Reloading The .44 Magnum

by Elmer Keith


Just for the record, I worked 30 years to get the .44 Magnum produced, both gun and load. All credit for its appearance is due C. G. Peterson and Gail Evans of Remington (for bringing out the load) and to Carl Hellstrom of Smith and Wesson for bringing the Remington and S & W people together  to produce the proper gun for the load. S & W sent me the first .44 magnum made. Remington forwarded me the first lot of ammo in plain, uncolored boxes. Both the gun manufacturers and ammunition makers did a wonderful job. I tested the first Remington loads, and still have a few. They gave about 1400 feet velocity and proved very accurate. Since then, velocities have been boosted too high, in my opinion, for soft factory bullets. Keyholes result with about one out of every ten shots, as pressures now seem too erratic and high for a six-gun. Recent tests of loads made over a year ago showed an average 1605 feet velocity, pressures which ran from 39,000 pounds upwards, and variations of over 11,000 pounds... far too much for best accuracy. After all this time I still prefer the hand load I worked out for reloading the .44 magnum, just after it came out. It gives around 1400 feet velocity with just under 34,000 pounds pressure, and only 3,000 pounds variation as tested by White's Lab.


I neither like nor use any gas check bullets in revolvers. Their place is in rifles and auto pistols. The factory .44 magnum bullet is a thin part-jacket, not a gas check cup. This is necessary with soft factory bullets to hold the rifling and, at velocities now being loaded, should even be a longer jacket than it is. True gas check cups do not upset to fill chamber throats and seal off gas as they should.


The best load I have found uses Keith Ideal bullet #429421 cast not softer than 1 to 16 tin and lead. Many use the bullet 1 to 10, however I like it around the above 1 to 16 tin and lead. Bullet should be sized .429", and I use Ideal banana Lubricant. The .44 case is heavy and must be full length resized. On account of its thickness, the inside expanding plug should never be over .423". I find even .420" works very well since you must have  a very tight fit, case over bullet, before the heavy crimp is turned into the crimping groove to hold the bullet against the jump of recoil. Thus, you prevent it moving forward to tie up the revolver by protruding out the front end of the cylinder, to say nothing of causing a change in the pressure of the load. I also like my original design of this bullet in 250 grain weight, best with square bottom grease groove.


For a light gallery load I use 5 grains Bullseye. For outdoor targets, often 8.5 grains Unique is used. For the full load, I use 22 grains Hercules 2400. This is the load for which I gave pressures and velocities above. Another load I have used is 23 grains 2400 with Keith Ideal 235 grain hollow point and hollow base bullets for about the same pressure with slightly higher velocity. The 250 grain bullet and 22 grains 2400 has now killed about every type of game on this continent and is wonderfully accurate to any range. Machine rest tests often showed five shots in one hole at 25 yards. I do not believe the handloader has any business exceeding these loads.



Lyman Reloading Manual #42



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