A while back I acquired two boxes of these 44-40 cartridges. Both boxes were in the same group, both dated 1914 but I doubt they were from the same batch.
The cartridges in these two boxes contain Lead bullets (and advertised as such on the label), rather than the soft point bullets that were also offered (first offered in 1895). These cartridges also contained 15gr of Dupont No. 2 “Bulk” smokeless rifle powder. Winchester used this powder in the 44-40 from it’s first offering in 1895 (with soft point bullets) and was used until the powder was replaced by Sharpshooter smokeless powder in 1926 (31 years). Although it has been said that Winchester used 17gr of this powder, the dissected cartridges only contained 15gr. Winchester advertised this offering at 1,300fps. It has also been said that this early smokeless rifle powder produced less pressures than the black powder being used at the time. More on this later.
This is a copy of the Dupont Powder Can “Wrapper”, but found in Ideal’s (1906?) Handbook No. 17 Details here: Powder Can Wrapper
I decided to test ten cartridges for chamber pressures using RSI’s Pressuretrace II strain gage testing hardware and software. I used a standard production 44-40 barrel from MGM barrels. This barrel remained at 1 1/4″ diameter and 20″ long. It has a .429 bore with a 1:20 twist. I made a platform and clamped the barrel to it, as well as manufactured a blast plate. The firing pin is also custom made and fires through a 1/4″ plate that slides between the breech and blast plate. The gap is adjusted to be about the same as a revolver, or just enough to be able to remove the firing pin plate after each round is fired. The platform was then mounted to a Hyskore rifle recoil rest and a scope also added to aid in accurate test shots, although it took a bit between each shot to aim the scope.
I dissected 13 cartridges in order to be able to fill ten of them with 17gr. I wanted to test the max rather than a reduced load. It is safer to estimate a reduced load rather than a max load. I did not resize the cases which could have led to the slower than expected velocities. I removed and replaced the lead bullets, which I think were .426″, with .4255″ Win soft points. I replaced the 1W primers with modern primers. The canular remained in the case and the bullets crimped with the Redding 44-40 Profile die. A very nice snug tight crimp.
To avoid the heat, but test in hot weather, I shot these loads in early 7am in S.C. @ 74 degrees at 81% humidity with an altimeter setting of 30.17…pretty warm for 74 degrees.
The results were promising,
1,282fps @ 12,045cup/10,190psi
Not bad for 100 year old powder
As compared to early black powder tests that produced which proves the early Dupont No. 2 loads produced lower pressures.
1,373fps @ 16,550cup/14,000psi
1930’s Western headstamped case
Eventually as the balloon pockets resided, so did the pressures when used with black powder loads…see details here:Details
Considering Winchester advertised their loads at 1,300fps, we can only speculate as to why, since they were only loaded with 15gr., and 16gr achieved a lower velocity. If the velocity has to be higher, then the pressures would also have to be higher. This was also accomplished using .4255″ JSP bullets in a .429″ bore with the MGM barrel.
This (aside from not taking precise aim), also produced a 3.4″ 10 shot group @ 50 yards
I also did the same thing with some Sharpshooter loads to replicate 1926 thru 1950 15gr cartridges as well as 1903 to 1942 19.6gr 44 WHV cartridges with great results.
15gr 44 WCF Sharpshooter – 1,300fps advertised, 1,222fps achieved @ 10,846cup/9,176psi
19.6gr 44 WHV Sharpshooter – 1,564fps advertised, 1,568 achieved @ 18,450cup/15,583psi
Data from the WRA Cartridge Engineering Office dated Feb 14, 1917 shows the following
44 Winchester 73 loads – 13,000cup service pressures
44 WHV 92 loads – 18,000cup service pressures
This also indicated that some of Lyman’s “Group II” 44-40 loads exceed Winchester’s 44 WHV load max service pressures.
All of this information, as well as the pressure curve charts can be found here:
44-40 Pressure Testing 4
Once again, putting bad 44-40 Myths to rest, one at a time.
There is just too much information for me to repost it all here, especially since there is only a link for photographs.
For those that are somewhat following the progress, I have updated the Pressure Testing page of the 44-40 website with a large selection of test result charts to compare.
The test results prove that early smokeless powders used by Winchester produced less pressures than original black powder loads. They also prove that the 44-40 ballistics was greatly reduced by the 1970’s.
Black powders of today create less pressure than those of the originals and sends the wrong message about pressure comparisons for modern smokeless loads.
I have created a 44-40 Pressure Timeline for those interested.
I have also updated the 44-40 google docs pages with the Recent Pressure Test Results, also for those interested in understanding the myths of this cartridge’s performance of yesteryear vs today.
If you visit the google docs page, make sure you look at all of the data by select all of the tabs at the bottom of the chart window.
March 4, 2018
[email protected] said
Bryan, thanks for all of your work on this. I am watching closely as the 44-40 is my favorite round to hand load. I have multiple guns with different bores and make several loads for each. I plan to do some velocity testing soon.
I am in the Asheville NC area
Would be nice to shoot the 44-40 with a fellow enthusiast. I am in Hickory and there is a public range opening soon in Marion along I-40.
Here are all of the targets for the Dupont No. 2, Sharpshooter and the 1963 Winchester High Pressure Proof Set. I was not trying to be precise with the aim, just trying to get them on paper. Wish now I had taken better aim. Not east to do with the monster of a platform.
The Original Post has completely changed
I added a pressure curve comparison video between early smokeless powders, early black powder loads and modern smokeless loads. The results may surprise you.
Charts, click to enlarge
gifs, click to watch