View Full Version : Understanding The 44-40 Cartridge Loads

Savvy Jack
09-24-2020, 08:20 PM

Quite a few years ago I started my adventure in the history of the 44-40. We all know it started life as the 44/100, the same name as the 44/100 Henry cartridge. This "44" did not designate the difference between a pistol caliber or a rifle caliber but the caliber of the projectile itself...forty four one hundredth of an inch. The cartridge was later re-designated 44 W.C.F. by Winchester and then eventually Marlin worked with Union Metallic Cartridge Company and came out with the 44-40 by 1894ish. Soon afterword, Winchester designated their firearms chambered in this caliber as the 44-40.

We all know that the 44-40 started life using black powder and was offered with BP until around WWII (trying to keep it simple). What most folks don't fully understand were the transitional issues using smokeless powders. For rifle use, the new smokeless powders operated just like black powder in loading and retained original velocities. The problems with smokeless powders where when used in revolvers. By 1903, rifles were using High Velocity loads while revolvers, especially Colt's, were still limited to black powder. Colt did not recommend using smokeless powders in their revolvers until 1909 but handloaders...well...

The 44-40 was loaded with what was called "Smokeless Rifle Powder #2" by Dupont. Cartridges like the 45-70 were loaded with what was called "Smokeless Rifle Powder #1". From here on out this will explain why the 44-40 is a rifle cartridge and not what Millennials call "Pistol Calibers".

What was confusing folks back then was the loss of performance when using the new smokeless rifle powders in revolvers. The powder burned too slow in order to achieve the previous desired performance with black powder. Unique and Bullseye were both available by 1900 but not necessarily used in pistols at the time. By 1909 Bullseye was being used in the 45 Colt pistols and well into the 1930's folks were being reminded that in order to achieve max performance with the 44-40 cartridge, the same load used for both rifle and revolver would suffer in one or the other firearms. Pistol powders burned too fast for rifles and created too much pressure to achieve desired velocities and rifle powders did not burn fast enough in revolvers and velocities plummeted. THUS one could not use the same loads in both rifle and revolvers and have such desired results. So the 44-40 is a rifle cartridge that can be loaded to work well in revolvers.

What most folks also fail to understand is that such desired velocities can still be achieved today when using mid-range rifle powders in rifles. The 44-40 is very capable of distances much further than 100 yards when loaded correctly for rifles. However, such loads are border-line for the strength of the Winchester 73'. 1,300-1,450fps can be achieved safe for the 73' replicas if the handloader does his homework. DO NOT LOAD FOR VELOCITIES WITH PISTOL POWDERS or you will break something before reaching original 44-40 ballistics. Far superior "High Velocity" loads can be achieved for the Winchester Model of 1892 and the Marlin variants when using Winchester's 1903 to 1945 H.V. ammunition. Such loads exceed SAAMI 11,000psi specs by nearly double and can destroy a Winchester 73' and revolvers..

Sharp once wrote in 1937;
" The 44-40 is capable of excellent performance when loaded properly for handgun use. If, however, one endeavors to combine loading for both handgun and rifle in this caliber, he is destined to meet with only mediocre success. As in all other dual-purpose cartridges, the factory loads are only a compromise at best. Smokeless-powder loading for handguns requires a much more rapid-burning type than loading for rifle use, as the short barrel must burn all the powder if satisfactory results are to be achieved. In addition, rifle cartridges can be loaded to a pressure of about 30,000 pounds in this caliber, whereas the same load in a revolver would be more or less disastrous."

I certainly have no desire to attempt such loads myself but replicating Winchester's 20,000cup to 22,000cup H.V. loads are very rewarding In my Marlin 1894CB and is certainly no pistol load!!!

Western/Winchester, by 1946, offered it's last load using such "rifle" powders. I have three of Western's 44-40 K1372 offerings. They are the 1946 K1372T, 1948 K1372C and by 1952, the "4440" caliber code.

The 1946 box ammo is loaded with 16.5gr of Sharpshooter (available till 1946 or 48) while a 1949 cartridge had 15.3gr of a ball type powder. Winchester still used Sharpshooter, and a box I have maybe dated 1958 shows what looks like 14.7gr of a Sharpshooter granular powder.

Back to the Sharpshooter powder...
Introduced by Laflin & Rand in 1897, the 44-40 was not listed in the loading data. By 1903, Hercules was making Sharpshooter. Listed on the back of the can was the load data for the 44-40. It only showed one load...19gr for High Velocity loads.

Sharps 1937 manual lists the following data:

Revolver - 200gr Lead, 16.8gr, 905fps @ 15,000cup (note: SAAMI Max is 13,000cup/11,000psi)

Rifle - 200gr JSP, 14gr, 1,260fps

Rifle - 200gr JSP, 17.3gr, 1,505fps @ 14,000cup

Rifle - 200gr JSP, 19.6gr, 1,680fps @ 20,000cup

Thus 16.5gr found in the 1946 cartridges should perform as stated in advertisements...... 1,300+ fps.

By 1950, the 44-40 was advertised at 1,320fps, retaining it's original velocities using ball powders. By 1976, Winchester switched to a disc pistol powders and velocities along with accuracy plummeted to 1,190fps....which is what the 44 Henry velocities were.

So, for the Winchester Model of 1873', it was able to retain original ballistics using early smokeless powders but pistols lost performance. The H.V. loads used in the Winchester Model of 1892' and Marlin variants was far superior and such loads could not be used in revolvers or the 73'.

Now days, it is no wonder folks think the 44-40 is a weak "Pistol Caliber" because they completely fail to understand it's true historical performance.


The 44-40 is NOT a "pistol caliber"

On a side note, I get great pleasure shooting my Winchester 73' with a Malcolm scope or Marlin 1894CB at 100 to 300 yard distances with 1,350fps mid-range rifle loads and a 220gr lead bullet. I am very happy with 8" x 8" groups at 265 yards.


BTW, I am extremely fond of the 30-06, even a cave man can kill with a 30-06 :-)

09-24-2020, 08:39 PM
I have an early 80's vintage Uberty 73 and a Colt New Frontier in 44-40 that you are making it real hard for me to not dig out. I really haven't shot either of them much, probably less than 300 rounds between them. Does anyone know the strength of those early model Uberty's? Got the pistol at the Rod & Gun club in Bamberg and the rifle at the Rod & Gun in Nurnberg. I really think I would enjoy them now. I have read many of your post on this caliber with great interest and thank you for putting the info out there for us.


Savvy Jack
09-24-2020, 08:55 PM
How I posted this in the Reloding Manuals forum is beyond me....argh!!!

Anyhow, lots more information here: https://sites.google.com/view/44winchester/powders

09-24-2020, 09:43 PM
IMR4227 and RL7 seem to be the powders of choice when looking for "full-charge" loads which are safe in the 1873 Winchester and earlier Colts. I load 17.5 of IMR4227 in solid-head cases and 18.5 in balloon-head cases with 43-206H which closely approximates velocity of pre-WW2 Rem-UMC "Dogbone Logo" factory loads. And 22-23 grains of IMR4198 or 24-25 grs.of RL7 with 200-215-grain bullets works well in rifles, but leaves zombie particles in revolvers.

Savvy Jack
09-25-2020, 04:17 AM
IMR-4227 seems to be a good replacement for Dupont's Sharpshooter. Although not a grain for grain replacement, 19.5gr with a 200gr Laser Cast Magma gave me 1,296fps @ 11,430psi which is right at SAAMI's 11,300psi MPLM. Using 20gr increased velocity to 1,357fps and increased pressure to 12,238psi but groups seemed to spread out to 5" at 100 yards. That is the max load I feel comfortable using in the replica 73's. Higher loads I use in the Marlin 94. I also used CCI 300 primers on anything that would give me pressures over 11,000 psi with WLPs.

25.5gr with a Winchester JSP increased velocities to 1,735 fps but increased pressures to 19,652 psi. (probably 23,000 to 24,000 cup) 26gr increased to 1,733 fps @ 20,913 psi...well exceeding 22,000 cup. This load was still less than the Sharp's 1937 load of, 29gr @ 1,890fps but no pressures noted. Could be his so called 30,000 cup loads.

22gr with a 220gr Laser Cast Magma seemed to better replicate Winchester's early High Velocity loads with velocities indicating 1,514 fps with milder 14,000 psi pressures.

The more enjoyable load (Safe for the Winchester 73') is 17gr with a Lyman 210gr 427098 but gave 44 Henry ballistics of only 1,127 fps with pressures coming in at 9,389 psi. I think Outpost's 18.5gr would be right on target with this bullet...pressure-wise.

I had much better results pressure-wise when using Reloder 7. The same velocities achieved with IMR-4227 yielded lower pressures when using RL-7.

Using such powders (@ 11,300psi or less) certainly do work for me in revolvers but I notice about a 100 to 150 fps loss as compared to using Unique. I think only about 55% of the RL-7 rifle powder is burned when used in 44-40 revolvers. Only about 65% of RL-7 is burned when used in the 44-40 rifle loads.

Savvy Jack
09-25-2020, 08:08 AM
As a reminder, SAAMI's roots trace all the way back to 1913. However, it was not until the 1970's when SAAMI started "...the three decades of transformation and modernization of the firearms and ammunition industry". This is when SAAMI started the transition from the Copper Units of Pressure (CUP) to the more modern piezoelectric transducer chamber pressure measurement system (PSI). It is also during 1976 that the 44-40 factory loads were cut down to a safety percentage below factory Max.

One of the things I wanted to do was try and test original vintage factory loads and compare the pressures. At the time I was testing with the Presuretrace strain gauge, I did not have any "reliable" amounts of vintage ammunition to test...now I do. The other problem is that the program stopped working with my laptop and I am now to understand it was probably a computer update issue. Most guys have a dedicated laptop that they never hook up to the internet.

With that, I feel very confident that pre-1976 (and definitely pre-1950's) factory loads probably maxed or exceeded the 11,000psi SAAMI max loads limit. While the quality of the arms and ammunitions excelled, the "red tape" caused performance to plummet.

In 1925, the major objective SAAMI was faced with was "...a major reduction of obsolete and nearly obsolete black powder and semi‐smokeless powder loads for both shotshells and metallic cartridges. When that undertaking was complete, the number of shotshell loads had been reduced by 95 percent and metallic cartridge loads by 70 percent"...according to their website. Although I have no idea when that "project" was complete, it was during the mid to late 1930's that the loads for the 44-40 were loaded so hot (Sharp even claims up to 30,000 [cup] with handloads, most even too hot for my liking! The 1930's was also the time when their High Velocity loads jumped up from a "low pressure" to 22,000 cup.

By the 1940's, SAAMI claimed"...Since that time (referring to the 1940's publishing of "The Ten Commandments of Safety"), fatal firearm accidents have decreased dramatically and are currently at historic low levels".

All of this completely falls in line with what I have experienced in my testings. When SAAMI came up with 13,000 cup at some point, the 44-40 rifle performance plummeted.

The 1940's is when Winchester stopped manufacturing the 44-40 High Velocity loads, and the 1970's is when Winchester neutered normal factory loads. So called High Velocity loads were still manufactured by Remington but they were nowhere near what they used to be and were basically what normal loads used to be prior to the 60's. Remington's High Velocity loads by that time were noted safe for all firearms....not true for original HV loads. Top it all off by more modern High Power rifles...it all makes sense on why the 44-40 lost popularity and was phased out. It is certainly understandable because in the mid 1970's when I was ten and started hunting, I favored the Remington 742 30-06' and has always been a favorite of mine. Although I did hunt at that time with the 44-40, it was not until later that I started to have a desire to return to the older girl and not till the advent of the internet where I was able to really dig into the history.