Special Interests - Groups & Societies > The Winchester Model 1873

My 44-40 Black Powder Journey

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w44wcf:
I first began my .44-40 black powder journey back in 1999. Just prior to that, I had obtained some early .44-40 black powder factory W.R.A. CO. head stamped cartridges for study. Dissecting them, I found that they contained a pure lead 200 gr. bullet with two shallow grease grooves.  The 40 gr. FFG charge was compressed an average of about .20”.


In 1875, to give its readers some idea of what their .44 W.C.F. (44-40) black powder factory ammunition was capable of in their then new 1873 rifle, Winchester featured a letter they received from a E.H. Pardee, M.D.  of San Francisco, CA

“It affords me much pleasure to communicate to you the result of 30 consecutive shots at a distance of 110 yards with one of the improved Winchester rifles (1873). The firing was done without wiping, which proves the Winchester to be steady in her performance…..”

Illustrated was a target containing 30 shots, all inside of a 4” circle, and all fired with no cleaning between rounds. Pretty impressive, even now..
 


Today, Lyman’s 427098 mold is a close replication of the original bullet and bullets from it typically measure around .427” - .428” diameter depending on the alloy.  Most .44-40 rifles made currently usually have a groove diameter of .429” with some barrels as large as .432”. I did find that if undersized bullets are soft enough (no harder than 50/1) they will bump up and give accurate shooting.

However, it is better to have a bullet that is at least .001” over groove diameter if possible..  That is what a good friend of mine who goes by the handle “Fairshake” did several years ago when he contacted Accurate Molds to have them produce a 427098 clone mold, which, could be purchased to produce bullets in a specific diameter to fit an individual rifle’s specifications. In addition, the lube grooves would be square bottomed like the original factory bullets but with a bit more lube capacity.

I began my journey with the Lyman mold. Bullets were lubed with SPG and loaded over Goex FFG powder sparked by CCI 300 primers in R-P cases.  All was well for about 10 rounds” or so in the 24” barrel but accuracy began to degrade rapidly shortly thereafter as a hard ring of fouling started to build from the muzzle back into the barrel.

I then tried magnum large pistol primers, but still the hard ring of fouling made its appearance. I came to the conclusion that, based on Doc Pardee’s excellent results, the early b.p.’s were of better quality than the Goex powder I was using.

SWISS B.P.
I had read about Swiss b.p. made in Switzerland that was said to have similar characteristics to the early b.p.’s  so I ordered some.  What a difference! Now I was able to shoot 50+ rounds with no hard ring of fouling and accuracy being maintained throughout.  I found that with bullets from the Accurate 427098 clone (43-210B) pioneered by “Fairshake” over Swiss FFG powder,  the accuracy and performance of the original factory b.p. cartridges could be replicated.


GOEX B.P. – Bullet Development for use with -
But what about those who wanted to use a b.p. made in the U.S.?  Back in 2002, a fellow with the handle PRS (Pigeon Roost Slim) had been working with the .45 Colt to develop a bullet that would carry enough lube to keep the more fouling Goex powder from fouling out in repeated shots. Lee made the mold to his specifications and it has worked very well.
Following that, a fellow with the handle “Mav Dutchman” had Lee make a similar mold for the .44-40.

Thankfully, a fellow by the name of DD (Dick Dastardly) made it possible to procure those molds today at www.biglube.com.

“MAV D” (Big Lube) - I purchased some of the “Mav D” bullets from the supplier listed below and, sure enough, loaded over Goex powder,  I could fire many shots in a row with accuracy being maintained throughout.

Accurate 43-215C - Being a traditionalist, I decided that I wanted a bullet that would exactly match the original .44-40 bullet nose profile and would carry enough lube for the 24” trip many times accurately using standard Goex black powder. In addition, I had found that the original nose profile is best for down range accuracy (100+ yards) which is one of the things I like to do.

To start with, I used the 427098 and machined away the middle driving band a bit at a time, thus adding a bit more lube capacity until testing indicated that I had reached the IDEAL lube capacity for the task at hand.. It is now the 43-215C made by Accurate Molds. Thankfully, it runs very well with Goex and continues to produce very good down range accuracy (100+ yards) for many rounds with no foul out.

 
 

BULLET SUPPLIERS
1.) “Mav D” (Big Lube)
2.) 43-210B (427098 clone) Not shown on Mark's website but he offers it. Contact for information
www.whyteleatherworks.com

427098 - http://www.buffaloarms.com/Hand_Cast_Bullets_it-157239.aspx?CAT=4135-
 
Black Dawge - http://www.midwayusa.com/product/137773/goex-black-dawge-bullets-44-caliber-430-diameter-205-grain-lead-flat-nose-box-of-100?cm_vc=ProductFinding

Accurate 43-215F – no commercial supplier presently

BULLET MOLDS
www.biglube.com
www.accuratemolds.com
http://www.lymanproducts.com/lyman/bullet-casting/index-pistols.php



BLACK POWDERS > GROUP A  - 
 Goex / Schuetzen / Diamondback
 Works best with the Mav D (Big Lube) or the 43-215C bullets

BLACK POWDER > GROUP B
KIK – with the 427098 / 43-210B, accuracy was maintained for about 2X longer than Goex or about 20 rounds after which accuracy deteriorated as the black ring of fouling was building in the 24” barrel at the muzzle inward.  .

BLACK POWDERS > GROUP C
Swiss / Olde Enysford
Works very well with the original 2 lube grooved bullet … 427098 / 43-210B
(Testing the newer introduced Olde Enysford powder last year, I found that it worked as well as Swiss producing very good continuous accuracy for many shots.)   
 
BLACK POWDER SUPPLIERS (will ship as little as 5#)
http://blackpowderva.com/
http://www.powderinc.com/
http://www.grafs.com/retail/catalog/category/categoryId/3501
 

LOADING .44-40 BLACK POWER CARTRIDGES
I typically use a Lyman 55 powder measure which has markings for b.p. and mostly Ioad with the measure set at the “40” setting.  Because the densities of different black powders vary, the actual weight varies as this pic indicates.
.


I dump the powder charge slowly into the case with the pan held 4-5” above the powder funnel to settle it.  Some folks use a drop tube but I find that I get pretty much the same result in the .44-40 case)  Another method that I have recently adopted is to drop the charges in a block of 50 cases, then put another block on top and lightly rapidly tap the cartridge block which also settles the powder.



A hand held body massage vibrator will likely work as well…..


Lesser powder charges can certainly be used as long as the powder is compressed.  Some folks use the Lee 2.2 CC scoop for their .44-40 b.p. loads. It holds 32.5 grs. by weight of Goex FFG. Compression is about .10” on a settled charge (Winchester or Starline cases) at a seating depth of .36”.

To determine the amount of power compression a particular load requires, I use a fired case where the bullet is a slip fit in the case neck. First determine the o.a.l. of your loaded cartridge. Then after placing the powder charge into the fired case (pouring it in slowly to settle it) place the bullet into the case neck, push it down on the powder and measure the o.a.l.  The compression is the difference between that length and the final loaded cartridge length..

In the loading process, if your bullet is at least 10-12 BHN hardness, it can be used to compress the powder charge when seated. If less than 10 BHN, it would be better to pre compress the powder before seating the bullet……depending on the amount of compression and the actual hardness of the bullet.  Pre compressing the powder can be done with the neck expander, a compression die, or a slightly smaller caliber jacketed bullet like a 10MM. 

Velocities recorded with different black powders loaded at the “40” setting – Lyman 55 measure. Because of the different densities, the actual weights of the various powders do vary, but by using the volume measure, the compression is the same for all.. 
Case – R-P  .44-40 /  Primer – CCI 300   
Bullet – 210 gr. 427098 / 43-210B


With Swiss FFG and Olde Enysford, I found that the “36” setting  produced velocities comparable with the original 44-40 b.p. cartridge.

So just how accurate can a well crafted .44-40 black powder cartridge be?  Very accurate.

Remember the 30 shot group I mentioned in the beginning fired in 1875? 30 shots under 4” @ 100 yards. Awesome! Fast forward 135 years or so later at 100 yards…...that performance is still obtainable today …….

For the accuracy testing, I had a scope mounted on the .44-40 Marlin Cowboy (24”) rifle since it needed to be about the true accuracy of the cartridge rather than a test of how well I can see iron sights with my aging eyes.

Note: The bullet was actually the 43-210B



And a follow up 10 shot group ….


In the late 1800’s Winchester claimed that it’s .44 W.C.F. (.44-40) was adequate for deer and bear out to 300 yards. Well, I have no desire to try that but I do love to shoot at steel silhouettes out a ways….

300 meters (327 yards) on the steel javelina





Accurate Bullet molds with the original .44-40 bullet nose profile




So far, so good!
W44wcf

EPILOGUE
A short time ago,  I discovered that U.M.C. (Union Metallic Cartridge Co.) from 1906 - 1916, offered a 28 gr. 44-40 cartridge version in addition to their standard 40 gr. loading. Interestingly, that powder charge was the same that was used in the earlier .44  Henry Flat R.F. I decided to replicate that loading to see how the accuracy / velocity would have been.
U.M.C. would have used a wad to take up the lost powder space but I used PSB (Polyethylene Shot Buffer) after first compressing the 28 gr by weight charge .10”.   Velocity was very similar to the .44 Henry Flat at 1,125 f.p.s. and the accuracy at 100 yards was pretty close to the same as the standard 40 gr. charge in my rifle..


Coal Creek Griff:
I'll say it here too. Very nice write-up.  I may need to print this for my reloading notebook.

CC Griff

rbertalotto:
Excellent work! Thank You!

Mean Bob Mean:
Your writeup is simply terrific. I recently purchased my first .44-40 and some Starline brass, ordered some bullets from Whyte and hope to work up some loads. 

KirkD:
Another OUTSTANDING post! I'm copying and saving this one to my 44-40 file. Thank you very much for taking the time to make such an excellent post.

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