The Last in a Series
by John Taffin
Now we come to the truly big big bores, the .41 Magnum and the .44 Magnum. Perhaps we should have a classification system like the soap and cereal manufacturers do in which there is no little only large, larger, and largest. Call the .357 the little big bore, the .44 Special, .45 Colt, and .45 ACP/Auto Rim the big bores, and the .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum the big big bores. In most defensive situations, we could get along quite nicely without the .41 Magnum and the .44 Magnum. But ammunition is available that makes both of these viable fightin' handguns plus the extra power is there if needed.
SIXGUNS AND CARTRIDGES/THE .44 MAGNUM: Anyone that has been around sixgunnin' for a long time knows that Elmer Keith was directly responsible for the .44 Magnum. He started heavy loading the .44 Special after he blew the cylinder and top strap on a black powder .45 Colt on the Fourth of July in 1925. For the next thirty years, Keith loaded ammunition, shot sixguns, wrote articles, and answered letters by the thousands, most all of which was directly connected with the .44 Special at 1200 feet per second with a 250 grain bullet.
When Smith & Wesson and Remington teamed up to bring out the .44 Magnum sixgun and ammunition, Keith retired his .44 Specials. He was 56 at the time and until the disabling stroke, twenty-five years later, he daily carried a four-inch Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum, occasionally substituting a four-inch .41 Magnum, again Smith & Wesson of course. Keith always used full house loads in his .44 Magnum, the now legendary 22.0 grains of #2400 and his Lyman Keith designed bullet #429421.
Anyone who has ever shot this load knows that it is a kicker and especially so in the four-inch Model 29. I've tried to use it with standard Magna stocks to duplicate what Keith did but I simply cannot handle the recoil for more than a few shots. And I have admitted before that he was a tougher man than I am. He did have one advantage over my trying to use standard wood S&W Magna stocks. All of his four-inch double action sixguns were fitted with heavier-than-wood ivory stocks and not just ordinary grips. Each right hand grip panel had been expertly carved with a steerhead or eagle and snake or some such that filled in the palm of the hand perfectly allowing a firmer grip and keeping the heavy recoiling sixgun from twisting in the hand. These grips did not turn the .44 Magnum into a pussycat by any means, but they substantially helped control the big sixgun.
A number of excellent defensive loadings exist for the .44 Magnum. Black Hills, CCI, and Winchester all offer a 240 lead semi-wadcutter at 800-950 feet per second which seems to be the accepted velocity range for defensive use. At 1100 feet per second, CCI's 200 grain jacketed hollow point Blazer load is exceptionally accurate. For a handload I particularly like the 250 grain Keith bullet over 10.0 grains of Unique for slightly under 1100 feet per second. For more serious use, I go to BRP's excellent 295 grain cast gas checked bullet over 21.5 grains of WW296 for a full 1250 feet per second from a four-inch sixgun. Yes, it kicks!
S&W 4" M29
S&W 4" M29 RB
|BLACK HILLS 240 LEAD SWC||947||1 1/2"||922||2 1/4"|
|CCI BLAZER 240 LEAD SWC||833||4 1/2"||826||3 1/2"|
|WINCHESTER 240 LEAD SWC||896||2 3/4"||879||3"|
|FEDERAL 240 HYDRA-SHOK JHP||1285||3 1/2"||1258||3"|
|CCI BLAZER 200 JHP||1091||1 1/4"||1108||1"|
|WINCHESTER 210 SILVERTIP HP||1194||3 3/4"||1187||2 3/4"|
|FEDERAL 250 FMJ||1245||2 3/8"||1229||2 5/8"|
|HORNADY 240 XTP/25.0 GR. WW296||1367||3 1/2"||1351||1 3/4"|
|LYMAN #429421 /6.5 GR. WW231||781||1 1/2"||749||1 1/2"|
|LYMAN #429421/10.0 GR. UNIQUE||1069||1 1/2"||1053||2 3/4"|
|BRP #295.429/21.5 GR. WW296||1267||3 1/2"||1244||1 3/4"|
In addition to the four-inch .44 Magnum from Smith & Wesson, I have some experience with the .44 Dan Wesson with a four-inch heavy barrel. It again took some searching to find a four-inch heavy barrel to fit to my .44 silhouette sixgun, but I did find one. With the smooth Dan Wesson factory stocks and the heavy barrel, the big DW .44 is quite a bit more pleasant to shoot than the Model 29 and packs almost as easy.
The Ruger Redhawk with a four-inch barrel is a custom proposition and I recently took a five and one-half inch stainless .44 Redhawk to gunsmith Bill Frankenberg at Buckhorn, a local gunshop, and had him round butt it, cut it to four inches and fit a Ron Power front sight. It is amazing how much these easily accomplished alterations improve the handling qualities of the somewhat cumbersome Redhawk. This makes a perfect packin' guns for hiking or hunting trips as well as a viable defensive sixgun.
RUGER 4" REDHAWK
DAN WESSON 4" VH
|BLACK HILLS 240 LEAD SWC||965||2 3/4"||968||1 3/4"|
|CCI BLAZER 240 LEAD SWC||843||3 1/2"||821||1 1/2"|
|WINCHESTER 240 LEAD SWC||893||2 3/8"||890||2 3/4"|
|FEDERAL 240 HYDRA-SHOK JHP||1312||1 1/4"||1212||2 1/4"|
|CCI BLAZER 200 JHP||1285||2 1/4"||1211||2 1/4"|
|WINCHESTER 210 SILVERTIP HP||1307||2 1/4"||1187||2 1/2"|
|FEDERAL 250 FMJ||1263||2"||1223||2 3/4"|
|HORNADY 240 XTP/25.0 GR. WW296||1458||2 1/4"||1388||3 1/4"|
|LYMAN #429421 /6.5 GR. WW231||773||1 3/4"||770||2 1/2"|
|LYMAN #429421/10.0 GR. UNIQUE||1090||2 3/8"||1100||1 5/8"|
|BRP #295.429/21.5 GR. WW296||1285||2 1/2"||1346||3 1/4"|
The .41 Magnum is a good idea gone bad and back to good again. The original idea backed by Elmer Keith, Skeeter Skelton, and Bill Jordan was a peace officer's cartridge of a 200-220 grain bullet at around 900-950 feet per second. Not wishing to spend the money to design and manufacture a new sixgun, a five-shot Model 19 would have been perfect, Smith & Wesson elected to simply chamber the Model 29 for .41 and offer a second no frills model without adjustable sights nor an enclosed ejector rod housing.
Two types of ammunition were made available, the original defensive type loading put forth my Mssrs. Keith, Skelton, and Jordan plus a full house Magnum loading. The police load went nowhere even though it is very close to what is being offered now with the 10MM
Federal FBI load and the Winchester Law Enforcement load and also the .40 S&W load. The sixguns were just too heavy for most police officers to be willing to carry all day plus most officers were/are locked into an administrative decision concerning what they were to carry as a duty weapon anyway.
That is the bad part. The good part turns out to be that the .41 Magnum is a superb cartridge in its own right, actually better for many applications than the .44 Magnum. It shoots flatter and with less recoil than its bigger brother.
The only double action four-inch sixguns available are the Smith & Wesson Model 57/657, and again if you can find one, a four-inch barreled Dan Wesson. While the aforementioned .45 ACP was built up as Poor Man's Magnum, I recently went the other way with a Model 57 and pulled out all the stops. Nothing really radical just a good basic defensive sixgun.
The standard four-inch Model 57 was sent to Pistolsmith Teddy Jacobsen (16315 Redwood Forest Court, Dept AH, SugarLand Texas 77478. 713-277-4008). It came back with a complete action job and recutting of trigger and sear engagements, with Wolff main spring and rebound slide spring. The serrations were removed from the trigger and the face of the trigger was finished smooth and the edges radiused with no sharpness. Hammer and trigger were both jeweled. Cylinder chambers were chamfered, polished and numbered. Finally the red insert was replaced with a black one for a better sight picture.
The entire job was topped off with the installation of a pair of BearHug Skeeter Skelton style grips of Indian Rosewood with chocolate and black stripes. I now have a superb double action defensive sixgun thanks to a top gunsmith and an excellent grip maker. A sixgun that I can pack with pride and know that it not only looks great, but it has also been worked into one of the finest sixguns that could be packed. The results are gratifying. It shoots into one-inch at twenty-five yards with full house loads and with the excellent Winchester Silvertips shots into just slightly over one-inch. What more could anyone ask for?
S&W MODEL 57 4"
DW M741 4"
|CCI BLAZER 200 JHP||1049||2 1/4"||1044||2 1/2"|
|FEDERAL 210 JHP||1352||1"||1358||2 1/2"|
|WINCHESTER 210 LEAD SWC||925||3"||952||2 3/4"|
|WINCHESTER 175 SILVERTIP HP||1136||1 3/8"||1141||2 5/8"|
|WINCHESTER 210 JSP||1279||1 3/4"||1328||2"|
|LYMAN #410459/ 19.5 GR. #2400||1428||1"||1441||2 1/8"|
|LYMAN #410459/7.0 GR. WW231||964||2 1/4"||991||2 1/4"|
|HORNADY 210 JHP/21.0 GR. WW296||1228||2 1/4"||1251||1 3/4"|
My favorite holster for the double action big bore sixgun is the pancake style. I use examples made by El Paso Saddlery and Idaho Leather. Both of these feature a high-ride style, with thumbbreak safety strap, and top quality leather. El Paso also offers their #88 which is a pancake style without a safety strap but rather hugs the barrel with a spring clip to provide security. All of the above are carried on a waist belt. When I use a double action sixgun on a cartridge belt I change to the Tom Threepersons style. This style is available from the above leatherworkers as well as Bianchi, Lawrence, and Safariland.
The double action big bore revolver is definitely the number one defensive handgun available. With the single action, the gun must be cocked as it is drawn. With the myriad of semi-automatics available, one nearly needs to take a college level course to be familiar with all the types. Single action cocked-and-locked, double action, double action with cocked-and-locked option, double action only, squeeze cocking, trigger actuated, etc. Safeties that push up, safeties that push down. Those with magazine disconnects, those without.
With the double action big bore, if it is loaded it is ready to go. And when it is loaded, it is always in a safe condition. And with modern speed loaders it is nearly as fast to reload as a semi-automatic. When the magazines run dry, it is a very slow process to reload them, if they haven't been dropped along the way. Run out of speedloaders, and the sixgun can still be handled quite well the old fashioned way. Yes, the double action big bore is definitely the number one big bore fighting handgun.