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Odd-ball cartridge

Posted: Thu Sep 07, 2017 8:48 am
by Hawkmoon
Since we're in te "Odds and Ends" discussion area, here's a real odd-ball for y'all:

I have an old black powder revolver, a clone of a Colt. The original, black powder chambering was .44, which allows for the use of .45 caliber metallic case ammo because the bore is the same. What I learned only recently, though, is that when Colt first started making metallic cartridge revolvers in 1872 (before the introduction of the M1873 SAA), their Richards-Mason conversions did NOT use the .45 Colt cartridge. In fact, it turns out they used a cartridge called .44 Colt -- but the original .44 Colt was not the same as what's being sold as .44 Colt today.

If you buy .44 Colt ammunition today, or components to load it, you'll get a cartridge with a projectile that has a diameter of about .429" -- in essence, it's like a .44 Special Short. Modern .44 Colt ammo can be shot in revolvers chambered for .44 Special and .44 Magnum. But -- shoot it out an old .44 caliber black powder conversion, and the bullet will just rattle down the barrel without engaging the lands and grooves.

But .44 Colt brass is .44 Colt brass, and it's available from Starline. The difference is that the original .44 Colt ammo used a heeled-base bullet (like a .22 LR), where the base of the bullet has a diameter of .429" but the head of the bullet has a diameter of .451" or .452". The original .44 Colt ammo was outside lubricated -- the lube grooves were in the body of the bullet, outside of the case when loaded.

That's the ammo I needed for my conversion. After a bunch of Internet research, I found a source for the correct, heel-base bullets, and I ordered a bunch. They're nicely done, and they come pre-lubed, ready to load.

The cases are the same diameter as .44 Special, so loading can be done using .44 Special dies -- except for crimping. In order to properly crimp at the mouth of the case without mashing the bullet, you need a collet style crimping die. Lee offers one, but it's for .44 Magnum so it's much too long to use for .44 Colt. Once again, the Internet provided a solution. I found a source for a custom-modified (shortened) Lee die, made for the purpose of loading .44 Colt. The guy gets 50 bucks for the die, but he's the only source. When I contacted Lee to ask if they offered it, they told me it was impossible!

I have the setup in a 4-hole Lee turret press. I use a 3-die set for .44 Special, with the collet crimping die in the 4th station. It works like a champ. Since I'm dealing with something that there are no published load data for, I began with a very conservative charge of 4.2 grains of HP-38. They shot well and accurately, but the cases were pretty black. There was basically no recoil, so my initial load was too light. When I have some time, I'll make up a few more samples, going up by .2 grains at a step up to maybe 5.0 grains, and see how they shoot.

Fun stuff. I thought it was appropriate here, since the special die that makes it possible starts off as a Lee die.