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Thread: Is modern 44-40 smokeless shootable in an original 1873?

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    Boolit Buddy Kev18's Avatar
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    Is modern 44-40 smokeless shootable in an original 1873?

    So I bought a rifle yesterday. Winchester 1873 MFG 1888, and I bought a box of Winchester 44-40 Powerpoint at a local gun store. So I was wondering if anyone ever shot these rounds, or is the pressure to high? It says the muzzle velocity is 1190 fps.

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    Boolit Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    They will be safe, but maybe not the most accurate. Save the brass and reload with 24 grains of RL7 and 215-grain flat nose from Matt's Bullets.
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    Boolit Buddy Kev18's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Outpost75 View Post
    They will be safe, but maybe not the most accurate. Save the brass and reload with 24 grains of RL7 and 215-grain flat nose from Matt's Bullets.
    Iv'e been doing research and apparently the bullets will most likely be to small. But I looked online and they are .427 diameter. Im not sure what my bore is. If anything, I have lead SWC that I used for .44 .mag that are .430 from Hornady. Il try those if the Winchester ones have issues.

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    Boolit Buddy
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    Bore diameters on those oldies can run all over the place, as in from .426 to .432 or so. If the Winchester ammo shoots decently you probably have a rifle with a bore on the tighter side which is nice. If you have a larger bore needing .432 boolits some rifles with some brass can have a tight fit in the chamber because of the resulting large neck size. I found I needed to go to Starline or Winchester brass to keep a nice fit in the chamber, with Remington or MagTech cases giving a hard fit and raising pressures.

    Another thing to watch for is that there isn't a lot of neck tension with the 44/40 so you rely on the crimp more than you would with 44mag or such cases, and if you are using the often-recommended load of 7.5 to 8 grains of Unique and the boolit slips the crimp and drops down in the case you have dramatically increased pressures (friend of mine just last month had that happen and had to go to gunsmith to get the stuck case removed, but the reproduction Henry '66 held together OK). So Outpost's RL7 load suggestion which gives a nice case full of powder is an excellent recommendation.

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    Boolit Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Actually, original 1873s can run .435" or more.

    A factor to consider is that chamber NECK diameter in some old rifles may be too tight to load a bullet which properly fits its barrel. The best technical solution is to get the Accurate 43-200QL mold, which has .428" diameter driving bands and an enlarged nose "stop ring" north of the crimp groove, which can be sized to fit the particular barrel without affecting the smaller diameter driving bands. This produces the needed safe neck release clearance. John's 200QL version has an ample lube groove for black powder use to prevent foul-out with Goex powder, whereas the original 200Q had a smaller conventional lube groove for smokeless powder use in light cowboy loads. The 200QL is much to be preferred.

    If loaded as-cast and unsized, the interior "ball seat" of the seating die cold-forms the nose flange, producing a nose band which conforms to the diameter of the seating die, usually .430-.432" depending upon die tolerances.

    The late John Kort worked with Tom Ellis of Accurate Molds and I to address this common condition in antique rifles. John tested this bullet with black powder in an original 1873 with .436" groove diameter and it worked well in soft 6-8 BHN alloy.

    Attachment 221206Attachment 221207Attachment 221208Attachment 221209

    Thanks to Savvy Jack for photo of the original BP pulled bullets!
    Last edited by Outpost75; 05-28-2018 at 09:06 PM.
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    Boolit Buddy
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    I have an 1889 '73 in .38-40, same case necked down. Modern cartridges in these calibers are kept at pressures suitable for these guns unless the box says otherwise. There were some early boxes in these calibers pumped up for the '92 actions, but they do state so. They're marked W.H.V., Winchester High Velocity, and should not be used in a '73.

    I read because of the softness of the metals at that time that jacketed bullets are not recommended.

  7. #7
    Boolit Master
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    I've read that the original .45 Colt revolver cartridge in its balloon head case black powder loading was significantly more powerful with a higher velocity than the standard smokeless powder loads.
    The smokeless powder load used a lower case capacity solid head case so to keep pressures down they had to cut back the charge.

    If so I wonder if the Winchester .44-40 was in the same situation.

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    Greetings
    All old firearms with smokeless need to be shot with over groove diameter soft cast bullets if possible. Some you cannot due to chamber neck restrictions. So with those do the best you can with diameters. But fat is the route with soft lead.
    Have numerous old Winchesters (1873 2nd year) up through 1892's (newest is 1923) in 44 WCF and the groove diameters vary all over. So treat them all as individuals and you will find a cast size that will get you close.
    But for shear ease... Shoot case full of 3F and a 200 up to 220 grain of 40-1 up to range scrap plain base. That is how I start off all my 44 WCF's just to find out how good they will shoot... All have been good shooters. Even one with a very fat throat. Then try to beat that with a smokeless load and good luck ! Will keep you busy for a lot of reloading and shooting.
    Just bought a hollow base 200 grain .432 mold to simplify our shooting smokeless in the old 44 WCF rifles and revolvers.
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    Boolit Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Speedo66 View Post
    ...Modern cartridges in these calibers are kept at pressures suitable for these guns unless the box says otherwise... I read because of the softness of the metals at that time that jacketed bullets are not recommended.
    Moderate, occasional and intermittent use of jacketed bullets won't hurt the barrel, but the primary cause of barrel wear in early smokeless loads was that the Hercules Sharpshooter powder used up until WW2 was very erosive and hard on soft iron barrels.

    However jacketed bullets, then and now, all tend to run small, usually .425-.426" diameter and they won't "slug up" at all in safe loads for the 1873, so they probably won't shoot very well, unless you happen to have a "tight" barrel.

    Attachment 221244 John Kort Photo

    Original factory bullets in black powder loads were usually pure lead, and if alloyed at all were seldom harder than 1:40 tin-lead. At standard factory pressures using modern pistol or shotgun powders like Unique or Universal, or slower, bulky powders such as RL7, which permit filling the case to give base support to the bullet in the same manner which black powder does, 1:40 works very well.
    Last edited by Outpost75; 05-28-2018 at 09:07 PM.
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    Boolit Buddy Kev18's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the suggestions. I went and bought powder today. The guy sold me some Hi-SKOR 800x. All the relaoding books he had said 8.0 grains gave about 1100 fps which is good enough for me. The only issue I had was that he had no more bullets. Since I reload .44 mag I said I would try to use the .430 dia SWC I had from Hornady. When I got home I tried to at least reload 10. I crushed 2 cases at the crimp.( I dont know why they crushed.) The SWC are way to long. They dont allow me to crimp properly, they also dont have a crimp groove. So This friday, or saturday on the way to the cottage il stop by the shop and pick up a Lee 2 -cavity mold. Thats what he stalks. I think they cast .429 diameter.

  11. #11
    Boolit Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Not sure whose dies you are using, but most makes of .44-40 dies expand the case mouths only minimally for .427" diameter bullets. To load .429-.430" diameter bullets you will need to be sure you adjust the expander plug to put a good flare on the case mouth, but even so, with .44-40 case necks being as thin as they are, only about 0.007" compared to 0.011" for .44 Magnum, a tight friction-fit of the larger diameter bullet may buckle the case mouth and shoulder. If that is the case try to find a replacement expander plug for the .44 Special or .44 Magnum and use that.

    The .44-40 brass is thin and fragile, and learning to go carefully and gently, paying attention to what you are doing, is part of the learning curve. It is normal to lose a few cases until you learn finesse!

    Also important to seat and crimp in separate operations to avoid buckling the case. If you have mixed brass of different lengths, it very important to adjust the crimp die to not excessively crimp the longest cases, which will buckle the fragile .44-40 brass. It is best to trim all brass to uniform length.
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    Boolit Buddy
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    I gave up with RCBS 44/40 die set,and made necksize only die out of an old bolt.......I have not had any case problems since,but I need to expand the flare on cases with a bevel tool......I found the factory dies sized the cases far too small,resized the bases below stock size,and then collapsed cases seating bullets,because you cant see trouble starting,just a busted case when its out of the seater. I use a top punch out of a Lyman lubersizer in a holder to seat bullets......sometimes they need to be rotated to straighten up ,and these are the ones that crush is you arent looking. I haven lost a case in years.

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    Boolit Buddy Walks's Avatar
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    See if you can find an old LYMAN die set from the 1960's. They size the good soft REMINGTON Brass down far enough to have the bullet create a bulge underneath a .427 bullet cast of 20/1 or softer. Choose a Short nose bullet with a groove you can REALLY Roll CRIMP the case mouth into. The ACCURATE ARMS John Kort (43-215C) is an excellent choice. The 43-210G is also a good choice. It's on my Mold acquisition list as next up.
    Unique is my choice, 6.5-8.0grs depending on bullet weight.
    Starline brass is TOO HARD to expand to seal the chamber on these light loads with smokeless powder.
    The REMINGTON is pricey and tends to body splits after 5-6 loads because of the overworking in the small sizer. But you'll never get powder blown back in your face either.
    The bore of my 1873/1891 slugs at .426dia, a Starline case with a .428dia bullet won't even chamber.
    Good Luck, the old BP Cartridge guns can be a whole lotta fun. And frustrating too.
    Last edited by Walks; 05-29-2018 at 03:17 AM.
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    Boolit Buddy Kev18's Avatar
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    People mentioned getting a .44 mag expander. Il try it, since I have a die set. Il buy a lee mold this weekend.

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    Boolit Master

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    If your LGS carries Lee products they will have the Lee 'expander' die. Go ahead and get one and use it until you can get the NOE expander buttons that will actually expand your cases to fit the boolit. If you don't know what I am talking about ask here and several of the guys will point you to specifically what you need. It can be confusing if your mind does not handle numbers well. Mine doesn't.
    Wayne the Shrink

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    Boolit Master
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    .44-40 brass is thinner then .44 mag. so you have to be careful when loading it crushes easy. I lose one every now and then been loading .44 for years. I would not use jacketed bullets in that barrel. I have seen trapdoor barrels ruined using jacketed bullets and your barrel is from the same time frame .

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    Boolit Buddy Kev18's Avatar
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    Would you know how to save crushed cases?

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    Boolit Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kev18 View Post
    Would you know how to save crushed cases?

    Once crushed they are scrap.
    Slow down, pay attention, use
    FINESSE and avoid crushing them in the first place.
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  19. #19
    Boolit Buddy Kev18's Avatar
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    I read somewhere that a guy used needle nose pliers to bend them back, and resize them afterwards.

  20. #20
    Boolit Master Outpost75's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kev18 View Post
    I read somewhere that a guy used needle nose pliers to bend them back, and resize them afterwards.
    Good luck with that. Never worked for me.
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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
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check