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44-40 Winchester


In 1873, Winchester developed the 44-40 WCF, along with the 32-20 WCF as the original chamberings for its Model of 1873 lever-action rifle, an upgraded and improved version of the Model of 1866.

The 44-40 has a 44-caliber case mouth (approximately) and was loaded with 40-grains of blackpowder behind a 200-grain bullet that launched at about 1120 fps from a carbine. Colt soon chambered it in its Single-Action Frontier revolver where ballistics were still impressive, launching the bullet at about 950 fps.

Compared to the 44 Henry round, which the 44-40 WCF replaced, this was startling performance. While the 44-40 was not ideal for the purpose, it has killed more deer than anyone today could possibly imagine.

Handloaders can duplicate the old Winchester High-Velocity factory load for use in the 1892 Winchester and other strong guns; performance of such loads are in an entirely different class.



As a fight stopper, chambered in the Colt, the 44-40 WCF was highly regarded by gunfighters and frontiersmen alike. When compared to the 45 Colt, it had the advantages of generating much less recoil and allowing shooters to use one cartridge for both their handgun and their long-gun.

As with the 38-40, handloading can be a bit delicate and tedious due to the unusually thin case neck but 44-40 die sets have always included a bell-mouthing expander, so one has all the needed tools to do the job. I cannot too-strongly recommend getting a second seating-and-crimping die so you can have one adjusted to seat the bullet and the second adjusted to only crimp the case mouth. I can attest that attempting to do both operations in one step is a recipe for damaged and destroyed cases.

Historically, as with the 38-40, it has been very hard to find a smokeless load combination that generates great results with standard pressure. The introduction of Trail Boss solved this problem; just fill the case to the base of the bullet and use the Remington 2½ primer, you will have a fine load.

As with all cartridges used in guns with a tubular magazine, a properly applied crimp can smooth and ease chambering and a crimp is critical to lock the case mouth into the cannelure and thereby prevent recoil and chambering forces from driving the bullet into the case. In some instances, a roll crimp might be the best option But the Lee Factory Crimp Die usually does a better job and the crimp it applies will not damage a cast bullet as chamber pressure drives that from the case.

The text associated with the cartridge description reflects opinions and conclusions of the author, M.L. (Mic) McPherson. Lee Precision and its employees do not necessarily either agree or disagree with any of his comments. We present these with due deference to his recognized expertise in the firearms field. His acumen extends to handloading and all aspects of ballistics - internal, external, and terminal.
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