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.


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




Share this Article:

38 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.


  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.

    • Jim

      I have a pretty decent condition #3 Target 38/44 on it’s way. Pretty excited!! How’s your accuracy with the 38 S&W ammo?

    • Lorne

      Kevin are you using Blackpowder in the 38 SW or modern loads. Can you please share your load data. Thanks.

    • Roy Bertalotto

      Not sure who “Kevin” is……But I only shot black pwder in this revolver. Full load of fff or ff to base of bullet with a little compression. Hope this helps

  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.

    • 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!

    • Roger

      Here are the results of my test shots with that #358242 bullet: It’s not bad, but not as good as expected… The bullet is a little longer than the one from #35872 so the volume of BP is limited. I could put 18 gr of Swiss1 (4FG) or 15 gr of Swiss3 (2FG) and the result is almost the same than the one I got with round balls and 14 gr of 4FG but it’s less comfortable to shoot, recoil is more important without accuracy improvement… So I think I’m gonna stay stuck to the .361round balls… Until I find a Lyman #35872 mould or an original S&W… ::wink wink::
      Thanks again for that page Roy!!

  7. Stephen Payne Reply

    Good day
    I just inherited a Smith and Wesson New model No 3 Target serial No 3079. I received the factory letter from S&W yesterday.
    Shipped from the factory in 1897 to Hartley and Graham Co. with a 6.5 inch barrel, adjustable rear sight, equipped with the Russian style trigger guard, blue finish, and checkered black hard rubber grips.
    It was refinished and looks new inside and out. It is super tight.
    I’m curious of it’s value?
    Thank you

    • Roy Bertalotto

      If it is truely a “Target” model with adjustable rear sight AND a Russian trigger guard, it is truest rare and I would imagine quite valuable. Would need professional appraisal.

  8. Philip Poburka Reply

    The smaller “Gallery” Load looks smaller diameter Shell and is likely .38 Special Gallery round, and not “38 – 44”

    What does the Head Stamp say?

  9. Hannibal Perales Reply

    Does this caliber have more or less the sane power of the .38 Special caliber?. 21 grains of black powder is very similar to the first .38 special load, isn`t it?

    • Roy Bertalotto

      I’m not sure what the original cartridge used for a load. But its hard to overload a black powder cartridge.

  10. Rick Harrington Reply

    I just got a model no. 3 target pistol. It looks and works just like the one you have; my s/n is 3191. It is chambered for .38-44 gallery ammunition. I was told by the factory that I can use 38 S&W bullets in it with total confidence that it will perform well. It worked wonderfully and the trigger is so light, what a great target pistol. I will try the reload Idea you used. I have a lee reloading unit and dies for 38 S&W. Thank for all the information on this wonderful old gun.

    • Lorne

      Rick how much powder did you run in the 38 SW and was it FFFG Blackpowder or was it an equivalent Powder. Wanting to try that round in the revolver so any feedback on the quantity and type of powder would be appreciated.

  11. Lorne S Reply

    I have just found #2220 in 38-40. If you use 38 SW does that mean the bullet travels through what would have been the throat area “ freewheeling “ with no resistance and possibility of canting a bit hence creating vibrations or barrel movement harmonics? Just curious. Will order my letter from Mr Jinks this week. This was sure a good thread and article to find. Thanks everyone from Canada.

    • Roy Bertalotto

      Thank you for visiting my web page. The 38-40 has a bullet diameter of .401″….the 38S&W has a bullet diameter of .361″….Maybe you had a mistype and meant 38-44??

  12. Lorne S Reply

    Yep I meant 38-44. Typo. I was wondering if you were shooting much 38 SW Short and if so are you reloading. Any suggestions on the bullet diameter and weight along with powders would be appreciated. Thanks very much.

  13. Roy Bertalotto Reply

    Lorne, Unfortunately, I sold this gun right after I wrote the article as someone wanted it and was willing to pay what it was worth. But during my ownership I fired lots of the cartridges I developed for it as shown in the article. It shot great!

    • Lorne S

      Forgot to clarify what kind of primers you suggest. I believe there are at least three choices.
      Small pistol
      Small pistol magnum
      Small rifle magnum

      Do you recall which one you had success with.
      Thanks very much.

  14. Lorne S Reply

    Hi Roy

    Do you suppose that people using the SW 38 short are just using the modern “ off the shelf “ loads, or are they loading with other versions. This is about one of the best threads I could find on the subject.

  15. Aaron J Reply

    These are the exact type of loads I have made for a New Army Colt from 1896.
    They were made to fire 38 Long Colt with a heeled bullet. Cylinder’s bored through also, like yours. I also used 357 Max brass trimmed a bit to fit the length of my cylinder, and .362 dia bullets seated flush. A side crimp was done with Old West Bullets molds modified heeled bullet crimp setup. Otherwise, they would occasionally move forward on recoil. My groove measured .361, and it also shoots very well with 5 grs of Unique.
    Though, my Colt is a tad newer than yours. load wisely.
    The reason you would not use shorter length brass in these type of cylinders is because the bullet would be totally unsupported from release from the case till it hit the forcing cone and rifling.
    The inner diameter of the chambers is roughly .375-80, your bullet is .361.
    The long brass to end of the cylinder acts as todays cylinders with the chamber “throats”. And they need to be close to same diameter to shoot well.

    • Roy Bertalotto

      The reason you would not use shorter length brass in these type of cylinders is because the bullet would be totally unsupported from release from the case till it hit the forcing cone and rifling

      would this be no different than shooting 38 Specials in a 357 Magnum?

    • Lorne Saina

      Has anyone tried 5 grains of Unique in the 38-44? I am going to load Blackpowder for now and I am concerned about how to get a crimp on that deep seated lead. How does one crimp it.

    • Roy Bertalotto

      Bet Unique would be a great powder….I use it in everything from 38Colt to 45-70 with fantastic results. But I’d start lower grains and check for pressure. I only shot Black Powder in my revolver. Simply didn’t want to stress it with the high pressure spike of smokless.

  16. Aaron J Reply

    Because the bullet is not supported in a chamber throat. The bullet would be roughly .020 too small for the chamber wall when they are bored straight through.
    In the case of 38/357 the bullet is supported by throat area, hence why you see a step in the front of the chambers.
    In this case, the chamber has no step, bore straight through.

  17. Aaron J Reply

    In all honesty, the best load I have ever made for my Colt,
    357 Max brass shortened to length of cylinder, 3 grs of Titegroup, and a 38 hollow base wad cutter. There’s no error and the light charge of smokeless in a cartridge of that length is mild.
    Shoots super.

  18. Lorne Reply

    Forgot to clarify what kind of primers you suggest. I believe there are at least three choices.
    Small pistol
    Small pistol magnum
    Small rifle magnum

  19. Lorne S Reply

    Using small pistol magnum primers and the Lyman mold for 360 diameter semi wad cutter with 20 grains of triple F the chronograph measured 1177 feet per second. Internal top third was expanded to 360 using the SW 38 dies and the 357 mag dies for seating the bullet and slight crimping at the tip. No other bullet movement whatsoever during firing. This article is very precious and a key source of info. Thanks for it. I also have a Hydrasport. 1990.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.