.44-40, .38-40 All The Numbers

Discussion in 'The Ammo & Reloading Forum' started by gaowlpoop, Oct 23, 2009.

  1. gaowlpoop

    gaowlpoop New Member

    Apr 25, 2007
    Middle Georgia
    Could someone please explain to me what the numbers mean in a hyphenated cartridge such as .44-40, .38-40, .32-20, 7.62x39, 9x19, etc.
  2. 22WRF

    22WRF Well-Known Member

    May 10, 2004
    44-40 38-40 etc Orig black powder cartridges first number is cal 2nd gr of BP

    7.62x39, 9x19, cal x cartridge length in mm

    opps case length
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2009

  3. Snakedriver

    Snakedriver Active Member

    Mar 4, 2009
    SW. Florida
    You've got some apple and oranges listed together. .44-40, .38-40 and .32-20 are old blackpowder cartidges from before the smokeless powder days. The first number is the caliber of the bore like .44 caliber, .38 caliber and .32 caliber. The next series of numbers after the hyphen is the amount of black powder charge used. In the examples used it would be 40, 40 and 20 grains of black powder. That means a .45-70 for example is .45 caliber and uses 70 grains of black powder in the cartridge case. All this clarity went out the window when they invented smokless powders.

    7.62 X 39 and 9 X 19 are metric cartridges that are measured in millimeters. The first number is the bore size and the second number is the case length. By comparison 7.62 mm is roughly 30 caliber and 9mm is roughly 38 caliber equivilents.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2009
  4. bcj1755

    bcj1755 New Member

    Jul 20, 2008
    A wretched hive of scum and villiany
    In the case of the .30-06, it means .30 caliber, 1906. When the M1903 was developed in 1903, the Army developed a round nose .30 cartridge for it, named the .30-03. Fast forward to 1905 when the Germans develop the pointed nose round, or the spitzer bullet, which has better aerodynamics. Most armies began developing a spitzer round for their standard rifles, which required recalibrating the sights, among other modifications. The US Army developed a spitzer round for the M1903 in 1906. The new round was thus designated the .30-06.
  5. muddober

    muddober Active Member

    Sep 19, 2008
    Carson City Nevada
    I am not trying to confuse the issue but rather being a bit more precise. A 38 special is not 38 caliber but rather it measures .357 (hence the 357 Magnum) and the 9MM measures .356 making both really 35 caliber and I don't have a clue why they are INCORRECTLY referred as 38 caliber. While it is true that in the case of a lot of the old (not all) black powder cartridges the 38-40, 44-40 etc. the first set of numbers is thought by most to support the caliber/bore size and the second set the amount of black power in grains, in which case is only half right. Here again a 38-40 really measures .400 making it a 40 caliber and a 44-40 measures .429 making it really a 43 and not a 44. Again I have no clue as to why. If 300 H&H or Alpo jumps in one of them might know. The 45 Colt also originally a black powder cartridge measures .452 making it a true 45 caliber. The 44 mag like the 44-40 also measures .429 and not .440. I was telling someone just the other day about using 40 caliber bullets to load 38-40 and he thought I was crazy. I have to give him credit he was right on at least that issue.

    Last edited: Oct 23, 2009
  6. Alpo

    Alpo Well-Known Member

    Feb 3, 2007
    NW Florida
    No one really knows.

    Smith and Wesson, originally, made their ammo using “Heeled bullets”. That’s where the exterior of the bullet is the same diameter as the exterior of the cartridge case, and there is a smaller piece on the bottom of the bullet that fits inside the case. They have lubricant wiped on the outside of the bullet nose, and consequently pick up trash and dirt, and the lube melts and makes a mess.


    The Russian government, before buying some of their guns, required them to change to inside lubed bullets. So, originally, their 44 bullet was .440 diameter, the same as their 44 cases. When they changed to inside lubed, the case stayed 44, but the bullet was made 43, to fit inside it. They just kept calling it 44.

    38s were the same . the 38 Colt used a heel bullet of .380 diameter. The 38 Long Colt and eventually the 38 Special and the 357 Magnum used inside lubed bullets of 357 diameter.

    The British 303 is actually 311, just like the 32 Auto. The 221 Fireball, 222 Remington, 223 Remington, 218 Bee and 220 are all 224. 243 Winchester is really 243, but so is 244 Remington. 32 S&W is 311, so so is 32 S&W Long, and 32 H&R magnum. The new 327 is nowhere near 327, but is the same 311 as the other 32s.

    The 45 Colt started off as 454, while the 45 ACP was 452. Most gun makers nowadays use the same barrel stock for both calibers, so new 45 Colts are 452.

    I’ve heard ideas why 38/40 is not called 40/40, but they are just guesses. The marketing genius at Winchester that decided to call that 401 bullet a 38 Winchester Central Fire is long dead, so guesses are the best we have.
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2009
  7. GMFWoodchuck

    GMFWoodchuck New Member

    Oct 9, 2008
    Binghamton, NY
    The designations often make as make sense as some of these car names we have. The accord, cavalier, corolla, tempo. These names don't mean much and half the time neither do ammunition names. You can often guess their calibers. But not always....... It's one of those things where experience will tell you what is what.
Similar Threads
Forum Title Date
The Ammo & Reloading Forum Opinions on .44-40 Mar 4, 2017
The Ammo & Reloading Forum 44-40 reload data needed Jun 2, 2013
The Ammo & Reloading Forum 44-40 reolading data Mar 16, 2013
The Ammo & Reloading Forum 44-40 Reloading Question Nov 12, 2011
The Ammo & Reloading Forum .44-40 JSP Jul 9, 2010