By Roy Huntington
One of my all-time favorite calibers is the .44 Magnum, so I dug out some I keep handy for reference and put them to work to see what happens with iron sights at 100 yards. When I was done digging, I rounded up a T/C Contender, a 50th Anniversary Ruger Blackhawk, a Bowen Classic Arms S&W 4″ Model 29, a brand new S&W Performance Center long-barreled Model 629, an ancient Model 29 (my first N-Frame S&W I got in 1975) and a newer production S&W “Classic” Series Model 29.
My goal was to shoot a bunch of different ammo through them at 100 yards from a sandbag rest as if I were deer hunting from a blind. I stuck with iron sights simply because I like iron sights, and most guns like these are usually used with irons, except for the Contender. But, I don’t have a huge amount of experience shooting with precision at 100 yards with irons, and wanted to know what sort of accuracy an actual human being might get using a hard-kicking .44 Magnum at an honest 100 yards.
First, I zeroed everything at 25 yards using one load (Black Hills 240-gr. JHP) as a sort of benchmark. Virtually everything shot into less than 2″ or so, with some (the early Model 29 and the 629) going about 1.5″ or a bit less. I’ve always found the .44 Magnum (and virtually any big bore) to be very accurate and forgiving. If you pay attention to the sights and don’t mess up the trigger press, you’ll get hits.
The Contender barrel is a lightweight one, only about 8.5″ long (and a new addition to my T/C barrels), and coupled with the hard wooden Contender grips, really punished me. I used gel shooting gloves for all the shooting, but even with those, it wasn’t fun. The light weight allowed for a fast recoil impulse, so it was a “smack” rather than a push. Ouch! The Contender shined at 25 yards, but that odd grip and whippy barrel just didn’t seem to let me get any decent groups at 100, with about 10″ being the norm. The longer, heavier Contender barrels do much better, not because they are more accurate, but because they allow more stability and sight radius.
I used the same Black Hills ammo to get on-target with each gun at 100 yards and found all the guns needed windage or elevation changes to find the target, some quite a bit. Then I went to work.
One nice thing about the .44 Magnum is there are a zillion loads available
out there. Here’s part of the cross-section I used to test.
The best group of the day at 100 yards came from the combination of the S&W
629 and Black Hills 240-gr. JHP hunting ammo, at about 5.75″. Roy said sharper,
black sights would have helped.
What’d I Learn?
First off — and it became obvious immediately — my 59-year-old eyes prefer sharp, bold, black sights with plenty of light on either side of the front blade. The red-colored sights on the Classic Model 29 and bright orange front on the long-barreled Performance Center 629 were tough to discern at 100 and tended to get sort of fuzzy. As a 50-yard woods gun, I think colored sights are perfect, but for longer range and precision — give me sharply detailed black irons. I know if I had optics on the Performance Center .44 I’m sure it would deliver around 3″ or better with the right ammo. We’ll test that at a later date.
Sharp eyes, as in a 25-year-old, would also help here. It’s simply hard to focus on sights and still keep the target in any sort of focus you can aim at. I even had some fancy glasses allowing me to adjust focus, but at 100, it’s hard to find a happy medium.
Shooting the .44 Magnum loads showed a wide variety of power levels, from a modest push to a wrist-wrenching pounding. The shooting gloves were a huge help. With a bit over 275 rounds of full power .44 Magnum fired in one morning, I was tired, but no shaky hands or sore wrists.
Interestingly, the winner of “best group” at 100 was the beginning load, the Black Hills 240-gr. JHP (not sure what bullet is used), a full power .44 Magnum hunting-type load, in the S&W 629. I think the combination of the long barrel and very smooth SA trigger pull helped a great deal. Also, that long barrel really helped to keep muzzle blast and recoil manageable. I like that gun a good deal and even thought you can put lights, lasers, red dots or scopes on it, I think it excels as a hunting revolver. Especially with a black front sight.
The next best group was my original early Model 29 with Buffalo Bore Deer Grenade loads, a lead SWC HP. It has a real history of being reliably accurate and it proved it again. I tried my 4″ Bowen Model 29 at 100 with several loads, but I just couldn’t get reliable groups so sort of didn’t include it in my final thoughts. At 25, it was deadly though, and remains one of my favorite revolvers, but that short sight radius fought with me. It’s likely as accurate as any of them, but not for my old eyes!
The Ruger 50th Anniversary Blackhawk would have done better but the rough, gritty single-action trigger hindered a good release. Once that’s fixed, and with the right ammo, it appears to be a shooter and would easily take a deer at 100 yards.
Final thoughts? All of the guns and ammo delivered what our own Dave Anderson calls “ One minute of deer” at 100 yards. That means any of the guns, with any of the loads tested would have struck a deer in the boiler room (say a 10″ to 12″ circle) as long as you did your job. The 4″ would likely manage too, if you learned how to shoot it.
For me, longer barrels and smooth actions, combined with sharp, black sights, are the right combo. My original Model 29 has a black insert front I had replaced decades ago (learned early?), so that and being familiar with it allowed me to shoot it pretty good. It felt like shaking the hand of an old friend.
This was fun, and I plan on exploring this more later. Let me know if you have any ideas you’d like me to explore and drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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