The .44 Is Still Special!

John Fires Back

Many of Taffin’s .44 Specials are even older than he is; this is a 1926 Model.

Mike "Duke" Venturino

Dear Friend Mike:

Please accept my apologies, I messed up! I consider you a friend and friends are supposed to help friends when they see problems. I knew something was wrong as far back as 2005 when you proclaimed The .45 Colt Sucks. I couldn’t understand how you could make such a statement when just a few years earlier you had said if you could only have one sixgun it would be a 43/4″ Colt Single Action .45. My first thought was you were going through the change of life and not thinking clearly. I rebutted your article and then neglected my duty when I saw other signs.

This Triple-Lock .44 Special left the factory 100 years ago. It is still an excellent sixgun.

Smith & Wesson offered the stainless steel Model 624 and blued Model 24-3 in the mid-1980s.

Groups fired with Ruger’s new .44 Specials.

By the time you started wearing Hawaiian shirts, I should’ve stepped in but I salved my conscience by thinking it’s just a phase. Then you started wearing a helmet. I still held back! By the time you were selling off some of your classic sixguns, instead of intervening I took advantage of you by buying one of your .44 Specials. I kept telling myself you would be okay. I was sitting here waiting for Buckhorn Gun & Pawn, my FFL holder, to call me and let me know my latest .44 Special had arrived; I won the auction for a Colt New Service 71/2″ Target Model. The mailman got here first with the July/August issue of American Handgunner and I immediately saw THE .44 SPECIAL AIN’T! on the front cover. My first thought was who on our staff would write such a thing?

When I saw it was you I was totally perplexed. Has your helmet been screwed on too tight? Have you been sniffin” too much cosmoline from those World War I and II artifacts? Has shooting those newfound machine guns shaken something loose? Perhaps all those years of sniffing black powder had somehow gotten to you? Maybe you were snowbound in your Shooting Shack too much this winter? I looked for all kinds of excuses for you; friends shouldn’t do that. I read up on it and it’s called enabling. Right now you don’t need that. What you need is tough love. I simply cannot ignore your cries for help any longer. So let’s take a look at some of your arguments about why you think the .44 Special isn’t. I feel more than qualified to do this.

El Diablo.

South Western lawmen especially preferred the .44 Special in such
sixguns as these Smith & Wesson Models 1926 and 1950.

Lotsa’ Guns

Both of us have written several books and my latest was dedicated to all the .44s, with a large section on the .44 Special, so I think I know something about it. You said in your article you have owned a total of 21 .44 Specials since 1966. I go back a little further. It was 50 years ago I purchased my first .44 Special, a Smith & Wesson 1950 Target. It was a terrible disaster three years later when I had to sell it. I was in my second year of college, Diamond Dot was a stay-at-home mom, and I had college tuition to pay plus three little kids under the age of three to feed. The .44 Special, along with a Colt .45 SAA and a Winchester .30-30, had to be sacrificed; Dot cried and said I would never have to do that again and I have definitely been blessed as it has never been necessary to repeat it. You count 21 .44 Specials all of which are now gone except six of them; a look at my record shows 85 in the past half-century.

Other than the 1950 Target I have only sold one .44 Special, a 1928-era Colt SAA marked “RUSSIAN AND S&W SPECIAL 44″. I traded that one to a collector for two Colt Single Actions plus the original purchase price. Looking back I wish I had held onto it. Only one other .44 Special has left me and that one was given to a special friend. Specials are totally special to me. I hold onto them and hope my grandsons will eventually do the same. I probably load and shoot more .44 Special cartridges than all the rest combined. At my age I even shoot more .44 Specials in my .44 Magnum sixguns than Magnums; it makes life just that more pleasant. This past year a friend and I of more than 40 years decided to commemorate our friendship; we ordered matching USFA 43/4″ Single Actions with one-piece ivories. The chambering? What else but .44 Special with the barrel marked RUSSIAN AND S&W SPECIAL .44.

This USFA .44 Special Single Action exhibits superb accuracy; ramshorn stocks are by Roy Fishpaw.

Smith & Wesson reached the apex of .44 Special sixgun development with the 1950 Target.

Hamilton Bowen built this re-creation of Elmer Keith’s famous #5SAA .44 Special.

Shooting Pleasure

You said “In regards to the criterion by which revolver and their cartridges are judged, the .44 Special can’t do a single thing many others do just as well — or better.” You are right about this, but so what? Neither you nor I can do a single thing many others do just as well, or better. Does that make us worthless or any less valuable? The .44 Special can do one thing, at least for me, better than any other cartridge/sixgun combination and that is give me pure shooting pleasure. I guess I’m an emotional sort of sixgunner as I have copies of every article Elmer Keith, Skeeter Skelton, John Lachuk, Brian Pearce, and a whole bunch of others, including yourself, have written about the .44 Special over the past century. If Hillary could connect with Eleanor Roosevelt I can certainly connect with other .44 Special sixgunners every time I shoot. I hope I never lose that feeling.

You’ve gone to great pains to attack the idea of “inherent accuracy” as to the .44 Special. The .44 Special is definitely inherently accurate as is every other sixgun cartridge. Good ammunition combined with a properly crafted revolver results in excellent accuracy. Even the old .38-40 has given me superb accuracy in sixguns with properly chamber throats. Every sixgun and every cartridge is inherently accurate if they are properly manufactured. Someone once said “The .44 Special is one of those cartridges in which just about any handgun propellant works well … ” Want to guess who said that? It was you in 1995.

Taffins latest .44 Special, a Colt New Service Target Model, shoots well.

Three .44 Special New Service Models for different purposes:
an easy to pack 41/2", a Target Model 71/2", and a Pocket Pistol.

Heavy duty 4" .44 Specials from Smith & Wesson from bottom clockwise:
1950 Military, 1926 Model, and Thunder Ranch Special.

So What

One of your attacks on the .44 Special is due to the fact “From the ammunition factories it’s never been loaded to any sort of ‘special’ ballistics either.” Again I say so what? That’s what handloading is all about. I have bullet molds dropping virtually every style of .44 bullet ever designed. For the past half-century I have enjoyed endless hours of load development and shooting pleasure with .44 Specials from Smith & Wesson, Colt, Great Western, Texas Longhorn Arms and Freedom Arms to name a few, as well as the new .44 Special Ruger Flat-Tops and more than a dozen custom Ruger .44 Specials. I’ve used bullets ranging from 180 grains up to 275 grains and muzzle velocities as low as 600 fps and with some loads, twice that or even more. You can bet I’m very careful about which sixguns receive my more powerful loads. I can’t believe you actually tried to shoot Keith’s Heavy Load in an old Triple-Lock! Not once, but twice! I have three Triple-Locks and I wouldn’t even consider trying such a thing.

Actually you’re not quite right about ammunition companies never offering special .44 Special ballistics. Currently Buffalo Bore offers a 1,000+ fps 250 grain SWC load; even Keith said the ammunition companies should bring out this load more than 50 years ago. Well, now we have it. You also bemoaned the fact it took so long for factories such as Black Hills and Cor-Bon to offer more powerful factory loadings. At least they have done so now, and those who wish to carry a .44 Special defensively have factory chamberings to choose from. I don’t know of any more easy to carry big bore sixguns than the S&W .44 Special Mountain Lite and the .44 Magnum 329PD. Loaded with any of these .44 Special factory offerings they make superb self-defense revolvers.

When Elmer Keith’s 1955 Sixguns was released the best double
action .44 Special available was the S&W 1950 Target.

The use of a 2X Leupold scope helps discover the true accuracy
of a Freedom Arms .44 Special.

Still Tops

I have been collecting articles on the .44 Special even longer than the sixguns. I have come across some very interesting quotes in these articles. This one goes back to 1990 in an article entitled “.44 Special Still A Top Big Bore:” “Accuracy apart, the .44 Special is still one of my very favorites. It combines the big-bore aura, exceptional accuracy if you search it out, ease of handloading, and, perhaps best of all, some extraordinary handguns in which to fire it.” This one is a little earlier, 1988: “Hardly anything bad is ever said about the .44 Special. Indeed there is hardly a reason for saying anything negative about it. For 80 years the .44 Special has been so well regarded by serious revolver shooters that it might be tantamount to professional suicide for a gunwriter to give it hammering in print. There are reasons for the homage paid to the .44 Special by handgunners. It is an accurate cartridge. It is easy to reload. In full-size revolvers it is a sweetheart to shoot.” I couldn’t agree more with both of these statements.

Here are a couple from 2004. “Skeeter Skelton considered the .44 Special one of the all-time most accurate revolver cartridges … Skeeter was right about the .44 Special.” And finally: “As I write this column, I am one extremely happy shooter collector. Just a few days ago I was able to buy a revolver I’ve wanted for almost 40 years. As many of you know, I am a fan of the .44 Special cartridge … ”

Mike I could have chosen quotes from several writers from Elmer Keith way back in the late 1920s all the way up to right now. However I chose these quotes, all from the same author. All of these words were written by you! What in the world has happened to change your thoughts about the .44 Special? Whatever it is it can’t be good. You must simply get rid of that helmet, those awful shirts, and get out of the snow more often.
You’ve told us why you think the .44 Special isn’t all that special; let me add a few more thoughts why I think the opposite. The .44 Special is Special with a capital “S”! It has never been the most popular sixgun cartridge nor even been in the running for any of the top spots, but rather it has always been the true connoisseur’s cartridge and a favorite among True Believers.

The .44 Special is now 100-plus years old and in many shooter’s minds has been replaced by the .44 Magnum in its many forms. Why bother with a sixgun chambered in .44 Special? One can certainly shoot .44 Special loads through a .44 Magnum and enjoy not only less felt recoil but often even equal or better accuracy than the magnum loads as well. But there is something else about the .44 Special and it is most difficult to explain — it simply must be experienced.

Whether it is a Model 1926 or Model 1950 from Smith & Wesson, a Single Action from Colt or USFA, a totally custom-built .44 Special on a Ruger Three-Screw, or even the Freedom Arms Model 97, something mysterious and inexplicable takes place when shooting a .44 Special. Its stirs the sixgunner’s mind, heart, soul and spirit as few things in this life are able to accomplish. What is really perplexing to me is you also felt this way not so long ago and have now, alas, lost it!

Smith & Wesson’s Thunder Ranch .44 Special is a superb self-defense sixgun.

Handloaders greatly improved the .44 Special by replacing the
original round-nosed bullet with a Keith SWC.

Traditional Colt-style barrel marking and a USFA SAA.

Hunting & Shooting

Smith & Wesson and Colt revolvers was the first true hunting sixgun cartridge and remains an excellent choice today for deer-sized game at reasonable ranges. I have used virtually every sixgun cartridge for hunting, however after taking two 500+ pound feral hogs cleanly and quickly with the .44 Special I can say I could easily spend the rest of my life very comfortably with nothing but a .44 Special. As an everyday working load, my standard choice is a 250-260 grain Keith bullet over 7.5 grains of Unique (or Universal or 8.0 grains of Power Pistol) for around 950 fps; I got this load from Skeeter who got it from Elmer. All of these loads are both accurate and exceptionally economical.

A pound of Unique will yield nearly 1,200 rounds of easy shooting standard velocity .44 Specials. The .44 Special, as well as the .44 Russian before it, have long held the reputation as being among the most accurate of sixgun cartridges. After nearly a half-century of shooting many hundreds of thousands of rounds and virtually every handgun cartridge, I would have to say the .44 Special is definitely accurate, however this is true of many other cartridges as well. As we have both said accuracy seems to be more a function of the quality of the sixgun being used as well as the ammunition than the particular cartridge.

Most large frame .44 Special sixguns have been exceptional revolvers and it also remains very easy to produce quality ammunition in brass marked .44 Special. As a self-defense proposition it would be hard to find a better cartridge than a properly loaded .44 Special, and, as mentioned we now have excellent choices for this in factory offerings.

Mike you’re my friend and in spite of your heresy I still love you. I hope your 1988 prediction of hammering the .44 Special producing professional suicide does not come true! Next time you are in town let’s sit down over a couple rib-eyes and talk this out. My hope is there is still hope for you.

Good Shootin’ and God Bless,

P.S.: That 71/2″ Colt New Service Target Model .44 Special I was waiting for shoots great!

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