January 04, 2011
If the Winchester 1873 was the "Gun that Won the West," then that rifle's most popular caliber, the .44-40, was definitely the "Cartridge that Won the West."
If the Winchester 1873 was the "Gun that Won the West," then that rifle's most popular caliber, the .44-40, was definitely the "Cartridge that Won the West." There were more firearms chambered for this round than any other during the last quarter of the 19th century.
Current .44-40 factory loadings feature a 200-grain bullet running about 800 to 1,100 fps.
The first commercially successful reloadable centerfire cartridge, the .44-40 emerged at precisely the right moment in history to blaze its way through clouds of blackpowder smoke and tame America's rugged and often lawless frontier.
By 1870, Oliver Winchester had achieved success with his two repeating rifles: the Henry and the Improved Henry. But both were plagued by weak bronze frames and an anemic cartridge, the .44 Henry Flat--a rimfire round that held just 13 grains of blackpowder (later increased to 26) behind a 200-grain bullet.
But Winchester's fortunes improved with his steel-framed Model 1873. To feed this stronger lever action, a .44 WCF (Winchester Center Fire) round was created. Combining power with reloadability, its success was instantaneous. Soon, other companies began chambering firearms for the .44 WCF, but not wishing to promote their rival's name, it became known as the .44-40--signifying a .44 caliber bullet powered by 40 grains of blackpowder. Barely adequate for deer, this cartridge nonetheless achieved further acclaim in 1878 when began Colt chambering its Single Action Army for it.
In 1903, a Winchester High Velocity .44-40 was produced for the stronger Model 1892, but it was eventually discontinued as shooters kept blowing up their weaker 1873s with this more powerful loading. At one time thought to be obsolete, the .44-40 was resurrected with cowboy action chooting. Thus, 137 years later, the .44-40 cartridge is still winning the West.