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Old December 7, 2012, 02:55 PM   #1
Bob Wright
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In Defense of the .44 Special

There have been a few posts concerning the "why" of having a .44 Special revovler. There is that camp who say buy a .44 Magnum revovler, and shoot .44 Specials in it. There is another school of thought who say buy a .44 Special and load it to near Magnum velocities. A .44 Magnum revolver can be tamed down to Special performance, and a properly handloaded .44 Special can do anything a .44 Magnum can.

I own one of each, a .44 Magnum and a .44 Special, actually several of each. Here's my take on the subject.

The .44 Special revolver is a lighter revolver than a similar Magnum gun. The barrel of a Smith is thinner and tapered, and the cylinder is slightly shorter, so even built on the N-Frame, is a few ounces lighter. These few ounces change the gun's feel considerably. The single action revolvers are lighter framed in .44 Special than their Magnum counterparts.
Further, there is the camp of shooters who own older, classic .44 Special revolvers who just enjoy shooting these older guns. They, as I do, get pleasure in working up loads for these guns that are both accurate and a pleasure to shoot. Not every target I shoot is a silhouette or image of an intruder whose intent is to do me harm. I'm shooting for the sheer pleasure of shooting a classic, and shooting it accurately. On these days I'll unlimber my .44 Special.

As to making a .44 Special do Magnum service, I don't subscribe to that idea. I've spent some time afield with a Ruger Super Blackhawk, loaded for groundhog with a 180 gr. JHP at a sizzling 1700+ fps. And in dense woods with a 240 gr. cast SWC or JHP loaded to 1400 fprs. I've never felt comfortable with a .44 Special over 1200 fpr. with 240 gr. bullet. As the range hovers around 100 yards or so, the extra 200 fps is a little more comforting to me.

I carry a single action Ruger .44 Special with me everyday, and feel perfectly well armed with it. But going into the woods or fields, I'll choose my .44 Magnum. As to wasting money buying .44 Special brass, I don't consider money spent on recreational usage to be wasted.

These my thoughts.

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Old December 7, 2012, 04:39 PM   #2
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I feel likewise, I have a 696 and it is much lighter with it's 3" barrel and L frame versus an N frame. I have developed loads that are highly accurate but don't stress the gun. I carry mine while in the woods and don't feel the least under gunned. Long live Elmer....
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Old December 7, 2012, 05:24 PM   #3
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I also agree, my 296 is a dandy to carry but would be a real handful with hotter loads. I have a 629MG and a 629PC Weighted barrel if I want to go hotter loads, no need to stress the gun. I have never felt under gunned with a 44 special. Any good thread needs pics.
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Old December 7, 2012, 05:41 PM   #4
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Great post Bob.

The 44 Special is a great round, I just have no use for it myself. My wheel guns are either 357 Magnum or 44 Magnum.
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Old December 7, 2012, 06:45 PM   #5
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There is just that thing about shooting a gun as easy to shoot as a 22, just as accurate and yet makes a big hole. I am a fan of 44 spcl.
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Old December 7, 2012, 06:57 PM   #6
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I understand your point...and I don't get too cranked up over having to have a special purpose for every gun I own either...I have a lot of them, because I just like to shoot them.

But to me the .44 spl ...just doesn't have the "character" of the .44 I'd rather shoot a .44 mag load in a .44 mag gun - than shoot .44 spl loads in a .44 mag gun ...or have a .44 spl gun.../ somehow its just more real logical reason other than that.

I feel the same way about the .38 spl and the .357 mag.../ I have some old
revolvers chambered in .38 spl - but I rarely shoot them anymore / and I rarely shoot .38spl loads in my .357 mag revolvers either ...

I like the extra weight, the feel of the .44 mag and the .357 mag revolvers - over their .44spl or .38spl cousins...
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Old December 7, 2012, 07:31 PM   #7
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My first .44 was a used Taurus 431 (or was it 441? it was blued, 3", 5 shot). Got it for about $250, it worked great, actually somewhat carry-able, lots more fun to shoot than a K-frame with "real" Mag loads, and Blazer JHPs were $12.96/box of 50. Yes, this was a while ago.

The more time I spent on the S&W forum, the more I wanted a 696. Eventually got a used no-dash, and paid top dollar for it (at the time, I think that was ~$600). It about my third or fourth revolver (been a while) and was a beautiful piece of work. Putting the two side by side, it was easy to see why the S&W cost +2x what the Taurus did. At 25", that 696 once put five rounds, double-action, into a clover-leaf. The gun did it all...I just held onto it. I still have the target. I know that many can do that with their eyes closed, and some can do that at 25 yards...but at that stage of my shooting, that was a crowning achievement. I am not sure that I have ever matched that feat shooting a revolver double-action.

I carried the 696 from time to time, but I always felt like I was using the Mona Lisa to patch a hole in the roof.

Sometime thereafter, I found a used 396 (the Scandium version of the 696). it was substantially lighter and easier carrying, and the prior owner had used some sort of solvent to (unintentionally) remove a large-thumb-print-sized part of the silver coating. Looked like Hell, again I got it at a reasonable price, sent it in to S&W requesting a quote for a re-finish. When I had not received a phone update a week later, I called. It was already on its way back to me, no charge, complete re-finish, good as new. Wow.

Very, very impressed with S&W's Customer service, and it remains to this day the only occasion I have had to use it. Sure gave me yet another good reason to be an S&W fan...

While much easier to carry (weight-wise), the 396 was not nearly as pleasant to shoot as the 696. I never shot it all that well, and somewhere along the line I got my hands on a Kimber Ultra Carry II. that was smaller and lighter than the 696, and held three more rounds of an equivalent round (.45acp). Combined with rising ammo prices (I was not handloading back then) I made a decision, down-sized and standardized my pistols to 9mm and .45, my revolvers to .357 Mag.

The 396 went to a fellow board member, and he still has it, and actually posts pics of it now and then...whenever he does, I feel a twinge.

The 696 went to an S&W board member, and I miss it too.

The Taurus went to a good friend next state over, and he still has it. When I visit him, he lets me carry it, and we are both happy.

At a certain point, after I got into handloading, I discovered .45 LC. But that's another story for another day.

Thanks for the walk down memory lane.
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Old December 7, 2012, 09:11 PM   #8
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I do like .44Spec because it is all I'll ever need in a .44. I load mine with 240 SWCs to around 1000fps for general shooting. Yet I can get to 1200fps if 'ever' needed. The flattop .44Spec BH is a bit smaller Single Action than the large frame BH/SBH which makes for good pack'n revolver. Just right in fact... Guess that is why I own a few. If there is a need for the 'big' animal (T-Rex?), I can always move up to one of my .45 Colt BHs. And the .44Spec in the CA Bulldog makes for a good bore-bore CC for town.... No, I've settled on .44Spec and .45 Colt for my big bore shoot'n... Just fits me. Do I own .44Mag BHs? Yep... But they don't see much field/range time any more. Same with the peanut .357 SA revolvers. Guess it's a personal thing. .
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Old December 7, 2012, 09:55 PM   #9
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Some get it, I you do no explination is necessary, if you don't no explination is possible.
I have 4 44 specials and love every one of them. a Charter Arms Bulldog DAO that is a wonderful every day CCW, A 3" 696 that is just a ideal size do everything gun, one of the original batch of Lipsey Blackhawks with a 4 5/8" barrel which IMHO balances better than my Super Blackhawk and a Sheriff's Vaquero that turns this fat old guy into a little kid playing cowboy.
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Old December 7, 2012, 11:06 PM   #10
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Barring finding a choice Colt SAA or New Service or an S&W N frame I would buy a 44 Magnum and load Specials in it. I recall when Skeeter Skelton and George C. Nonte review the Charter Arms Bulldog for Shooting Times Skeeter said his pet load of a 240 SWC over 7.5 grains of Unique was a heavy kicker and not that pleasant to shoot.
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Old December 8, 2012, 10:45 AM   #11
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was a heavy kicker and not that pleasant to shoot.
"Pleasant to shoot" is sort of a misnomer to me. My Super Blackhawk loaded with a 240 gr. JHP at 1400 fps kicks very well, but is not at all unpleasant to shoot. It rolls back in my hand, sort of tries to leave my supporting hand, and climbs near vertical with muzzle uppermost. And the target reacts in the nicest way. And this gun is indeed a pleasure to shoot.

On the other hand, a .45-70 cracks my knuckles, slams into the web of my hand and is not pleasant to shoot.

Definitions of "pleasant to shoot" differ.

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Old December 8, 2012, 06:34 PM   #12
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I am the proud owner of a slightly used S&W Model 21 Classic in 44 Special and it's my new favorite. Did I really need this? No, but I'm glad I bought it-accurate, smooth double and single action trigger pull, and a real beautiful revolver to boot! Worth every penny.
The only down side is that the ammo is about twice the cost of 45 acp and I've never found empty 44 special brass laying around at the range.
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Old December 8, 2012, 07:42 PM   #13
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The 44 special needs no defending it is a very viable round even today. In a city environment I will take a 44 special with 200gr gold dots over the 44 magnum any time.
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Old December 9, 2012, 01:19 AM   #14
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I absolutely love my S&W 24-3 in .44 Special.

I can't even begin to describe just how apathetic I am about the .44 Magnum.
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Old December 9, 2012, 02:52 AM   #15
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I absolutely love my S&W 24-3 in .44 Special.

I can't even begin to describe just how apathetic I am about the .44 Magnum.
Pretty much sums it up for me, too.

I sold my 29-2 with a 4" barrel, but I kept my 24-3.

I don't need a lot of kick and thunder to punch a hole in a piece of cardboard.
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Old December 9, 2012, 09:39 AM   #16
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I love the specials. You dont need monster performance all the time. Fact is a 240gr .44 special hardcast in SWC moving at a leisurely 900-1000fps will do the job on most lower 48 threats. In the places i vacation that would be Black bears.

I find guns chambered for the specials to be more comfortable to carry and shoot.
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Old December 9, 2012, 11:15 AM   #17
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I have sort of a love/hate relationship with the .44 Special in that I really want to like the cartridge, but I just haven't found a gun chambered for it that really fits my tastes well. My first venture into the world of .44 Special was a Taurus 445 snub. My thought was to use it as a compact pocket revolver (yes, I have fairly large pockets) and that the bullets were already "pre-expanded" so the short barrel wasn't much of a worry. While it seemed like a good idea at first, the rather small grips that came on the gun made it unpleasant to shoot with anything more than very mild handloads (I couldn't get through a 50-round box of Winchester 246gr LRN without a very nasty blister on the web of my hand). While I could have put more substantial grips on the gun, doing so would have defeated the entire purpose that the little revolver was supposed to serve. I eventually sold it and put the money towards a S&W M66-2 snub that I've been very happy with.

My second try at a .44 Special was a beautiful nickel S&W M21-4. This gun was going to be used as sort of a "light magnum" as it was big and strong enough to handle Kieth-level .44 Special loadings. While I liked it much better than the Taurus, it still didn't really fit into the niche I'd envisioned for it. While it certainly handled recoil better than the snubby had, its 37.5oz weight made recoil punishing with anything more than a Skelton-level loading. Also, while it was lighter than a comparable .44 Magnum revolver, its physical size made it no easier for me to carry (40+oz guns aren't an issue for me so long as the right belt and holster are used). While I tried very, very hard to like the gun, I eventually sold it and put the money towards my 4" 629.

Even after these two disappointments, I still like the idea of the .44 Special. Something along the lines of a medium-frame, all-steel, DA revolver with a 2 1/2-3" barrel and a useable sized set of grips to be used as a compact belt gun with regular factory ammo (much like how I use the afforementioned S&W M66) seems attractive to me. The S&W 696 would seem to fit this niche perfectly, but they're no longer in production and the idea just isn't interesting enough for me to pay the scalper's prices that used 696's seem to command these days. A Rossi 720 might be interesting if I found one for the right price, but I've only seen one in person once and the price was too high to interest me (I won't buy a "second tier" revolver like a Taurus, Rossi, or Charter Arms sight unseen due to the reports of hit-or-miss QC). The new Ruger Blackhawk .44 Special certainly looks like a nice gun, but I'm really not that interested in single-actions. Oh well, I guess I'll just keep an eye on the used revolver racks in case something catches my attention.
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Old December 9, 2012, 11:22 AM   #18
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I have never owned a 44 Special but would love to get a snub for easy carry. I reload the heck out of the 44mag and could easily do it for the 44 Special. I just dont see them that much at my local shop. 38 and 357mag snubs are everywhere.
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Old December 9, 2012, 01:43 PM   #19
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I like the .44 Special for rapid double action work. Its recoil seems right at the limit of controllability for quick repeated shots. Where as, if using a double-action .44 Magnum, recoil takes too long to recover from, for multiple fast shots. Again, hand loaders, bullet casters never have to consider the availability or cost of factory ammunion...we just keep shooting.
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Old December 9, 2012, 02:09 PM   #20
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Character is the one word that I would use to describe the 44 special.
I have become a collector of 44 specials because I feel that that caliber has so much character. I own 2, 44 mags, but I also own multiple 24’s, 21’s, several Rugers, a Carter bulldog and a Taurus 445. I have one that was hand built from a 28.
I became a 44 special fan because the first guns that I collected were cap and ball revolvers, in??? Yes 44. And that’s a type of gun that has character written all over it.
I also don’t follow the herd in gun collecting, my varmint gun is a 6mm Remington and my favorite 5.56 is an HK SL8.
Me, I'll stick with a gun that’s lacking character and continue to increase my collection of 44 specials at the expense of all others.
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Old December 9, 2012, 03:24 PM   #21
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My only .44 special is my new-production Charter Arms Bulldog Pug.

For carry, i have it loaded with 200-grain JHPs. Those things look simply cavernous.

The other day at the range, I tried a box of 240-grain lead "cowboy action" rounds. Wow, those were a ton of fun! I had small wood grips on the Bulldog, and the rounds weren't punishing at all.

Last edited by lowercase; December 9, 2012 at 04:54 PM.
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Old December 9, 2012, 04:52 PM   #22
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. Nonte review the Charter Arms Bulldog for Shooting Times Skeeter said his pet load of a 240 SWC over 7.5 grains of Unique was a heavy kicker and not that pleasant to shoot.
I wouldn't load that in my CA Bulldog... I load 6.3g of Unique/Universal under 240g SWC for my Bulldog. Not hard kicking at all. I just would not feel comfortable shooting the Skeeter load in the 'thin walled' cylinder of the Bulldog and I don't think the gun would hold up long to the beating anyway. I save the Skeeter load for my Single Action .44Specials which also is very pleasant to shoot and good woods guns. Once you get to 1300fps or so under 240g bullet do you start to feel that the gun is starting to 'kick' back some.... Of course with .44Spec 1200fps is tops with the Keith Load (unless shot out of a .44Mag of course which is all together different ballgame).
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Old December 9, 2012, 05:06 PM   #23
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Great thread. I'll echo the ideas already presented - that they're both (special and mag) good, have both, but the magnum doesn't get as much field use as in the past. My .44s are all single actions and the .44 Specials (Colt, USFA, Cimarron/Uberti and a duo of Rugers) are just-right sized, delivering just-right punch--without being obnoxious about it--for most of what I need. When I go camping or tromping where particularly large/dangerous critters are likely--which isn't that often--the .44 Mag goes with me. Even then, it's mostly an excuse to continue to "justify" the gun and give it some fresh air! But seriously, both are good, it's just the .44 Special is "better" for 95% duty - for me.

In the midframe SA platforms which commonly chamber the .45 and .44 Special, I like that the .44 is very similar in ballistics to the .45 ACP for close-in SD, but that the .44 can be loaded up for significantly better longer distance/hunting duty. I also like the .44 Sp over the .45 Colt in these "common" platforms for the .44 having an extra margin for "loading up" (more beef between the chambers). And since happen to have the .44 Mag (that'll also chamber the Special) it makes more sense for me than the large frame .45 Colt, which would otherwise be a good platform with hot loads for that hunting/dangerous critter use. Otherwise, I have no doubt the large frame .45 Colts would be an equally versatile platform as the Mag for that heavier duty.

Finally, I have always thought that the .44 Special is what the Colt SAA "was meant for" - had they known it at the, had cartridge been available in its current smokeless configuration in 1873. By the early 1900s when the .44 Sp came to be, the .45 had such a foothold what with its 30+ year head start and its long Army contract history (and .44-40's 30 year history for that matter with its dual pistol/rifle chambering)...that the "little" .44 never had much of a chance to make its mark. Even so, IMO, a better mating of cartridge and gun doesn't exist than the .44 Sp and the midframe single actions.
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Old December 9, 2012, 08:31 PM   #24
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My problem with the 44 Special is, as far as N-frame S&Ws go the same guns can be had in 45 ACP. Ballistics are about the same for my hand loads and carry ammo. 200g-240g bullets @ 900fps-825fps for the 44 Special and 200g-230g bullets @ 900fps-830fps for the 45 ACP. Because of the larger bore and chambers guns of the same barrel length and design will weigh slightly less in 45 than in 44 and there is always the real advantage of full moon clips making reloads for the 45 ACP much faster and easier than with speed loaders in the 44 Special.

The L-frame versions in 44 Special chambering may be the real advantage for the old revolver cartridge. Having a gun that compact and easy to carry while still chambered for a cartridge starting with "4" is worth a lot. I'm not sure a 5 shot L-frame is possible in 45 but if it were I would do a lot to obtain one. (smile)

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Old December 9, 2012, 08:40 PM   #25
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Well said Bob. I have a few 240, 1200fps loads that I used to break in my Ruger Bisley; however, the standard load will be 8.0gr of Unique under 240 Hard Cast. After carrying the Bisley in my El Paso Crossdraw, it's hard to lug that SBH!
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