44 Magnum The Most Versatile Handgun Caliber

I know this is going piss-off many of my readers but before moving on to your other favorite firearm blogs take a deep breath and continue reading. Keep in mind I am not saying the 44 Magnum is perfect or best suited for a firefight, the best range cartridge or even the best hunting round. But what I am saying is paired with the right handgun or carbine the 44 Magnum is the most versatile cartridge known to man.

The Remington 44 Magnum has been my favorite handgun caliber since I was a youngster. As a matter of fact when I became of age with enough cash saved my first handgun purchase was a Colt Anaconda with an 8in barrel. My first reloading setup was a RCBS Rock Chucker and a set of 44 Magnum carbide dies given to me by my father, this was over 24 years ago. Throughout those years I have put many 44 magnum rounds downrange and have destroyed many bowling pins, coke cans, paper targets and put down one hog. Though I must admit it was only to dispatch a hog in north Florida to prevent it from dragging itself into a thicket on my grandpa’s land after my dad got off a bad shot with his Winchester 270 hitting it in it’s rear quarters. To this day the old man tells the story of the hog turning to run right as he pulled the trigger, I don’t quite remember it like that, but I digress, and in the end we brought home some fresh bacon on my very first hunt for something other than rabbit. Reminiscing of all the great times I have had with the venerable 44 Magnum, I began to clearly see that it is possibly the most versatile handgun cartridge known to man. Reloading makes the 44 Magnum even more flexible, as a reloader you are capable of choosing different weights of bullets and different charges of powder ranging from mild to wild. The .44 magnum can be an easy-recoiling plinking and target round used in bowling pin matches, a hard hitting one stop dropper for any big game on the North American Continent and in the right hands like Robert Peterson’s the 44 Magnum is even capable of dropping a large polar bear. The 200 grain flying ashtray in 44 special or loaded to 900fps is serious repellant for 2 legged predators intending to cause harm to you or your family members. Is it possible Elmer Keith knew he was creating the most versatile handgun cartridge known to man when he started experimenting with the 44 special? One thing is for sure without Mr. Keith’s creativity, experience and relentless attitude the 44 Magnum wouldn’t be 57 years old this year, it wouldn’t be in existence.

Having recalled so many fond experiences of the 44 Magnum I knew it was time for me to blog about this great cartridge. Placing a few calls to friends promising free lunches or dinners, pristinely cleaned handguns returned upon completion of the study I manage to amass a variety of 44 Magnum handguns.

 

Short and long barrels, ported and non-ported barrels. I then proceeded to dig out my ammo, 44 Special +p in 44 Magnum cases 240gr Remington loaded on top 8.5gr of Hodgdon Universal, 44 Magnum 240gr Remington loaded on top of 18.5gr of Alliant 2400 and Factory Ultramax Match 240gr LSWC. With 7 handguns and one lever action rifle in tow I placed a fresh 9volt battery in my Competition Electronics ProChrono Digital Chronograph and headed to the range.

Though not scientific the data from this test surprised me on many levels. This data will bring to question many heated forum debates, for example — a ported barrel turned in the highest velocity, a 3inch ported revolver managed a higher velocity than an 8inch non-ported barrel revolver. One thing is for sure with so many ammunition choices and variety of 44 Magnum handguns and carbines this data will represent the versatility and ability of the Remington 44 Magnum to take on any task presented to it.

The Test

Weather: 78 degrees, sunny, minimal winds — Chronograph 7 feet away from the muzzle/firing line.

I cleaned the bore of each handgun prior to heading to the range by running 5 patches wet with CLP down the bore of each handgun. Once on the range I fired each variety of ammunition across the chronograph 5 times capturing the velocity of each shot along with the high, low and average velocity. I then fired 5 shots (without chrono) for accuracy from sandbags at 25 yards. This process allowed for each handgun to cool before moving along to the next brand of ammunition. After cleaning each handgun I measured the barrel cylinder gap with feeler gauges.

Ammunition: Factory loaded Ultramax Match 240gr LSWC. Hand-loaded 44 Magnum Case, 240gr Remington Bullet, 8.5grains of Hodgdon Universal. Hand-loaded 44 Magnum Case, 240gr Remington Bullet, 18.5grains of Alliant 2400. All hand-loaded ammunition was ignited by a Winchester Large Pistol Primer.

Plinking, Target Practice

The Remington 44 Magnum is not often a round one thinks of when headed to the range for a fun day of plinking, most often than not most are thinking of the 22LR. My handloaded 44 Special +P 240gr jacket bullet loaded with 8.5 grains of Hodgdon Universal has become one of my most favorite rounds for plinking and poking holes in paper. I would even trust them to the self defense role against the 2 legged predator especially in the right handgun. During this test this round proved to be very consistent and accurate. It even proved to be soft recoiling in the S&W 629 Performance Center 7.5in barrel revolver, yet everyone else on the range knew I was firing off something with substantial power, but not causing pain to the palm of my hands. Of all the handguns which accompanied me on this trip the S&W 629 Light Magnum Hunter Performance Center revolver proved to be the most accurate and the one I would prefer for any range use, it managed a 1 1/4 inch group at 25 yards.

Make and Model

Barrel Length

Ammunition

Hi

Lo

Average

Extreme Spread

Barrel Cylinder Gap

S&W 629-4 Performance Center

7.5in Ported

Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter

1186

1170

1181

16

0.006

Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer

1084

1031

1059

53

Reloads 18.5grains of 2400

1333

1321

1325

12

Self Defense

There is no doubt the 44 Magnum is a capable self defense round in the right handgun. In a self defense situation against 2 legged predators or 4 legged predators on the trail the 44 Magnum has many pro’s as well as a few con’s. Many feel the 44 Magnum for self defense is an over penetrator, recoil heavy, loud and tough to shoot fast and accurate. Again leveraging the 44 Magnums versatility choosing the right load with the right firearm can greatly reduce the risk of all the con’s. Firing a Corbon 320grain cartridge in a S&W 329PD light weight revolver is going to be a painful experience and difficult to get quick follow shots. But pair the Buffalo Bore Reduced Recoil 255grain load with the 3in S&W Performance Center Power Ported Barrel revolver I had with me on the range today and this suddenly becomes a deadly pair. The 3 loads I tested made me claim the S&W 629 3in Performance Center Power Ported barreled revolver the most versatile revolver of the bunch and the most fun. My 44 Special +P loads are great for target, plinking clay pigeons on the berm and personal protection. The 44 Magnum loads were actually a pleasure to fire in this revolver, I would be very confident with this setup on the hiking trails of North America. I was able to put 6 shots of my stoutest loads for the day all on a pie plate at 25 yards within 6 to 8 seconds. This is certainly not Jerry Miculek speed but at 25 yards on the trail my first attempt would be to avoid any dangerous encounter and to fire my weapon as a last resort.

Make and Model Barrel Length Ammunition Hi Lo Average Extreme Spread Barrel Cylinder Gap
S&W 629-4 Performance Center 3in Power Port Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1070 1056 1064 14 0.006
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 986 945 965 41
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1287 1275 1279 12

All Around General Purpose

For best results out of the 44 Magnum I believe the best firearm is one with a 5 to 6in barrel. The barrel length provides for great sight radius which improves accuracy, complete burn of powder for greater velocity and there are many accessories on the market to fit many situations. But the one thing I learned from the chronograph today is that you have to chose the right handgun with the right ammunition. There are a few general rules I have always believed in before conducting this test, long barrels will increase velocity, ported barrels will reduce velocity but this proved not to be true in my test. I am not saying this “myth is busted” because there is simply to many variables to take into consideration before “busting this myth”. Even the same guns of the same manufacturer will often provide different results. One barrel could be a cut a little wide, reducing friction, the depth and geometry of the rifling affects restriction as well, different barrel alloys could even have marginally different coefficients of friction. And that’s just a few barrel variables that come to mind, and lets not forget constriction of chamber throats. So though these are good general rules of thumb “It Depends” but most important you have to chose the right cartridge with the right firearm train and practice with your firearm for those situations. Of all the handguns I tested I chose two as the most pleasant to shoot and best for general overall shooting. The S&W 629 Classic 6in barrel soaked up the 44 Magnums recoil and provided a 5 shot group accuracy of 1 3/4in. I must admit since I am the owner of this 44 I cheated a bit as I purchased a set of S&W 500 Magnum grips for this firearm to fully cover the backstrap.

Make and Model Barrel Length Ammunition Hi Lo Average Extreme Spread Barrel Cylinder Gap
S&W 629-8 Classic 6.5in Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1171 1165 1168 6 0.004
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 1059 1032 1048 27
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1262 1236 1249 26

The other all around general purpose 44 chosen was the Taurus M44. This handgun actually had the largest barrel cylinder gap and 8 ports at the end of barrel. Both known factors to reduce velocity but to my surprise this handgun turned in the highest velocity of the day. Unlike the S&W 629 Classic the Taurus M44 sports a factory grip which covers the back strap and helps absorb recoil. Choosing the Taurus M44 to share the title of best overall shooter I knew immediately would prove to be a controversial topic. Though Taurus makes great handguns they are often criticized in the public more so than any other firearms manufacturer for their unsatisfactory customer service and support and lack of QA. The often criticized QA process of Taurus allows sub par firearms to leave their manufacturing plants and make it in the hands of customers. I believe every manufacturer is capable of producing a lemon, but if you really inspect your firearm before making the final purchase such grief and pain are most often avoided.

Make and Model Barrel Length Ammunition Hi Lo Average Extreme Spread Barrel Cylinder Gap
Taurus M44 6in Ported Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1168 1155 1163 13 0.007
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 1070 1059 1062 11
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1378 1352 1360 26

Hunting

Before I move to my choice of hunting 44mag rig let’s set some ground rules. For me hunting with a handgun or the 44 Magnum means keeping all of my shots at 75 yards or less no matter the game. To be successful in hunting with handguns and handgun calibers I believe one must know their limits. Of course there are records of much longer shots with the 44 Magnum but in my hands 75 yards is my limit that I am comfortable with in making a clean kill. For me the secret to extending past the 75 yard range is with the 44 caliber carbine and for this task there are none better than the lever action Winchester 94AE. It’s 16in barrel provides a better sight radius for greater accuracy at greater distances, it is also very manueverable in the bush. But one thing to keep in mind is that at velocities above 1500fps out of a carbine some pistol bullets will break up on impact and fail to penetrate sufficiently.

Make and Model Barrel Length Ammunition Hi Lo Average Extreme Spread
Winchester 94 Trapper 16in Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1329 1308 21
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 1234 1178 56
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1563 1517 46

There is something to be said about pairing a carbine with a handgun of the same caliber and many of the early settlers of the wild west did exactly this for simplicity. My choice of handgun hunting rig would be the Ruger Redhawk. The Redhawk is known for it’s stout built like a tank characteristics and with this firearm it allows you to push the 44 Magnum to the extreme with those Ruger only loads publicized in all of the reloading manuals. Compared to the S&W 629 you can clearly see the top strap and cylinder is beefier, but this also means more weight to pack.

Make and Model Barrel Length Ammunition Hi Lo Average Extreme Spread Barrel Cylinder Gap
Ruger Redhawk 7.5in Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1199 1185 1191 14 0.006
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 1098 1052 1073 46
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1340 1328 1331 12

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – Attention Grabbers

Though I find the great sport of shooting very fun there is nothing more attention grabbing than a 44 Magnum barking every time you pull the trigger, but it is often the firearm in itself that brings about the conversation. We all know without Elmer Keith there would be no 44 Magnum, without Clint Eastwood it may not be as popular. While the 44 Magnum was popular amongst the purest of shooters who knew of its capability it wasn’t until 1971 where it co-starred next to Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry paired with a S&W model 29 when it gathered the attention of the general public. For the purist it just doesn’t get any better than a deep blued S&W model 29.

Make and Model Barrel Length Ammunition Hi Lo Average Extreme Spread Barrel Cylinder Gap
S&W 29-4 8.3/8in Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1158 1132 1146 26 0.006
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 1021 1001 1012 20
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1284 1262 1273 22

For those with a more modern taste S&W has produced a 629 Competitor heavy barrel adjustable weighted system.

This design though it looks more modern is actually taken from the early PPC days. The S&W 629 Competitor sports a rail for mounting optics, LPA rear adjustable serrated sight for knocking down glare and extreme precision.

The weighted barrel helps control recoil, yet allowing the shooter to adjust the weights to his or her liking. That forward weighted system allows me to just hang the revolver out there on target without a lot of movement. This revolver being produced by the S&W Performance Center means it has a tuned action with a trigger break at a little over 5lbs double action. This revolver was very close to being chosen as the best all around 44 Magnum but with an  MSRP of $1509 this prevented me from choosing it for that category.

Make and Model Barrel Length Ammunition Hi Lo Average Extreme Spread Barrel Cylinder Gap
S&W 629-6 Competitor 6in Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1150 1126 1137 24 0.005
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 1034 995 1016 39
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1146 1130 1137 16

Conclusion

Again the data presented as part of my testing is far from a real scientific study, it is only meant to serve to show the capabilities and variety of the 44 Magnum. With 3 loads of your choice for your 44 carbine/handgun I believe you will be well prepared for any situation you were to incur on the great North American Continent. A heavy large cast 300grain bullet for Elk, 240grain bullet for general purpose and plinking and a 200grain GoldDot or Sierra 180grain bullet for self defense covers a large majority of situations you may find yourself in. Train and practice and know your limitations and you will soon recognize the 44 Magnum as a great companion day or night.

So I conclude whether on the range or in the bush,  from target, general purpose to hunting the Remington 44 Magnum is up for the task and the most versatile cartridge known to man especially when paired with the right firearm for the job.

Thank you Mr. Elmer Keith for bringing us such a versatile cartridge and one I was able to have another great fun day on the range with!

Supporting data for those that wish to compare the numbers side by side.

Make and Model Barrel Length Ammunition Hi Lo Average Extreme Spread Barrel Cylinder Gap
S&W 629-4 Performance Center 7.5in Ported Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1186 1170 1181 16 0.006
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 1084 1031 1059 53
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1333 1321 1325 12
Taurus M44 6in Ported Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1168 1155 1163 13 0.007
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 1070 1059 1062 11
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1378 1352 1360 26
S&W 629-4 Performance Center 3in Power Port Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1070 1056 1064 14 0.006
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 986 945 965 41
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1287 1275 1279 12
S&W 29-4 8.3/8in Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1158 1132 1146 26 0.006
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 1021 1001 1012 20
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1284 1262 1273 22
S&W 629-8 Classic 6.5in Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1171 1165 1168 6 0.004
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 1059 1032 1048 27
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1262 1236 1249 26
Ruger Redhawk 7.5in Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1199 1185 1191 14 0.006
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 1098 1052 1073 46
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1340 1328 1331 12
S&W 629-6 Competitor 6in Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1150 1126 1137 24 0.005
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 1034 995 1016 39
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1146 1130 1137 16
Winchester 94 Trapper 16in Ultramax Match 240gr Semi Wad Cutter 1329 1308 21
Reloads 8.5grains of Universal/Winchester LP Primer 1234 1178 56
Reloads 18.5grains of 2400 1563 1517 46
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44 Magnum The Most Versatile Handgun Caliber, 9.4 out of 10 based on 9 ratings

13 thoughts on “44 Magnum The Most Versatile Handgun Caliber”

  1. I’d say .41 Magnum is the actual sweet spot for versatility. Too bad it has been neglected.

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  2. Marc the 41Magnum is a great flat shooting round it’s just sort of a tweener :) which is why I don’t think it gets much love, though it does have a cult like following.

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  3. Awesome! You covered it all…except you turned over some rocks and introduced some mysteries, Holmes. Sounds like you and Dr Watson have some unfinished business indeed.

    -bu

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  4. This was a great read. Thank you for sharing.

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  5. You betcha. .44 Mag is almost as good all round as the .45 Colt, and that’s saying something! To be fair, Ruger isn’t making new 5.5 inch barrelled Redhawks in .45 Colt right now, so a new shooter, especially one who doesn’t reload (yet) might be better served by the .44.

    As for the .41 Mag, the fact that it isn’t that popular makes for a lack of variety when it comes to bullets (or did 10 years ago). Vicious cycle, less people use it, less incentive for development of modern bullets in various varieties.

    Thanks for the good read,

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  6. My first .44 was an old model Super Blackhawk I bought from my brother c. 1977. I used to literally hammer out reloads on the floor of my bedroom with a Lee Loader.

    I was 16 then and I’ve been a proponent of the cartridge ever since. I’ve burned an awful lot of powder over the years and while there are many merits to other calibers, I’m still waiting to see something that matches the versatility of the .44 Remington Magnum.

    Elmer knew his business.

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  7. Good article.

    This is why I love my Dan Wesson. Change barrels and your 4″ home defense becomes a 6 ” or 8″ target / hunter.

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  8. A good Dan Wesson set is one revolver that has always eluded me. The sets have become so expensive now. But you are right Dan Wesson 44 with barrels is one awesome set to have and adds to the versatility.

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  9. You forgot shot shells, the handy dispatchers of snakes and other vile critters. My recipe is a standard 44 mag case, a large pistol primer, 7.5 grains of unique, a cardboard wad, enough shot (#7 works well) to almost fill the case, another cardboard wad and a couple drops of wood glue to seal it all up. Good on snakes up to about 5 yards. If you’re farther than that, the snake is no danger to you!
    I even found a similar recipe for cutting, resizing and turning 308 Win or 303 British shells for the same effect, but with a larger load of shot.
    The .44 Mag is absolutely my favorite gun to reload for! Thanks for a great article.

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  10. FINALLY somebody writes an article saying what I have been saying for years and why I bought my 6 in. 629 7 years ago. I wanted one firearm to master as best I can. Therefore, I wanted it to be the most versatile and, for the reasons you listed, I came to the same logical conclusion. To this day, it is all I’ve ever needed and wanted. And while it seems to intimidate most people at the range, I’ve found that the little 9mm’s and .22′s most men seem to like to shoot nowadays bore the snot out of me. I guess I just spoiled myself with the best:)

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  11. I agree that the .44 Mag is the most versatile handgun cartridge. If I could only have one handgun it would be a 629 w/4″ barrel. All hail Elmer!

    OTOH, long barrels don’t really soak up recoil. Recoil is a matter of “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction,” and adding barrel length increases muzzle velocity (increasing recoil) while also increasing weight (reducing recoil)… whether or not that ultimately results in an increase, or reduction, of recoil probably varies by application. How much weight have you added vs. how much muzzle energy as increased?

    I know a guy that swears his standard 6.5″ 629 recoils harder than his standard 4″.

    Here’s the science: The determining factors for recoil are gun weight, bullet weight, bullet diameter, charge weight, and muzzle velocity. Barrel length is not a value used when calculating the amount of recoil a particular gun will produce with a particular load.

    http://www.realguns.com/calculators/recoil.html

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