1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Are Elmer Keith's loads still safe?

Discussion in 'Handloading and Reloading' started by 336A, Feb 6, 2012.

  1. 336A

    336A Well-Known Member

    I've been reading and re-reading a few articles written by Elmer Keith here Elmer Keith Memorial Website|Guns and Ammo Archives

    After reading a couple of articles and taking note of his now famous loads, my mental juices statred to churn. In one of the articles EK states that he used 17.0gr of 2400 in his .44 SPL loads containing his 429421 bullet in modern solid head brass. This is pretty much common knowledge as solid head brass has less powder capacity than did the old balloon head brass. Now fast forward to the article that Brian Pearce wrote on the then new Ruger FT .44 SPL, one of the loads that he used was Elmer's load (except now with Alliant instead of Hercules 2400) with no problems what so ever.

    So this is where I start thinking to myself. If Brian Pearce used the EK .44 SPL load (and I'm sure there more out there that have too) which posed no problems, are Elmers' other loads still safe? Loads such as 22gr of 2400 under the 429421 for the .44 mag, and 19-20gr of 2400 under the H&G 258 220gr bullet in the .41 mag. So what do you all think on this subject? Here is one of the articles that lead me to post this question
  2. Sam1911

    Sam1911 Moderator

    The loads he played with were certainly hot. Manufacturers (of guns and powder both) have better testing equipment now and understand better than some of our most intrepid experimenters and gunny forefathers did what really happens when the primer ignites. He and some others pushed the limits and (generally, mosly) got away with it, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it was good for the guns or really "safe."

    Operating up in the "safety factor" zone is not a very good idea. These loads are SEVERAL FULL GRAINS over the currently published maximums. (That's not just a "hair" more, in a pistol case.)

    What will these hot loads do for you (assuming your guns, fingers, and eyes survive) that the manufacturers' reccommended maximum loads WON'T do? What is the goal?

    If the gun shoots the maximum load accurately, is there something out there that 3 more grains of powder would be required to kill more effectively?
  3. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

    There is also some speculation that todays Alliant 2400 is just a frog hair faster burning then the Old Hercules 2400 Elmer used.

    Personally, I am of the belief that his loads are too hot with todays brass & 2400 powder.

    And even back then, some folks like Skeeter used 21 grains in the .44 Mag, not Elmers 22 grains. He said Elmers load was too hot.

  4. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Well-Known Member

    There are a lot of different model revolvers out there - both past and present. Most reloading manuals (and experienced handloaders) recommend that you cut a proposed load back by at least 10% and then work up while looking for signs of excessive pressure. Also don't exceed the maximum load listed in the manual.

    Because of a number of reasons involving bore and chambers, a load that's still safe in one revolver may not be in another one - even if both are the same model and came from the same manufacturer.

    The best load is not the one that stops just short of blowing up the gun, it's the one that puts all of the shots in one ragged hole. It possible that a load can accomplish both, but generally the most accurate one will be a grain or two below maximum.

    RKRCPA Well-Known Member

    I've been using 19 grs. of 2400 in my 41 mag for a long time without any issues. I may bring my chronograph with me next range trip and see how the Alliant compares to the Hercules.
  6. Steve C

    Steve C Well-Known Member

    Both Elmer and Skeeter blew up more than one gun testing loads by their own admission. They found the S&W "triple lock" .44 spl strong enough to take their loads without a KB but never indicated how long the gun lasted before needing repair from shooting such loads.

    Current load data (Speer 13) shows between 21 and 24 grains of 2400 as maximum for bullets of 200 to 240 gr depending upon their weight so the loads haven't changed much even with modern pressure measurements and current powder.
  7. joed

    joed Well-Known Member

    Theoretically EK's loads should be safe. Some say 2400 is a shade hotter today. I have a friend (chemist) that says this is not so as powders have burn rates, change the burn rate and it isn't 2400 anymore. There should be no difference other then lot to lot variation. I have to agree with him.

    Elmer's loads are hot, yes. But I've shot 17.0 gr of 2400 in my model 24 and it is starting to get your attention, but it is nowhere as hot as a .44 mag. For my use I much prefer 15.0 gr of 2400 with the 429421. It's enough to do anything I need without causing unnecessary wear on the gun.

    I've also had some old loading manuals that show 22 gr of 2400 as a .44 mag load with the 429421. One I believe has a top load of 23.x gr for the .44 mag with a 240 gr bullet.

    I don't shoot these loads though, I don't have a use for them. But in a strong revolver I'd believe they are still safe.
  8. Sam1911

    Sam1911 Moderator

    Wait ... "hot" isn't necessarily related to how much recoil you feel when you shoot them. You could make a .357 load that's "hotter" than a .44 mag load, and shoot them through identical N-frames but when you fire that .357 load (if the gun doesn't blow up) it will still feel less impressive than the .44 Mag. load pushing a much bigger bullet.

    In the end, your Model 24 isn't designed to have to contain much more than the 14,000 CUP generated by a stout .44 Spc. load, while .44 Mag loads can hit 40,000 CUP.

    Again...why is this a good idea?
  9. CraigC

    CraigC Well-Known Member

    In a word, yes, they are. That is, as long as advice is heeded on which firearms to use which loads in. The vaunted Keith .44Spl load is well proven over 80yrs of actual, practical use. Most will say that it should only be used in post-WWII N-frames, Colt SAA's, USFA SAA's, custom mid-frame Blackhawks, the new factory .44Spl Blackhawks, etc. We know that this load generates 26,000psi of chamber pressure. It was 26,000psi back when Keith had it tested at H.P. White labs and it's 26,000psi now that Pearce has also had it tested at H.P. White labs. Decades apart. We know what guns can take it. I would ask, why not? .44Spl's tend to be smaller or at least lighter than their .44Mag counterparts. I would turn the question around and ask, if the .44Spl will do everything you need a sixgun to do, why carry around a significantly larger and heavier .44Mag?

    Such as this lovely little custom Ruger, which is 6-8oz lighter than a comparable .44Mag. Much more svelte on the hip and in the hand.
  10. PapaG

    PapaG Well-Known Member

    I've settled on 20/2400 with the 429421 in Magnum guns as my personal max, (Elmer minus two grains) and use a much more sedate load (factory equivalent per Lyman) in my specials. I still like Skeeter's 38/357 load with 358156 taking one grain off his load in 38s and crimping in the bottom crimp groove and doing the same for 357 and using top groove.
    All are quite accurate and have plenty of power for our little Illinois deer and coyotes.
  11. joed

    joed Well-Known Member

    There is logic that Elmer used to determine what pressure the gun could take. I probably don't remember it all but let me try.

    That N frame used for the Spl is also used for a .45 acp. The .45 acp is I believe loaded to around 18,000 CUP. So saying that gun can only contain 14,000 CUP is not quite correct.

    It's been a long time since I read Elmer's books so I may have part of that correct.

    In one of my older manuals a Sierra they show loads for the .44 Spl, one is a 240 gr with a max of 16.3 gr of 2400 in a S&W model 24. To my knowledge that gun is still used by Sierra in load testing, only now they have a max of 12.x gr of 2400.

    Also, if you look back to the .38/.44 which is the precursor to the .357 it was developed for use of .38 Spl loads that were as powerful as the .357 Mag. That will tell you how much pressure a S&W N frame can stand.

    Would I shoot these loads in my guns? No, I have no reason to. But I have no doubt the guns will shoot these for awhile. Remember though, a light bulb that burns twice as bright lasts half as long.
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2012
  12. Peter M. Eick

    Peter M. Eick Well-Known Member

    Are they safe? Probably not for the reasons specified above.

    Could you shoot a few of them? Maybe, it depends on the factor of safety in the gun and your tolerance to blow one up.

    Would I do it in my guns? No, but then again I worked up reasonably close to some of his loads with no gun destruction yet. I just "wimped out" earlier than he would have. I can safely say I have never exceeded his loads that I can think of but I have gotten close.
  13. 1911Tuner

    1911Tuner Moderator Emeritus

    They weren't safe when he developed them. In modern guns? Better, but they still exceed SAAMI standard by a good margin, just like the "Ruger Only" data in the manuals. Give Ruger a call and ask'em what their stance is on those loads.


    Pressure isn't the only concern. While grossly excessive pressures can and do smithereen guns with one round...the extra recoil forces take their toll, and the higher they are, the faster they take it.


    26,000 psi with 2400 doesn't place the same stresses on the gun as 26,000 psi with Unique. Like the difference between placing your fist against a man's jaw and pushing hard...and punching him with the same net force. Peak pressure may be the same, but the way it's delivered...ain't.

    Proceed with all due caution. All things in moderation.
  14. kelbro

    kelbro Well-Known Member

    I wouldn't beat up a Model 24 with super hot loads. Not because it wouldn't take it but because they are one of S&W's finest examples of a handgun and they are too few and far between.
  15. gunlaw

    gunlaw Well-Known Member

    I don't think they ever were safe.
  16. bluetopper

    bluetopper Well-Known Member

    I have a Lyman cast bullet manual from 1973 that lists for a 44 Mag 245gr cast bullet a charge of 22.5gr of 2400 compressed.

    If it was pressure tested and safe back then why would it not be so now?

    I suspect risk liability and attorney advice is the reason.......just to be on the safer side.
  17. James2

    James2 Well-Known Member

    I got my Colt SAA in 44 spl back in the day that Elmer was hot rodding the 44 Spl. Yes, I tried a lot of his loads. In looking at the data in my manual of that day and comparing to the manuals today, I will say the loads have been reduced. Will I still load the Elmer Keith loads? No! I reckon I abused that Colt enough already and got away with it. I stick with the modern loads in 44 Spl. If I want more power now I pack the Ruger Blackhawk 44 Mag. Seems a wise choice.
  18. 41 Mag

    41 Mag Well-Known Member

    Speaking completely from my own experience, I have never owned one of the S&W's or Colt revolvers. I have only owned Ruger's in both the BH and RH flavors, and of the two now only own one BH in a 30 Carbine.

    In my RH's I have used these loads in my 44, and have not seen an issue. This said, I DID work up to them using the bullet mentioned. My 2400 is of the Hercules make and I have not tried the loads using the newer Alliant brand. I DID however follow closely a post from a couple of folks who DID do comparisons of equal loads with both powders, which while they did show a difference it wasn't much more than would be expected from a different lot to lot variation. Nothing etched in stone as absolute but close enough that I still work up to any new loads with a new lot of powder.

    As for pushing the limits of my revolvers, I usually do not, but I DO have a couple of loads that I use once in a while for hunting hogs that are on the upper end. When I initially purchased my 44, I worked up to and used the top end load listed in the Lyman 46th Edition for H-110 and the 180gr JHP. This was used for quite a few years and I could not begin to count how many of them passed through the cylinders, and the revolver is still fine. With the loads being discussed I NEVER felt they were in this class of pressure, especially using the lead bullets.

    To be honest after looking back on it I have not approached the level of the 180gr load in quite a few years now. I do admit however that with the 4x Leupold mounted on top that load DID shoot many rested groups of right at, or just over 1" at 100yds. That said however, I DO NOT and WOULD NOT recommend it in particular. As for Elmer's loads, there is always the caveat, of read the manuals, use your own judgment, work up slowly, and load accordingly.
  19. 1911Tuner

    1911Tuner Moderator Emeritus

    Back then, the copper crusher method only measured peak pressure, and didn't provide any other information. The ballisticians have since learned that peak pressure is only one aspect of the overall picture. They've also probably started to give serious consideration to the long-term effects of the recoil forces generated by those levels of pressure, and very likely the way that pressure is delivered with different powder burn rates.

    FWIW...I've been using two pistol powders almost exclusively for 30 years...2400 and Unique...and I've used a lot of it. I'm in agreement that 2400 is a bit "quicker" than it used to be based on using both Hercules and Alliant 2400 in many of the same guns.
  20. CraigC

    CraigC Well-Known Member

    .45ACP is 21,000psi at present, +P is 23,000psi. Also bear in mind that even Italian Colt SAA replicas are available in .45ACP. So no, it is not much of a stretch to think that a .44Spl on the same platform, with its smaller chambers/more steel, can withstand another 3,000psi.

    IMHO, to say that Keith's pet loads are unsafe is a disservice to all the work he did to come up with those loads. He did the experimentation and took the chances so we don't have to. It is also a disservice to the works of folks like Skeeter Skelton, John Taffin, Brian Pearce, etc.. It is certainly up to the individual to decide what loads to feed his/her pet sixgun. However, if you are going to claim the loads are unsafe, I will challenge you to prove it. Because 80yrs of proven use in appropriate sixguns is pretty compelling evidence. Sounds to me like a lot of unjustified fear.

    I've heard a lot of folks claim that Keith blew up a lot of guns in his experiments. I have most of his books and have yet to hear of or read of any actual blow-ups other than the blackpowder surplus SAA that he loaded with a .45-70 bullet cut down to 300gr. If anybody knows of a .44Spl damaged or destroyed by the Keith load, I would love to hear about it.

    I think this may be another one of those situations where John Taffin's favorite quote applies...."for those who understand, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not, no explanation is possible".

Share This Page