Every fall an army of orange-clad hunters take to the field hoping to tag America’s most popular big game animal. Many of those hunters are packing a handgun. The choice of handgun and caliber varies, but a large number of hunters are shooting a .44 Mag. No doubt, this classic is an excellent choice, especially for those hunting in timber where shots seldom exceed 100 yards.
Not only are there quality handguns chambered for this round, there’s a variety of bullet weights available, from 180- to 300-gr., ideally suited for medium-sized game like whitetail. The .44 Mag. offers even more versatility when handloaded. If you don’t intend to roll your own, no worries, the prevalent array of factory ammunition has got you covered. Most any expandable bullet will tackle deer and I tend to lean toward the 240-grainers.
Whitetail hunters have a wide variety of factory .44 Mag.
ammo at their disposal. One of the reasons the .44 Mag. is
popular is because it’s inherently accurate and very load-forgiving.
You Can’t Go Wrong With Factory
Recently I tested 15 different factory offerings in a Freedom Arms Model 83, a perfect platform for the .44 Mag. I think the FA is the finest single-action revolver made and is well known for its accuracy potential. The gun was fitted with a quality Bushnell Elite 2-6X scope.
Some of my favorite factory rounds include Black Hills ammo using both 240-gr. and 300-gr. XTP bullets. I’ve always found this ammunition to be accurate and consistent. Winchester’s recent Razor Back offering with their 225-gr. beveled hollowpoint shot exceptionally well. But honestly, most ammo performs well out of the Model 83. Winchester also has a 240-gr. HP that’s great for whitetail.
Hornady is on top of the game with their 240-gr. XTP round. This is a favorite for many handgunners. Federal provides their 240-gr. HP offering that shot great too. And the American Eagle 240-gr. HP should not be overlooked. One of the most accurate rounds tested came from Buffalo Bore. Their 240-gr. soft cast HP Deer Grenade was notable. I have seen some mighty impressive groups with the Deer Grenade launched from the Model 83.
DoubleTap provides a host of .44 Mag. ammo perfectly suited for deer hunting. Their 240-gr. HP performed well during shooting sessions. I’ve also been shooting CorBon ammo for somewhere around 30 years now. Their 240-gr. JSP delivers results. This South Dakota-based company continues to provide hunters with high-octane ammo capable of filling the freezer with venison. All of these factory rounds tested provide solid choices for dropping that buck of a lifetime or a doe for the meat pole.
Handloading the .44 Mag. opens the door to a multitude
of possibilities. Bullets from Sierra, Hornady
and Nosler are effective on whitetail. The Redding
T-7 turret press makes loading painless.
Handloading the .44 Mag. opens the door to an abundance of flexibility. Sticking with 240-gr. bullets, I find myself shooting a lot of Hornady XTP, Nosler JHP and Sierra’s JHC. All three are excellent choices for whitetail, plus they’re accurate to boot. When I’m loading Hornady’s XTP I always refer to their reloading manual. Ditto when Nosler and Sierra’s bullets are loaded. There is a wealth of valuable information in these manuals. Hodgdon’s new website is also packed with safe and useful loading data.
When maximum loads are used for hunting, powders like H110 and 296 have a proven track record. If practice ammo is assembled, powders such as Unique or 2400 work well and can be loaded down to a mild level. This is an added benefit of handloading; having the capability of custom tailoring loads for a specific purpose. Of course there are several other options regarding powder.
Magnum primers are recommended when using H110 or 296. I used CCI 350 and some Winchester large pistol primers (WLP) designated for standard or magnum loads. Cast bullets are also effective and many hunters prefer them. Using Redding’s T-7 turret system, I loaded several rounds of what I consider “whitetail” loads. Redding’s dual ring carbide dies, along with their competition bullet seating die and the profile crimp die, make loading ammo enjoyable.
Quality Starline brass was an important ingredient along with bullets from Nosler, Hornady and Sierra. The results at the range were not surprising by any means. I wouldn’t hesitate using any of the handloads assembled, as they produced considerably less than minute-of-deer groups from 100 yards.
The .44 Mag. can no longer be called the most powerful handgun in the world. There are some really big-bore revolvers out there capable of rattling your teeth every time you drop the hammer. If you enjoy a minor earth tremor at every shot, the .44 Mag. may not be your cup of tea. But when it comes to punching deer tags and filling the freezer, I have a magnum load of confidence in the .44. Almost 60 years old, it’s still a favorite for whitetail. May the iconic .44 Mag. live long and prosper.
By Mark Hampton
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