S&W 3rd Model Target / 38-44 Reloading

A few weeks ago I received a call from my local gun shop. They know I’m a nut about any firearms that were manufactured before 1899. They called to tell me they had a S&W Schofield and if I was interested. It took me all of 15 minutes to jump in the truck and go have a look see!

When I arrived they presented the revolver but I immediately realized it was not a Schofield. Major George Schofield requested that S&W change the latch to make it easier for a soldier on horseback to open and reload. This revolver did not have that feature. It possessed the standard S&W “Break Open” latch of the Model 3.

But it wasn’t like any other S&W Model 3 I’d ever seen. First it had an adjustable rear sight and the chambers were not 45 Schofield, 44 Russian or some other large caliber. They looked like 357 Magnum! But the 357 Magnum was some 75 years in the future. A quick look at the “Blue Book of Gun Values” told me it was a S&W 3rd Model “Target” in 38-44! Now I’d heard of a cartridge in the 1930s called the “38-44 Heavy Duty”…The predecessor to the 357 Magnum. But this wasn’t it. This gun was built somewhere around 1887 – 1910. It was only offered in two chamberings…32-44 and 38-44. Only 4,333 were built and most of them were in 32-44! This was a great rare find.

Here is a quick video about Ira Paine from Rhode Island and his background with this type of revolver:

 

They hit me with a price and I nearly ripped my pocket off getting my wallet out. I paid for it and snuck out of the shop like a thief!

Adjustable rear sight

The grip panel on this side is faded. Was the revolver in a display case and the sun did its deed?

The bore appears unfired. The action locks up like a bank vault. Strange that the exterior is so faded yet the interior is like new…..

Anyway, I love it! A great addition to my collection. But I want to shoot it at Cowboy Action Shoots. Where am I going to find ammo or reloading components for this strange 38-44 cartridge?

The search was futile. It was hard to find 38-44 ammo back in the day! Never mind 120 years later!

I did some research and found this:

This might be hard to read. Here’s what it says:

The 38-44 is a special target cartridge containing 20 grs of powder and 146 of lead either self lubricated or grooved bullet. Bullet is seated even with mouth of shell.

Penetration 6 7/8 in pine boards. Gallery charge, 6grs of powder and 70gr round ball loaded in same shell.

Strange that is states “Loaded In The Same Shell”.  Another S&W Collector sent me this picture of the gallery cartridge and the target cartridge, side by side.

Obviously they are not loaded in the same case.

Interesting cartridge to say the least. The bullet is seated within the case and the case extends to the end of the cylinder. I’m told the reason for this was these older revolvers did not have a throat in the cylinder like modern revolvers. Sounds reasonable

I also discovered this information:

I’m going to be loading nothing but Black Powder in this revolver. I’m a believer that any firearm designed to use BP, should remain with BP. Folks say that “Low Pressure” loads of smokeless powder is OK in these old guns. I’m not sure I agree. The pressure might be the same as BP, but there is no smokeless powder available that has the pressure CURVE of BP. All smokeless powders ramp up extremely quickly. It’s a sharp “Slap” rather than a soft push……

OK, back to reloading this weird cartridge…..

So, where to find brass with the above dimensions? Into the reloading room with a set of calipers I go!

First was length…38 Special and 357Magnum were too short. But I had a bunch of 357 Maximum from back in my IMHSA Silhouette days. It was a bit too long, but it could easily be trimmed to the correct length.

38 SPECIAL                               357 MAGNUM                     357 MAXIMUM

 

Second issue was the diameter. The 38/357 is .379 Diameter and the 38-44 is .383. But when I measured the diameter of my once fired 357 Maximum brass, it was .381! Seems my Thompson Contender must of had a “proud” chamber…Or I was loading them a bit too hot!  🙂

Now for bullets. The bullets used run .358 – .361. I slugged the bore of the pistol and found it was .357-.358 in the grooves. I needed a .358+ bullet. I contacted a few custom mold makers and I was told they either didn’t have what I needed or it would take weeks to get something custom made. I was aware of an old Lyman mold designed for this revolver. Lyman #35872RN. This mold drops a 115 grain bullet at .358 diameter. 115g would be perfect for Cow Boy Action shooting. Don’t need a lot of recoil and we aren’t trying to knock anything down.

Now it gets good………..I went to Ebay just to see what molds might be available, and wouldn’t you know it, there was a Lyman 35872RN with a few hours left on the auction and the maximum bid was $32. I put a high bid of $151.50 and ended up winning it for $72.00! Upon inspection when I received it, it looked like new. Not sure it has ever been used. And it cast a beautiful bullet of 1-20 alloy and drops at .359. God was smiling on me!

A bit of SPG lube and I was ready to load!

But now I needed a way to expand the case just a bit so the bullet didn’t get damaged when forcing them into the case.

Out to the shop to be one with the lathe. I turned an expansion plug to .358.

This plug resides in a standard LEE mouth bell die

This expands the case to the depth of the bullet so there is just a bit of resistance. Enough to hold the bullet from moving forward under recoil.

Next the case goes into a standard 38/357 bell die to flair the mouth a bit.

and finally a standard 38/357 seating die seats the bullet over 20g of Black Powder with an SPG “cookie between the bullet and the powder. Just enough crimp to remove the bell.

On the first firing I’m sure the bottom end of the cartridge will swell to fill the chamber and from then on the brass will not be sized full length. Only enough to hold the bullet from moving

Here is what it looks like loaded in the revolver

So there you have it. A rare, S&W 3rd Model Target in 38-44 brought back to life!

Now we just need this torrential rain to stop so I can get to the range and try it out. Stay tuned for a RANGE REPORT to follow….

 

By the way….One of my other hobbies is photography. I have a rather extensive Nikon system. Included is a multi-hundred dollar MACRO lens with a “Ring Flash” that I usually use for this type of photography. Recently I needed a simple pocket camera. I did a bit of research and found a last years model Olympus SZ-16 for $129. This camera had great reviews and the price from Amazon was right. All these photos were taken with this camera, hand-held, with no flash! Amazing quality for such a simple point and shoot camera! For those that care, these are the settings I used….Macro Mode, Exposure Comp at -1, Auto WB, ISO 400, AF Mode – SPOT, Image Stabilizer-ON. Man, these little “point and shoot” cameras have come a very long way from the one I bought 6-7 years ago!

Thanks for visiting!

UPDATE 3-30-15

Finally got my letter to authenticate from Roy Jinks at Smith and Wesson

 

 

 

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9 comments on “S&W 3rd Model Target / 38-44 Reloading”

  1. David Lee Valdina Reply

    Hi Roy, Nice. But your friendly gun shop may read your comments about what a terrific buy you got, and the price on the next gem may be higher. Regards, David

  2. bob huntington Reply

    Very interestig article. I too recently acquired a thirs model Schofield 38-44. Mine is nickle and retains over 90% of the original finish and is very tight with good bore.

    I am a disabled vet and my disabilities do not permit reloading. However, I have two friends who reload but do not mold bullets. Could I possibly purchase some of your molded bullets from you so I could shoot this fine peice? I would be extreamly greatfull! If not, do you know of someone who could do it for me.

    I don’t know anything about black powder cartridges but was under the impression that the second number designated the grains of black powder. Thus, a 45-70 would contain 70 grains of black powder. That being the case, would not the Schofield 38-44 have 44 grains of black powder?

    Than you in advance.

    C robert Huntington

  3. John Kort aka w30wcf Reply

    Excellent work as always! Nice find on that revolver and mold!

    I have a several original .38-44’s. 2 have the UMC head stamp. One is like the one in the pic. The other contains a r.b. which is seated .83″ down from the case mouth obviously seated directly on the b.p. charge (6 grs?).

    The .38 Special Gallery also has the ball seated directly on the 6 gr powder charge deep in the case.

    The .38 Special in the pic is most likely another type of mid range cartridge which had the 158 gr round nosed bullet seated flush with the case mouth. I have a few of those with the Peters head stamp. They contain 8 grs of Kings Semi Smokeless.

    I have 2 other .38-44’s with no head stamp so I decided to pull the bullet to see what they were loaded with. They contained a 100 gr single lube groove bullet and 15 grs. of b.p. The case was Berdan primed so it was probably loaded by Eley or one of the other foreign ammunition producers.

    Regarding b.p. and smokeless, I have seen that chart before and I believe it is a bit misleading since the type and amount of smokeless is not known and what type of equipment was used?

    Here is a chart that was on the ASSRA forum a few years ago taken with Ohler equipment. Trailboss definitely has a high pressure spike whereas 4759 does not. It would be intereting to see how Bullseye and Unique would compare. I do know that Trailboss will bump up bullets in my 44-40 whereas Bullseye and Unique do not.
    http://i116.photobucket.com/albums/o25/w30wcf/pressurecomparisons.jpg

    John

  4. Erik Reply

    i would suggest using a 40% (of the black powder load) load of 5744. i use it in all my 1800+ firearms. pressure matches BP without the messy cleanup

  5. Kevin Reply

    Why not just run .38 S&W ammo in it? The .38-44 is just an elongated .38 S&W. I use that cartridge in mine. I even wrote to Smith & Wesson and asked them about this, and they told me it was perfectly safe to do so.

  6. Roger Reply

    Thank you very much Roy for that paper. I’m a happy owner from France of a S&W 38-44 Target and I got my authenticity letter from Mr Jinks too. You were very helpful for me to re-build these cartridges. Of course I couldn’t find any Lyman #35872 mould so I use a .360 round ball of pure lead over 15 gr of S1 (4FG) Swiss BP and the accuracy is pretty good. I would like to know your opinion about bullets from Lyman #358242, they are a little heavier: 121 gr but I think it should work over 20 gr of Swiss black powder. Thank you again for that interesting article.
    Roger

    • Roy Bertalotto

      Glad I was of help. One of the enjoyable aspect of this hobby is experimenting. I’d try those bullets and see how they perform. Let us know!

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