Posted - 12/31/2011 : 1:44:44 PM
| Yes, you may safely use smokeless powder in older guns, provided the gun is in good condition. I'd suggest having it checked by a gunsmith, however, to ensure it has no damage or wear that might weaken it even more.
The 1873 Winchester is not a strong action and won't take much more than the factory level load. The industry standard for MAXIMUM pressure in the .44-40 is 13,000 Copper Units of Pressure (CUP). CUP is not convertible to PSI, so be careful that you don't get the two confused when reading elsewhere.
Speer Loading Manual No. 13 has a good section on the .44-40 in rifles, noting that all of its listed loads do not exceed 10,000 CUP.
This is important, because few sources list pressure.
Assuming your rifle checks out to be shootable, I'd suggest you use nothing but lead bullets. Jacketed bullets are harder on the bore, and will raise pressure, especially in a pitted bore.
Slug the bore of your rifle -- drive a soft lead, oversized bullet or ball through the bore and measure its diameter after it emerges. Through the years, the .44-40 has been all over the map for bore size, from .424 to .430.
Knowing bore size will help you select or make lead bullets of the proper diameter.
The .44-40 uses lead bullets varying from 180 to 220 grains, but the standard is a 200 gr. flatpoint. Stick to this 200 gr. bullet for best results.
If you plan to reload, I'd suggest you purchase dies made for lead bullets, such as the RCBS Cowboy dies. Unless stated, other dies will be made for the 200 gr. jacketed bullet.
The RCBS dies have a larger expander, which enlarges the case mouth more than dies made for jacketed bullets. This prevents damage to the bullet when seating it in the case.
This is true of all companies that manufacture "Cowboy" type dies for use with lead bullets. I am only familiar with the RCBS dies, however.
Many of the old-design .44-40 lead bullets, such as the Lyman 427098, have no groove into which the case mouth is turned for crimping. In yesteryear, the black powder filled the case up to the base of the bullet, keeping the bullet from being pushed farther into the case. More modern designs have a crimping groove, into which the case mouth is rolled or turned. This is an important feature when choosing lead bullets, since smokeless powder occupies so little room in the case and bullets may be pushed farther.
When buying lead bullets, choose those which have a crimping groove. If you can't find them, you can still use the older design but put a firm (not damagingly hard) crimp where the flat side of the bullet meets the beginning of the rounded bullet nose (called the ogive).
A firm crimp will not only keep the bullet from shifting, but retards the bullet long enough (we're talking 10,000ths of a second here) to ensure good ignition.
In the past, classic smokeless powders for reloading the 44-40 have been Unique, 2400, IMR4227 and Bullseye.
Today, I would not use 2400. It burns poorly at the lower pressures required for your rifle. Nor would I use Bullseye, because so little is required in the case that accidentally double-charging a case during reloading is a possibility.
Were I you, I'd get a can of Trail Boss. It's a recently created powder made especially for lead bullets in old-design guns, delivering safe pressures.
Trail Boss is a fluffy powder, taking up quite a bit of room in a case for its weight.
I'd suggest you contact Hodgdon for a recommendation. Interestingly, Hodgdon does not list Trail Boss for use in rifles, yet some reloaders swear by it in their rifles.
When in doubt, always seek out the manufacturer. If there is a sound reason for not using Trail Boss in .44-40 rifles, Hodgdon will know.
Gun writer Ken Waters suggested low-pressure, lead bullet loads for the .44-40 in Handloader 193 (June 1998):
200 gr. Lead
SR-4759 / 15.0 grs for 1,036 fps
IMR-4227 / 18.0 grs for 1,171 fps
Ken Venturino has reported good accuracy at black powder pressure levels with Accurate Arms XMP-5744 and 17.0 grains under a variety of lead bullets ranging from 205 to 214 grs.
However, he noted that the bullet must fit the bore. An undersized bullet he fired with this load tumbled in flight, not completely gripping the rifling -- another good reason to check your bore size and tailor your bullet diameter to it.
Use Large Pistol primers in whatever .44-40 brass you use. All modern .44-40 brass is created to use Large Pistol primers. There is no sense in using Large Magnum Pistol primers; in fact, you may find the load's accuracy affected by the more powerful primer.
Myself, I prefer Winchester Large Pistol primers over all other makes. They fit Winchester brass the best and deliver uniform ignition. CCI primers are a tight fit in Winchester brass. I cannot find Remington primers where I live, in Utah.
I hope the above helps.
"I see an ugly cat. Smoke. The smell of brimstone. Holes in parchment. The ugly cat grins." --- The Prophesies of Gatodamus (1603-1666)