.44 Wadcutters

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Handloading revolvers

Targets fired with .44 Special wadcutter loads with the custom .44 Special Ruger and the Charter Arms .44 Special Pug.

The .44 Russian was a very popular target shooting cartridge and around 1900 a man by the name of Himmelwright designed a better bullet for target shooting. This bullet was not round-nosed nor semi-wadcutter shaped — which would come later — but rather a flat nosed design with a vestigial small stabilizing nose. Then, around 1905 a Mr. Heath designed the semi-wadcutter bullet, and in the late 1920s Elmer Keith improved this design to what is now known as the Keith bullet.

Every semi-wadcutter is not a Keith bullet, which has three equal length driving bands, a deep crimping groove, a flat base and a large grease groove. Keith’s design has stood the test of time and has proven itself over and over in the hunting field, while the full wadcutter — cutting a full caliber hole in paper — became very popular for target shooting. Actually the Keith design SWC also cuts full caliber holes. An advantage of the wadcutter, especially at close range, is the full diameter flat nose hits with great authority.

Basically there are three styles of wadcutter bullets. The bullet is seated and entirely within the cartridge case; the full flat nosed bullet has a crimping groove with a small amount of the front end of the bullet extending beyond the case, or the full wadcutter has a crimping groove or shoulder about mid-ship allowing it to be seated out. In the past Lyman has offered bullet molds dropping wadcutter bullets, namely a 175-gr. #429348 and a much heavier 245-gr. #429352.

Wadcutter

The 23/4" Model 69 Combat Magnum shot with wadcutters. Big bore revolvers are consistently accurate.

The .44 Magnum

With the arrival of the .44 Magnum in the mid-1950s reloading manuals reported wadcutter loads for the new S&W — which was not only a powerful revolver for hunting but also had the attributes of the finest target revolver. These old Lyman designs are long out of production but are worth looking for at gun shows. For my current use I go with two wadcutters from Matt’s Bullets, a 175-gr. version with the small nose and a 185-gr. full wadcutter.

With the coming of the Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special pocket revolvers in the mid-1960s full wadcutters were often employed for self-defense loads. These days I use the 175-gr. wadcutter from Matt’s Bullets loaded over 4.0 grains of Red Dot, 4.0 grains of Bullseye, or 5.0 grains of Unique. In the 3" barrel of the Charter Arms muzzle velocities are 665 fps with Red Dot and 725 fps with the other two loads. At seven yards all of these are very accurate. If there is a better self-defense load for these Bulldogs I don’t know what it is.

I also like to shoot these wadcutter loads in a pair of custom .44 Specials built on Ruger .357 Blackhawk Three-Screw frames. One is a 3" barreled, nickel-plated, round-butted .44 Special from Bob Baer while the other from Andy Horvath is also round-butted, blued with a 4" barrel. The 175-gr. wadcutter over 5.0 grains of Unique clock out at 775-800 fps with 3/4" groups from them. I’m not necessarily recommending the single-action sixgun as the best choice for self-defense, however it’s still a choice and these sixguns and loads are very effective.

handloading ammo

John uses these wadcutter bullets from Matt’s Bullets, a 185-gr. full wadcutter and a 175 wadcutter with a slight nose.

Enjoyable .44's

Last year Smith & Wesson came out with an all-steel .44 Magnum known as the Model 69 Combat Magnum. This is a 5-shot revolver, and L-Frame instead of N-Frame size. With its barrel slightly over 4" this makes an extremely easy to pack and shoot .44, especially so with proper loads. I have very little desire to spend much time shooting full-house .44 Magnum loads through this relatively small sixgun, however I find loads in the 700-800 fps to be easily manageable and quite accurate.

With the 175-gr. wadcutter over 5.0 grain of Bullseye muzzle velocities are right at 810 fps. The same load with the 185-gr. wadcutter is at 720 fps, with both loads placing their bullets in 1" at 7 yards. I’m finding myself spending more and more time with this latest .44 Magnum from S&W, but with nearly all of my loads assembled with full wadcutters at these easily manageable muzzle velocities. I would not hesitate to carry either the S&W or the Charter Arms Bulldog for self-defense stoked with these wadcutter loads.

For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/index; Matt’s Bullets, Ph: (870) 856-6788, www.mattsbullets.com

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