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.444 Marlin

History

The early 1960’s was a great time of technological creativity worldwide.  Those who lived through the 1960’s would later refer to this period of time as ‘the golden years’. Such was the case within the firearms industry and while some cartridge and rifle designs of the time proved to be immensely successful, others have since faded into history. For the Marlin Firearms Company the early 1960’s presented an opening. While flat shooting high velocity cartridges had achieved immense success, there were no lever action big bore rifles being manufactured at this time. Winchester had brought out their .348 but this had been only a minor success between the years 1936 and 1951.

In a somewhat radical move Marlin chose the .44 Magnum as the basis for a big bore cartridge and rifle combination. In collaboration with Remington the .44 Magnum case was lengthened by a full inch, resulting in a huge boost in case capacity. The case was also widened at the head by 0.14”, featuring a steady taper, rather than utilizing the straight form of the parent case. The new cartridge was named the .444 Marlin and was introduced along with the big bore Marlin model 444 rifle in 1964. The original rifle featured a 24” 1:38 twist microgoove (12 groove) barrel.

Remington initially produced one load for the .444, featuring a 240 grain soft point bullet at 2350fps. Although this load worked well for the general hunter targeting lighter bodied game, the single offering did not fully exploit the potential of the .444. This shortcoming was partially rectified in 1967 when Hornady released a hard hitting 265 grain flat point. But in 1972 Marlin reintroduced the model 1895 chambered in .45-70, after which the .444 gradually fell out of favor. Fortunately, Marlin continued to produce .444 rifles, adopting a 22” barrel with 1:20 twist Ballard rifling in 1999.

Today the .444 has a small but staunch following among lever action big bore enthusiasts. The .444 is a very unique cartridge and never fails to generate discussion. As of this time of writing (editing this now very old document in Novememer 2020), the .444 is available from Marlin. To those interested in exploring a mild big bore, I thoroughly recommend this rifle and chambering simply for the pure joy it brings. Go on… get buying!
 

Performance

One of the finer virtues of the .444 is that it produces fairly mild recoil. Firing a 240 grain bullet at around 2350 to 2450fps, recoil is much the same as the mild mannered .35 Whelen. The recoil level of the triple four is in no way the same as that produced by a hot .45-70 or a bolt action African game cartridge. Provided technique is sound, any able bodied adult can enjoy using the stretched .44.

As a medium game cartridge loaded with a fast expanding 240 grain projectile loaded to 2450fps, the .444 Marlin can produce a hydrostatic shock reaction down to impact velocities of around 2100fps (around 90 yards). If or when this reaction occurs the .444 can be described as dramatically fast killing. Although one should never rely solely on such mechanisms or reactions due to the many variables that can affect results, it is nonetheless great to employ a cartridge which can display such benefits. That aside, the .444 boasts massive hydraulic force potential at close ranges rendering very large, fast bleeding internal wounds. Bullet weight shedding and fragmentation may be high (50% or greater) at these impact velocities, exponentiating wound potential.

Between the impact velocities of 2100fps and 1700fps (out to around 200 yards) the .444 continues to produce extremely broad and fast killing wounds. Game may attempt to run following a solid chest hit, but the dead run tends to be very short and drunken in appearance.

At impact velocities between 1600fps and 1300fps (out to around 330 yards), chest shot game may show no reaction to being hit with expanding bullets. Internal wounding may be immensely broad and death follows in due course. Both hydraulic forces and mechanical (bullet weight shedding) action remain evident but tough or adrenalized game may cover great distances, up to or greater than 100 yards during a dead run. Below 1300fps, the .44 caliber can produce slow kills (see .44 Magnum for more details on low velocity performance).

Although it is theoretically possible to achieve wide internal wounding using the .444 out to a range of 330 yards it is generally impractical to use the .444 to such ranges. The accuracy limitations of the Marlin (trigger, forend assembly) versus human limitations (field technique) versus the steep trajectory of .44 projectiles along with potentially severe wind drift each have a compounding negative effect on performance. When using an accurate rifle the .444 produces excellent results out to ranges of around 200 yards, though it can be pushed a little further.

In a bolt action rifle chambered for the likes of the .308 Winchester, I am normally inclined to suggest that readers sight their rifles 3” high at 100 yards as a means to extend the trajectory in a useful manner. But quite often the lever actions (especially big bores) group around 1.5 MOA which can greatly upset the apple cart when using the 3” rule. While it is true that many Marlin rifles do produce excellent accuracy, some caution here may be prudent. High trajectories may also be a hindrance when attempting neck shots through timber. To this end, I would suggest that when using projectiles weighing up to 240 grains the .444 is perhaps best sighted 2” high at 100 yards for a zero roughly around 170 yards and a drop of around 2 to 2.5” at 200 yards. This trajectory will also allow the shooter to make full use of the .444 in heavy timber but with enough reach for small open clearings, gullies and river flats. Heavier loads can be sighted 2.5” high at 100 yards in order to avoid a very steep trajectory. Those shooting .444 rifles are urged to properly sight in and test their rifles in order to fully understand the potential of their rifles and for the sake of humane killing. Zeroing at a range of 50 yards is simply a cop out. Understand that the .444 sighted 2” high at 100 yards will have a drop over 18” at 300 yards and may group around 6” without taking human or wind drift error into account. Learn the limitations of your rifle and then work to its strengths.

There are of course many accurate Marlin lever action rifles capable of putting three shots inside 3” at 300 yards. Those which cannot achieve this level of accuracy can sometimes be improved via bedding at the heel and toe of the forend, followed by RTV silicone bedding under the barrel to act as a harmonic dampener. There are also .444’s built on such actions as the Mosin and Enfield, tuned to deliver excellent performance. In any such rifle the shooter may wish to try extending the killing range a little further, or perhaps shoot steel out to exceptionally long ranges.

As for bullet selection, the .444 most definitely has its quirks. Although 180 to 200 grain projectiles can produce spectacular results on lighter bodied game, it is also possible to push these bullets too fast and / or to use them on game that are too large, the projectiles being pushed far beyond their design parameters. In these instances the projectiles may meet too much resistance and expend too much weight and energy during initial onside penetration. Kills can be regarded as clean, but not as spectacular as one might expect. Exit wounds may be nonexistent on larger bodied deer. Those who wish to exploit the high velocity wounding potential of lighter weight projectiles are advised to trial conventional 200 grain bullets on game no heavier (or not much heavier) than 60kg (132lb) or to utilize a core bonded bullet (e.g modified 210 grain Speer Gold Dot) for body weights up to and around 80kg (176lb).

The .444 generally performs well on lighter bodied deer when loaded with 240 grain bullets. Although conventional cup and core projectiles may shed a lot of weight at close ranges and or show delayed kills (dead runs) on lean game at moderate distances, the 240 grain weight holds the balance of all factors. The 240 grain weight can be put to use on all game weighing up to and around 150kg (330lb) but can easily be used to dispatch heavier animals such as cattle with head and neck shots.

The .444 works well on larger bodied deer when loaded with either bonded 240 grain bullets or when using heavier 260 to 300 grain projectiles of either conventional or premium designs. Having said this, those who expect the .444 to excel in all situations as a woods cartridge (e.g. Texas heart shots) must understand that expanding .430” projectiles do not boast high SD’s and therefore one cannot rely solely on the weight of these projectiles in order to achieve end to end penetration. A key strength of this cartridge is its ability to dump a very large amount of energy (high trauma) very quickly. This cartridge can however deliver excellent penetration on large bodied deer when loaded with hard cast projectiles. Such projectiles may not on the other hand produce dramatically wide wounds with rear lung shots. In loose terms, it is possible to achieve massive trauma with fair penetration (expanding) or massive penetration with fair trauma (hard cast) depending on game weights (resistance), shot placement and impact velocities. Achieving both extremely wide wounding and deep penetration can (again depending on various factors) be somewhat more difficult to achieve in a consistent manner. That is to say, like all cartridges, the .444 is not magical and it does have its limitations.

As a heavy game cartridge the .444 is adequate but must be considered a modest choice for body shots. The 1:38 twist barrels can produce good accuracy with hard cast 300 grain bullets and some produce acceptable accuracy with projectiles weighing as much as 335 grains. Those who wish to use a heavy 405 grain hard cast Beartooth bullet will need to employ a 1:20 twist bore. Note also that the heaviest hard cast projectiles are not always accommodating when it comes to hand loading (magazine feeding and cycling issues). But in a rifle that will accommodate such, a heavy weight (335 grains or more) hard cast bullet with a full Keith style meplat will generally produce excellent penetration along with a wound channel roughly 1.5” in diameter through vitals at impact velocities of around 1700fps and higher. As impact velocities fall to around 1600fps and lower, wounding deteriorates to about an inch. At 1300fps, the hydraulic force potential of a Keith style bullet is greatly limited in action. The one irony that I would mention here is that the .444 loaded with a Keith style bullet is potentially just as violent if not more so than some African cartridges loaded with round nose non expanding projectiles. Suffice to say that bullet design has a major effect on results and that there are many contradictions in this game. All of these factors aside, those who wish to use the .444 on heavy game are advised to get close and aim forward in an attempt to break locomotive tissue and bone, initiate secondary missile wounding, destroy vitals and also destroy the autonomic nerve ganglia at the front of the lungs. This is the key to fast killing if taking body shots at low velocities.
 

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Factory ammunition

Remington continue to produce their original load for the .444, but this load is now only available in limited production runs (possibly defunct following Remington’s 2020 closure). The Remington load consists of a 240 grain projectile loaded to a muzzle velocity of 2350fps. In order to aid penetration this projectile features a soft point rather than the typical wide hollow point widely utilized in the .44 Magnum. The result is a projectile which produces very fast expansion (also thanks to the generously exposed lead) and what can best be described as fair penetration. This load produces good results on light to mid weight deer species out to moderate ranges. If it is pushed too far (beyond 200 yards) the soft nose can lead to narrow wounding in comparison to a hollow point. On the other hand, should this bullet be used on tough game or large bodied deer at close ranges, there is a risk of severe weight loss during penetration. Having said this, a fragmenting .44 projectiles tends to produce very large internal wounds. Still, this should serve as a warning as to the limitations of the Remington load. This is the sort of load one typically sees from various ammunition makers in which the cartridge may very well be designed for or considered adequate for tackling tough or larger bodied game, but in reality, the majority of customers will hunt White Tail deer and so the ammunition is designed accordingly to ensure that within this role the product receives the best possible (“killed like lightning”) reviews.

Hornady currently produce two loads for the .444 Marlin, the Leverevolution 265 grain FTX loaded to 2325fps and the Superformance 265 grain flat point at 2400fps.

Many years ago Hornady produced a 265 grain flat point ‘Light Magnum’ load at 2325fps. With new powder technologies the rebranded Superformance load achieved an extra 75fps. Note that the Superformance load (including the projectile as a hand loading component) has for some years now only been available in limited production runs. As with the original Remington load, Hornady chose a flat soft point projectile in an attempt to avoid the problems that can occur when driving hollow point .44 projectiles at high velocities. Along with the flat point, additional weight was employed in order to enhance penetration. The result was a relatively fast expanding bullet that produced adequate penetration on a wide range of game. The heavy .444 soft point does nevertheless have its limitations. When used on lighter species of deer, the flat point can produce limited trauma (long dead runs) at lower impact velocities. At 150 yards, the flat point is down into the mid 1700fps range where a hollow point might prove more effective. On the other hand, the weight, construction and SD of the 265 grain pill does not make it ideally suited to heavy game. Instead, the 265 grain Interlock could best be described as a useful close range medium game projectile, capable of tackling small to larger bodied deer from most but not all angles.   

The FTX is a bit of a strange duck. The FTX is designed with a pointed ogive and rubber tip in order to enhance external ballistics but without causing detonation when stacked in tube loading rifles. The ogive of the FTX is heavily notched in order to promote rapid expansion while the thick SST style jacket is designed to aid penetration. The result is a load that dumps its energy in the most violent and rapid manner. The FTX is not a deep penetrating load. For those wanting a woods load for deer where shots have to be taken at varying angles, this bullet will secure game via major destruction of what it initially encounters rather than through deep penetration. When used in this manner, the FTX works extremely well. On large bodied game the heavily notched ogive sometimes works at cross purposes with its heavy jacket. At close ranges the FTX does indeed produce rapid expansion and initial wounding is fearsome to say the very least. But the thick jacket can at times fail to swage back against the body of the bullet, acting like a parachute. When this occurs the core generally separates, leaving the jacket far behind. This form of mass shedding (actually fragmentation when considering core break down) can be highly useful on lean game, but tends to limit penetration on large bodied animals. At longer distances (below 1600fps or beyond 200 yards) performance of the FTX can at times be rather modest due to the fact that the heavy jacket can limit wounding potential, though penetration is generally good at such ranges. Taking all of these factors into account, I would suggest that the 265 grain FTX does its best work when used on White Tail sized deer at close to moderate ranges. These comments also apply directly to the .450 Bushmaster 250 grain FTX load.
 

Hand loading

Brass for the .444 can be sourced from spent factory ammunition or purchased new from the likes of Starline and Hornady. Hand loaders must take note however, that brass sourced from once fired Hornady Leverevolution ammunition is short at 2.065”, compared to 2.250” for regular brass (including Hornady flat point ammunition). The short Leverevolution brass was designed to accommodate the long rubber tipped bullet. By the same token, those who wish to use either the 225 or 265 grain FTX projectiles will need to utilize the shorter 2.065 OAL.

Powders are another somewhat tricky affair. The Marlin is a strong rifle but the .444 is only rated to 42,000psi so some care must be taken. Having said this, the current reloading manuals as well as most published articles make absolutely no mention of high bulk density fast burning powders suitable for experimentation with lighter weight projectiles. Instead, all that one finds are references to the 4198 burn rate which is too bulky, handicapping the .444 (again light bullets) by at least 200fps. To this end, I would suggest that Hodgdon / IMR 4227 (ADI2205) is optimal for 180 to 225 grain bullets. I will not share my own notes on this subject but will state that the only spark of possible supporting evidence I can find for the use of a high BD / fast burn rate powder appears in the Speer #12 reloading manual. The manual gives a minimum load of 39 grains and a maximum load of 41 grains behind a 240 grain Speer bullet. Readers can easily interpolate this data by adding or subtracting 1 grain of powder per 10 grains bullet weight. As an example, a hand loader wishing to use the 210 grain Speer (an excellent performer on lighter bodied deer species) can start at 42 grains of 4227.

Hodgdon or IMR 4198 (ADI 2207) along with Reloader 7 are optimal for bullets weighing 240 grains and heavier, though with the 240 grain pills, loads are compressed. I have also found that it is possible to employ a large rifle magnum primer (fed 215) rather than a regular large rifle primer in order to help speed up the 4198 burn rate ever so slightly in order to achieve higher velocities (75fps) with 240 grain projectiles. This may however cause dangerous pressures in some rifles if using maximum powder charges, I therefore cannot condone or recommend the practice of using a magnum primer. This information is not to be treated as advice and merely reflects my own personal experience.

When loading hard cast bullets weighing over 300 grains there is some merit to using a slightly slower burn rate such as H322 (ADI 2219). The trouble is, long projectiles also take up a great deal of powder space and one can easily end up in compressed load territory. Still, this powder can produce excellent performance. 

The triple four does not need a long barrel in order to achieve full speeds due to the very fast burning powders. 20” is about optimal with a velocity loss of around 25fps per inch of barrel docked below this point. From the 22” barrel of the current Marlin rifles, top velocities for the .444 include 2800fps with the 180 grain XTP, 2650fps with 200 grain bullets, 2600fps with 210 grain projectiles, 2550fps with 225 grain projectiles, 2450fps with 240 grain bullets, 2400fps with the (now obsolete) 250 grain Partition, 2300fps with 265-270 grain bullets, 2200fps with the 270 grain Speer and 280 grain Swift and 2100fps using 300 grain bullets. As for heavy cast bullets, a 335 grain projectile can be driven at around 1950fps, a 350 grain at around 1900fps and the 405 grain at around 1800fps.

In my experience the open sights of the Marlin lever action rifle are regulated for slow and heavy loads and cannot in any way be adjusted to even partially suit light and fast hand loads. Hunters wanting to utilize light projectiles must either fit an aperture rear sight or mount a scope. Many hunters would consider a 4 power scope to be suitable for this cartridge however a vary power scope mounted on the .444 Marlin rifle is very practical for precise shot placement on game between 150 and 200 yards.

Current reloading options from Hornady include the 180 grain XTP, the 200 grain XTP, the 225 grain FTX, the 265 grain FTX and the 300 grain XTP.

Unfortunately, both the 180 and 200 grain XTP tend to produce ho hum results at close ranges. Upon impact, rather than displaying hydostatic shock, these projectiles may meet too much resistance (surface water tension) in such a way that the target overcomes the initial energy dump of the bullet. Following this, the XTP projectiles go on to produce broad internal wounding through vitals. But after passing through vitals, the remaining fragments quickly run out of steam. Exit wounds are therefore generally nonexistent. Both of the XTP’s produce good internal bleeding but neither are spectacular in action, with shots sometimes resulting in dead runs without any blood trails to follow. Some ‘experts’ state 180 to 200 grain projectiles cannot be used at all, conjuring images of shallow flesh wounds. These would also be the same authors that state that the latest plastic tipped 95 grain .243 ammo is the best new thing for deer and that 140 grain 6.5 Creedmoor ammo is well suited to Moose. Back on earth, I have in practice found that while both the 180 and 200 grain XTP do shed a lot of weight and are not ideally suited to the .444, the results are not disastrous and there are some light weight projectiles which can actually work quite well in the .444 (See Speer).

The 225 grain FTX is another bullet that works best over a load of 4227. Although not ideally suited to the .444, it can be put to use on lighter bodied game. Expect moderate rather than spectacular results.

On light or lean bodied game the 240 grain XTP driven at 2450fps is a fast emphatic killer, perhaps the fastest killing bullet of all available .430” caliber projectiles. In the .444, the 240 grain XTP is suitable for light to medium weight game for all shots bar tail on. Unfortunately, the muzzle velocity of 2450fps is simply too fast for deep penetration using the 240 grain XTP and it is not until this projectile drops down to below 2000fps (beyond 100 yards) that it is able to achieve optimum penetration.

From a muzzle velocity of  2450fps the 240 grain XTP may produce a hydrostatic shock reaction and instant collapse on chest shots down to an impact velocity of 2100fps (90 yards). Between the velocity range of 2100 to 2450fps wounding is immensely broad but on heavily built large boned animals bullet blow up may be a problem.

Between 2100fps and 1600fps (90 to 230 yards) medium game hit in the chest with the XTP react in a drunken manner and do not travel far from the point of the shot. Both penetration and wounding are excellent between these velocity parameters. As previously stated, the heavily curved trajectory of the .444 makes shooting beyond 200 yards very difficult - suffice to say that inside 200 yards and with suitable shot placement, the 240 grain XTP is highly effective at anchoring light to midweight deer species. Yes, the XTP does shed a lot of weight at close ranges and it will often flatten out like a flapjack but these factors tend to aid rather than inhibit wound generation. The 240 grain XTP has its limitations, but should by the same token never be underestimated. 

Having already discussed the performance of the 265 grain FTX factory ammunition, there is little more to be said here. All that can be suggested is that the hunter maintains realistic expectations. The FTX has both its strengths and limitations.

The 300 grain XTP is another good projectile albeit with its own limitations. Like the 240 grain XTP, the heavier pill produces excellent wounding and works well on light through to mid weight deer species. But when used on larger bodied deer, both can suffer excessive stress at close ranges. The behavior of the 300 grain XTP (and 240 grain) settles at around 1700fps (60 yards). In plain terms, changes in impact velocity have a dramatic effect on the XTP and how far it can penetrate. To this end, while the 300 grain XTP is adequate for larger bodied deer, it cannot be described as ideal for brush hunting such game.

Sierra projectiles include the 180 grain JHC, the 210 grain JHC, the 240 grain JHC, the 250 grain FPJ and the 300 grain JSP.

Unfortunately the 180 grain JHC is a somewhat too light for optimum performance. Like the 180 grain XTP, the JHC produces good internal wounding on lean game but kills are sometimes delayed and blood trails non existent, essentially under utilizing the .444. The 210 grain JHC fairs somewhat better and can be put to good use on game weighing no more that 60kg (132lb), though it comes into its own at around 2200fps (75 yards). 

The 240 grain JHC is a good all rounder for light to medium weight deer species. This projectile sheds a lot of weight and can flatten out or shed its core, all of which leads to massive hydraulic and mechanical wounding action. Like the 240 grain XTP, this will generally exit lighter species. One could perhaps argue that this weight shedding is a bad thing, yet to do so would be to write off the entire line of Gameking rifle bullets which are based on this very principle and have been used to take countless numbers of deer worldwide over many decades. A wiser description would be that in the .444, the 240 grain Sierra works well, but has some limitations.

The 250 grain JFP was designed for silhouette shooting but as Sierra state, this flat point bullet can be used as a hunting projectile. The jacket of the JFP extends all the way to the tip of the bullet, having no exposed lead at the ogive. The tip of the jacket is then rolled over and swaged into the lead core, giving this projectile much the same appearance as a Norma Vulkan. The final form also gives a slight dish to the meplat. The change in both weight (SD) and construction in comparison to lighter weight projectiles provides a somewhat more controlled (or more succinctly - delayed) action. The 250 grain Sierra can produce nervous trauma, a measure of weight shedding and fair penetration offering a little more insurance if compared to the XTP. The 250 grain Sierra is an excellent choice for the .444 and can tackle larger bodied deer weighing up to and above 150kg (330lb) with relative ease. 

Sierra’s 300 grain JSP is to the .444 like Indian tonic is to Gin. The heavy jacket and high antimony core work just about perfectly with regards to expansion and wounding versus weight retention and penetration. The 300 grain JSP is infinitely better suited to the .444 than the .44 and is an excellent choice for large bodied deer. The 300 grain Sierra does nevertheless have three limitations. The first is that may not always dump energy on light or lean bodied game so it cannot be called an all-around projectile. The second is that due to its construction it tends to cleave to its energy (slow to expand) at lower impact velocities (below 1700fps) and may therefore produce narrow wounds on larger bodied deer if longer shots are taken. The third factor is that it has a narrow meplat so it cannot deliver large amounts of hydraulic force in lieu of expansion. The 300 grain JSP does however fill a niche. This projectile works best when it is loaded hot and used at close ranges on large bodied deer. Readers should note that the cannelure of this bullet is not situated correctly for the .444 (COAL will be too long). Those wishing to utilize the cannelure will need to trim brass by 1.3mm (.050”). Hot rodders may on the other hand prefer to simply load to compression (keeping within safe load recommendations) and crimp to the body.

Speer offers a range of projectiles which can be put to great use in the.444. The current offerings include the 200 grain Gold Dot Personal Protection (deep hollow point), the 210 grain Gold Dot Personal Protection (shallow dish shaped hollow point), the 240 grain Gold Dot Deep Curl Hunting hollow point (shallow dish shaped hollow point), the 240 grain Deep Curl Hunting soft point and the 270 grain Deep Curl Hunting soft point.

As mentioned in the .44 Magnum text the 200 grain Gold Dot is designed for use in the .44 Special. Although this projectile can be put to good use in the .44 Magnum it is pushed to the extremes in the .444, regardless of its core bonding. Nevertheless, it can be used on very light species of game.

Fun with the Speer line up begins with the 210 grain Gold Dot. In a slower cartridge the shallow dish hollow point can sometimes cleave to its energy, producing rather dull results. But in the .444 the shallow dish and core bonding offer significant advantages.  Loaded in the .444 the 210 grain Gold Dot can produce a good balance of wounding versus penetration. Those who wish to use the .444 on lighter bodied deer species should not overlook this option.

The 240 grain Speer Deep Curl hollow point is a more complex design (relative to its merits in the .444). From a muzzle velocity of 2450fps the 240 grain DCHP does not produce hydrostatic shock on lighter species of deer at close ranges and animals often show no sign of a hit before taking flight. Those who wish to use this bullet on such game may wish to hollow point the Speer, as discussed in the .44 Magnum text. In most cases this modification will help to promote hydrostatic shock, producing results (speed of killing) similar to that obtained when using the 240 grain XTP. Alternatively as is sometimes the case, the modified DCHP will cause a drunken reaction with death following shortly after. The altered 240 grain DCHP does not give deeper penetration than the 240 grain XTP but it does not suffer any major risk of bullet blow up if encountering dense bone on some larger species. It is worth noting that a form of petal loss occurs with the 240 grain DCHP whether modified or unaltered. The result of this can be seen among the small satellite exit wounds through offside ribs. This does not seem to have any major negative effect on performance.

Whether left alone or altered, the 240 grain DCHP is far superior to conventional bullet designs when used on game weighing between 90 and 150kg (200 to 330lb). Unaltered, the DCHP can be used on large bodied deer weighing up to 320kg (700lb). Used in this manner the Gold Dot will handle shots from all angles bar tail on, though it will often reach through and destroy liver tissue. As a further means to enhance penetration with an added measure of insurance, one can adopt the 240 grain soft point variant of this projectile. Whether using the unaltered hollow point or soft point on large bodied deer (Red, Mule, Caribou), aim to break bone in order to achieve fast kills. 

The 270 grain Gold Dot soft point was designed primarily for the .444. The soft rather than hollow nose combined with the heavy weight and core bonding each help the GD to achieve optimal performance. When used on light or lean animals, expansion is slow and the 270 grain DG will not produce any immediate trauma, nor will animals move off in a drunken manner. These factors aside, wounding is fair thanks to the wide frontal area and eventual expansion regardless of the initial delay. Still, hunting light game with the 270 grain Speer tends to be an under utilization of the .444. By contrast, the GD is an excellent chose for woods / bush hunting Sambar, Elk and Moose and brings out the strengths of the .444.  The .270 grain Speer can tackle large bodied deer from all angles bar tail on.

Nosler currently produce four very basic cup and core projectiles including a 200 grain JHP, a 240 grain JHP, a 240 grain JSP and a 300 grain JHP. From these less than exciting options, the 300 grain JHP has some merit for use on larger bodied animals such as Red and Mule Deer. The omission of skives on this projectile can help to aid penetration, although the .444 does put this projectile under a good measure of stress. 

Swift options include the 240, 280 and 300 grain A-Frame hollow point projectiles. Each can be used with great success in the .444.

The 240 grain A-Frame can easily tackle medium weight deer without any risk of blow up due to its core bonded portioned design. The generous hollow point also helps to initiate immediate expansion. An altogether excellent choice for the .444.

The 280 and 300 grain A-Frames also have great merit in the .444. As much as a flat point can be useful as a means to help control the rate of expansion when hunting larger bodied game, a soft point can at times cleave to its energy at lower impact velocities or should the projectile fail to strike bone. Without this initial energy dump, game can at times react slowly to the shot. This energy dump, can to some extent, come at the expense of some level of penetration but the trade off can prove worthwhile. One of the downsides of big bores loaded with tough premium projectiles is that these generally have a small performance window. The option to use hollow points is one of the wonderful and rare virtues of the .444. A heavy hollow point is not the ideal choice for heavy African game but the 270 and 300 grain A-Frames work extremely well on lesser animals.

Barnes currently produce 200 and 225 grain XPB projectiles. Both are designed for the .44 Magnum yet both tend to display better performance in the .444. These projectiles are as long as conventional 300 grain pills. In the .44 Magnum the Barnes take up too much powder space, the low speeds combined with slow twist rates (Marlin rifles) producing terrible accuracy. Terminal performance can also be found wanting at lower impact velocities. The large case volume of the .444 can help to ease some of these issues. Having said this, handloaders won’t find much joy (velocities) in using regular H4189 burn rate powders. In order to obtain acceptable speeds the 4227 burn rate is a better option. Loaded in this manner the Barnes bullets produce acceptable results. Petal loss is to be expected at .444 impact velocities however wounds are broad with good penetration on large bodied deer.

At this time of writing there are several companies offering hard cast projectiles. Among these, Beartooth stand out with their 335, 350 and 405 grain options. Each are true Keith style designs boasting huge meplats, minimal expansion and deep penetration. At impact velocities over 1700fps wound channels are on average 4 x the bullet diameter due to the hydraulic action produced by the massive flat points. As mentioned in the .44 Magnum text, the key when using such designs is to get close and aim to break bone. But it should also go without saying that the velocities produced by the .444 add an extra dimension to this performance, the higher velocity enhancing wounding effects. There is a slight irony here in that a .416 loaded with a round nosed solid may not produce either deeper penetration or wider wounding than a .444 loaded in this manner. Suffice it to say that while the .444 may have some limitations, it should never be underestimated. Those who wish to use the .444 on heavy game will find a cast Keith style flat point to be the best choice. But do take care to choose a projectile or casting material that is neither too soft nor too hard (brittle). Beartooth Bullets provide some excellent info on this subject which can be found on their website.
 

Closing comments

The .444 Marlin is blessed with several virtues. It can be loaded with a hollow point projectile in order to achieve a massive energy dump or loaded with tough flat points capable of achieving exceptionally deep penetration. These fine virtues aside, the .444 is not without its idiosyncrasies. Those who have limited hunting experience may be lulled into the idea that accuracy and shot placement are of less importance when using the big boomers. In reality, this cartridge like any other; does its very best work in an accurate rifle and in the hands of a person who is willing to put some effort onto range work and ammunition selection. It is when all of these factors come together that the magic show finally begins.

 

Suggested loads: .444 Marlin

Barrel length: 22”

No

ID

 

Sectional Density

Ballistic Coefficient

Observed  MV Fps

ME

Ft-lb’s

1

FL

265gr FTX

.205

.225

2325

3180

2

HL

210gr Speer GDHP

.163

.154

2600

3151

3

HL

240gr XTP / Speer DCHP

.185

.205

2450

3198

4

HL

300gr A-Frame

.232

.147

2100

2937

5

HL

405gr Beartooth

.314

.200

1800

2913

 

Suggested sight settings and bullet paths 

 

 

 

1

Yards

50

100

160

185

200

225

 

Bt. path

1.1

2

0

-2

-3.5

-6.7

2

Yards

50

100

168

194

225

250

 

Bt. path

1

2

0

-2

-5.8

-9.9

3

Yards

50

100

166

192

225

250

 

Bt. path

1.1

2

0

-2

-5.7

-9.5

4

Yards

50

100

149

172

200

225

 

Bt. path

1.75

2.5

0

-2.5

-7.2

-12.8

5

Yards

50

100

133

152

175

200

 

Bt. path

1.9

2

0

-2

-5.5

-10.6

 

Sight height 1.6” (scope).

 

No

At yards

10mphXwind

Velocity

Ft-lb’s

1

200

8.5

1652

1606

2

200

11.4

1593

1183

3

200

8.8

1694

1528

4

200

16

1229

1005

5

100

3.2

1470

1944

 

444 Marlin final

.444 Marlin

Imperial

Metric 

A

.514

13.06

B

.469

11.93

C

.455

11.6

D

2.225

56.52

Max Case

2.225

56.52

Trim length

2.215

56.3

 

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