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Bottleneck Advice


Doc Altman SASS#74468
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I'm thinking of adding a rifle to my cart.  I've been shooting SASS for a decade, but last year decided to start shooting Frontier Cartridge Gunfighter and I've really enjoyed it.  My only rifle is one of Cody Conagher's 73s in .38/.357.  While it works just fine, I've wanted to get another rifle for a while so I at least have a back up.  I've started toying with the idea of getting one of the old bottleneck cartridges (32-20, 38-40, or 44-40) because I understand that they seal the chamber much better and prevent blow-by into the chamber and action.  Too, I enjoy reloading and think one of these would be a lot of fun to tinker with.  I'm probably leaning toward a 38-40.  Anyone have any advice on which caliber or anything to offer?

 

Thank you all!

 

--Doc Altman

Edited by Doc Altman SASS#74468
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My advice would be to opt for 44-40.  Easier to find rifles and components for the 44-40.  Also easier to find handguns chambered in 44-40 (if you want the convenience of having everything in the same caliber.)  Of course if you really want a 38-40 or 32-20 don't let me stop you.

Edited by July Smith
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I cast, load, and shoot both 38-40 and 44-40,  and love them both.  They have surprisingly different personalities for being based on the same cartridge (you can re size either to the other and it'll work) . I've found 38-40 to definitely be a little finickier (or maybe it's that the guns are little less forgiving), but still a fun round to load once it's dialed in. 44-40 does tend to have more availability, both in guns and reloading components. Therefore my suggestion is start with 44-40, and pick up anything 38-40 you find along the way. By the time you're ready for 38-40, you'll have what you need. You are in for a great time! 

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If you're going to shoot the same ammo in several guns, check in all the guns to make sure it fits.  I went through this a couple of times. Just had a rifle and everything worked fine. Then added Smoke Wagons and ammo loaded for rifle wouldn't always fit in handguns. The shoulder had to be pushed back more.  Then Sawmill Mary got a set of 44WCF Smoke Wagons and the ammo wouldn't fit in it.  Ammo for my guns would take 430 diameter bullets but the throats on her 44WCF would only take 428.  Started loading everything with 428 bullets to work in any gun. 

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I love my 38-40 for BP.  It shoots soooo much cleaner with BP than my 45 with smokeless.  The carrier seldom needs more than a casual swabbing after 10 stages.  I only clean the barrel on Saturday night at a 2 day shoot.  I use big lube bullets and Goex (or equivalent).

It took some learning to get the loading process up to speed, but not a big deal.  It was one of the first cartridges I learned when I started reloading.

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I just checked my database and was a little surprised to find .38-40's, rifle & pistol, outnumber any other single chambering in my CAS guns - .44-40 is fourth.

 

Uberti rifles are a little short throated, and many bullets will hit the rifling before the round is fully chambered. Also, as mentioned above, most sizer dies won't push the shoulder back quite far enough on .38-40's, but it's an easy thing to take a few thousandths off the bottom of the die in a lathe or even some careful grinding with a Dremel tool.

 

One universal thing about the dash calibers is the thin necks, and a small bump on the mouth of the sizer die going in is going to crumple a .38-40 or .44-40, whereas a .45 Colt will just wince a little and say, "THANK YOU SIR, MAY I HAVE ANOTHER". :lol: Due to the thin necks, it's also very easy to over-crimp and bulge the case sufficiently that it won't chamber.

 

Like Warden Callaway, I went to .428" bullets in .44-40 too, because .429's drag a little when chambering in some guns. I use 165's from Badman Bullets in .44-40, or 160's cast from a cut down Lee 200 grain mold, and a 160 grainer from an Accurate Molds mold in .38-40.

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38-40 is my caliber of choice. I shoot 140 gr in revolvers and 180 gr in my rifles. Wonderful cartridge.  Early on I did have to grind on resizing die to set the shoulder back slightly.

 

Guess I will add what I have in that caliber.  1866 carbine, 1873 carbine, 1873 short rifle, sold an 1873 24" rifle, original Colt Lighting rifle, 3 pair of revolvers, ruger vaqueros, smoke wagons and USFA cowboys, sold pair of Yagers.

Edited by Cowtown Scout, SASS #53540 L
added firearms list
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Howdy

 

I have been shooting 44-40 in my rifles since day one in CAS. Exclusively with Black Powder for the last 20 years or so.

 

First off, it is not the bottleneck that causes 44-40 or 38-40 to seal the chamber better than 45 Colt.

 

It is because the brass is thinner at the case mouth. 44-40 and 38-40 brass usually runs around .007 thick at the case mouth. 45 Colt usually runs around .012 thick at the case mouth. So the thinner brass of 44-40 or 38-40 expands to seal the chamber better at the relatively low pressures our ammo is loaded to. Fouling and soot have no problem getting past the bottleneck design of these cartridges, it is the thin brass at the case mouth that seals the chamber.

 

So, because of the thinner brass at the case mouth, it is also easier to crush a cartridge, or bulge it when loading 44-40, or 38-40. Some folks think these cartridges are difficult to reload. I just think they are fussy. If your dies are not set up perfectly with 45 Colt, and the brass folds over not quite properly into the crimp groove, with 45 Colt the thicker brass will bulldoze its way into the bullet and crimp anyway. Not so with 44-40 or 38-40. If your dies are not set perfectly that thin brass may crumple as it bumps into the lead at the end of the crimp groove. I find the secret is to run my progressive press a little bit slower than if I was loading 45 Colt. If a shell is not perfectly centered on the shell plate, by running a little bit slower, I can feel the bottom of the die strike the shell. So I stop immediately and reposition the shell in the shell plate.

 

Anyway, I have been loading 44-40 for a long time, but a few years ago I picked up an original Winchester 1873 chambered for 38-40. Figuring the powder capacity would be the same (both 44-40 and 38-40 are made from the same basic brass, one is just necked down further), I went ahead and loaded a bunch of 38-40 with my standard Black Powder charge that I use for 44-40. When I went to fire the first round, the round jammed at the mouth of the chamber and would not chamber all the way. After much gnashing of teeth I got the round out, and used a 44-40 rifle, with 44-40 ammo for the match.

 

What had happened was when seating the bullet, it had to compress the powder more than my normal 44-40 ammo. So as the bullet was seated, the soft lead bullet expanded a little bit. Just enough that the case mouth had expanded and the ammo would no chamber in the old Winchester.

 

So the moral of the story is I now put in a little bit less powder into a 38-40 case than I do with 44-40. This means the bullet is compressing the powder the same amount, and there is no swelling of the soft lead bullet.

 

So, when you are setting up to reload either 44-40 or 38-40, be sure you are putting in enough powder so the bullet will compress the powder by about 1/16" - 1/8". No more or you might wind up with ammo that will not chamber all the way.

 

 

 

P.S. I too went to .428 for all my 44-40 rifles. Some have a groove diameter of .427, some have a groove diameter of .429. .428 bullets fill up the grooves of my .429 groove diameter Henry just fine.

 

Edited by Driftwood Johnson, SASS #38283
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I've been shooting the 38W.C.F for a number of years.  I have 4 revolvers in that caliber.  2 Colts and 2 Ubertis.  I have a '73 rifle (24") and just recently got a '73 Short Rifle (20").  Any 44W.C.F that I find in my brass at the end of the day, I just neck 'em down in my LEE 38-40 sizer die and they're ready to go.  Some times I'll crease one that I'm trying to resize, but not too often.  The 38W.C.F. cartridge is great with black powder (FFg) and that is all I use in them.  Except for the Colts, all the guns are from Cimarron (importer).  The Short Rifle is from Cimarron but was purchased through Buds Gun Shop.  Brass can be hard to come by.  I had a lot of brass from before the pandemic but just recently purchased some more from Starline.  I've always toyed with the idea of the 32-20.  If I had a lot of expendable cash I would get some of those.  I did see a 32-20 '73 on Buds but I'm sure it's long gone.  I may be wrong, but it seems that Cimarron is the only one who imports 32-20.  I'm sure someone will correct me it I'm wrong.

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9 minutes ago, German Jim said:

...  I may be wrong, but it seems that Cimarron is the only one who imports 32-20.  I'm sure someone will correct me it I'm wrong.

Dixie still carries some 32-20's.

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I shoot 32-20 myself. It's a fun little cartridge to shoot, and loading isn't an issue on a progressive press as long as you slip a lubed case in the resizing die every 5-6 cases. I have a Uberti 1873, Browning 53, and an original 1906 Winchester '92 in rifle, and a pair of Taylor Cattleman pistols in 32-20. Brass and bullets can still be found.

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I always pull a cyl from a pistol & check all my reloads before I shoot them.

                                                                                                                                      Largo

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One thing about reloading these cartridges is if the case mouth is deformed it must be straightened before you resize the case. Unlike straight wall cases, the sizing and belling dies will not correct the deformation. When you attempt to seat the bullet the case mouth will wrinkle.

 

Make yourself a tapered mandrel to push the case mouth over before resizing when you find one that is deformed.

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Sedalia: My tapered mandrel is a 338 win mag cartridge. KISS

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I shoot both .32-20 and .44-40.   Both are good calibers for all the reasons you stated in the original post.

.44-40 components, and guns, are much easier to find than .32-20, it seems, so that might be a factor in deciding which way to go.   Of course, .32-20 bullets are much less heavy than .44-40 bullets, so when you can find them, the cost per bullet is usually quite a bit less.   Brass seems to be a wash price wise, but finding .32-20 brass is much more difficult.   (Bullets have not been easy for me to find either of late.)  

As far as guns go...

 

My .32-20's...

1 Winchester 73.

1 Winchester 92

1 Colt Lightning

2 First Generation Colt SAA

2 First Generation Colt Bisley

1 Third Generation Colt SAA

 

My .44-40's

 

1 Uberti Henry

1 Uberti 66

1 AWA Lightning

1 Colt Lightning

1 1st Generation Colt SAA

1 Merwin & Hulbert 

1 S&W New Model 3

1 3rd Generation Colt SAA

2 Uberti SAA Clones

2 Colt Sheriff's Models

1 Colt Bubtline

 

In other words, finding guns in .32-20 seems to be easier with originals than with reproductions.   I understand that they exist, but I have not personally seen much in that caliber in reproduction guns.   .44-40's, original and reproduction, can be found fairly easy.   Reproductions cost less than real Colts/Winchesters.  Take that with a grain of salt.

 

Good luck with it all.

 

 

 

 

 

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5 hours ago, largo casey #19191 said:

I always pull a cyl from a pistol & check all my reloads before I shoot them.

                                                                                                                                      Largo

+1 on this. I learned the hard way once on the firing line. I check every 32-20 I reload by dropping each one in a pistol cylinder before the cartridge box. I also use a separate crimp die and not rely on the seat die for it.

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15 minutes ago, High Spade Mikey Wilson said:

+1 on this. I learned the hard way once on the firing line. I check every 32-20 I reload by dropping each one in a pistol cylinder before the cartridge box. I also use a separate crimp die and not rely on the seat die for it.

 

Plus one for this.

With both .32-20 and .44-40, I was having "issues" with the loaded cartridges properly chambering.   I stopped trying to seat and crimp with the same die, and seated with the one and got a Lee factory crimp die to crimp with and the problems went away.

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Yep I also use a seperate crimp die.1 bad round can screw up a perfectly great match.

                                                                                                                                                              Largo

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A few people have recommended .44-40 already and they're right. I have a Winchester 32-20 I shoot sometimes, and it's a lot of fun, but brass is hard to find (both to buy and once it's on the ground), and it's a bit finicky to handload -- nothing insurmountable, but you get the occasional crushed neck, etc., and generally it just takes more attention.

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2 hours ago, Oddnews SASS# 24779 said:

A few people have recommended .44-40 already and they're right. I have a Winchester 32-20 I shoot sometimes, and it's a lot of fun, but brass is hard to find (both to buy and once it's on the ground), and it's a bit finicky to handload -- nothing insurmountable, but you get the occasional crushed neck, etc., and generally it just takes more attention.

I had the occasional 32-20 crushed neck problem as my expander die just wasn't working the way it should with a limited amount of adjustment in my LNL press. I purchased a universal expander die that has two different inserts to handle .17 cal. up to 50 cal. It works great and I haven't had a crushed neck seating bullets since. 

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22 hours ago, Sedalia Dave said:

One thing about reloading these cartridges is if the case mouth is deformed it must be straightened before you resize the case. Unlike straight wall cases, the sizing and belling dies will not correct the deformation. When you attempt to seat the bullet the case mouth will wrinkle.

 

Make yourself a tapered mandrel to push the case mouth over before resizing when you find one that is deformed.

 

I bought one of these from Smokestack for my 38-40 brass, and have had really good luck with it.

 

No photo description available.

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4 hours ago, High Spade Mikey Wilson said:

I purchased the Lee Universal Expander die.

download.jpg.c8719c47ad2841cf99941ff51cf8f9fc.jpg

 

This, but I only use it when I have an out-of-round case mouth that I find before I resize/de-prime.  I'll take the case and push it into the die by hand to get the case mouth round.  I let my LEE powder through die do the expander work when I drop my black powder charge.

 

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On 11/17/2022 at 9:38 AM, largo casey #19191 said:

I always pull a cyl from a pistol & check all my reloads before I shoot them.

 

Great advice if you are shooting these rounds in a revolver.

 

But I am shooting them in rifles, so there is no cylinder to use as a cartridge gauge.

 

I do VERY CAREFULLY run the first four or five 44-40 rounds through my 1860 Henry to make sure everything is OK. Not the entire run of rounds, just the first four or five. (Yeah, I shoulda done that with those 38-40 rounds that caused a problem)

 

Here is my set up for loading 45 Colt. In the background is a 45 Colt conversion cylinder for one of my 1858 Remingtons. I use it as a cartridge gauge for 45 Colt because the chambers are more tightly toleranced than any of my other 45 Colt revolvers. I know if a round drops right into the conversion cylinder, it will drop into any of the 45 Colt cylinders from any of my other revolvers. Any round that does not drop into the chambers of this cylinder will be run though the crimp die again to squeeze down the crimp a little bit more, so it will drop into the conversion cylinder.

 

plbVRDyAj

 

 

 

 

Here is my setup for loading 44-40. 44-40 brass that has been fired before will sometimes have the neck squashed a little bit if somebody stepped on it before they picked it up. The dummy 50BMG round is the tool I use to unsquash a squashed neck. I stick the bullet end of the 50BMG into the case neck and smoosh it around a bit. Experience has taught me that the neck does not have to be perfectly round the, expander die will take care of that. As long as the round is reasonably round at the case mouth, the expander die can enter and re-round it. If the case mouth has a hard crease where somebody stepped on it, I throw it away. Only slightly out of round case mouths are used.

 

poGWMNERj

 

 

 

 

Here is another little secret. Because 44-40 brass is so thin at the case mouth, it will sometimes develop cracks at the case mouth. My rule of thumb is if a crack is present, and it is not longer than 1/16", I go ahead and load that puppy again. If the crack is longer than 1/16", I discard the round. Been doing this for a long long time, and so far no problems, even with short little cracks at the case mouth.

Edited by Driftwood Johnson, SASS #38283
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1 hour ago, Driftwood Johnson, SASS #38283 said:

...But I am shooting them in rifles, so there is no cylinder to use as a cartridge gauge....

 

...Here is another little secret. Because 44-40 brass is so thin at the case mouth, it will sometimes develop cracks at the case mouth. My rule of thumb is if a crack is present, and it is not longer than 1/16", I go ahead and load that puppy again. If the crack is longer than 1/16", I discard the round. Been doing this for a long long time, and so far no problems, even with short little cracks at the case mouth.

Driftwood, with all your cool guns I am surprised you don't own a 44-40 pistol!

 

Since you are loading BP only, a little crack here or there should be no problem since the bullet can't push further into the case.

 

 

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I have, and have owned, a number of Winchester 73s and 92s in .32 and .38 WCF.

My input is:

- only shoot bp or sub-BP in a .38 WCF in a 73.

- I do shoot light smokeless loads in .32 Win 73 since the powder charge is less and the steel around the chamber is thicker than a .38 or .44.

- 92s can handle any standard load in .32, .38 or .44 WCF

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THink it is a very common misconception that "Bottle Necked" Cartridges like 44-40 seal the chamber better than straight walled because they are bottle-necked.  I suspect the real reason they seal the chamber better is the brass is really thin compared to say .38 Spec/.357 mag, 44 spec/44 mag or .45 colt.  44-40 is so soft and pliable one can straighten dinged case mouths with ones finger.  If it were the bottle neck sealing the chamber on would expect sooty necks, when I shoot 44-40 my necks come out clean.

As to strength of the 92 they are routinely chambered in 44 mag and other high pressure cartriges.

 

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5 minutes ago, Cpt Dan Blodgett, SASS #75655 said:

THink it is a very common misconception that "Bottle Necked" Cartridges like 44-40 seal the chamber better than straight walled because they are bottle-necked.  I suspect the real reason they seal the chamber better is the brass is really thin compared to say .38 Spec/.357 mag, 44 spec/44 mag or .45 colt.  44-40 is so soft and pliable one can straighten dinged case mouths with ones finger.  If it were the bottle neck sealing the chamber on would expect sooty necks, when I shoot 44-40 my necks come out clean.

As to strength of the 92 they are routinely chambered in 44 mag and other high pressure cartriges.

 

I don’t know the reasons why but the carrier my 73 in 38-40 using APP is almost spotless after a monthly, my 38 Special with smokeless is filthy after the same number of rounds. I should have switched a long time ago. 

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I check all my rounds with a 38-40 case gauge.  I think I got it from Midway.  

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I shoot 44-40, have a '73 clone, a Vaquero and a Smoke Wagon as well. The replies seem to address or mirror my experience. 

 

The only thing I could add is if you intend on shooting Wild bunch at all, it's nice to have a spare that can double for another discipline. 

 

The shoulder setback on the 44-40 is a bit convoluted, if you load on a single stage and set the FL die the standard 1/4 or 1/3 past, you may not have any issues. With a progressive like the Dillon 550 I use, the preferred method seems to be to have no more than light contact. With a Dillon 550 it's also important to use the correct "N" shellplate. It's tempting to just use the 45 Colt "C", which will work, but it doesn't match the standard 0.125" for shellholders. 

 

Shortening the die is an option, but you will go through the surface hardening and getting a nice bell at the bottom can be a bit challenging, not impossible, just a bit challenging. Not all dies set the shoulder back to the same spot, you may end up buying several to find the "right" one for you.

 

32-20 is well established in folklore, even a song about it, "32-20 Blues" 

 

 

I will own a 32-20 rifle someday, I've already got brass, bullets and dies. Just need a rifle. The 32-20 is so powerful and dangerous in a handgun that owning a 32-20 handgun in Canada has been prohibited for years. 

 

BB

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1 hour ago, "Big Boston" said:

I will own a 32-20 rifle someday, I've already got brass, bullets and dies. Just need a rifle. The 32-20 is so powerful and dangerous in a handgun that owning a 32-20 handgun in Canada has been prohibited for years. 

 

Doesn't that fall under the general ban on ".32" caliber, or is that calibre, ammunition.   The reasoning for which I understand was that guns chambered for .32's were small and easily concealable.   Nobody bothered to notice that .32-20 is not akin to things like .32 S&W or .32 ACP.

 

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