Web Blast: The .44 Automag

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By John Taffin

From The January/February 2008 Taffin Tests Column

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That’s alotta’ gun! The Wildey was made famous by the Death Wish
film starring Charles Bronson. In it he was about to confront the “evil”
gangs in the city and he sends for “My friend Wildey.

Most big bore semiauto shooters know of the Desert Eagle, the Grizzly, the Wildey and the relatively recently arrived .50 GI, however before any of these there was the .44 semiauto of Harry Sanford. Sanford is one of those unsung firearms geniuses who has never quite got the recognition he deserved, and his .44 opened the doors for larger and more powerful semiautos far beyond the 1911.

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The Wildey in .44 AMP delivered consistent, excellent groups.

One Step Further

All arguments as to which is the most powerful practical handgun, the .45 Colt, .45 ACP or .357 Magnum came to a screeching halt in 1956 when all were pushed in the shadows by the then new .44 Magnum. The .44 hit just about as hard as the .357, .45 Colt and .45 ACP — all together. Would it be possible to harness its power with a semiauto? Sanford thought so and conceived the idea of a .44 semiauto in the 1960s and by 1969 had custom built a working model and formed a corporation in Pasadena, California to build the gun. The result was the AutoMag. The AutoMag pistol used a short-recoil action with a turning bolt and production models were said to withstand 60,000 psi. Early shooters of the AutoMag found they had the power of the .44 Magnum sixgun with less recoil due to the weight and operation of the rotary bolt.

Well Received

The AutoMag pistol was beautifully crafted of stainless steel and the original model had a 6-1/2″ barrel with a recoil dampening weight of 57 ounces. Lee Jurras, of Super Vel Ammunition, and founder of the Outstanding American Handgunner Awards Foundation, was an early enthusiastic supporter of the AutoMag for big game hunting and became president of Club de AutoMag International and for a time, Lee was the exclusive distributor of the AutoMag. J.D. Jones said of the AutoMag in the early 1970s: “The gun itself is big and heavy and shooting it one-handed with any degree of accuracy is difficult. Shooting with two hands changes the situation drastically. The weight then becomes an asset for steady holding. The trigger is adjustable and a satisfactory trigger pull is easily obtained.

The sights are fully adjustable with the right hex head wrench and are also made of stainless. Blackening the sights in bright sunlight eliminates any glare. Harry Sanford and T.D.E. Corp. are turning them out as fast as possible without sacrificing quality.”

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What John Taffin likes best — shooting big bore
handguns! Here the Widey looks big even in John’s beefy paws!

Trouble Arrives

Unfortunately the original AutoMag Corporation went bankrupt. Orders were received, money was plowed back into the company, guns were not being delivered, and the inevitable happened. After AutoMag closed their doors, T.D.E. purchased the machinery, unfinished guns and parts. They also hired Sanford to produce the guns from the parts. In 1974 new financing was acquired, T.D.E. made minor engineering changes and re-tooled for complete production. In September of that year Lee Jurras signed an exclusive world-wide sales and distribution agreement for all AutoMag pistols. Jurras not only took over distribution but also handled warranty and parts supply. His company also had the parts, caliber conversion kids, spare barrel assemblies, custom grips, magazine loaders, special holsters, and ammunition manufactured with SuperVel components.

Maj. George Nonte wrote an article for GUNS Magazine in 1975 proclaiming “Return of the AutoMag — and it’s Here to Stay.” Unfortunately it wasn’t, and soon disappeared. In addition to the original AutoMag, and the T.D.E. AutoMags, some were also produced by High Standard. Harry Sanford formed a new company, AMT (Arcadia Machine & Tool), which then later became iAi (Irwindale Arms Inc.), however the original AutoMag was gone. The company, iAi, relocated to Sturgis South Dakota in the late 1990s and I ordered one of the .44 AutoMags to be produced, however they also did not last very long and I don’t know that they ever produced any .44s.

Finding A Home

The .44 AutoMag pistol may be gone, however the .44AMP cartridge lives on in a new home. Wildey J. Moore first introduced his Wildey Magnum autoloading pistol in the 1970s with that first example chambered in the then relatively new .45 Winchester Magnum, or as it is most commonly referred to, the .45 WinMag. Wildey then designed a new cartridge for his Wildey Magnum, the .475WM (Wildey Magnum). For his .475, Wildey trimmed .284 Winchester brass back to just under 1.3″, loading it with 250 and 300 grain bullets at 1,800 and 1,600 fps, making it a true powerhouse pistol. Since the .284 Winchester has the same rim size as the .45 ACP/.45 WinMag, the original .45 Wildey Magnum was already set up to accept the new chambering.

Today Wildey, Inc. is providing their Wildey Magnum in the original .45 WinMag as well as the .475 Wildey Magnum, the .45 Wildey Magnum (which is the .475 necked down to .45 caliber), and now the .44 AMP. The Wildey Magnum chambered in .44 AMP is offered in several barrel lengths, with the Taffin Tests version having an 8″ barrel and a weight in excess of four pounds. This is no light weight easy packin’ pistol. They are also necessarily large, and when I grip the Wildey the tip of my thumb just barely reaches the tip of my middle finger. This is not a problem, at least for me, as shooting the Wildey is a two-handed proposition. The bark of the .44 AMP Wildey is definitely worse than its bite and recoil is not all that uncomfortable except for the fact the top of the backstrap catches me right at the base of my thumb. A couple layers of tape on my hand when shooting extensively solves that problem.

Working The Wildey

All Wildey Magnums offer interchangeable barrels, interchangeable front sight blades, and fully adjustable sights. Grips are checkered walnut and at first glance I expected the recoil to be such the checkering would eat my hand alive but it doesn’t. There are several unique features found on the Wildey Magnum, which, by the way, is of all stainless-steel construction. The sighting system features a full-length ventilated barrel rib and unlike other large caliber semiautos, the Wildey Magnum has a double action trigger mechanism coupled with a hammer block, trigger block and rebounding firing pin. If the pistol is cocked and you decide not to fire, a lever on the left side de-cocks the Wildey and it can then be re-cocked later for firing.

The Wildey Magnum is a gas-operated semiauto, and Wildey Moore says, “The Wildey patented gas system is an air-hydraulic piston powered by the firing gases through six small holes in the barrel. This piston forces the slide rearward, initiating the cycling of the pistol.” Just forward of the receiver is a round knurled button of sorts that tapers to the front to become the same basic size as the barrel. This is the gas regulator. As Wildey says, opening or closing the gas regulator adds the degree of “kick” the piston gives the slide. Reducing this kick slows down the slide, while increasing it forces the slide to move faster. If the slide does not move fast enough it will not reach its farthest rearward travel and does not pick up the next cartridge in the magazine. Different barrel lengths also require differing amounts of gas pressure. So in effect, with the gas regulator each shooter is able to custom tune his Wildey Magnum as to barrel length and cartridge level.

To regulate the gas operation, cartridges are loaded singly and directly into the chamber, this requires the magazine to be inserted as the Wildey has a magazine disconnect safety. As each round is fired, the gas regulator is adjusted until the slide stop locks the slide open. Once this is determined, a full magazine should then be fired and if any cartridges do not feed because of short recoil of the slide, the regulator is turned counterclockwise one more click.

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John tried a variety of bullets and loads with the .44 AMP in the big Wildey.

Pay Attention

The .44 AMP was originally based on the .308 case cut to the proper length, inside necked reamed and loaded with the custom dies from RCBS. Things are much simpler today as Starline offers excellent brass and the dies are no longer a custom proposition as they are a standard production item from RCBS. Although the .44 AMP is basically a rimless .44 Magnum they do not use the same dies, as the .44 AMP case is slightly tapered. This, of course, precludes the use of a carbide sizing die and cases must be lubed before sizing. The loading of 300 rounds of .44 AMP proved I am not too old to learn. I have always cautioned shooters about loading a large batch of ammunition while awaiting the arrival of a new sixgun as they could easily wind up with loads that would not fit the cylinder. The Wildey does not have a cylinder, however it has a magazine which restricts overall cartridge length. I loaded 300 rounds with bullets seated the same as I would for a sixgun, which is right to the cannelure; fortunately I did not apply a crimp of any kind. When I found none of my loads would fit the magazine it was necessary to reseat the bullets to an overall length of 1.59″, which is much shorter than most 44 Magnum sixgun rounds.

Break It In

The .44 AMP Wildey used for testing was custom ordered and brand-new. At first it was a little cranky but after about 30 rounds settled and then started shooting seriously. I still get a stovepipe once in a while but this may be able to be corrected by adjusting the gas piston. Some of the fired cases would come straight back and hit me on the forehead, however as this did not happen consistently this could also possibly be corrected by adjusting the gas piston.

The .44 AMP Wildey was tested with five different bullets from three companies, Hornady, Sierra and Speer, and also three of the most-used powders for .44 Magnum sixgun loads, #2400, H4227, and H110 as well as some slightly lighter loads using 12 grains of Unique. The latter loads were especially comfortable to shoot. The most accurate load I have found in the combinations tried was a longtime favorite semi- heavyweight bullet, Hornady’s 265 grain JFP over 22 grains of H4227. Muzzle velocity is 1,370 fps and it shoots one-hole groups. The same bullet has always given excellent service in .44 Magnums sixguns as well as .44 Magnum and .444 Marlin leverguns, and now we can add .44 semiautos to the list.

Harry Sanford had an excellent idea with his .44 semiauto. I’m most pleased to see Wildey carry on by supplying a home for the .44 AutoMag Pistol cartridge.

Test-Fire Wildey .44 AutoMag

Starline .44 AMP Brass/Winchester LP Primer
Bullet/Load MV (fps) 4 Shots/ 20 Yds (inches)
Hornady 240XTP/20.0 gr. #2400 1,505 1 1/4
Hornady 240 XTP/ 23.0 gr. H110 1,375 1 3/8
Hornady 240 XTP/24.0 gr. H4227 1,444 1 3/8
Hornady 240 XTP/12.0 gr. Unique 1,302 2
Hornady 265 JFP/19.0 gr. #2400 1,400 1 1/4
Hornady 265 JFP/21.0 gr. H110 1,349 1 7/8
Hornady 265 JFP/22.0 gr. H4227 1,372 5/8
Sierra 240 JHC/20.0 gr. #2400 1,519 1 1/2
Sierra 240 JHC/23.0 gr. H110 1,449 2
Sierra 240 JHC/12.0 gr. Unique 1,297 1 1/2
Speer 240 GDHP/20.0 gr. #2400 1,476 1 3/4
Speer 240 GDHP/23.0 gr. H110 1,404 2 1/4
Speer 240 GDHP/24.0 gr. H4227 1,492 1 3/8
Speer 240 GDHP/12.0 gr. Unique 1,275 1 3/8
Speer 270 GDFP/19.0 gr. #2400 1,369 1 1/4
Speer 270 GDFP/21.0 gr. H110 1,356 1 7/8
Speer 270 GDFP/22.0 gr. H4227 1,335 1 1/2

For more info:
Wildey FA Inc.,
45 Angevine Rd, Warren CT 06754,
( 860) 355-9000,

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