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Thread: Cowboy load for .44 Magnum

  1. #1
    Boolit Man

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    Cowboy load for .44 Magnum

    I started shooting with a local Cowboy Action Shooting club several months ago. This can be an expensive proposition when you consider the expense of the necessary firearms. I also shoot with a USPSA club and own many modern pistols and long arms, but acquiring the cowboy firearms could be a financial challenge. Cowboy shooters must have a SASS-legal and (more or less) period-correct shotgun, pistol caliber carbine and two revolvers. The deciding factor for me in joining the club was that I already owned two single-action revolvers, so acquiring only the shotgun and carbine was less of a financial burden. Sure, I could've maxed out the CCs, but that's just not my way.

    Most of the really good shooters in the club - and nationally from what I understand - shoot .357 rifles and pistols and feed them .38 Special "mouse fart" loads. My problem was that my two single-action revolvers were .44 Magnums that I'd previously used for wild pig hunting. These are not optimum for CAS because of their recoil. Cowboy rules require lead-only bullets at modest velocities. I could load these easily enough in my .44s, but even at low(er) velocities, the standard .44 240 grain bullet still has appreciable recoil. I'm not especially recoil-shy, but speed and accuracy is the name of the game in CAS, so reducing recoil as much as possible is key to success. This is why so many of the good shooters load light 120 to 130 grain lead bullets in .38 Spl. brass for their .357s. I didn't have any really light .44 bullets on my loading bench and my experiments with lighter powder charges under my various 200+ grain bullets were improvements, but not match-winning combinations.

    After a lot of research and experimentation, I came up with a recipe that resulted in extremely light recoil and great accuracy at seven yards (a typical cowboy steel target range). One problem is that the .44 Magnum case has a lot of volume and using light powder charges under a light projectile tends to result in inconsistent performance and poor case sealing. My solution here was to use the stubby little .44 Russian case. The lightest .44 projectile I could find turned out to be the humble and ancient round ball. I ordered a two-cavity Lee 120 grain, .433 round ball mold and a hundred Starline .44 Russian cases.

    Here's the recipe that's worked best for me thus far:

    Bullet: 120 gr. Lee round ball
    Case: Starline .44 Russian
    Primer: Winchester Large PIstol
    Powder: 5.5 grains of Trail Boss

    This gives great accuracy out of my Ruger Super Blackhawk and shoots very close to the sights regulated for magnum loads. I've gotten one ragged hole on the paper, offhand, at seven yards. It shoots about 3/4" low at this distance, compared to a full house 240 grain magnum load. This isn't enough to quibble about, especially considering that the CAS steel targets are 16 inches square!

    If some of you guys (and gals) would like to try your hand at Cowboy Action Shooting with your .44 Mag revolvers, the above recipe should be a good starting point.

    Best regards
    Doc

  2. #2
    Boolit Master

    LUCKYDAWG13's Avatar
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    I have a couple of questions about your load Do you lube the round balls at all What is your over all length And is there any crimp involved
    kids that hunt and fish dont mug old ladies

  3. #3
    Boolit Man

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    Quote Originally Posted by LUCKYDAWG13 View Post
    I have a couple of questions about your load Do you lube the round balls at all What is your over all length And is there any crimp involved
    Luckydawg13, thank you for those questions! I forgot to add the crimp instructions. You should stoutly crimp the ball just above the hemisphere line. I did some experimentation by seating the balls all the way to the bottom of a .44 Mag case over a light powder load. These showed a lot of promise, but I discovered that the SASS rules outlaw any cartridge with the projectile seated below the case mouth. This rule caused me to look for cases with smaller volume and led me to the .44 Russian brass.

    There is a very short 19th Century case called "The American Bulldog .44" which is much shorter than the .44 Russian. The dimensions of this case - including bullet diameter - are different than the .44 Russian/.44 Special/.44 Mag family, but I think you could make a reasonable facsimile of it by trimming any of the more standard .44 cases. I haven't tried this yet because I achieved success with the Russian case. I may experiment with that in future. I haven't lubed any of my round balls yet, but at the next casting session I may roll them around in liquid Alox. I haven't seen any leading with my round ball loads, but the Alox couldn't hurt.

    Best regards
    Doc

  4. #4
    Boolit Master
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    I've been loading the 240gr over 5.5grs TiteGroup for my buddy for over 15yrs. Functions perfectly in his VAQUERO'S & WIN 94. Your load my be alright for ''tinking" those GIGANTIC STEEL PLATES at 20ft. What are you going to do if there's a knockdown target ? How are you going to get that load to feed in a rifle ? SASS has degenerated into a game of dress up for old baby boomers. 30+yrs ago the pistol targets were 4" plates at 50ft, the rifle targets were 8" plates at 50-60yds. It was SKILL AND speed back then. wild bunch GREED & the gamers from IPSC killed the fun.
    After a 100rds of baby loads, how are you going to put a .44mag load into those fouled chambers ?
    Better off with 200gr over 4.2grs of CLAYS in a mag case. Or if you HAVE to use a shorter case, why not a .44Spl, with a 200 over 3.8grs of TiteGroup ?
    I use a 210gr Bullets in my .44Spl COLTS, loaded with 4.2grs of TiteGroup. Feels like shooting a .22Mag out of a COLT .22 PEACEMAKER. and this load will feed in a MARLIN 1894, WIN 94 & UBERTI '73.
    Happiness is a Warm GUN & more ammo to shoot in it.

  5. #5
    Boolit Man

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    Quote Originally Posted by Walks View Post
    I've been loading the 240gr over 5.5grs TiteGroup for my buddy for over 15yrs. Functions perfectly in his VAQUERO'S & WIN 94. Your load my be alright for ''tinking" those GIGANTIC STEEL PLATES at 20ft. What are you going to do if there's a knockdown target ? How are you going to get that load to feed in a rifle ? SASS has degenerated into a game of dress up for old baby boomers. 30+yrs ago the pistol targets were 4" plates at 50ft, the rifle targets were 8" plates at 50-60yds. It was SKILL AND speed back then. wild bunch GREED & the gamers from IPSC killed the fun.
    After a 100rds of baby loads, how are you going to put a .44mag load into those fouled chambers ?
    Better off with 200gr over 4.2grs of CLAYS in a mag case. Or if you HAVE to use a shorter case, why not a .44Spl, with a 200 over 3.8grs of TiteGroup ?
    I use a 210gr Bullets in my .44Spl COLTS, loaded with 4.2grs of TiteGroup. Feels like shooting a .22Mag out of a COLT .22 PEACEMAKER. and this load will feed in a MARLIN 1894, WIN 94 & UBERTI '73.
    Walks, you bring up several good points. I'll address them one-by-one. I always bring several different loads to the matches. You get to see what's on each given stage before you hit the loading table and load appropriately. I never said anything about using this load in a rifle. They are for my revolvers. I shoot a 240 gr. RNL .44 over 5 grains of (old) Win 452AA in a .44 Mag case in my rifle, a Marlin 1894. My particular rifle doesn't like shorter bullets/cases. I have done an action job on that carbine and learned what it does and doesn't like. I've never had a problem loading .44 Mag cases in my revolvers after shooting shorter rounds. For one thing, my club never shoots more than fifty handgun rounds over five stages and - if necessary - there is time to do minor cleaning between stages.

    I detect a little hostility in your post. Understand that I agree with many of your observations, but I don't make the rules! I'd be happy to shoot full house magnum barn burners if everyone else did the same. They don't. I'm just trying to maximize my tools within the existing rules. I have a range in my backyard where I can shoot anything I want all day long to my heart's content. When I go to the matches - whether CAS or USPSA - I have to play by their rules. Simple as that.

    Best regards
    Doc

  6. #6
    Boolit Master
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    Doc,

    I tip my hat to your inventiveness!

    I have that RB mold myself and have done a bit of work with it in my Ruger Redhawk as I recall. I will have to look up what components I used.

    As to light charges I have used TB powder in my 480 Ruger and found it “boring” so to get your recoil down I have no doubt it would be a good contender in the 44 bore to soften things up.

    Another advantage is reducing the danger of an overcharge.

    I use Clays in my .44 Mag. cases light loads and though it is clean and economical, it does present a risk for double charges or worse.

    Something I will pass on is how I keep my bores and chambers cleaner during firing.

    I like to use JB or USP bore paste (a mild abrasive) for a time while I am breaking in a new to me revolver. The second thing I follow with is Corrosion X. I feel this forms a semi-stable coating and renders fouling less able to stick to your gun, inside and outside. I realize your revolver is not new to you but if it were mine, I would still treat it with the abrasive and the Corrosion X.

    The bore paste is something I use sparingly until I see the results pay off. The Corrosion X is used for a final cleaning pass and to butter the gun’s surfaces. The bore paste is only used until it is no longer necessary while the Corrosion X is kept in the “mix”.

    If you try this procedure you would find that any crud ring inside chambers will rub off very easily. The outside of a stainless revolver comes clean with the mere wipe of your finger except right at the very hottest of the flame area at the front of the cylinder.

    Best regards

    Three44s

  7. #7
    Boolit Man

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    Hi Three44s! All good advice, my friend. For economical .44 Mag loads over cast boolets I've used Red Dot for decades. Like your Clays, a little goes a looooong way. For my full house hunting rounds, I usually load 2400. During the powder and components shortage a few years ago I picked up a couple of pounds of Blue Dot because it was available. It worked fine in my .44s, but I didn't see any advantages over my trusty 2400 so I still have most of it. It'll probably - eventually - get used up in my shotguns.

    In his earlier post, Walks noted the possibility of chamber fouling which could cause longer cases to load with more difficulty after shooting my Russian-cased rounds. As I replied to him, we shoot fifty rounds of handgun ammo across five stages. What I forgot to note is that this is through two revolvers, so it's really only 25 rounds-per-gun. Other than black powder, I can't think of too many smokeless rounds of anything that would badly foul revolver chambers in only 25 rounds. I've never tried Corrosion X before, so that's something I'll put in the bucket list. Thanks.

    Best regards
    Doc

  8. #8
    Boolit Master
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    When I shot CAS before getting hurt in 2010, I was shooting a 200g RND bullet over a light charge of Unique, Red Dot or similar in the 44 mag and a 200g SWC with same powder charges in the 45 Colt. I would have used 44 Special brass if I had enough.
    Don't had load data here at work, but I used the load data from the 44-40 IIRC. Not mouse farts, but I did not stick a bullet in the barrel either.
    CF
    Vote Independent, vote Republican, vote Democratic, just don’t vote Incumbent!
    I believe in the Bible, Freedom, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and personal responsibility. My government believes I am narrow minded, intolerant and dangerous.

  9. #9
    Boolit Master
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    I also use a RB load very similar to Doc1's description, but with a .445 dia. RB cast of WW's over a lube cookie, card wad and 8gr of Trail Boss in unsized .44 Mag brass when I want some thump for vermin or just because. The RB is seated on the end of the case and pressed in far enough to stick, .030-.080 or so to the halfway point and the minimal resulting case flare straightened in the size die. This will squeeze the portion in the case to .430 or so and the rest remains at full diameter in the manner of a heeled boolit. The chamfered end of the chamber will handily size them to precisely throat diameter on the way out, sealing the bore and presenting .150-.180 wide wedding band of engagement for the rifling. It may be an improvement if the RB was closer to chamber diameter but not so much that it presents resistance on chambering, but the straightening in the sizing die will take care of that. The mold I have is .445 so that's what I use. This load would drive tacks out of a friend's Marlin '94 at 30 yards and is very comfortable to shoot out of sidearms.
    Last edited by yeahbub; 06-01-2018 at 12:11 PM.

  10. #10
    Boolit Master

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    Sounds like fun, but do be aware that round balls will bounce. I've shot myself with round balls that bounced back and tagged me.

  11. #11
    Boolit Master
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    4.5 grs. 700X and lee’s 200 TL RF. In a 44 mag. case. I shoot this as fast as anything in my 1894 marlin made in the 70’s.

  12. #12
    Boolit Man

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    Update: This past Sunday I shot my round ball loads for the first time in a match. They worked a treat and several of the members complimented me on their performance and my (new to me) "gunfighter" shooting style. I discussed the possibility of using the round ball approach for .38 Spl., but I'm not sure it would work well. Cowboy action only requires a power factor of 60 which is half of even USPSA's minor PF. My 120 grain round balls only have to get to 500 FPS or above to be legal. Lee's ball molds for .38/.357 only come in at 60 grains. They would need to be pushed to 1000 FPS or more. I have no idea how they would perform or cause barrel leading at such velocities. Still, it might be worth experimenting with for any of you who shoot .357 and have (or acquire) a 60 grain ball mold.

    Best regards
    Doc

  13. #13
    Boolit Master
    9.3X62AL's Avatar
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    I have made roundball loads for 38 Special and 357 Magnum by sizing down .375 RBs twice--first through a .367" H&I die, then through a .359" H&I die. A drop of gun oil on each ball prior to size-down is a big help. I seat these over 2.0-2.5 grains of WW-231 deeply enough to leave a bit of the case mouth exposed above the ball radius, then place a drop of LLA on the ball tip and let it set. These will shoot a bit low at 25 yards, but do the job on smaller varmints once you get the targeting solution figured out--about 2.5" to 3.0" low at 25 yards.
    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.

  14. #14
    Boolit Master
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    You need to seriously look at shooting .44 spl in those revolvers. Less case volume. Lighter loads. Less powder (you'll notice in in the posder bills too).

  15. #15
    Boolit Man

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    Quote Originally Posted by hp246 View Post
    You need to seriously look at shooting .44 spl in those revolvers. Less case volume. Lighter loads. Less powder (you'll notice in in the posder bills too).
    HP, why? I'm already shooting .44 Russian cases which have even less volume than .44 Special. FWIW, a friend is sending me 200 .44 Special cases and I will experiment with them.

    Best regards
    Doc

  16. #16
    Banned
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    200 gr Lee 44-40 boolit, PC coated, with enough Trail Boss to get it out the barrel.

  17. #17
    Boolit Man

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    Another update: My friend finally sent me those .44 Special cases I mentioned previously. His estimate of "200 cases" turned out to be only 89, but I'm not complaining. I started working up round ball loads for these and started with the 5.5 grains of Trail Boss which work so well in the .44 Russian cases. As I suspected, 5.5 grains wasn't enough in the .44 Special case because of its larger volume. At 7 yards, it shot a low and to the left, giving me abysmal 4" groups. At 6 grains things tightened right up with good groups and maybe an inch low and very slightly to the left. I'm sure I can do better and will continue to experiment, but I feel confident in recommending 6 grains of Trail Boss in the .44 Special case as a starting load.

    Best regards
    Doc

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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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