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. This last was established to permit it to cycle through the Marlin 336 lever action. Like most .44's, the cartridge is actually a .42 caliber, not a true .44; it actually accepts the same .429 inch diameter bullets as the .44 Rem. Mag. revolver cartridge.

As originally factory loaded by Remington it gave a 240 grain JSP 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. The SAAMI presssure limit for the .444 Marlin is 44,000 cup.

The .444 Marlin 240 grain factory load has impressive energy figures at the muzzle but, because of the short bullet's poor ballistic coefficient, velocity drops fast. At 100 yards velocity is down to 1,815 fps. Energy is down to 1,755 ft. lbs at 100 yards. This is about the same at 100 yards as a .300 Savage shooting the 180 grain bullet.

The .444 was originally introduced with the same 240 grain bullet used by the revolver cartridge. These are fine for deer, feral hogs, and black bear out to around 150 yards, but lack the sectional density and controlled expansion to give good penetration on large game, for which the cartridge would otherwise seem best suited.

Hornady was the first company to attempt to rectify the problem. They introduced a 265 grain bullet (BC .191, SD .205) designed for the .444 Marlin in 1967. Maximum reloads can drive this bullet at 2,200 fps. This opened up better possibilities for the reloader, and made the .444 a pretty good elk rifle at moderate range. I have read that Hornady limited the bullet's weight to 265 grains because the slow 1-in-38 inches twist in Marlin .444 barrels would not reliably stabilize a heavier bullet.

The 265 grain Hornady bullet is also offered in a Hornady .444 factory load at a MV of 2,120 fps and a ME of 2,644 ft. lbs. At 100 yards the figures are 1,733 fps and 1,768 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.

The trajectory of this load, fired from a scoped Marlin .444 rifle, allows the rifle to be zeroed at 150 yards. The bullet then hits 1.7" high at 50 yards, 2.4" high at 100 yards, 0 at 150 yards, and -6" at 200 yards. This makes the .444 about a 190 yard deer cartridge.

Subsequently, Cor-Bon introduced two factory loads in .444 Marlin. The first of these uses a 305 grain Penetrator bullet at a MV of 2100 fps and ME of 2987 ft. lbs. The figures at 100 yards are 1760 fps and 2097 ft. lbs. I am not sure what to make of this load. The Penetrator bullet is a full metal jacket, flat point bullet. It does not expand and is not legal for hunting in most U.S. states.

The other Cor-Bon .444 Marlin factory load may be the best available for hunting large game. It uses a 280 grain Bonded-Core Soft Point bullet at a MV of 2200 fps and ME of 3010 ft. lbs. At 100 yards the numbers are 1818 fps and 2055 ft. lbs., and at 200 yards the numbers are 1586 fps and 1565 ft.lbs. Cor-Bon trajectory figures for a rifle using the factory iron sights look like this: +0.84" at 50 yards, 0 at 100 yards, -3.47" at 150 yards, and -6.36" at 200 yards.

For reloaders, Nosler has introduced a 250 grain Partition-HG bullet in .429 caliber, Swift has a 280 grain A-Frame Hollow Point (which ought to be a dandy bullet for the .444), and Speer has a 270 grain Gold Dot bullet. These controlled expansion bullets for heavy pistol loads might also be of interest to .444 rifle owners. At a MV of 2100 fps their trajectory would be similar to that of the 265 grain Hornady bullet. Speer recommends their 270 grain bullet for light and medium game, and their 300 grain Uni-Cor bullet (see below) for heavy game like the great bears.

Sierra (Sports Master JHP), Nosler (JHP), Speer (Uni-Cor SP), Swift (A-Frame HP), and Hornady (XTP Mag) offer 300 grain .429 bullets to the reloader. All of these are intended for heavy revolver loads, but some of them might be very useful in .444 rifles as well. The tough Speer and Swift bullets seem especially promising.

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 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 in the 24" barrel of a Marlin rifle.

The 300 grain Speer bullet has a BC of .213 and a SD of .233. This increase in SD compared to lighter bullets is very important if the .444 is to be used on heavy or dangerous game. The trajectory of the 300 grain Speer bullet at a MV of 2200 fps is as follows: +1.8" at 50 yards, +3" at 100 yards, +1.5" at 150 yards, -2.9" at 200 yards (where it is still carrying sufficient energy for 500 pound game), and -10.9" at 250 yards.

I suggest that Speer introduce a .444 Marlin factory load using the 300 grain Uni-Cor bullet at a MV of 2,200 fps. Something of this sort is desperately needed. Of course, increased bullet weight means increased recoil. In this case about 28.4 ft. lbs. of nasty recoil energy.

It would be well worth a .444 owner's time to experiment with 300 grain bullets. The superior SD of a 300 grain bullet raises the possibility of increased penetration. A 300 grain bullet that holds together at .444 velocities and shoots accurately in Marlin rifles would make the .444 Marlin adequate for all of the world's thin-skinned heavy and dangerous game at short range, finally realizing the potential of the .444 Marlin.

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Copyright 2001, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.