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Because it was engineered to provide big-game-thumping terminal performance, the .44 Remington Magnum provides bona fide authority at a level of recoil most serious handgunners can master and does so in revolvers that are manageable to carry. This optimal blend of versatility and muscle may be attributed in large part to Elmer Keith, who is credited with inspiring the .44 Mag. Keith--legendary for his skill with hunting handguns--laid the groundwork for the .44 Mag. through years of handloading the .44 Special to high pressures for increased performance.

In today's world ruled by litigation, gun and ammo companies would look on such efforts with fright, but in the 1950s the magnum craze was beginning to unfold and folks were more open-minded. Magazine editors allowed Keith to write about handloading the .44 Special to unprecedented pressures, and engineers listened to his suggestions with a keen and interested ear. Judging the field ripe for the introduction of a factory cartridge loaded to Keith-like performance, Smith & Wesson and Remington collaborated to design and produce the .44 Mag. The cartridge was formally announced in December 1955. The rest, as they say, is history.

Although enabled by modern propellants capable of driving projectiles faster than ever and improved steel capable of withstanding high pressures, the .44 Mag. is steeped in traditional nomenclature and influenced by several earlier cartridge design factors.

Instead of being named for the actual diameter of its 0.429-inch bore, it's dubbed with the diameter of the cartridge case itself--a holdover practice dating back to the mid-1800s.

Why .44 (or .43) caliber rather than the historically popular .45 bore diameter (which is one of the few accurate designations)? Keith chose the .44 Special for his groundbreaking experimentation for several reasons. Cases manufactured for the .44 Special tended to have thicker walls and bases and were stronger than those for the .45 Colt. Additionally, because of the slightly smaller diameter of the .44 Special case, the chamber walls of a given size revolver cylinder are thicker and stronger than when bored for the .45 Colt.

Leaning on modern steel and new propellants that developed high velocities at reasonable pressures, engineers set the pressure ceiling of the .44 Mag. at 36,000 psi--way over double the accepted 15,500 psi pressure limit of the .44 Special. Disparity above the .45 Colt's 14,000 psi limit was even greater.

To prevent shooters from accidentally chambering one of the new high-pressure cartridges in an old, weaker revolver, engineers spec'd the new magnum version 0.125 inch longer than its .44 Special parent. A nice side benefit was a bit more internal capacity, which allowed more propellant at less pressure.

As a co-designer of the Remington-labeled .44 Remington Magnum, Smith & Wesson was first on the scene with appropriately chambered double-action Model 29 revolvers. Ruger wasn't far behind with its single-action Blackhawk, one of its employees having found, according to legend, one of the yet-to-be-introduced cartridges headstamped .44 Remington Magnum.

It was an instant success with power-thirsty handgunners. So much so that for a time Smith & Wesson simply couldn't keep up with demand.

Practical Application

Where the .44 Mag. really shines is in the hands of outdoorsmen. Hunters get outstanding results on big game up to and including elk and even moose so long as the right sort of projectile is chosen (more on that in a bit).

It's an outstanding choice for fishermen and other non-hunting outdoorsmen, too. While recoil with heavy charges of propellant under heavy, deep-penetrating bear-stopping bullets raises eyebrows, it's not nearly the level of abuse encountered when firing one of today's super-stompers, such as the .460 and .500 S&W Magnums.

Adding versatility, several different .44 Mag. carbines are available in single-shot, lever-action, semiautomatic, and bolt-action designs. As America's frontiersmen and cowboys discovered a century and a half ago, the practicality of pairing a handgun and a long gun in one capable caliber is tremendous.

Getting Top Performance

To get top performance from the .44 Mag., you need to use the right bullet for the particular application. Traditionally, a 240-grain jacketed softpoint or hard-cast semiwadcutter projectile fired at somewhere between 1,150 fps and 1,400 fps is the go-to bullet for the .44 Mag. Both perform well on deer-size game, but for use on bigger game, the .44 Mag. becomes one of the rare instances in which a proper cast bullet is often preferred to a jacketed version.

Bullets lighter than 240 grains are better for personal-defense purposes, particularly very light jacketed hollowpoint designs, such as the 180-grainers, pushed fast, which expand dramatically to provide profound on-impact energy transfer and minimize-- to an extent--the overpenetration issue associated with using the cartridge for self-defense. Plus, lighter bullets mean lighter recoil, which means faster follow-up shots.

Heavier .44 projectiles, up to 300 grains or a bit more, provide outstanding performance on the heavier-bodied big-game species such as elk, moose, and bear. Again, properly designed hard-cast bullets are often preferable because most jacketed bullets have soft lead cores, and while they do expand and wreak havoc on impact, penetration is severely curtailed. The bigger frontal area creates much greater resistance, and as a result bullets don't travel nearly as deep. A very hard-cast bullet doesn't deform appreciably and penetrates admirably.

In hunting projectiles designed for the typical big-game cartridge, expansion is necessary to cause a quick, humane kill because such bullets start out quite small in diameter and are commonly pointed. Without expanding, they zip through like a knitting needle--and big game is under-impressed by knitting needle holes.

On the other hand, .44-caliber projectiles are of adequate diameter to kill cleanly, assuming a broad, flat meplat (nose) and crisp edges that neatly sever arteries and cut full-diameter holes like a paper punch.

On that note, Keith famously designed what is arguably still the most versatile all-around .44-caliber bullet available. Nominally 240 grains but commonly adapted to heavier versions, the Keith-type cast bullet features a monstrously broad flatnose--very sharp edged--and the crisp, full-diameter shoulder of a semiwadcutter. Between the two, no artery, vital organ, or bone contacted remains undamaged. It's also known for penetrating straight and true rather than deflecting off heavy bone--an issue that plagues roundnose designs.

Lastly, courtesy of the long, full-diameter shank, crisp front shoulder, and flat base, it's a particularly accurate bullet, which further enhances its suitability for hunting.

Keith's semiwadcutter does have one failing: It doesn't play nice with many repeating rifle designs. That sharp, full-diameter shoulder hangs up as the rifle attempts to feed it into the chamber. It's not unique to this specific bullet; all semiwadcutter designs suffer from problematic feeding in such firearms. As a result, if you commonly share ammunition between a revolver and a repeating rifle chambered in .44 Mag., you'll want to bypass Keith-type bullets in favor of roundnose flatpoint designs. However, unlike the RNFP bullets commonly available for cowboy action shooting, which tend to be light and have a small flat on the tip of the aggressively radiused roundnose, choose a heavy-for-caliber version with the broadest meplat you can find.

Handloading Tips

Although a hard-charger in performance, the .44 Mag. is delightfully simple to handload. Start by purchasing carbide dies, which require no sizing lube so you don't have to wipe clean each individual case after loading. They'll set you back some $20 to $40 more than simple steel dies, but I think they're worth every penny of that.

I tumble my empties before sizing because I don't like running gritty cases into my dies. And then I run a primer pocket brush into each to remove carbon crud before repriming.

Check cases for length and trim them if necessary because .44 Mag. cartridges need a good crimp to prevent bullets from creeping during recoil, and a good consistent crimp demands consistent-length cases.

Next, expand the case mouths, taking care to adequately flare the mouths so they'll comfortably accept cast bullets without shaving fragments of lead as they seat, but do not flare them so aggressively that the crimp you'll soon apply can't swedge them down to appropriate, easy-chambering sleekness.

With cases primed and flared, you're ready to charge them with propellant. You can load down the .44 Mag. to .44 Special-like levels (great for building proficiency without enduring the recoil) or stoke it with heavy charges of slow-burning powder to drive massive big-game bullets. I do both and everything in between.

Careful study of a reloading manual will reveal several suitable powders for whatever bullet type and weight you intend to load. That said, there are a few that are legendary performers, and it behooves you to have a pound each of Hodgdon H110, Alliant 2400, and Winchester 296 on your shelf. If you intend to make mild low-recoil practice loads, add a pound of IMR Trail Boss.

Because I'm a little OCD, I use an RCBS Chargemaster Lite to weigh and charge .44 Mag. cartridges I intend to hunt with. However, throwing charges with a quality mechanical measure is much faster and entirely adequate.

If your chosen projectile has a generous crimp groove, you can seat and crimp cartridges in one operation. However, if the groove is short or shallow, you'll find better results by seating fully in one step without crimping, then backing off your seating stem and dialing down your die to apply the crimp in a second step. It's slower, but you'll achieve better bullet concentricity and cleaner, smoother crimps with fewer cases lost to distortion.

Field Performance

While obsessive handgun hunters make clean kills beyond 100 yards with the .44 Mag. and silhouette competition shooters consistently take down banks of 50-pound 200-yard steel rams, the cartridge is at its best inside 100 yards. To that distance it offers adequate energy to kill cleanly and velocity enough to provide a relatively flat trajectory.

Unless you are possessed of young, acute vision, you'll need a scope on your gun to shoot that far ethically anyway. Those who prefer to stick with iron sights are best to keep shots on game inside 50 yards or so.

Let's look at trajectory and energy numbers calculated using a classic 240-grain Keith-type semiwadcutter pushed at 1,350 fps, which generates almost 1,000 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle. Sighted dead-on at 75 yards, point of impact is right at 1 inch high at 50 yards and not quite 3 inches low at 100 yards, where it is down to 1,100 fps and 650 ft-lbs. It's a very usable trajectory that enables a hunter to hold center of vitals out to 100 yards.

Lighter or heavier .44 projectiles and faster or slower velocities change the trajectory, but most can be zeroed at 75 yards and will be quite effective to 100 yards. Past that, you'd best be a student of ballistics to make clean kills.

I've used barrel lengths from 8 inches down to 2.75 inches, all with success. The longer barrels usually provide more velocity, but each gun is individual. Often tightly tuned precision revolvers from the S&W Performance Center or from Freedom Arms provide better-than-average velocity courtesy of tight cylinder gaps.

Of the handguns I've tested, the most capable for extended ranges is S&W's Performance Center Model 629 Magnum Hunter. Mounted with a Burris 2-7X 32mm handgun scope, mine averages sub-inch 25-yard groups with Hornady's 225grain Flex Tip ammo, which is an outstanding choice for extended-range deer hunting courtesy of the pointed tip that gives top-of-class aerodynamics.

The two .44 Mag. revolvers I've found myself using the most lately have very different barrel lengths. Both are Smith & Wesson double actions: one a stainless N-Frame Model 629 Deluxe with a 6.5-inch full-lug barrel, the other a five-shot stainless L-Frame Model 69 Combat Magnum with a 2.75inch barrel. The first is outstanding for general hunting and recreational shooting, the second exceptional as an easy-carrying trail gun or backup guide gun.

Interestingly, their accuracy is comparable. The much shorter sight radius of the 2.75-inch Combat Magnum makes it considerably more difficult to shoot precisely, but as long as I can convince my middle-aged eyes to resolve the iron sights clearly, it shoots tidy little groups.

My two favorite field loads are the 305-grain hard-cast Buffalo Bore factory ammo and a handload made with a 260-grain hard-cast semiwadcutter over 22 grains of H110. The Buffalo Bore ammo is loaded to top velocity and produces immaculate accuracy and reliability out of all .44 Mag. firearms I've fired it in. Plus, it boasts a level of velocity and terminal performance unmatched by almost any other factory .44 Mag. ammunition.

When a jacketed bullet is called for, my go-to loads are Federal's 280-grain Swift A-Frame and Hornady's 225-grain FTX. Surprisingly, as you can see in the shooting results chart, there's only about 140 fps difference between the Buffalo Bore load in the two different barrel lengths.

In the 2.75-inch-barreled Model 69, that Buffalo Bore load kicks like the devil's own mule, but it makes a fantastic backup gun in bear country. I practice with light .44 Special loads, which aren't particularly accurate in the Model 69 but make fine-tuning my shot execution much easier.

Smaller magnums may be easier to shoot and bigger magnums may provide more kinetic energy, but for a balance of manageable recoil and legitimate authority in a comfortable-tocarry revolver, nothing matches the .44 Mag. Whether defending the castle, hunting elk in the Rockies, or packing a wheelgun in protection of wild-country law and order, the .44 Mag. is still the most versatile magnum cartridge ever created.

(1) Hornady 225-Gr. FTX

(2) Barnes 225-Gr. VOR-TX

(3) Winchester 225-Gr. RazorBack XT

(4) Winchester 240-Gr. JSP

(5) American Eagle 240-Gr. JHP

(6) Handloaded 260-Gr. Keith-Type SWC

(7) Federal 280-Gr. A-Frame

(8) Buffalo Bore 305-Gr. LFN

Caption: Designers chose the .44 Special (left) as the foundation case for the .44 Mag. (center) because its walls and base are thicker than the .45 Colt (right), and the smaller chambers leave more wall strength in a revolver's cylinder.

Caption: A wide variety of different factory loads are available for the .44 Mag. and contribute to its versatility. Plus, the cartridge is easy to handload.

Caption: One of Joseph's favorite .44 Mag. revolvers is the S&W Performance Center Model 629 Magnum Hunter. It's very accurate, capable of making consistent hits on targets out to 100 yards or farther.

Caption: Smith & Wesson's new Model 629 Deluxe .44 Mag. revolver is an outstanding all-around gun. It features a full-lug 6.5-inch barrel.

MANUFACTURER        Smith & Wesson
TYPE                Double-action/single-action revolver
CALIBER             .44 Magnum
BARREL              2.75 in.
OVERALL LENGTH      7.8 in.
WIDTH               1.56 in.
HEIGHT              5.78 in.
WEIGHT, EMPTY       34.4 oz.
GRIPS               Synthetic
FINISH              Satin stainless
SIGHTS              Adjustable rear, red insert ramp-type
                    front post
TRIGGER             5-lb. single-action pull (as tested)
SAFETY              Key-activated internal locking system
MSRP                $849


MANUFACTURER        Smith & Wesson
TYPE                Double-action/single-action revolver
CALIBER             .44 Magnum
BARREL              7.5 in.
OVERALL LENGTH      14.0 in.
WIDTH               1.71 in.
HEIGHT              6.2 in.
WEIGHT, EMPTY       62 oz.
GRIPS               Synthetic
FINISH              Two-tone
SIGHTS              Adjustable rear, red insert dovetail
                    front post
TRIGGER             3.75-lb. single-action pull (as tested)
SAFETY              Key-activated internal locking system
MSRP                $1,369


MANUFACTURER        Smith & Wesson
TYPE                Double-action/single-action revolver
CALIBER             .44 Magnum
BARREL              6.5 in.
OVERALL LENGTH      11.6 in.
WIDTH               1.71 in.
HEIGHT              6.2 in.
WEIGHT, EMPTY       51.2 oz.
GRIPS               Textured red wood laminate
FINISH              Satin stainless
SIGHTS              Adjustable rear, red insert ramp-type
                    front post
TRIGGER             5.5-lb. single-action pull (as tested)
SAFETY              Key-activated internal locking system
MSRP                $1,029


                                   VEL.    E.S.    S.D.     ACC.
AMMUNITION                         (FPS)   (FPS)   (FPS)   (IN.)

S&W Performance Center Model 629 Magnum Hunter, 7.5-in. Barrel

Hornady 225-gr. FTX                1452     27      11      0.98
Winchester 240-gr. JSP             1308     14       6      1.04
Federal 280-gr. Swift A-Frame      1112     46      19      1.65

S&W Model 629 Deluxe, 6.5-in. Barrel

Barnes VOR-TX 225-gr. XPB          1210     86      33      2.59
American Eagle 240-gr. JHP         1350     31      12      2.39
Federal 280-gr. Swift A-Frame      1112     46      19      1.65
Buffalo Bore 305-gr. Cast FN       1337     24      10      1.62

S&W Model 69 Combat Magnum, 2.75-in. Barrel

Winchester 225-gr. RazorBack XT    1105     72      38      1.88
American Eagle 240-gr. JHP         1185     21      10      3.30
Buffalo Bore 305-gr. cast FN       1200     29      13      1.77

NOTES: Accuracy is the average of three, five-shot groups fired from
a sandbag benchrest. Velocity is the average of five rounds measured
10 feet from the guns' muzzles.
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Title Annotation:.44 Remington Magnum
Author:Von Benedikt, Joseph
Publication:Shooting Times
Article Type:Product/service evaluation
Date:Mar 1, 2018
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