The .444 Marlin

By Chuck Hawks

.444 Marlin
Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

In 1964 Marlin, in cooperation with Remington, introduced a big bore cartridge for lever action rifles. The new cartridge was based on a new case which looks like a .44 Magnum revolver case on steroids. It has a case length of 2.105 inches, and a maximum cartridge length of 2.55 inches. Like most .44's, the cartridge is actually a .42 caliber; it accepts the same .429 inch diameter bullets as the .44 Rem. Mag. revolver cartridge.

The .444 Marlin has never become a best seller, but it has never faded away, either. It was, in fact, the predecessor of the .450 Marlin, and the hot .45-70 (+P) loads that have taken the big game hunting world by storm. And it remains a fine woods cartridge in its own right.

As originally factory loaded by Remington it gave a 240 grain JSP revolver bullet 2,400 fps at the muzzle with 3,070 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. This was in a 24 inch barrel, which was the barrel length of the .444 Marlin rifle when it was introduced. This was, and is, a fine load for CXP2 class game. But the relatively light construction of the 240 grain bullet limited the effectiveness of the .444 on heavy CXP3 class game.

A 265 grain Hornady Interlock bullet is also offered in a Hornady Light Magnum .444 factory load at a MV of 2335 fps and a ME of 3208 ft. lbs. At 100 yards the figures are 1913 fps and 2153 ft. lbs. Hornady claims that their 265 grain JSP bullet has optimum expansion characteristics for the .444 cartridge and that it is a deadly game stopper, suitable for most North American big game. This is the bullet that made the .444's reputation as an elk and moose cartridge.

Interest in big bore cartridges in general has led to the development of other .44 caliber bullets suitable for use at .444 velocities. In addition to the aforementioned 265 grain Hornady Interlock, we now have the 250 grain Nosler Partition-HG, 270 grain Speer Gold Dot, 300 grain Hornady XTP, and 300 grain Speer Uni-Core. The 250 grain Nosler and 300 grain Speer bullets are specifically recommended for use on heavy game.

A possible limiting factor to the use of heavy bullets in some .444 rifles is the slow 1 in 38" rifling used in older .444 Marlin rifles. Such slow rifling may not stabilize bullets heavier than 270 grains. Marlin has since changed to 1 in 20" rifling, which solved that problem.

The straight wall .444 case performs best with fast to medium burning rifle powders. Numbers such as AA2015BR, H322, H335, and RL-7 are good choices.

The fifth edition of the Nosler Reloading Guide shows that their 250 grain Partition-HG bullet can be driven to a MV of 2135 fps by 47.0 grains of AA2015BR, and to a MV of 2289 fps by a maximum load of 51.0 grains of AA2015BR. According to the Nosler Guide, these loads are satisfactory for hunting elk and moose. Nosler technicians used Remington cases and Win. WLR primers for these loads, which were tested in the 22" barrel of a Marlin Model 444 rifle.

The sixth edition of the Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading shows that their famous 265 grain Interlock bullet can be driven at a MV of 1700 fps by 34.9 grains of RL-7 powder, while a maximum load of 46.8 grains of RL-7 sends that bullet on its way at a MV of 2200 fps. The 265 grain Hornady Interlock bullet remains one of the best choices for general purpose use in a .444 rifle. Hornady technicians developed these loads in Remington cases and used Rem. 9 1/2 primers. They were tested in an older Marlin 444 rifle with a 1-38" twist, 24" barrel.

The Speer Reloading Manual No. 13 reports excellent accuracy with the 300 grain Uni-Cor bullet in their Marlin Model 444 rifle, which they say is adequate for elk, moose, and grizzly bear. This bullet can be launched at a MV of 2132 fps by 53.5 grains of H335 powder, and a MV of 2211 fps by 55.5 grains of H335 from the 24" barrel of a Marlin rifle. These Speer loads were put up in Remington cases and used CCI 200 primers. If I owned a .444 Marlin rifle I would definitely investigate this bullet!

Note: A full length article about the .444 Marlin can be found on the Rifle Cartridge Page.

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Copyright 2004, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.