American sixgunners have been fascinated with Magnum cartridges ever since Smith & Wesson introduced the first one in 1935. Times were tough as we were in the middle of a depression , but Smith & Wesson could not keep up with the demand for the custom built .357 Magnums. Many shooters did not even see a .357 Magnum until well into the 1950's as the Great Depression followed by the Great War definitely had an impact on sixgun production.
Even before the coming of the .357 Magnum, Elmer Keith and others of his ilk were already full-house loading the .44 Special with a 250 grain hard cast bullet to 1200 feet per second. Once the .357 Magnum was birthed, the request for a real .44 Special Magnum became very vocal. The pleas were heard and in 1956, we had the second Magnum, the forty-four.
By the 1960's, many were beginning to realize the inadequacies of the .38 Special as a peace officer's sidearm, and Keith, Bill Jordan, and Skeeter Skelton lobbied for a new cartridge as a chambering for the ideal peace officer's sixgun. The result was another Magnum, the forty-one which, while a superb cartridge in its own right, has had to play second fiddle to the bigger forty-four for nearly thirty years.
In the 1970's my late friend Elgin Gates looked at the line-up of Magnums and decided longer would be better and designed a series of new Magnum cartridges. All the new cartridges were dubbed SuperMags by Gates and were 1.610" in length, or about three-tenths of an inch longer than standard Magnum cartridges, requiring the production of a totally new revolver with a longer frame and cylinder. At the time Gates made up SuperMag cartridges in .357, .375, .44, .45, .50, and .60 caliber.
The SuperMag series of cartridges did become a reality in the 1980's through the collaborative efforts of Gates and Dan Wesson Arms. Dan Wesson Arms is now back in the hands of the Wesson family with Dan Wesson's son Seth as president and the new Wesson Firearms Company is producing SuperMag revolvers in three stretched Magnum offerings, .357, .375, and .445 SuperMag chamberings with possibly a .414 SuperMag in the future.
The original Dan Wesson .357 was a radical departure from traditional revolver design. The Dan Wesson .357 was the first revolver to offer interchangeable barrels, interchangeable grips and, interchangeable front sights! Now Freedom Arms, Smith & Wesson, and Ruger all offer models with interchangeable front sights to some degree or the other. We can thank Dan Wesson for that.
Dan Wesson grips were different in that instead of two pieces of wood that bolted to two sides of the grip frame, the DW stocks were one piece style that fitted over a stud instead of a grip frame. They bolted on from the bottom and to this day, Wesson revolvers are the only sixguns that come from the factory with usable grips. The Dan Wesson grip is the only grip without hotspots.... that is, no pain-producing grip portions when the gun is fired with full-house loads.
The really great offering from Dan Wesson was the interchangeable barrel system. Originally this would allow the shooter to use different length barrels on the same cylinder and frame. As an extra added bonus the shooter received exceptional accuracy. The accuracy may have been designed into the gun; I'm more inclined to believe that it was a fortunate by-product.
To be able to offer interchangeable barrels, it was necessary to have a system that allowed the shooter to change barrels in the field. Anyone who has ever tried to change a revolver barrel knows how much of an impossibility this can be. If the barrel is loose enough to be easily changed, it can rotate as it is shot. Dan Wesson abandoned the idea of a traditional barrel and instead provides a very skinny barrel, that can be hand tightened and removed. No vise. No special tools except a small barrel wrench. The barrel is screwed into the frame until it bears against a feeler gauge of .002" to .006", depending upon the caliber. Then a heavy shroud is placed over the barrel and a hole in the back of the shroud matches with an aligning pin on the frame.
A barrel nut is then screwed on the muzzle end of the barrel and, using the special wrench provided with each gun, is tightened against the shroud. The first barrel nuts were seemingly hanging on the end of the barrel and added to the general feeling of homeliness. By 1972, a concealed nut was being used. In addition to a barrel that was locked at the front of the muzzle, the Dan Wesson cylinder latch was located, not at the rear, but at the front of the cylinder. This also contributed to the long-range accuracy that has become the reputation of the Wesson revolver.
Dan Wesson already had sixguns in .22 LR, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, and .44 Magnum when they decided to take a giant step and stretch both frame and cylinder to begin the chambering of Gates' SuperMag cartridges. Having a close working relationship with Gates at the time put me in on the beginning of each of the first three SuperMag cartridges and I was able to assist with load development for all three.
Why SuperMag cartridges in the first place? The .44 Magnum and .454 Casull have accounted for the taking of all manner of big game all over the world. Loaded with 300 grain bullets, they are superb big game hunting sixguns. The SuperMags were not designed with hunting in mind but as silhouette sixguns. The SuperMags would never have seen the light of day had it not been for the rapid rise of silhouette shooting in the early 1980's. The three standard Magnum cartridges, .357, .41, and .44, are wonderfully accurate, but the use of longer brass would increase velocity thus lowering the trajectory arc and increasing the knockdown power especially on 200 meter 60 pound steel rams.
The SuperMag series of cartridges significantly increases case capacity , and in the .357 SuperMag, two hundred grain bullets can be safely driven at speeds of 30-40% over the same weight bullet in a .357 Magnum. This flattens out the trajectory and cuts down on the sight adjustment that is needed going from 50 meter chickens to 100 meter pigs to 150 meter turkeys to 200 meter rams and delivers the power necessary to knock warped and/or wind-blown targets off the rails.
Many Magnum revolvers do not have enough sight adjustment to cover the 50 meter to 200 meter ranges satisfactorily. In fact it is often necessary to either use different weight bullets at various ranges to compensate for this, or either hold under on the chickens or over on the rams. My early silhouette loads for the Ruger Super Blackhawk consisted of 265 grain bullets for the chickens, pigs, and turkeys, and then the use of 300 grain bullets was necessary to obtain sight adjustment on rams without running out of pitch on the elevation screw.
THE .357 SUPERMAG
The .357 Maximum/SuperMag was eagerly accepted by silhouetters at the same time it was being trashed by some of my fellow gunwriters. Many of these gunwriters did not understand silhouetting nor did they understand the reason for the .357 SuperMag and thus tried to bury it before it had a chance to prove itself with proper use. Early uninformed reloading attempts to make it into some type of ".357 Swift" in revolvers resulted in poor accuracy and in some cases, bullets actually coming apart. Bullets designed for .357 Magnums, mainly 110, 125, 140, and 158 grain versions, were not up to the pressure that was being applied to them in the new .357 SuperMag Dan Wesson or .357 Maximum Ruger Blackhawk.
Had those writers consulted silhouette shooters they would have understood the purpose of the .357 SuperMag. When all conditions are right, the .357 Magnum is a perfectly adequate revolver silhouette cartridge. However, conditions are seldom as they might be and many shooters had found that standard .357 Magnums loads were not adequate for silhouetting especially before the establishment of the topple point rule. And even after the rule allowed targets to be set back for easier knockdown, .357 shooters often found pigs and rams remained stubborn when supported by a strong wind coming from behind the targets. The .357 SuperMag was not designed to see how fast one could drive lightweight .357 Magnum bullets from a revolver barrel but to give .357 Magnum velocities to heavyweight bullets, This was accomplished by stretching both cartridge case and cylinders by three-tenths of an inch.
Early misbegotten loads resulted in fast throat erosion, top strap cutting, and complaints from shooters and further attempts to kill the cartridge by some gunwriters. Dan Wesson began packing an extra barrel with their .357 SuperMags. Mine has never been used and still remains in the box; the original barrel, always used with proper SuperMag loads, is still in fine condition.
While some were pronouncing the .357 SuperMag a failure, silhouetters were setting all kinds of long range records with it, as they were not the least bit interested in lightweight/high velocity loads. What they were interested in were super accurate heavyweight bullet loads. Using Speer and Hornady silhouette bullets in the 180-200 grain weight range, silhouetters developed loads that would shoot with silhouette accuracy at 1300-1500 fps.
Excellent bullets, both jacketed and cast, are available for the .357 Maximum. Silhouetters early went to RCBS's #35-200FN, a flat-nosed gas-checked bullet originally designed for the .35 Remington. This bullet had already seen much use by .357 Magnum silhouetters in both Dan Wesson revolvers and Thompson/Center Contenders and it was a natural to carry over to the .357 Maximum.
Two other excellent heavyweight cast bullets for the .357 Maximum are Lyman's #358627, a 210 grain, gas-checked Keith bullet, and RCBS's #35-180 SIL, a 180 grain gas-checked design. In the jacketed line, both Hornady and Speer offer 180 grain FMJ's, and Speer also has a 200 grain FMJ bullet designed for maximum weight in the Maximum.
My favorite jacketed bullet loads for the .357 SuperMag are assembled with 19.0-20.0 grains of H4227 with either the 180 grain Hornady or Speer Silhouette bullet, and 19.0 grains of H4227 with the 200 grain Speer FMJ. I have also had good results with the 19.0 grains of WW296 and the 180 grain full metal jacketed bullets. These 180 grain bulleted loads are in the 1300-1400 fps range in the eight-inch Dan Wesson .357 SuperMag and will achieve 1400+ fps in the 10 1/2 inch Ruger .357 Maximum.
Reloading for the .357 SuperMag is exactly the same as for the .357 Magnum. Finding .357 SuperMag carbide dies I have tried too tight, I normally use .357 Magnum carbide dies as they do not work the brass too much and also do not raise a sharp ring at the base of the brass. Carbide .357 Magnum sizing dies that de-prime at the time of sizing work perfectly.
.357 SUPERMAG / DAN WESSON
THE .375 SUPERMAG
The second in the SuperMag series, the .375 SuperMag, like its smaller counterpart, is 1.610" in length and cartridges originally had to be made from .375 Winchester or .30-30 Winchester brass, cut to length and filed in a trim die. Now factory .375 SuperMag brass is available, but the .375 SuperMag has never been offered as a factory loaded proposition. Reloaders only need apply.
If I had to pick one favorite load for the .375 SuperMag, it would be the Hornady 220 grain jacketed bullet over 27.0 grains of WW680. This load gives nearly 1400 fps in the eight-inch Dan Wesson, and is not only an excellent silhouette load but also an acceptable choice if one chooses to hunt with the .375 SuperMag.
When Gates informed me of the plans to introduce the .375 SuperMag, I wanted a straight case. This was not to be. Since the .375 SuperMag is a tapered cartridge, carbide sizing dies are not available and all of my reloading has been satisfactorily accomplished using Redding .375 SuperMag dies. SuperMag .375 brass is quite easy to make from .375 Winchester brass using a Redding trim die. No inside neck reaming is necessary unless the use of deep seated 250 grain or heavier bullets is desired.
.375 SUPERMAG / DAN WESSON
THE .445 SUPERMAG
When the .357 SuperMag from Dan Wesson first appeared on the scene, more than one wildcatter was waiting with reamers in hand to do one thing: Turn it into a true big bore. The largest number of these were turned into .44 SuperMags, and I had the privilege of doing extensive shooting of one such early wildcat, the .44 UltraMag. The .44 UltraMag used .444 Marlin brass cut to 1.600", and this brass being larger in diameter than .44 Magnum brass, was swaged and turned on a lathe until it matched .44 Magnum dimensions. The reason, of course, was to also allow the use of the shorter .44 Magnums in the same cylinder.
My good friend Lew Schafer created the .44 UltraMag and by careful reloading we acquired the following muzzle velocities, in cold temperatures of 20-25 degrees, brutally cold when shooting a big bore revolver, using a six-inch barreled Dan Wesson revolver:
200 grain Hornady Jacketed Hollow Point 1718 fps
220 grain Sierra FPJ Silhouette 1670 fps
240 grain Hornady Jacketed Silhouette 1596 fps
265 grain Hornady Jacketed Flat Point 1495 fps
305 grain Cast Gas Checked Bullet 1589 fps
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, eight-inch .44 Magnum barrels were cut to six-inches and re-threaded. Various .44 SuperMags, based on either .444 Marlin or .30-40 Krag brass, have surfaced since, but the ".44 Stretched Magnum" became a production sixgun in 1988. Again, Dan Wesson Arms and the late Elgin Gates, then president of IHMSA, combined forces to create the.445 SuperMag. Dan Wesson supplied the guns, IHMSA supplied the brass and healthy orders for the new big bore sixgun.
As of this writing, .445 SuperMag revolvers are available only from Dan Wesson in both blue and stainless steel versions. No other revolver manufacturer has seen fit to produce the .445 SuperMag. Brass is available, but no factory loaded rounds. The latest brass is headstamped ".445 Gates" in memory of its creator.
Problems surfaced early with the .445 SuperMag revolver and also with the .445 brass. The first guns had oversize cylinders and the brass was not properly annealed. Problems with sizing .445 SuperMag brass has also resulted whether using either .445 or .44 Magnum carbide sizing dies both of which often raise a sharp ring of metal right above the base of the fired shell. Standard non-carbide .44 Magnum sizing dies will give better results. In my reloading of the .445, I use neither .445 nor .44 Magnum sizing dies but instead opt for a custom RCBS .44 Schafer UltraMag sizing die that puts a slight taper on the case from base to mouth, and is much easier on brass. It is somewhat of a nuisance to use as cases must be lubed and virtually hand fed into the very sharp, very flat base of the sizing die, but the results are well worth it. Most sizing dies have a slight funnel shape at the bottom to assist entrance of the case mouth; the .44 UltraMag die does not.
Except for the case-sizing cautions, reloading the .44 SuperMag is the same as for reloading the .44 Magnum. A good heavy crimp is required both to keep bullets from moving forward in recoil as the big sixgun is fired, and also to get the powder started burning properly. The same bullets that work in the .44 Magnum also work well in the .44 SuperMag with my preference being for the heavier bullets in the 290 to 310 grain weight range. The .44 SuperMag is a (delete) an exceptionally accurate cartridge and this accuracy is even further enhanced by the use of heavyweight bullets such as the SSK J.D. Jones designed #310.429 flat point, the NEI #295.429 GC or Sierra's 300 grain jacketed flat point.
Large Rifle primers are usually recommended for the .445 UltraMag/SuperMag/Gates, but I have yet to determine a nickel’s worth of difference between the use of Large Rifle Primers and Magnum Pistol Primers. Muzzle velocities and accuracy are both virtually identical whether Federal or CCI Large Rifle Primers, or Federal or CCI Magnum Pistol Primers are used.
The .445 SuperMag was advanced as a silhouette revolver and it is if properly loaded. It makes little sense to load it to the hilt and try to shoot 40, 60, or 80 targets with it. Even with the ten-inch barreled version, which is just a shade under four pounds, recoil can be quite disconcerting with full house loads. For silhouetting, I would stay at 1650 feet per second or less with the 220 grain Sierra silhouette bullet or 1500 feet per second with the 240 Speer silhouette bullet. Using the 220 grain Sierra and 34.0 grains of H4227, muzzle velocity is 1648 feet per second according to the triple sky screens of my Oehler Model 35P chronograph. The same load in an eight-inch barrel goes 1635 fps, and six-inch hunting length barrel gives 1541 fps.
With the 240 Speer silhouette bullet, I use either 33.0 grains of H110, 31.0 grains of H4227, or 38.0 grains of WW680 for the 1500 feet per second muzzle velocity range from the ten-inch barreled Dan Wesson. These same loads will do 1350 to 1450 feet per second in the six-inch and eight-inch barreled Dan Wesson’s.
The heavier weight bullets really make the .445 worthwhile and the replacing of the ten-inch standard barrel or eight-inch heavy barrel that were standard equipment with my early .445 Dan Wesson with a standard weight six-inch barrel makes the .445 handle as easily as a Smith & Wesson Model 29. Well, real close anyway. The shorter barrel transforms the big Dan Wesson from a clumsy, heavy competition pistol to a very packable hunting pistol.
Hunting with the .445 SuperMag means heavyweight bullets such as the 265 grain Hornady Jacketed Flat Point, the 300 grain Sierra Jacketed Flat Point, or cast bullets such as NEI's 295 grain Keith style or SSK's 310 grain flat point. Using 31.0 grains of H110 with the latter three bullets in the 300 grain weight range yields impressive muzzle velocities with the six-inch barreled Dan Wesson. Even with this relatively short barrel length, the 300 grain cast bullets will go 1500 feet per second giving a lot of power from a small package, or the 300 grain Sierra Jacketed Flat Point will do 1300 feet per second with the same load. For a slightly less powerful load, try 34.0 grains of WW680 with either of the 300 grain bullets.
Wesson Arms is now experimenting with a compensated barrel for the .445 SuperMag that adds about two inches of length making the four-inch version about the size of a standard six-inch .445 SuperMag. Both a new barrel and longer shroud will be necessary to use the compensator.