Ever go about your day doing the same things you’ve done a thousand times before and then WHAM! something unexpected happens? That’s what happened to me recently when I was shooting some 44 Magnum handloads. Having just gotten my S&W 329 PD setup for summer carry, I thought I would test some ammo with it. What happened surprised me!
Pressure Signs: Proceed Carefully
When I opened the cylinder on my S&W 329 PD, I saw a problem immediately. What looked like charred edges around the primer of one of the cases, and the rest of the cases had flattened primers. WHOA! I thought- I need to figure out what’s happening here!
So I grabbed my 4″ Stainless 629 and shot some of the same ammo. SAME RESULT. And the same result with my 6″ 629. This was definitely an ammo problem! I’ve shot this load in these guns for years and have never had an issue until now. And it was clear that this was something to take seriously.
The load in question is the following:
- Starline previously fired 44 magnum case
- Hornady 240 grain XTP bullet
- 24.0 grains Hodgdon H-110 (max load)
- Winchester Large Pistol Primer (for standard or magnum loads)
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The first thing I took a look at was the charge weight. I broke down a few cartridges using my Frankford Arsenal Impact Bullet Puller so that I could weigh the charges. It turns out, the charges were at or below the 24.0 grain load.
I did wonder if I used the wrong powder, or if the powder had been contaminated. So I compared the appearance of the powder from a broken down cartridge to some H-110 from a sealed container- they appear to be the same albeit with a VERY slightly different color. I suspect the color difference could be due to lot-to-lot variances. The consistency of this flattened ball powder looks the same.
Here’s a closeup showing the powders side by side: (click/tap to enlarge: H-110 on left, mystery powder on right)
The second thing I did was to use a decapping die to knock a primer out of one of the cases from the broken down cartridges. I carefully compared the primer to the correct one (from my primer storage area) and found the color coding to be identical, and the outward appearance as well. Yes, this was a standard Winchester Large Pistol primer as it was supposed to be…
I shot some of this ammunition over a chronograph, and got velocities within the range I expected… And I also got some BIG FLAME BALLS! Gotta love that.
The Hornady load manual indicated just over 1300 FPS for this load, and I measured average velocity at 1287.6 FPS. So velocity isn’t out of spec.
Other Things I’m Going To Look At
I haven’t solved this mystery yet, but I’m going to keep working at it:
- Check primer pocket diameter on burned-out cases- perhaps the brass is worn out and primers aren’t held securely.
- Replicate the exact load, test in my three 44 magnum revolvers.
- [I’m open to suggestions! Please leave a comment]
I’m hoping that I can figure out what was going on here- both to satisfy my curiosity, and to avoid these kinds of issues in the future. If I do figure this out, I’ll certainly keep you all updated.
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