The .44 Magnum in a Rifle
Date: Oct 15 2009
The .44 Remington Magnum is a versatile cartridge in a revolver due to a wide variety of bullet weights and assortment of suitable propellants. The .44 cartridge is even more flexible in a rifle by tweaking powder charges to develop inexpensive handloads with light recoil or work up high velocity or magnum loads in a rifle’s longer barrel to increase its reach.
On the Light Side
Let’s start at the low end of easy shooting.
The majority of shooting I do with my Winchester Model 94 .44 Magnum is plinking to keep my eye sharp. Lead bullets make great, inexpensive, mild-recoiling loads for this general shooting. With the Hornady 240-grain semi-wadcutter swaged lead bullets the accuracy of the Model 94 is great as long as the velocity stays close to or less than 1,000 fps. At that velocity a wash of
leading is visible in the bore after 10 shots or so. But the leading doesn’t build up after continued shooting – and accuracy remains good. In fact, after 40 shots, five of the swaged lead bullets grouped in less than an inch at 50 yards with 6.0 grains of American Select.
These bullets can be loaded for a slower velocity, but open sights may not have enough elevation adjustment to compensate for slower bullet speed. With the rear sight on the top elevator on the Model 94 carbine, bullets at 950 fps are right on at about 80 yards but 4 inches low at 100 yards.
The Hornady 240-grain semi-wadcutters don’t have a crimping groove, but some crimp of the case mouth should be applied to ensure the bullets remain in place under the pressure of a compressed magazine spring. I set my seating die to seat the bullets for a cartridge length of 1.610 inches and applied some crimp. The crimp digs into the soft lead on the sides of the bullets, but it doesn’t seem to affect accuracy.
A pound of American Select, Red Dot or Clays will load nearly 1,200 rounds with Hornady lead bullets. How cheap is that?
Casting your own bullets is the only way to be more frugal. For general plinking I cast a plain-base, 240-grain semi-wadcutter from an old Hensley & Gibbs mould. I used to size and lubricate the bullets in an RCBS LUBE-A-MATIC press. Then I realized the bullets had a cast diameter of .432 inch and wondered why I was wasting time sizing them. Ever since I have skipped sizing the bullets and instead roll them in a jar with enough Johnson paste wax to mostly fill the lube grooves. I lay the bullets out on a sheet of wax paper until the paste wax is dry and then load them. The wax does produce a little smoke when the bullets are fired, but I can live with that.
These bullets are cast with a mixture of wheelweights with some tin, so they can be driven somewhat faster than swaged lead bullets without leading the bore. My standard load is 8.5 grains of Universal for a velocity of 1,251 fps. That speed translates into bullets hitting 2 inches high at 25 yards and right on at 100 yards. The load is similar to a full-bore load in a .44 Magnum revolver. The recoil of these loads ranks on the mild side from my 5.75-pound Model 94, so I can shoot all day.
Before loading a bunch of semi-wadcutters, try them first to make sure they feed smoothly into your rifle’s chamber. The sharp edge might hang up entering the chamber.
I had great hopes my .44 Carbine could be made into a solid 150-yard coyote and marmot gun with 200- grain jacketed bullets. However, for some reason the 200-grain Hornady HP-XTP and Speer Gold Dot HP bullets failed to shoot accurately from the Model 94. In fact, some of the bullets completely missed the target papers at 50 yards. The Model 94’s one-in-38-inch twist should have stabilized these short bullets. Perhaps it was the bullets’ short bearing surfaces that caused the inaccuracy. But five different loads produced dismal accuracy. Too bad, as velocities were right up there at nearly 2,100 fps. At that top speed, the bullets should hit one inch high at 50 yards and drop off only 4 inches at 150 yards.
Given the great accuracy and velocity of the Hornady 240-grain HP-XTP bullets, I’m not going to worry another second about the 200-grain bullets. The Hornady 240 grainers clocked 1,930 fps with 21.0 grains of 2400. That’s 200 fps faster than the Hornady reloading handbook lists from the 18-inch barrel of a gas-operated Ruger Carbine. At that velocity the 240-grain bullet has nearly the same trajectory as the 200-grain bullet at 2,100 fps.