Dirty Harry’s Hand­gun

A big and pow­er­ful round

Modern Pioneer - - Con­tents - By Thomas C. Ta­bor

A big and pow­er­ful round

At one time, the .44 Rem­ing­ton Mag­num was re­garded as “the most pow­er­ful hand­gun in the world,” a ti­tle coined by Clint East­wood in his ’70s “Dirty Harry” movies. In those epic pre­sen­ta­tions, In­spec­tor Cal­la­han (por­trayed by East­wood) ad­min­is­tered his own brand of jus­tice to the evil­do­ers of San Fran­cisco while wield­ing his in­fa­mous Smith & Wes­son Model 29 .44 Mag­num re­volver. Thus, East­wood and those movies have be­come eter­nally linked for life with that big .44.

To­day, the .44 Mag­num has re­lin­quished its note­wor­thy sta­tus as the largest and most pow­er­ful hand­gun to a new gen­er­a­tion of even larger cal­ibers. Even so, the .44 still rules supreme in the minds of many big-bore hand­gun en­thu­si­asts, and in my mind, it’s wor­thy of great re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion.

“… In­spec­tor Cal­la­han … ad­min­is­tered his own brand of jus­tice to the evil­do­ers of San Fran­cisco while wield­ing his in­fa­mous Smith & Wes­son Model 29 .44 Mag­num re­volver.”

The Big-bore Hand­gun Era

Long be­fore Dirty Harry added to the .44 Rem­ing­ton Mag­num’s fame, it was de­vel­oped through a loosely formed joint ven­ture be­tween Rem­ing­ton, who de­signed the car­tridge in 1955, and Smith & Wes­son, who

of­fered it in the new Model 29 dou­ble-ac­tion re­volver shortly there­after. But, there were other in­di­vid­u­als who de­serve to share in this phe­nom­e­nal car­tridge’s ac­co­lades.

In par­tic­u­lar, noted big-bore hand­gun au­thor­ity and renowned au­thor Elmer Keith is cer­tainly due some credit for its de­vel­op­ment. Keith had long es­teemed the 1907-de­signed .44 Spe­cial, but felt the fac­tory am­mu­ni­tion wasn’t tap­ping the car­tridge’s full po­ten­tial. To prove it, Keith pushed his own hand­loaded .44 Spe­cial car­tridges to new lim­its, and lob­bied ammo man­u­fac­tur­ers to es­sen­tially do the same with their fac­tory-loaded ammo.

In Keith’s 1936 book, Six­gun Car­tridges & Loads, he ex­pressed his frus­tra­tion over the poor per­for­mance of fac­tory-loaded .44-Spe­cial car­tridges. His own well-known fa­vorite hand­load recipe, which he shot reg­u­larly in his own .44s, launched a big 250-grain bul­let at ve­loc­i­ties of 1,200 fps, and he wasn’t will­ing to ac­cept any man­u­fac­turer ar­gu­ments that would limit that per­for­mance.

But, man­u­fac­tur­ers didn’t give in so eas­ily. They feared some of the older .44 Spe­cial-cham­bered hand­guns sim­ply couldn’t with­stand the in­creased pres­sures Keith’s hot­ter loads pro­duced. Nev­er­the­less, Keith per­sisted to lobby both per­son­ally and in his writ­ing for lit­er­ally decades, in­sist­ing that hot­ter loads wouldn’t cause prob­lems if fired only from heavy-framed firearms. But, ob­vi­ously, it was dif­fi­cult for man­u­fac­tur­ers to re­strict the use of their car­tridges.

A New Car­tridge and a New Hand­gun

It took Keith nearly three decades of in­ces­sant pes­ter­ing, cou­pled with an on­slaught of ink de­voted to the sub­ject, un­til the new heavy-framed S&W Model

29 cham­bered in the new .44 Mag­num car­tridge de­buted.

The Model 29’s de­sign, and that of the new car­tridge, set­tled two con­cerns. First, the Model 29 was built stoutly enough to han­dle pres­sure in­creases pro­duced by the new car­tridge. Sec­ond, the new .44 Rem­ing­ton Mag­num am­mu­ni­tion couldn’t be cham­bered in ex­ist­ing .44 Spe­cial hand­guns. Even though both car­tridges share a sim­i­lar over­all length, the car­tridge case of the new mag­num is 1/8-inch longer. That pre­vents any new Mag­num rounds from be­ing cham­bered in .44 Spe­cial hand­guns. How­ever, the .44 Spe­cial car­tridges could be in­ter­changed and fired from any hand­gun ear­marked for the newly de­vel­oped car­tridge. The re­sult was a .44 Mag­num car­tridge that closely mir­rored the per­for­mance of Elmer Keith’s own fa­vorite .44 Spe­cial hand­load, but sat­is­fied all of the am­mu­ni­tion man­u­fac­tur­ers’ safety con­cerns. A per­son hand­load­ing their own car­tridges can some­times even achieve a few ex­tra hun­dred feet per sec­ond.

Early on, the S&W Model 29s were in high de­mand, quite costly to pur­chase and dif­fi­cult to ob­tain. Ruger cap­i­tal­ized on that by quickly of­fer­ing a vi­able al­ter­na­tive that cost less and was read­ily avail­able, the Black­hawk sin­gle ac­tion. A few years later, Ruger pro­duced a beefed-up Su­per Black­hawk model that came with a longer 7 ½-inch bar­rel and was a lit­tle stouter and heav­ier. Ad­ding more op­tions, other com­pa­nies—colt, Tau­rus, Thomp­son Cen­ter and oth­ers—be­gan mar­ket­ing their own .44 Mags.

The .44 Mag­num’s Pros and Cons

Re­coil is the ob­vi­ous con­se­quence of this big car­tridge. Unequiv­o­cally, when a .44 Mag­num is loaded to its full po­ten­tial, the re­coil and ac­com­pa­ny­ing muz­zle re­port can be prob­lem­atic for some shoot­ers. How­ever, such arm-bend­ing loads aren’t al­ways called for or even ap­pro­pri­ate. When loaded more mod­er­ately, the .44 Mag­num can be shot plea­sur­ably and ac­cu­rately. Per­haps this cal­iber’s great­est at­tribute is that, if the shooter de­sires, he/she can in­ter­change the hot loads with the less pow­er­ful .44 Spe­cial car­tridges.

Most .44s are built heavy enough to min­i­mize the felt re­coil. My own 6 ½-inch-bar­reled Model 29 weighs a tad less than 3 pounds, empty, and about ½ pound heav­ier when fully loaded. That’s a lot of weight to pack around, whether on the hip or in a shoul­der hol­ster. While I’ve learned to ap­pre­ci­ate that bulk when it comes to the ham­mer fall, it’s an en­tirely dif­fer­ent mat­ter when you’re pack­ing it for hours or even days at a time in the field.

Hun­ters in bear coun­try fre­quently fa­vor a large-cal­iber hand­gun for pro­tec­tion from car­ni­vores. I don’t be­lieve there’s a bet­ter choice than a big .44. Loaded to its full po­ten­tial and cou­pled with a well-placed shot, they can stop even griz­zlies or brown bears. Many hand­gun hun­ters find the .44 a solid

choice for hunt­ing medium-sized game—deer and feral hogs, for ex­am­ple—par­tic­u­larly when equipped with a mod­er­ately pow­ered scope. Many older .44 mod­els must be drilled and tapped to ac­cept a scope base. To­day, many mod­els come pre-drilled and tapped.

While the .44 Mag­num makes a for­mi­da­ble and pow­er­ful hand­gun round, it leaves a lit­tle to be de­sired when es­sen­tially those same car­tridges can be fired from a ri­fle. I sup­pose the idea of a uni­ver­sal car­tridge that can be shot in both a sidearm and a ri­fle has its roots in the Wild West, but back then, it prob­a­bly made bet­ter sense than it does to­day. Nev­er­the­less, sev­eral man­u­fac­tur­ers con­tinue to pro­duce long arms cham­bered in .44 Rem­ing­ton Mag­num. In most cases, these are ei­ther lever-ac­tion or semi-auto de­signs.

“… I got sucked into the hype sur­round­ing those ‘Dirty Harry’ movies, and when I was fairly young, I had to own a big .44 for my­self.”

The Way I See It

Through­out the years, I’ve owned sev­eral .44 Rem­ing­ton Mag­num-cham­bered hand­guns from var­i­ous man­u­fac­tur­ers, in­clud­ing a 6 ½-inch-bar­reled Model 29 pre­cisely like the one wielded by In­spec­tor Cal­la­han. I’ll ad­mit that like many oth­ers, I got sucked into the hype sur­round­ing those “Dirty Harry” movies, and when I was fairly young, I had to own a big .44 for my­self. But, I’ve cer­tainly never re­gret­ted any of my .44 pur­chases. I like the idea that if a need arises for a big and pow­er­ful round, it’s there and ready to roll.

One writer summed up the .44 Mag­num quite well. He said that he once owned a Ford au­to­mo­bile with a very large 427-ci en­gine. Al­though he sel­dom took full ad­van­tage of the en­gine’s power, it was nice to know it was there, just in case he needed it. So it is with a .44 Mag­num.

(above) The stain­less-steel Smith & Wes­son 629 Clas­sic is a very pop­u­lar, well-built dou­ble-ac­tion .44 Mag­num. (op­po­site, left) A few of the older com­pet­i­tive car­tridges are pic­tured be­side the .44 Rem­ing­ton Mag­num. From left are the .44 Rem­ing­ton Mag­num, .45 Colt, .44 S&W, .45 Auto, .41 Mag­num, .357 Mag­num, .38 Spe­cial, .38 S&W and 9mm Luger.

(above) Sturm & Ruger pro­duces a wide va­ri­ety of .44-Mag­num re­volvers, in­clud­ing this stain­less Su­per Black­hawk, which per­mits scope mount­ing. There are also blued mod­els and Red­hawk dou­ble-ac­tion mod­els of vary­ing bar­rel lengths.

(above) The over­all length of the .44 Spe­cial (left) and the .44 Rem­ing­ton Mag­num are very sim­i­lar, but the brass of the Mag­num is 1/8 inch longer, which re­stricts its use only to those firearms so cham­bered.

The S&W Model 29 is a six-shot dou­ble-ac­tion de­sign, al­low­ing the shooter quick ac­cess to all six rounds by sim­ply pulling the trig­ger each time.

(top) Tau­rus pro­duces a good se­lec­tion of .44-Mag­num­cham­bered dou­ble-ac­tion re­volvers, in­clud­ing this Rag­ing Bull Model, which is ported to man­age re­coil.(mid­dle) For the shooter who loads their own am­mu­ni­tion, there’s a wide va­ri­ety of .44-cal­iber bul­lets to choose from. Shown here, from left, are a lead semi-wad­cut­ter, a par­tial-jack­eted hol­low point and a jack­eted soft­point bul­let.(bot­tom) Fac­tory-loaded car­tridges are avail­able from many am­mu­ni­tion man­u­fac­tur­ers, in­clud­ing Rem­ing­ton. The most com­mon load is a jack­eted bul­let weigh­ing 240 grains, pos­si­bly hol­low-point de­sign. Muz­zle ve­loc­i­ties are fre­quently slightly higher than 1,200 fps.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.