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GUNS Magazine January 2013 Digital Edition - Page 20
When Duke can steal some time for single-action revolver shooting at his home range, it’s most likely with one of his .44-40s. the BeSt Old WeSt handgUn Cartridge tHe .44 wincHesteR centeRfiRe. mike “duke” venturino PHotos: Yvonne venturino ver the past 30 years, I’ve tried to shoot every revolver type that someone would have packed in a holster during the last 50 years of the 19th century. Such shooting has encompassed handguns from .36-caliber cap-and-ball “Navy” Colts to the big-bore double actions of the 1890s. In regards to metallic cartridges I’ve handloaded tens of thousands of rounds with both black powder and smokeless powders ranging from .38 Colt up to .45 Colt. In between have been .38 WCF, .41 Colt, .44 S&W American & Russian, .44 Colt, .44 WCF, .45 Schofield and others. In my humble but experiencebased opinion, one of those many rounds stands above all the rest both in regards to its historical perspective and modern application. That is the .44 WCF (Winchester Centerfire) more commonly known today as .44-40. Such an attitude might surprise some readers because cartridges like the .45 Colt are held in near reverence. 20 O Evidently, I wasn’t the only one to draw such a conclusion. Consider this: during the time frame mentioned above no other handgun manufacturer cataloged .45 Colt revolvers. Virtually every maker of “belt revolvers” offered them as .44 WCF. (Belt revolvers were what we would call “holster guns” today.) Remington had the Models 1875 and 1890, Merwin & Hulbert had a couple versions of their unique twist-frame design, Smith & Wesson made both single- and double-action top-break versions of their Model No. 3 in .44 WCF and even Colt put the round in all of their big-frame revolvers introduced after 1873. Another gun’riter far more famous than me, the late Col. When Winchester introduced their new .44 WCF round in 1873 it had a brass case and centerfire primer making it their first reloadable cartridge. Charles Askins once wrote that he saw no reason for Smith & Wesson to introduce their .44 Special because the .44 WCF was already well established. Ironically, for a cartridge, which I consider a most excellent one for revolvers the .44 WCF was actually developed for rifles. Winchester did that in 1873 for the rifle and carbine named for the year. It was their first round using a brass case with external primer; meaning it was reloadable. From the beginning standard factory loads used a 1.31" long, slightly bottlenecked case with 40 grains of black powder under a 200-grain, roundnose-flatpoint bullet. From, a 24" rifle barrel velocity was supposed to be about 1,300 fps. Most sources give 1878 as the year Colt finally began chambering their Single Action Army revolver for .44 WCF. (Some say 1877.) That would have been after about serial number 41,000. By the time the First Generation of Colt Single Action Army production ended in 1941, .44 WCF chambered ones were in distant second place in regards numbers made. Of course .45 Colt was first with about 150,000 compared to the .44 WCF at approximately 64,000. One fact makes .44 WCF unique among Colt SAAs is the name the company gave revolvers so chambered. They were stamped “COLT FRONTIER SIX-SHOOTER.” Merwin & Hulbert bestowed an even odder moniker on their .44 WCF chambered sixguns. They were marked “CALIBRE WINCHESTER 1873.” Although I’ve shot Remington Model 1875 .44s and even owned a Smith & Wesson single W W W. G U N S M AG A Z I N E . C O M • JA N UA RY 2 0 1 3