Monday, June 13, 2016

Handloading the Hornady FTX Bullet in .44 Magnum--Initial Thoughts

Many of you have probably heard of Hornady's LEVERevolution line of ammunition, even if you haven't used it. Lever action rifles are light weight and handy rifles, but have been limited by the in-line tube magazine from using Spitzer type bullets because of the risk of a chain fire (the point of one bullet acting, under recoil, as a firing pin to detonate the next bullet in line, etc.). Shooters using such guns generally turn to round nosed, flat-tipped, or hollow-point bullets. Unfortunately, the aerodynamics of those bullets is not conducive to long-range use. Thus, for instance, the .30-30--the most popular lever action cartridge--is typically perceived to be limited to 150 yards for hunting. Hornady has attempted to get around this by using what essentially is a hollow point with a soft polymer insert to give the bullet a pointed or spire-point profile: Hornady's FTX (flex-tip) bullet.

There are a lot of calibers for lever action rifles, but I happen to have one in .44 Remington Magnum. I recently had an opportunity to pick up some of Hornady's FTX bullets for the forty-four* that were on sale, and decided to give it a try. I might not have if I had first researched some of the special issues with reloading the FTX for the .44 Magnum.

The first issue is the cartridge overall length (COAL). Because of the pointed tip, the standard COAL can be exceeded when using standard length casings for the forty-four. While not an issue with most revolvers, it can be an issue in lever action rifles, causing hang-ups with feeding. Standard case length for the .44 Magnum is supposed to be 1.285 inches. However, Hornady recommends trimming the cases to 1.255 inches. So, the first task was to trim the cases.

I had thought about using .44 Special cases, which are shorter, but was concerned about powder capacity. As well as I should have, because the issue arose with the FTX bullets in the shorter cases. I was using Alliant 2400 powder because it is a common powder for the .44 Magnum, and it is somewhat slower burning than other pistol powders, such as Unique (which is my standard go-to in handgun loads), which I thought would work better in a rifle length barrel. Unfortunately, my Hornady reloading manual is a couple editions in the past, and did not have information on the FTX bullet, nor was I able to find much information on the internet. However, a standard loading for 225 grain hollow-point bullets in .44 Magnum is in the range of 19 to 21 grains of 2400. (I've had good luck with 19.5 grains under a 225 grain hollow point with revolver, but had wanted to see about getting a bit more velocity out of the rifle). But with the shorter case, even with a middle value of 20 grains, I was actually compacting the powder when seating the bullet.

How did I know, you ask? That was the third issue: it is possible to deform the polymer tip when loading. I have found some discussion of this issue on a couple forums, and the remedy seems to drill a hole in the seating plug so there is no force being exerted on the polymer tip. Not a project I want to get into at this point. I decided to switch to Unique which takes a smaller charge (in the range of 11 to 13 grains), although the volume is not proportionately smaller. However, it was enough less to not result in compression, and the tips of the bullets appear to be fine.

I did not have time to test out my loads, but will report on that when I have had a chance. It will be interesting to see if they provide a noticeable improvement over hollow-point; or, at least, enough to be worth the extra hassle.

UPDATE: I saw some interest in this article, so I decided to provide an update. First of all, I did purchase a new Hornady Manual, and, for the 225 gr. FTX, it gives a range between 13.6 and 15.5 grains of 2400, but these are for relatively low velocities (1200 fps at the upper range). The best powder seems to be Lil' Gun which has a range of 15.6 to 20.9 grains according to the Manual, giving 1450 fps at the high end. There were no recommendations for Unique, unfortunately.

      I tried some of my handloads out of my lever action and decided it wasn't really worth it. I went back to a 240 grain XTP bullet. I still have some of the FTX loads around, as well as extra bullets, but will pull the bullets on the FTX loads for the .44 Magnum and use those bullets (and my left overs) in .44 Special.
*I watched an otherwise enjoyable police drama recently where the characters kept saying "point two two" instead of "twenty-two" and "point three eight" instead of "thirty-eight" when referring to the .22 and .38 calibers.

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