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Old Time Reloading Advice for .44-40 Black Powder Cartridges

Discussion in 'Blackpowder' started by Old Stumpy, Jul 21, 2020.

  1. Old Stumpy

    Old Stumpy Member

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    I ran across this photo of an early opened box of .44-40 and found the blue label of reloading instructions very interesting.
    I'm gearing up to load .44-40 for my Miroku Winchester 1873 and was researching bullet diameter for the .429" bore in a gun chambered for cartridges that use a .427" bullet.
    Cartridges with .429" bullets will chamber I'm sure, but trying to achieve the usual .001" - .002" over groove diameter for cast bullets, I very much doubt.
    I discovered that many original Winchesters had oversized bore diameters but they still shot well.
    Reportedly because bullets were very soft and the base easily obturated to fill the grooves.
    The blue label in this box stresses that pure lead must be used to cast bullets.

    Other articles confirmed that this works with smokeless loadings as well.
    Magtech in fact produces .44-40 Cowboy ammo with a bullet alloy BHN of 6, or almost pure lead. Though .427" bullet diameter, these are accurate cartridges.

    An American Rifleman on-line article using smokeless powder loads with soft .427"cast bullets shot through the .429" bore of a replica Henry produced the same decent accuracy similar to .429" bullets.
    (Handloading the .44-40 Win. - American Rifleman)

    The bullet lube recipe advice is also interesting in its' simplicity compared to lubes today. Just mutton tallow or Japan wax, which apparently worked fine.

    I would enjoy hearing from the experienced Old West members who load this cartridge a lot.


    upload_2020-7-21_20-49-59.jpeg
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2020
  2. troy fairweather

    troy fairweather Member

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    I like the 44-40, maybe more then the 44 mag. Liked the starline brass the most. I used the 200 gr Lee mold,
     
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  3. Old Stumpy

    Old Stumpy Member

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    I will probably pick up the .429-200-RF mold as a starter. I am going to get a mold made by Accurate as well, but there is a backlog. You get what you want, sized like you want, but you wait for it.
    I was thinking about finally getting a lubrisizer but I will probably start out with Lee .429" and .430" kits.
    I have a nice Redding 3 die set now as well.
    I have ordered 10 tubes of NRA lube from Dragon Lube which will last a long time for me.
    I'll pan lube like I always have.

    Did you just roll crimp with your seating die, or did you use a separate taper crimp die as well?
     
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  4. .455_Hunter

    .455_Hunter Member

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    The .44-40 is a true classic. A good .44-40 levergun is on my acquire list, along with a blued 1875 Remington clone and perhaps a blued Original Vaquero 7 1/2 incher. I bought my father a stainless 5 1/2 inch .44-40 Vaquero for his Father's Day / B-Day present in 2001.
     
  5. troy fairweather

    troy fairweather Member

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    I powder coated mine, I loaded light since I had a very early uberti 66win. Ya I just roll crimped when seated worked perfectly fine.
     
  6. troy fairweather

    troy fairweather Member

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    The 44-40 is much better when using bp to since the brass seals better then straight walled cases.
     
  7. TheOutlawKid

    TheOutlawKid Member

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    Im very surprised the label says to use pure tallow for lube...i figured just a bit of heat would cause it to melt and get into the powder. I have never used japan wax and when i researched it and searched to buy it was very hard to find. Couldnt find a dealer here in the states fron any reputable sites. Mainly used in comsetics. Guess it was more common back then?
     
  8. Old Stumpy

    Old Stumpy Member

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    It's possible that tallow was rendered out thicker then. Maybe like a cheese?
    Japan wax is pretty uncommon now, but I did read an account saying that Winchester used it for years for low pressure cast bullet loads way back when. My impression is that it is similar to beeswax except with additional lubricating qualities.
     
  9. Tommygunn

    Tommygunn Member

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    Cool post, Old Stumpy! I have a Uberti saddle-ring carbine 1873 Winchester, a Colt Burgess 1883 carbine, and a Barretta "Stampede" (a Uberti made Colt S. A. A.) all in .44-40. A true classic caliber, as earlier posters here state. :)
     
  10. mokin

    mokin Member

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    You had me at 44-40. Cool post. Thanks for the picture. I find it interesting that reloading instructions would be included with the cartridges. As others have noticed, I also enjoy reading about components that we can't find today. Sort of like whale oil.
     
  11. Old Stumpy

    Old Stumpy Member

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    I would love to have a Burgess 1883. It was well ahead of its' time, as was the Burgess-designed 1881 Marlin, the first lever action .45-70. Very attractive carbine.
     
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  12. Old Stumpy

    Old Stumpy Member

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    Well, you can still get whale oil if you want it bad enough.
    But the cost of chartering a special ship and crew, fending off GreenPeace activists, fighting with governments, searching for sperm whales, harpooning one, dragging it on board, and then climbing inside of the head cavity to harvest your oil just seems a bit much.
    I'm getting too old to do that any more.
    But I still enjoy hollering out "Thar she blows!" when the mood takes me.
     
  13. Old Stumpy

    Old Stumpy Member

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    I tried to avoid buying another .44-40 lever gun because of negative issues that I had with a Navy Arms carbine from the 80s. It was pretty screwed up right from the factory in several ways.
    But I got a good deal on my Miroku 1873 because it was in .44-40 and didn't sell.
    Functioning and quality are excellent, and I need to reload for it.

    I have always wanted one of those 1875 Remington revolvers. Perhaps I will buy one some day, before I start wearing a marble hat.
     
  14. Dave T

    Dave T Member

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    Stumpy, I'm a little worried about you're "NRA Lube". Is it specified for use with black powder? If not you may need to send it back. Black powder requires a special lube that remains soft and keeps the fouling soft as well. I know a lot of folks make their own but I always used SPG (ordered straight from Steve Garbe) back when I was casting 44 WCF, 44 Russian, 45 Colt, and 45-70 bullets.

    Dave
     
  15. Cowhide Cliff

    Cowhide Cliff Member

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    For black powder I only use SPG or home made lube of beeswax and deer tallow I render myself. I shoot .429 bullets in the more modern .429 groove guns but have shot .430 bullets too if they will chamber. I've even shot .427 bullets and they usually shoot good. Using soft bullets which I prefer for black powder they will bump up to fill the grooves of the bore and you will also have less or no leading that way.
     
  16. Cowhide Cliff

    Cowhide Cliff Member

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    I prefer the feel of the Colt SAA style revolvers but have to say I've owned some of the Remington 1875 Uberti outlaws and for some reason those Remington style are very inherently accurate. I've heard some say because the web under the barrel makes it more rigid. I'm not sure a 7 1/2 inch barrel or the frame could move that much but I suppose it's plausible and regardless of why it seems to me they on average are a bit more accurate than the Colt style guns.
     
  17. Cowhide Cliff

    Cowhide Cliff Member

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    A friend of mine has a Burgess he wants to sell chambered in 44-40 like the originals were. My wife and I shot it at a Cowboy match but decided to pass on it. It's definitely a cool gun and worth some style points but we just didn't like the feel as well as the Uberti 1873.
     
  18. Old Stumpy

    Old Stumpy Member

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    No worries. I am using it with smokeless powder only. I am aware that natural lubes are the only way to go for black powder.
    (Beeswax, tallows, vegetable oils, and such.)
    I suppose it seems a bit confusing since I placed this in the black powder forum. I suppose it could also have gone into the reloading forum as well, but the label in the box is the real subject of discussion and these are black powder cartridges.
     
  19. Old Stumpy

    Old Stumpy Member

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    Yup, natural lubes are the only way to go for black powder, cartridge or powder and ball.
    I'm using the NRA lube with smokeless loads only.
    As you say, soft alloys will obturate easily with BP.
    But they will also with smokeless, as I mentioned.
     
  20. Old Stumpy

    Old Stumpy Member

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    Thanks for the replies everyone. Please keep them coming.
     
  21. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Howdy

    Where to start?

    How long do you have? I will probably have to reply in several installments.

    I have been loading 44-40 and 45 Colt with Black Powder for close to 20 years now. Over the years I have also added 45 Schofield, 44 Russian, 38-40 and 45-70 to the cartridges I load with Black Powder.

    That's a great photo showing the reloading information.

    Interesting that it specifies the Winchester No. 1 primer. I have no idea what that is, other than I can see the cup is copper. Today, you can use any Large Pistol primer in 44-40. Not Large Rifle, Large Pistol. Large Rifle primers are a tad longer and will not seat properly in modern 44-40 brass. I usually use Federal Large pistol primers because the cup is a little bit softer but I have used Winchester primers in the past.

    Also interesting to note that Winchester is specifying FFg powder for the most part. In my experience, either FFg or FFFg can be used in 44-40. Generally speaking, when using FFFg instead of FFg in any 'pistol cartridge' with everything else being the same, you will get between 60 fps - 100 fps more velocity using FFFg. I have used several different brands of powder over the years, Goex, Elephant, Wano, and a couple of others that I can't recall right now. Elephant is no longer made. These days I use Schuetzen FFg for all my Black Powder cartridge loading. Schuetzen uses a better grade of charcoal than Goex and the fouling produced is less than with Goex. Schuetzen uses the same blackthorne alder charcoal that Swiss uses, but Schuetzen is not as expensive as Swiss. I know some guys use Olde Eynsford powder, which is made by Goex. I have heard that it too produces less fouling than regular Goex, but I have no experinece with Olde Eynsford.

    Getting back to primers, here is an interesting composite photo of 3 44-40 cartridges from my collection, showing their headstamps and primers. The two on the left are WRA (Winchester Repeating Arms) cartridges. The one on the right with the D.C.CO. headstamp is from the Dominion Cartridge Company of Canada. Interesting to note that the round on the left and the round on the right have primers with a copper cup and they are small diameter. Probably what we would call Small Pistol primers today. They look very similar to me to the primers in the photo posted by the OP. The round in the center has a nickel plated primer and looks more like a modern Large Pistol primer. Also note the huge cannelure on the round in the middle. The purpose of the cannelure was to keep the bullet from telescoping back into the case. I have a couple of 38-40 rounds in my collection that also have a deep cannelure like that. Completely unnecessary when loading with Black Powder as the powder fills up the entire case and forms a 'plug' that will keep a bullet from telescoping back into the case anyway.

    pmzK6VEHj.jpg




    Before I get any further, let me dispel one myth that has already been stated here. The bottle neck shape of 44-40 has nothing to do with causing it to seal better in the chamber, hence keeping fouling from blowing back into the action. High pressure gas has no problem going around corners, and besides the taper on 44-40 brass is so slight it would not present a good gas seal anyway. The reason 44-40 (and 38-40) brass seals the chamber better is because the brass at the case mouth is thinner than other cartridges. Around .007 thick at the case mouth vs around .012 thick at the case mouth for straight wall cartridges such as 45 Colt. I have no idea why the brass is thinner at the mouth with 44-40 and 38-40, perhaps to make forming the shape easier. But it is the thinner brass at the case mouth that causes 44-40 and 38-40 to expand better at the relatively low pressure generated by Black Powder and hence seal the chamber better than 45 Colt. I can't tell you how many times I have seen gas jetting straight up out of the breech of CAS shooters with rifles chambered for 45 Colt. You never see that with 44-40 rifles .

    I will add that it is the thin neck that can make 44-40 'fussier' to load than 45 Colt, but I will get into that later.

    Let me move on to rifling groove diameter. The 19th Century standard for rifling groove diameter was .427, although great variation could be found, sometimes much larger than .427. Many companies are using .429 as the standard groove diameter for 44-40 today, I know Uberti is. At this point I have five rifles chambered for 44-40. I have slugged them all. A Winchester Model 1892 made in 1897 that slugs at .427, a Winchester 1892 saddle ring carbine made in 1918 that slugs at .429, a Marlin Model 1894 made in 1895 that slugs at .427, an Uberti 1873 made in the 1980s that slugs at .427, and an Uberti 1860 Henry that I bought brand new about 10 years ago that slugs at .429.

    The first rifle I was loading 44-40 for was the .427 diameter Winchester Model 1892. I was loading smokeless at the time, and regularly used commercial hard cast .427 bullets for it. Yes, not the 'ideal' .001 over groove diameter, but accuracy was fine with that rifle and those bullets. When I decided to move to Black Powder I wanted a bore that was shiny with no pitting because I had read that when shooting Black Powder in old pitted bores it was difficult to clean all the fouling out of all the pits. Which is also a myth, but I will get into that later. Anyway, I bought the used Uberti 1873 with its .427 groove diameter for my first try at loading 44-40 with Black Powder. This rifle had a relatively tight chamber. I experimented with .427 diameter bullets, .428 diameter bullets and .429 diameter bullets. It turns out that a .428 diameter bullet expanded the case mouth just enough that seating a round in the chamber was quite tight. .429 bullets expanded the case mouth enough that chambering a round required a bit of a shove. So I settled on .427 diameter bullets for my first BP 44-40 cartridges. At the time I was using hard cast commercial 200 grain .427 bullets. Again, not .001 over size, but accuracy was fine. So much for bullets needing to be .001 oversized of the grooves. About ten years ago I bought the Uberti Henry with its .429 groove diameter. Not wanting to load ammo with two different bullet diameters, I settled on .428 for the diameter of all my 44-40 rounds. Yes, .001 undersized of the .429 grooves. Yes, these bullets are soft lead and they may or may not be slugging up in the barrel to fill the grooves, I have no way of determining that. But the bottom line is my .428 bullets in my .429 Henry shoot just fine with acceptable accuracy for me.

    One other thing. I used to load all my 44-40 ammo with Winchester brass because it has the thinnest brass at the case mouth of any brand. Yes, I have measured lots of brass. If loading for a tight chamber, as I was doing with my Uberti 1873, it is best to use brass with the thinnest brass at the case mouth so it will still fit in a tight chamber if using .429 or even .430 bullets. I don't use Winchester brass anymore because it is difficult to find. These days I load all my cartridges, all calibers with Starline brass. Starline 44-40 brass is maybe .001 thicker at the case mouth than Winchester 44-40 brass, but I have been using nothing but Starline brass for quite a few years now, and am very happy with it. It is always in stock at Starline.

    I have to go now, but I will come back later and discuss other stuff, such as bullet lube, tricks for loading 44-40, and anything else I think of.
     
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  22. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    Manufacturing tolerances are greater than you might think. A good match between bullet diameter, case neck thickness, chamber neck diameter, throat diameter, and groove diameter is a sometime thing.
    When I had a .44-40 cylinder fitted to my .44 Special SAA for common ammo with 1892 Winchester for CAS, I was dismayed to find the revolver would not shoot, would not even chamber ammo in RP brass. It shot factory WW and .428" reloads in the WW brass just fine. I ended up with mostly Starline and .427" bullets, commercial cast .428" bullets are not very common.
    I used the RP brass in the Winchester until it was all lost or mouth cracked.
     
  23. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Absolutely correct about .428 diameter bullets not being widely available.

    When I did my experimental loads years ago with .427, .428, and .429 diameter bullets, I was able to find hard cast bullets in those diameters. No idea where I found them, it was a long time ago.

    When I started casting my own bullets I bought a Lubrisizer so I could size them to any diameter I wanted. Actually I have a couple off Lubrisizers. i bought an RCBS Lubriszer at first, but eventually I bought a Star Lubrisizer, made by Magma Industries. The star Lubrisizer is more expensive than the RCBS, but it is much more efficient. With the RCBS you have to shove each bullet down into the die, then pull it back up again out of the die before sizing the next bullet. The Star uses the bullet about to be sized to shove a freshly sized bullet out of the bottom of the die. This may not sound like much of a difference, but when sizing a lot of bullets the time adds up. It used to take me hours to lubrisize a batch of a few hundred bullets on the RCBS machine. I could lube and size the same batch of bullets on the Star press in about an hour. As can be seen here I was using SPG lube to size all my Black Powder bullets.

    pn8EaWFYj.jpg




    I don't cast my own bullets any more, the lead count in my blood is too high. I buy all my Big Lube bullets from Whyte Leatherworks and he obligingly sizes my Mav-Dutchman 200 grain Big Lube bullets to .428, even though he does not list that size on his web page.

    http://www.whyteleatherworks.com/BigLube.html




    More about bullet lube and tricks for loading 44-40 and other stuff I think of soon.
     
  24. BCRider

    BCRider Member

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    I'm another Miroku 1873 owner. I've had it for a year and a half now and use it for plinking as well as Wild Bunch cowboy action matches. My times are a touch longer due to this because of me setting the gun down with a half second worth of care instead of tossing it down like some others. But it's so pretty that it's a price I gladly pay.... :D

    I found that my attempt to use .429's (which measured a whiff over .429) resulted in the rounds being a bit snug on some. I bought some .427's from the local caster and the gun became smooth as snot on a polished door knob or a fresh caught fish on a wet cutting board. I've also invested in a Lee .427 sizer but so far I haven't had to use it. But the Lee is a cheap solution for converting .429's over to .427's.

    Almost forgot about the loading. I found that for black that I got pretty good results with packing the powder in by using a 12" long drop tube. The resulting rounds being used for my Frontiersman category shooting from a Uberti made Henry. I prefer the Henry as it's a trifle more period correct to go with my C&B revolvers.

    On the accuracy side of things I found that the rifle prints groups that are only limited by me and my crusty old eyeballs. But having said that I've yet to miss a small bonus target with that rifle. And 25 yard groups with it are typically cloverleafs or very close to it with me shooting on a table but just off my elbows instead of a rest bag.
     
  25. Old Stumpy

    Old Stumpy Member

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    Many thanks for this information. Chances are that my chamber will be much like yours.
    What I might do is buy a Lee .427" sizer die and try out my loads for accuracy.
    The American Rifleman article indicates that soft bullets will indeed bump up from .427" enough to be pretty accurate using smokeless.
    If they are okay, great. Otherwise I may fresh that sizer out to .428" using a dowel with fine emery cloth wrapped around it (and some oil) by rolling it back and forth on the bench.
     
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