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Thread: I am starting to make peace with my Ruger Vaquero 44-40....

  1. #1
    Boolit Master
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    I am starting to make peace with my Ruger Vaquero 44-40....

    I bought a couple of them back when they were new (late 1980's or very early 1990's) along with a couple of rifles in 44-40. I have mentioned my problems with them (several times). Basically, every dimension was screwed up and it shot 6" to 9" patterns from a rest at 15 yards (handguns). Or, it leaded the rifling solid in a few shots (rifles). I was able to get the rifles to shoot OK, but not the handguns. Ruger refused to fix them, replace them with something that would shoot, or refund the purchase price.

    I had some machining work done on the Ruger (not a complete rebuilt) and with a soft lead 0.427" bullet and a small amount of Bullseye, I was able to get the groups down to 2" to 3" from a rest at 15 yards. Not great, but MUCH better than before. Unfortunately, I was not able to get any load that worked well in both the rifle and the pistol. I then put the guns in the back of the gunsafe and let them sit up to about 5 years ago.

    I was in a Dicks Sporting Goods store just before the school shooting on the east coast. Dicks was having a sale on AR-15's for $700. This was before they abandoned "scary looking guns" and those who shoot them. They were being sold as "home protection guns". I looked for a while at one of the last ones they had, but could not bring myself to buy something that ugly. I started to hand it back when someone behind me asked to look at it. I handed it to him and he laid it down on the counter with his plastic and bought it without even checking it out.

    I went back home and looked at what was in my safes. I realized that my 20 or so years of CAS shooting would make muscle memory automatic for a lever-action and a single-action revolver. I still had my Marlin Model 1894 in 44-40 and one of the Ruger Vaqueros. I decided to try jacketed bullets and higher velocities. I bought a bunch of Remington flat-nose 200gr soft-points and started with increasing amounts of 2400 powder. By the time I got to 15.5gr, the accuracy was equal to the best I had done before and it worked in both the rifle and pistol. I put them and the load into my bedroom closet.

    Recently, I pulled them out again and continued experimenting. I took them up to 18.0gr of 2400, which is pretty close to the .44 Special loads used by Elmer Keith. I don't worry about pressure since both guns are offered in the .44 Magnum cartridge. What was interesting was that the accuracy actually got a little better in both the rifle and handgun when I increased the load. They are still not tackdrivers, but both are MUCH better than when I got them. I actually went up to 18.5gr in experiments, but the last 0.5gr only seemed to increase the muzzle flash with no other benefit, so I settled on 18.0gr.

    Since I am not going to be using them in CAS, I upgraded the rifle sight with a peepsight. I have always liked peepsights better than buckhorn sights. I'd use them in CAS if I could. I also installed an SBH hammer, Wolff springs, and "gunfighter grips" on the Ruger. The SBH makes cocking the hammer right handed easier than with the original hammer. There seems to be no real difference cocking it with the left thumb (while holding it with the right hand). The hammer really was a drop-in part. The springs are much nicer and so are the grips.

    They are all in the closet now, with the new loads. I seem to be making peace with the guns that the manufacturers screwed up. I am still not overjoyed with them, but they serve a purpose now.

  2. #2
    Boolit Master

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    Say--I greatly enjoyed reading this post, Harry O. I also have a "set aside" Ruger Vaquero .44-40. It doesn't shoot well. Perhaps eventually I'll get around to it, might even send it to DougGuy if I determine the cylinder mouths to be undersized to the bore. At the moment it is in storage as I get accustomed and acclimated to my new home in the mountains. I've also got a NM Vaquero in .45 Colt that doesn't perform up to expectations. It will shoot about a 2 1/2" group at 15 yds., but no matter what I try it's low and left, a ring or two out of the "X". In the past I had several Blackhawks, and without exception they were accurate. But adjustable sights are a wonderful thing.

  3. #3
    Boolit Master Drm50's Avatar
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    I don't have any new Rugers, I have old 3 screw models. The 44 mag SBHs are the only handguns
    that I own that shoot better with hot loads and jacketed bullets.

  4. #4
    Boolit Master
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    The Ruger revolvers made in 44/40 WCF during the time-frame Harry spoke of have the same undersized-throats issue that my Bisley Blackhawk of similar vintage in 45 Colt had. I honed my revolver's throats out myself with a piloted reamer designed for the task (it became a cottage industry, finishing/refining construction of Ruger revolvers) and life got lots better overnight. Now I would just send the cylinder to Doug Guy with info on groove diameter from the barrel to guide his work. I have no personal experience with his work product, but folks here whose experiences I respect DO have examples of his work, and their comments are uniformly laudatory.

    The fact is......a lot of these black-powder era calibers did not make the transition to smokeless powders smoothly. Specific to the 44/40 WCF, I have and frequently shoot an 1897-made Win '73 carbine and a 2012-made Uberti Cattleman SAA clone x 4-3/4". I am blessed that both have slugged groove diameters of "skinny" .429" and the Uberti's throats are on the dot .429". My Alliant 2400 loads' upper limits are 14.5 grains in deference to platform strengths using SAECO #446, a 200 grain flatnose plain-base. Shoulder position on sizing die--rifle chamber--and revolver chambers are on differing sheets of music. This enhances neither case longevity nor accuracy potential. Groups with 2400 on board (13.0-14.5 grains) aren't stellar, but are easily minute-of-bad guy at 25 yards with the wheelgun and minute-of-mule deer boiler room at 75-100 yards with the carbine. That a' do. Revolver velocity/14.5 grains is in the 825-850 FPS zone; carbine results are in the 1100-1125 FPS ballpark.

    Member "W30WCF" a few years back posted some results using a 100%-density load of RL-7 in this caliber with the Lyman #427098 bullet to overcome the problem of bullet support against "telescoping" while cartridges made their way down the tubular magazines that most rifles in this caliber have used. Compressed black powder did that work previously, and the RL-7 very slightly compressed does likewise in smokeless form and IME provides black-powder era velocities at safe pressures. SAECO #446 has a crimp groove to keep things glued together, but I have found that grouping with this 100%-density load is significantly smaller with both firearms. In the carbine, vertical stringing that was present at 100 yards using 2400 largely disappeared using RL-7. One less variable, I suppose. FWIW. Velocities are very close to that produced by 2400, also. Depending upon case make (they REALLY vary between W-W, R-P, and Starline), RL-7 weights will run between 23.0 to 26.0 grains. Separate cases by make, and get Starline if at all possible--it's much better/tougher brass. W-W and R-P will fold and tweak if stared at intently.
    Last edited by 9.3X62AL; 08-21-2017 at 11:54 PM.
    I don't paint bullets. I like Black Rifle Coffee. Sacred cows are always fair game. California is to the United States what Syria is to Russia and North Korea is to China/South Korea/Japan--a Hermit Kingdom detached from the real world and led by delusional maniacs, an economic and social basket case sustained by "foreign" aid so as to not lose military bases.

  5. #5
    Boolit Master

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    The problem with the modern 44-40 is that nobody wants to make a proper .427" groove diameter barrel. They all want to use the same .429" ~ .430" barrel that is made for 44mag/spl calibers to keep manufacturing costs down. But the cylinders all have chambers and throats made to SAAMI specs which call for a .427" boolit. And then there are always the cylinders with undersized throats that got that way from keeping reamers in use until they were worn too small, and many of the 44-40 cylinders have .425" throats because of this, again done this way to keep costs down.

    There is only two schools of thought that work for this situation. First you can load a boolit soft enough over a hot enough charge of powder to cause it to obturate into the barrel, I would reserve this method for Ruger only revolvers, wouldn't want to subject an old Colt or Colt clone to +P pressures but this sounds like what is causing Harry O to have found a successful load for his guns.

    The second school of thought involves two machining operations, first the throats can be reamed to shoot a .430" or .431" boolit without sizing it down, this would effectively deliver a boolit to the barrel large enough to swage into the rifling and make a good seal, thus reducing leading and promoting accuracy.

    The problem with this method, is that a 44-40 case loaded with a boolit of sufficient diameter to work well in a .430" barrel, won't likely go into the chamber because the neck of the case is now too large, and the chamber is cut for a case with a .427" boolit, bringing us to the second of two machining operations, reaming the chamber itself with a special reamer made to enlarge only the neck area of the chamber enough to seat loads assembled with .430" or .431" boolits.

    That's pretty much the choices you have with a 44-40 cartridge in a modern revolver. I don't know of anything else that will help the situation other than one of these two methods.

    I suppose one could gage the neck of the chambers with pin gages to determine the maximum diameter the chamber will accept, subtract the two case walls from that measurement, then load ammo with a boolit of that diameter, and ream the throats just big enough to accommodate that boolit and hope for the best...
    Last edited by DougGuy; 08-22-2017 at 01:36 AM.
    Got a .22 .32 .357 .38 .40 .41 .44 .45 .480 or .500 S&W cylinder that needs throat reaming? 9mm, 10mm/40S&W, 45 ACP pistol barrel that won't "plunk" your handloads? Shoot me a PM! Also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Cylinderhone-756429174391912/

  6. #6
    Boolit Master
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    After Ruger sent me back the Vaquero (the second time) without doing anything, I went to a gunsmith with it. The chambers would not take larger than a 0.427" bullet. The throats in the front of the cylinder were 0.424" in diameter. The barrel grooves were 0.430". Nothing would (or could) shoot accurately in that. I sent it to a gunsmith who reamed out the throats to 0.430" to match the barrel. We talked about opening them up to 0.427", but he talked me into 0.430". Since then, I have come to think that he was right about opening them up to 0.430".

    Anyway, opening up the neck of the chambers to allow a 0.430"/0.431" bullet was a problem. He did not have a custom reamer to do that. It would have taken six setups of his lathe to machine the chambers out and the cost was more than what I was willing to pay. That is why it was only half fixed. Even so, the group sizes shrunk to 1/3 what they were before I sent them in. With these new loads, they are even a little less than that.

    Interestingly, both rifles I had, had chambers that were large enough to take 0.431" bullets, so it was easy to get them to shoot, although the cases came out straight when fired. The case life was fairly short. Back then, I was using Winchester and Remington brass so I did not hot load them. Brass working was what did them in. I am now using Starline only with the hot loads. The most I have shot with them is only twice (so far), so I don't know how long the brass will last, but these are not plinking guns. I have enough brass to last.

    My solution to the 44-40 mismatch problem was to go to 38-40. The dimensions for those guns is right on. The five I have in that caliber ALL shot accurately right out of the box.

  7. #7
    Boolit Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    John Taylor has rechambered two Ruger .44-40 cylinders for me to enlarge the chamber necks to .447 with the cylinder throats .4305, so that they now shoot wonderfully with .430" bullets which fit its .429 barrel and both guns now shoot well. Cost was VERY much less than obtaining a cylinder blank from Hamilton Bowen and having a custom cylinder made and fitted!
    The ENEMY is listening.
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  8. #8
    Boolit Master
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    I started down that rabbit hole with a 44-40 Vaquero because my Rossi 92 clone in 44-40 was a great shooter. Long story short a CAS shooter bought the Rossi so I traded the rock throwing Ruger even for a Browning A-5. I was going to have the throats reamed also it seemed. I still have a box of "Ruger-Rossi Only" loads around here somewhere. I still like the cartridge in a proper gun.

  9. #9
    Boolit Master
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    I am fortunate in another way with my two 44/40 WCF examples--no issues with cartridge fit using .429" bullets in any of my case makes, and enough clearance for safe bullet release in the chambers' case neck areas. VERY lucky. There was a LOT of micrometer measurement going on with fired cases for a while to establish this.

    These are the challenges we deal with when we start trying to make some of the older black-powder calibers do the right things. The 45/70 and 38/55 present similar issues of internal dimensioning at cross-purposes with modern components. .457" is the groove diameter given for 45/70 barrels, and a lot of the moulds to service the caliber have .457" diameters. Nice--except that I have yet to see a 45/70 barrel with throat or grooves at that spec, and 8-9 of these have passed through my hands over the past 35 years. The real-world dimension is in the .459"-.460" ballpark IME. What's that about?

    Doug Guy touched on this above. Black powder does a darn good job of causing soft lead/tin bullets to "slug up" upon ignition, owing to its low-order detonation combustion characteristics. Smokeless powder and its progressive-burn character doesn't seem quite as good or dependable at producing that effect. Not in my experience, anyway. i stopped hoping for slug-up in my cast loads a long time ago, and strive to make my bullets fit well right from the git-go, and before The Big Light hits it. (that is a Buckshot term, shamelessly plagiarized)
    I don't paint bullets. I like Black Rifle Coffee. Sacred cows are always fair game. California is to the United States what Syria is to Russia and North Korea is to China/South Korea/Japan--a Hermit Kingdom detached from the real world and led by delusional maniacs, an economic and social basket case sustained by "foreign" aid so as to not lose military bases.

  10. #10
    Boolit Master gpidaho's Avatar
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    My Ruger Vaquero had (has) the familiar problems mentioned above. Doug has opened the throats for me, but then as Doug warned me the chamber necks were too small to accept a bullet of sufficient size to fit the barrel. I need to get someone to open the necks up about .003. Until I get that done here's what I've been doing to try to get the gun to shoot a little better. I'm casting a NOE 429421 245gr SWC using a soft alloy and powder coating them to bring the size up. The 429421s have a wide front band in front of the crimp groove and that helps with what I'm trying to do. I size the coated bullets to .432 and then size just the two bands that go inside the case to .429 leaving the front band at .432 A slightly "heeled" bullet. Now whether this helps or not I think it does and rounds so made group the best of anything I've tried before. There should have been a class action or at least a recall on these revolvers as they just won't shoot worth a **** as they were sold. Gp

  11. #11
    Boolit Master
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    Lee of Lee's Parts advised me to install a .44 mag cylinder and forget about it. That is good advice. The caliber stamp is wrong but in the right way- can't chamber 44-40.

    Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G930A using Tapatalk

  12. #12
    Boolit Master gpidaho's Avatar
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    Texas: Where do I get a hold of Lee's parts? I've wanted to swap out to 44mag for some time now. Thanks Gp

  13. #13
    Boolit Master
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    972-790-0773 TueWedThu only.
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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
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LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check