Target Loads

The longer sight radius of the 83/8" barrels can help to deliver amazing accuracy with these easy-shooting loads!

There were so many Westerns on TV when I was a kid, with every hero carrying virtually the same sixgun, producers, writers and directors started looking for gimmicks. There was Josh Randall the bounty hunter with his sawed-off Winchester, Johnny Ringo with a cartridge-firing LeMat, even Vint Bonner with a Colt .45 with interchangeable barrels allowing him to switch back and forth, by hand in the field no less, between a standard barrel length and a Buntline Special. However, the one that captured my sixgunning soul, heart and spirit was Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman who carried something unique — a Smith & Wesson .44 Russian. I secretly pledged to myself I would someday own such a sixgun.

As I grew and learned more I discovered the .44 Russian became the .44 Special and after I had been shooting a very short time, the .44 Special became the .44 Magnum. Now for some history. The S&W .44 Special 1950 Target revolver was rarely ever used for target shooting but was an excellent choice for an outdoor sixgun. This same basic sixgun was also chambered in .38 Special as the .38/44 Outdoorsman and .45 Auto Rim as the .45 1950 Target.

The latter sixgun was improved to become the .45 1955 Target and this is a gun we need to take a very special look at. It was upgraded with a heavy bull barrel, target hammer and trigger and targets stocks. Put this gun together with the .44 Special 1950 Target, drop them in the pot and stir ’em up, and out came the magnificent Target Grade .44 Magnum from Smith & Wesson in December of 1955.

A few of the excellent powders for .44 Magnum Target Loads are Universal, 231 and Bullseye.

Easing Off

The only obvious differences between the original .44 Magnum and the 1955 Target, other than the chambering, is the fact the .44 Magnum has a full-length cylinder filling out the cylinder window frame, white outline rear sight, red ramp front sight and the target stocks were of exotic and Goncala Alves wood. It was without a doubt the most beautiful double-action sixgun ever to come from the mind of man and with its historical background, even though it’s suited for full house loads, it’s also a prime candidate for what Mike Venturino calls “Slow & Easy” loads, or what the rest of us might probably call target loads.

There was a time when all my .44 Magnum loads were just that — Magnum. However, the older I’ve become, the smarter I’ve become and those loads are now reserved to be used only when absolutely necessary. In fact the boxes are labeled: “In case of emergency break tape.” Today the vast majority of my cartridge boxes hold target loads, or at the very most what we often call mid-range loads.

Velocities from 750 to 850 fps means fun, accurate shooting in the .44 Magnum.

Building The Loads

Assembling target loads for the .44 Magnum is as easy as it comes. Nothing changes except the powder charge. I still full-length size all the brass, I still crimp the same way. The one major difference is the fact #2400, H110 and WW296 don’t even get close to my loading bench. For these wonderful shooting loads I use WW231, Unique, Universal, Red Dot and Bullseye. I also work from my stash of WW452AA, which I don’t believe is available anymore, however it was an excellent powder for target loads with the .44 Magnum.

I also use the Oregon Trail bullets, 200, 225 and 240 RNFP (Round Nose Flat Points) as well as the 240 SWC. Favorite loads for the latter are 6.0 grains of Universal crimped over the front band for 870 fps and a 1″ group, 7.0 grains of the same powder in the crimping groove for just over 800 fps and an even tighter 3/4″ group, 6.0 grains of WW231 for 825 fps and just over 1″ and 5.0 grains of Bullseye for 780 fps for a 1″ group.

All loads are clocked in an 83/8″ Model 29 and they also do exceptionally well in a 61/2″ pre-29. These guns are well over 50 years old, and I’m a lot older, so we both appreciate these wonderfully easy shooting .44 non-Magnum loads. Even though they are exceptionally pleasant to shoot it doesn’t take much to realize they are the equivalent or more so of a standard .45 Hardball load. They may be fun, however, they can also be serious if the need arises.

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