Can You Handle The .44 Magnum?
By Skeeter Skelton
Shooting Times Magazine
These guns have undeservedly earned and unsavory reputation for being brutal hand busters. This is not true. Theyíre excellent hunterís handguns, and while they have tremendous muzzle blast and howitzer-like recoil, any sixgunner can adapt to them and take varmints and even big game.
is a truth about the .44 Magnum. A great many lies have been told about it, but
there remains a truth. It is the most powerful revolver cartridge yet produced,
and the sixguns made for it by Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger are the
finest revolvers available today.
you are mulling over the purchase of one of these big handguns, you are probably
fretting about some of the reports youíve heard or read. There have been more
bullchips spread in the trail of the .44 Magnum than perhaps any other
contemporary firearm, and until youíve used one for a while you wonít be
able to separate the gas from the gospel.
next prevalent of the malicious rumors that plague the .44 is that it kicks so
viciously that no one but a masochist can take pleasure in shooting it. I am
always perplexed when otherwise virile, outdoor types Ė some of them gun
writers, and presumably experts in the use of arms Ė tell me they just canít
handle the .44 Magnum
of these guys are rifle and shotgun men who infrequently fire handguns,
especially big-bore handguns. I suspect that their examination of the .44 Magnum
has been perfunctory. After their writings and their candid conversations were
bandied around gun circles a few times, it is small wonder that the average handgunner
doubted his own ability to control the brute.
was reported that firing the Smith & Wesson with factory magnum loads would
split the web of your hand. The checkering on the Smith stocks, they said, made
your palm feel that it was being given the electric chair.
smooth-gripped Ruger was called uncontrollable, and the barrel went skyward as
the handle slithered down through your grasp, letting the hammer spur gouge a
steak out of the top of your thumb. The Rugerís trigger guard was indicted for
chewing a hole in the front of the shooterís middle finger, with malice
aforethought. Eardrums were damaged and eyeballs glazed over by the tremendous
muzzle blast and flash.
rifle and shotgun men decided that you would be better off with a compact rifle.
The tables showed the .44 Magnum revolver to have less energy than a .30-30
handgunners who didnít care to devote themselves to learning the new gun
pronounced the .357 Magnum, at about half the power of the magnum .44 to be
adequate for any task a reasonable man would assign to a handgun.
a result, a large segment of the shooting world believes the user of a .44
Magnum is a showoff who substitutes for virility, cool, and the understanding of
the finer points of sportsmanship.
havenít been around a great many .44 Mag shooters, maybe because many of my
sixshooting friends have been spooked by irresponsible pap like that Iíve just
quoted. What I write now is based on my own experience, and that of two or three
others who like to make up their own minds.
have owned about 10 .44 Magnum revolvers, all the products of S&W or Ruger.
In these guns I have fired perhaps 3000 or 4000 factory loads of various makes,
and followed them with an estimated 15,000 or 20,000 heavy handloads. I have
never loaded any large quantity of light loads for the magnum, reserving this
class of cartridge for my .44 Spl. Guns.
no time has a .44 Magnum revolver broken the skin of my hand or caused me any
pain when I fired it. I have never seen one of these guns injure any other
shooter in even the mildest way, and this includes my son, who first fired a
Ruger .44 when he was six.
doesnít mean that my associates or I are any tougher than you are. Fifty
rounds of hardball from an unaltered .45 Colt automatic will let its grip safety
and hammer spur chew a hole in the web of my gun hand that will require a month
factory ammunition, the .44 Magnum has a recoil of about 18.5 foot pounds
(ft./lbs.). The .357 is listed at 11.58 ft./lbs., and the old .45 Colt at 9.9.
None of these revolvers causes me any distress. The .45 ACP is tabled at 4.5 ft/
lbs. And this softy eats me alive unless I alter the gun to de-fang it.
indicates to me that the target-type Smith & Wesson stocks and the 19th
century Ruger grip frame are admirably suited to the cushioning of heavy recoil.
They do their jobs in different way.
my notion the Smith .44 Magnum kicks more. This is to say that more of the
recoil energy is transmitted into the shooterís hand and arm. The sawhandle
hump at the top of the S&W backstrap is designed to keep the hand in place
during recoil, and does its work perfectly. The thrust of the kick comes more or
less straight back into the palm and forearm because the hand does not move on
historic SA grip of the Ruger allows the barrel to turn up and the stocks to
slip down slightly in the hand. Much of the recoil force is dispelled as the
handle rubs through the gripping palm and fingers.
realizing it, most shooters find shooting the .44 Magnum unpleasant because of
muzzle blast, rather than actual recoil. This is especially true in the case of
short barrels, which allow great gobs of the slow-burning powder used in magnums
to pass through the big muzzle and flash noisily in front of the gun.
Smith Magnum is produced in three different barrel lengths: Four-inch, 6 Ĺ
-inch, and 8 3/8 Ėinch. Rugerís super Blackhawk comes only with a 7 Ĺ -inch
tube, althought he discontinued ďstandardĒ Blackhawk, a somewhat lighter gun
of which I am fond, was offered in 6 Ĺ, 7 Ĺ, and 10-inch lengths. Both Ruger
models are sometimes encountered with barrels cut to 4 5/8, and I consider
these, like the four-inch Smith & Wesson, a mistake, since the shooter pays
a high price in discomfort for the sake of a small increase in portability.
you will probably find shooting a short-barreled.44 more taxing than a long one,
itís not because the short gun kicks more. True recoil in the longer-tube
models is a bit greater because the powder is burned more completely, and
pressures and velocities are increased. The long guns are more powerful, more
accurate because of their longer sight radius, and infinitely more friendly to
the gun-shy shooter.
.44 Magnum is not a policemanís gun. I am told that Clint Eastwood is the hero
of a new, gutsy cop movie call, Dirty Harry, and that in it he totes
around a 6 Ĺ -inch Smith .44 Maggie under a sports jacket. Eastwood, if I
recall, did a bunch of spaghetti westerns in which he would shoot 11 men and
water buffalo without reloading his sixshooter.
enjoy the raunchy Eastwood entertainment, but I separate it from my work as a
police officer. There are no retakes in back alley confrontations between the
law and the lawless.
muzzle blast and recoil of the .44 Magnum do not lend it to fast repeat shots.
To a degree I accept the theory that a big caliber revolver is the best medicine
in a gun fight, because one well placed shot will stop the hostilities. This is
true Ė only if you have one armed opponent. If you have several, you must move
is also the possibility, even the probability, that the officer might miss his
first shot in the stress of combat. Iíve seen it happen. Pulling the .44
Magnum down out of recoil for a second shot can use up a lot of time. A combat
handgunner doesnít have any spare time.
leaves the .44 Magnum way out by itself. It is a hunterís gun, pure and
simple, and in this role it is beautiful, and Iíve used it as such for 16
.44 is an excellent varmint killer, especially with hollow-point bullets. Even
with nonexisting solid lead slugs it is too much for rabbit- or squirrel-sized
game intended for the kitchen. Holding way to the front, you will be lucky to
take home the hindquarters of meat animals this size.
shines on bobcat, javelina, coyotes, and the little Texas whitetail, and will
take this game handily with just about any bullet style you care to load in it.
Although I donít ordinarily go big-game hunting armed only with a handgun,
circumstances have permitted me to take mule deer, whitetail, antelope, and on
mouflon sheep with the .44 Magnum. I wouldnít hesitate to shoot an elk or
medium-sized bear with this cartridge if I were close enough to be sure of
placing my shot.
good shooting has been done with it at considerably longer ranges, it is best to
call the .44 Magnum a 100-yard gun. A good, calm sixgunner who is familiar with
the trajectory of the load he is using will have little trouble staying in the
heart-lung area of a deer-sized target at this range. This presupposes that he
will use the steady two-handed hold, and try for a one-shot kill.
old .44-40 Winchester load, a 200-grain, conical lead slug at about 1500 fps
from a saddle carbine, took a hell of a lot of game in this country, fired from
í73 and í92 Winchesters and a wide selection of Colt pumps and Marlin lever
actions. Everyone thought it was just fine in its time, even though infinitely
more powerful cartridges were available.
long-barrelled .44 Magnum revolver is more powerful than the .44-40 rifle. It
shoots heavier bullets, better designed for expansion and resultant killing
power, at the same or higher velocities. I, for one, can do about as well on a
game target with the .44 Magnum sixgun as I can with an iron sighted,
lever-action carbine. Although the .30-30 carbine has paper velocity and energy
figures that would make you think it is more potent than the .44, I donít
believe this is the case. Game shot at similar ranges with expanding bullets
from the .30-30 long gun and the .44 Magnum revolver seems to me to be equally
.44 Magnum is the brainchild of Elmer Keith and when it first became available
he reported on tests he had made on heavy slaughter bulls, using the half-jacket
lead Remington load. His tests indicated that the soft lead bullets expanded to
almost an inch on the thick hide and frontal bone of the bullís skulls, and
yet retained enough penetration to range deeply into the neck muscles.
how proud Elmer was of his new cartridge, I ran similar test of my own. I found
that Keith was, if anything, understanding the case for the stopping power of
the factory .44 Magnum load. At a friendís slaughter plant I compared the
effect of the Remington load, a handload comprised of the Lyman 429421 bullet
cast hard over 22 grains of 2400 powder, and some blackpowder, and some
black-tipped, armor piercing .30-06 stuff fired from a bolt-action rifle.
factory and handloaded .44ís naturally, cut larger holes in the skills of the
butcher cattle than the .30-06 military ammunition. The unexpected result was
that both the factory and the cast-bullet handloads penetrated much deeper into
the neck area of the steers.
the case of the .44 handload, bullets were uniformly found some three to four
inches farther into the heavy neck muscle, after having completely penetrated
the skull and spinal areas, than the .30 caliber rifle bullets that had been
designed to shoot through armor plate.
that time a number of jacketed, soft-nosed and hollow-pointed .44 bullets have
become available. Remington and Winchester both have both JSP and JHP loaded
rounds and component bullets that are improvements on their original .44 Mag
slugs in the expansion department.
Vel Cartridge Co. offers lightweight, 180-grain JHP and JSP numbers that can be
kicked up to 1700 fps. I bagged the aforementioned mouflon sheep with these, and
they performed perfectly.
Sierra, and Hornady all offer their own ideas of the perfect .44 bullet, and are
excellent. Norma Precision imports a load, as well as steel jacketed raw
bullets, that will probably give deeper penetration than any of its
counterparts, at the cost of extreme expansion.
really learn your .44 Magnum you must shoot it a great deal. If your income
places you in the great American middle class, you must reload. Factory
ammunition is simply too expensive to permit the 50 or more rounds you should
shoot each week to become proficient. Even the purchase of enough
factory-formed, jacketed bullet for reloading can become an economic burden if
you are shooting seriously.
answer to you financial problem is to cast your own bullet. The three best .44
Magnum slugs are typified by Lymanís Keith style 429421, their gas checked
429244, and the similar, gas checked Lyman 429215 bullet that casts out
at approximately 215 grains, opposed to the nominal 250 grains of the former
Ohaus Scale Corp. is now producing moulds of very similar designs that are
excellent in quality, and Lee Precision Manufacturing offers a new line of
inexpensive casting equipment that will make good .44 slugs..
be afraid of cast bullet in your .44 Magnum. One affluent rancher friend of mine
has carried a .44 Smith every day for many years. He can afford to use whatever
bullet or cartridge that catches his fancy, but he prefers a gas checked 429244
bull, hollow pointed or solid, depending on his quarry, for all his hunting. His
standard powder charge with either bullet is 22 grains of 2400, which gives him
gas-checked bullets are superb, and shoot clean over any powder charge. Fitting
the copper gas check to their base constitutes a modicum of extra work and
expense, and I have always gotten fine results, with no barrel leading, with
plain-based bullets of the Keith type.
.44 Magnum is hairsplittingly accurate, in spite of its great striking power.
This is a natural condition, since it is simply a slightly elongated .44
Special, the most accurate centerfire round weíve ever had.
shooters keep their magnums sighted for 50 or 100 yards. I never have, since
most of my sixgun shots come at 20 to 35 yards. My .44s are sighted to hit the
exact point of aim at 25 yards. At 50 yards, only a minute holdover of the front
sight is necessary for center hits, and as a practical matter I hold right on.
is some drop at 100. Holding something like 1/8 inch of the front blade above
the level of the rear sight leaf will put you center at this range, depending on
your load, and very little practice is necessary to learn how much front blade
to hold up for consistent hits. Longer ranges require more visible front blade
and out to 500 yard it gets real interesting.
this kind of shooting a light, clean trigger pull is necessary. Smith &
Wesson magnums uniformly have this attribute. The less expensive Rugers
sometimes have a bit of creep, but the attainment of a crisp-let off on your
Ruger single action is a simple and inexpensive assignment for any capable
be afraid of the .44 Magnum. There is nothing magical, supernatural, mysterious,
forbidding, or even sexy about it. It is simply an honest, big gun that will do
you a job if you will bother to become familiar with it.
thatís the truth.
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