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.38-44

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by publiuss, Jul 23, 2008.

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  1. publiuss

    publiuss Member

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    I consider myself pretty educated on calibers and ballistics but I'm not clear on the relationship between 38spl., 38-44, 357mag. I don't have my loading books w/me at this time, but it seems to me that the 38-44 is an improved 38spl., ala 357mag. What are the differences and can one be fired in the other?
     
  2. Quoheleth

    Quoheleth Member

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    The .38-44 was a heavy-duty .38 Special. It was developed but apparantly it never was distributed widely in the commercial market. Lots of guys carried Smith & Wesson .38-44 Heavy Duty pistols, but could only find regular .38 Specials to load it with.

    It would probably be a +P loading in today's world - more than a .38 Special but less than the average .357 Magnum, largely because of case capacity.

    Q
     
  3. pharmer

    pharmer Member

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    38-44 is .38 spl loaded to .357 levels. Perfectly safe for the N frame S&W's it was designed for. It will toast your J-frame. Joe
     
  4. Tom Servo

    Tom Servo Member

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    Original loadings were essentially +P .38 Special, running ~1100-1150 ft/s. Elmer Keith later souped it up quite a bit. His load used a 160 gr .357 bullet, moving at 1509 ft/s and dumping ~800 ft/lbs of energy, which is just a bit better than .357.

    About two years ago, I had the pleasure of shooting a .38-44 Heavy Duty, and the owner had done his best to duplicate the original loads. It certainly packed a wallop.

    As pharmer mentioned, I wouldn't want to run it in a K or J frame, but that's really immaterial, since you really want an N-Frame to shoot it comfortably.
     
  5. kentucky bucky

    kentucky bucky Member

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    Wasn't a 38-44 originally a blackpowder load? Wouldn't that pre-date the "N" frame? I know that there were Colt SAA chambered for this round.
     
  6. Quoheleth

    Quoheleth Member

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    Yep. So was the .38 Special - that's why today's .38s have so much case space empty after being charged with smokeless powder.

    S&W's letter-designation for their frames is a relatively new thing (if you consider Smith's 100+ year history) so while it predates the N-frame designation, the .38-44 was available in several of their pistols sizes at the time, as I have understood it.

    And, yes, Colt Model P's were made in .38-44.....along with almost every other known caliber in the last half of the 19th century.

    Q
     
  7. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    Sorry, Q and bucky, there are two different .38-44s and I believe you have them confused and conflated.

    The one apparently referred to in the O.P. (and three following) is an overloaded .38 Special meant for strong modern (as of the 1930s) revolvers, including S&W Heavy Duty and Outdoorsman; Colt .38 Special SAA and New Service. This .38-44 was never a black powder load, the original .38 Special got everything out of black powder possible to the case size.

    The OTHER .38-44 is the S&W Target round, introduced in the No 3 New Model Target of 1887. It was a black powder cartridge, I don't know that it was ever factory loaded with smokeless. There were a total of 66 Colt single actions chambered for it, most Bisley Target models. It is not at all interchangeable with .38 Special or .357 Magnum.
     
  8. Quoheleth

    Quoheleth Member

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    Well, I thought I was wrong once...

    ...but I was mistaken. :neener:

    Thanks, Jim, for the clarification.

    Now, back to your regularly scheduled broadcast.

    Q
     
  9. machinisttx

    machinisttx Member

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    Beat me to it.
     
  10. Peter M. Eick

    Peter M. Eick Member

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    [​IMG]

    This is some late 38/44 ammo. I bought some to shoot out of my 38/44's.

    [​IMG]

    This picture is now a few out of date. Maybe 5 short now but all are 38/44's of various types.

    [​IMG]
    This is a nice 1930 Heavy duty and 50 shots offhand from 15 yrds. I find that they are pretty accurate guns once you get a good grip on it.

    [​IMG]

    This is a converted Heavy Duty to target gun. 1939 as I remember it, and a truly accurate toy.

    [​IMG]

    They were trying to mimic this gun which is another 1940 outdoorsman that I was blasting away with. This is also 50 shot at 15 yrds.

    [​IMG]

    This is my 1940 Outdoorsman with the original box and I have the original proof target.

    Others have commented on the ballistics. Basically it was about equal to a 357 magnum today. Figure a 158 at 1150 to 1250 depending on if out of an HD or OD. It is a fun round and my favorite.
     
  11. publiuss

    publiuss Member

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    I only want one of them Peter, please send an Outdoorsman,or I guess I can settle for a Heavy duty targetsman.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2008
  12. CSA 357

    CSA 357 Member

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    Pete, you have some mighty fine smiths there!:D
     
  13. Brian Williams

    Brian Williams Moderator Emeritus

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    The 38-40 was a bottle necked cartridge that was made early on but I am not sure it was a black powder cartridge. The 38-44 was based on the 38 special cartridge, it was the 38 special cartridge, but loaded to some fairly high velocities. It was to be shoot only in the N frames.
     
  14. Sunray

    Sunray Member

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  15. SaxonPig

    SaxonPig Member

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    The factory 38-44 load was a heavy 38 Special load. It was not equal to the 357 Magnum.
     
  16. Colt46

    Colt46 Member

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    My recollections

    I think it came about as a result of the lawless years during prohibition and the great depression. The automobile made it easy for serial bankrobbers to evade local law enforcement. Early autos had some serious metal in their bodywork and the regular .38 special had real trouble penetrating. Someone (may have been the FBI) came up with a special loading that was much more powerful than even todays +P stuff that was a 158 grain bullet at 1150 or so. That kind of performance would destroy your typical small frame revover.
    The introduction of the .357 magnum in 1935 probably killed the need for these .38/44's
     
  17. Peter M. Eick

    Peter M. Eick Member

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    Saxon,

    My 6" Python does about 1234 SD of 30 with Remington 158 JHP magnum loads.

    My 6.5" 38/44 Outdoorsman did 941 with an sd 111 using actual 158 38/44 ammo that was poorly stored. Vintage loaded meaning modern powder and bullets loaded to original recommended loads by Sharpe get my a 158 with a velocity of 1187 fps with and SD of 15.

    So you are right. The 38/44 did not get to 357 magnum velocities, it was about 50 fps short.

    The interesting aspect of this is the Winchester +p FBI load does 887 fps SD of 17 out of the same gun. So to me the 38/44 is a closer to the 357 magnum then a 38 special.
     
  18. SaxonPig

    SaxonPig Member

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    I am speaking of the real 357 Magnum loads. Not what is sold now. There was more than 50 FPS difference between the 38/44 and the 357s sold before the lawyers took over. I got my first 357 in 1973 and I tested some ammo that I bought at the time and they ran about 200 FPS faster than current loads from Rem and Win.

    Many handgun calibers have been downloaded in the past couple of decades.

    But then, some argue about this.

    Believe it or not as you choose. I know it to be true.
     
  19. Colt46

    Colt46 Member

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    Early .357 factory was much hotter than now

    I think it was advertised as 1500 fps from the 8 3/8" barrel. I'm certain even the heavy N-frame might shoot itself loose pretty quick with those.
     
  20. kentucky bucky

    kentucky bucky Member

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    I got the 38/40 and the 38/44 mixed up in my little old head. I stand corrected!
     
  21. Jeff F

    Jeff F Member

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    I used to load some really hot .38 spl loads that I shot out of .357 magnums. Then I got a .38 and thought bad things could happen if I ever got ammo mixed up. Also thought what if I happened to drop a live round or two at the range and someone found it and shot it in a .38.Oh, that could be bad. I gave up that practice pretty fast and bought 500 pieces of .357 brass.
     
  22. machinisttx

    machinisttx Member

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    That velocity was from a 10" sealed test barrel, not the 8 3/4"(no, original barrels were not 8 3/8".
     
  23. Checkman

    Checkman member

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    My understanding is that the old 38-44 load would average approximately 1,150(+ or -30 fps) feet out of the old 8 3/4" barrel. I got that figure out of Elmer Keith's classic Keith on Sixguns.

    That would put the 38/44 load next to the Winchester 110 grain SJHP +P+ 38 special that my dad carried in his S&W model 65 back in the seventies and eighties. Many a police department began issuing the +P+ load in the seventies to their officers. The .357 magnum was getting some bad press and with the +P+ they had a load that was almost as good as the magnum, but the administrators good honestly say that the officers were carrying .38 specials in their .357 magnum revolvers.

    Wouldn't want to shoot either load in a plain old 38 special revolver.
     
  24. SaxonPig

    SaxonPig Member

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    Checkman- I don't consider the 110 +P+ to be "almost as good" as the 357.

    There is no industry standard for +P+ but the one example I tested (Winchester) ran 1,200 FPS. Hardly Earth-shattering. I have loaded 110 grain 38s to over 1400 FPS. I can feel some of you cringing out there but I did do it (and yes, it was too hot). A 110 grain 357 can be pushed to around 1800 FPS according to a couple my manuals.

    Also, when you compare this +P+ to the old 38/44 load you are comparing a 158 bullet in the 38/44 to a 110 in the +P+. The 38/44 was FAR more powerful.
     
  25. Peter M. Eick

    Peter M. Eick Member

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    Saxon,

    I totally agree with you. The older 357 magnum loads were far hotter. It does not matter what hockum some folks seem to say, I firmly believe the old 357 magnum out of the 8 3/4" barrel will do about 1550 with a 158. I have taken my pre-27 8 3/8" barrel and with period loads driven a 158 at 1550 that while hot, were not beyond "book max" if you consider the older books like Lyman 43 or Ideal 38 or even the standby of Sharpe 1937. Even Ackley's book gets you into this range with the top loads.

    So, either the lawyers/SAAMI wimped out the 357 magnum down to 38/44 levels or all of the old manuals are wrong.

    Some argue that all of the older manuals are wrong because with modern testing equipment they found the old loads created too much pressure for the "standard". My argument is the "standard" should have been set for the old loads and not the other way around. The issue is the transient spikes in pressure that the older crusher techniques missed. These are now seen with peizo and strain systems.

    My observation is that every one of the 357 caliber rounds have dropped one power level in my lifetime. My take is:
    Old 357 magnum = new 357 maximum
    Old 38/44 = new 357 magnum
    Old 38 special = new +p 38 special
    Old 38 S&W = new 38 special

    And so it goes.

    My personal Registered Magnum gets shot routinely with 1500 FPS 158 grn loads. It seems to take them just fine and I will continue shooting them. My 38/44's get shot a lot with 1150 fps loads and they seem to love them. Nice to have the sights hit point of aim for once.

    Anyway, I did not want to leave you with the impression I disagreed, more I was just pointing out that modern 357 magnum is about equal to old 38/44's.

    Take care.
     
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