Handloading the .40-60 WCF
Date: Jun 01 2008
In spite of the Winchester Model 1873 being a huge success, the company was quick to recognize requests from many western U.S. frontiersmen wanting a repeating rifle offering greater power. After all, there was big game, including elk and moose, that were better hunted with something of greater power than the ’73’s .44-40 WCF cartridge, not to mention grizzly bear that were born to fight or wary antelope. That answer came in the Model 1876 (thus its Centennial name), which was essentially an enlarged Model 1873 with the same patented toggle link action.
The new Winchester was initially introduced in .45-75 WCF caliber, with the .45-60 WCF and .50-95 WCF being added in 1879 and the .40-60 WCF appearing in 1884. In future editions of LoadData.com, we will discuss and present loads for each of these cartridges, but today let’s focus on the .40-60 WCF.
The .40-60 WCF contained a 210- grain lead bullet that was driven with around 60 grains of black powder, which had an advertised velocity of 1,562 fps and was the highest muzzle velocity of any cartridge offered in the Model 1876 rifle. The case was based on the .45-70 but shortened to 1.89 inches and heavily tapered from the head to the mouth to accept a bullet of around .406 inch. It gained a good reputation for hunting deer and antelope and became popular, but when Winchester introduced the Browning-designed Model 1886 rifle, its days were numbered. By 1898 the last Model 1876 was shipped, and by the middle 1930s, the cartridges were obsolete – at least until now.
Reproduction Model 1876 Rifles
Original Winchester Model 1876 rifles are difficult to find and valuable, but, Chaparral-Repeating Arms (imported by Charter 2000) and Uberti (imported by Cimarron Firearms Company and Taylor’s & Company, Inc.) are offering reproductions. Since most shooters are probably familiar with the Uberti Model 1873 rifles that have been available for around 35 years, I will refrain from giving them a review. It should be noted, however, that the Uberti rifles display better wood, fit and finish than the Charter 2000 rifles, but at a higher cost.
For the purposes of this article, a Charter 2000 rifle was obtained in .40-60 WCF that featured a 26-inch octagonal barrel. Function and feeding were flawless. The gun weighs nearly 10 pounds, and thus produced very mild and pleasant recoil.
As of this writing, the only factory ammunition available is from TEN-X. Using its “smokeless” load containing a 260-grain cast bullet, velocity was 1,472 fps, and the extreme spread was 212 fps.
Handloading the .40-60 WCF
Before proceeding, it should be emphasized that smokeless handload data is intended for Uberti and Chaparral-Repeating rifles only and should not be used in original Winchester Model 1876 rifles. Keep in mind that all original guns were designed for black powder, with many of them being crafted of iron rather than steel. Certainly some rifles would be safe to fire with smokeless powders, but that is another discussion for another time.
In spite of the .40-60 WCF’s substantial case taper, it requires a three-die set that contains Size, Neck Expand and Seat/Crimp dies. Cases were full-length sized, neck expanded just enough to allow cast bullets to be seated easily without shaving lead, but not so much as to cause premature case mouth splitting, and all loads received as heavy a crimp as each given bullet would allow.
Cases should be kept to a maximum length of 1.89 inches and trimmed to 1.88 inches with an overall cartridge length of 2.25 inches. If the cartridge exceeds this length by much, it will not function or cycle through the Model 1876 action.
An excellent cast bullet was Lyman mould 403168, which dropped bullets at 210 grains when cast from Lyman No. 2 alloy. The design includes a sufficient crimp groove and a small driving band forward of the case, which prevents the bullet from being pushed deeply into the case when subjected to magazine spring pressure and recoil. Additionally it is a plain base with two grease grooves and naturally there is a flat point of traditional design. They were sized .406 inch and lubed with Lyman NRA formula Alox lubricant. For reference the groove diameter of the Chaparral-Repeating rifle slugged .406 inch.
There were a number of powders that proved accurate, while more or less duplicating original period velocities with the above 210-grain bullet. For instance, 28.0 grains of IMR-4198 powder produced 1,580 fps, 37 fps extreme spread and provided several 75-yard groups that were as good as can be expected from the traditional open sights found on the sample 1876 reproduction. Another excellent load included 24.0 grains of Accurate Arms 5744 powder for 1,552 fps. IMR Trail Boss powder was designed specifically for low-pressure loads in black-powder cartridges. With 100 percent load density – the powder just touching the base of the bullet – muzzle velocity was 1,373 fps. (The manufacturer suggests a load density of 70 to 100 percent but warns against compressing Trail Boss powder.) Hodgdon Triple Seven FFg powder was loaded by weight, with 34.5 grains producing 1,530 fps, which gave an authentic feel (smoke and sound) of black-powder loads.
Buffalo Arms offers a 245-grain, .406-inch cast bullet that also gave good results. Several powder charges were used with IMR-4198 powder, but a 22.0-grain load gave the lowest extreme spreads and was accurate, with a velocity of 1,356 fps. Another equally accurate load included 34.0 grains of Hodgdon Varget for 1,335 fps.
In the table’s comment section, some loads are labeled as “do not reduce.” Since there is virtually no smokeless load data for this cartridge, I had to begin from scratch developing data. Loads so earmarked had a tendency to “hang” or “delay” fire, which can be dangerous, and you are strongly warned to not reduce any loads, but especially those mentioned. No loads exceeded 28,000 CUP.
The .40-60 WCF is fun to shoot, accurate and easy to load.