Loading Down the .44 Magnum Safely

Loading-.44-mag-featureReader Dan Hobart recently asked, "Why should any handloader be concerned about fouling caused by firing .44 Special ammo in their .44 Magnum revolver? I just load down .44 Magnum brass and get excellent accuracy in my Ruger Super Blackhawk revolver and Henry Big Boy lever action. The same applies to the .38 Special/.357 Magnum."

I fully agree with Dan's comments; however, let me offer a couple of related considerations. Until his inquiry, I'd only fired a few rounds of .44 Spl. ammo in .44 Mag. revolvers, so I didn't have enough firsthand data to offer an opinion. I have fired hundreds of .38 Spl. rounds in several .357 Mag. handguns and have never noticed any problem caused by fouling, and I did not have any problem loading and firing any of the .44-caliber rounds tested in this report.

When reloading, you should always match component selection to the handload's intended purpose. In other words, personal protection might mean a light- to medium-weight jacketed hollowpoint bullet launched at near maximum velocity. Hunting loads typically have heavy jacketed or hard-cast gaschecked bullets stepping out with the most energy you can handle. Recreational, i.e., target practice or plinking, ammo loaded with cast or plated bullets surely doesn't require maximum terminal performance.

Loading-.44-mag-jpg


Pick the Proper Powder


Of course, selecting an appropriate propellant is just as important as topping your ammo with the "right-purpose" bullet. Hand-

loaders need look no further than the latest editions of Hodgdon's Annual Reloading Manual or Lyman's Cast Bullets manual to get safe and reliable data for a broad range of .44 Spl. and .44 Mag. applications. I did just that to review and compare the myriad load recipes.

Factory .44 Spl. ammo is loaded to a maximum average pressure (MAP) of about 14,000 CUP, while the .44 Mag.'s MAP is about 2.5 times greater. Hodgdon's load data for the .44 Spl. comprises a half-dozen mostly flatpoint or semiwadcutter cast bullets weighing from 165 to 240 grains. Velocities are modest, typically ranging from 650 fps to around 1,000 fps. The .44 Mag. data is substantially expanded to include 17 cast and jacketed bullets weighing up to 355 grains. The substantially greater MAP allows launching light JHPs to nearly 1,900 fps and the heaviest cast gascheck bullets up to 1,250 fps.

Just as rifle powders are identified as having fast, medium, or slow burn rates, propellants for handgun cartridges are similarly classified. Typically, reduced charges of faster burn rate propellants are best for target ammo, especially when you're loading lightweight jacketed, plated, or plainbase cast bullets. Self-defense and hunting handloads deliver maximum performance when loaded with full charges (often compressed) of slower burn rate handgun propellants.


Loading down in .44 Mag. handloads does not simply mean using less of just any propellant. For example, Hodgdon typically recommends only one charge weight for 700-X and 800-X. For slower burn rate propellants like IMR 4227, H110, W296, and Lil' Gun, the start charge in both sources is only 5 percent less than the max recommend load. When loading lighter-weight cast bullets and faster burn rate powders like Universal, HP-38, W231, and others, the recommended max charges can be safely reduced by up to 20 percent.

The .44 Mag. case is only 1/8 inch longer than the .44 Spl. case, so its case capacity is not that much greater. However, you will need a bit more propellant to achieve the same velocity in your practice/target loads. Whereas a specified charge of slow burn rate powder will usually fill or almost fill a .44 Mag. case, much lighter charges of most faster burn rate propellants will not.

Please note that the comparatively lighter charge weights of faster burn rate propellants should not be called "reduced loads." They are just the "correct load" of that powder to use when loading down magnum handgun ammo.


IMR Trail Boss is a bulky fast burn rate powder, so you cannot double charge a case without noticing your mistake. Topped with a 240-grain cast bullet, the Trail Boss load yields normal .44 Spl. pressures. So does the same charge weight — not volume — of W231. However, pressures skyrocket from a double charge of the latter. You do not want to experience the results of inadvertently loading and then firing such a charge!

Federal 150, CCI 300, Remington 2½, and WLP primers are capable of reliably igniting most recommended loads for either .44-caliber cartridge. However, if you simply load down (say only half of the slow burn rate propellant of a favorite hunting load), you will likely experience erratic ignition or even a misfire, which may result in lodging the bullet in the barrel.

Some Firsthand Experience

To get some experience with Dan's inquiry, I made up 60 rounds of .44 Spl. and 40 rounds of .44 Mag. handloads (see the accompanying chart). Only two steps require special attention when reloading straight-walled revolver cartridges. First, each case must be trimmed to the same length so you can apply a uniform crimp when seating the bullet. Target loads composed of minimum charge weights of easily ignited, fast burn rate powders may be lightly crimped. Maximum charges of heavily deterred, slow burn rate powder require a much more severe crimp so the bullet resistance is adequate to ensure full combustion of the powder.

I fired two, five-shot groups for each handload in a 4.20-inch-barreled Ruger Redhawk from a sandbag benchrest. While doing so, I was careful to tilt the revolver up before firing each round to ensure the propellant was always in the same position closest to the primer flash hole.

I recommend loading .44 Spl. brass with faster burn rate handgun propellants if you're making up "target" handloads. It's more efficient, and you'll likely achieve consistent ballistic performance. The powder position of similar handloads in .44 Mag. brass may adversely affect ignition and peak pressure and, in turn, bullet velocity.

Loading-.44-mag-chart

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

James Tarr runs through the 3-Second Headshot drill.

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Big bore semiauto or a lever gun? We look at the futuristic .450 Bushmaster and how it compares to the tried and true .45-70. ISS Prop House gives us the rundown on the guns used in Enemy at the Gate. We ping steel with a .300 WinMag at over a mile.

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand and Neal Emery of Hornady highlight the 6MM Creedmoor ammo.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

True Velocity is exploring options to make its distinctive ammo available to civilians. Ammo

True Velocity Rifle Ammo

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 31, 2019

True Velocity is exploring options to make its distinctive ammo available to civilians.

Daniel Defense has blazed a new trail with its first-ever bolt-action rifle, the Daniel Defense Delta 5. Rifles

Daniel Defense Delta 5 Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 31, 2019

Daniel Defense has blazed a new trail with its first-ever bolt-action rifle, the Daniel...

The new striker-fired STR-9 9mm semiautomatic pistol from Stoeger Industries is reliable, ergonomic, accurate, and priced right. Handguns

Stoeger STR-9 Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 17, 2019

The new striker-fired STR-9 9mm semiautomatic pistol from Stoeger Industries is reliable,...

These cheap postwar variants offer perhaps the best value on the vintage-Mauser market. Rifles

Yugoslavian M24/47 Mauser-Pattern Rifle

Joseph von Benedikt - May 13, 2019

These cheap postwar variants offer perhaps the best value on the vintage-Mauser market.

See More Trending Articles

More Reloading

When handloading rifle cartridges with blackpowder, Allan suggests you should not approach it with a smokeless powder mindset. Reloading

Handloading Blackpowder Rifle Cartridges

Allan Jones - May 15, 2020

When handloading rifle cartridges with blackpowder, Allan suggests you should not approach it...

Because case prep is the most time-consuming step in the handloading process, we say any tool that makes it easier is a bargain. Reloading

Case Prep Made Easy

Lane Pearce - May 29, 2020

Because case prep is the most time-consuming step in the handloading process, we say any tool...

For safe and reliable handloads, reloaders need to know what headspace is and why it's so important. Reloading

Reloading 101: What is Headspace?

Lane Pearce - March 26, 2020

For safe and reliable handloads, reloaders need to know what headspace is and why it's so...

By cleverly increasing the parent cartridge's powder capacity, the .30-06 Ackley Improved wildcat provides higher velocities. Reloading

Handloading the .30-06 Ackley Improved

Lane Pearce - February 21, 2020

By cleverly increasing the parent cartridge's powder capacity, the .30-06 Ackley Improved...

See More Reloading

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now