Cast bullets for .44 WCF leverguns

Choices, choices …
2

For an easy shooting .44 WCF levergun/sixgun combination, John matches up an
Uberti Model 1873 with a Colt Single Action.

Today we have a large choice when it comes to .44-40 (.44 WCF) leverguns. Replicas are available patterned after the Model’s 1860, 1866, 1873 and 1892. I have a replica ’92 with an octagon barrel and several other versions, as well as the first three models mentioned above all chambered in .44 WCF. Marlin has also offered their 1894 in several versions chambered in .44-40. We ordered two of these with 24″ octagon barrels when they came out in the closing decade of the last century.

Diamond Dot’s has been cut to 19-1/2″ for ease of handling and the ability to still hold 10 rounds, while I’ve kept mine at the original length. This Marlin makes a dandy close-range hunting levergun, every bit as good as the .44 Magnum. These rifles have the older cut rifling rather than Micro Groove so they are not so selective when shooting cast bullets.

Playing Favorites

A longtime favorite .44 WCF load of mine is actually the first load I tried more than 60 years ago. It consists of the Lyman #42798 bullet, patterned after the original from the 1870s, over 10.0 grains of Unique for 1,421 fps and 1-1/8" group for three shots at 50 yards. A slightly milder load coming in 200 fps slower while exhibiting the same accuracy, is assembled using 8.0 grains of Unique. The shorter barreled version with this latter load also shoots exceptionally well, with the same accuracy, at a muzzle velocity of 1,171 fps.

The Model 1892 is a very strong action and in my old Lyman Cast Bullet Manual there are cast bullet loads for the .44-40 in the Winchester ’92 consisting of the #42798 (now #427098) bullet at 1,900 fps and the 215-gr. #429215GC at 1,850 fps with both assembled with #2400. Obviously, these were accepted loads at the time and they didn’t have to take a backseat to any .44 Magnum load.

Cast bullets in the 200-gr. weight range compared to a 200-gr. jacketed .44 Magnum bullet.

Rossi Retinue

I’ve had one of the early Rossi .44 Magnum leverguns since it first came out and soon added a companion M92 in .44-40. The Rossi is a less expensive alternative to the original Model 1892 Winchester with a retail price about one-third, as much as a good used original Winchester 1892, and about half as much as the imported replica 1866 or 1873 leverguns. Sights are the standard elevation-adjusting style on the rear mated with a front post fitted into the barrel band. The rear sight can be adjusted laterally by tapping the sight to the right or left in its dovetail slot.

The action on the .44-40 is much smoother than that on the early .44 Magnum. The following are very pleasant shooting loads for the .44-40 Rossi 20″ levergun. Groups are three shots at 50 yards and all loads are assembled with the Oregon Trail 200-gr. Round Nosed Flat Point hard cast bullet. I might say here these bullets have been offered in not only 200-gr. weight but also 225 and 240 grains as well as diameters of 0.427″, 0.429″ and 0.430″, allowing loads to be custom tailored to any particular sixgun or levergun.

Here then are the muzzle velocities and three-shot groups at 50 yards using the Oregon Trail 200 RNFP in the Rossi — 7.0 grains of WW231 gives 1,076 fps and a 7/8″ group; 5.3 grains of N100, 1,017 fps, 1-1/4″; 8.0 grains Unique, 1,195 fps, 1″; 10.0 grains of Unique, 1,377 fps and 8.5 grains of Universal comes in at 1,145 fps both with a 1-3/8″ group. I also shoot a lot of black powder in the .44 WCF and with this bullet over 35.0 grains of Goex FFg for 1,220 fps and a most satisfying 1-1/4″ 50-yard group. A most pleasant shooting load, especially for youngsters getting started is assembled with this same bullet over 4.8 grains of Hodgdon’s Clays for right at 925 fps and an accurate shooting 1″ group — almost as pleasurable as shooting a .22 levergun.

Targets fired at 50 yards with the replica Model 1873 Winchester.

Replicas

The .44 WCF is offered in replicas of the three original Winchester Models 1860, 1866 and 1873. These leverguns, with their old-style toggle-link action, are not nearly as strong as the Model 1892 and I treat them accordingly. Using the above mentioned Oregon Trail 200 RNFP in the Model 1873 and loaded over 5.5 grains of N100, results in a muzzle velocity right at 1,050 fps and a most pleasant shooting and accurate group of 1" for three shots at 50 yards. A similar load is assembled with 7.0 grains of WW231 for the same velocity and a slightly larger group.

The original .44 WCF bullet as illustrated in the Lyman #42798 does not have a crimping groove that can be a problem when loading cartridges for use in a levergun tube. The above-mentioned Oregon Trail bullets do have a crimping groove and both Lyman and RCBS offer cast bullet designs now with a proper crimping groove, the #427666 and #44-200FN respectively. A most excellent bullet especially for hunting is the Lyman 215-gr. gas-checked, flat-nosed bullet. As might be expected, it’s #429215.

Both Lyman and RCBS offer molds .44-40 bullets of the proper way and with crimping grooves.

Down To Brass Tacks

Reloading the .44-40 presents very few problems especially since we now have Starline brass with a case mouth not prone to buckling as early examples of brass. The cartridge itself is tapered precluding the use of a carbide sizing die. However, I spray lube all cases before sizing whether I am using a steel die or carbide die as with the latter it reduces the effort necessary for sizing. Loading on a progressive press is also no problem.

RCBS offers two types of reloading dies for the .44-40. One set is their standard steel sizing die set in the green box while the other comes in a tan box marked as a Cowboy Die Set. The latter is especially designed for cast bullets. The original set works for both types of bullets. However, the Cowboy Dies are designed to handle cast bullets a little more efficiently. If I had only one, I would go with the original but I prefer to have both sets and load accordingly.

Cast bullets for the .44 levergun work with smokeless powder, black powder
and black powder substitute.

We Disagree

One could easily say the .44 WCF is old and ancient and not worth bothering with. My friend Mike Venturino and I would both dispute this as the cartridge is not only a step back into the past, it’s also still a most viable choice. With the right loads, it is accurate and is certainly more than adequate for close-range hunting just as it was in the closing quarter of the 19th century.

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