.44-40 Winchester (Revolver)(using Hornady bullets)
Date: Mar 25 2016
The .44 WCF, commonly known today as .44-40 Winchester, was developed by Winchester and first offered in the Model 1873 lever-action rifle. By the late 1870s Colt began offering the cartridge in the Single Action Army revolver, which became an extremely popular "companion" gun to the rifle. Colt SAA’s so chambered were unique, with a barrel designation that read "COLT FRONTIER SIX SHOOTER."
Use caution when loading the .44-40, as many vintage guns were designed for black powder, and using smokeless powder loads can be dangerous, especially in early guns (rifles and revolvers) that were largely constructed from iron rather than steel. Though Colt Single Action revolvers were made of steel as early as 1883, it was mild steel and comparatively weak. Colt did not warranty revolvers for smokeless powder ammunition until 1900, or guns with a serial number of 192,000 or higher. Even with low-pressure smokeless powder handloads, the pressure curve is notably different than with black powder and can still damage guns and is thus not recommended.
The .44-40 is a bottleneck case and reloading dies are steel, requiring case lube, which should be removed immediately after sizing. When applying the roll crimp, be gentle. The case is rather thin and will bulge just below the crimp, or buckle at the shoulder-neck junction, either of which can prevent correct chambering. The crimp is essential in both revolvers or repeating rifles to keep bullets in place and aid with correct powder ignition. Cases that are uniform in length will result in the most uniform crimp, lower extreme spreads and best accuracy.
Starline cases were used herein, due to their strength and comparatively stiff construction and uniformity. If using mixed cases, either mixed headstamps or different lot numbers from the same manufacturer, the Lee Factory Crimp collet die will help improve the uniformity of ammunition. Antique balloon head cases, generally manufactured prior to 1950, should not be used with this smokeless data.
The Hornady 200-grain HP-XTP bullet was designed for the .44 Magnum and .44 Special and thus has a diameter of .430 inch. Most .44-40 firearms intended for smokeless powders have a groove diameter of .426 to .428 inch (while many black powder era guns have been measured at .424 to .426 inch). As a result, an increase in pressure has been seen with this bullet when compared to identical loads using jacketed bullets measuring .426 inch (such as Winchester). Thus data should not be interchanged.
Due to the large diameter of the .430-inch, 200-grain HP-XTP, it will not chamber in all guns. For example, it was loaded in Remington, Winchester and Starline cases, but due to the increased outside diameter of loaded cartridges and minimum dimension throats, they would not chamber in two Colt Frontier Six Shooter’s from 1881 and 1900. On the other hand, they did chamber in a 1930’s era Colt Frontier Six Shooter .44-40, a third generation Colt SAA, a Uberti SAA clone and a USFA Rodeo. Thus it is suggested readers first load up a couple of sample cartridges to make certain they will chamber in the intended gun/guns prior to loading any quantity of ammunition. The above problem does not apply to the .427-inch Hornady FP swaged lead bullets designed specifically for the .44-40.
Best accuracy and lowest extreme spreads were observed with fast to medium burn rate pistol/revolver/shotgun powders. Slow burning powders that are popular in magnum revolver cartridges failed to give desirable results, as extreme spreads were huge and ignition poor, especially with many of the "start" loads. These powders can give good results in the .44-40, but not at or below the current established industry working pressures, 13,000 cup.
The Hornady 205-grain FP swaged lead bullet has no crimp groove, and cases should be roll crimped into the bullet after bullets are seated to the correct overall cartridge length. As mentioned, be gentle to prevent bulging or buckling cases.