The Venerable 444 Marlin Cartridge Lives On!
by Scott Crawford - April 1, 2020
444 Brass, Dies & Hornady 265-grain bullets
In the mid-1960s the 45-70 had all but disappeared from the American marketplace. There was no big-bore cartridge available in a lever-action rifle in current production, so Marlin decided to create a new cartridge to fill this empty space. They created what was really a longer version of the 44 Magnum by making it nearly an inch longer to give it power close to the 45-70.
444 Marlin cases being loaded with Hornady 265-grain bullets
The 444 Marlin was designed by Remington at Marlin's request in 1964. To facilitate this round, Marlin beefed-up their model 336 30-30 lever action resulting in the Model 444. The 444 Marlin cartridge is little more than a 44 Magnum with an extra inch of cartridge capacity. It's a little demeaning to say that it's "little more" than a lengthened 44 mag, because that extra powder brings an additional 600 fps more velocity. In terms of muzzle energy, that extra inch causes 44 caliber projectiles to be pumped out at 30-06 power levels.
Tuesday January 20th, 1981 – the 444th day of the Iran Hostage Crisis, I bought my 1st center fire rifle. I was planning on buying a Marlin model 1895 45-70 that day so when I was looking at Marlin's on the wall in the gun shop I didn't even know what I was seeing. I asked to see one particular rifle hanging on the wall and they handed it to me. I thought it was a 45-70 but read the barrel only to find it was a 444. I asked to see a 444 cartridge and when they opened a box and handed me one I fell in love. So, in celebration of the release of the hostages (and this sexy looking new to me cartridge) I picked up a Marlin 444SS. My 1st centerfire rifle & in 444 of all calibers. What was I thinking? Never even heard of it before. Boy was I gunna take some ribbing from the boys. It turned out being the coolest rifle in the lot. This caliber had become a regular in the Marlin annual catalog and Winchester had picked it up as well in its lever action line. So, I wasn't the only lever lover shooting this odd caliber after all!
A 1999 Marlin Model 444P Outfitter
In 1972 Marlin re-introduced the 45-70 to their lever-action line, expanding their big-bore offerings. Sales of the 444 from that point on have been overshadowed by 45-70 cartridge which has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity.
In 1999 Marlin introduced the model 444P, an 18-1/2” factory ported barrel, straight stock in the same configuration as the extremely popular 45-70 Guide Gun which debut the prior year. This model of 444 was named the Outfitter and was carried through 2002 when the last one was made.
In 2011 the Marlin factory was shuttered ending the 444 production. The other lever guns continued to be manufactured by Remington and still are produced today. The good news was that the 444 was finally brought back into production just recently in the 22” barreled rifle model.
The 444 cartridge is a serious hunters round used on deer, hog, elk & moose. It’s often used on black bear as well making this a favorite right along with the 45-70 & 450 Marlin. The latter use heavier bullets however the 444 can rival their power on the lower end.
Hodgdon H4198 Powder & Hornady FTX Bullets
The 444 Marlin can push a 240-grain bullet at velocities over 2,400 ft/s generating 3,070 ft⋅lbf of energy. SAAMI has rated this cartridge at 44,000 CUP. It functions efficiently when used with cast lead bullets. Hand-cast bullets allows the shooter to optimize the alloy for strength and expansion at the higher velocities generated by the Marlin over the traditional 44 caliber bullets. There are several commercial molds available for the hand-caster: the SAEC #433 mold which casts a 300-grain gas-checked bullet, and the Lyman 429640 at 280-grains are two of the more potent bullets for this caliber. Proper cartridge length is maintained by seating the bullet to the correct depth and using a crimp die to put a firm crimp on the seated bullet to prevent slippage in the magazine tube.
Best cast bullet accuracy in the 444 Marlin is attained when utilizing bullets sized to .432" diameter, both in the older "Micro-Grooved" and the newer "Ballard" style barrels. This bullet diameter is dictated more by the large diameter of chamber throats than by groove diameter of the barrel. A projectile closely fitting the throat dimensions greatly enhances the cast bullet performance of this cartridge. Full factory velocity hand loads when assembled using hard-cast, gas-checked bullets of .432" diameter will rival accuracy of any jacketed ammunition for this cartridge.
Three years after the introduction of the 444 Marlin, Hornady introduced a new heavier 265-grain .430 inches bullet created specifically for use in this new 44 caliber cartridge. Since then Hornady has also made a 265-grain interlock "Light Magnum" that boosts velocity to nearly 2,350 ft/s and 3,140 ft⋅lbf of energy at the muzzle. Hornady's latest offering for this caliber is its new LEVERevolution ammunition that has a soft polymer spire point that can be safely loaded in tubular magazines. Because of an increased ballistic coefficient, Hornady claims increased velocity at distances over 200 yards, and velocity and energy at the muzzle of 1,971 ft/s, 2,285 ft⋅lbf and at 200 yards, 1,652 ft/s and 1,606 ft⋅lbf versus 1,542 ft/s and 1,400 ft⋅lbf for its interlock ammo.
Other specialized companies such as Buffalo Bore, Underwood Ammo, and Grizzly Cartridge offer loadings for the 444 Marlin in bullet weights up to 335-grains.
IN THIS ARTICLE
Hodgdon Powder Starline Brass Hornady Bullets Marlin Firearms Buffalo Bore Grizzly Cartridge