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American Handgunner Jan/Feb 2010 - Page 38

Real.44 Cowboy loads John Taffin The .44 Family: .44 American, .44 Colt, .44 Russian, .44-40, .44 Special and .44 Magnum. Taffin’s most used bullets for assembling .44 Real Cowboy Loads are Oregon Trails RNFP and SWC and the original 429421 Keith bullet. HANDLOADING SAGE ADVICE FROM THE HANDLOADING GURUS Unique, Power Pistol and Universal are excellent powders for Real Cowboy Loads in the Ruger or any .44 Magnum. T he last place to learn safe gun handling is at the movies or the TV screen and it’s a rare film that ever depicts recoil in any shape or fashion. Forty-four caliber sixguns and leverguns recoil. When cowboy action shooting started almost everyone used .45 and .44 sixguns with the same level loads used on the frontier. It wasn’t long before some discovered it was a lot easier to shoot fast first using .38 Specials, then light-loaded .38 Specials and now even .32s. At one time a minimum velocity of 650 fps was suggested for revolvers, however that idea did not go very far, even though real cowboy loads from the last quarter of the 19th century were at this level or above. Smith & Wesson introduced the first big-bore cartridgefiring sixgun in late 1869 with the .44 S&W American. All the .44s following close on its hells started life as black powder cartridges and any sixgun made prior to 1900 should only be used with black powder or black powder substitute loads. If one wants to really be part of the spirit of the old West black powder can still be used not only in the old guns but any of the currently produced sixguns as well. Army and it was soon available in several other revolvers. The “40” in .44-40 stands for 40 gr. of black powder. Modern .44-40 brass will not hold this much powder, however I have been fortunate to come up with some original balloon head brass which will. Loading a full 40 gr. of FFg black powder under an Oregon Trails 200 grain RNFP cast bullet gives a muzzle velocity of right at 1,000 fps in a 71/2" sixgun and right at 1,300 fps from a Winchester levergun. Using modern .44-40 brass, 35 gr. of black powder or black powder substitute will give from 850 to 1,000 fps from a 71/2" sixgun depending on the granulation used, with FFFg giving the highest muzzle velocity. I load up thousands of .44-40 loads every year using Oregon Trails 200 gr. RNFP bullet. My lightest loads use 5.5 gr. of Red Dot or 5.0 gr. of Bullseye for about 775 fps, and 5.5 gr. of Nitro-100 or 6.0 gr. of TiteGroup increases the muzzle velocity to around 825 fps. My most used load is the same as I use for .45 Colt and .38-40, namely 8.0 gr. of Unique for right at 900 fps. .44 Special: When the .44 Special was introduced in late 1907, even though the brass was longer than the .44 Russian and the Triple-Lock sixgun was certainly stronger than the S&W TopBreaks, for some strange reason it was Some realist loads .44 Colt: Colt was caught flatfooted when Smith & Wesson brought out the .44 American and while they were waiting for the legal time when they could produce sixguns bored through cylinders they did the next best thing which was convert already in use 1860 Army percussion revolvers to fire a new cartridge, the .44 Colt. Originally the .44 Colt used the same style heeled bullet as the .44 S&W American, however currently produced replicas have been modernized to accept standard .44 bullets loaded in .44 Colt brass now made by Starline. Lengthwise the .44 Colt is in between the .44 Russian and .44 Special and uses the same bullets both these cartridges do. Reproductions patterned after the 1860 Army percussion revolver do not have a top strap so one should be very careful as to what loads are used. To duplicate the original I use 25 gr. of FFg under a 200 gr. cast bullet for around 775 fps. Switching to smokeless powder and the same bullet, 4.0 gr. of Red Dot or WW231 is a very pleasant shooting 660 fps while 4.0 gr. of TiteGroup gets us up to 700 fps. .44 Russian: The Russians liked the S&W Model #3 American but they did not like the cartridge and because of this the modern sixgun cartridge was born. The Russians asked for a bullet of uniform diameter with all the grease grooves inside the case and the result was the .44 Russian which would later become the father of the .44 Special and then 50 years after that the grandfather of the .44 Magnum. In duplicating the original .44 Russian load using 23 gr. of FFg black powder under a 240 gr. cast bullet, muzzle velocity runs from 750 fps to 800 fps depending upon barrel length. In modern replicas using the same 240 grain bullet, which by the way is Oregon Trail’s .44 SWC, or the old round-nosed Lyman #429251, 4.0 gr. of Nitro-100 gives 740 fps; 4.0 gr. of Red Dot, 825 fps; 4.0 gr. TiteGroup, 800 fps; 4.0 gr. WW231, 775 fps, and 5.0 gr. Unique clocks out at 765 fps. Any of these loads will serve as everyday working loads and are quite pleasant to shoot. .44-40: The same year Colt introduced the .45 Peacemaker, Winchester brought out the Model 1873 levergun, chambered in the legendary .44 Winchester Centerfire (.44WCF) and now more commonly known as the .44-40. It may have started as a rifle cartridge, however before the end of the 1870s Colt chambered it their Single Action Continued on page 86 38 WWW.AMERICANHANDGUNNER.COM • JANUARY/FEBRUARY2010

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