Short Brass Long Chambers

Does It Always Work?

Versatility is the watchword for this 4" nickel-plated S&W .44 Magnum as it handles .44 Magnum,
.44 Special, .44 Colt and .44 Russian — becoming very pleasant shooting with “nice” loads.

One question often arising from handloaders has to do with the use of short brass and long chambers. Cartridges like the .38 Special in .357 Magnum and .44 Special in .44 Magnum chambers come to mind. I graduated from high school in 1956 and two of my early sixguns were the Ruger .357 Blackhawk and the S&W .357 Highway Patrolman. In those days .357 Magnum brass was in short supply and I had one box of Norma .357 brass I babied. However, .38 Specials in those days when bullseye shooting was king were not only easy to come by but were relatively cheap. I shot thousands of .38 Specials, mostly loaded at .38/44 levels, in those two .357 Magnums.

Today the semi-auto may be king, but 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-auto 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. I’ve heard of some 10mm autos with an extractor strong enough to hold the shorter .40 S&W loads in place, allowing them to fire. However I haven’t tried it myself, and don’t recommend it.

With the coming of long-range silhouetting spreading across the country in the late 1970s, one of the first to meet the revolver-needs of the sport was Dan Wesson with their 10″ heavy-barreled .357 Magnum. This was a medium-frame revolver, and to make it work successfully, heavyweight bullets in .38 Special brass at very modest velocities were used. My choice was the RCBS #35-200GC, a bullet originally designed for the .35 Remington rifle. In .38 Special cases and loaded to about 900 fps they performed with excellent match accuracy in the Dan Wesson.

Bill Grover’s personal Texas Longhorn Arms West Texas Flat-top Target has four cylinders
— chambered in .44 Magnum, .44 Special, .44 Russian and .44-40.

With two cylinders this Colt New Frontier can be used with .44-40, .44 Special, .44 Colt and .44 Russian.

... Not Always

I recently tested a bunch of .32 Long loads in several .32 Magnum revolvers. Did the “short-brass in long-chambers” work? 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” if short brass works. However the chances are very high for success.

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, which will work in .32 Magnum, which will work in .327 Federal chambers. Oddly enough, .32 ACPs will work in many .32 revolver chambers since they have enough of a rim to prevent going too far forward into the chamber.

I’ve used .38 Super loads in some .357 Magnum cylinders that would accept them. Going up the scale .38 Short Colt will work in .38 Long Colt, which will work in .38 Special, which we know will work in .357 Magnum. 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 that accepts .45 ACP, .460 Rowland and .45 WinMag all using moon clips. 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.

HSM offers easy shooting loads in .44 Russian, .44 Special and .44 Magnum.

The Black Hills lineup of pleasant shooting loads includes .44 Russian, .44 Special, .44 Colt all with
LFP bullets as well as the .44 Special loaded with a SWC. With two cylinders this Colt New Frontier
can be used with .44-40, .44 Special, .44 Colt and .44 Russian.

The Real World

All of the above is well and good but here I’m more concerned with .44 Magnum sixguns. With the .44s we not only have the versatility we like, but we also have a great deal of flexibility when it comes to which .44 cartridges can be used. Let’s take a quick look at the short(er) .44 cartridges we can use in .44 Magnum cylinders.

For testing purposes I look to Black Hills and to HSM using their .44 loads all of which are designed for easy shooting. From Black Hills I went with the .44 Special in 210 LFP and 250 SWC, .44 Russian 210 LFP and .44 Colt 230 LFP. From HSM, .44 Magnum 200 LFP, .44 Special 240 LFP and .44 Russian 200 LFP.

The most obvious example of shorter cases in longer chambers is using the .44 Special in .44 Magnums. I’m long past the age of being beaten up by round after round of full house .44 Magnum loads. All sixguns chambered in .44 Magnum were tested with all four softer-shooting .44 loads while those chambered in .44 Special protest-fired with Special, Colt and Russian .44 loads.

The results using the 71/2″ Texas Longhorn Arms Flat-Top Target were interesting. I not only fired all the loads through the .44 Magnum cylinder, but also had auxiliary cylinders in .44 Special, .44 Russian and .44-40. With just the one cylinder and all four loads for all practical purposes the accuracy was the same with the tightest groups being 1″ for five shots at 20 yards. The largest groups hovered in the 13/8″ range.

The most accurate loads proved to be the HSM .44 Special 240 LFP at 784 fps and the .44 Russian 210 LFP from Black Hills at 686 fps, both providing 1″ groups. This was the first sixgun tested and the accuracy obtained with the short .44 Russian in the longer .44 Magnum cylinder indicated to me the test would prove short cases work just fine.

With the .44-40 cylinder in place the Black Hills 200 LFP clocked out at 832 fps with a 11/4″ group. The HSM 200 LFP was slightly slower at 786 fps and slightly more accurate with a 11/8″ group. Again there was no practical difference between these loads.

After eight decades of service this Colt New Service Target Model still shoots .44 Special,
.44 Colt and .44 Russian loads excellently.

This S&W Model 29 .44 Magnum accepts .44 Magnum, .44 Special, .44 Colt and .44 Russian.

Smith & Wesson’s stainless steel Model 629 performs well with all four .44 loads.

The .44 Specials

When I switched to the .44 Special cylinder in this Flat-Top Target, groups tightened considerably. The .44 Russian load from HSM and the Black Hills .44 Colt load both grouped into 7/8″. The Black Hills 250 SWC delivered 3/4″, and the most accurate, the Black Hills .44 Special, astounded with a 5/8″ group. Again there is no practical difference between these loads. Muzzle velocities were only slightly higher in the .44 Special cylinder when compared to the .44 Magnum cylinder.

With all the sixguns tested, 12 chambered in .44 Magnum, seven in .44 Special, and one each in .44 Russian and .44-40, I can say no matter which sixgun is chosen — if the cartridge will fit in the cylinder it will perform well. A total of 120 combinations of loads and sixguns were used. Less than 10 percent of them grouped into 2″ — with all the rest into 1″ or less.

To me this means no matter what .44 sixgun I’m using it will perform with shorter brass cartridge cases than it was chambered for. A bonus with the .44 Russian and .44 Colt loads is they turn the 5-shot .44 Specials — the S&W 396 and Charter Arms Bulldogs — into very pleasant potent shooters. Actually these loads also are very practical for use in the lightweight .44 Magnums and also the S&W 5-shot .44 Combat Magnum.

Chances are high, very high, short brass will work in long chambers with very few exceptions. Just make sure you clean the chambers well since the short brass leaves a fouling ring.

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