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Short Brass In Long Chambers?

Short Brass In Long Chambers?

One question that often arises from newer handloaders revolves around whether or not it’s okay to use short brass in long chambers; mostly .38 Special in .357 Magnum and .44 Special in .44 Magnum chambers? Today the semi-auto may be King, however, the sixgun is the Mighty Prince of Versatility. Normally if the cartridge will fit in the chamber of a sixgun it will fire no matter what the length. With a semi-automatic, case length is of prime importance. If the case is too short, misfires may occur; too long and the case may not even chamber or allow the slide to close completely.

To answer the original question I would have to say yes, no — and maybe. I recently tested a bunch of .32 Long loads in several .32 Magnum revolvers. Some loads actually produced one-hole groups, others gave excellent accuracy, however, there was one exception. One .32 Magnum with a record for accuracy with .32 Magnum brass gave me 4″ groups with the .32 Long. So the perfect answer to the original question is we won’t know until we try, however, the chances are very high for success.

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Case lengths compared: (L-R) .44 Russian, .44 Special and
.44 Magnum — all three can be fired in the .44 Magnum chamber.

What Works?

Contemplate the choices we have when it comes to short brass and long chambers. The .32 S&W will work in .32 S&W Long and the .32 Magnum will work in .327 Federal chambers. His Esteemed Editorship recently wrote of using .32 ACP loads in .32 revolvers, and I have used .38 Super loads in some .357 Magnum cylinders which would accept them. Going up the scale, .38 Short Colt will work in .38 Long Colt, .38 Special, .357 Magnum and if we’re really feeling lucky we can try any of these in the long .357 SuperMag chambers. I don’t expect very good results with the latter, as I have a Dan Wesson Model 460 which accepts .45 ACP, .460 Rowland and .45 WinMag all using Moon clips in its longer-than-normal cylinder. Rowlands are okay and WinMags work well, however, the short .45 ACPs are pretty much a waste of time.

In the .41 Magnum we can also use .41 Special handloads but I don’t expect either one to work very well in the .414 SuperMag. When it comes to .44 we have a lot of versatility. At one time American Frontier Firearms offered a 4-in-1 load to be used in .44 Russian, .44 Colt, .44 Special and .44 Magnum. The Russian, the Special and the Magnum all have the same rim diameter. However, the .44 Colt — which is longer than the Russian but shorter than the Special —has a smaller rim diameter. Some .44 Colt sixguns will not accept Russian brass because of this. So generally speaking, the .44 Russian will work in .44 Colt, .44 Special and in the .44 Magnum, and at least the latter will sometimes give good results in the .445 SuperMag.

When it comes to .45 caliber sixguns, generally speaking .45 Schofield will work in .45 Colt and .454 Casull, and we can try all three of them in the longer .460 Smith & Wesson. The .45 Schofield has a larger rim than the .45 Colt and will not chamber in any .45 sixguns whose cylinders are recessed for case heads. I have been able to use the .45 Schofield in .45 Colt Single Actions and replicas; however, they will not work in my Freedom Arms .454’s or in my early Ruger .45 Colt Blackhawks.

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Here’s proof it works: .38 Specials and .357 Magnums fired in a .357 sixgun.

A Final Fit

John Linebaugh used .45-70 brass to produce his wildcat .475 Linebaugh. This cartridge was eventually standardized using a smaller rim, and Freedom Arms chambered their Model 83 for factory brass. When the .480 Ruger arrived, it proved to be nothing more than a .475 Linebaugh Short. Can the .480 Ruger brass be used in the .475 Linebaugh? Yes, with grand success, and I used .480 Ruger loads in my 43/4″ Freedom Arms .475 Linebaugh to take a huge bull bison. One shot at 35 yards was all it took.

Again, chances are high that short brass will work in long chambers with very few exceptions. The one warning is the use of short brass requires chambers to be scrubbed out well after shooting. This prevents a ring of crud from forming in the front of that brass in the chamber, eventually causing hard chambering of longer brass.
By John Taffin

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  1. The only drawback I’ve seen to using short rounds in long chambers (for me, .38 Special in .357 Mag and .22LR in .22 WMR) is that it dirties up space at the front of the chamber. If you’re shooting a lot of ammo, the short round can gunk up the chamber enough that chambering or ejecting the longer cases can become difficult unless you do some field cleaning in between. (A “bore snake” comes in handy for a quick cleaning at the range. I dip it in Hoppe’s before I leave and keep it in a Tupperware type container til I need it.)

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