July 14th, 2016 by Sam Morstan

.44 Russian A Stubby, But Accurate Load

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY MIKE NESBITT

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The nostalgia of shooting blackpowder – pistol or rifle – is a lot of fun, and the .44 Smith & Wesson Russian blackpowder load is known for its accuracy. That’s demonstrated (inset) by Mike Nesbitt’s (left) and Lynn Willecke’s (right) offhand 12-yard shots on target. americanshootingjournal

The .44 Smith & Wesson Russian is a rather stubby little cartridge. It has an overall cartridge length that is just a bit shorter than a Sharps .45-caliber paper-patched 550-grain bullet, but its performance outshines its size. In recent years cowboy-action shooters have brought new life to this fine old load.

One attraction for me is shooting blackpowder revolvers and lever-action rifles from the 1870s. Of course for me, shooting those guns is rather restricted to using the newly-made copies. Regarding revolvers – which we’ll concentrate on for the rest of this short tale – my guns are mostly second- and third-generation Colt Single Actions in .45 Colt and .44-40, and the Uberti versions of the S&W Russian Model 3. For me, the .44 Russian has a particular appeal because it actually predated the Colt Single Action and, well, the S&W revolvers did make their mark on the Western frontier, didn’t they? There is evidence of the slightly older S&W .44 American revolvers being present at The Battle of Adobe Walls in 1874. Maybe I’m just trying to justify my preferences, but even so, the Uberti copies of the S&W New Model Russian 3 are very good and certainly worthy of consideration as a nice shooting handgun.

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The famous S&W New Model Russian revolver is made as a replica by Uberti, a company known for replicating guns of the Old West.

HISTORICALLY, THE .44 RUSSIAN goes back to 1871, and it was a trendsetter because inside it used a lubricated bullet with the lube grooves seated down inside the cartridge case. It was also a trendsetter because of its accuracy; it has an accuracy that other cartridges often strive for but seldom duplicate.

Joining me with his own .44 Russian revolver was Lynn Willecke, whom I’ve been shooting with since the 1950s. We shot using bullets from Lyman’s mold No. 429383, which is still being made for the .44 Russian or Special. We often remarked that the bullet shot out of a .44 Russian seemed to be made for it. It turns out that it was. We shot blackpowder loads, using Olde Eynsford 2F powder in new Starline cases.
IN MIKE VENTURINO’S book Shooting Sixguns Of The Old West, he gives the .44 Russian quite a bit of attention. He comments on the accuracy of the cartridge and he even used an original S&W Russian 2nd Model with a 7-inch barrel to test it. Venturino also used Lyman’s No. 429383 and checked load speeds using 19.0 grains of GOEX FFg at 690 feet per second. He also checked speeds using the same weight of FFFg at 740 fps.

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Lyman’s mold No. 429383, used to make the .44 Russian.

Willecki and I chronographed the load we were using. You can consider our findings to be an extension of Venturino’s published data. Our results were not quite the same since our Uberti revolvers have 6½-inch barrels, and we shot with 20 grains of Olde Eynsford 2F powder under Lyman bullets. Olde Eynsford was not available when Venturino tested his round, or I’m sure he would have included it. The average velocity from the five shots we checked was 705.3 fps, and the extreme spread of those velocities was only 10.7 fps. The tightest extreme spread of velocities Venturino recorded was 19 fps and that was with GOEX FFFg powder. In my opinion, the data from Venturino’s book (written about 20 years ago) and what we recorded supports one another very well.

A loaded .44 Russian cartridge (right) is compared to a paperpatched .45 bullet weighing 550 grains (left).

A loaded .44 Russian cartridge (right) is compared to a paperpatched .45 bullet weighing 550 grains (left).

THERE WERE A FEW differences between Venturino’s test and ours. Venturino shot at a distance of 50 feet with the gun firmly rested over sand bags. That’s the proper way to check accuracy. Willecke and I wanted to test ourselves just as much as our guns, so we shot offhand with a two-hand hold, and our targets were only 12 yards out. The results were very pleasing. I complained because Willecke outshot me – again – by getting a higher score (50-3X), but he too complained because my five shots fell into a slightly tighter group. Actually, we were both very satisfied.

WE MOVED ON to plinking and our hits were more frequent than our close misses. Neither one of us kept track of our hits, but the blackpowder loads were just as accurate as those loaded with smokeless powder, which were mainly loaded with Unique. All our bullets were lubed with a blackpowder lubricant because with good lube, blackpowder loads don’t seem to get the gun dirty.

The .44 Russian certainly lives up to its reputation for accuracy – if you accept our judgement, rough testing and all. We enjoyed our time so much that you can count on seeing us with one of these .44 Russian revolvers again. ASJ

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