The .44 Remington Magnum

By Chuck Hawks

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

The .44 Remington Magnum was introduced in 1956. For years Elmer Keith and others had been experimenting with heavy loads in the .44 Special case, and these experiments had gotten a lot of exposure in the firearms press. Finally Remington teamed with Smith & Wesson to bring out a lengthened and strengthened .44 Special case (much as the .357 Mag. is a lengthened and strengthened .38 Spec. case) and a revolver to shoot the new cartridge.

Thus was born the .44 Remington Magnum and the Model 29 double action revolver, the top of the Smith & Wesson line. Almost immediately Ruger chambered their strong Blackhawk single action revolver for the new cartridge. Later, Ruger revised the Blackhawk specifically for the .44 Magnum, and the top of the line Super Blackhawk, which became the definitive magnum revolver, was born. The original "three screw" Super Blackhawks were, in my opinion, the finest Ruger revolvers ever built. I owned one of those old model Super Blackhawks myself. I eventually traded it away, and I have regretted that mistake ever since. Later other revolvers were adapted to the big .44, and also the Contender single shot hunting pistol.

The .44 Magnum was quickly adapted to rifles for brush country deer hunting. The autoloading Ruger .44 Carbine of 1961 was perhaps the first of these, followed by a number of reproductions of classic lever action rifles. The Marlin 336 was adapted to the cartridge, and the Winchester Model 94. Later, Marlin reintroduced their Model 1894 and chambered it for the big .44, and Winchester and Browning brought back the Model 1892 in the caliber. Remington even chambered their bolt action Model 788 for the .44 Magnum. The big .44 was on the map as a rifle cartridge.

Handgun ballistics tables show bullet weights of 180, 210, 240, 275, and 300 grains for the .44 Magnum. The most popular and generally the most useful remains the 240 grain jacketed bullet at about 1180 fps with 741 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy from a 4" revolver barrel. The figures from a rifle barrel are 1760 fps and 1650 ft. lbs. The JHP bullet is preferred for handgun hunting use, while the tougher JSP bullet is the best choice for the higher velocities achieved by rifle barrels.

The factory trajectory tables for the 240 grain bullet in a handgun show a mid-range rise of .9" over 50 yards and 3.7" over 100 yards. For long guns, the trajectory tables show that the 240 grain bullet, fired from a scoped rifle zeroed at 100 yards, hits 1" high at 50 yards, 5.6" low at 150 yards and 17" low at 200 yards. The .44 Mag. is about a 100 yard handgun cartridge, and a 125 yard rifle cartridge in terms of both its trajectory and remaining energy.

For the handloader there is a good selection of .44 bullets. Common jacketed bullet weights include 180, 200, 210, 225, 240, 250, 265, 275, and 300 grain. For less recoil and flat trajectory in a revolver, I have found the 200 grain bullet a good choice, and for all-around use it is hard to beat the 240 grain bullet in revolver or rifle. Those who insist on using their .44's on heavy game are partial to the 265-300 grain bullets. Lead bullets should be kept below 1000 fps to minimize barrel leading. Actually, in any magnum handgun caliber, it is best to forgo lead bullets.

For mid-range handgun loads HS6, HP38, and W231 powders work well. For maximum loads in pistols or rifles the best powders are H110 and W296. H4227, IMR4227, and 2400 rifle powders also work well for maximum loads in the big .44 Magnum case.

According to the Handgun section of the Hodgdon Data Manual, 26th Edition 13.0 grains of HS6 powder will give a 200 grain JHP bullet a MV of 1197 fps, and 15.5 grains of HS6 will give a MV of 1516 fps. 23.0 grains of H110 powder can drive a 240 grain JSP bullet at a MV of 1411 fps, and a maximum load of 24.0 grains of H110 can drive the same bullet at a MV of 1548 fps. These figures were achieved in a 7" pressure test barrel. The MAP of the latter load is 39,300 cup. Large pistol magnum primers were used for these loads.

In a 20" rifle barrel 24.0 grains of H4227 powder can drive a 240 grain JSP bullet to a MV of 1670 fps, and 24.0 grains of H110 powder can drive the same bullet to a MV of 1886 fps. Large rifle primers were used for these loads. I have found the .44 Mag. to be a joy to reload. The big, strong case seems to last forever with moderate loads, and it is easy to handle.

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Copyright 2001, 2006 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.