LOADS AND HANDLOADS FOR THE .44s

.44 BULLETS, POWDERS, PRIMERS, AND DIES

BY JOHN TAFFIN

            When this teenager first ventured into reloading in the mid-1950s, the art, or science if you will, was still considered a mystery by most shooters and bullet casting was almost black magic. There were proponents of both arts to be sure, however, we had not yet entered into the information age and the widespread knowledge we have today was a long time coming. Today's reloader has much excellent information at hand from gun magazines, powder and bullet manufacturers, bullet mold companies, reloading equipment companies, reloading manuals, even videotapes, and if one is quite selective, the Internet.

            Where and when did cast bullets begin? We do know the first use of gunpowder as a weapon occurred in the middle of the 14th century.  Bullets were actually rounded stones, however men soon discovered it was much easier to mold bullets from iron and lead. The use of lead artistically speaking for artifacts goes back 800 years before Christ, and the Romans even combined tin and lead for catapult projectiles. With the coming of firearms in the mid-15th century it was soon discovered that lead made the best bullets, or at that time, round balls. Even today the round ball is still the most popular shape among those shooting muzzleloaders. However beginning in the first quarter of the 19th century, many experimenters worked to find better shaped projectiles, even bullets that would expand and fill the rifling when fired. Probably the best-known name from this group is Minie who still exists with his name on the “Minie Ball.”

            With the coming of fixed ammunition, that is a brass cartridge case combining primer, powder, and ball, bullet shapes began to be really important. The first successful big bore sixgun to use fixed ammunition was the Smith & Wesson American in 1869. The Russians improved the ammunition by changing to an inside lubricated bullet. This was the famous .44 Russian in 1870 which became the  .44 Special in 1907 which became the  .44 Magnum in 1955. Shortly after the Russians and Smith & Wesson collaborated on the Russian cartridge, Colt introduced the .45 Colt and Winchester gave us the .44-40. Bullets for all of these were soft lead for use with black powder, however it would be well after WWI before .44 bullet designs would start to be modernized and over the past 75 years men such as Elmer Keith, Ray Thompson, Gordon Boser, Jim Harvey, Veral Smith, and J.D. Jones have brought the cast bullet design to perfection.

            No one knows more about cast bullets than my friend Glen Fryxell. Glen is a virtual walking encyclopedia of bullet design and has a large collection of bullet molds, and is fact working on a book covering everything about cast bullets. I have read much of his text and also was privileged to write the foreword of what will be the defining source on cast bullets. Glen shares the original idea of a SWC bullet came from one C.E. Heath of the Boston Revolver Club more than 100 years ago. It would be Elmer Keith who would refine it and change the Heath bullet into the Keith bullet. 

            It is difficult today, perhaps impossible, to find a dedicated sixgunner who does not understand what the term Keith bullet means. It has become a household word among handgunners and is a generic term for every bullet that has a certain shape.  Although all bullets of this type are referred to as Keith bullets, in actuality most of those so categorized are not Keith bullets. With a writing career that spanned nearly 60 years, Elmer Keith had a great influence on shooting. When he blew an old .45 Colt Single Action he turned to the .44 Special and spent 30 years promoting his special Special loads that would lead to the .44 Magnum in 1955. Not being satisfied with bullet shapes available at the time, the rancher-guide-outfitter began designing his own. His first efforts for the .44 Special were extremely blunt nosed 260 and 280 grain bullets. However although these bullets performed well at short range they were definitely lacking in the long-range accuracy he wanted. In search of a better solution Keith turned to the semi-wadcutter shape. The basic design may not have been original to Elmer Keith, however his contribution was to take the basic idea and greatly improve it.

As said earlier most current designs referred to as Keith bullets are not. A true Keith bullet has four attributes, while those largely offered today as commercial cast SWCs have only one that being the basic semi-wadcutter shape. In addition to shape a true Keith bullet must also have three equal full caliber driving bands, a deep crimping groove, and a large square cornered grease groove. He said of his design: “My bullet is not the first with a flat point and square shoulder.  Harry Pope used the same type of flat point and wadcutting forward band many years ago. However, the Keith bullet was the first one to incorporate a flat point; a wide, groove diameter band extending in front of the cartridge case; an adequate crimping groove; a wide, deep lubrication groove; a good and sufficient width of base band; and a dirt scraper-wadcutter, all on the one bullet.”

            It is not easy to find current molds that drop true Keith bullets. The reason is simple. Because of the three wide driving bands and especially the square corners of the grease groove, they are difficult to cast. Keith always complained about the fact that the mold makers changed his designs: “To the detriment of the bullet, many mould manufacturers have changed my bullet design.  They have cut down both the width and diameter of the front band and changed the square-cornered lubrication groove to one of rounded design.  This cutting down of diameter and width of the front band defeats the very purpose for which I designed it and the rounded grease groove increases the weight of the bullet and custom loaders tell me the lube often falls out when loading.”  He also wrote at that time in Guns & Ammo in 1974 that Hensley & Gibbs was the only manufacturer still cutting molds to his original design. Today if one wants Keith designs, original Keith designs, the best bet is to find an old Ideal mold. I currently use Hensley & Gibbs #503, Lyman #429421, NEI #260.429, RCBS #44-250KT, and Saeco #260429 to cast Keith bullets and all are great shooting bullets.

            Keith’s basic original design  from the 1920s and 1930s was cataloged and offered by Ideal as  #429421 with a weight of 250 grains for the .44 Special; Keith’s standard loads for use in his heavy framed sixguns were , for the .44 Special, 17.0 grains of #2400, and when the .44 Magnum came along, same powder and bullet with 22.0 grains in Magnum cases. The only source I know of for true Keith bullets already cast is Beartooth Bullets. They have both .44 and .45 versions.

Every sixgunner who has ever shot cast bullets knows that leading can be a serious problem. There are so many variables involved such as bullet hardness, bullet diameter, bullet lube, barrel condition, powder used, pressures involved, etc,etc,etc, that there are no easy answers  to combating leading. However, one of the best solutions is the gas check bullet. As this is written the gas check is 100 years old having been conceived by a Capt. Hudson, who was a noted rifle shooter at the beginning of the 20th century, and J.H. Barlow of the Ideal Manufacturing Co. Their idea was a copper base on rifle bullets to cut down on leading. It worked and in the first decade of the 1900s, Ideal offered more than a dozen rifle bullet molds designed for gas checks.  The modern gas check is a small copper or brass cup that fits on the base of a cast bullet, and in sixguns it was brought to perfection in the 1950s.

Elmer Keith was not the only proponent of heavy loaded .44 Specials from the 1920s through the 1950s. The .44 Associates was an organization of several hundred members who freely exchanged .44 loading information. One of those Associates who carried experiments with the .44 Special even farther than Elmer Keith was noted gun writer John LaChuk. LaChuk started with the .44 Special but soon made custom cylinders for his Colt Single Action Armies that would accept his wildcat .44 brass made from  .405 Winchester and .30-40 Krag rifle cases. In 1949, LaChuk was using his wildcat .44 with brass and loads that were virtually identical to what appeared as the .44 Magnum in 1955.

LaChuk says of Ray Thompson: “One person who helped fuel the renaissance of the .44 Special was Ray C.Thompson of Grand Marais Minnesota. Ray was an avid handgun hunter, bagging beasts from wolves to moose. To overcome the bore leading problems that we all shared when shooting high-velocity pistol loads, Ray designed two .44 caliber pistol bullets with gas check rebates at the base. The Thompson #431244 weighed 254 grains in solid point, 225 grains with a hollow point. The Thompson #431215 weighed 214 grains solid and 200 grains hollow pointed. Elmer Keith wrote that gas-checked bullets caused gas cutting and bore erosion, a contention that was not borne out in my own experimenting with the .44 Special and .44 Magnum.  I found Thompson bullets to be extremely accurate and free from the lead fouling. I used a one-in-ten tin/lead alloy and Lyman gas checks, and Lyman bullet lube in a Lyman-Ideal lubricator-sizer.  Bullets recovered intact from a box of oiled sawdust and examined under high magnification did not display any signs of gas escaping past the bases.”

Thompson’s full-time occupation was that of a forest ranger which gave him plenty of opportunity to test his bullet designs. In 1952, four of Thompson's semi-wadcutter  bullets were added to the Lyman catalog. LaChuk mentioned his two .44 designs, and the others were #358156 for the .38 and .357 Magnum, and #452490 for the .45 Colt and .45 Auto Rim. Thompson’s .38 bullet has two crimping grooves, the top one for use in .357 Magnum brass and the lower one for .38 Special brass. Skeeter Skelton’s most used load was probably Thompson’s #358156 loaded over 13.5 grains of #2400 in .38 Special brass and fired in a 5” S&W Model 27 or 4” Model 19 Combat Magnum.

To check or not to check? That is the question. Whether it is better to shoot plain-based or gas-checked bullets is something that only each individual sixgun and sixgunner can decide. Thompson said: “Using these gas-check bullets one can't go wrong, no matter what you use them for, plus eliminating of leading when using hot loads.” Keith’s position was: “I use a heavy crimp in loads in the beveled crimp groove on my bullets. These bullets eliminate the need for a gas check, cut down bullet jump from case to throat, give maximum accurate range for any sixgun, cut full caliber holes like a wadcutter in game or target, and are the most accurate yet produced for long-range shooting. Properly cast, sized, and lubricated they give no leading in any caliber." So as the wise man once said, you pays your money, and you takes your choice. Personally I use all of Keith’s and Thompson's bullets and like them all, however, there are definitely some sixguns that do perform much better with gas checked bullets. All four of Thompson’s designs are still available from Lyman as #358156, #429215, #429244, and #452490.

Gordon Boser was a New York gunsmith and .44 sixgunner who wrote several articles for the American Rifleman in the 1940s. As anyone from his time frame who was a dedicated sixgunner, Boser spent a lot of time with the .44 Special. In fact, Boser had identical Colt Single Action Armies, both with 5 ½” barrels, one chambered in .44 Special and the other in his wildcat .401 Special, he used for shooting what he called woodchucks, what some refer to as ground hogs, and what are known in my part of the country as rockchucks. Boser fitted the Colt Single Action with non-breakable coil springs and a spring and plunger base pin locking system; truly, a man ahead of his time.

To complement his #401452 .401 Special bullet, Boser came up with a companion .44 bullet, #429360. This bullet was also cataloged until recently by Lyman.  Cast from my alloy it weighs 232 grains and can be driven a little faster using the same amount of powder as Keith’s 250 grain bullet. It is also quite temperamental and requires some experimenting to find a truly accurate load. Both designs are worth seeking out at gun shows.

Jim Harvey of Lakeville Arms in Connecticut was a sixgun experimenter in the 1950s best known for his Harvey K-Chuck and his Harvey Prot-X-Bore bullets. The former was a cut down K-Hornet case chambered in an S&W K-22 converted to centerfire that gained no little popularity as a varmint pistol in the mid-20th century. Had Smith & Wesson chambered their Model 53 Jet sixguns for the K-Chuck instead of the ill-fated .22 Jet it might still be in production.

Harvey was also a cast bullet shooter in search of ultimate performance. Remember this was long before handloaders had a vast array of jacketed bullets to choose from.  Cast bullets had to be hard enough to not lead the barrel and at the same time soft enough to expand. Both of these attributes were rarely achieved in the same bullet. Harvey’s better idea was bullets cast of pure lead with a zinc base. Pure lead would expand tremendously upon impact but would also result in disastrous leading of the barrel. That is where the zinc base comes in. It acts as both a buffer against the hot gases of the powder and also scrapes the bore clean with each shot. In the 1980s I experimented with a version that used lead slugs swaged to shape and with a zinc washer base. They worked.

Harvey’s Prot-X-Bore bullets were cast from Lyman molds and fitted with a zinc base. Bullets were shot as cast with no sizing and no lube. Bullets had to be seated first and then crimped to prevent any shaving of lead. The sizing die had to be the same size as the zinc base also.  Using #2400 with his bullets, Harvey had some nearly unbelievable results. Using a 6 ½” .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson, he shot 158 grain bullets at 1915 fps, 170s at 1855, and 220s at 1665 in .44 Magnum brass.

Take a good look at any high-performance, factory-loaded big bore sixgun loads offered today and you will see the influence of Veral Smith and Lead Bullet Technology. The Keith bullet and its copies use the semi-wadcutter shape with most of the weight of the bullet inside the case. LBT bullets are quite different. Most of the weight of the bullet is outside the case with only enough inside to allow for solid crimping and lubrication. This results in much greater powder capacity and for sixguns that can handle extra pressure such as those made by Freedom Arms and Ruger, increased muzzle velocity and power.

The second attribute of the LBT bullet design is nose shape. LBT bullets are   either LFN (Long Flat Nose) or WFN (Wide Flat Nose). There is no semi-wadcutter shape, nor a sharp shoulder. Until recently it was believed that the sharp cutting full caliber shoulder of the semi-wadcutter Keith bullet delivered the shocking power. In truth it is not the shoulder but the nose, or meplat, that delivers both the initial and ultimate shock.

LBT bullets are full caliber at the mouth of the brass case and then taper ever so slightly to provide either the LFN or WFN shape. The WFN is for up close and personal while the LFN design gives better accuracy at longer ranges. With the weight in the nose, penetration is superb and at the same pressure levels heavier bullets can be driven at the same muzzle velocities as standard weight bullets. LBT offers quality mold blocks for all weights of  .44 bullets and they are available in all calibers, already cast, with or without gas checks, from Cast Performance Bullet Co. 

In the 1970’s J.D. Jones founder of SSK Industries and Handgun Hunters International was looking for a better way. At this time the Keith bullet was still king but J.D. wanted better performance and his answer was the JDJ line of heavyweight bullets in .38, .41, .44, and .45 calibers. Using the basic truncated cone design, Jones’ bullets all have the weight forward in the nose with a wide flat point, a crimping groove, and grease grooves numbering two or more depending upon the weight of the bullet.

Jones has used the .44 especially for hunting with reports of astounding penetration with the 310 grain .44 bullets in critters as tough as Cape buffalo.  For many years my favorite big bore hunting load was the 310 JDJ over 23.5 grains of WW680 for 1350 fps from a 10 ½” Ruger Super Blackhawk. When Winchester dropped 680 I went to 21.5 grains of WW296 or H110 for the same results. For use in the longer cylinders of the Ruger Redhawk and Super Redhawk .44 Magnums, Jones designed a heavyweight bullet with two crimp grooves. Using the bottom crimp groove and WW296 or H110 it is possible to safely attain 1500+ fps with a 300 grain bullet in a 7 ½” Redhawk. I believe NEI can still supply molds that drop the JDJ bullets. Today we are fortunate to have heavyweight bullets, both hard cast and jacketed, available from a number of suppliers, as well as excellent bullet molds for casting our own.

Why heavyweight bullets in the .44 Magnum? Accuracy is one reason. The longer a bullet is in relation to its diameter, the more accurate it normally is. It is a rare .44 Magnum sixgun that does not shoot 300-320 grain bullets more accurately than it does 240-250 grain bullets. Big game hunting is the other. To be successful as a handgun hunter, everyone must have the four “P’s” in place. Those P’s are Placement, Power, Performance, and Penetration. Placement refers to where the bullet hits the target; Power, the muzzle energy; Performance, whether it expands or not; and Penetration, just how deeply into the animal we can expect the bullet to go. The latter is extremely important when hunting large and/or dangerous animals. And the simple fact is that heavy bullets simply penetrate deeper.

            Let us look at some of the heavyweight bullets used in the .44 Magnum beginning with 10 cast bullets. All loads were assembled using Starline’s excellent and durable .44 Magnum brass, CCI #350 Magnum Large Pistol primers, and using Redding’s equally excellent .44 Magnum carbide dies. Loads were all chronographed  over Oehler’s Model 35P. Six powders normally used for heavy duty Magnum loads were pressed into service, Alliant’s #2400; Accurate Arms’ AA#9; Hodgdon’s H110 and the relatively new Lil’ Gun, along with the old standby, H4227; and finally, Winchester’s 296. There are also some loads included with Unique and BRP’s 290 grain Keith-style GC simply because I shoot so many of these in older .44 Magnums. Other bullets are also shown with Unique loads for the simple reason that all heavyweight bullets in the .44 Magnum do not always have to be shot at full power. 

The 290 grain Gas Checked Keith-style bullet is my most used heavyweight .44 bullet. I have the NEI double cavity bullet mold for this bullet and also BRP supplies excellent ready cast bullets of this design that actually weigh 290 grains. I have two favorite loads for this bullet, 21.5 grains of H110 for 1350-1400 fps, and 10.0 grains of Unique for 1100-1150 fps. The former is used in currently manufactured heavy-duty .44 Magnums, while the latter mostly sees service in .44 Magnums built in the 1950s, namely the original Smith & Wesson and Ruger's .44 Blackhawk, the Flat-Top model.

Cast Performance Bullet Co. offers many bullet weights for all sixguns including the .44 Magnum. For this testing I chose two of their offerings, a 300 LBT-GC weighing 298 grains, and the 320 LBT-GC at 321 grains. Both of these bullets are gas checked designs with two grease grooves, and the former is  the WFN (Wide Flat Nose) while the latter is an LFN (Long Flat Nose). The former offers the greatest meplat, or nose diameter, while the longer design promises greater accuracy.

Lyman has offered bullet casters two heavyweight .44's, #429650GC, a Keith-style with one large grease groove and a gas check with a hard cast weight of 306 grains. Bullet #429649GC is heavier at 331 grains. It basically offers the same case capacity as the Keith-style bullet with a much heavier nose of the RNFP, or round-nosed flat point design. From RCBS comes another Keith-style heavyweight .44 bullet,  #44-300SWC that weighs out at 298 grains with my hard alloy. It is very similar to the Lyman design with slightly more case capacity and a slightly longer nose. From Oregon Trail Bullet Company we have a 300 grain TC (Truncated Cone), or  flat point that weighs out at 299 grains. This bullet puts most of the weight in the body with a very short nose and may be the choice if one has a lever action that is reluctant to feed the longer bullets.

Finally we come to the heavyweight bullets designed by J.D. Jones of SSK Industries. Bullet #285.429 FP weighs in at 281 grains with one very large grease groove and two crimping grooves for use in short or long cylindered revolvers. All loads assembled herein used the top groove for use in any cylinder length or lever action rifle. Last, but certainly not least, is the bullet that started it all, SSK’s  #310.429, another flat point that with my hard alloy weighs 302 grains. This bullet has a full caliber shoulder in front of the crimping grooves, a plain base and three grease grooves. It has a great reputation for taking big game with a .44 Magnum.

At least five companies now offer excellent jacketed heavyweight bullets for the .44 Magnum. Those companies and the bullets used are Hornady, a 300 grain XTP-JHP; Northern Precision with a 280 and 310 grain; Nosler, 300 JHP; Sierra 300 JHC; and Speer, 300 JFP. You will note that of the four major manufacturers, three provide hollow point versions of their 300 grain bullets, while Speer goes with a flat point. Northern Precision custom tailors their bullets for each individual's needs and they can be ordered with different jacket thicknesses for the game that is going to be hunted.

Two sixguns and one levergun were used for chronographing these loads, an 8” Dan Wesson .44 Magnum, a Freedom Arms 10” .44 Magnum, and a Winchester Model 94 Trapper .44 Magnum with a 16 ½” barrel.

 

BULLET: BRP 290 GC           MV-8” DW     MV-10” FA     MV/FPS-16 ½” M94

9.0 gr. Unique                          1058 fps           1122 fps           1240 fps

10.0 gr. Unique                        1109 fps           1173 fps           1279 fps

21.0 gr. H4227                        1200 fps           1301 fps           1474 fps

18.5 gr. AA#9                          1274 fps           1345 fps           1478 fps

19.5 gr. Lil’ Gun                       1232 fps           1326 fps           1527 fps

18.5 gr. #2400                         1289 fps           1367 fps           1560 fps

21.5 gr. H110                          1306 fps           1372 fps           1563 fps

21.5 gr. WW296                      1313 fps           1383 fps           1576 fps

BULLET: Cast Performance Bullet Co. 300LBT-GC   

21.0 gr. H4227                        1252 fps           1314 fps           1478 fps

18.5 gr. AA#9                          1296 fps           1349 fps           1523 fps

19.5 gr. Lil’ Gun                       1254 fps           1346 fps           1534 fps

18.5 gr. #2400                         1308 fps           1410 fps           1549 fps

21.5 gr. H110                          1363 fps           1426 fps           1584 fps

21.5 gr. WW296                      1335 fps           1401 fps           1612 fps

BULLET: Cast Performance Bullet Co. 320 LBT-GC

9.0 gr. Unique                          938 fps            1021 fps           1111 fps

20.0 gr. H4227                        1148 fps           1195 fps           1382 fps

17.5 gr. AA#9                          1198 fps           1256 fps           1412 fps

18.5 gr. Lil’ Gun                       1155 fps           1237 fps           1453 fps

17.5 gr. #2400                         1213 fps           1285 fps           1456 fps

20.5 gr. H110                          1231 fps           1301 fps           1471 fps

20.5 gr. WW296                      1249 fps           1318 fps           1521 fps

BULLET: Lyman #429650GC

9.0 gr. Unique                          1060 fps           1118 fps           1225 fps

20.0 gr. H4227                        1179 fps           1263 fps           1389 fps

17.5 gr. AA#9                          1217 fps           1297 fps           1421 fps

18.5 gr. Lil’ Gun                       1189 fps           1283 fps           1490 fps

17.5 gr. #2400                         1281 fps           1332 fps           1501 fps

20.5 gr. H110                          1304 fps           1367 fps           1515 fps

20.5 gr. WW296                      1307 fps           1376 fps           1553 fps

BULLET: Lyman #429649GC

9.0 gr. Unique                            983 fps           1033 fps           1114 fps

20.0 gr. H4227                        1191 fps           1324 fps           1409 fps

17.5 gr. AA#9                          1187 fps           1265 fps           1390 fps

18.5 gr. Lil’ Gun                       1157 fps           1247 fps           1472 fps

17.5 gr. #2400                         1235 fps           1289 fps           1466 fps

20.5 gr. H110                          1255 fps           1338 fps           1499 fps

20.5 gr. WW296                      1252 fps           1370 fps           1526 fps

BULLET: RCBS #44-300GC

9.0 gr. Unique                          1041 fps           1127 fps           1222 fps

21.0 gr. H4227                        1234 fps           1320 fps           1460 fps

18.5 gr. AA#9                          1291 fps           1372 fps           1507 fps

19.5 gr. Lil’ Gun                       1206 fps           1300 fps           1534 fps

18.5 gr. #2400                         1307 fps           1365 fps           1552 fps

21.5 gr. H110                          1302 fps           1343 fps           1561 fps

21.5 gr. WW296                      1306 fps           1369 fps           1592 fps                                              

BULLET: Oregon Trail 300TC

9.0 gr. Unique                          1004 fps           1078 fps           1179 fps

20.0 gr. H4227                        1228 fps           1275 fps           1428 fps

17.5 gr. AA#9                          1269 fps           1334 fps           1428 fps

18.5 gr. Lil’ Gun                       1216 fps           1306 fps           1482 fps

17.5 gr. #2400                         1288 fps           1342 fps           1513 fps

20.5 gr. H110                          1307 fps           1396 fps           1540 fps

20.5 gr. W296                         1343 fps           1409 fps           1582 fps

BULLET: SSK #285.429FP

9.0 gr. Unique                          1069 fps           1153 fps           1285 fps

22.0 gr. H4227                        1244 fps           1389 fps           1563 fps

19.5 gr. AA#9                          1368 fps           1439 fps           1602 fps

20.5 gr. Lil’ Gun                       1312 fps           1351 fps           1606 fps

19.5 gr. #2400                         1355 fps           1435 fps           1632 fps

22.5 gr. H110                          1375 fps           1438 fps           1657 fps

22.5 gr. WW296                      1390 fps           1490 fps           1685 fps

BULLET: SSK  #310.429FP

21.0 gr. H4227                        1245 fps           1331 fps           1485 fps

18.5 gr. AA#9                          1327 fps           1372 fps           1511 fps

19.5 gr. Lil’ Gun                       1252 fps           1341 fps           1574 fps

18.5 gr. #2400                         1298 fps           1314 fps           1567 fps

21.5 gr. H110                          1332 fps           1345 fps           1587 fps

21.5 gr. WW296                      1339 fps           1359 fps           1612 fps          

 

HEAVYWEIGHT JACKETED BULLETS

BULLET/LOAD                                  MV-8” DW     MV- 10” FA    MV-16 ½” M94

Hornady 300 XTP-HP/18.0 gr. AA#9  1242 fps           1277 fps           1447 fps

Hornady 300 XTP-HP/20.5 gr. H110              1207 fps           1270 fps           1438 fps

Northern Precision 280/19.0 gr. AA#9 1245 fps           1301 fps           1508 fps

Northern Precision 280/21.5 gr. H110  1227 fps           1270 fps           1495 fps

Northern Precision 310/18.0 gr. AA#9 1185 fps           1257 fps           1419 fps

Northern Precision 310/20.5 gr. H110  1175 fps           1229 fps           1434 fps

Nosler 300 JHP/18.0 gr. AA#9                        1229 fps           1251 fps           1461 fps

Nosler 300 JHP/20.5 gr. H110             1199 fps           1241 fps           1439 fps

Sierra 300 JFP/19.0 gr. AA#9                          1233 fps           1239 fps           1481 fps

Sierra 300 JFP/21.5 gr. H110                          1225 fps           1240 fps           1455 fps

Speer 300 JFP/18.5 gr. AA#9                          1148 fps           1145 fps           1465 fps

Speer 300 JFP/21.5 gr. H110                          1183 fps           1237 fps           1515 fps

Many .44 Magnum sixgunners also like to use the same loads in a companion levergun. The .44 Magnum can be found in leverguns from Marlin, Winchester, Rossi, and Browning. All loads were tried for feeding through all four lever action .44 Magnums with the following results. “Y” indicates load will feed while “N” means no go. You will note that the Winchester on the Model 94 action feeds almost everything while the Browning Model 92 hardly feeds anything. I would expect the latter to also be true with the newer Winchester Model 92s.

BULLET                      MARLIN         WINCHESTER           ROSSI             BROWNING

                                    1894                1894                            M92                 M92

BRP 290GC                Y                     Y                                 N                     N

Bull-X 300                   N                     Y                                 N                     N

CPBC 300GC             Y                     Y                                 Y                     N

CPBC 320GC             Y                     Y                                 N                     N

Lyman 429650 Y                     Y                                 N                     N

Lyman #429649           Y                     Y                                 N                     N

RCBS #44-300            Y                     Y                                 N                     N

Oregon Trail 300          Y                     Y                                 Y                     Y

SSK 285                      Y                     Y                                 N                     N

SSK 310                      Y                     Y                                 N                     N

Hornady 300                Y                     Y                                 Y                     Y

Sierra 300                    N                     Y                                 N                     N

Speer 300                    Y                     Y                                 Y                     Y

NP 280                        Y                     Y                                 Y                     N

NP 310                        Y                     Y                                 Y                     Y

NP 325                        N                     N                                 N                     N                    

Neither cast nor traditional jacketed is the Belt Mountain Punch .44 Magnum 300 grain bullet; a bronze bullet with a flat solid nose, a lead core and built for maximum penetration. Using a 7 1/2” .44 Magnum Redhawk and this bullet over 20.0 grains of H110 give a muzzle velocity of 1287 fps with five shots in 11/4” at 25 yards. By the time you read this Belt Mountain, who also supplies the excellent replacement base pins for virtually every single action sixgun, will have a 260 grain version also.

When I started reloading 50 years ago components and equipment were not all that easy to come by. In fact I don’t recall seeing anything as far as bullet molds, dies, and presses are concerned except from Lyman. Yes, there were others but that is all I had access to; today we have so many wonderful choices. I started loading with a Lyman #310 hand tool and then switched to a Lyman All American single-stage press. With the move to Idaho it was much easier to find other equipment and over the years I have used not only Lyman presses and dies, but also Dillon, Hornady, Redding, and RCBS. It is a long way from the Lyman #310 hand tool and casting bullets in single cavity model on my mother’s kitchen stove to today with progressive presses from Dillon, Hornady, and RCBS, as well as virtually every .44 bullet mold available in either two-cavity or four-cavity versions and a 20# bottom pour melting pot. On the down side it seems as if I had more time to cast and load with that old original equipment than I do now; time is a most precious commodity and the one thing we cannot buy.

Not only do we have a vast array of equipment at our fingertips, the same is true of powder and primers. Most of my primer needs are supplied by either regular or magnum primers from CCI or Federal, or Winchester’s WLPs. In the 1950s, powder selection, at least in my area was mostly limited to Bullseye, Unique, and #2400. All are still available and still pretty well cover all .44 sixgun loading needs, however for even more versatility we can now add Lyman’s Blue Dot, Hodgdon’s Universal, HS-6, HS-7, H4227, H110, and Lil’ Gun; Winchester’s 231 and 296; and Accurate Arms’ #2, #5, #7, and #9. Whatever the company brand if I was restricted to that particular sixgun powder I could get by quite well. For standard loads I mostly use WW231, Unique and Universal; for standard to semi-heavy, H4227 and Blue Dot; and for heavy loads and heavy bulleted loads I mostly go with #2400, WW296, H110, and Lil’ Gun. We will look at more loads and powders in the next two chapters.

 

41-1) Taffin's most used bullets for the .44 Special are the 250 Keith, the

255 Thompson GC, and the Speer 3/4 Jacketed 240 with lead core.

 

 

 

41-2) Early experiments with super penetrating bullets were carried out with KTW

and tungsten cored lightweight bullets; 200 grain .44 bullets could be driven at

1800+ fps from a Ruger .44 Magnum

 

 

 

41-3) Excellent cast bullet choices for the .44 Special or .44 Magnum include

LBT’s 270 LFN and 255 Keith, NEI’s 260 Keith, and RCBS’s 240 Keith.

 

 

 

41-4) Hard cast 300 grain .44 bullets include BRP’s 295 GC and 325 GC and

Oregon Trails’ 310 GC.

 

 

 

41-5) Cast Performance Bullet Company offers, among others, the 255 WFN and

270 LFN; they are especially suited to the .44 Special.

 

 

 

41-6) Taffin's most used Hodgdon's powders for .44 Special and/or .44 Magnum

loads are Universal, H4227, H110, and Lil’ Gun

 

 

41-7) #2400 and been around for more than three-fourths of the century; it is still an

excellent powder for heavy loads in either the .44 Special or .44 Magnum.

 

 

 

41-8) These four powders, TiteGroup, Unique, AA#9, and IMR4227 cover the

full spectrum of loads for the .44 Special and .44 Magnum.

 

 

 

41-9) We are indeed fortunate in this day to have the choice of excellent reloading

dies for all the .44s from Lyman, Redding, and RCBS.

 

 

 

41-10) This one goes way back; it is the Himmelwright WC originally designed

for the .44 Russian and it also works fine in the .44 Special.

Photo courtesy of Glen Fryxell.

 

 

 

41-11) Even before Keith designed his bullet this Ideal #429336 target bullet,

dating before WWI, was in use.

Photo courtesy of Glen Fryxell.

 

 

 

41-12) This is THE .44 bullet! Keith’s #429421, here shown in both solid and

hollow point version and loaded in the .44 Special.

Photo courtesy of Glen Fryxell.

 

 

 

41-13) Hollow point bullets are cast in a single block with a steel rod inserted

which determines the width and depth of the cavity. The two bullets are

#429421HP and #429640HP; the latter is known as the Devastator.

Photo courtesy of Glen Fryxell.

 

 

 

41-14) This Keith bullet from an old Cramer mold has a slightly thicker base

band and about 10 grains more weight than #429421. 

Photo courtesy of Glen Fryxell.

 

 

 

41-15) Before Redding there was SAECO who bought Cramer in 1951.

This 205 grain RNFP Cramer bullet is perfect for the .44-40 and also excellent

for the .44 Special.  Notice its similarity to commercially produced RNFPs today.

Photo courtesy of Glen Fryxell.

 

 

 

41-16) Need a lot of bullets quickly? Hensley & Gibbs offered gang loads such as

#239WC for the .44 Special.

Photo courtesy of Glen Fryxell.

 

 

 

41-17) This is Lachmiller’s version of the Keith bullet with a rounded grease groove

and smaller forward driving band.

Photo courtesy of Glen Fryxell.

 

 

 

41-18) The first of the truly modern heavyweight .44 Bullets is this SSK 310FN

designed by J.D. Jones

 

 

41-19) Two of the greatest bullets ever designed for the .44 Special and .44 Magnum

are Ray Thompson’s #431244 and #429215 gas checked SWCs here shown in

both solid and hollow point version.

 

 

 

41-20) Lyman's #429251 originally designed for the .44 Russian made the

transition to both .44 Special and .44 Magnum quite well.

 

 

 

41-21) Three standard bullet designs for the .44 Magnum include jacketed

flat nosed, LBT-style flat nosed, and the Keith.

 

 

 

41-22) Hornady, Speer, and Sierra cover all the bases for loading the

.44 Magnum with bullet weights from 180 to 300 grains.

 

Chapter 40     Chapter 42