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Old January 20, 2010, 04:16 PM   #1
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What is the 44 magnum good for?

Forgive me if this question is amateurish, as I am BRAND new to handguns in general.

I have always had this lurking fascination with the 44 magnum (Dirty Harry, etc.) and I just got into guns and said to myself "I'm gonna get a S&W 44 magnum handgun". I can shoot 44 specials through it too, so that may help in answering my questions.

However, after doing a lot of research, I see a lot of talk on the forums about how a 44 magnum is NOT a good personal defense weapon as the round will most likely go right through a human, and therefore "waste" the bullet's energy. For personal defense, 40 and 45 are talked about as the "just right" zone.

Now, I've seen a lot of threads also extolling the virtues of 44 magnum as a good hunting round. However, the gun that I am interested in (a 3" carry comp) is not what most people would term a "hunting gun". Plus, I don't hunt at all. So, other than having fun at the range, what is this gun good for?

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure a 44 magnum would have a pretty.....adverse effect on someone that I shot with it, but my bigger question is: Why would anyone choose a 3" 44 magnum revolver other than for the fun of shooting it? (Which, by the way, is just FINE for me--just curious as the the theory behind this gun).

Another way of looking at it is: Which ammo suitable for this gun would you use and in what situation? 44M hollow point? 44M Soft nose? 44 Special Hollow? 44 Special Softnose? etc etc.

Thanks for helping this beginner out!
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Old January 20, 2010, 04:29 PM   #2
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OK, lots of ground to cover here, but I'll give it a try:

Let's ignore the actual GUN and just focus on the cartridge.

.44 magnum.

You can have a lot of different power levels based on the amount of propellant (gun powder) and how heavy the bullet is. The .44 magnum can be loaded from 180 grain to 300 grain bullet weights in common commercial offerings, and even up to 335 grain weights in boutique offerings.

180gr JSP/JHP - Great handgun round for antelope, javelina, smaller deer. High velocity, so great for longer shots if you prefer your gun to shoot flat and not have to account for bullet drop. Light construction makes the bullet mushroom or possibly even fragment on target. Bad for defense against large, determined animals like bears.

240gr JSP/JHP - Great handgun round for deer, hog or elk, possibly even black bear. Moderate velocity but greater penetration. Change it to a hardcast wadcutter for even more penetration.

300gr cast - Great round for the lower 48 states in bear territory. In the hands of a skilled shooter, capable of putting down large aggressive animals (moose, brown bear, etc). Bad choice for 2-legged defense due to extensive penetration.

The .44 special is typically used for 2-legged protection, when carrying a .44 magnum handgun. The most commonly praised load is Speer's "flying ashtray" Gold Dot hollow point design with a 200 grain JHP bullet.

Guns themselves?

Hunters like long barrels for two reasons:
1. Long barrels give better sight radius.
2. Long barrels give more powder burn time, and higher velocity.

Anything from 4 to 8 inches, typically.

Hikers like light weight and shorter barrels for several reasons:
1. Heavy guns wear on you after awhile.
2. Unlikely to ever actually use the gun, but when you need it... you REALLY need it.
3. Short barrels draw faster than long barrels.

Hikers are typically seen with anything from 2.5" to about 5".
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Old January 20, 2010, 04:34 PM   #3
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Since you don't hunt, the barrel length is no biggie. I personally love the snubby hand cannons, just fun as hell to shoot, but as soon as I get a shoulder rig for it, I will carry mine for SD. Loaded with a good HP, I doubt you'll put one right through someone unless you're right in front of them. I have a Ruger SRH for hunting...I got the 629 for fun and it's "purdy" LOL

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Old January 20, 2010, 05:01 PM   #4
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I have a 3" Model 29 and love shooting it.

240gr LSWC are my favorite load. Any .44 Spl loading is fun as well.

For SD, Blazer 200gr .44 Spl are hard to beat, as are Win 200gr .44 Spl SilverTips.

For hunting, heavier bullets at higher speeds are called for. Personally, I like a 240gr JHP @ ~1,250 fps.
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Old January 20, 2010, 05:18 PM   #5
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"wasting energy" is mostly BS. But you can always use 44 special loads ,and for defense use a good one like Corbon DPX.
I"ve used shot loads for small pests.Full loads for woodchucks, feral dogs, and deer. Good for black bear too. Some use heavy loads , 300 gr for larger animals such as elk. Handload to get good accuracy .Work up from mild to full to get used to the recoil. Handgun metallic silhouette matches are good practice. Best length is 6" . Scoping a revolver gives you more rangs but then it's very big for carrying. Enjoy it !
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Old January 20, 2010, 05:34 PM   #6
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Here I go, being a heretic...

I'm a Smith guy, and I've owned most of the 29-models they make, including a nickel-plated one, and one with a 2.5 inch barrel.

Loved them all, and I still own a 629-5, the best revolver I have ever owned, that's why I still have it.

What's it "good" for?

Well, for me, the concept of "good" means 'good fun.' And many of Wisconsin whitetail have fallen to the .44 Rem Mag since handguns were allowed for hunting.

For a short span I believe our Dane County Motor Officers were allowed to carry 29s. That's twenty years back, I believe.

However, if "good" means 'useful' as in an essential tool, you can pretty much get along without it. I don't think it was ever really the most powerful commercial cartridge, even in the hey-day.

As for handguns in hunting, I think the single-shot Thompson Center series was more accurate.

Obviously most LEOs can successfully get along without it.

I have read stories in gun magazines where at least one Viet Cong was killed with a 29. But other than that singular event, I doubt it has proved to be a military weapon.

You'll never get mine, however. With a linotype Keith 429421 and a reasonable load of Alcan AL-8, I'll take your money to about 150 yards--and even more if I lay down "Keith style."

But I don't need it, and much of the world also gets along without it.
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Old January 20, 2010, 05:47 PM   #7
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Others have covered it ....

but one perspective, if you're really looking for a "defensive weapon" - you should consider carrying and shooting the gun and caliber you shoot the best.

If you can shoot a 3" .44 mag well ( out to at least 30 feet ) maybe its ok. If you can't / maybe give a .357 Mag a try or a .38 spl... In the semi-auto world / same thing - if the .45 acp is too much for you, then go to a
9mm maybe .... If you don't like a DA/SA gun with a 10lb trigger pull on the first round / look at a Single Action Only gun like a 1911 with a 3 1/2 lb trigger pull ....

Personally, I like a 3" model 629 / carry it hiking, camping, fishing, etc ...and I can shoot it real well out to 30 - 35 feet. But a .357 mag will do the job as well ....or a semi-auto in .45 acp will work / or even a 9mm will work ...

and a .44 Mag is just plain fun to shoot ( in a 3", 6" or 8 3/8" barrel ) --all S&W's in my collection ( model 29's, 629's ..).
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Old January 20, 2010, 05:50 PM   #8
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Some feel that the .44 Magnum cartridge has a broader utility than many others...that it is effective against a wider variety of potential targets.

For example, .45 ACP or 9mm (or smaller) pistol cartridges are effective against humans, but not so much against larger wildlife such as deer, cougar, or bear.

Heavier cartridges such as a 454 Casull or some of the Thompson Center handguns chambered for even heavier rounds may be extremely effective against larger wildlife, but would generally be considered 'overkill' against human targets - whether for law enforcement or self defense.

The .44 Magnum lies somewhere in between.

It is at the top of the range of handgun cartridges that might be used by law enforcement or for self-defense purposes, and is still a handgun cartridge worthy of being carried in the field by a hunter or outdoorsman for larger wildlife targets.

Even though compared to rifle ballistics the .44 Magnum is pretty lightweight, it is ballistically useful against either humans or larger game animals, and thus it spans the gap between cartridges such as the 9mm or the 454 Casull which are often regarded as primarily optimal against one or the other.

It is the only cartridge I will carry in the field, for precisely this reason.

Your mileage may (and probably does) vary!

Treat everyone you meet with dignity and respect....but have a plan to kill them just in case.
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Old January 20, 2010, 06:00 PM   #9
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AHHHH the internet, full of "experts". You will get all kinds of opinions but it boils down to this. The 44 mag is an excellent handgun caliber with alot of variety of use, as the others have stated. The 44 special is an excellent HD/SD round. The reason it isn't more popular? Simple, it is usually chambered in wheelguns that are not as popular as semi autos. And they dont make it in a pistol that holds 9 billion rounds and has places to attach a laser/flashlight/strobe/rangefinder/red dot sight.
Most wheelguns are reliable, accurate, durable, and just plain cool. Chambered in a handgun caliber icon, the 44 mag, even better.
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Old January 20, 2010, 06:06 PM   #10
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44 mag.... ????
well.... first of all if your not used to shooting "big revolvers" your not going to like 44 mag's. You can't go from shooting 22's, 9mm, even 38's and all of a sudden jump to 44's and think its wonderfull. On the other hand if you have been shooting 357's for a while... a 44 is just a short jump up.
The 44... mag and special are great rounds... can do about anything with them. the 44mag is my favorit revolver.... so much fun to shoot!
The only way you can answer your question is to go out and shoot a 44...
your going to hear all kinds of "for and aginst" here... but to know.. you have to shoot it. Long barrel... short arrel.... i love them all... but that don't mean you will... you got to shoot!
do you really think someone can "tell you about it" !!!!!
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Old January 20, 2010, 06:15 PM   #11
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It makes a great weight to keep your bedsheets on when you're not there!
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Old January 20, 2010, 06:28 PM   #12
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You sat on the barrel and squished it LOL
Guns don't kill people, husbands who come home early do.
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Old January 20, 2010, 09:15 PM   #13
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What is the 44 magnum good for?

It's good for producing a big fireball at the end of the barrel, and spitting flames from the cylinder gap, and making a boom you can feel in your bones. There's something Zen about being able to flow with that power and actually hit what you're aiming at. It's not easy but it is satisfying and fun.
"Our knowledge increases each year. Yet what we know is as trivial as a whisper in a vast desert."
- Robert A. Pinker, "Understanding Firearm Ballistics"
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Old January 20, 2010, 09:21 PM   #14
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Hey, thanks a lot for all of the replies fellas. And thanks for the education!
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Old January 20, 2010, 09:52 PM   #15
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However, after doing a lot of research, I see a lot of talk on the forums about how a 44 magnum is NOT a good personal defense weapon as the round will most likely go right through a human, and therefore "waste" the bullet's energy.
Ever see a full power 180 or 240 JHP hit a milk carton? Try it you'll like it.

Yes, it will go through and have some momentum left but it would also transfer an awful lot of energy if used in a SD situation.

In reality .44 specials are probably a better choice, and one of THE best, for SD or HD.
.44 Special: For those who get it, no explanation is necessary. For those who don't, no explanation is possible.

Last edited by treg; January 21, 2010 at 06:30 AM.
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Old January 20, 2010, 09:58 PM   #16
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It was designed as a big game hunting round. If you want personal defense, get a cartridge designed for stopping people. 38spl, 357, 9mm, 40s&w, 45acp. Then decide what to house it in.
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Old January 20, 2010, 10:00 PM   #17
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IMO, the 44 mag revolver is one of the most versatile guns around. And the 44 special is one great sd round. You have good taste... The 629 carry comp is a great gun as well. Unfortunately, in order to keep the peace with the little lady, I have my 629 carry comp on consignment at a local gun store (pm me if you want the name). I had to choose between my 44 alaskan or my 629 carry comp as my woods gun and occasional cc gun.
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Old January 20, 2010, 10:33 PM   #18
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What is a 44 magnum good for.

Shooting a bad guy one time and not having to shoot him again.
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Old January 20, 2010, 10:56 PM   #19
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First, there is a lot of debate regarding the role of energy in handgun effectiveness. Opinions range from hydrostatic shock and pressure wave theories to claims that kinetic energy plays no role in wounding whatsoever. Personally, I believe that the temporary cavitation that high energy projectiles produce can significantly contribute to incapacitation if it occurs in the right area.

That being said, the reputation for the .44 Mag "blowing right through" goes back mostly to bullet construction. Given similar expansion characteristics, a .44 Magnum will empart more energy into its target than a lower energy bullet. Newtonian physics dictates this as every action has an equal and opposing reaction. This mean that the harder a bullet strikes its target, the more the target will push back against it causing the bullet to expend energy in order to continue penetrating. The problem with the .44 Magnum is that many of the bullets available for it are designed for hunting that thusly don't expand reliably when shot into upright biped targets. However, if one carefully selects bullets that will open reliably within the penetration depths commonly encountered for self-defense, the .44 Magnum can be quite effective for that purpose.

The biggest detriment to using the .44 Magnum for self-defense is the heavy recoil. The .44 Magnum generates significantly more recoil than a typical .357 Magnum or 10mm Auto (both cartridges that many consider to have excessive recoil). If the recoil of the Magnum is unmanageable, .44 Specials are much softer shooting and offer terminal performance similar to a .45 ACP.

Personally, while I find the recoil of a .44 to be heavy, I don't find it unmanageable from my 4" barrel S&W 629. I routinely use that gun loaded with 240grn Speer Gold Dots for both home defense and concealed carry.
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Old January 20, 2010, 10:59 PM   #20
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It will blow your head c-l-e-a-n off. That's taken from the expert Dirty Harry.

What's a 44 magnum good for?
  • It is a good carry gun while hiking if you are in bear country or just like big revolvers.
  • It is good for self defense as long as there are no buildings or people behind the perp. (Remember the c-l-e-a-n off bit.)
  • Makes large fireballs which are fun at dusk.
  • Kicks more than many like in normal factory loadings.
  • Great hunting round for thin skinned big game in North America.
  • Fun to shoot every now and then if you are not a recoil junkie.
  • Pretty accurate round in a revolver.
  • Overpowered for most self defense situations, except perhaps in 44 special loadings.
  • Shooting one often creates a lot of attention at indoor ranges.

I like 41 magnums better, but that is just me.
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Old January 20, 2010, 11:05 PM   #21
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If you carry only five or six rounds because you trust your life to your revolver,all of them being 44 caliber cannot be anything but a plus.
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Old January 20, 2010, 11:44 PM   #22
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I think the same thing too.

I mostly got it because I wanted my gf (and eventually, everyone) to call me "Dirty" before my first name..... so far, that's not really working. But I'm just giving it time.....

Seriously though, I got it because its the infamous .44 Magnum. I love .357 Mags and already have a gun for it, so why not a .44 Mag??

I live in South Cali so the chances of me being attacked by a bear or other large 4 legged creature outside of the local zoo are slim to none.

I just love shooting it at the range and feeling the bone rattling BOOM, totally unlike the sharp crack of a .357 (which, frankly, I was never a fan of). It gets a lot of attention, people love it, and its just a lot of fun.

Now here's why I don't regret it at all though: I can load it up with .44 Specials for HD or SD. I hear nothing but good things about Specials for that purpose, so why not?

So in a single gun I have the obnoxious, uber powerful .44 Mag for the range and for plinking, and for SD or HD I have the .44 Special. Sounds like a great versatile gun to me.

What else would you need it for?
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Old January 21, 2010, 01:23 AM   #23
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About "Dirty" Harry Callahan

Welcome to the forum, Rotting, and welcome to handguns.

Harry carried a Moel 29, all right, but he shot 44 specials. (He did not bother to correct the bad guys, though)

When asked what he shot in his 44 Magnum (by David Soul in "Magnum Force"), he replied, "Light Special loads." That would be 44 Special loads, probably 240 grain bullets travelling at around 700 fps.

In "The Enforcer", Tyne Daly asked Harry why he used such a big gun. He replied it was because he could hit what he aimed at. The heavy gun with lighter loads simply recoils less and gives the shooter a better chance to get a well-placed hit.

It ain't the gun. It's the bullet. And it is less the bullet than the placement. (where it is on the target and whether it reaches anything vital).

Lost Sheep

Remember, only believe half of what you see and one quarter of what you hear. That goes double for what you get from the internet.

Do your own independent, confirming research when ANYONE gives you new facts on the web.

On the other hand, the long-barrel N-frame Smiths are gorgeous guns, especially in the high-polish finish with the target grips, whether .357, .44, .45 ACP or .45 Colt. On the (other) other hand, pretty is as pretty does. I'll stick with my Redhawk and Super Redhawk.
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Old January 21, 2010, 01:40 AM   #24
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I've got 2 Super Blackhawks in .44 mag and a Smith 24-3 in .44 spl and
Love them all. You've already read plenty of good advice/knowlwdge here. Everybody has opinions about defense loads and such but you never really know until you shoot somebody so all I want to add is a story that an old retired cop told me about a guy he shot back in the 60's. (could've been the 50's). He was armed with a 44 special and was chasing this guy and when the guy was jumping a fence, the officer shot him in the back because he was winded and if the guy made it over the fence, he would've got away. It was cold and the guy had a heavy coat on.
When he got to the guy to see if he was still alive, he found that the bullet hadn't penetrated the coat and had only knocked the hell out of the guy and left a huge bruise. Now, I don't know what load or kind of bullet he was using so this is only a "for what its worth" story. It DID stop the guy cold, just didn't
kill him.
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Old January 21, 2010, 01:47 AM   #25
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Concerning Dirty Harry and the infamous ".44 light special" loads

I know this line has always been controversial, but hasn't the producer or somebody in the commentary on the DVD said that what this line meant was that he shot "special, light" handloaded .44 Mags, but mags none the less?

Note the small case "s" in "special".

Poor choice of words, but honestly most of the time Harry shot the gun, it looked like it recoiled closer to a .44 Mag more than anything even remotely close to a ".44 Special", especially in a gun that big and heavy.
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