"My Favorite Revolver" or "Is the .44 Special?"


The .44 Special is a cartridge that has garnered some popularity in year's past, but remains a favorite with reloaders and gun cranks. Though still produced today, most of the revolvers for it are on the smaller side, currying favor with those wanting a snub big bore akin to the old English Bulldog revolvers of decades past. Compared to 9mm, .357, .38, or .45 ACP, there are not nearly so many factory loads to choose from. In this regard the .44 Special has .38 Super, .45 Auto Rim, .41 Magnum, and to a degree, .45 Colt for company.


It has been written that the cartridge is an "inherently accurate" one.  Others opine that the cartridge isn't any more accurate than certain others but that the guns certainly were.


Who is right?


To quote "Pike Bishop" in "The Wild Bunch", "Hell, I wouldn't know."


What I do know are my own experiences with the .44 Special.


Over 30 years ago I got hold of a .44 Magnum S&W revolver having a 4" barrel.  At that time I was just getting my toes wet in handgunning and hadn't fired anything warmer than a .357 Magnum.  As I recall the first full-house .44 Magnum ammunition I fired through that Model 29 was Winchester 240-gr. "Luballoy" SWC's.  I was not pleasantly surprised with the recoil. It's quite a jump from shooting primarily 9mm Browning Hi Power's to the full power 240-gr. magnum.  A year or so after that I traded into a 6 1/2" Model 29 and was a bit more "seasoned" in shooting heavy caliber handguns. I'd learned that recoil does not kill and that 99% of shooting is "between the ears."  In other words, have control of your mind and concentrate on sight picture, breathing, and trigger control.  The 6 1/2" gun didn't have near the muzzle whip as the 4". 


A friend suggested that I shoot a few "Specials" in this gun.  "Specials? What are they, I asked?"  He pulled out a box of 246-gr. LRN factory .44 Specials.  At a rather anemic 750 ft/sec or so, it was the difference in daylight and dark.  I began reading everything I could find on the .44 Special. Noting that the late Elmer Keith had essentially paved the way for the .44 Magnum with his heavy handloaded .44 Specials, I began to gain more interest in the cartridge.


I eventually wound up without a single .44 Special (or .44 Magnum) for a number of years.  Sporadically I'd trade into a .44 Magnum, but never seemed to enjoy the Super Blackhawk or Model 29 that the gun would always be.  A deer or two fell to the Model 29 using "honest .44 Specials" but I never really got attached to the gun. My definition of an "honest .44 Special" load is something like a 240-gr. bullet at roughly 900 to 1000 ft/sec.


Being young and poor most of my handguns (and rifles) didn't even "know" that factory ammunition existed; they were fed handloads exclusively. Way back when, if you wanted something more than the light factory .44 Special, you had to reload for it. As most of you already know, the .44 Special has always been loaded light due to concerns over the suitability for old top break revolvers.


Though selection is relatively limited, one can find a few loads today that offer more than 246-gr. at less than 800 ft/sec. While these are very easy to shoot from an N-frame S&W or a big Ruger revolver, they can be "exciting" when fired from more compact revolvers. The hottest factory loads I'm aware of in .44 Special were from Corbon and the now defunct Triton Ammunition Company.  Corbon still offers a load or two in this caliber.  While Triton is reportedly coming back under new management, I do not know if the quality present in the old will continue.


Currently I own two revolvers chambered for .44 Special: A Taurus Model 431 stainless 3" 5-shot and an S&W Model 24 with 6 1/2" barrel.  Built with different purposes in mind, I much prefer the latter.


The 5-shot Taurus is intended primarily for self-protection.  I suspect it would serve well and this one stays loaded 24/7, but it just doesn't have the "personality" of the S&W.  I know that is subjective but the 6 1/2" N-frame S&W just "does it" for me.  I think I like the .44 Special as much for the S&W .44 Special revolvers as the cartridge!


This is my favorite revolver.  I own none that I enjoy shooting more than this one. Recently I was able to obtain a set of the long discontinued Fitz "Gunfighter" grips and find them exceptionally comfortable. In size they're in between the S&W service grip and the "coke bottle" grips common to most of their magnum revolvers.


The 6 1/2" Model 24 just has the "classic" S&W look.  I love the tapered barrel and find the slightly shorter cylinder attractive. This one was purchased used but like new a few years back.  It is not leaving. You will not hear me knocking the .44 Magnum round as it is capable of extreme accuracy and plenty of power for many hunting scenarios, but in my neck of the woods, so is the "honest .44 Special" load.  If the Model 24 had the heavier, non-tapered barrel seen on the Model 29 it would not be bad, but I don't think the gun would have the same graceful lines. This gun has the wide target trigger and hammer.  While I normally prefer the smooth "combat" trigger and service hammer, I shoot this gun primarily single-action as its main "job" has been punching holes in paper.  I'll probably try for a Texas white tail deer with it this season. The double-action is quite nice and while I don't shoot this one DA as much, it doesn't mean that I shoot this revolver exclusively SA.  If necessary I could defend myself with this revolver. Not surprisingly, this gun has significantly less muzzle whip and felt recoil than does my Taurus five-shooter.


To me this is a vision of beauty and near perfection.  Adequate power with easy to handle recoil and lots of accuracy! Though not old enough to have the pinned barrel, the gun has had no problems whatsoever. It still retains the classic Smith and Wesson "look" that so many of us appreciate.


So much of my time is spent with automatics, snub .38's, or .357's, that I tend to neglect my .44 Special.  Lately I've been involved in a project in which literally all of my range time has involved using 1911 pistols.  Though a great admirer of the 1911, I am a bit weary of the shooting and research each and every session.


At times like these, I bring out the Model 24.


At the range it was like shaking hands with an old friend.


I didn't have many factory loads to chronograph as I've never bought all that much factory stuff for the .44 Special.  Reloading provided the normal diet for this revolver.  I brought what I had along with a few handloads.  In the past, factory ammunition was purchased when I could find it on sale primarily for the cases.


The N-frame S&W .44 Special is extremely easy to shoot and offers not insignificant power with "honest loads."


For this report, I chronographed a total of 10 different loads: four from the factory and six from the bench. Bullet weights ranged from 165 to 240 grains.  The figures below are from 10 shots fired approximately 10' from the chronograph.


S&W Model 24 Chronograph Results:



Average Velocity (ft/sec)

Extreme Spread


Standard Deviation


Triton 165-gr. Quik Shok +P




Corbon 180-gr. +P (XTP)




Speer 200-gr. Gold Dot*




Speer 200-gr. Gold Dot**




Speer 200-gr. JHP ***




Hornady 200-gr. XTP****




Rainier 240-gr. Hex HP *****




Rucker 240-gr. CSWC******




PMC 240-gr. Plated SWC




PMC 240-gr. JHP





*Handload: 7.6-gr. Unique/Fed LP primer/Win cases

**Handload: 8.5-gr. Unique/Fed LP primer/Win cases

***Handload: 8.5-gr. Unique/Fed LP primer/Win cases (The bullet used was spray moly-coated.)

****Handload: 8.5-gr. Unique/Fed LP primer/Win cases

*****Handload: 7.7-gr. Unique/Fed LP primer/Fed cases (Bullet was spray moly-coated.)

******Handload: 7.5-gr. Unique/Fed LP primer/Win cases

(For what it is worth, I do not find moly-coating jacketed bullets worth the effort and expense.  Ditto for cast bullets.  I DO find that the coated cast bullets from Precision to be exceptionally accurate.)


Notice that the first factory load tried (Triton Quik Shok) is exceptionally consistent shot to shot.  This has been true in several calibers using this ammunition.  I hated to see them go out of business.  The Quik Shok appears as a conventional JHP, but it's designed to come apart in three roughly equal pieces in soft targets. The 180-gr. Corbon JHP is from an older batch when they were using Hornady's excellent XTP.  I believe that Corbon currently uses Sierra's JHP in their commercial expanding loads for .44 Special. The PMC plated SWC is a swaged (soft) bullet that is copper coated and resembles similar loads once offered by Winchester.  It was the lightest load fired today and is equivalent to the traditional factory loads offered for this caliber.


The largest standard deviation was less than 25 ft/sec.  Many people are surprised to find that each shot does not go exactly as fast as the last…or those to come.  Standard deviations of under 50 ft/sec will never be noticed until one gets to pretty far handgun ranges, 50 yards and beyond.  Trust me, all of these group quite well.


While felt recoil is very subjective, I'd describe this gun's as being similar to a full-house .357 Magnum from an N-frame, but not quite as "sharp."  It is in no way "bad" or hard to control.  In my state, Texas, the warmer 180, 200, and 240-gr. loads should be ample for reasonably close shots on white tail deer down.


I may work up a 240-gr. XTP handload, but am quite happy with the 200-gr. in .44 Special.  Notice that the cast 240-gr. SWC breaks a thousand feet per second and is consistent.  For my purposes, this would not be a bad exclusive load for the Model 24. This type bullet has proven a good one for game animals over the years, cost is less, and it does group well.


Fired into water, this 180-gr. Corbon XTP expanded to 0.60 x 0.59 x 0.43" tall.  It lost virtually no weight.  The XTP typically expands less aggressively than other makers' jacketed hollow points.  Corbon probably wanted more expansion and less penetration potential as their loads are used primarily for self-defense. In the hunting field, I prefer the XTP and use it in several calibers…including the .44 Special.


Each of these six-shot groups was fired single-action at 25 yards. The group at the left was the one using the hardcast Rucker 240-gr. SWC.  The one on the right used the 200-gr. Hornady XTP handload. I used a rest while firing these groups.  The gun is sighted in for the XTP load @ 50 yards. I aimed "dead on" for these groups, but a 6 O' clock hold would put them "on" at this distance.


Using a rest, I fired two cylinders-full of the 200-gr. XTP handload at 50 yards. While the gun/ammunition combination is capable of better grouping, I am not.  Each shot was fired single-action.


Not the equivalent of the .44 Magnum, I suspect that the .44 Special offers "plenty" for what I see in my state. Could it be that its low recoil compared to the magnum contributes to its lethality? It's very easy to get the hits with this revolver and load combination.


If you get the opportunity to pick up a clean Model 24, I'd urge you to do so.  I think you'll find it a most rewarding firearm and one that grows on you. I think that to fully realize the potential of the cartridge and gun, you will be served best by reloading for it. Very light loads can be tack drivers in this cartridge and so can heavier ones.  With this cartridge and revolver a person can easily shoot targets without fatigue or flinching or he can hunt medium to small game at reasonable ranges. With certain of the factory loads, the combination is certainly capable in the defense arena.  It's a peach to shoot.  If you are fortunate enough to find one, you'll soon see why it is special.


If you have one, you already know.




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