Those Fabulous .44s
A couple of issues ago, I wrote about velocity and why we shouldn’t worry about it too much, as long as there’s enough (“How Fast Is Fast?” March/April 2012). I happened to use the .357 Mag as an example because I had revolvers and a rifle in a wide range of barrel lengths to test loads. While the focus of the article rang true for many, what surprised me was the interest it generated simply reporting how barrel lengths affected the velocity of different loads. Many of you asked for more, only this time to choose another caliber.
Nosing around I realized I had a S&W .44 Magnum Model 29, or variant, in 2¾”, 4″ and 6.5″, and a nice Browning Model 92 lever action .44 Magnum with a 20″ barrel (a beautifully made Winchester 92 clone done decades ago by Miroku of Japan, for Browning). After collecting a small cross-section of .44 Magnum and, just for grins, .44 Special ammo, I set up the chrono and went to work.
While this is not scientific at any level, it’s still revealing. Once again I’m reminded how all the Internet forum rants and gun-store arguments could simply be put to rest by just doing some simple testing. My total investment was about 45 minutes, some ammo and a notepad. I confess I chickened-out on the 300- and 320-gr. loads, though. After firing one through that Scandium 2¾” S&W Night Guard (even with gloves), I just didn’t have the heart to do it again. I don’t think that’s a terrible loss, since most of us simply won’t be using dinosaur-killing loads like that on whitetail deer, or on your next hog hunt in Texas. You just don’t need ’em for that.
What’d We Learn?
Quite a bit actually, and I was surprised on more than one occasion. One of the first things I learned was I now need to actually target some of these loads through that handy Model 92 Browning. One other thing I learned — once again — is why so many people love the .44 Special. It’s mild, controllable, accurate (from prior experience) and can be very effective. For instance, the 200-gr. Buffalo Bore “Anti-Personnel” .44 Special load (a flat wadcutter, hardcast lead bullet) delivered 894 fps from the 2¾”, 971 from the 4″, 1,061 from the 6.5″ and an astounding 1,265 from the 20″ barrel of the Model 92. That lead me to thinking I need to target that load to see how it does. I mean, heck, a full .44 wadcutter at 1,265 doesn’t need to expand, and in my past experience, .38 Special wadcutters shoot very well in .357 rifles, amazingly accurate even. There might be some leading with the Buffalo Bore load, but so what? I’ll report what I find out later.
Having said that, virtually any of the loads I tested, from the .44 Magnum or .44 Special side of the fence, would have managed just about any chore I’d ever need addressed — from virtually any of the barrel lengths tested. From a low of 635 fps from the Cor-Bon 200-gr. DPX .44 Special load in the 2¾”, to a high of 1,877 fps from the Speer 240-gr. Gold Dot .44 Magnum in the rifle, any of the loads could defend you, and all of the .44 Magnum loads could easily take any game I know of in North America — even from the 2¾” S&W! Don’t believe me? Look at the chart. How about the DoubleTap 200-gr. Barnes .44 Mag. at 1,304 fps from the 2¾”! It was ugly to shoot, but it could save your butt.
On down the chart we’ve got the Buffalo Bore 200-gr. wadcutter .44 Mag at 1,086 from the 2¾” — possibly one of the most effective personal protection loads for a short-barrel big bore, if you ask me. It was controllable, modest muzzleblast and, well, looked like it would work. I liked the .44 Special version too — maybe better — and that load at 894 just might be the one most useful for urban carry. All of the loads showed often-dramatic velocity increases as the barrel lengths grew. But the key is to see how virtually any of them would work just fine at the starting, more modest velocities.
Oddly enough, one of my favorites to shoot was the Black Hills 250-gr. lead SWC “Keith” load for the .44 Special. At a comfortable 656 fps from the 2¾”, it managed 697 from the 4″ and 724 from the 6.5″. The rifle coaxed 926 out of it, and suddenly turned it into a “real” load for hunting just about any kind of deer (close) and great for hogs too. It would be pretty good for daily carry if you have a .44 Special you tote around the ranch. Its mild report and low recoil is pleasant, and a 250 at 700 fps or so should solve most of your problems.
Interestingly, the Cor-Bon 200-gr. DPX (copper) .44 Special load only showed 635 fps from the 2¾”, but 935 in the 4″, 1,105 in the 6.5″ and a remarkable 1,461 in the rifle! So, we have two .44 Specials, both starting out close to the same, suddenly parting ways as the barrel lengths got longer. Obviously, the Cor-Bon load carries more authority, but also carries more recoil and muzzleblast. I try to avoid shooting any gun without using hearing protection. But, should you be out and about on your land with a .44 Special sixgun and suddenly need to shoot (feral dog, hog or who-knows-what?), the milder loads are certainly easier on your ears.
Something else to think about regarding velocity increases in rifle-length barrels when shooting pistol bullets — bullet failure. The vast majority of bullets in pistol calibers are built to perform at pistol velocities. Crank ’em up to 1,500 fps or more and you might very well get bullets breaking-up at impact, and under-penetrating. Which is why, I think, if you’re doing to be doing much .44 Magnum shooting in rifles, you either look for hardcast bullets or bullets constructed specifically for use in rifles.
It’s all amazingly versatile if you think about it. With three or four loads, say, the Black Hills Keith .44 Special load, The Buffalo Bore .44 Special or .44 Mag. “Anti-Personnel” load, and maybe the Cor-Bon or Speer .44 Mag. load (I understand the Speer Gold Dot load performs well at rifle velocities), your .44 Magnum handgun/rifle combo can suddenly become a “do-all” pair for you. Add a CCI .44 Special shot load, and that’s a pretty darn well-rounded line-up if you ask me. With a bit of experimenting, I’ll bet similar combos could be found for the .38 Special, .357, .45 Colt, .45 ACP, .40 S&W, .41 Magnum, .500 S&W, etc. Indeed, you can also do the same thing with the .45-70. Fun, ain’t it?
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