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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Folks:

I've been locked into a serious S&W 544 lust since recently learning of this model - bear with me while I walk you through an addiction, please!

The revolver/caliber combo really struck me, as I have always enjoyed the feel of the N-frame Smith. I do NOT like being bitten by high-recoil revolvers, however, and usually loaded down the couple of M29s and a M57 I owned a couple of decades ago. The M28s were about perfect for recoil but just not a big bore, but the 44-40; now there's about as perfect combo of big bore, potentially moderate recoil, and all the accuracy and power I could need for coyotes and a nightstand revolver. Loading manual info confirmed that I should be able to get 950 - 1,000 fps with a 200 grain bullet from a 4" to 6" barrel so I was sold on the notion. Additionally, the 544 has a 5" barrel, and I've only owned one other, a M29 I should have never sold. I was doomed!

After watching GunBroker, Gunsamerica, Auction Arms, etc., for a while and absorbing sound advice from MO, I went for a private owner auction on a 544. After winning and waiting the requisite time to transact with a money order (the gunshop-owned 544s were too pricey), the revolver arived at my FFL dealer in pristine consition!



While the revolver was a beautiful machine that just felt right in my hand, I felt a compelling urge to find the marketing idiot who insisted on the vile commemorative stamping on the right side of the frame and slap him silly. It was as ugly as the inside of a dog's nostril, and was gold-filled to make ugly an indequate descriptor. I had a plan - I'm partial to the Hogue Monogrip anyway, and as you can see, it almost completely covers the right side obscenity. Shockingly, my local gunshop had the Mongrips as well as a HKS 25-5 speeloader. Nirvana!



Next up was a decision on ammo. Factory loads were scarce and either a 200 grain JSP or some 200 and 225 grain cowboy loads at prices that made me start to twitch. I load everything I shoot mostly anyway, so it ws no big decision to get Redding dies, a shellholder, and a Lee case length trim gauge. My first thought was to get some .429 200 grain bullets (Remington, Speer, or Sierra at .4295) and Winchester or Remington cases, but I quickly found you 44 shooters have been busy - 200 grainers were scarce as hen's teeth (politicians' ethical standards?) and just nobody had 44-40 brass. I settled on the 210 grain Remington SJHP as they were readily available and seemed to have both a little extra weight (I have some - why shouldn't my handloads?) and the right cannelure-to-meplat measurement.



Well, the best-laid plans. . .no vendor had everyting I wanted! They had dies but no bullets, bullets but no brass, and on and on. Finally Graf & Sons had it all (and free shipping, too), so I ordered everything there. A few days and I was at my bench, happily loading a new-old cartridge for an unfired 25 year-old Smith!

I decided to trust the Lyman 49th Reloading Manual as they had 44-40 load data complete with pressure data for both rifle and pistol as well as with 200 grain jacketed bullets in two pressure loading groups. Essentially, the 44-40 has a SAAMI spec of 13,000 CUP; Lyman also showed (for rifles) loads developing up to 19,000 CUP, which is the same pressure as +P 38 Specials. Being a cautious kind of guy, I first dropped a starting load of Unique into a new, trimmed Starline nickel 44-40 case; it looked like a handul of sand in a 5 gallon bucket, so I decided to start with 2400 instead. Minimum 200 grain bullet load of 2400 was 14.4 grains; I subtracted 5% powder weight for the extra 5% of bullet weight (0.7 grain), then another 5% just because my great-grandfather lived to be 97 by being cautious. That left me at 13 grains; I primed the cases with CCI 300 caps, and loaded 10 rounds each with 13, then 14, then 15 grains of 2400 (the manual showed 16.0 grains of 2400 as a 200 grain bullet maximum). I loaded five rounds with 15.5 grains, but was prepared to test those one at a time.

Setting the crimp die was a little time and brass consuming - had I been less ham-handed I would have lost no cases at all. Please look at the photo below to see a good loaded round, a too-heavily crimped round, and a poorly expanded case.



Once the rounds were loaded and labeled, it was off to the moutains!



What a joy! From the lightest to the heaviest loads, the big Smith functioned flawlessly! I worked my way up from the 13 grain to the 15.5 grain loads and just kept getting tighter and tigher groups. My concern over the possiblity of having a revolver that wouldn't shoot (there was some question about the chamber throat to barrel dimensions in revolvers of the period) just disappeared as the bullets were all nearly centered at 25 yards, with only gradual, minor changes in elevation. I was testing for load pressure and revolver function, not accuracy, plus I seldom shoot an unfamiliar weapon well to start with, but I found my results were very good indeed for me. I'll stay with the 15.5 grain 2400 load and see how much tighter I can get groups before I photo a few groups for you.

Well, now I had 44-40 empties. It was odd to me to feel bottlenecked empties as I picked the up; I did notice that the 44-40 loaded rounds were noticeably easier to index into the chambers than are straight-walled cases. Back to the bench for a throrough cleaning, preparation of loading notes, some case head expansion measurements, and I called it a day.



So, what did I learn? I learned that these Smiths are undervalued as shooters - there've been a number of them online for $650-$750 for quite a while with no bids. With 4,700 produced as commemoratives I just don't believe they'll appreciate because Smith made too many. Priced an unfired M24 recently? These are a deal if you're willing to take the 44-40 reloading challenge.

I am well-pleased.

 

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biku324, very nice write up and pictures. thank you for sharing. BTW, your first loads look kind of like my first loads for my 45 colt. Ruined several getting the dies setup. Nice choice but I don't recall. Which 44-40 rifle do you use? Love a handgun / rifle common cartridge!
 

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Nice blaster, Bill! I've been following your exploits for weeks in other threads, glad you put it all in one so we can follow your train of thought and the experiments as you proceeded with them.

Who knows, you might have single-handedly just raised the price on the other 4699 other 544's out there. Maybe you should get a second one before it's too late! ;D
 

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Mighty fine report Biku! Congrats on your 5" N-frame. 8)

Jacketed bullets in a 44-40 though, doesn't that caliber beg to be fed bare lead? :D
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks, guys - I'm pretty happy, and will work on better photography as well!

Now I need a 94S in 44-40, 205 grain mould blocks, and to order a thumbreak holster from El Paso Saddlery. . .so many wants, so little cash :-\.
 

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Nice write-up Bill. Happy to hear it worked out better than expected so quickly. Looks like no need for any cylinder throat work is necessary, although I would suspect lead bullets will be the real test there.

Very interesting project. If/when you can chrono those loads, I'm curious to hear what your getting with with those charge weights. Also curious what she could do with a heavier 240/250 gr hard cast slug, sized properly (and if the cylinder has the length to handle them)...if you're ever inclined to head in that direction.

It's always fun to work with these less than common calibers, the whole "marching to the beat of a different drummer" thing...not to mention the rarity of a 5" big bore N-frame. Enjoy, and keep us posted.

Roe
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Tedak said:
Jacketed bullets in a 44-40 though, doesn't that caliber beg to be fed bare lead? :D
It does, but I am a SWC or WFN fan and haven't seen any commercially cast that strike me yet - same-same mould blocks. I'll keep looking. What I really want is similar to what Lyman used to make for the 45 AR, the .452 238 grain SWC; it was lighter than the standard Colt 250 to 255 grain SWCs but still Keith style and when seated in 45 ACP cases with the front band flush with the case mouth would feed flawlessly and group very accurately in evey 1911 I had (6.0 grains Unique, WSP primer, any case). That same short Keith-style SWC in a 215-220 grain .429-.430 mould would be perfect, as there isn't much cylinder left in the 544 ahead of the 44-40 case.

Oh, well - the folks that market 'stuff' don't want to make my 40-65 1895 CB either. . .
 

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biku324 said:
It does, but I am a SWC or WFN fan and haven't seen any commercially cast that strike me yet - same-same mould blocks. I'll keep looking. What I really want is similar to what Lyman used to make for the 45 AR, the .452 238 grain SWC; it was lighter than the standard Colt 250 to 255 grain SWCs but still Keith style and when seated in 45 ACP cases with the front band flush with the case mouth would feed flawlessly and group very accurately in evey 1911 I had (6.0 grains Unique, WSP primer, any case). That same short Keith-style SWC in a 215-220 grain .429-.430 mould would be perfect, as there isn't much cylinder left in the 544 ahead of the 44-40 case.

Oh, well - the folks that market 'stuff' don't want to make my 40-65 1895 CB either. . .
Biku is a man that knows exactly what he wants. ;)

What's your opinion of the Lee 429-200RF? I don't have one yet, but would like to eventually for my .44mag & .444.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I really prefer a standard SWC; the Lyman 429215 would be perfect except I don't want a gascheck bullet.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Well, this old thread needs an update.

Since getting my comeuppance at Afghan deployment training I've had time to do some serious shooting and reloading for the 544.

You all know I am not a competition shooter; the big Smith was plenty accurate for me (as a new gun) at 50 yards with 15.5 grains of 2400 and the Rem 210 .429 JHP. I assumed as the revolver and I spent more time the groups would shrink more as I got used to the heft and trigger pull. Well, they haven't, so I bothered to slug the bore and throats. On this specimen all of the throats are .428 and the bore is .429 (I came up with .422, but took the slug to someone who knew what he was doing - thanks, all for the 'heads up' from MO members on the difficulty of measuring Smith bores); that makes sense, and seems to be about how they throat 44 Spl & Mag.

What to do? Well, I looked for some .428 bullets. There just aren't any .428 jacketed bullets, as they seem to be made in .426/.427 for Rem & Win factory 44/40 components, and .429-.430 from other component manufacturers. I next looked for 200 grain .428 lead FP and found several - locally I bought a bag of Meister 200 LFP with a bright blue lube that is softer than Alox and smells different.

Time to start all over for powder charge, so I thought I'd try Unique, since I had quite a lot (I use it nearly exclusively for 40 S&W 180 grain JFP loads, 357 155 grain LSWC medium loads, and 38 Spl 155 grain LSWC loads). Lyman's 49th suggested 6.9 grains to 8.2, so I started at 7.0. I immediately got tighter 25 yard groups, then 50 yard groups. I bounced up to 8.0, then 8.5 grains (Speer's 14th shows 8.6 as max with 200 grain lead bullets) and found better groups still at roughly 950-1025 fps, again according to the slightly different numbers in the handbooks. My suspicion is that there is just something about those big 19th century cases and Unique that works well, as Unique was my single best powder when using a 45 Colt Ruger Blackhawk for local IHMSA silhouettes back in the late '70s.

I think I'll try working up a 2400 load as well just for grins, but the 8.5 Unique load seems like it will get my nod for being the standard load. Two best separate 5-shot groups at 50 yards were tighter than my best ever with my Security Six in 357 and on a par with groups of yore when the state used to furnish me a Smith 686. Lyman's 47th suggests 9.0 grain Unique for max with the 200 LFP, but 8.5 shoots very well, and I doubt coyotes or skunks (we've got some rabies locally, so all skunks I see die) will know the .5 grain difference. I will perhaps try some .429 Meister's of the same style to see if there is any better accuracy, but I suspect I've reached a point where it will take a better shooter to find significant improvement.

Just for info-sharing, the 15.5 grain 2400 Rem 210 grain JHP load required the rear sight to be completely bottomed out and I still needed a near-6 o'clock hold at 50 yards for bullseyes or beer cans; all of the Unique loads allowed me to raise the rear sight several clicks for my prefered dead-on hold. The 8.5 Unique loads are going coyote hunting with me as soon as I can find more Meisters; Larry's was out (of course - whatever works well for me usually sells out because I didn't buy enough originally), and I see Midway has them on backorder as well (sigh). I'll send some loading (and hopefully coyote gore) pics as soon as I locate more bullets.

Did I mention that I haven't had this much fun with a revolver in years?
 

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I was wondering when this update would arrive. ;)

It sounds like you're on the right track. I don't use as much Unique as I used to, but it's still a go-to powder for my 44 Specials and 45ACP when other powders don't give me what I seek. I think there's an old law on the books somewhere that says 44/40 and 45 Colt loads MUST use Unique, unless it proves unsatisfactory, at which time you can experiment with other powders.

Good luck in your search for suitable bullets..............and coyotes.
 

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I enjoyed every word and picture of your write up, its great stuff. Congrats.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
moofy07 said:
I enjoyed every word and picture of your write up, its great stuff. Congrats.
You are far too kind -thank you.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
papajohn said:
I was wondering when this update would arrive. ;)

It sounds like you're on the right track. I don't use as much Unique as I used to, but it's still a go-to powder for my 44 Specials and 45ACP when other powders don't give me what I seek. I think there's an old law on the books somewhere that says 44/40 and 45 Colt loads MUST use Unique, unless it proves unsatisfactory, at which time you can experiment with other powders.

Good luck in your search for suitable bullets..............and coyotes.
I suspect you're right on Unique, and I probably should have tried it first. Load density just seemed very low, so I tried 2400 first.

We've near (hopefully) the end of a major drought here - we've had just over 1/2 inch of rain since December. We normally have 6.5 inches in that time. There've been some very (VERY) large forest fires far too close, and nearly all game, as well as non-game animals like coyotes, are stressed and not following usual patterns. Consequently, dog-hunting has been spotty; rain would really, really help. The national forests are closed to any use ('extraordinary fire danger,' a new category ABOVE 'extreme fire danger'), with BLM and state trust lands fixing to follow suit, and for the same reason. Our monsoon season usually starts here on July 4 or 5; we're just praying that it does!

Perhaps the brothers in NSW could send us some surplus rain. . .what a mess down there!
 

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I'm hoping we'll hear more soon...............Please?
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Well, I have 2 updates for anyone who might care. . .

Just received my El Paso Saddlery #2 Thumbreak in russet - it is very high quality, fits perfectly (it took about 3-4 weeks since ordering, as they don't have 5" barrel N-frame no underlug holsters on the shelf) and is even more comfortable then my other favorite holster for 4" barrels, the Bianchi 5BHL. It 'sits' (no upward push against my belt) just fine in my pickup seat or on horseback, so I think my usual Ruger Security Six is going to have to pout in the safe for a while as I commit gundultery. I'll send a picture as soon as we replace our camera; some #%&* took it out of my wife's car in Alamogordo when she forgot to lock it.

While waiting for Meister .428 LFN bullets to become available again I bought some 200 grain JHP Noslers (.429") to have something to load; at the same time, I read Dave Scovill's article in the new Handloader (#211) about reloading 44-40 and 38-40. His take was that unless you get good neck tension on these bottlenecked cases, 2400 doesn't burn all that well (and I knew that from 357 and 44 mag experience, but didn't apply the knowledge to the 44-40 because I'm an idiot). Bingo!

I adjusted my sizing die to kiss the shellholder, backed the neck expander out to just very slightly open the cases enough to allow the bullet base to sit squarely on the first few thousandths of the case mouth, then loaded up a couple of dozen rounds of 15.5 grains 2400, Starline cases, CCI 300 primers, and the Nosler JHPs.

What a difference from the jacketed loads using earlier Remington 210 grain JHP and 15.5 grains 2400! The loads shot every bit as well as the 8.5 grain Unique/Meister LFNs, and at what should be higher velocity as well. I don't blame the Remington bullets for my mediocre 2400/Remington JHP results, I blame my inexperience with reloading the 44-40. And the Noslers are a little cheaper in boxes of 250 to boot! Guess knowledge really IS power!

That edition of Handloader sure turned out to be worth $6; wait, I saved that much by getting the Nosler bullets ;D!

It's finally started raining here, so maybe they'll open the national forest - I really, really need to kill a coyote or two with the big Smith :D!
 

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Tedak said:
Biku is a man that knows exactly what he wants. ;)

What's your opinion of the Lee 429-200RF? I don't have one yet, but would like to eventually for my .44mag & .444.
FYI - I have the Lee 429-200 RF - BUT... Mine drops WW+2% tin at 215-217 grns! I finally got my MiHec Keith mold, and the 200/217 doesn't shoot so well in my 44 SPC anyway, so it just sits there.
 
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