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