Thu, 2010-12-30 11:56
What's wrong with the .444 Marlin?
Some new info added at the end now
I seems to me that whenever anyone speaks about a moderate big bore rifle, the one that seems to not be mentioned, or perhaps is mentioned as an afterthought, is the .444 Marlin. Why this seems to happen is something of a mystery to me. I've looked at a lot of information and read a good bit more on the .444 from those who have used it a great deal and pretty much all that I've read from those actually "in the know" say it's a very fine and capable round.
Nope, it's not a long range cartridge that can easily knock off elk to 400 yds, but if you're a practiced shooter familiar with it's ballistics and trajectory, I'd call it a great 250 yd elk rifle. Using a load such as Hornady's LeverEvolution 265gr or Hornady's 265gr LM loads (or good handloads) it will deliver significant punch to 250yds and those familiar with it's trajectory can cleanly kill deer-sized game to 300 yds (still toting 1100+ FPE there).
Now as far as anything smaller and/or closer, if you like big bores or big bullets maybe it's something you might like for those jobs too. Let's take a little look at the history of the .444. Invented as a joint venture between Remington and Marlin (ammo & rifle, respectively) the .444 debuted in the mid 60s as a longer, much more powerful .44 mag type round. Perhaps the initial mistake was only loading a 240gr bullet, similar (the same?) to the one used in the .44 mag at a much higher velocity. We're talking about 600 FPS faster here, folks (in rifle platform).
That's a lot to ask out of any bullet. Although known to be deadly on deer and even black bear with this singular load, when hunters tried it on elk or moose sized animals the results, apparently, were not always pretty. Now remember this was before Marlin had re-introduced it's classic M1895 (45-70) again too. There were no new 45-70s to be found as yet, so a .444 was the big bore lever rifle. The new M1895 did not appear again until 1972.
The new M1895 became, for Marlin, a resounding success story, so much so that after-market loaders and even Hornady became involved with upping the old War Horse's power in Marlin's newer platform. Not a good day for .444 fans, I suppose.
The owners of .444s were now looking for more powerful loads that could compete with the now reborn 45-70 and many turned to cast bullets finding them, in weights from about 280 to 320gr to work very well and kill big animals with great authority.
Today our bullet selections for the .444 are pretty good from the original 240gr loads, still quick death to any CXP2 game to 265gr loads in two forms from Hornady and more jacketed bullets ranging in weight from 270, 280, and 300gr. These bigger bullets bring big horsepower to the table and are meant to cleanly take big animals (or small) with a minimum of fuss.
Accuracy with some of these loads can be surprisingly good. My early '80s gun shoots the 265gr LeverEvolution loads into under 1/2" at 50 yards, with a peep sight! Yes, I am impressed with that type performance and would not hesitate to take a shot to 100-125 yds with this set-up.
As far as new rifles are concerned, Marlin still catalogues two models of the .444. The standard Model .444 has blue and walnut with a 22" barrel. My older .444S is a very similar rifle to this one. Marlin also makes an XLR version which has a SS finish and laminate stock with a slightly longer 24" barrel to get all the velocity possible out of the newer LeverEvolution loads made for the .444.
My point in saying all this? Well, if you're wanting a powerful medium or big bore without the recoil of a magnum and especially if you like the idea of a powerful lever action platform, be sure to consider the .444! It is still a very viable cartridge and a very handy rifle for today's hunter. And when scoped, it will easily give 250+ yard performance as well, with the right loads.
For those fans of the .444 (as I am) I have recently read a very in-depth bullet test that might be of some interest to some of you. If you'd like the link to this great test, simply message me and I'll provide it to you.