel of it in my hand. I was thinking of it as being a good self defense gun to have in the house. If I knew where to get another newer version of this Iver Johnson I own, and I could get it for less than $100 as you suggest, I'd buy several.

April 28, 2013, 01:49 PM
It's NOT an S&W. It was a cheap gun and a dubious proposition to fire when it was new - 130 years ago. I wouldn't shoot it with any ammo. Sorry to break the bad news, but look at the bright side - you still have all your fingers.

If you want a self defense gun, get a used S&W model 10 in 38 special.

April 28, 2013, 11:27 PM
Thanks, Natman,

NO I was only saying it would have been a nice revolver to have around the house. I like the look of it.....unfortunately, it was not something I was familiar with, and I bit on something that I shouldn't have. Caveat Emptor. Just wasn't my day when I saw that....and the gentleman wasn't as honest about it as he should or could have been.

Thanks to all for their interest and valuable information. And advice....I still have my fingers thanks to you all. At least, I didn't promptly go out and shoot it.

I'll do a little more to guard myself in another search for a more useable gun.

Ron James
April 29, 2013, 12:06 AM
When we are born, we know how to eat and cry, every thing else has to be learned.:) Anytime, any questions, come on back. Heck, the only thing I am really an expert on , is how to find the dinner table:D

Jim K
April 30, 2013, 09:01 PM
There are several drawbacks to using those old guns for serious purposes, but the main one is that they have old flat springs that can, and do, break without warning, leaving the gun useless. Further, parts are almost unobtainable, so broken or worn parts cannot be replaced. As for repairs or sales, most gunsmiths won't work on them because the frustration factor is so high and repair time so long that they are not economically repairable. Dealers won't take them on trade since offering the normal warranty to a buyer would not be feasible.


Old Shooter
April 30, 2013, 10:14 PM
It was a nice gun in it's day..but it's day is gone.

Best to cal it a wall hanger, conversation piece or paperweight and get a newer gun for self defense.

Although I'd love to have it as a conversation piece, for my own personal protection I'd prefer something a tad bit more recent in manufacture.

That is a nice looking gun though...:)

May 5, 2013, 10:30 PM
I've been doing a little more researching for the ammo used in this gun. I found a solution to my problem. I think this will give this gun a little more life. I would prefer being able to use it, and since I found a source for some black powder ammo, I don't believe it has to become a wall hanger.....yet, that is.

This is the ammo I'm getting as described in the catalog...

AMMO-G-44-RUSSIAN .44 Russian Black Powder Ammunition, 205 grain RNFP soft lead bullet, 50 per box, Goex Black Dawge Center Fire Cartridges

Jim K
May 5, 2013, 10:58 PM
Just FWIW, smokeless powder has a longer and more drawn out pressure curve than black. Black powder burns very quickly and its pressure drops rapidly. Smokeless progressive burning powder keeps pressure on much longer and much further out, which is why BP shotguns often let go where the barrel becomes thinner (around the end of the forearm, just where the shooter's hand is located) when fired with smokeless powder. Of course smokeless powder is capable of greater pressure than black powder, but the pressure curve is the reason I and others recommend against use of even light loads of smokeless powder in old shotguns.

(Rifles and revolvers are not so critical, since the barrels don't thin down the way that shotgun barrels do.)


Jim Watson
May 5, 2013, 11:12 PM
Ron identified the caliber as .44 Webley.
That is not the same as .44 Russian.
From description and dimensions in CotW, I do not think they are interchangeable.

Ron James
May 6, 2013, 01:08 AM
I don't know if they can be interchanged or not. The 44 Webley has just a tad smaller dimensions and the power level is about the same. It may be similar to the 38 S&W and the 38 Special. Some 38 Special revolvers have just a tad over size cylinder, that 38 S&W will fit and fire ( I have a Model 19 that will fit 38 S&W ). hankll stated that the 44 Russian cartridges he had were a " snug " fit. I have to back up on this one, perhaps some one who has both handguns in both cartridges can chime in.:banghead: PS: and I won't even go into the other cambering, the 44 Bulldog.

Jim Watson
May 6, 2013, 09:56 AM
From CotW dimensions, the reason .44 Russian "bullets feel tight in the bullet chambers" may be because the longer Russian is pushing up into the Webley throats.
Tight cartridges are not good; Clark "bullet pinch" is a major source of high pressure.
Even at the black powder level, the Russian is more heavily loaded than the Webley to start with.

I am not usually timid about such things but the combination of new operator, old gun, and mismatched ammo does not sound good to me.

May 6, 2013, 12:24 PM
All of you are way more experienced and I wanted to let you know that I'm listening to every bit of information you are giving me....

I have not fired the revolver with the smokeless powder ( as bad as I want to hear it and see it ) because I am also concerned about it enough to not do it.

But the availability of the black powder ammo, is worth the money to buy a box of them and then do a "remote" firing to test it.

Whether I am inexperienced has more to do with whether I'm using some caution and some common sense while I'm learning about my gun. I had intended to do the wall hanger route until I stumbled on the company still producing black powder ammo.

The only question is, I indicated, snug, as a description of the fit of the cartridges in the cylinder chambers. I still am able to open the gate and they fall out easily. I don't have a micrometer gauge or I would have attempted to measure them. But it still needs a trip to the gun shop for them to look it over, too.

I will report the findings of the both the test and the gun shop, when I get them. Never fear, I won't do anything without an approval viewpoint from the gun shop, if they feel the black powder ammo is safe and the cartridges do fit the chambers properly. I'm just interested in having a usable gun and I'm just going the extra step of getting the more proper black powder ammo for it.

May 10, 2013, 06:59 AM
The Goex Black Dawge 44 Russian cartridges came yesterday after I left for work. I asked and was told these are going to produce about 645 - 700 fps, vs the smokeless UltraMax I got with the gun. UltraMax indicated theirs were producing 755fps and were loaded light.....both are using 205 gr RNFP soft lead bullets.

Next stop is the gun shop, and I'll be doing that today... I'll check back later about what they think.

May 10, 2013, 10:35 PM
The gun shop I went to today checked out my revolver and gave me a go ahead. In their opinion the revolving action of the cylinder was good, and in my laymen terms, it lined up for the next chamber and was tight with little play for the hammer to drop onto the bullet primer. I'm not good with the terminology, but apparently one that old can have a bunch of slop when the hammer is cocked. Mine didn't display that.

Not wanting it to be just a one shop decision, I took it into another shop. They looked it over and indicated I should use a leather glove for the first shots and place it in a bag to fire it the first time. The method they wanted me to try was to validate that it wasn't shaving the lead as the bullet was entering the barrel. The fact that I had BP cartridges was also a good thing to do. It will be a very dirty gun, but I'm not looking to be using it for much more than a stored gun for defensive use anyway.

I feel fortunate that you guys were here to give advice. I am also very happy that the internet provided enough background to give me a feel for the history of this old gun. I just look at it as a learning experience, and thankful that I didn't just start shooting the smokeless ammo I got with it.

That being said, I'm planning a trip out to the country to shoot a few rounds to test it out and then I'll clean it and store it as I planned to.

Ron James
May 10, 2013, 11:36 PM
You seem to have done every thing right, go forth and multiply, whoops, wrong sermon, go forth and have fun with a piece of firearm history. In it's day, that Bulldog was a mean piece of equipment and even today, I would not like to look down the bore of that " short barrel bad .44 " ( quote from I believe a Marty Robbins song ). :)

May 11, 2013, 12:30 AM
Thanks, Ron, I'm not familiar with that particular song, but I think it would be a good one to listen to. Marty Robbins was a good singer..

As far as making the right moves with this gun, I think the smart thing wouldn't have been buying it at the gun show in the first place. I didn't know anything about it, and I took a lot for granted with what the seller said about it. I'm just lucky it is a usable gun. But that took a lot of time and research and utilizing a lot of knowledgeable peoples gun experience, and the additional purchase of the proper ammo in BP. I am somewhat hard headed, and didn't want the gun to be a wall hanger, if there was a possibility I could use it. But I wouldn't have endangered myself, if I had received negative reports from the two gun shops in my area.

Thanks to everybody again.

May 11, 2013, 01:11 AM
Unfortunately, many people do their research after they purchase something rather than before. In the firearms world that research can cost a pretty penny from time to time.

I know you said you were hardheaded and want to fire your new (old) gun, but I would caution you against it. If there is some force required to chamber the .44 Russian ammo, it could indeed raise the pressure in the chambers. What the result of that will be is unpredictable.

I don't know what you paid for it, but however much that was it is still only money and not worth getting hurt over. Use it as the paperweight it has now become and if you want to get a shooter find a more modern gun that is in good condition.

I have been buying and selling guns for nearly 40 years now and occasionally I get stuck too. It's nothing to be ashamed about and I tend to look at it as continuing education.

Last year I bought a S&W Model 29 (no dash) that looked decent, but certainly wasn't unfired. Due to work and other obligations, I didn't get to shoot it for a couple of months after I purchased it. What I found when I finally got it to the range was that every single cylinder was bulged. Not by enough to see by looking at it, but it was VERY hard to extract the empty shells from the cylinder. Measuring the fired shells and then the chambers, told me there was about a .006 bulge in each chamber.

I couldn't get a hold of the seller and was left with no choice but to fix it. It wound up costing me another c-note to straighten it out with another cylinder. I still don't have all that much in it and now when I buy used revolvers I bring my micrometers and ball gauges.

May 11, 2013, 01:32 AM
Thanks for your reply....

I've gone through a lot of steps, to get to where I am now. Now I have the proper black powder ammo for it, and I don't have any problem with the cartridges fitting the cylinder bores. They fit properly, and this has been verified twice by two different gun shops in my area. If you go back and follow the posts I put in this thread, I believe I've followed a fair amount of caution and also researched the weapon for what it is and was, and what ammo was likely to be originally used and whether Russian 44 cal would fit. It does. Just really a lot of steps before I felt that I could actually keep it for more than a paper weight. And if it had come to a wall hanger or paper weight based on the reports by either of the two gun shops, that is what it would have become.

I am not planning to use it for more than a strategically hidden weapon in my home for defensive use, so the probability of it being a regular concealed carry weapon isn't happening in my use of it, and wasn't ever planned for that use. If it fires once for my defensive protection, that is all I need out if it.

I'm doing a test fire of it this weekend, so check back because I will try to take photo's of the firing. I want to see the plume of black powder smoke.

July 4, 2013, 06:53 PM
Hello. I have been following your posts about the ammo and the American Bulldog. I have some interesting information you might use. It is from W.E. Goforth's book: Iver Johnson Arms and Cycle Works Firearms 1871 - 1993.
In this book is explained the differences between the First and Second Model American Bulldog revolvers. One identifying feature of the two are the grip panels. The First Model Large Frame has an Eagle with the grip screw running through it. The Second Model Large Frame has a Dog's Head with the grip screw running through it. The First Model was manufactured from 1882 - 1886. The Second Model 1887 - 1899. The First Model also had a lsaw-handle style grip frame, while the Second Model has a more rounded grip frame.
The main difference that seems to be going on here is, which cartridge would be a factory replacement for the .44 Webley Centerfire? There is only one . That is the American reduced load of the .44 Bulldog. Not the .44 Russian, nor the .44 S&W cartridges. I do not have the loading spec of either the .44 Russian or .44 S&W at my disposal, but I have researched the .44 Russian with the assistance of Chick's Gun Shop in Elk City, Oklahoma. He had one of the largest retail shops featuring any American made firearm of Pre-1900 manufacture in the U.S.A. The .44 Russian was originally manufactured for the single-action Smith & Wesson Russian #3 revolver as a possible military use by the Russian Army. There were some Spanish made copies of various revolvers that were chambered for the Russian cartridge, also. So, to answer your question,'
"Can I shoot .44 Russian cartridges in my Iver Johnson American Bulldog?" The answer is NO.

July 4, 2013, 07:15 PM
As far as fitting in the cylinder, a .270 Winchester cartridge will fit in a .270 Weatherby. Disastrous consequences!

July 4, 2013, 11:08 PM
Light 'em up!

July 5, 2013, 04:41 PM
^^^ One picture is worth a thousand words. OP seems to have difficulty with the concept that the gun may not be safe to fire in the first place, and if he is able to fire it with the right or wrong ammo (that seems unclear), it may fail at a critical time when need for home defense. Oh yeah, and gun shops are notorious for giving poor advice. Leather gloves and a bag? Really? Won't help if that old kicker goes off like a hand grenade. I note he hasn't posted since saying he was off to test fire it. Probably hard to type without fingers on one hand.

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