Reloading the .44 Magnum
June 30, 2016
When the .44 Magnum was introduced in 1955, Hercules 2400 and IMR 4227 soon became the most popular powders for .44 Magnum hand-loads. A military-surplus powder produced by Hercules during the war for the .30 Carbine called H240 was a bit quicker burning than 2400, but it delivered higher velocities and burned cleaner. Unfortunately, Hodgdon's supply was soon exhausted.
Unique was also popular for .44 Magnum, but a maximum load produced lower velocities than the other powders. It was — and still is — a great choice for reduced-recoil .44 Magnum practice loads. For a while .44 Magnum cases were not easy to come by, so the only shooter I knew who owned a revolver chambered for it at the time mostly used .44 Special cases. His favorite load was 7.5 grains of Unique and bullets cast in a Lyman No. 429360 mold.
A couple of shooting buddies and I caught the .44 Magnum fever soon after Ruger introduced its single-action Super Blackhawk in 1960. They bought Super Blackhawks, but after comparing trigger quality, I scraped up the additional $25 for an S&W Model 29 with a 6.5-inch barrel. It also had better sights and proved to be a bit more accurate as well.
The first bullet I loaded in the .44 Magnum was the Lyman No. 429421. Its weight averaged 256 grains when cast of scrap wheelweight metal. The Lyman reloading manual on my loading bench listed 23.0 grains of 2400 as maximum for a velocity of 1,460 fps. I eventually settled on a grain less for that first Model 29 in .44 Magnum.
I have been loading IMR 4227 in the .44 Magnum almost as long as 2400 and found its burn rate to be the same as H4227. When Hodgdon introduced H4227 during the 1950s, it was military surplus made by DuPont and therefore the same powder DuPont had been selling as IMR 4227 since 1935. When the supply of surplus powder ran out during the 1960s, Hodgdon turned to Nobel of Scotland for a fresh supply made to the same specifications.
H4227 was officially discontinued in 2009, but shipments continued for quite some time until the supply was exhausted. It is still occasionally seen on gunshop shelves. Ron Reiber, product manager at Hodgdon, says load data for IMR 4227 and H4227 are interchangeable, but as it goes with different manufacturing lots of any powder, maximum loads may or may not be the same. IMR 4227 and H4227 rank among the best at delivering low velocity spreads for the .44 Magnum.
During the early 1960s, Hodgdon introduced H110, a military-surplus powder developed by Olin/Winchester during World War II for the .30 Carbine. About 10 years later, Winchester made fresh batches of the same powder available to handloaders as W296.
When Hodgdon's supply of war-surplus powder was exhausted, the company turned to the Olin Corporation Powder Operations in St. Marks, Florida, where it was still being made. Winchester powders were — and still are — also made there. That plant, by the way, continues to produce tons of spherical powder each year, but it is now called St. Marks Powder and is owned by General Dynamics.
During a visit to the Olin powder factory years ago, I learned that W296 and H110 were the same powder. The information was later included in an article on handloading the .44 Magnum. I went on to say that any chamber pressure/velocity differences between the two are due to slight burn rate variations from one manufacturing lot to the next. That explained differing maximum charge weights published for the two powders in various reloading manuals for .44 Magnum loads.
That was back in the days when people wrote letters, and a reader took me to task for my statement. In an attempt to prove me wrong, he contacted Hodgdon and Winchester. Of course, representatives from both companies did not give him the answer he was searching for. They refused to comment simply because in those days they were competitors.
Now that both powders are under the Hodgdon umbrella, Reiber willingly confirms that W296 and H110 are indeed the same powder. If the guy who wrote that nasty letter about three decades ago is still capable of reading small print and has a copy of Hodgdon's latest Annual Manual, he may see that listed charge weights, velocities and pressures for the two powders are identical.
The containers of Accurate 4100 and Ramshot Enforcer have different exterior appearances, but according to my contact at Western Powders, they contain the same powder. He went on to say that while the powder is formulated to deliver the same performance as W296/H110, it is made to slightly different specifications, and load data are not interchangeable.
Then we have Alliant Power Pro 300-MP. Like W296/H110, it is a double-base spherical propellant made at St. Marks. According to my Redding 10X powder measure, gravimetric density of the two powders is the same. Coloration differs a bit, but otherwise the flattened balls of propellant appear quite similar in diameter mix.
But is the new powder the same as W296/H110? Based on my limited experience with it, I will have to say it is likely built to slightly different specifications, but the two powders are darned close in performance.
Sometimes Power Pro 300-MP seems a bit slower burning than W296/H110, but at other times it appears a tad faster. Its charge weight to velocity ratio varies as bullet weight and barrel length vary. As can be seen in the accompanying chart, it took a grain more behind the 240-grain Sierra bullet to reach velocities comparable to those produced by W296 for the .44 Magnum. Two additional grains behind the 300-grain Swift A-Frame produced about 100 fps higher velocities than W296 in the two shorter barrels, but velocity was a bit lower in the 20-inch barrel.
Then there is the matter of primer suitability. Most hand-loaders who use W296/H110 know that a magnum primer is recommended for uniform ignition. This holds especially true under frigid ambient conditions. The same applies to Accurate 4100 and Enforcer powders. In the .44 Magnum data section of the Reloader's Guide published by Alliant, the standard CCI 300 primer was used with all powders except Power Pro 300-MP.
When first learning of the new powder, I assumed it would require the use of a magnum primer, such as CCI 350 or Federal 155. The Alliant data uses Federal 150 instead. While Federal 150 is rated a bit hotter than CCI 300, it is not rated as hot as CCI 350 and Federal 155.
Do primers make a difference with the new powder? Based on my test results, I will have to say no, with one caveat. As the chart shows, there were no appreciable differences in velocity when the standard CCI 300 and the magnum CCI 350 primers were used. But ambient temperature during my chronograph session was 82 degrees. The answer to the question of whether or not velocities with the two types of primers will be as close during extremely cold weather will have to wait until winter.
When loading the slow burners, keep in mind that, as a rule, ignition is more reliable and burn is more complete when they are compressed by a seated bullet. These are not the powders to use for reduced-velocity loads. Moreover, handloaders are cautioned against using less powder than the starting charge shown in reloading manuals. With some of these powders, there is not a lot of distance between start charge and max charge.
For 240- and 300-grain jacketed bullets, the latest Hodgdon Annual Manual shows only 1.0-grain difference between starting and maximum charges of W296/H110. When Winchester made W296 available to handloaders back in the 1970s, load data published by the company had only one charge listed for each bullet weight, and it warned against any reduction in charge weight.
Velocity comparisons were my objective during this project, so I did not shoot for accuracy. I have burned enough of the slow burners through the years to already know that any good revolver will shoot good bullets inside 4 inches at 50 yards with either of them, and some will beat that by an inch or so.
The current Winchester Model 1892 and the Ruger Model 77/44 are capable of shooting inside 2 inches at 50 yards. Accuracy among the powders may vary a bit from gun to gun, but it is seldom enough to make a difference on the vital area of a whitetail buck standing 125 long paces from the muzzle.
Muzzle flash from Lil'Gun in the 4.63-inch barrel was something to behold, and Power Pro 300-MP was close behind. No muzzle flash was observed from either of those two powders when shot in the longer barrels. Neither of the other powders produced noticeable muzzle flash from the three barrel lengths.
Faster-burning powders are better for practice loads in the .44 Magnum, but for maximum velocities, the slowpokes get the nod.