Referring to the 44-40 factory loads as "Low Velocity" and "High Velocity" Cartridges -1918

  • Last Post 15 March 2023
Bryan Austin posted this 04 February 2023

Outdoor Life - 1918

An interesting correspondence below regarding what both parties are calling factory Low and High velocity loads. Because he is referring to a previous mention, there is a third person referring to normal loads as "low velocity" loads. No such thing back then as modern low recoil cowboy loads. I have never heard or read before of anyone referring to normal loads as "Low Velocity" loads. Thus, it would appear that both offerings (Factory Normal Loads as well as Factory WHV Loads) were well known at the time...but it is still unknown if the shooter was actually shooting normal loads or accidentally shooting WHV loads in a revolver.


Reading Ashley A. Haines' article on six -guns, on page 278 he states, “I have shot several boxes of low-velocity Winchester 44-40 cartridges. Winchester make, remember, in the S. A. S. & W. without gun becoming shaky. Don't know as it would be well and safe to feed steadily or not to this critter." Surely the above made me just a bit nervous, for as I read it this .44-40 Winchester low velocity is a bit too much for a six-gun to handle. I've just gone through the second box of Winchester .44-40s in my Colt New Service 5 1/2" barrel, and although I thought the recoil a bit severe, I did not think it would hurt the gun any, if at all but if the load is too much, I surely want to drop it at once; it sure is heavy. The recoil was such that I could not do any amount of shooting without flinching, neither could I do good accurate work with this .44-40 low-velocity Winchester. Could you recommend a factory load that would not be dangerous like the above .44-40 , and still be a fairly hard-hitting load without the heavy recoil?

-John L. Timmer, Muskegon, Mich.


Answer . — There have been, as we remember, four different kinds of .44-40 cartridges made, namely, .44-40 black powder, .44-40 Lesmok powder, .44-40 low velocity smokeless , and the .44-40 W. H. V., which latter is intended for and should be used only in 1892 Model Winchester rifle, or a rifle of equal strength in its action. The .44-40 W. H. V. is too strong for revolvers. The only light factory load in this cartridge is the one made for the Marble Game Getter, which is loaded with bullet of er 115 grains and powder .34 grains. If you get a hard-hitting bullet you must have some recoil . If you flinch with heavy charges, drop back and practice with a smaller caliber for a while, then work up to a larger one again .The Colt or Smith & Wesson revolvers are perfectly safe to shoot either the black powder, or low velocity cartridge -L. K.

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RicinYakima posted this 04 February 2023

L.K. wrote the correct answer; there were four loads all made during the same period. If you diagram the original writer's sentence, it will make sense.

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Bryan Austin posted this 04 February 2023

While we can speculate all we wish to, the fact remains that we can only use verifiable factory production documentation, factory packaging artifacts, and published marketing and advertising information of the period to "claim" anything. What we "think" was done is all fun to bounce around, but hard data is what we need to use to state with certainty what was actually in the field at the time.

My cartridge case head may have "357 Magnum" stamped onto it from Remington Peters, but an alien finding it an eon from now should not base their PhD thesis on how R-P made "magnum" cartridges with 2.5gr of ball propellant, using 158 RNL bullets and wax lubricant.

Authors also like to use period words and phrases to describe things for, and to, their readers. Words like "dum-dum" and "arsenal" come to mind. Literary license is a dangerous thing to describe artifacts or in this case, lack of artifacts. Because they don't exist now doesn't negate their existence then. As anyone can tell you, human collective memory is short short short. What was your maternal great grandfathers first name? Yup.

Since anyone who shoots a 44 WCF knows the recoil is very manageable, our first clue is when the writer states that shooting was limited due to recoil induced flinching. In my experience, this is a novice and/or poorly trained marksman. I would doubt the veracity of any subsequent discourse from that shooter.

I would like to see a box of period ammunition printed with "Low Velocity". So in the words of the legendary Clara Peller - "Where's the beef?"  cool

What do you refer are we speculating? As RicinYakima replied, LK answered...only four cartridge offerings were manufactured at the time of which all were full power loads. 

  • 1,300fps, .44-40 black powder - full power loads
  • 1,300fps, .44-40 Lesmok powder - full power loads
  • 1,300fps, .44-40 low velocity smokeless - Full Power NORMAL Loads
  • 1,500fps, .44-40 W. H. V. - Full Power HIGH VELOCITY Loads

The factories never manufactured reduced loads...there is no speculation to it. 

What may have confused the shooter, pending how educated he was, could have been the "Low Pressure" call-out on the High Velocity boxes or not knowing what the cartridge box label colors represented. However, this is speculating that the shooter mistaken the WHV box rather than just simply not knowing just how powerful the 44-40 loads were back then in a revolver in any loading. That could have been his first time shooting a revolver for all we know.

Thus the only speculating I guess we can do is wonder if this was the first time he shot a 44-40 revolver with normal loads or mistakenly used WHV loads.

Assuming Winchester, but others were basically the same; 

Nov 1915 Black Powder Green Label, Full 40gr of a "Sporting Mix" Black Powder, 1,300fps in a rifle


Oct 1909 High Velocity "Not For Pistols" on the side label, 19gr of Dupont Sharpshooter smokeless powder, 1,500fps in a rifle


Feb 1912 "Lesmoke", 1,300fps in a rifle


Nov 1914 Smokeless Powder (Lead), 1,300fps in a rifle


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Bryan Austin posted this 14 February 2023

What is interesting in this piece from Feb 1916, is not necessarily the question about high velocity use in revolvers...but the velocity mentioned of normal loads he claims from the revolver...1,023fps.
Even in 1937, handload data for revolvers show - 200gr JSP, 11.1gr Unique, 1,100fps but at a higher  pressure of 15,000cup which is 2,000 cup above modern SAAMI MAP.

Meanwhile 1927 load data shows 7gr of Bullseye @ 927fps. Velocity increases when using a 205gr bullet and 6.6gr @ 935fps.

Typically the lead bullets back then were .427" lead and .4255" JSP. Smaller diameter bullets will normally always yield higher velocities and lower pressures than larger diameter bullets...especially those that we use today ranging from .428" to .430".

Unique was always the "middle of the road" powder between fast burning Bullseye and slower burning, larger volume rifle powders.

Thus there is a bit more to it than just carrying one cartridge for both rifle and revolver when optimal performance is a must, when using smokeless powder.



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Bryan Austin posted this 14 February 2023

November, 1917
Hunter-Trader-Trapper Magazine
W. J. WALTON, Cal.

There has always been considerable discussion about powders ever since the loading companies begun putting out what they were pleased to call " High Velocity" loads. Three loads are ordinarily referred to by writers as

  • “ Low Pressure, "
  • " High Velocity "
  • " High Pressure .”

“ Low Pressure " smokeless is mentioned as such as it gives a low pressure in the gun when fired and which is about the same as the black powder load gives. For this reason such loads can be safely used in black powder rifles. While the pressure is kept down so is the velocity and the chief advantage of this smokeless is the reduced recoil and clean burning.

" High Velocity ” is simply a term used by loading companies to indicate that it is loaded so as to give greater velocity. These loads do give it too, but they also give greater pressure, although the latter is not mentioned. This increased pressure is not so great that the more modern black powder rifles will not hold it but it is always advised that such loads must not be used in the older makes. For the same reason High Velocity loads can not be safely used in revolvers.

In factory loads of 25-20, 32-20, 38-40 and 44-40 the sharpshooter smokeless is the powder commonly used for the low velocity loads and to get the high velocity this is increased . For the 25-20 seven and one-half is about the load for the low pressure while nine to nine and one- half is used for the high velocity. Other calibers . in proportion .

In the larger calibers as 32-40, 38-55 and 45-70 a light load of " high pressure" powder is used to get the high velocity load.

The above criticism is correct for some powders but not for others. The article in which this was first mentioned had reference to such cartridges as could be used in revolvers. 


So basically when reading these old articles, one must try and interpret "meanings" based on definitions used at the time of the article rather than definitions we may use today.
Take the above 1917 terminology and attempt to apply it to the following October 1909 cartridge box label call-outs.

  • 1909 - first introduced in 1903
  • .44-40 - first time Winchester used the designation "44-40" on a cartridge box
  • 1892 Special - Special what? Special loading for the Model 92'?
  • High Velocity - 1,500 fps compared to 1,300fps
  • Low Pressure - 1917 data shows a service pressure of 18,000 cup for this loading
  • Original black powder loads - Original 1873 BP loads could be as high as 16,550 cup
  • Black Powder Loads - BP loads for that timeframe (1917) could have been as low as 12,500 cup
  • Not For Pistols - obvious!
  • Side Label Data - Sept. 1914

Also brings back up the "low velocity" terminology used back then. Rather than meaning reduced loads, they were referring to the difference between the High Velocity loads and Normal loads. The reduced recoil loads were typically referred to as Gallery loads.

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Bryan Austin posted this 15 March 2023

I know some of you have a copy of this book in one form or the other, but many probably do not.

Townsend Whelen wrote the following in 1918, notice his remarks on soft steel bores;

The American Rifle A Treatise, a Text Book, and a Book of Practical Instruction in the Use of the Rifle

By Townsend Whelen · 1918

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