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444 misunderstood

by Paco

Why start an article on the 444 Marlin cartridge with the data on the 308 Winchester cartridge? Because most human minds like to put information into little boxes and once stored doesnít like to run automatic comparisons of information. The information stays somewhat isolated, unless we cognitively bring about those comparisons..

Few ever believe the .308 Winchester cartridge is less than powerful. Close to the great 30-06, and with heavy weight bullets will take just about any large game animal in the Americas. Richard Leeís excellent book MODERN RELOADING, 2nd Edition gives the following information on heavy bullet loads....pgs..431/432.

The .308 with a 200 grain jacketed bullet using BL-C2 powder with 43.5 grains gives 2514 fps at 593777 psi. thatís his top load in velocity with the 200 grain bullet. With the 225 grain jacketed bullet and 46 grains of H4350 he states velocity is 2369 and 54727 psi. and the top load for the 250 grain jacketed bullet is 43 grains of H414 for 2142 fps and 58423 psi. and the 250 grain jacketed bullet in 308 is just about the highest weight we can find unless we go to custom bullet makers. The muzzle energy of the above three loads is 2807, 2804, and 2547 respectively. Power to spare for moose and such... (the lighter bullets like the great 165 grain will give substantially more ft. lbs. of energy but Iím trying to keep this oranges and oranges)

The loadings for the 444 in the Marlin rifle (we will look at the very strong Winchester Big Bore in this caliber later on..) are in Leeís book pages 653 thru 656 and he keeps the loads pressures within the 40,000+ psi and cup ranges because of the Marlin action. The Winchester Big Bore action can easily go to 50,000 psi and as we will see that makes a big difference in velocity and power.

The highest velocity for the 200 grain 444 bullet from the Marlin is with v-N120 and he doesnít give a pressure reading. Plus the powder is not very accessible where I live so I could never test/check his load.. But it was only 24 fps higher than the next highest load with a powder I do have... Acc1680. Lee states with 57 grains under the 200 grain jacketed bullet and 41300 cup the velocity is 2730 fps. Iím not sure a 200 grain 44 bullet would hold together on a large animal at that velocity, but surely the right cast bullet would. And cast would give even higher velocity. But at 2730 fps the muzzle energy is 3310 ft.lbs. Barnes X bullet in 200 grains might be up to it. But I donít have any to test.

I didnít have any 225 grain 44s to run tests on, so I jumped to 240 grainers. It has been popular for gun writers to say things about the 240 grain 44 bullets like.... at 444 velocity the 240 grain 44 bullets are like a bomb... or...their penetration is lacking because they over expand too quickly even in deer like animals... or.. they are no good for large animals like elk because they wonít penetrate deeply enough... with dire warnings about wounded big game animals getting away to a lingering death. HOGDROPPINGS!

The sad part is I believed all this for years. And since I used mostly cast bullets I never tested the various jacketed 240s in the Marlin, because it sounded so logical. Breaking my own rule about testing everything I read in gun articles before I believe it.

Imagine my surprise when in the late 1970s I shot a 200 lb mule deer quartering away from me behind the back ribs toward the off side shoulder.... figuring I would have a lengthy tracking job, but wanted the meat. The buck folded up within 20 to 30 feet! That 240 grain bullet went all the way thru, punching out with a 50 cent size hole just behind the off shoulder knuckle.... and tore everything inside with a 2+ inch radial wound channel. I shot an antelope in the butt at 125 yards or so with the same load... now they are small animals but that bullet went forward the entire length of the goat and stopped under the chest hide. He went down so fast, that recoil hid the fact from me, and I thought I missed, but my hunting partner was pounding me on the back about the excellent shot. I was pushing those 240s over 2600 fps. The recovered bullet was around 55 caliber and 191 grains.

The finest bullet I use now is Noslerís #44250 250 grain partition-hg both in rifle and handguns. Like all Noslerís partition bullets, it expands and penetrates beyond most other bullets. Even with todayís new generation of premium bullets in most calibers, the Noslers still do the job and do it better than most. Leeís load for the 250 grain bullet is 47 grains of H4198 for 2322 fps at 37,132 psi and just under 3000 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. The other very fine bullet and my second choice is the Hornady soft nose 265 grainer. Lee doesnít give velocities for this bullet but does for 270 grain jacketed bullets with 46.5 grains of H4198 at 2261 fps and 3065 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy.

He also gives loads for 280 and 300 grain jacketed bullets. Which brings up a point... another often told gun writer belief is that the older Marlins will not stabilize anything over 265 grains. My Marlin was purchased in late 1969. I guess it qualifies as one of those Ďolder Marlin 444sí. I have never had a problem getting excellent accuracy out of heavy bullets.... and one of my favorites has been a 280+ grain cast bullet. Itís not the bullet weight that is the problem... itís the bullet length in the 1 in 38 twist of the older Marlin 444s. Iím sure if I had a 280 grain or 300 grain bullet that was a spire point boatail 44 it would have stabilization problems. But like 45 caliber bullets, 44s (.430) pack a lot of weight in short stubby bullets...

Leeís load for the 300 is 42.5 grains of H4198 giving almost 2100 fps at over 40,000 psi..... with (2082 fps) 2888 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy.

Every 444 Marlin level load exceeds the 308's power level in each of their respective loadings. Now obviously the 308 down range ballistics are going to be substantially better... But the 444 is a 250 yard game cartridge, not because of a lack of power but because of itís down range drop. A 265 grain bullet at 2200 fps with a 3" inch 100 yard setting will be down 1 inch at 200 yards and 9Ĺ" at 250 yards... 20 inches at 300 yards. I ran those tests on a calm day from a range rest, from my 24 inch barrel Marlin.

The 220 grain .308 bullet at 2300 fps from at .308 rifle with a 3Ĺ" 100 yard setting will be right on at 200, 7Ĺ" low at 250 yards, and near 15 inches at 300 yards.... (taken from the Hornady ballistics tables, the heaviest .308 bullet in the Hornady ballistics section). Only a five inch difference at 300 yards... and 2 inches at 250 yards... my, my.

Now saying all this, and quoting Leeís loads.. Iím in no way demeaning the great .308. With lighter bullets in the 150 to 180 grain class it is one of our very best cartridges. With all of the handloading I have done with the 444 Marlin round in the Marlin rifle over the last 38 or so years one powder stands out. Not always the most accurate, or the most velocity. But by far the best when you combine both velocity and accuracy, and that is H4198. H-335 comes in second... and they both are hard to beat.

Often times I have read that the 444 is the modern 405 replacement. Well I hope not I happen to like the 405 just the way it is and would hate to see it Ďreplacedí by anything. Too bad Marlin didnít go with their old 45-90 action when they brought the 444 out and then the 45-70. If they had it could have been chambered for the 405. Oh well if wishes were fishes....

The anomaly of the 444 came along when Winchester chambered their Big Bore 94 action for the round. Ammo companies and reloading books had gotten comfortable giving out 1800 to 2100 fps loads. Which were light even for the Marlin action rated at 40,000+ cup. So along come the Winchester BB action rated at 50,000 cup. And over the last few years as I have written of the much higher ballistics of the Winchester 444, I have run into the critics with all the old jargon.

Iím told it is too much trouble to keeping two different pressure loads in the same caliber cartridge separated, that it could be dangerous to the Marlin. So could holding your breath till you faint, but I know how not to do that. Besides I have a number of same cartridge type rounds loaded at different pressures for a number of rifles and handguns.. So whatís new.

I have a had number of folks tell me the case head on the 444 is to large for 50,000 cup. One so called knowledgeable person actually didnít know the big bore Winchester Ď94 was rated for much higher pressure than the Marlin 336 or the standard Winchester 94. It can be understood when we realize most gun writers donít do much with leverguns. And believe what they read. The exceptions of course are Venterino and Taffin and a very few others.

When I suggest that I can push the 250 grain Nosler at 2470 fps with 54 grains of ReL #7 for 3388 ft. lbs. of energy and well under 50,000 cup they cringe. Well imagine what they do when I tell them 52 grains of H4198 pushes the same bullet over 2600 fps and 3900 ft.lbs of muzzle energy! Or how about a 330 grain cast bullet over 55 grains of H-335 giving 2262 fps and 3750 ft.lbs. of muzzle energy. The fast twist in the Winchester Big Bore will handle it....

Donít look for reloading books to give a section on the 444 from the Winchester Big Bore Rifles anytime soon... Especially since not only is the chambering in the Winchester leverguns now gone... but so are the rifles.






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