RELOADING THE 20TH CENTURY .44s

BY JOHN TAFFIN

            Five .44s arrived in factory chambering in the 20th century; the .445 SuperMag, the .444 Marlin, and the .44 AutoMag as well as the other two, have been covered in previous chapters, however we now look in greater depth at two of the greatest sixgun cartridges of all, the .44 Special and the .44 Magnum. The .44 Special was my first love, and though I have wandered away from it from time to time due to the siren call of bigger and more powerful cartridges, now that I am in my seventh decade I find myself going back to the .44 Special more and more; and when my editor, Roy Huntington, at American Handgunner wrestled me two out of three falls and pinned me to the ground forcing me to pick my one most favorite sixgun I chose a .44 Magnum, the original Ruger Flat-Top.

            We are indeed fortunate to actually have so many great big bore sixgun cartridges, the .44-40, the .45 Colt, the .454, and the really big bores, the .475 and .500 Linebaugh, the .480 Ruger, and just recently, the .500 Wyoming Express. Then there are the stretch framed maximum cartridges, the .445 SuperMag, and the Smith & Wesson 21st century Magnums, the .460 and the .500. They all have their place, however for a general, all-purpose, every day, go anywhere, easy to pack, highly reliable, traditional six-shot revolver, it is virtually impossible to find anything better than a .44 Special or a .44 Magnum. If the .44 Special can’t do it, the .44 Magnum can; if the .44 Magnum can’t do it, nothing can. For 30 years the .44 Special was the #1 Packin’ Pistol and hunting handgun; the .44 Magnum took over the title in 1956. The .44 Magnum has been used to cleanly take the big bears, African lions, elephants, and Cape buffalo; short out of whales, what else is there?

            As this is written we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the .44 Magnum and as we have seen both Ruger and Smith & Wesson did the most appropriate thing by bringing out 50th Anniversary Models of the Flat-Top Blackhawk and the original .44 Magnum respectively. We are now poised, excited, and ready to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the .44 Special next year. I hope Smith & Wesson acts accordingly and appropriately with a 100th Anniversary Model of the original .44 Special of 1907/1908. It is hard to pin down the anniversary years for both the .44 Special and .44 Magnum as they both arrived in the same month, December, in 1907 and 1955 respectively, however they were not generally available until 1908 and 1956, again respectively.

As this is written, the only traditional .44 Specials available are the Freedom Arms Model 97, which could easily be argued as the finest .44 Special ever built, the S&W Model 21-4, built along the same lines as the 1950 Military, and the USFA Single Action which is a beautifully built single action rivaling 1st Generation Colts; and one can occasionally find replica .44 Special single actions as the two AWA octagon barreled Ultimates mentioned in previous chapters. On the used market one can still find 2nd and 3rd Generation Colt Single Actions and New Frontiers along with S&W Models 24 and 624 fairly regularly, while both Great Western and Texas Longhorn Arms sixguns are extremely rare. The easiest way to come up with a modern .44 Special is still Skeeter's way. Several gunsmiths, such as Hamilton Bowen, David Clements, Brian Cosby, Ben Forkin, Andy Horvath, and Jim Stroh to name a few, can turn a Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman or Old Model Ruger .357 Blackhawk into a .44 Special.

  If you have been reading this book chronologically you know the .44 Special has been a favorite of mine for several reasons. First, and foremost, I discovered Elmer Keith while I was in high school, which meant reading a lot about the .44 Special. Since that time I have managed to accumulate magazines with all of his old articles dealing with the .44 Special from the first one, The Last Word, in the April 1929 issue of the American Rifleman right up until the arrival of the .44 Magnum as well as the devouring his books Sixgun Cartridges and Loads (1936) and Sixguns (1955). My first .44 Special was not acquired until 1959 when my wife presented me with a 6 ½” Model 1950 Target on the occasion of our first Christmas together. By this time I already had a Ruger .44 Magnum Blackhawk, however I still felt the only way to shoot the 1950 Target was with full house Keith loads. That, as Burt Lancaster’s character Bob Valdez said in that excellent movie, Valdez Is Coming, was “Before I know better.” Now I know better.

Skeeter Skelton is responsible for my favorite load for the .44 Special discovered in his writings in the early 1960s. Keith’s 17.0 gr. load is a powerful one, from 1200 fps and approaching just under 1,300 fps in a 7 ½” barreled sixgun. In the relatively lightweight .44 Specials this load exhibits as much felt recoil to me as full house .44 Magnums from an original Smith & Wesson or Ruger Blackhawk. I appreciate having the power, however it is not always needed. Skeeter’s load consisting of the same bullet Keith used, Lyman’s #429421 over 7.5 gr. of Unique is so much more pleasant to shoot and at 900 to 950 fps, depending upon barrel length, will adequately handle most of the chores we expect from a big bore sixgun. Skeeter’s load was not original to him but was actually given to him by Keith. Skeeter did as much for 7.5 Unique as Keith did for 17.0 #2400.

For the .44 Special I have been carefully molding my own bullets since 1960s starting with Lyman’s #429421 mold, and progressing to the RCBS #44-250KT, and a four cavity NEI 429.260KT in the early 1980s. Later used molds from Hensley & Gibbs and Saeco were added to my working collection of .44 bullet makers. All of these cast a bullet that is very true to Keith's original design. Today with my time at a premium I have found I can also acquire excellent bullets from both BRP and Dry Creek Bullet Works. Jay Sanders’ BRP version is right at 250 grain while Lynn Halstead’s slightly heavier Keith bullet weighs out at 262 grains. Both of these gentlemen supply extremely high quality cast bullets. Keith did not like, nor use gas checked bullets. However, it is a simple fact some sixguns will shoot GC bullets better than they will plain-based bullets. Lyman has two excellent gas checked bullet molds designed by Ray Thompson originally for use in the .44 Special; they are both semi-wadcutters, #431244 and #429215. With my alloy, lubed, sized, and gas checked they weigh 254 and 221 grains respectively.   

When a load is desired somewhere in between the Skelton loading of a 250 at 950 fps and Elmer’s 1200 fps, I will most often choose 18.5 grs. of Hodgdon's H4227 for around 1050 to 1150 fps again depending upon barrel length. For loading and shooting in large quantities I use RCBS’s Model 2000 progressive press, Starline brass, and Oregon Trail’s 240 SWC, which is a commercial hard cast, hard lubed bullet with a bevel base. Common sense tells me there is no way it can shoot as well as my carefully home cast, lovingly sized, and lubed Keith bullets can. In this case common sense is wrong! Many of my loads assembled with this bullet not only shoot as well as the home cast version, they quite often outdo my bullets.

One of the accompanying charts shows Everyday Workin’ Loads for the .44 Special fired through a 6 ½” Model 24 from 1983. This is a very picky .44 Special that goes against the myth that every .44 Special sixgun and every .44 Special load will drive tacks. In fact with extensive testing using my home cast hard bullets the only tack-driving load I could find was the original Keith load which is capable of one-hole groups. The same can be said of Winchester’s factory loading of the 246 gr. round-nosed, relatively soft bullets at 750 fps. Nothing in between, and believe me I tried many loads, resulted in anything to get excited about. The same held pretty much true using commercial cast bullets until I hit on a load of 5.5 gr. of Winchester's 452AA. Suddenly I had a tack-driving load again with the muzzle velocity a respectable 850 fps. For everyday use with the .44 Special I have included loads in the 800 to 1,000 fps range that will work quite well for normal use.

For a hunting bullet or load for the .44 Special, one must choose carefully. The Keith load is still an excellent load when the penetration is required on deer-sized or larger game, however I also take a different path. My hunting load for the .44 Special uses the Speer short-jacketed design 225 grain hollow point consisting of a copper cup with a soft lead core loaded over 16.5 gr. of #2400 for between 1100 and 1200 fps. I use this only for deer-sized and deer-type game weighing under 200 pounds and only for taking broadside shots which give explosive and final results. For larger animals, such as wild hogs where penetration is essential, I go with the Keith bullet and the Keith load. If one of these two loads won't do it, is time to reach for the .44 Magnum.

When I first started shooting the .44 Special it was very easy to find heavy load data, much heavier than what I have included. The older loading manuals and Handloader magazine had a wealth of information, however most of this disappeared with the 1960s. I am including a great deal of data concerning heavy loading of the .44 Special with several warnings. First and foremost, I am only responsible for loads I personally assemble and shoot in my personal sixguns. All loads listed work and work well, however those who choose to use these heavier loads should be aware of several things. They should only be used in heavy-framed, six-shot revolvers from Smith & Wesson, Colt, Great Western, or Texas Longhorn Arms; or in Freedom Arms new five-shot Model 97. All loads, of course, are safe in large framed .44 Magnum sixguns.

Another caution is all sixguns are not equal. I have a 3rd Generation Colt Single Action in .44 Special. Five of the chambers easily digest the Keith load and literally beg for more; the sixth chamber didn't and doesn't. The first round of this load from that particular chamber extracted with difficulty and the outline of the bolt slot cut could be seen on the brass. From this I assumed that one particular chamber had a bolt slot cut deeper than either necessary or specifications called for. Whatever happened, that chamber is now marked and is never used with any loads. With any use of these loads the reader is cautioned to start with the lowest loads first, move up slowly, and always remember the responsibility is entirely yours.

Can these loads be used in a replica Single Action .44 Special? I do not recommend it. A local fellow thought he was using Keith’s full house load in an Italian replica. The first shot took off the top half of the cylinder and the top strap. When we tore down a few of his loads we found he had not loaded 17.0 grains but rather 18.5 grains of #2400 and when I fired these in a Ruger .44 Magnum they clocked at over 1,400 fps. Again, anyone that shoots such loads in Italian replicas is strictly on his own and assumes personal responsibility.

What about pre-War .44 Specials? Again I strongly recommend against heavy loads in these. My standard load for a pair of first-year production Triple-Locks is the Keith bullet over 6.0 gr. of Unique, which closely duplicates the original factory load. It is my understanding these sixguns were not heat-treated as were the subsequent .44 Specials from S&W beginning in 1916. Original Triple-Locks and 2nd Model Hand Ejectors came with very small grips, which do not fill in to the top of the frame as the later Magna grips. Even with standard .44 Special loads it doesn't take long for my comfort level to be affected. Keith said he shot his heavy loads in Triple-Locks with the small grips proving once again he was a lot tougher than I am. For the 1926 Models I go up to 7.5 gr. of Unique. Large-framed sixguns built since 1950 should be sufficiently strong, however remember those Smith & Wesson and Colt .44 Specials have not been built since the 1980s; they cannot be easily replaced. Once again Caution is the byword.

In my early days of loading the .44 Special, specific dies for the Special were available. Now all dies seemed to be marked .44 Mag/.44 Spl. With the latest Colt and Smith & Wesson .44 six-shot revolvers from the 1980s I use both RCBS and Redding dies so marked with no problem simply because these revolvers use the same .429”-.431” bullets as appropriate for the  .44 Magnum. Earlier .44 Specials can be found having both cylinder mouths and barrels that are much tighter. Early Colt barrels can be found with a groove diameter of .426” and relatively tight chambers. For these I size bullets to .428” and use older .44 Special dies.

A check of two Colt New Frontier .44 Specials on hand, a 2nd and a 3rd Generation, shows respective chamber mouths of .428” and .431”, while barrel groove diameters, also respectively, measure .427” and .428”. So loads for the 2nd Generation Colt are best assembled with my older .44 Special dies, while .44 Magnum dies are fine with the tolerances used in the 3rd Generation Colt. With the newer .44 Specials I am more concerned about the size of chamber mouths than I am about groove diameter using the largest bullet that will fit the chamber. In most cases this is the same .430” bullet used in .44 Magnums so everything works out quite easily. 

 With so many excellent .44 Magnums available why would anyone spend more money to get the .44 Special? Normally .44 Specials are lighter, smaller, and easier to pack comfortably than comparable .44 Magnums, however with the introduction of the Smith & Wesson 329PD, it is now possible to have a .44 Magnum that weighs 11 ounces less than its counterpart Model 24. So that argument is now shot full of holes and were I a betting man, I would place my money on the fact the 329PD will see more .44 Specials and .44 Magnums loaded to .44 Special level than it ever will full house .44 Magnums.

Other reasons I can put forth are the fact some of the finest sixguns ever built are found chambered in .44 Special and these sixguns were particular favorites of Elmer Keith and Skeeter Skelton. That is certainly good enough for me.

 

Every Day Workin’ Loads For The .44 Special

Smith & Wesson Model 24 .44 Special x 6 ½”; Oregon Trail 240 SWC.

Load                                                    MV                  Group/5 Shots, 25 yds

 6.5 gr. WW231                                    875 fps            1 3/4"

 5.5 gr. WW452AA                             850 fps                3/4"

 8.0 gr. 800X                                       886 fps            2 1/4"

 7.5 gr. Unique                         975 fps            2 1/4"

 7.5 gr. Herco                                       882 fps            1 3/8"

 5.5 gr. Bullseye                                    854 fps            1 3/4"

16.5 gr. H4227                                    1046 fps           1 3/4"

11.0 gr. AA#7                                      808 fps            1 1/2"

10.0 GR. HS7                                      850 fps            1 1/2"

 9.0 gr. WW540                                   790 fps            1 3/4"

 6.0 gr. Hp38                                       813 fps            2 3/8"

 6.0 gr. AA#2                                       856 fps            2"

 

 

A Comparison of the Keith Bullets: Lyman (#429421), Dry Creek (#44-262KT), and BRP (#44-250KT) Keith Bullets Sized .430”

.44 Special

Bullet/Load                               Sixgun                                      MV      Five Shots at 50 Ft.

#44-262KT/7.5 gr. Unique       TLA 7 ½” Flat-Top                    976 fps           1 5/8”

#429421/7.5 gr. Unique           TLA 7 ½” Flat-Top                    984 fps           1 3/8”

#44-250KT/7.5 gr. Unique       TLA 7 ½” Flat-Top                  1011 fps           1 ½”

#44-262KT/17.0 gr. #2400     TLA 7 ½” Flat-Top                  1222 fps           2 ¼”

#429421/17.0 gr. #2400          TLA 7 ½” Flat-Top                  1226 fps           1 ¼”

#44-250KT/17.0 gr. #2400     TLA 7 ½” Flat-Top                  1295 fps           2”

#44-262KT/7.5 gr. Unique       Colt NF 5 ½”                             926 fps           1 ¼”

#429421/7.5 gr. Unique           Colt NF 5 ½”                             964 fps           2 ¼”

#44-250KT/7.5 gr. Unique       Colt NF 5 ½”                           1014 fps           1 ¾”

#44-250KT/17.0 gr. #2400     Colt NF 5 ½”                           1154 fps           1 7/8”

#44-250KT/7.5 gr. Unique       Colt NF 7 ½”                           1067 fps           1 7/8”              

#44-250KT/17.0 gr. #2400     Colt NF 7 ½”                           1208 fps           1 5/8”

#44-262KT/7.5 gr. Unique       S&W 1950 4”                            884 fps           1 ¾”

#429421/7.5 gr. Unique           S&W 1950 4”                            964 fps           1 ¼”

#44-250KT/7.5 gr. Unique       S&W M624 4”                          943 fps           1 ¾”

#44-250KT/17.0 gr. #2400     S&W M624 4”                        1156 fps           2”

#44-250KT/7.5 gr. Unique       S&W M624 6 ½”                      990 fps           1 ½”

#44-250KT/17.0 gr. #2400     S&W M624 6 ½”                    1156 fps           2”

 

EXTREME CAUTION!! HEAVY DUTY LOADS FOR THE .44 SPECIAL. MANY OF THESE ARE IN THE MAGNUM CATEGORY. USE SPARINGLY!! START WITH LOWEST LOAD AND WORK UP SLOWLY. THESE LOADS ARE FOR USE ONLY IN HEAVY-FRAMED .44 SPECIALS IN EXCELLENT CONDITION.THEY WORK IN MY SIXGUNS; THEY MAY NOT WORK IN YOURS. 

Bullet: Lyman #429421 Keith, 250 gr., Sized to .428”

                                                Colt SAA/4 ¾”            S&W M24/6 ½”          Colt NF 7 ½”

Load                                        MV                              MV                              MV

15.5 gr. #2400                         1054 fps                       1042 fps                       1155 fps

16.0 gr. #2400                         1064 fps                       1120 fps                       1169 fps

16.5 gr. #2400                         1107 fps                       1190 fps                       1194 fps

17.0 gr. #2400                         1139 fps                       1192 fps                       1210 fps

17.5 gr. #2400                         1160 fps                       1219 fps                       1270 fps

18.0 gr. #2400                         1198 fps                       1267 fps                       1279 fps

18.0 gr. H4227                        1032 fps                       1070 fps                       1101 fps

18.5 gr. H4227                        1053 fps                       1115 fps                       1149 fps

19.0 gr. H4227                        1083 fps                       1157 fps                       1163 fps

19.5 gr. H4227                        1129 fps                       1148 fps                       1196 fps

20.0 gr. H4227                        1157 fps                       1209 fps                       1237 fps

16.0 gr. AA#9                          1067 fps                       1090 fps                       1157 fps

16.5 gr. AA#9                          1072 fps                       1118 fps                       1167 fps

17.0 gr. AA#9                          1074 fps                       1161 fps                       1195 fps

17.5 gr. AA#9                          1115 fps                       1185 fps                       1214 fps

13.0 gr. HS7                            1038 fps                       1131 fps                       1123 fps

13.5 gr. HS7                            1088 fps                       1146 fps                       1145 fps

14.0 gr. HS7                            1107 fps                       1206 fps                       1207 fps

14.5 gr. HS7                            1163 fps                       1241 fps                       1243 fps

  7.5 gr. Unique                        912 fps                          913 fps                         947 fps

 8.0 gr. Unique             919 fps                          949 fps                       1000 fps

 8.5 gr. Unique             940 fps                         983 fps                       1018 fps

 9.0 gr. Unique               970 fps                          997 fps                      1044 fps

 9.5 gr. Unique             1031 fps                       1061 fps                       1109 fps

10.0 gr. Herco                          1058 fps                       1161 fps                       1172 fps

10.5 gr. Herco                          1101 fps                       1154 fps                       1176 fps

11.0 gr. Herco                          1119 fps                       1221 fps                       1222 fps

12.0 gr. Blue Dot                      1106 fps                       1193 fps                       1193 fps

12.5 gr. Blue Dot                      1156 fps                       1240 fps                       1250 fps

 

            The .44 Magnum has been outgunned so to speak by the .454 Casull, the .475 Linebaugh, the .480 Ruger, the .500 Linebaugh, the .500 Wyoming Express, the .445 SuperMag, and the .460 and .500 S&W Magnums. Even factory heavy loads for the .45 Colt are available having greater muzzle energy than the .44 Magnum; but if anything at all I have gained more respect for it over the years both as to its capabilities and especially its accuracy. Some of my most precious memories hunting and shooting memories are associated with the .44 Magnum.

            The .44 Magnum has done it all, and as mentioned it has been used to take every type of big game on the planet including Alaskan brown bear, Polar bear, African elephants, and Cape buffalo. More often than not this has been done with one carefully placed shot. The .44 Magnum can be loaded at 1300-1400 fps with a heavy hard cast bullet and penetrate five feet from stem to stern in a Cape buffalo; loaded down to 850 to 950 feet per second with a 240 grain cast bullet it becomes a superb target cartridge. In between, a 240 to 265 grain bullet at 1300 fps is an excellent long-range silhouette load; and with some of the new bullet designs such as the Speer Gold Dot JHP we even finally have defensive loads for the .44 Magnum that will do the job without excessive penetration.

            Every knowledgeable .44 Magnum shooter knows the standard .44 Magnum load since 1956 has been a 250 grain hard cast Keith bullet over 22.0 grains of #2400. Keith’s .44 Special bullet designed in the 1920s made the transition to the .44 Magnum admirably well. When gas check bullets arrived in the 1950s Keith said the use of gas checks on sixguns would cause gas cutting and leading, however I have found that gas-checked .44 bullets normally shoot better than plain-based bullets. No better gas-checked bullet has been found that that designed by Ray Thompson for Lyman nearly forty years ago. This bullet was first cataloged as #429244, however Lyman now lists it as #431244GC; it is a 255 grain semi-wadcutter bullet with two shallow grease grooves as well as a gas check.

            This bullet shoots superbly with the standard #2400 load of 22.0 grains for just under 1500 fps; 25.0 grains of WW296 or H110 or 24.0 grains of H4227 for around 1400 fps; or 21.5 grains of AA#9 for a slightly milder shooting 1365 fps. All of these loads will do less than one-inch at 25 yards with a good sixgun in good hands backed up by good eyes.

            The arrival of suitable 300 grain bullets really turned the .44 Magnum into a superb hunting pistol as well as an extremely accurate long-range sixgun. Since we covered 300 grain bullets in chapter 41 we will just mention a few here. One of my favorite heavyweight bullets is NEI's #295.429GC. As the number indicates, this bullet weighs just under 300 grains, wears a gas check, and I have yet to find a .44 Magnum sixgun that won't perform well with this load. My favorite loads for this bullet are 21.5 grains of WW296 or H110 for 1300 to 1400 fps, superb accuracy, and maximum penetration, or 10.0 grains of Unique for a more sedate and easier to shoot 1150 fps. The latter makes an excellent load for deer-sized game without giving excessive felt recoil. Oregon Trail now has a new 300 grain bullet and the same charge of 10.0 grains of Unique also gives 1150 fps and a very good shootin' load.

            Since my early experiments with 300 grain bullets, a new powder for the .44 Magnum has arrived on the scene. VihtaVuori's N110 powder with a charge of 19.3 grains under the 295 grain Keith bullet from NEI, clocks out at 1430 fps from a 7 1/2” barrel with an extreme spread of only seven fps; that is real consistency The same powder with a charge of 21.0 grains under the Hornady 240 XTP gives 1525 fps muzzle velocity and an extreme spread of only 30 fps.    

            An excellent heavyweight bullet design is RCBS’s #44-300FN; this 310 grain bullet with a flat nose and a gas check is superbly accurate. Loaded over 21.5 grains of WW296 or H110 it is a 1400 fps load from long-barreled sixguns and has not only delivered sub one-inch groups at 25 yards but groups very close to one-inch at 50 yards. Someone did it right when they designed this one.

            Forty-four Magnum sixguns do not have to be run at full bore to afford great pleasure. Some of my favorite loads are in the moderate to mild category. The above mentioned 295 grain bullet at 1150 fps is a sweet shootin' load to say the least, but there are instances when we don't even need this much power and muzzle velocity. I have done considerable experimenting with the Oregon Trail 300 grain flat point hard cast bullet to come up with even more comfortable shooting loads using a heavy bullet. The following loads were test-fired in a favorite New Model Super Blackhawk with the Liberty Model barrel cut to 5 1/2” and a Bisley Model grip frame, hammer and trigger installed. Groups are for five shots at 20 yards.

Load                                        MV                              Groups

8.0 gr. Unique                         972 fps                         1 7/8”

 9.0 gr. Unique             1065 fps                                   1 7/8”

 8.0 gr. HS-6                            790 fps                                    1 1/8”

 9.0 gr. HS-6                            892 fps                                    2 1/2”

10.0 gr. HS-6                           952 fps                                    1 ¾”

7.0 gr. Universal                       888 fps                                    1 ¾”

8.0 gr. Univeral             981 fps                                    1 3/4”

9.0 gr. Universal                       1077 fps                                   17/8”

6.0 gr. WW231                        781 fps                                    1 ½”

7.0 gr. WW231                        894 fps                                    2”

8.0 gr. WW231                        979 fps                                    1 ½”

6.0 gr. N-100                           858 fps                                    2”

7.0 gr. N-100                           929 fps                                    1 7/8”

8.0 gr. N-100                           1044 fps                                   2 3/8”

6.0 gr. Red Dot                        862 fps                                    1 ¾”

7.0 gr. Red Dot                        929 fps                                    1 7/8”

8.0 gr. Red Dot                        1020 fps                                   1 3/8”

6.0 gr. Bullseye             864 fps                                    1 3/8”

7.0 gr. Bullseye             981 fps                                    1 ¾”    

 

            Staying with this comfortably shooting scenario Oregon Trail’s 240 grain SWC bullet is used for, call them pleasure loads, mild loads, every day workin' loads, whatever is chosen they are simply enjoyable shooting .44 Magnum loads which will not pound us into next weekend. Some examples are 12.0 grains of Blue Dot for 970 fps, 8.5 grains of Unique for 1065 fps, and 19.5 grains of H4227 for 1100 fps. All of these loads are well above any standard level factory .45 Colt loads which shows their potential as workin' loads and they can be shot all day without pain or strain which shows their pleasure.

Bullet: Oregon Trail 240 SWC with all groups shot at 25 yards in an 8 3/8” Smith & Wesson Model 29 

Load                                        MV                  Groups 

7.5 gr. WW231                        914 fps             1 5/8”

6.0 gr. WW452AA                  860 fps             1 1/4”

7.0 gr. WW452AA                  972 fps             1 3/4”

8.5 gr. 800X                            872 fps             1 7/8”

8.5 gr. Unique                          991 fps             1 1/4”

7.0 gr. Bullseye             971 fps             1 5/8”

13.0 gr. AA#7                          917 fps             1 1/2”

6.5 gr. HP38                            851 fps             1 5/8”

12.0 gr. Blue Dot                      992 fps             1 5/8”

One of the newer powders available is Hodgdon’s Lil’ Gun. This powder was made to order for the .44 Magnum and may even be a little better than H110; time will tell as it seems to offer a little more muzzle velocity with a little less pressure. The following loads were test-fired in a 7 1/2” Ruger Bisley Model .44 Magnum. Groups are five shots at 25 yards:

Load                                                                MV                              Groups

BRP 255KT GC/23.0 gr. Lil' Gun                    1422 fps                       1 7/8"

BRP 255KT GC/24.0 gr. Lil'Gun                     1443 fps                       1 1/8”

BRP 295KT GC/19.0 gr. Lil' Gun                    1307 fps                       1 5/8"

BRP 295KT GC/20.0 gr. Lil' Gun                    1335 fps                       1"

CPBC 275 LBT PB/21.0 gr. Lil' Gun               1335 fps                       1 1/4”

CPBC 275 LBT PB/22.0 gr. Lil' Gun               1356 fps                       1 1/2”

CPBC 275 LBT/23.0 gr. Lil' Gun                     1396 fps                       1 1/2”

CPBC 300 LBT GC/18.0 gr. Lil' Gun   1224 fps                       1 7/8"

CPBC 300 LBT GC/19.0 gr. Lil' Gun   1313 fps                       2"

CPBC 300 LBT GC/20.0 gr. Lil' Gun   1330 fps                       1 1/4"

 

            With all loading for the .44 Magnum two things are essential; a tight full length sizing die for maximum bullet pull and a crimping die that allows a heavy crimp. Both are necessary for proper ignition and powder burning with heavy loads. What the .44 Special began the .44 Magnum carried on to make handgun hunting possible. The .44 Magnum also serves well as a long-range sixgun cartridge and can be loaded down to midrange levels that still deliver superb accuracy. It would be hard to not consider it the all around sixgun cartridge.  

 

43-1) Ruger's latest .44, the 50th Anniversary Model Flat-Top, is a natural for

shooting heavy .44 Special loads.

 

 

 

43-2) The .44 Special was originally loaded with a round-nosed bullet in 1907,

however Elmer Keith found a better way, his #429421 shown in both warning

44 Special and .44 Magnum.

 

 

 

43-3) Smith & Wesson's .44 cartridges from 1869 to 1956: American, Russian,

Special all with round-nosed bullets; Special and Magnum with the Keith bullet.

 

 

 

43-4) The .44 Special and .44 Magnum does fine for plinking with Oregon

Trail’s 240 RNFP bullets; switch to the Keith bullet for serious applications.

 

 

 

43-5) The .44 Special may be 100 years old however the standard load still works!

Sixgun is a USFA’s .44 Special with ram’s horn stocks by Roy Fishpaw.

 

 

 

43-6) The Keith bullet with .44 Special loads shown with typical groups

through an S&W Elmer Keith Commemorative 4” and Model 624 6 1/2”.

Stocks are by Bob Leskovec and Eagle Grips.

 

 

 

43-7) Heavy .44 Special loads with typical groups through four .44 Specials,

2nd and 3rd Generation Colt New Frontiers and the Gary Reeder #5 Improved

 

 

 

43-8) A medium .44 Special load using the RCBS Keith makes for satisfying

shooting through a 5 1/2” Colt New Frontier.

 

 

 

3-9) Heavy .44 Special loads using the NEI 260 Keith bullet show why .44 Special

conversions on Three-Screw Ruger .357 Blackhawks are so popular; this

pair was done by Hamilton Bowen.

 

 

 

43-10) Whether shooting Skeeter’s load or the standard .44 Special load,

this 3rd Generation Colt Single Action does all anyone could expect.

Stocks are one-piece walnut by Tom Sargis.

 

 

 

43-11) Two of Taffin favorite powders for loading the .44 Special and .44 Magnum

over the last 50 years have been Unique and #2400.

 

 

 

43-12) This hollowpoint Keith bullet #429421 loaded over 17.0 grains of #2400

in the .44 Special was found perfectly mushroomed under the hide on the offside

of a 650 pound feral pig.

 

 

 

43-13) It pays to experiment! The sixgun is a Smith & Wesson Model 24-3

.44 Special with stocks by BearHug; the load is 5.5 grains of WW452AA

over a 240 grain SWC bullet.

 

 

 

43-14) BRP offers high-quality, hard-cast .44 Keith bullets here shown loaded

in both Special and Magnum.

 

 

 

43-15) They are not only quite attractive sixguns they also shoot heavy

.44 Special loads exceptionally well; revolver on left is a Smith & Wesson

Model 29 nickel-plated 6 1/2” while the other is a 6” Model 629.

Stocks are maple and ivory micarta by BearHug.

 

 

 

43-16) Ivory stocked 2nd and 3rd Generation New Frontier .44 Specials perform

equally well with medium .44 Special loads.

 

 

 

43-17) Alas they are no more as Colt has not offered a .44 Special for

nearly 25 years. These are 3rd Generation New Frontiers and a Single Action Army.

 

 

 

43-18) They are now .7 1/2” 44 Specials, however the 1st Generation Colt

started life as a .32-20 and the 2nd Generation Single Action was originally a

.38 Special. Silver snake is by Ron Martinez.

 

 

 

43-19) Both the standard and Skeeter Skelton .44 Special loads are pleasant

shooting and accurate through 2nd and 3rd Generation Colt Single Actions.

 

 

 

43-20) Ruger Super Blackhawks, a standard model and a customized version

by Mag-Na-Port, handle heavy .44 Special loads both easily and accurately.

 

 

 

43-21) To shoot or not to shoot heavy .44 Special loads? The Smith & Wesson

1950 Target/Model 24 has not been made for 50 years and is not easily replaced.

Photo courtesy of Scott Williams.

 

 

 

 

43-22 & 43-23) Three generations of Colt Single Action .44 Specials are normally

used with the standard and Skeeter Skelton .44 Special loads.

 

 

 

 

43-24) These pre-World War II Smith & Wesson .44 Specials are True Classics

and should be treated as such. From the top left clockwise we have the

Triple-Lock, the 2nd Model Hand Ejector in both standard and target versions,

and the Model 1926

 

 

 

43-25) The .44 Special Smith & Wessons of the 1980s are strong revolvers

capable of handling the Keith load. The Models 24-3 and 624 were both offered

in 6 1/2” and 4” versions.

 

 

 

43-25) The .44 Special Smith & Wessons of the 1980s are strong revolvers

capable of handling the Keith load. The Models 24-3 and 624 were both

offered in 6 1/2” and 4” versions.

 

 

 

43-27) All .44s are not created equal; these are both 1st Generation Colt .44-40 cylinders.

The chamber mouth on one measures .424”, while the other is at .428”;

the wise reloader loads accordingly.

 

 

 

43-28) These beautiful octagon barreled Ultimate .44s by AWA/USA allow a

lot of experimentation with barrel lengths of 10” and 7 1/2” and both fitted

with .44 Special and .44-40 cylinders.

The one-piece mesquite stocks are by Jim Martin.

 

 

 

43-29) Taffin shooting the AWA 10” octagon barreled .44 Ultimate finds it to

be an accurate and easy shooting long barreled sixgun.   

 

Chapter 42      Chapter 44