.44 Colt- That Hollow Feeling…

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Custom 1858 reproduction converted to fire .44 Colt

.44 Colt ain’t what it used to be. No, really; originally designed for cap-and-ball revolvers converted to fire metallic cartridges, it had straight-wall chambers and used heel-base .451″ diameter bullets.  Modern .44 Colt (basically invented by Italian gun companies) has a .429″ bore and is basically a slightly shortened .44 Special with a smaller rim.

I’ve done conversions in .44 Colt before, and since cap-and-ball .44s are actually .45s, I swaged my own heel-base bullets. These work pretty well, and with a couple of extra steps in the reloading process they were only a bit of a pain in the butt. Enough of one that I started to wonder if there might not be another way…

Delving into history-  Heel-base bullets are the same diameter as the outside of the cartridge case, with a section of reduced diameter at the rear to fit inside the case,  like a .22 Long Rifle cartridge. On firing pressure caused the soft lead base to expand to bore diameter… or nearly enough. But in the days of black powder lubricated bullets were vital, and to insure they worked properly the lubricant had to be on the part of the bullet that was outside the case.

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Modern Heel-Base .44 Colt. Note the band of lubricant just above the casing.

This is problematic because the lube can pick up dust and grit, and under the right conditions even melt.  44 Colt waned in popularity as cartridge conversion and open-top revolvers were gradually phased out, but two other heel-base Colt cartridges lasted well the early 20th Century- .38 Colt and .41 Colt. These two cartridges, however, lost their heel-base bullets in favor of smaller-than-bore-diameter hollow-base bullets that fit inside the cartridge and would (hopefully) expand to engage the rifling when fired. This was desirable because then the band of lubricant was protected inside the case, as with other modern rounds. These more or less worked, but were never an ideal solution.

Coming back to the present I wondered if a .429 Hollow-Base Wad Cutter, cast in soft lead, might be the answer to simplifying my reloading. I could reload them like conventional bullets and it would all be good. I decided to give it a try– only to discover that no one seems to sell .429 HBWCs commercially. Perhaps I could eventually track down a specialty manufacturer that makes them, but that would inevitably come at a specialty price. Or I could swage my own…

Turning to the lathe I made a punch to create the hollow base, then I bored a .430″ hole in a block of mild steel to form a die- not entirely through, but deep enough to leave a hole approximately .320″in the bottom so I could punch the bullets out of the die.

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The punch, die and the punch used to drive the bullet out of the die after swaging, with two cartridges loaded with the resulting HBWC bullets.

Some time ago I picked up a small bag of 225gr wadcutters from the reloading odds-and-ends shelves at Pintos, and these seemed a good candidate for the process. Very shortly I was producing quite credible 225gr HBWCs.

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These are a fair bit longer than the original bullets, so I decided to load them with a portion of the bullet outside the casing like a more conventional bullet. Of course there is no loading data for this bullet, but after some research I decided 5.0gr. of Unique with a CCI300 primer would be a reasonable place to start. I loaded up a box of ammo and headed to the range to test them.

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First target shot with the hollow-base wadcutters.  The lowest impact appears to have been yawing when it hit the paper, but it did not key-hole.

The actually seem to work pretty well. Out of the box I fired three yawed and one key-holed (hit the target sideways.)  I reckon that’s not too bad for a first attempt.

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Three bullets passed through the uppermost hole, and one quite plainly hit sideways (at the bottom of the hole)
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The final target of the day I knuckled down and tried for accuracy, and was rewarded two hits in the 7-ring and one int the 6-ring… and yes, two in the 4-ring. nobody’s perfect, right?

Clearly accuracy of the bullets isn’t an issue; though mine could justly be called into question. At this point I’d call these bullets a qualified success. As far as the load goes it is quite light- maybe too light. I’m going to work up a little bit and see if that increases rifling engagement enough to get rid of the occasional yawing issues.

This is also the first time I’ve fired this gun on the range; that’s not really what this post is about, so I’ll just briefly say there were some minor issues, but nothing that isn’t easily fixed. It also shoots rather high, so I may replace the front sight. I might not too; hits are well centered when I do my part, and that’s all to the good.

Thanks to liberalgunowners.org for the targets!

 

Michael Tinker Pearce, 6 November 2018

 

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