Reloading the .44-40 for Rifles

Reloading the .44-40 for Rifles
Handloading a vintage cartridge, such as the .44-40, can be very rewarding, but you have to be cautious and tailor the loads to the type of firearm being used.

Special attention is required when handloading the .44-40 Winchester, especially when the loads will be fired in a rifle.

Last fall, I found a really nice vintage Marlin Model 94 .44-40 lever action for sale. Made in 1905, the color-casehardening on the frame and lever had mostly faded, but the 24-inch octagon barrel and magazine tube retained most of their original bluing. Most important to me, the bore was excellent and shiny.

A couple of months after buying the Marlin Model 94, I picked up a scarce Remington Model 14½ slide-action rifle. It was made in the mid-1920s and was chambered in .44-40. Shooting Times Editor in Chief Joel Hutchcroft suggested I include both guns in this reloading column.

Reloading the .44-40

Reloading the vintage .44-40 round is a bit more challenging than most modern straight-walled handgun cartridges, partly because it was originally loaded with blackpowder. In 1873, when the round was introduced, there were no industry standards for ammunition performance.

Today’s SAAMI pressure limits for the .44-40 and many other vintage blackpowder rounds are typically specified in copper units of pressure (CUP). Max chamber pressures are set at relatively lower levels corresponding to the reduced strength capabilities of firearms that are more than a century old. Regarding the .44-40, today’s reloading manuals usually list recipes that are deemed safe to fire in vintage revolvers that are typically too conservative when loading for similar vintage but inherently stronger rifles. I had to refer to loading manuals from the 1950s to obtain recipes for suitable rifle-only loads, but Lyman’s latest cast bullet handbook includes data (and appropriate cautions) for both rifle and handgun handloads.


Recommended powders included IMR 4227; SR4756 (now discontinued); and Hercules (now Alliant) 2400, Unique, and Herco. I also found a source for Accurate 5744 data that proved useful.


Another peculiarity of vintage .44-40 firearms is that the bore dimensions are a few thousandths of an inch tighter than today’s typical .44-caliber bullets (0.429/0.431 inch). According to one source, the groove diameter of Winchester and Marlin rifle barrels is 0.427 inch, whereas Remington rifles have 0.425-inch groove diameters. So I had to slug the bores of my rifles’ barrels just to be sure before I assembled any handloads. As best I could measure, the 94’s bore is 0.427 inch groove size, and the bore of the 14½ is a tad less.


I had some Lyman 200-grain cast bullets on hand, and I ordered a double-cavity mold block with handles from Lee Precision that made really nice 215-grain 0.429-inch lead SWCs. I easily sized them down to 0.427 inch with Lee’s bullet sizer kit.

Special Touches

Instead of resizing in a no-lube-required carbide die, the slightly bottlenecked .44-40 case must be lightly lubricated before full-length resizing. Too much lube will cause case dents. And if you get careless, bumping the case mouth on the sizer die as you raise the ram will likely cause permanent damage to a piece of brass. Compared with stronger .357 or .44 Magnum brass, the relatively reduced-pressure .44-40 cases are not nearly as robust.

After sizing and removing the residual lube, I checked case length to make sure they were all within a couple thousandths. If they weren’t, I trimmed them to uniform length to ensure uniformly secure crimps and to avoid crushing a case that’s too long.


Two more important points to remember when loading the .44-40 are (1) overall cartridge length is critical because if a round is too long, it will not feed and may jam the action, and (2) the .44-40 uses Large Pistol primers.

I fired all of the test loads at 50 yards because that’s the longest range my aged eyes and the iron sights of the two vintage rifles seemed to be compatible with. I was surprised that the Model 94’s 24-inch barrel usually delivered less velocity than the Model 14½’s 22-inch tube, but the Model 94 was almost always more accurate. Also interesting is the standard deviations for all loads in the Model 94 were single digit, except for one, and it was just 12 fps. I don’t intend to hunt with either rifle, but I’ll surely continue to enjoy shooting them.

Recommended for You

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,...

Improved ballistic coefficients lead to greater performance downrange without upping blast and recoil. How-To

The Key to Shooting Far: Improving Ballistics

Rick Jamison - April 17, 2019

Improved ballistic coefficients lead to greater performance downrange without upping blast and...

The 6mm Creedmoor is a new member of a wonderful family of 6mm-caliber (.243) cartridges; it's easy to handload and should make its mark in the hunting fields, just as it has in competitive shooting. Reloading

6mm Creedmoor Load Data

Layne Simpson - August 19, 2019

The 6mm Creedmoor is a new member of a wonderful family of 6mm-caliber (.243) cartridges; it's...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

James Tarr runs through the 3-Second Headshot drill.

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

We're taking a look at what the Army's Elite Units are using for service rifles and what the future of SOCOM sniping looks like.

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

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

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.” Optics

Review: Bushnell FORGE 4.5-27X 50mm

Sam Wolfenberger - May 01, 2019

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.”

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.

The Smith & Wesson Model 19 is back in production after being on ice for almost two decades. Handguns

Review: Smith & Wesson Model 19 Classic Revolver

Joel J. Hutchcroft - March 08, 2019

The Smith & Wesson Model 19 is back in production after being on ice for almost two decades.

See More Stories

More Reloading

Special attention is required when handloading the .44-40 Winchester, especially when the loads will be fired in a rifle. Reloading

Reloading the .44-40 for Rifles

Lane Pearce - October 25, 2019

Special attention is required when handloading the .44-40 Winchester, especially when the...

The 6mm Creedmoor is a new member of a wonderful family of 6mm-caliber (.243) cartridges; it's easy to handload and should make its mark in the hunting fields, just as it has in competitive shooting. Reloading

6mm Creedmoor Load Data

Layne Simpson - August 19, 2019

The 6mm Creedmoor is a new member of a wonderful family of 6mm-caliber (.243) cartridges; it's...

Where too little pressure can cause as much trouble as too much pressure, the short .44 Russian and .45 Schofield cases offer a compelling benefit. Reloading

.44 Russian, .45 Schofield Case Capacity

Allan Jones - September 09, 2019

Where too little pressure can cause as much trouble as too much pressure, the short .44...

See More Reloading

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

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