The .44 Magnum
By John Taffin
Whether we travel the sagebrush, foothills, forests, or mountains these are the sort of loads which will handle any situation. The sixgun chosen will probably be a 4″ or 5″ double action or a single action with a 43/4″ or 51/2″ barrel. So does one choose a .44 Special or .44 Magnum as a Perfect Packin’ Pistol? They each have their advantages. The Special is lighter and easier to pack, while the Magnum, weighing up to a half pound more in comparable models, has less felt recoil with the same level loads, or equivalent recoil with heavier loads. When it comes to DA sixguns, Ruger has offered the stainless steel Redhawk .44 Magnum in both 4″ and 51/2″ versions which are virtually indestructible and able to handle the heaviest loads. Normally we do not need this power level on a daily basis, however if I were living in Alaska one of these would probably be my first choice when it comes to the .44 Magnum.
Not only is the .44 Magnum descended from the .44 Special (which came from the .44 Russian), the first choice in bullets are the same whether you choose the Magnum or the Special. My first choice, for a bullet for loading the .44 Magnum is once again the Keith bullet, and just as with the .44 Special, I have a choice of several true to Keith. These are the H&G #503, Lyman #429421, NEI #260.429 and the RCBS #44-250KT. Unlike the .44 Special, for which I normally cast my bullets using old-style wheelweights I have accumulated for the past 40 years, I often go to a harder alloy for use at slightly higher muzzle velocities. This alloy consists of a mix of lead and type metal or wheelweights and type metal to the desired hardness. Wheelweights will start to lead at much over 1,000 fps.
The gun Ruger never made but should have, according to John,
is this 5½”-barreled Flattop model he had cut down.
Reloader Or Handloader?
Yes, there is definitely a difference. A reloader re-does the same thing over and over again while a handloader is an experimenter who is always looking for that one perfect load. However, the joy is in the search not the finding, as we’ll never know when we are there anyhow — we just keep trying to get closer and closer. When it comes to the .44 Magnum and the above four bullets I do a lot of handloading with two powders, Unique and Universal. I also experiment with different sizing diameters from 0.429″ to 0.432″ as this is the normal range of chamber throat dimensions found on S&W and Ruger sixguns.
By just using one powder charge this gives me 32 possible combinations even without changing my alloy. The “standard” powder charge I have settled on is 9.0 grains of either Universal or Unique. This load is right at 975-1,025 fps depending on sixgun and barrel length.
With the advantage of slightly more weight in .44 Magnum sixguns to hold down felt recoil, I also have a second-level standard load with these two powders. By going up one grain to 10.0 grains, muzzle velocity is increased by approximately 100 fps. This same powder charge is used with my favorite heavy bullet for the .44 Magnum, the NEI #429.290 which is Keith-style, gas-checked bullet weighing just under 300 grains. Muzzle velocity, again depending on the particular sixgun and barrel length is either slightly above or slightly below 1,100 fps. This same powder charge, 10.0 grains of Unique or Universal, is also my most-used Everyday Workin’ Load using 240-grain jacketed bullets from Hornaday, Sierra or Speer. These clock out right at 1,100 fps.
The evolution of the .44 sixgun cartridges: .44 S&W American, .44 Russian,
.44 Special, .44 Special with Keith bullet and the .44 Magnum.
S&W’s Model 29 with 4″ barrel can deliver some astounding consistent
25 yard groups with the right “modest” .44 Magnum load.
Oregon Trail Bullets
I also use the Lyman/Thompson gas-checked bullets a lot with the .44 sixguns. Ray Thompson designed two .44 bullets, both of which are SWC designs with two grease grooves and, of course, made for the attachment of a gas check. In the .44 Magnum I use the #431244GC, which weighs about 255 grains with my alloy, is loaded over 22.0 grains of #4227 and clocks out at 1,185 fps from a 5″ barrel.
I also use a lot of Oregon Trail Laser Cast bullets in .44 Magnums. The great thing about these bullets is the fact they perform just as well in most cases as my carefully home cast bullets and they are always available with no alloy to mix, no casting and no sizing. The 240-grain SWC is loaded over 9.0 grains of Unique or Universal for right at 1,000 fps. Increasing the powder charge by one grain gets the muzzle velocity up to 1,100 fps.
You will note I have not mentioned any full-house 1,400–1,500 fps loads. It is comforting to know they are there if needed, however for Everyday Workin’ Loads in Perfect Packin’ Pistols — they aren’t.
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