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Maybe it's my background in building high performance motorcycles, but I still find myself repeating the mantra that light is right. As anyone who has experience with magnum calibers will tell you, that maxim doesn't hold up so well with guns, since felt recoil increases as weight goes away, but that hasn't kept manufacturers from introducing shorter and lighter rifles aimed at the hunter who treks to find his prey.

Marlin has had resounding success with its guide series of lever actions, their 18.5" barrels appealing to a wide range of shooters. Many of our customers have chosen to go even shorter, to the 16" minimum. Wicked cool is the easiest way to describe these shorties. Typically weighing in the mid six pound range, thye are incredibly handy and businesslike, still delivering enough power to stop all North American 4-leggeds, including the ones that roll off a Detroit assembly line. So what more could you want?

Well, I'm not now, nor will I ever be, a wilderness guide, but if I was, I think I'd prefer a 5.5lb rifle to a 6.5 pounder. I've backpacked in the mountains. There were times I would have paid a hundred bucks for every ounce I could leave behind. Or a hundred an hour for a Sherpa. So there's the root of my obsession with light weight rifles, sensible or not.

It's hardly worth saying that few hiking in bear country would want to trade ounces for absolute confidence in the stopping power of their firearm. There is endless debate about what constitutes enough firepower, but for the sake of getting on with it, I think most would agree that the .45-70 and .444 fill the bill nicely, even with factory loads. When it comes to recoil, most manly men seem to manage the big bores well enough in a 7lb rifle, but I doubt many (myself included) would care to sling the same load from a 5.5lb carbine.

Brakes can help a great deal, but they can also be pretty deafening. Another way to reduce recoil is to simply use less gun powder. The greater the powder charge, and the shorter the barrel, the stronger the gas jet emanating from the muzzle. This gas jet (think rocket motor aimed at your shoulder) adds more to recoil than most might realize. When we go to a smaller capacity case we can often come pretty close to matching the performance of the larger case in a short barreled configuration, by optimizing the burn rate for that barrel length. Examples of such short, optimized cartridges abound. The 221 fireball and 30 Herret are just two of them.

With these considerations in mind, I started thinking about the parameters for a light weight guide rifle. In terms of power, I decided the Triple 4, firing a 300gr jacketed bullet, would be my target. The rifle should have a 16.5" barrel, and my target weight would be 5.5lbs. Given the wide range of .44 cal bullets available for both pistol and rifle applications, I decided that was a good place to start. So I rooted about in my safe for a .44 mag chambered 1894, and started spending my odd hours building a proof of concept prototype. The first stage of the project was to see just how much energy could be squeezed from the good ol' .44. If it wasn't enough, a wildcat would be in the wings.

Before everyone hastens to point out (justifiably) that a .44 mag can never be made to match the ballistics of a .444, let me remind you that I am attempting to compare apples to apples. We're talking about a 16.5" barreled carbine here, not a rifle with 22" or more of bore in which to optimize the performance of the T4. It's worth noting that the Trip 4 (like all other large capacity rifle cartridges) looses substantial muzzle velocity as the barrel becomes shorter. While my Hornady manual lists a max velocity for the 300gr XTP at around 2000fps from a 24" bbl, my Lyman manual has a max load reaching only 1838fps out of a 18.5" ported Winchester barrel. By contrast, it's been proven that the .44 mag needs only a foot of barrel to reach its peak velocity.

While it would be unfair to expect either the .444 or .44 to reach the higher, 2000fps velocity out of a 16.5" barrel, it stands to reason that a cartridge smaller than the T4 could pretty well match its performance from a shorty barrel if one found the optimal burn rate and powder charge for the shorter barrel. In this case, I intuitively felt that the optimum (or at least a very good compromise) might be nearer .44 charges than the double-down charges in the 444.

So my target was 1800fps with the 300gr XTP, a bullet I chose for its weight and dual crimp groove. If I could reach that target I'd have 2150ft/lbs of muzzle energy, nearly 250 more than a Casull revolver with the same bullet weight. Aplenty, I think.

Since you've indulged me this far, I'll save you all the trouble of skipping to the end. At this stage, with limited testing, I've pushed the 300gr XTP to a velocity of 1700fps, falling just shy of the one ton energy mark. With 300gr cast boolits I surpassed the 1800fps goal, striding alongside the listed max for the .444 out of the aforementioned 18.5" ported barrel. Not bad, for a case barely more than half the size of its bigger, badder brother.

There are probably some readers shaking their heads, and waiting for an announcement that a certain owner of Ranger Point Precision blew himself up with a .44 lever gun. I can understand your concern, or morbidly expectant glee, as the case may be, but don't get ahead of the story. Burn rate optimization can yield surprising results in shorter barrels. To be sure, my hand loads were in excess of factory pressures, but not by enough to cause signs of excessive pressure to appear. No sticky lever, no flattened primers, no loosened primer pockets. Having said that, testing was done in cool weather. A safe, four season load might require a smaller powder charge.

As to accuracy, the results surprised me. My donor rifle, which has not yet been "accurized" in any meaningful way, and which never displayed noteworthy accuracy prior to being chopped, turned in a string of sub MOA, three shot groups at 100yds with the XTPs. Both grouping and point of impact were very predictable as I laddered up my powder charges. No load scattered, which frequently happens when optimal pressures are surpassed. I stopped increasing charges not because of pressure signs, but because I ran out of case capacity. Accuracy with the cast lot was less stellar, but this did not surprise me, as I was unable to obtain appropriately sized boolits.

These results were obtained by seating the XTP to the first cannelure, for a COL of 1.71" and using powder charges similar to those listed for 240gr jacketed bullets. A Lee Factory Crimp die was used to create a new crimp groove in the cast pills, using the same COL. The 1.71" COL, being more than a tenth of an inch longer than factory loads, did require some significant mods to the carrier and other receiver parts. I believe, however that these mods are inside the scope of a handy home gunsmith, so for those interested, I will share the details in my next installment, soon to come. Before anyone runs off to the garage and starts carving parts, please note that the 300gr XTP will not chamber in the .44 when seated to 1.71" COL. A throating reamer must be used.

As to weight, at this time the donor rifle weighs just under six pounds, but nothing has been done beyond chopping the barrel and replacing the factory steel mag tube with one of our high strength aluminum tubes weighing a third as much. I believe 5.5lbs is a fairly easy target. Recoil is snappy, but more abrupt than painful. Muzzle rise is the greater concern, and ultimately I will be machining a custom brake to help tame it.

A ton of muzzle energy is a force to be reckoned with. But there are those for whom nothing smaller than a 400gr bullet will do on dangerous game. I'm ill equipped to argue the point, never having had my hide eyed by an angry animal. Confidence is determined by any number of factors, and I don't expect to sway anyone toward one camp or another. As with many projects, I started this one just because I wanted to. I'm not done yet. The platform isn't complete, and frankly, I want more from the cartridge too, so a wildcat is likely in my future. If you can embrace a less is more philosophy and you're intrigued with the direction I'm taking, I invite you to follow along and join in the discussion. Until next time, happy hunting.

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I like where your going with this. I load Hornady 300 gr XTP's to the first crimp grove for my Ruger Super Red Hawk Alaskan and they pack quite the punch. I've had experience shooters develope a flinch when they asked to shoot my revolver.
Can't wait to hear more about this. Looks like an 1894 is in my future:flute:
 

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Wild Cat cartridge , meaning what ? ..... A shorter case to except the 300 gr. bullet for over all length , in the 1894 rifle , and a slower burning powder to get the speed up to around 1800 ? ... then what do you figure the energy ft. lbs. , should would be at say 50 to 75 yd.'s , to stop a bear or some other rascal ? :) .... I'm intrigued .... I've Always been 44 mag. nut's for a light all around carry rifle . But let me say this , my 20 inch s/s barrel is cool with me , and also the weight ..... Maybe a Wild Cat cartridge would be a little Meaner Yet" , in a 20 inch barrel .... what a think ?

Magnum6
 

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What kind of pressures are we talking here? There are quite folks a few round these parts that are expressing concerns over of building a .327 mag in a 1894 platform because of pressure concerns.

I was able to put some hand loads through my 16" 1894 shorty this afternoon (240 gr. Montana Gold JSP over 23 gr. of H110- very accurate at 50 yards) that were fairly stiff, but in no way unmanageable in the Marlin. I can't imagine many critters on the continent sucking up 8 of these and still coming (dependant on shot placement of course), so multiple 300 gr. hard cast pills in the neighborhood of 2000fps would be devastating indeed. What would be possible doing the same thing with the 45 LC in the same package? I've read about some seriously nasty 45LC loads that would cause much concern if mixed up with revolver ammo.
 

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My neighbor is a dedicated hand gun hunted up here in alaska, his pet load of 290gn hard cast powder coated, is running at 1550fps out if a 8.5 in barrel. 2k i would think is possible as long as the marlin will stand it.

Ps my 1894 44mag loves that 300gn xtp also. Don't know about the other two i have though.
 

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"Veeelly Interlesting" is all I have to say. Keep us posted.
 

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Very cool I ! I read a story about the true potental of the 45colt a long time ago so I bought a marlin 1894 cowboy limited 24" right after that. I worked up some high pressure loads with my 45colt Cowboy 24" barrel with 296 powder 250gr xtp way back when I first got it. I killed deer with that load it really worked good. With the new powders today I would be able to beat what I was getting back then. It so happens I have a 1894 45 colt Talo addition 16" barrel that I will be doing that with in future. I will be watch in this thread to see how it works out. What powder are you using. Widow
 

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RPP,

If you happen to want or need to upsize your 44 mag chamber a bit maybe consider the 445SM. This is just me dreaming, I have no idea if it is possible or worth the effort to modify a 1894 to cycle a almost 2" OAL cartridge. I do know from personal experience that the 445SM is a very nice round in a single shot carbine.

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Hi guys,

Thanks for joining in. It's nice to see I'm not the only head case out there. I'll try to hit all the various points made.

First, Virginian, I'm well aware of the 92 clones made by Rossi and others. It's true, they are light weight and chambered in heavy hitters on up to the Casull and 480 Ruger. I have a Puma chambered in .45 Colt, and it's not a bad rifle. If a 92 does it for ya, there's no cheaper way to get lots of stomp out of a little lever gun. Alas, for me, the 92 will never be a satisfactory substitute for a good ol' Marlin 1894. No offense to those who shoot and love the 92, just personal reasons.

As to pressure, it would be hard to say with any certainty how much developed in my test loads. Knowing what we do about the Marlin action, for instance, that the .444 runs at significantly higher pressures than the .44, without benefit of thicker chamber walls (and most assuredly has a wide margin of safety beyond) I felt safe doing what I was doing. I would think that the .327 Federal would pose no danger to the Marlin platform, but this is opinion only, and not based on any testing.

In my test loads I've only had the chance to play with 296 and H110. Both gave excellent accuracy, even with compressed loads. Lil' Gun has been a favorite of mine for magnum pistol cartridges, but given its fluffier density, and the fact I ran out of case volume with 296, I wouldn't expect significantly better results with L'G. I did try introducing some A#9 in a few duplex loads, but accuracy declined without any gain in velocity. It's probably a safe bet that we aren't going to get much more than 1700fps with any powder behind the 300 XTP. There are limits to the .44 case.

To push beyond those limits, I'm considering a wildcat based on either the .454 Casull or the .475 Linebaugh. The former would require little modification to the rifle, beyond that already done, and would get us another few grains of case capacity, while staying comfortably inside the Marlin's safety net. With a slightly slower burning powder, the 300 XTP could almost certainly be pushed beyond 1800fps, perhaps well beyond. The Linebaugh case very much intrigues me, because I think it could offer the most optimal charge capacity for a 16.5" barrel. However, it would be necessary to modifiy the .475 case in order for it to feed through an 1894. Both the .454 and .475 cases would need to be trimmed shorter and necked, with the idea being a 1.71" (or therabouts) COL when crimping at the second, or standard, cannelure. This would ensure that lighter bullets could be loaded just as easily.

Much more can be, and has been, done to the 1894, but not without aggressive (and very expensive) modification to the receiver/magazine/barrel etc. The idea behind this project is to find a sweet spot using lightly modified factory components. That way everyone can afford to play. I still haven't had a chance to study the viability of the .475 based wildcat, but if it can be done I believe it will let us run comfortably alongside a shorty T4, possibly with boolits as heavy as 325gr or more.

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RPP,

If you happen to want or need to upsize your 44 mag chamber a bit maybe consider the 445SM. This is just me dreaming, I have no idea if it is possible or worth the effort to modify a 1894 to cycle a almost 2" OAL cartridge. I do know from personal experience that the 445SM is a very nice round in a single shot carbine.

Bikerbean,

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Bikerbean,

Unfortunately the 445sm is just too long for the 1894 action. We have spoken to a customer interested in building a 445sm chambered Marlin to match his revolver, but the conversion would have to be done on a long action (336) platform. He's on the fence at the moment, but if we build one we'll post results here, on our favorite forum.

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I always wondered what an '84 could really do with pressure. Just haven't been willing to put my face and hands on the line for it...
I had a reload some butthead had overloaded to the tune of around 30gr of H110 behind a 240 (long story - not my doing). That thing made my Marlin ring like a bell and I got some new scratches prying and poking that brass out because it was flat out plastered to the chamber. Glad to hear yours is better behaved. I got curious and going by your guidelines I did a QuickLoad simulation trying to attain 1700fps as a goal. It took 24.5 gr of H110 and the pressure is technically over, but seems do-able if the gun is in good shape. Here's the graph FYI.

Text Line Plot Slope Design
 
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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I always wondered what an '84 could really do with pressure. Just haven't been willing to put my face and hands on the line for it...
I had a reload some butthead had overloaded to the tune of around 30gr of H110 behind a 240 (long story - not my doing). That thing made my Marlin ring like a bell and I got some new scratches prying and poking that brass out because it was flat out plastered to the chamber. Glad to hear yours is better behaved. I got curious and going by your guidelines I did a QuickLoad simulation trying to attain 1700fps as a goal. It took 24.5 gr of H110 and the pressure is technically over, but seems do-able if the gun is in good shape. Here's the graph FYI.

View attachment 129433
BubbaJon,

Your figures are accurate. Remember folks, please, as with any reloading, but especially when SAAMI pressures are being surpassed, work up carefully, and understand that you are assuming some risk, regardless of anyone else's results.

Ideally, with a wildcat I'd like to bring that pressure curve down, and still get the velocities I'm looking for. It just makes sense, both from a safety and brass life standpoint.

Thanks for posting the graph BubbaJon, very helpful.

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My experience with this sort of thing is that the Stock shape also makes quite a difference in the felt-recoil...

Certain stock shapes seem to beat you to death - while others seem to be able to channel the blow a little better....

The other thing... There is no shame in a big soft, squishy recoil pad...
Let's face it - we are not really living in an era where you *NEED* a steel butt plate to fight off foes when you run out of ammo....

There's a huge difference between a hard rubber or metal plate and a thick, squishy rubber pad.... and when you are removing weight from the rifle - you better be putting some pad on it to soak up the blast....

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Very interesting read and comments. Been thinking along the lines of max power in a light lever in terms of a BLR in 35 Sambar (300 WSM necked to 35) or a 444 necked down to 35 (358 JDJ), but this is more for general hunting where some additional range is desired. Clearly there is value to the 1894 approach for closer range protection where minimizing a lever platform is the goal . The 44 being a short round has an advantage of more rounds in the tube, which in some circumstances could be beneficial. Do believe a hot loaded 35 Rem with 250gr bullets in a very short barrel would be very satisfying as well. nice work.
 
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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Couldn't agree more with you Truckjohn. Right now my test subject, a late model JM, still wears the factory hard rubber butt. Changing that out for a soft, lightweight Cervellati recoil pad is on the list. Being a rather lanky, meatless, guy, I tend to prefer a decent recoil pad on anything more whumpin' than a .357. I will experiment with a brake on my rifle, but optimized to control muzzle rise more than recoil. I'd prefer to keep muzzle blast minimal, so that a quick offhand shot won't make my ears bleed.

Graymustang, I like your idea about the hot rodded .35 too. Hmmm. Add that to the list.

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I totally agree with you on the muzzle brake.... Personally - I do not like hunting with them at all.... I want all the muzzle blast to go out front rather than come back at me... It seems like a short barrel magnifies the blast from brakes - especially with the slow burning powders needed to push velocities up higher at lower pressures....
 

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Ranger Point Precission,

I like your idea. Here is MI , the law was changed this year to allow straight walled pistol cartridge rifles for deer hunting. The max case length is 1.800". This is why I bought a 1894 44 Rem Mag. The 375 Win, 444 and 45-70 would be perfect but they are all too long. I am going to play around with my 45-70 and using a shortened case from 2.100" to 1.800" and see what I can come up with. For this, I think I will need to use 400 gr bullets.

I am looking forward to your development with a 44 Wild Cat.

JD338
 
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