For most people out there, the .44 Remington Magnum is the ‘most powerful handgun in the world’, even if it never really held that title at the time Clint Eastwood uttered those now famous words. The .44 Mag has a special place in Americana and it stands among other immortal cartridges in our ballistic pantheon like .30-30, .30-06, .38 Special and .45 ACP, among many others.
Since this is an article geared toward beginners, I’ll start by saying that the .44 Mag isn’t something that a newbie may want to handle on their first go-around at the range. If introduced to this powerful cartridge at the wrong time, a new shooter may never, ever get the proverbial ‘hair on their chest’ that this round is capable of bestowing upon the worthy.
In all seriousness, the .44 Mag is a very powerful cartridge and is often the most powerful handgun round that a person may fire in their lives. When you get above .44 Magnum, you’re looking at the likes of .454 Casull, .480 Ruger, .460 and .500 S&W, and other wrist-wrenchers.
Most sane people shy away from those cartridges, but day-drinking writers like myself and hardcore handgun hunters tend to favor the big-bore bastards if only for the sake of curiosity, knowing full-well that the .44 Mag is enough for virtually any game.
The perception that the .44 Magnum is the most powerful handgun in the world stems directly from the famous Dirty Harry scene. An interesting point is that Callahan himself, in the sequel Magnum Force, claims to load ‘light special’ ammo in his .44 Mag Model 29, implying that he loads .44 Special in his own gun. There’s some debate on this, but it’s possible that even the most recognizable .44 Magnum in film history was firing reduced power ammo.
Unlike most other guns/cartridges, the .44 Mag is deeply entrenched in popular culture and appears as a status symbol in the hands of both heroes and villains. In the Mad Max films, villains Immortan Joe and Lord Humungus both have their own .44 revolvers. Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and many other heroes have used guns chambered in the caliber during their careers. The .44 Mag also features heavily in video games including Call of Duty, Fallout, and Resident Evil, among many, many others.
Aside from determining whether or not a punk is lucky, the .44 Magnum has a tremendous following in today’s commercial shooting market, with companies like Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Dan Wesson, Taurus, and many others offering guns chambered in the round.
Semi-automatics are rare, but the legendary Desert Eagle is available in this caliber as well as .357 Magnum. Classic guns like the Colt Anaconda can command thousands of dollars on the collector’s market, while new production guns are typically relatively affordable.
Rifles are also available in this chambering. Ruger, Taylor’s, Marlin, Henry, Winchester, Cimarron, and many others make everything from single-shots to semi-autos. These rifles are very popular in states that have ammunition restrictions for hunting deer, such as Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa.
Rifles extend the useful range of the cartridge for hunting. A good hunter with quality ammo can expect to have an effective range of about 150 yards with the .44 Magnum, which is well beyond the ranges many people ever even see a deer, thus making it ideal in most cases.
Ammunition can be had from virtually all ammo makers and is very common. Companies like Remington, Winchester, Hornady, SIG SAUER, HSM, Buffalo Bore and others make everything from self-defense loads to high performance hunting ammo packed with the latest in technology. Not all .44 is safe to use in all guns. Buffalo Bore, for instance, has warnings about using their most powerful ammo in anything aside from massive revolvers like the Ruger Super Redhawk and the like.
Today’s .44 magnum market is divided into several points of view when it comes to philosophy of use. There’s a man I know in my area that shoots only .44 Magnum and won’t buy a gun that’s a different chamber. His carry gun is an ultralight S&W Airweight (sadly discontinued) and he swears by a 240gr JHP in it. I’ve fired it a couple of times and it isn’t my cup of tea.
He hunts with a Marlin lever action and a Ruger bolt action. He’s got more than 50 .44 pistols and rifles and doesn’t think that God himself could’ve made a better cartridge. But he’s hardly not the norm.
Most people who own a .44 don’t carry it or even entertain the idea. The average person out there may hunt with one, but are far more likely to just keep it in the safe.
So what do I think about this round for a beginner? Well, that’s a good question. It’s a very popular cartridge, but many people love it for its novelty and won’t really use it enough to become proficient.
Would a beginner to concealed carry benefit from this round? I don’t think so. The fact that you can chamber the lighter .44 Special loads (the same way a .357 Mag can chamber .38 Special) is a plus, but it negates some of what makes the .44 Mag a benefit, its power.
What about someone new to hunting? There are many fine hunting handguns and rifles in .44 Mag, but few offer significant advantages over comparable .357 Magnum rifles. There is endless debate about which is better in a rifle, with some saying that the .357 offers better penetration and lower recoil, while the .44 crowd emphasizes greater bullet weight and foot-pounds of energy.
Both are correct, but neither is 100% right. Huge numbers of modern hunters are migrating to the .450 Bushmaster, which is fast becoming a choice hunting cartridge nationwide due in part to more states deregulating their shotgun zones and allowing straight-walled cases. But will the .44 be replaced in the woods? No, I don’t think so.
The .44 Mag is not the best beginner’s round. It has high recoil, a steep learning curve to master, generates lots of noise, and is rarely carried. It is, however, a solid and powerful cartridge with a rich history of use that includes famous real and fictional names like Elmer Keith and Lone Wolf McQuaid. There’s a great deal that can be done with the .44 Magnum, but caution should also be taken when you wrap your hands around your first one.