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Does anyone else find the lack of options in "old west" rounds a bit disappointing?

Discussion in 'Rifle Country' started by Jason_W, Mar 31, 2013.

  1. Jason_W

    Jason_W Well-Known Member

    I know that in terms of energy and trajectory many of the old-timey rounds don't hold a candle to the inventions of the speedy pointy bullet era.

    That being said, there is just something cool about rounds like the .44-40, .38-40. .25-20 and a whole host of other obsolete hyphenated chamberings.

    Unless you're of substantial means, a lot of these old gems are off limits. That's kind of a bummer.
  2. MCgunner

    MCgunner Well-Known Member

    The cases on the old rounds were designed for black powder, doesn't mean they won't work with smokeless, but just means new efficient smokeless rounds take up less space. Actually, ORIGINALLY in the design, the .38 S&W Special was designed for black powder and had a heal seated bullet (as with .22LR) of true .38 caliber, but was changed before introduction to the form it is now. Even the .38 has a lot of space in the case for something like Bullseye.

    The original nomenclature of the black powder era rounds stood for caliber and powder charge, IE the .44-40 was a .44 caliber bullet with 40 grains of BP pushing it. These rounds can still be fun and useful even today even with smokeless if you're a handloader. One that remains ever present is the .45 Colt. I love the .45 Colt. For me and in my Ruger Blackhawk, it can be a .45 colt black powder round, it can be a .45 colt cast bullet load at standard pressure, or it can be a .45 magnum with a 300-340 grain bullet and a healthy dose of 2400. Let me tell ya, a 340 grain flat nose hits like the hammer of Thor when loaded up to potential in the case in a Ruger. :D I don't shoot 'em much, but have worked 'em up from a .457" mold designed for the .45-70 and sized to .451.

    My SIL has a Rossi 92 in .45 Colt. We fired some of my hot loads in it, accurate, and who the heck needs a .44 magnum, anyway? :D A 300 grain bullet was clocking around 1500 fps. That's puttin' it down.

    Yes, in the right guns, these old loads can be very useful even in modern times. I have a CVA Wolf and a Cabela's Hawken Hunter Carbine in .50 caliber and push that 50 caliber 385 grain pill with 90 grains equivalent of Pyrodex. The CVA Wolf has taken one deer so far, DRT. I think of them as a .50-90 Sharps without the brass. :D .50-70, .50-90, and .50-110 were popular buffalo guns back in the market hunting days. They pretty well decimated the population.
  3. Dr.Rob

    Dr.Rob Moderator Staff Member

    I'd rather pack a .32-20 than a .32 auto, that's for sure. But a lot of people blew up .32-20 revolvers with hot-loaded jacketed rifle rounds. Colt swore you could use both loadings , but I've seen a number of bulged barrel Colts. Now almost all 32-20 you can buy is just a lead slug. It's still a fun round to shoot. Don't have a rifle in that chambering but Marlin made one. I'd suspect that one could work up a jacketed load pretty easily.

    I bought some Ultramax "Cowboy" loads for 44 magnum, and they were really mild to shoot... something like a 240gr lead bullet at 800 fps. That's still in 45 ACP power range, and with smack a popper with authority. Out of a rifle you get more velocity and you could certainly take a deer with a well placed soft lead bullet. Plenty of people did just that 100 years ago.

    .45-70 seems to have a wider range of the 'old' cartridges.. though even these tend to be 'downloaded' to Trapdoor levels. But 405gr Remington standard loads are pretty hefty.
  4. osprey176

    osprey176 Well-Known Member

    Jason, the old timers don't have to be off limits.Learn to handload.The bullets can be hard to find,but you can cast your own or check with custom casters.As long as brass is available,or can be made,you are good.
  5. saltydog452

    saltydog452 Well-Known Member

    Handloading, at least in 32.20, seems to be about the only way to get decent loads.

    If you like Cowboy loads, there are lots available. Again, in 32.20, these Cowboy loads seem to have the trajectory like a basketball thrown from mid-court.

    If it matters, the Cowboy loads in a 32.20 Winchester makes less noise than my single piston .17 air rifle.:D

  6. Arkansas Paul

    Arkansas Paul Well-Known Member

    I'm nostalgic about them too. I would like to see more as well.
  7. mgkdrgn

    mgkdrgn Well-Known Member

  8. OldTex

    OldTex Well-Known Member

    My only gun in that class is a 45-70 High Wall. That thing will pack more punch than I usually care to play with, especially considering the steel butt-plate.

    I have several pistol caliber lever guns. I looked into the original calibers on several of them but basically steered into the modern chamberings for practical reasons, availability and durability of brass mainly. Rightly or wrongly, I guess I picked practicality over nostalgia. I do however have a box of 45 Colt brass I have picked up at the range over the years because that looks like one I could go with.
  9. Tommygunn

    Tommygunn Well-Known Member

    You can still obtain old rounds like .44-40 and such from mail order places. Cabela's has them -- with actual blackpowder loads and a place called "Old West Scrounger" also carries them.
    Big Box stores are not going to carry these arcane old rounds. It's a matter of shelf space and economics. They're simply is not enough demand most places to stock these old blackpowder rounds.
  10. Jason_W

    Jason_W Well-Known Member

    It's not so much a matter of the ammo. If you handload like I do, there are almost always options.

    For, it has more to do with the availability of the guns themselves. fewer and fewer reproductions seem to be chambered in the classics
  11. Float Pilot

    Float Pilot Well-Known Member

    I shoot black powder loads in my old original Winchester 1886s in 45-70 and 45-90.

    I have shot black powder and pyrodex type loads in my 1892 Winchester chambered in 38WCF which folks now call 38-40.


    But for some reason my old worn out bore (the rifle is a first year production from 1892) does not like black powder so I use low pressure smokeless powder.

    And this is weird.... the rifle actually shoots nice groups with jacketed bullets that should be too undersized to work in the bore....

  12. AK103K

    AK103K Well-Known Member

    I just brought back to life an old S&W 4th model top break in .32 S&W we found in my dads junk drawer. Its in pretty good shape, bore and chmbers are decent, and it locks up tight.

    I wasnt going to spend the $50 or so for a box (with shipping), so I got some dies, brass, and bullets from Midway for $75 (including Midways shipping!!). I was looking to load smokeless, but after doing some research, I figured out this gun is in the middle of the black powder range. The consensus seemed to be it would be best to go with black powder, so I went that way.

    First batch, Hornady .310 lead balls over a case full of 2F.......


    Second batch, 76 grain hard cast, again, over a case full of 2F.....


    I just loaded the 76 grain bullets up today, and at about 5 yards, they wouldnt penetrate my burn barrel. I quit after two, when they went zinging off. :)

    They did punch through a 1" pine board though.

    The lead balls went though the paper target and homasote backer at 5 yards without to much trouble. :)

    All were about 4-6" right of POA at 5 yards, and now that I look at the barrel, it does seem to have a hint of favor that direction. :)
  13. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Well-Known Member

    I guess it depends on your definition of "substantial." Yes you can spend a ton of money on a Sharps rifle and rare dies, but you don't have to go that route. There are a lot of very serviceable old shooters out there. .50-70 rolling blocks and .45-70 trapdoors for example. Other than a possible compression die you really don't need much in the way of special equipment. A blow tube is easy to make from PVC tube and a length of 1/2" copper pipe with some funnels will work as a drop tube.

    Overall it's easier now that it has ever been. For example I found some custom .577 Snider bullets on Gunbroker sized to my carbine in about five minutes of searching. That would have taken months before the internet, if such a service was even being offered. I would have had to have custom dies made in all likelihood.

    It's true you can't find loaded ammo too easily and it's $$, but you don't want loaded ammo. Loaded ammo defeats the purpose. You want to be able to reconstruct the rounds with holy black and fine-tune them to your piece. A load that works well in one rifle may be terrible in another. Bore sizes vary and the rifles tend to get a personality over the centuries.

    One trick is to look for guns that are "shooters"--that is they've been reblued or spruced up and no longer have the big $$ collector's value. For example:


    My Snider and a Rolling Block are both in this category of gun. Both were under $500. Both are fine shooters and in better working order than most high value collector's versions. Just keep an eye out and you'll find them.

    Also you can find old M71 Mausers for example that are .43 Mauser and easy to find components for. Those are real tanks and were usually well cared for. Here's one right here:

    Last edited: Apr 1, 2013
  14. BCRider

    BCRider Well-Known Member

    AK103K, you might try it again with fffg this time. The finer grind will burn a little faster and generate a little more pressure. Likely enough to raise the muzzle velocity by enough to matter.
  15. AK103K

    AK103K Well-Known Member

    Thanks BC.

    I went with 2F for two reasons. One, I figured it would be a slightly lighter load, as it takes up more space with less powder. And two, its all I had. :)

    I dont intend to shoot this a lot, it was mostly done just because it was there, and was a fun project. Ive been bored lately, and it has given me another path in this discipline of ours to wander down. Hope I dont go overboard.... again. :D
  16. Onmilo

    Onmilo Well-Known Member

    Been looking for a Marlin 1894CL in .25/20 for some time now. Shoulda bought one when they were new on the market and $400,,,

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