Calibers for Beginners, Feelin’ Lucky Edition: .44 Magnum

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.

From left to right: 9mm, .45 ACP, .357, .44 Mag

From left to right: 9mm, .45 ACP, .357, .44 Magnum

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.

Dirty Harry .44 Magnum Do You Feel Lucky Punk

courtesy youtube.com

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.

Desert Eagle .44 Magnum

courtesy Buffalo’s Outdoors and YouTube

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.

Henry USA Rifle .44 Magnum Big Boy Classic

courtesy henryusa.com

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.

comments

  1. avatar Sich says:

    I might consider the .44 Magnum in a “Mare’s Leg” configuration, because the weight of the Firearm will absorb much of the Recoil. But in Pistol form, forget it. Having Advanced Arthritis in both hands hurt’s like he|| with Heavy Recoil…

    1. avatar Geoff "Mess with the Bull, get the Horns" PR says:

      “I might consider the .44 Magnum in a “Mare’s Leg” configuration, because the weight of the Firearm will absorb much of the Recoil. But in Pistol form, forget it.”

      At the time I bought my Super Redhawk 7 inch in .44 mag, I was at the end of my ‘beginner’ phase in gun ownership.

      The one I had was milled for rings and had a hunting ‘scope on it. It was not a problem for me to fire it.

      With the scope off of it, it was a handful, but not painful to shoot. I had to pay attention to muzzle flip.

      If someone new at guns wanted a .44 mag, I’d suggest they put a few hundred rounds of .44 Special through it first, to get the ‘hang’ of how it behaves. When comfortable at that power level, fire a few hundred at standard .44 mag loadings.

      Only after they are comfortable with standard magnum loadings should they begin to experiment with the ‘full house’ loads from Buffalo Bore or the like.

      In my opinion, handing a new shooter a .44 mag with full-house loads is a dick move…

  2. avatar Mister Furious says:

    Nice article, I always enjoy these. Indiana doesn’t have caliber restrictions anymore, though.

  3. avatar Jeff O says:

    I own a Rossi 92 lever gun in .44 Magnum and it’s probably the most fun gun I own.

    I load up my cheap, light, reloads and crank ‘m out fast. 12 shots goes mighty quick.

    It’s also a hoot with heavier loads.

    1. avatar Sich says:

      My Ballpoint Pens are chewed up for a reason, fighting off the pain of Stage Five Rheumatoid Arthritis. So “Fast” Lever Action “isn’t” an option…

  4. avatar Jason Roberts says:

    I’ve got a 44 mag. It’s a Taurus. The Raging Bull variety, 8 inch barrel. It’s bout the only Taurus I’ll buy though. Very stout revolver. I use PPU 240 and 300 grain rounds. They seem loaded pretty hot, especially the 300 grain ones. I love the caliber and would shoot it more often but a box of 50 runs about $30. That is pretty cheap for 44 mag but not cheap enough to plink all day with. I love letting newbies shoot it. I start them with 240’s and then drop in the 300’s. Great article.

  5. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    Every American male should have at least one .44 magnum, if for nothing else to prove their not a pinko commie.

    1. avatar Mad Max says:

      I’v got the new Model 69 Combat Magnum (love that 2.75 in. barrel) and an older Marlin 1894 stainless. Do I get extra credit for having two .44 Magnums? 🙂

      1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

        Absolutely. I’ve got a S,R&Co 50th anniversary Blackhawk (6-1/2″) and a Vaquero birdshead (3-3/4″) in .44 mag.

        1. avatar mike hill says:

          Really? Extra credit for having two. How much extra credit do I get for having four: Ruger Super Blackhawk, Ruger Redhawk, S&W 629, and one of the original Auto-Mags, serial# A00920. I still prefer the.41 magnum!

    2. avatar Curtis in IL says:

      And you have to shoot it one-handed like Clint did, or you’re a pink commie girly man.

      1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

        That’s a very good skill to master for when the counter-revolution comes.

        Both the above mentioned SAAs have grips that are essentially two finger affairs with my XXL glove sized hands, so I think I can prove beyond the shadow of any doubt my capitalist credentials.

  6. avatar Robert Powell says:

    during the viet-nam war i was on a ship with a good machine shop, i did the george heubner conversion to the 44 supper blackhawk it takes a 458 african cut to 1 1/2 ” and loaded with 240 g horney’s a 11inch 45-70 bbl it was right on the most recoil that i have shot in a frontier styled handgun. the belted case gives a little more safety than a single wall case . it was devistating to any target. very accurate with a good shooter,scary if the shooter wasn”t use to big bore guns.most definitely a two-handed pistol.

  7. avatar RonnyRayRayGun says:

    Harry Callahan used the .44 Special loads during competition.

  8. Calibers for beginners: the .44 Magnum? With all due respect I must disagree. For
    beginners a .22 handgun historically is perhaps the best, followed by a .357 Magnum
    revolver. Since the latter chambers and fires .38 Special wad-cutters, this would be
    the practical way to load. I morally approve of this article though. I feel the .44 Magnum
    really comes into it’s own in Alaska where there are big bears. Even the .454 Casull. But
    for “self defense/house protection/concealed carry” and for a general purpose handgun,
    the .38 Special/357 Magnum combination still prevails.

    1. Caliber *information* for beginners. If you read the post, Josh makes clear .44 really isn’t the best choice for new shooters.

  9. avatar Kendahl says:

    The .44 mag was a popular choice for good guys and bad in the movie, 48 Hrs.

  10. avatar 16V says:

    “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.”

    Well, there’s also some debate that the earth is (roughly) spherical. There is about the same amount of evidence to support that theory…

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      In Harry’s defense, he was talking to a group of vigilante killers. He was probably just lulling them into complacency.

  11. avatar Jay in Florida says:

    Ill admit it here. Must be a wuss in my 35+ years of hand gunning. I never have had the need nor curiosity about it.
    But I do like my 3 inch S&W 624 alot. Ive only fired 44spc. And stopped using it due to the cost of 44 spc.

    1. avatar Geoff "Mess with the Bull, get the Horns" PR says:

      When you are at the range, with muffs on, the 9mm and .357s being fired sound like “Pop! Pop! Pop!”.

      When you squeeze of a round of .44mag, it goes *BOOM!* and every head on the firing line pivots to you…

      1. avatar jwm says:

        Ever been on an indoor range that allows .50 bmg? Weirdest non military shooting day of my life. Barrett .50 bmg on one lane. That drum fed full auto AA shotgun on one lane. And at least one mp5 ripping it up.

        And I kid you not I brought the whole show to a stop with a GLOCK fo tay with a can on it. Everybody wanted to see and experience a suppressed pistol.

        Fukking strange.

      2. avatar ORCON says:

        Mmmm… my 686 does not go pop pop. It’s loud as hell. You are right though, the 44 brings the thunder.

        1. avatar Andrew Lias says:

          Yeah, .357 can have plenty of bang. Max loads with Blue Dot or Bullseye in a 2.5 or 3″ k-frame will get people asking questions on what you’re shooting. Had hit happen a few times.

          After shooting a 629 (usually shoot k-frames) the biggest impression to me is the heft of the gun its self. I want to get a snubby version for shits and giggles, or a PC 629-4 like in Escape from LA. About the only gun I’ve ever seen in a movie I went “I want that.”

        2. avatar Kenneth says:

          A 140 grain flat point in front of 12.8 grains of Blue Dot is a magic load in my .357s.

      3. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

        Reminds me of the time I mixed the special and the magnum ammo in the same box and let my wife load up for herself. I told her to load up the short ones. Pop. Pop. Pop. BOOM! Pop. Pop. To her credit she took it all in stride.

      4. avatar GS650G says:

        I’ve had people next to me stop shooting and back away until.i was done. One guy said he was glad it only held six. The fireballs light up the range and all you see is a orange flash in the scope.

    2. avatar New Continental Army says:

      In all honesty .44 mag is pretty fun. There’s certainly more recoil then most other handguns but it’s pretty manageable especially in a full size revolver. When I was younger I got in to .44 mag, I didn’t know anyone with one. I just said F it and went out and bought one without having ever shot one and told myself I’d have to man up and take it. Years later I still have it and it’s easily my favorite handgun caliber. I garuntee you the first time you touch one off you’ll probably think “really? That’s what all the fuss is about? This ain’t bad.” At least that’s what I thought. Put it this way, if you’re a hunter you’ll get it, it hurts FAR LESS then shooting 3in 12 gauge slugs.

      1. avatar Toni says:

        Can well relate. I had a Ruger Super Blackhawk in .44 mag with a 4-5/8″ barrel and when i bought it the guys at the gun shop told me “you’ll break your wrist with that thing”. first shot i held on with both hands. After that i shot it single handed. For me it was easy to handle

    3. avatar George D Proctor says:

      If your worried about the cost, try reloading. You can customize your loads from mild to hot.

  12. avatar ORCON says:

    7.5″ Ruger SBH, 240 grain XTP, 24 grains of H110. You’ll never want to shoot a handgun again unless you’re a real sicko like me.

  13. avatar Ardent says:

    The closest I’ve got is a Ruger Vaquero chambered in .45 Colt. It is an “old model”, suited to just about the hottest loads available in the caliber. While it serves mostly as a range toy and round the farm gun, stoked with mild cowboy action loads (200-230 grains at ~800 fps), it comes alive with some of the Underwood, Black Hills, Buffalo Bore and handloads that work out to the same energy as the hottest .44 Magnum loads extant. There is something to be said for sending 300+grns ~1400fps from a handgun. It’s quite satisfying.

  14. avatar jwm says:

    I remember when that movie came out. S&W were not making and selling a lot of their model 29. Until Dirty Harry. Then you couldn’t find one for a long period of time.

    I got my hands on the Super Blackhawk first. When I finally got a hold of a Smith I found it was a beauty. But I shot the Ruger better.

    Don’t own a magnum now. And unless I start spending time in big bear country I probably will not own one again.

    But they were fun.

  15. avatar New Continental Army says:

    “He’s got more than 50 .44 pistols and rifles and doesn’t think that God himself could’ve made a better cartridge.”

    And that man is absolutely fucking right.

  16. avatar Charles says:

    I have somehow managed to accumulate four 44mag firearms. It started with a Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter a few years ago. I took a nice buck with it 2 years ago using a red dot. Then I added a Henry Big Boy Steel. It sports a Skinner peep sight. I always liked the idea of a revolver and levergun in the same caliber. In the past year i have added a 3 screw Ruger Super Blackhawk and an Uberti cattleman. The 3 screw Ruger has not been upgraded and I do not plan to send it to Ruger for the modification. I rather like 44 mag.

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      The 3 screw’s worth more unconverted, but they do send your stock parts back.

  17. avatar GS650G says:

    I hunt deer with a super redhawk in .44 mag with a Leopold 2×20 scope. Onlt about an inch or 2 of drop over a 50 yard range with vortex copper 225 grain UP. The rounds are very fast, about 1450 I think.
    I’ve put a few hundred rounds through it and can say I’ve mastered it by now. My target is 23gr bullseye on 240 JHP which gives a nice fireball.
    I don’t think more is needed for thin skinned game at 50 yards. It’s an old cartridge that stands the test of time.

  18. avatar DrewR says:

    I’ve got a six inch Redhawk from the mid eighties. I load up 325 grain hard cast lead at around 1200 fps for bear. Stout, but manageable.

  19. avatar Erik Weisz says:

    I have a 7.5″ Redhawk my dad bought when I was 12. He got it as a back-up brush gun for hunting hogs and bear in the jungle-like southern Appalachians (where I now live). I started shooting it then, but was not really a beginner. I started with a 20ga side-by-side when I was 5, hunting birds with my dad. My grandmother taught me to shoot a rifle (a .22 pump-action the likes of which I haven’t seen since) to kill squirrels in her yard. She also taught me to shoot pistols – a .32, a .38 and then a .45 (all S&W’s), also to kill those same squirrels. The .45 was her main carry-piece. It had belonged to her father, who, sometime around 1910 got day-drunk with his best friend and they started arguing. They each went home, got their revolvers, and killed each other in a wild-west style showdown on the street in Americus, Ga. I thought her carrying that gun was kinda weird. She bought my mom a j-frame .38 for a wedding present in 1961, and she still carries it as her main to this day. Her backup now is that same .45, and she also has a tiny Browning .25 auto.
    So I wasn’t a newbie when I shot it at 12, but I certainly had plenty of respect for it’s power. And while I’ve been shooting it off-and-on for decades now, I never really felt like I was any good with it – the best I can do is a 3-4″ group at 25 yards shooting real slow (which is no improvement at all since shortly after beginning in the early ’80s), while with my 9mm CZ I can hold better than an inch almost all the time. I’m sure I should try some different loads – all I can recall ever having been fired through it is 240gr Federal HPs. When I get into reloading I’ll try and work one up. If you try one, be careful you don’t develop a flinch. I got one from shooting this very gun, and it wasn’t easy to get rid of – though my groups remained the same before, during, and after the flinch. Go figure.

  20. avatar el Possum Guapo Herr Standartenfuher" they think we're making pizza's" Oberst von Burn says:

    .44 fan here, second pistol I owned, before that was .22. For new shooters I’d use 44 special, and there’s nothing wrong with that cartridge either, or downloaded mags. I’ve got one Black bear with a .44 Super BH and a bunch of deer and some coyotes. It’s been my observations that inside of 50 yards the 44 seems to kill a deer quicker then a 30-30 or .243, discounting head shots. If I could only have only one gun, the .44 Mag probably be the one I’d pick, not perfect for Self Defense not perfect for hunting but a darned good compromise.

  21. avatar Bruce Abbott says:

    Thirty years ago I was a boarding officer in the Coast Guard reserves. Our range officer was a Maine State Police armorer. I had owned and shot a 1911A1 since I was 17, but wanted something with more power and range, and settled on the 44 magnum, either a S&W model 29 or a Ruger Redhawk in stainless steel. The range officer told me that either gun would serve well; in his opinion the S&W could be tuned for better accuracy, but the Ruger was tougher. I went with the Ruger, and still have it. I installed factory Paine sights (blade and bead up front, v-notch with white line in back) and Uncle Mike’s grips, and stoned the sear surfaces lightly with a new Arkansas stone. I dry-fire a lot, and when I do my part and pay attention to my grip, the sights don’t even quiver. Before my eyesight worsened I could dump all six rounds into the end of a soda can at 25 yards (handloads, 225 gr Speer half-jacket and 22 gr of 2400). As far as a beginner’s gun goes, my 11-year old daughter shot that Ruger with specials in the cylinder; she now has her own 45 auto and out shoots her husband and all his friends.

  22. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

    first real thing after pellets and slingshots was a 3screw single action. with big fat wood grips and the magnaports it never brought anything but a giant v- flame and a grin.
    it’s true that .44mag will get heads turned at the range.
    very capable as a carbine; lever, bolt or single shot.
    the logistics for .22 and 9mm are compelling, but this is my favorite round.

  23. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    My only advice to a beginner: start with mild Magnum loads and a heavy revolver and you will be fine. I watched a 115 pound teenage girl shoot that configuration with a huge smile on her face — and enthusiastically ask for a reload. If she can do it, just about anyone can do it.

  24. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    For beginners looking to step up from the special loads to magnum, HSM has a couple of ‘cowboy loads’. The 200 is more of a warm special load (422ft/lbs) and the 240gr. is more of a mild magnum load (705ft/lbs). I shoot the 240gr quite a bit. I think it’s the cheapest .44 mag load out there and it’s just light enough to take the edge off but still feels like you’re shooting a magnum.

  25. avatar Hammer says:

    I own a Redhawk 5.5″ and a Henry Big Boy All-Weather, both in .44 mag. They make for a fine pair and both are a blast to shoot, though it certainly adds up quickly.

    But I have to say, I long for the day when I can read a good article on the .44 which doesn’t spend at least a 1/4 of the total verbiage discussing the tired “Dirty Harry angle.” We all know the story, and really, it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in terms of substance. I’d much rather see more discussion of the role Elmer Kieth played in the development of the cartridge, than what is really a pretty dumb movie if you watch it today.

  26. avatar raptor jesus says:

    Shot one once in a scandium frame revolver. First and only time. No desire to do so again.

  27. avatar Edward Rogers says:

    I just got back from a trip, where I had my 4′ M69 handy. Thankfully, I didn’t have the occassion to use it. I consider it to be somewhat of a marvel of engineering. Sure the recoil is significant…but considering it weighs 3 oz. less than my 686 – WOW!

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LwLnDXLPWeA

  28. avatar Scoutino says:

    Whatever else I bring to the range, the .44 magnum Ruger Super Redhawk always comes out too.
    It was the cartridge that realy made me appreciate reloading. Around here .44 mag goes for about a dollar per round. With my own cast and powder coated bullets (240 and 300 grains) I can shoot it as much as I like. Which is a lot.

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