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.44-40 Winchester Center Fire (WCF)


Having witnessed the effectiveness of the Spencer and Henry repeating rifles during the American Civil War Oliver Winchester set about creating his own fine repeating rifle, launching both the Winchester Repeating Arms Company along with his own lever action rifle design in 1866. The iconic 66 “Yellow Boy” featured the same classical brass alloy receiver as the Henry rifle and was also chambered for the .44 Henry rimfire cartridge but featured some highly desirable improvements, securing Winchester’s position as a maker of fine rifles.

In 1873 Winchester introduced a stronger steel framed lever action rifle in three new centerfire chamberings, the .32-20, .38-40 and the most famous of all - the .44-40.

The model 1873 .44-40 caliber rifle fired a 200 grain lead bullet at around 1250fps from a barrel length of 20 to 24”. In handgun barrels velocities were around 950fps. As a potential military rifle the previous model 66 Yellow Boy had already won a degree of favor with both the French and Turkish military. The new Winchester Model 73 rifle chambered in .44-40 featured the same virtues i.e fast handling, a generous magazine capacity, low recoil, firing a cartridge boasting adequate power and with a reasonable trajectory. Nevertheless, the 73 and its .44-40 chambering failed to win any major military contracts.

During the same year Springfield introduced their trapdoor single shot rifle in .45-70 Government while Colt introduced their famous Single Action Army pistol, coined “the peace maker” chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge (sometimes called .45 Long Colt). The Springfield .45-70 rifle fired a 405 grain bullet at 1200fps while the Colt .45 caliber pistol fired a 255 grain bullet at around 950fps. Both were adopted for U.S military service in 1873. The Winchester .44-40 rifle did not meet U.S military criteria due to the fact that it was a repeating rifle which at that time was considered costly and wasteful in potential ammunition expenditure. Instead, the M1873 made its debut in the hands of the frontiersmen, civilians traveling into North America’s unchartered west in search of new opportunities.

Within a very short period of time the folly of the military decision to not adopt the fast handling 73 was beginning to be felt by soldiers. Native American warriors used the 73 to great effect against the military and following this, many soldiers adopted the 73 regardless of protocol. By the mid 1870’s the .44-40 had become immensely popular for both hunting and warfare. Even Colt felt compelled to produce a .44-40 SAA handgun in 1878. The concept of having one cartridge for both rifle and pistol immortalized the .44-40 in the west.

Having created the 1876 and 1886 high power rifles in such chamberings as the .45-75 Winchester and .45-70 Government, Winchester also eventually upgraded their .44-40 caliber rifle in the form of the slick model 1892. This rifle was much stronger in design than both the 66 and 73 Winchesters. In a further attempt to modernize the .44-40, Winchester developed a ‘High Velocity’ load featuring the 200 grain bullet at 1540fps (24” barrel). This load was eventually discontinued due to concerns over its use in weaker actions.

Ultimately the .44-40 became known as the gun that won the west. Short and handy, simple to use and with a plentiful supply of ammunition, the .44-40 could be considered a tool that ‘got the work done’. But with the passage of time the .44-40 was eventually superseded by the more potent .30 caliber smokeless cartridges including the .30-40, .30-30, .30-03, and .30-06.

As the .44-40 lost popularity in the United States it retained a following in both Australia and New Zealand for some time. The fast handling M92 rifle and .44-40 cartridge proved useful for shooting pigs over dogs and for other back country farming practices. Nevertheless the popularity of the .44-40 in Australia and NZ also eventually waned due to the discontinuation of the Model 92 rifle versus the influx of surplus Lee Enfield rifles.

For a long time the .44-40 remained dormant until the advent of Western Action Shooting sports which created a high demand for reproduction rifles. The .44-40 is now popular once again but not generally as a hunting cartridge. There are nevertheless those (including one of my nearest neighbors) who continue to utilize this cartridge for hunting, motivated by both practical needs and nostalgia.


The .44-40 varies a great deal in performance, being greatly affected by muzzle velocities and the type of bullet used.

At handgun speeds of around 900 to 950fps the .44-40 is entirely reliant on mechanical wounding in the absence of any great level of hydraulic force. Non-expanding lead bullet designs may produce wounds of around a half inch in diameter, regardless of game weights. Jacketed soft nose ammunition may also display similar performance. Jacketed hollow points, though designed to produce rapid expansion, may also struggle to produce any form of expansion at low speeds.

From a rifle loaded to around 1200fps wounding remains proportionate to caliber (or expanded caliber), although a small degree of hydraulic force (disproportionate to caliber wounding) begins to become evident. Shots that strike the CNS will of course produce an instant killing effect but lung shots (expanding bullets) may produce long dead runs of up to or over 100 yards, regardless of the generally broad internal wounds.

When used in modern rifles the .44-40 can be loaded up to muzzle velocities of 1800fps with 180 grain bullets and 1600fps with 200 grain bullets. Using a fast-expanding hollow point projectile the .44-40 displays a high level of hydraulic force / wounding when utilized at close ranges. Internal wounds may be up to or over 2.5” in diameter at impact velocities of 1500fps and faster. Medium game hit squarely in the chest may run, but expire soon after.

As a utility handgun cartridge, the .44-40 is ideal for dispatching sheep, pigs and cattle at close quarters (head shots).

As a carbine rifle hunting cartridge loaded with low pressure (1200fps) ammunition the .44-40 needs to be treated with due care. As suggested, it is best utilized with hollow point projectiles. The fastest kills are obtained by aiming well forwards (shoulder bones) and with great care towards trajectory. Readers should also take note that although my comments here may give a rather dull view of the .44-40, this cartridge does produce faster kills than smaller handgun / carbine cartridges such as the 9mm Luger.

As a carbine rifle hunting cartridge loaded with high velocity (1600fps) ammunition the .44-40 is an able performer at close ranges (inside 100 yards). Anyone who has taken game at ranges of around 300 yards using a .308 Winchester rifle loaded with 180 grain soft point projectiles will, if one pays attention, notice the similarities in wounding performance.

It is also worth noting that at all speeds the .44-40 produces caliber or expanded caliber sized exit wounds and that external bleeding is generally quite poor. Blood is affected by gravity and will take the path of least resistance. Therefore, lung wounds will for the most part bleed into the lower chest cavity.

As for the various lever action rifles, the .44-40 in its original form (mild loads), produces mild harmonic effects. It is therefore less prone to suffering the accuracy issues that normally arise if a rifle barrel is not free floated. Provided the system is not under great stress acceptable accuracy can be achieved whether a tube, forend or hand is touching the barrel. In contrast to this, high power hand loads in the likes of the modern Winchester, Marlin and Rossi rifles can cause a level of harmonic disturbance which may need to be addressed via carefully relieving any stress points within the forend. The modern reproduction of the Henry 1860 lever action (Henry Company USA) is made from a very strong alloy of brass which Henry also utilizes for the production of their .44 Magnum rifles. Henry also offer an ‘iron’ frame version made from regular firearms grade steel. About the only negative aspect of the Henry rifles is that at full power and without any forend, changes in the shooters hand position and tension can affect accuracy and POI. This can unfortunately limit effective ranges.

The open sights of the lever action rifles are possibly more advantageous to farmers and butchers than other groups. Having the sites set low and close to the center line of the bore is a great help when dispatching cattle and also when the sad and terrible chore of dispatching a wounded horse is forced upon us. It is within these situations that a mild mannered lever action .44-40 can show its greatest strengths, not that many folk would understand such things any more.

Regarding twists rates, the Winchester 73 .44-40 was originally produced with a 1:36 twist rate. This twist rate is still used by Winchester for 73 reproduction rifles. Marlin have and continue to use a 1:38 twist rate for both the .44-40 and .44 Remington Magnum while Rossi utilizes a 1:30 twist rate. Henry currently utilizes a 1:36” twist. These twist rates are all suited to the 200 grain bullet weight.


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Factory ammunition

The two major manufacturers of .44-40 ammunition include Hornady and Winchester. Please note that individual bore dimensions have a pronounced effect on factory data versus actual results. Both brands are designed around a .427” projectile.

Winchester currently produces two loads for the .44-40. The first is their classic 200 grain jacketed soft point rifle load, producing between 1100 and 1200fps in 20” barrels (depending on age and condition). This load produces rather poor expansion, resulting in proportionate to caliber wounds. Local farmers, who use this ammunition, have many times asked me whether it is possible to obtain something with ‘more punch’. This should tell the reader just about everything he or she needs to know about this load. The 200 grain Powerpoint works well for dispatching farm animals but is not much chop otherwise.

Winchester also produce a 225 grain lead bullet yielding around 700fps from a 7.5” barrel and 1000fps from a 20” rifle barrel. Outside of silhouette shooting this load is best confined to utility (farm yard) work.

Hornady produce a 205 grain cast lead “Cowboy” load rated at 725fps from a 7.5” pistol barrel. Depending on individual bore dimensions this load produces around 1000fps from a 20” rifle barrel and like others is best used on either steel or yarded game.

Buffalo Bore appears to be the only manufacturer to produce a true medium game hunting bullet for the .44-40. This load consists of a 185 grain soft cast lead hollow point. I have not however been able to test this ammunition here in NZ. Regardless, I suspect that this may be the best factory option currently available for U.S citizens who wish to hunt deer with their .44-40 handguns and rifles. Buffalo Bore state velocities of 1100 to 1200fps in handguns and up to 1470fps in rifles. Buffalo Bore also state that this ammunition should only be used in firearms built after the year 1900 and include other safety warnings that should be studied before purchasing this ammunition.


Hand loading

The original nominated bore diameter for the .44-40 was .427” however, bore sizes in older rifles (and handguns) typically run anywhere from .425” up to around .431”. For this reason, it is very difficult to give advice on this subject with regards to the casual hand loader wanting to load for older rifles. Those who have old farm guns may simply be better to leave things be and stick to factory ammunition.

For those willing to go down the rabbit hole of reloading for older rifles, the chamber and start of the bore can be gauged using a Cerrosafe mold (readily available as ingots) to determine the actual bore size. Older .44 revolvers should never be loaded with hard cast projectiles as these may produce very high chamber pressures.

Lyman currently produce .427” bullet making molds which include the option of a hollow point cavity, ideal for making hunting rather than plinking bullets. By using a soft lead and hollow point design, the resulting bullet can both swage to the bore for optimum accuracy and also produce maximum deformation (energy transfer) down range. As an alternative to this, one can instead use a Lyman .429” mold and then use a cast bullet sizing die to create a .427” finished bullet. If loads prove inaccurate, the bullets can then be tried at their original .429” diameter.

Brass for the .44-40 is generally readily available. This cartridge features a very subtle bottle neck design; therefore it cannot be reloaded in the same fashion as other common pistol cartridges. Rather than simply passing an unlubed case case through a carbide die, the .44-40 must be lubed and passed through a standard full length die. Following this, the extra thin and delicate case mouth must be flared (as per normal practice for pistol cartridges) to accept a new bullet, after which the bullet can be seated and crimped in place.

The SAAMI rating for the .44-40 cartridge is a mild 13,00 CUP. In older firearms or replicas of the M66 and M73 Winchester, reloaders are advised to keep 180 grain bullets between 1300 and 1400fps and 200 grain bullets between 1100 and 1200fps from 20” to 24” barrels.

In modern rifles with bore diameters of .431” (SAAMI spec: .431 +/- .002”) jacketed .429-.430” bullets can be loaded to generous velocities. 180 grain projectiles can be loaded up to or above 1800fps, 200 grain bullets up to or above 1600fps and 240 grain bullets to velocities of around 1400fps. Generally speaking, 200 grain jacketed hollow point bullets achieve a good balance of velocity, wounding and penetration.

Powder choice for the .44-40 depends on the age of the gun and how one intends to use it. Readers are advised to consult reloading manuals for suitable powders. Beyond this, all I will say is that for hunting with modern rifles, H4227, IMR 4227 (ADI 2205) or Alliant 2400 tend to give acceptable performance. These are extruded type powders which can prove somewhat less aggressive than modern ball powders. Those who already have experience with high velocity loads for the .44-40 will notice that I am being rather cautious here (along with potential muzzle velocities).

When selecting a hunting bullet it is perhaps helpful to understand that hollow point bullets were created for the .44-40 during the mid 1890’s. Hunters would have become more familiar with these loads had the .30-30 Winchester not come along and stolen the spotlight. Regardless, the .44-40 was furnished with hollow point bullets as a means to enhance its killing performance until overall sales of .44-40 ammunition declined, resulting in just a few remaining loads. Those who make the “good enough then, good enough now” claim (regarding non-expanding bullets) would do well to take this history into consideration.

When loaded with soft cast hollow point bullets the .44-40 can be used to obtain clean but generally delayed kills down to impact velocities of around 600fps. Above 1300fps a soft cast hollow point can produce broad internal wounds. Below 1300fps wounds are proportionate to the expanded caliber of the bullet.

Using jacketed hollow points in a modern rifle, the .44-40 can produce violent internal wounds. The fastest killing jacketed bullets available for modern rifles are the Hornady 180 and 200 grain XTP projectiles (designed for the .44 Magnum). Of these, the 200 grain bullet tends to strike the balance of wounding versus penetration when hunting mid weight deer species. Muzzle and or impact velocities of around 1600fps result in a great deal of hydraulic force (disproportionate to caliber wounding) but without placing the 200 grain XTP under excessive strain. Bullet weight loss may be anywhere between 20 and 50% depending on how much bone the XTP encounters. This bullet may not penetrate vitals following a Texas heart shot but does tackle other tasks with relative ease. For those hell bent on hot loads, all I will say here is that wounding is optimized at impact velocities at and above 1500fps. If you are able to achieve this velocity at your target (with either the 180 or 200 grain XTP), you will achieve broad internal wounding. There is no need to push the .44-40 further than this.

Like all handgun / carbine cartridges the .44-40 displays a more noticeable drop in performance at impact velocities below 1300fps. The XTP continues to show good expansion at lower speeds but wounds are proportionate to the expanded caliber of the bullet. Bullet weight loss tends to run between 0 and 10%. Internal wounds are wider and faster bleeding than those produced by the 9mm and .357, yet kills are still generally slower than one might expect. From a muzzle velocity of 1500fps the 200gr XTP breaks 1300fps at around 60 yards. From a muzzle velocilocity of 1600fps, the 200 grain XTP breaks 1300fps at around 85 yards.

For more information on high velocity .44 caliber jacketed bullet performance, please see the .44 Remington Magnum text.


Closing comments

The .44-40 is now almost 150 years old. A life saving tool for the pioneer, the .44-40 survived in the hands of farmers before being reborn in the form of Western Action Shooting. Although few people now hunt with the .44-40, it is nevertheless a very capable cartridge and should not be under estimated.

Suggested loads: .44-40 (rifle)

Barrel length: 20”




Sectional Density

Ballistic Coefficient

Observed MV Fps





200gr Win / 200gr XTP







200gr XTP full load*






Suggested sight settings and bullet paths













Bt. path
















Bt. path








Sight height .75” (open sights).

*Modern rifles only.


At yards














44 40 final





























Max Case



Trim length



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