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The 44 Magnum's bullets

Posted 11-12-2012 at 14:18 by MakeMineA10mm

This is a post I originally wrote elsewhere here, but I wanted to preserve it here, so I could easily link to it in other posts:

After lots of trying, I've decided that 180s and even 200gr bullets are not effecient and do not produce very balanced loads in the 44 Magnum. While they can be very accurate, it seems it takes a lot of work to find the sweet spot to get them that accurate, and once that's done, you really only have a low-recoil target load, IMO, because these bullets just don't have the SD for decent penetration and they blow-up too easily (in JHP form) for salvageable small game hunting. I guess they'd be interesting P-Dog loads, but even then, the heavier-bullet loads have better long-range trajectory, so that's only a short-range benefit. I don't mess with them anymore.

I found that around 210grs, bullets start getting a LOT better. They have enough bore-riding surface (or at least that's what I theorize is the benefit) that it's fairly easy to find accurate loads without much work. Also, we're finally getting to a weight that occupies enough space in the case to give better load density, and the weight of the bullet provides better resistance to the powder to cause better combustion in more combinations than with the 180s. I buy and shoot a fair number of Rem. 210gr SJHPs, but Win. 210gr STHPs would work well too. I like Lyman 431215 mould, which makes 215 to 220gr bullets that are also pretty accurate with lower recoil and conservation of my lead supply.

However, even though the 210s are kind-of my "minimum" weight class for 44s, for a "lightweight" bullet in the 44 Mag, I like 225s even better. The Speer 225gr HJ-SWC-HP is my favorite defense and light-hunting (Texas scrub whitetails, coyotes, and game of that size or smaller) bullet in the 44. My primary "practice load" bullet is a 225gr RNFP, which is also a dandy rabbit load, because it doesn't destroy meat like an expanding bullet. Developing accurate loads with these bullets is a piece of cake, and load balance is good enough that virtually any pistol powder is able to be utilized with these bullets and give good ignition.

There's nothing wrong with 240-250gr bullets in the 44 Mag, and you can see by their popularity in this poll that they certainly work, or many wouldn't use them. They work so well, because it's what the cartridge was designed around. My favorites are: Lyman 430421 (245-250gr Keith SWC), RCBS 44-250-KT (part # 82044) (which is even more true to the original Keith design than the Lyman these days), and the Win. 240gr JHSP. An very exemplary bullet in this weight class is the Nosler 250gr Partition Gold bullet. If you're looking for a premium bullet for the 44 Magnum that can do anything and everything in the realm of hunting, this is it.

A bullet weight range that was pretty ignored until recently is the 260-290gr weight range. For many, many years, only the Hornady 265gr JSP (for the 444 Marlin) was available, and many respected and famous gun writers said it was not ideal and "too much of a good thing" in the 44 Mag. They've since ate those words and turned out looking like sissies, because silhouette shooters started shooting 300+gr bullets... I think truth be told, the writers were shocked and unhappy with the recoil, or felt the masses would be and would complain to the editors about them. This is actually my favorite weight range for serious 44 Mag loads. I designed a custom 265-270gr (depending upon the alloy you use) Keith SWC that religiously adheres to his principles. My only change was making the drive-bands a little wider. Keith in his later writings mentioned once or twice that the only improvement on his original bullet would be to try it a little heavier to around 270grs, and that's what I did. For a "maximum effort" bullet in the 44 Magnum, I really like the Lyman 430640 RNFP. It's pretty much a cross between the WFN and LFN bullets, so I call it a "MFN" (Medium Flat Nose). It's a balanced design that feeds through lever-action carbines well, and is correctly balanced to minimize it's impact on the powder reservoir inside the case while simultaneously giving a lot of weight. It's very accurate and has a nice, big meplat (flat nose). Depending on alloy, it weighs between 275 and 285grs. (My "hard" bullets, which are WW+2% tin weigh 281grs.)

Now, there's plenty of bullets which weigh 300+grs for the 44; however, I don't like them. For the most part they are marketing gimmicks or ego-gratifiers. The ammo companies know that having a 300gr bullet is going to sell a heck of a lot better than a 290gr bullet. That's in spite of the fact that they did the research back in the 60s and discovered that a 290gr bullet was the ideal maximum weight to get the best combination of penetration, energy, load balance (room for powder in the case, combined with ignition reliability, combined with useful velocity and bullet weight), and reasonable pressures. This crossed over into any .430" bullet in a straight-walled case with high pressure loads, as they tested it in the 444 Marlin as well, and it still held true. Remington actually had a 280gr bullet ready to market in this caliber in the 60s, but Hornady beat them to the market by a couple months, and Remington decided to discontinue the project, probably on the theory that the market wouldn't support more than one heavy-bullet for the caliber, and Hornady's was already out... (They looked at things different back then.)

I use cast bullets pretty much exclusively in the 44s, with the exception of the Ruger 44 Carbine. (I have an original from the early mid-60s, whose gas system requires a jacketed bullet to prevent fouling.) The only jacketed bullet I'd look at seriously in place of a cast bullet is the Partition (or the similar Swift A-Frames). Since pistols are weak hunting tools compared to the rifle or shotgun, I want my pistol loads to penetrate. Cast bullets with good, large flat points do that well, and disrupt a lot of tissue too. That's the killing mechanism and it works every bit as well as a JHP, but more reliably. I'll cover cast bullets and alloys separately.
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  1. Old Comment
    nickE10mm's Avatar
    Good stuff here. I'm a tried and true 10mm fan but just recently got into .44 magnum (again).... Been shooting my Ruger SBHBH quite a bit lately and will hopefully be taking my deer this year with it.

    Someday I'll take the plunge on casting equipment (when I buy my own house and have a good place to setup shop where my 2y old daughter can't get to) but until then will continue to load my own .44 and enjoy the hell out of it.
    Posted 11-14-2012 at 22:12 by nickE10mm nickE10mm is offline

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