TAFFIN TESTS: THE .44 MAGNUM
Recently traveling through Colorado accompanied by two of my best friends and a Bronco loaded to the max with sixguns and ammunition, I was overcome by the beautiful scenery at 11,500 feet at the same time that Willie Nelson's rendition of "Precious Memories" was coming from the tape deck. I had to say to my friends that it just did not get any better than this. As we came down the other side of the mountain, Willie was giving us "Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away?"
Time really does get away from us and it is hard to believe that the series of TAFFIN TESTS started with the September/October 1987 issue of AMERICAN HANDGUNNER. It has certainly been an enjoyable experience for me and from the letters received and the contacts made I can assume many of you also.
There is no great lack of cartridges to cover but we get new readers all the time and new bullets and new handguns come along so we will cover old favorites from time to time. The first cartridge we covered was the .44 Magnum and it is time to look at it again. Since that first TAFFIN TESTS was written Colt has finally gave us a .44 Magnum, Ruger introduced the Hunter Model Super Blackhawk, Smith has made major changes to the lockwork of the Model 29 and also given us the Classic DX line, Freedom Arms has made a real mark in hunting and silhouetting with its .44 Magnum, and Texas Longhorn Arms is produced a mirror image .44 Magnum with the ejector rod and loading gate on the left side, and Taurus also introduced a .44 Magnum.
Very few .44 Magnum shooters knew anything about heavyweight bullets then, now we have an excellent factory cast bullet load from Garrett with a 310 grain SWC at 1300 plus feet per second and a jacketed 300 grain bullet load from Black Hills. Freedom Arms, Hornady, Sierra, and Speer all offer 300 grain jacketed bullets designed for hunting.
The .44 Magnum has been outgunned so to speak by the .454 Casull, the .475 Linebaugh, the .500 Linebaugh, the .445 SuperMag, the .475 Maximum, and the .500 Maximum but if anything at all I have gained more respect for it over the years both as to its capabilities and especially its accuracy. Some of my most Precious Memories are associated with the .44 Magnum. Colt, Freedom Arms, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Texas Longhorn Arms, and Dan Wesson are all producing some superbly accurate .44 Magnum sixguns.
The beginning of the .44 Magnum goes all the way back to 1869 when Smith & Wesson introduced the .44 American Single Action. Grand Duke Alexis used the Smith & Wesson to hunt buffalo from horseback with Bill Cody and put his head together with Mssrs. Smith & Wesson and the result was the New Model Number 3 in .44 Russian. In 1907, the case of the .44 Russian which held 23 grains of black powder was lengthened to allow the use of 26 grains of powder and the .44 Special was born.
By the 1920's experimenters had discovered the .44 Special and until the the 1950's touted a 250 grain hard cast bullet at 1200 feet per second as the ideal handgun load. All of this resulted in the .44 Magnum in 1956 with a 240 grain bullet at 1400 feet per second as Smith & Wesson made the sixgun and Remington the ammunition.
The .44 Magnum has done it all. It has been used to take every type of big game on the planet including Alaskan Brown Bear, Polar Bear, African Elephants, and Cape Buffalo. More often than not this has been done with one carefully placed shot. It can be loaded to 1300-1400 feet per second with a hard cast bullet and penetrate five feet from stem to stern in a Cape Buffalo. Loaded down to 850 to 950 feet per second with a 240 grain cast bullet it becomes a superb target cartridge. In between, a 240 to 265 grain bullet at 1300 feet per second makes an excellent silhouette load. With some of the new bullet designs we even finally have defensive loads for the .44 Magnum that will do the job without overzealous penetration.
For years the standard heavy load with the .44 Magnum has been a 250 grain hard cast Keith bullet over 22.0 grains of #2400. Elmer Keith designed this bullet back in the 1920's for use in his .44 Special at 1200 feet per second and it made the transition to the .44 Magnum admirably well. Keith always decried the use of gas checks on sixguns but I have found that gas-checked .44 bullets normally shoot better than plain-based bullets. No better gas-checked bullet has been found that that designed by Ray Thompson for Lyman nearly forty years ago. Lyman catalogs it as #431244GC and it is a 255 grain semi-wadcutter bullet with two shallow grease grooves as well as a gas check.
This bullet shoots superbly with the `standard' #2400 load of 22.0 grains for 1480 feet per second; 25.0 grains of WW296 or H110 or 24.0 grains of H4227 for 1400 feet per second; or 21.5 grains of AA#9 for a slightly milder shooting 1365 feet per second. All of these loads will do less than one-inch at 25 yards with a good sixgun in good hands backed up by good eyes.
It is the 300 grain bullets that really have turned the .44 Magnum into a superb hunting pistol as well as an extremely accurate long-range sixgun. One of my favorite heavyweight bullets is NEI's #295.429GC. As the number indicates, this bullet weighs in just under 300 grains and wears a gas check and I have yet to find a .44 Magnum sixgun that won't sing with this load. My favortie loads for this bullet are 21.5 grains of WW296 or H110 for 1300 to 1400 feet per second and superb accuracy and maximum penetration, or 10.0 grains of Unique for a more sedate and easier to shoot 1150 feet per second. The latter makes an excellent load for deer-sized game without giving excessive felt recoil. Bull-X has a new 300 grain bullet and the same charge of 10.0 grains of Unique also gives 1150 feet per second and a good shootin' load.
A new powder line has arrived on the scene and I have been experimenting with VihtaVuori's N110 powder in the .44 Magnum. With a charge of 19.3 grains of N110 under the 295 grain Keith bullet from NEI, muzzle velocity from a seven and one-half inch barreled Freedom Arms .44 Magnum is 1430 feet per second with an extreme spread of only seven feet per second! The same powder with a charge of 21.0 grains under the Hornady 240 XTP gives 1525 feet per second muzzle velocity and an extreme spread of only thirty feet per second.
A relatively new heavyweight bullet design is that from RCBS cataloged as #44-300FN. This is a 310 grain bullet with a flat nose and a gas check and it also has been found to be a superb performer. Loaded over 21.5 grains of WW296 or H110 it is a 1400 feet per second load from long-barreled sixguns and has not only delivered sub one-inch groups at 25 yards but groups very close to one-inch at 50 yards. Someone did it right when they designed this one.
When we started the TAFFIN TESTS series, very few bullet manufacturers had yet caught on as to what was needed in a .44 Magnum hunting bullet. All that has changed in the 1990's. All major manufacturers now offer heavyweight .44 bullets with the hunter in mind and they are diverse enough to allow perfect matching of bullet to game. Hornady's 300 grain XTP, Sierra's 300 grain Jacketed Flat Point, and Speer's 300 grain Plated Soft Point offer varying degrees of penetration and expansion. Normally the Hornady XTP is picked for maximum expansion and the Speer PSP for maximum penetration with the Sierra riding right in between the two of them on both counts.
My normal load for the heavyweight bullets is 21.5 grains of WW296 or H110 but all of these bullets do not afford the same case capacity. Hornady's XTP's seat the deepest and their manual recommends maximum charges of less than 20.0 grains of WW296 or H110. Sierra's listed maximum load is 21.8 grains of H110, while Hodgdon lists 20.0 grains of H110 as maximum for 300 grain jacketed bullets. In my experiments, 20.3 grains of H110 gives 1200 feet per second with the 300 grain XTP, 21.5 grains of WW296 gives 1135 with the Sierra 300 grain bullet, and 21.7 grains of WW296 drives the Speer 300 grainer at 1200 feet per second. None of these loads should be taken lightly and should be approached with caution. Do not, repeat, DO NOT try to duplicate heavyweight cast bullet muzzle velocities with jacketed bullets. Jacketed bullets not only have more bearing surface they also create much more friction. If 1300 to 1400 feet per second velocities are the goal, cast bullets are the vehicle.
Forty-four Magnum sixguns do not have to be run at full bore to afford great pleasure. Some of my favorite loads are in the moderate to mild category. The above mentioned 295 grain bullet at 1150 feet per second is a sweet shootin' load to say the least. The same powder charge, 10.0 grains of Unique under a 250 grain cast bullet gives around 1170 feet per second and like its bigger brother is certainly adequate for most sixgun use including deer-sized game.
Using the Bull-X 240 grain bullet I have been experimenting with mild loads, workin' loads I call them for pure pleasure use. Some examples are 12.0 grains of Blue Dot for 970 feet per second, 8.5 grains of Unique for 1065 feet per second, and 19.5 grains of H4227 for 1100 feet per second. All of these loads are well above any factory .45 Colt loads which shows their potential as workin' loads and they can be shot all day without pain or strain which shows their pleasure. With all loading for the .44 Magnum two things are essential. A tight full length sizing die that allows maximum bullet pull and a crimping die that gives a heavy crimp. Both are necessary for proper ignition and powder burning with heavy loads. I use Magnum primers with all moderate to heavy loads, either CCI's #350 or Federal's #155.
As we rapidly approach the twenty-first century, I see increased popularity for the .44 Magnum. It made handgun hunting a viable part of handgunning, has few equals as a long-range sixgun cartridge and can be loaded down to midrange levels that still deliver superb accuracy. It would be hard to not consider it the all around sixgun cartridge.
LOADS FOR THE .44 MAGNUM
BULLET LOAD MV
Jacketed Bullet Loads:
Hornady 240 XTP 25.0 gr. WW296 1515
Sierra 240 JHP 25.0 gr. WW296 1465
Sierra 240 JHP 22.0 gr. AA#9 1408
Speer 240 JHP 22.0 gr. AA#9 1347
Speer 240 FMJ 24.6 gr. WW296 1306
Sierra 250 FMJ 23.0 gr. WW296 1383
Ballard Built 250 JHP 25.0 gr. WW296 1403
Hornady 265 JFP 23.0 gr. WW296 1283
Hornady 300 XTP 20.3 gr. H110 1208
Hornady 300 XTP 21.6 gr. WW296 1250
Sierra 300 JFP 21.5 gr. WW296 1134
Speer 300 PSP 21.7 gr. H110 1198
Cast Bullet Loads:
Lyman #431244GC 10.0 gr. Herco 1105
Lyman #431244GC 25.0 gr. WW296 1395
Lyman #431244GC 22.0 gr. #2400 1484
Lyman #431244GC 21.5 gr. AA#9 1365
Lyman #431244GC 24.0 gr. H4227 1395
NEI #295.429GC 10.0 gr. Unique 1157
NEI #295.429GC Keith 21.5 gr. WW296 1395
RCBS #44-300FN 21.5 gr. WW296 1402
SSK 310.429FN 21.5 gr. WW296 1312
Special Pleasure Loads for the .44 Magnum:
Bull-X 240 SWC
6.5 gr. HP38 851
6.0 gr. WW452AA 860
7.5 gr. WW231 914
7.0 gr. BullsEye 971
12.0 gr. Blue Dot 992
12.0 gr. HS-6 1041
8.5 gr. Unique 1065
19.5 gr. H4227 1109
10.5 gr. Herco 1132