I’ve shot a lot of .44 Magnum handguns over the years. Over the course of a few weeks last fall, I received thousands of rounds from companies like Black Hills, SIG SAUER, and Buffalo Bore. I ended up pulling the trigger on what amounted to over one hundred pounds of downrange lead and it was pure misery.
Getting to shoot guns as part of your job is nothing to complain about, but two solid weeks of .44 Magnum is enough to make your hands develop nerve pain and the shakes and it was profoundly un-enjoyable. Six rounds of Buffalo Bore 340gr +P+ Hardcast is enough to make the average person swear off magnum revolvers forever, but not this gun writer. I went through box after box in the name of bringing you quality content.
Make no mistake, I am not complaining here. The .44 Magnum is what I believe is the maximum that any normal or reasonable person would consider owning and shooting. Granted, there are those who enjoy the .454 Casull and .460 S&W, but those are essentially specialized loads for their roles and aren’t in very common use. Unlike the .44 Magnum. For ever .454 Casull gun owner I know there are ten who own a .44 Mag.
Much of the popularity of the .44 Magnum is, of course, due to its immortality in pop culture. Literally everyone I hand a .44 Magnum to immediately asks how lucky I’m feeling.
The cartridge and the guns that use it are important to the American culture. It could be said that the .44 Magnum was the defining cartridge of the 1950’s and 1960’s. It was a modern classic in that day and was the anthesis of the changing times. Instead of being necked down and made smaller and faster, it was large, heavy, and authoritative.
Three of the best .44 Magnums made today are these:
The Smith & Wesson Model 29 (629). The Model 29 is a legend, plain and simple. There simply is no other .44 Magnum to many people and that’s just fine with me. I put almost 700 rounds through a stainless steel version with a four-inch barrel and can say that it’s just about perfect in every way.
The gun is well-balanced and points naturally. It is both light enough for field carry and heavy enough to absorb recoil.
As I became familiar with the .44 Magnum cartridge over the thousands I fired, I came to greatly appreciate just how good the Model 29 is compared to the others. Although modern versions have the much-hated lock mechanism and lack a fixed firing pin, these are still good, solid guns. I have owned a couple of Model 29’s over the years and can say they are likely the single best magnum revolver you can own.
Moving down in size, my next choice in .44 Magnum excellence is the new Model 69. This is a five-shot .44 Magnum with a short barrel. Out of all the .44 Magnums I tested last year, this one was a personal favorite. As great as the Model 29 was, it was not a gun that I would ever consider carrying regularly. The Model 69 is small enough to be carried and big enough for serious field use.
The fact that the Model 69 is so small can be a problem. Be aware that firing full-power .44 Magnum loads will with it produces prodigious amounts of recoil. If it proves too much for you, you can always feed it lighter loads or even .44 Specials.
The .44 Special is an often-overlooked cartridge that offers some serious benefits. SIG SAUER recognized this and released a 200gr V-Crown load that has an extended overall cartridge length to aid in feeding in lever and bolt-action rifles and to improve accuracy in revolvers. This is the ultimate JHP for regular use. I am totally sold on it and would carry it without hesitation if I owned a small revolver like the Model 69.
The advances in .44 Special don’t end at SIG SAUER. Black Hills makes a truly awesome 125gr HoneyBadger that features a non-expanding solid copper bullet. This load is fast and accurate while also offering very low recoil.
The last .44 Magnum gun on my list is a bit of a specialty item. I reviewed the Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter here last year. It is a large, single-action revolver that is meant to be used a primary as a hunting weapon. If you want the most accuracy at the longest ranges possible with a .44 Magnum revolver, this is your gun.
The Super Blackhawk Hunter has the ability to mount a scope or red dot sight, which is an advantage for hunting. Due to its massive, heavy frame this revolver is able to handle the most powerful .44 Magnum loads on the market today.
I do need to say that these super-powered loads are violent in terms of recoil and utterly unenjoyable to fire. If you like recoil, these loads will certainly cure your illness.
The ammunition out there for the .44 Mag is generally either a bit underpowered or slightly overpowered. The ‘true’ loads that existed in the heyday of the .44 Mag are considered a bit stout by today’s shooters, which is disappointing considering that there is really no reason to own a .44 Magnum except to take advantage of its superior velocity and bullet weight.
When you take those things away, you’re left with a large, heavy gun that doesn’t do anything much better than a .45 ACP or 10mm Auto, but with half the capacity.
Black Hill’s 240gr JHP is about the closest to the originals as I can find, as the rest are too slow, too fast, or too painful to shoot. I consider this to be the best all-around .44 Mag load out there in terms of bullet weight, velocity, and recoil management.
There are others that come close, but in over 3,000 rounds of test ammo, I found it to be the most ‘shootable’. It wasn’t always the most accurate on paper, but it was the best when it came to those undefinable characteristics that make a given load great, even though it is objectively not ‘better’ in the raw data.
Today’s .44 Magnum revolvers offer a great deal to the outdoorsman. I see less benefit for the concealed carrier or recreational target shooter, but you do you. When it comes down to it, you get a great deal with the .44 Magnum, especially when you go with a great revolver like the Model 29, Model 69 or Super Blackhawk.
Have fun and don’t try to shoot 3,000 rounds all at once. Your hand will thank you.