THE .445 SUPERMAG

BY JOHN TAFFIN

            It was a cold day in southwestern Idaho, 20 degrees, snow on the ground, and certainly not a good day to be out shooting. However, I was much younger than and still in my invincible period though very close to the tail end. The occasion was the testing of a new cartridge. Dan Wesson had announced, though not yet delivered a new revolver with a longer cylinder and frame than the standard .44 Magnum size. When it arrived it would be known as the .357 SuperMag in the Dan Wesson revolver and the .357 Maximum in the stretched frame Ruger Blackhawk. However, this day we were not interested in the slightest in a .357 SuperMag cartridge but rather using the Dan Wesson platform for something else.

            That something else was known as the .44 UltraMag designed by my friend Lew Schafer. Schafer had been a longtime experimenter and re-chambered Thompson/Center Contender .44 Magnum barrels to his .444 Schafer Magnum. This cartridge was simply a .444 Marlin turned on a lathe to have the same outside dimensions as the .44 Magnum. This allowed a shooter the use the .44 Special, .44 Magnum, and .444 Schafer Magnum all in the same single-shot barrel. When Schafer heard of the .357 SuperMag with its case length of 1.600” and a revolver with a cylinder long enough to handle it he acquired reamers and re-chambered a 10” Thompson/Center Contender for his .44 Schafer UltraMag.  As soon as he could get his hands on a .357 SuperMag Dan Wesson revolver he was ready with the proper reamer to re-chamber the cylinder and he also had .44 Magnum Dan Wesson barrels to be fitted to the .357 SuperMag frame.

            The .44 Schafer UltraMag is the cartridge we were shooting on that cold morning. Lew was spotting and I was shooting. I fired the first round and Lew called it a bullseye. I reloaded, settled down on the sandbags, and fired the second shot. This time he hesitated and said I missed the target. Now I'm not the world's best shot, however I didn't see how I could miss the target using a scope-sighted Contender. I fired the third shot, and again he said I missed the target. Now I had a pretty good idea what was happening and I told him to take a good look at the target and see if that original hole was perfectly round. As he stared at it he noticed the oblong shape and broke out in a big smile. All three shots were in the same hole and he knew he had a great cartridge and load. We were using a heavyweight cast bullet of his own design powered by Winchester’s 680 powder and it was definitely the proverbial tack driver.

            When the .357 SuperMag became available, Schafer made up two barrels, one  6” barrel and the other 8”. By careful reloading we acquired the following muzzle velocities, in temperatures of 20-25 degrees, using the 6” barrelled Dan Wesson revolver: 200 grain Hornady JHP, 1718 fps; 220 grain Sierra FPJ, 1670 fps; 240 grain Hornady JFP,1596 fps; 265 grain Hornady JFP, 1495 fps; and 305 grain Cast Gas Checked Bullet, 1589 fps. At the time, only the 265 grain and 305 grain bullets were chronographed in the same revolver with the 8” barrel installed and like loads gave an increase of 110 fps to the 265 Hornady and a mere 13 fps to the 305 grain cast bullet. All loads were assembled with WW680 powder and CCI #350 Magnum Large Pistol primers with the 305 grain cast bullet giving five-shot groups of 3/8"-1/2" at 25 yards.

            Barrels for the .44 UltraMag were standard Dan Wesson .44 Magnum barrels but because the SuperMag frames used different threads, 8” .44 Magnum barrels were cut to 6”and re-threaded, and 10” barrels went through the same process to become 8” barrels. This accounts for the lack of building of a .44 Ultramag with a 10” barrel to match up with the Thompson/Center Contender. I wrote up Lew Schafer's first revolver chambered in .44 UltraMag and gave the article to the then editor of The Silhouette, the membership paper of IHMSA (International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association). He sent it back to me saying the idea was dangerous; I then sold the article to Guns magazine. A few years later the Dan Wesson revolver arrived factory chambered in the .445 Supermag.

            For five years, the various .44 Long Magnums, based on either .444 Marlin or .30-40 Krag brass, were regarded as illegitimate sons of the .357 SuperMag. Two other versions comparable to the .44 Schafer UltraMag were the .44 Rhino and the .44 Linebaugh Long both based on .30-40 Krag brass. Then Dan Wesson and Elgin Gates of IHMSA got together and the result was the .445 SuperMag.  

            After communication with both Elgin Gates, and Bob Talbot, then chief engineer at Dan Wesson, I was scheduled to receive one of the prototype Dan Wesson .445s, a small lot of the first brass, and a set of Redding .445 SuperMag dies. Upon the arrival of the .445 SuperMag from Dan Wesson, I was very pleased to find not only a blued 10” Dan Wesson .445 with Zebrawood grips, but also an extra  8” barrel in the Heavy Barrel configuration, and a pair of the newest Dan Wesson Gripper-style one-piece wood grips. As it turned out, the extra grips were vital to the testing project. From the serial number on my test gun and matching barrels, 003, this was the third gun out of the factory, after the original stainless .445s sent to IHMSA.

            As a starting point for loading for the .445 SuperMag, I went back to the loading data for the .44 UltraMag and also compared the capacity of the .445 SuperMag brass with the wildcat .44 UltraMag brass. The brass for the .445 SuperMag seemed to be stretched .44 Magnum brass and was not as thick as the wildcat brass made up from either .444 Marlin or .30-40 Krag brass. So even though the .445 brass had more case capacity then the wildcat .44 Schafer UltraMag, I decided to play it safe and not increase powder charges at the beginning. Firing the new .445 for the first time gave me a sensation that I had never really experienced before with a Dan Wesson production revolver: recoil. Dan Wesson’s chambered for .357 SuperMag, .375 SuperMag, .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum all weighed in the neighborhood of four pounds and one is likely to get fatigued from trying to hold them offhand much quicker than getting bothered by recoil. To be legal for IHMSA silhouetting, the .445 SuperMag had to meet a required weight limit of four pounds and both models, the 10” regular barrel and the 8” Heavy Barrel weighed in just about one ounce under the legal weight. Even at four pounds, recoil with the heaviest loads was substantial.

            It seems every new venture has pitfalls and this project was no exception. The first lot of brass turned out to be too soft and resulted in sticky extraction with higher loads and another phenomenon developed in that the more the brass was used the better it got. By the third firing, the brass had been worked sufficiently enough that without changing powder charges or primers or bullets, pressures dropped and velocities went up. The problem with the brass was also taken care of and only the early lots gave this problem. Now Starline offers excellent .445 brass.

            Loading the .445 brass for the first time, I followed my normal procedure of full length resizing all brass, in this case with the Redding carbide full length resizing  die. Brass came out with a nice burnished look, ready to be neck expanded, primed and loaded. That first batch of brass was fired, and after being tumbled clean, I started to full length resize the .445s again. Trouble. The Redding die raised a very sharp belt at the bottom of the brass. As the brass was being resized, brass was seemingly being pushed ahead of the tight carbide sizer and winding up as a ridge that prevented the sized brass from entering the chamber of the Dan Wesson .445.

            My first thought was that the die had just been made too tight, so I went to some .44 Magnum dies I had on hand. The same thing happened with both Redding and RCBS .44 Magnum carbide sizing dies. Now what? I had a batch of fired brass and could not resize, which meant that they could not be reloaded. Rescue came in the form of my old set of standard RCBS .44 Magnum dies. The .445 brass was rolled on a lube pad, run through a twenty year old .44 Magnum sizing die and the cases dropped easily into the chambers of the .445.       The mystery was solved when it was learned that Dan Wesson, rather than slow down the project by waiting for the .445 reamers, had chambered the prototype .445 with standard .44 Magnum reamers that were simply moved deeper into the chambers. The result was a chamber that was just enough oversize at the back end to allow the tight .445 SuperMag dies to push excess brass ahead of the carbide sizing ring.            

            That problem was also taken care of and all the cylinders of the .445 Supermag were cut with the .445 reamers and the cylinder on my test gun was replaced by Dan Wesson. I can't really fault Dan Wesson on this one. Most new guns are announced and then it is months, even years, before anyone sees one. Dan Wesson just tried to do everything to speed up the process as much as possible and get the guns into the hands of the writers and testers so all problems could be taken care of before the regular production began. For all my .445 loads now I use a full length .44 UltraMag sizing die given me by Lew Schafer.

            The .445 SuperMag is a high pressure cartridge and will allow higher muzzle velocities than most .44 Magnum bullets are designed for. I stayed with the silhouette type .44 Magnum full metal jacketed bullets and even at this, one of the bullets tested did shed at least part of its jacket and leave it deposited on the back of the barrel.  Care should be taken in bullet selection for high velocities. For silhouette type loads, that is muzzle velocities from 1400-1600 fps, any of the excellent .44 Magnum bullets from Hornady, Sierra, or Speer did the job. But higher velocities and higher pressures demand bullets with heavier jackets.      

At the time heavy jacketed bullets for .44 calibers with .032" jackets were available from Freedom Arms in a 240 grain JHP, and both a 260 grain and 300 grain JFP. These bullets were just what was needed for full house loads in the .445. Sierra also came out with a 300 grain JFP and this bullet was used as part of the testing for the .445 SuperMag. It proved to give excellent accuracy at high velocities, and for 300 grain jacketed bullets we are talking velocities from 1300-1500 fps. Now both Speer and Hornady also have suitable 300 grain bullets available.

            Reloading for the .445 SuperMag, except for the problem that developed with the oversize fired brass and tight carbide sizing die, is as normal as loading any of the straight-walled pistol cartridges. Since there was very little loading information available at the time and since no pressure data had been published, I stayed with the conventional powders: H4227, WW680, and H110. After firing more than 800 rounds through the .445 SuperMag, my preference for 220 to 260 grain bullets was H4227 and for 300 grain bullets H110 and WW296 for full house hunting loads; WW680 worked great for all level loads.

            A project such as this one, testing both a new revolver and a new cartridge, is especially interesting as one really does not know what to expect. It is really fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants reloading and a matter of using past experience to come up with starting loads. Considering this fact, the .445 SuperMag, both gun and cartridge, came out looking exceptionally good. A total of 83 different loads were tried, 49 with jacketed bullets and 34 with cast bullets. To save time and get in as many different loads as possible, groups were shot with three rounds instead of the conventional five or six. Shooting three rounds of two different loads and using all six chambers gave me two 3/4" groups so there was no worry about getting unreliable results because of one chamber that shoots to a different point of impact than the other. I have more than one sixgun that does this.

            Of the 49 jacketed bullet loads, 45 went under 2", 32 went 1 1/2" or less, 18 shot into 1 1/4" or less and three got down below the magical 1" mark. These were excellent results especially when one considers that at no time was the barrel allowed to be conditioned to a particular load and loads were fired one right after the other in rapid sequence. All were fired with the 10” barrel and from a leather padded sandbag rest. Switching to cast bullets, accuracy was even better. Of 34 loads tried, 26 went 2" or less, 16 shot into 1 1/2" or less, 12 tightened up to 1 1/4" or less, nine went 1" or less, and five cast bullet loads shot into 3/4" or less.  Again, loads were fired for groups in rapid succession without allowing the barrel to become conditioned to any particular load. The only concession made was that all jacketed bullets were fired together and all cast bullets likewise.

            Just as the Dan Wesson .44 Magnum, the .445 SuperMag gave better accuracy with gas checked bullets than with plain base bullets. My best results across the board were assembled using Winchester’s 680 powder; unfortunately it is no longer available. The following loads all gave groups of one-inch or less

Load                                                                            MV

Sierra 220 FPJ/34.0 gr. H4227                                    1629 fps

Sierra 300 grain JSP/35.0 gr. H110                              1472 fps

SAECO 260 GC/32.0 gr. H4227                                 1560 fps

SAECO 260 GC/34.0 gr. H4227                                 1648 fps

SSK #310.429/29.0 gr. H110                                      1469 fps

SSK #310.429/30.0 gr. H110                                      1522 fps

 

            As a hunting handgun, the .445 cartridge is at its best with bullets in the 265-300 grain range and the .445 delivers excellent accuracy with both cast and jacketed bullets in this weight range. Mention was made in an earlier chapter of a Ruger .357 Maximum converted to .445 SuperMag by Ben Forkin and this is an excellent hunting handgun.  Recoil, while heavy, is not going to hurt anyone with proper stocks. The well-designed Dan Wesson factory stocks do an excellent job of keeping felt recoil to a minimum, while the .445 Ruger has been equipped with the Ruger Bisley grip frame. The .445 SuperMag fits directly in between the .44 Magnum and the .454 Casull. It should be offered chambered in a levergun. 

            Although not chambered in a levergun, the .445 SuperMag was chambered by Thompson/Center in their single-shot Contender. The following loads were chronographed over a PACT PC using a T/C Super 14 Contender.

Load                                                                MV

Sierra 220 FMJ/34.0 gr. H4227                       2006 fps

Sierra 220 FMJ/37.0 gr. H110             2180 fps

Speer 240 FMJ/34.0 gr. H4227                       1958 fps

Speer 240 FMJ/36.0 gr. H110                         2092 fps

Hornady 265 FP/30.0 gr. H4227                      1792 fps

Hornady 265 FP/31.0 gr. H110                        1844 fps

NEI #295.429GC/33 gr. H110                        2012 fps

 

 

40-1) This may very well be the first ".445 SuperMag”, Lew Schafer’s custom

.44 UltraMag.

 

 

 

40-2) Taffin is shown shooting the .44 Schafer UltraMag several years before

the advent of the .445 SuperMag.

 

 

 

40-3) The .445 SuperMag with factory zebrawood stocks and the .44 Magnum

Dan Wesson with Pachmayr grips both just made the long-range silhouette

maximum weight limit of four pounds.

 

 

 

40-4) Shroud marking as found on the Dan Wesson .445.

 

 

 

40-5) Note the slots cut in the shroud of the Dan Wesson .445; metal was

removed to come in under the four-pound weight limit of IHMSA rules.

 

 

 

40-6) Dan Wesson gives shooters many options as to grips, front sight blades,

and barrel configurations and length.

 

 

 

40-7) The Dan Wesson .445 SuperMag is large and heavy, however it carries

easily in the Idaho Leather #44 shoulder holster.

 

 

 

40-8) Whether for hunting or silhouetting, the Dan Wesson .445 SuperMag

can be set up accordingly.

 

 

 

40-9) The heavyweight of the Dan Wesson .445 helps control felt recoil.

 

 

 

40-10) The Dan Wesson .445, as all other Dan Wesson sixguns, has a well

deserved reputation for accuracy.

 

 

 

40-11 & 40-12) Dan Wesson's .445 Alaskan Guide is offered with a compensated

short barrel for easy packing and as protection against big bears.

 

 

 

40-14) The Dan Wesson .445 Alaskan Guide thrives on 300 grain bullets.

 

 

 

40-15) Loaded with 295 grain BRP Keith-style SWC’s, the .445 Alaskan Guide

offers a lot of wilderness security.

 

 

 

40-16) While Dan Wesson was still controlled by the Wesson Family they offered

the .357, .375, and .445 SuperMags.

 

 

 

40-17) The SuperMag family of cartridges is shown, the .357, the .375, the .414,

and the .445.

 

 

 

40-18) Heavyweight bullets for use in the .445 SuperMag include the BRP 295,

the SSK 310, and the Speer 300 FN.

 

 

 

 

40-19) Even with 300 grain bullets, the recoil of the .445 Dan Wesson is heavy

but not punishing.

.

 

 

 

40-20) Two .44's of the 1980s compared, the Ruger .44 Magnum Super Redhawk

and the Dan Wesson .445 SuperMag.

 

Chapter 39      Chapter 41