The .44 S&W Special

By Chuck Hawks

.44 Spec.
Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

Smith & Wesson introduced the .44 Special in 1907 as a smokeless powder cartridge. Its case was based on a lengthened version of the older .44 Russian black powder cartridge. The .44 Russian had an reputation for accuracy and so does the .44 Special. Today, the .44 Special is chiefly useful as practice ammunition for .44 Magnum revolvers.

The .44 Special is really anything but special in terms of performance, as least as factory loaded. The SAAMI maximum pressure limit for the .44 Spec. is only 15,000 psi. Typical factory loads drive a 246 grain lead RN bullet at a claimed muzzle velocity (MV) of 755 fps from a 6 inch barrel. The claimed muzzle energy (ME) is 310 ft. lbs. With a 100 yard zero the Special has a mid-range trajectory rise of 8.3 inches. Clearly, it is not a long range cartridge.

For the reloader the .44 Special is a better deal. Practice loads with 240 grain lead bullets can be put together fairly economically. These can be used to essentially duplicate the standard factory load. The Speer Reloading Manual Number 13 shows that 8.5 grains of HS7 powder behind their 240 grain lead SWC bullet is good for a MV of 749 fps, and 9.5 grains of HS7 gives a MV of 841 fps.

Higher performance loads for defense or use in the field are possible by using bullets like the Speer, Nosler, or Hornady 200 grain JHP's. The Speer Reloading Manual Number 13 shows that their 200 grain JSP bullet can be driven to a MV of 849 fps by 9.5 grains of HS6 powder, and 977 fps by 10.5 grains of HS6. All of the Speer reloads mentioned here used Remington cases and CCI primers, and were tested in the 5.5" barrel of a Colt SA Army revolver. In a high quality revolver with decent handloads, the .44 Special can live up to its reputation for excellent accuracy.

Note: A complete article about the .44 Special can be found on the Handgun Cartridge Page.

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Copyright 2004, 2015 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.