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Survival Ammunition: .44 Magnum

by Paul-Martin Foss

I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kind of lost track myself. But being that this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?

Everyone who has watched the “Dirty Harry” series of movies remembers this iconic quote from the first movie. In fact, only “Go ahead, make my day” from Sudden Impact tops that for recognition. But while everyone remembers those quotes, it’s not technically correct that the .44 Magnum revolver used by Detective Harry Calahan is the most powerful handgun in the world. At the time, it had already been eclipsed by the .454 Casull. But in terms of cartridges readily available for double action service revolvers, the .44 Magnum may very well have been the most powerful at the time.

Even today the .44 Magnum remains one of the most powerful handgun cartridges readily available. There’s an old joke that goes around shooting circles about a commonly-seen ad: “For Sale: One .44 Magnum revolver. Box of ammunition with 49 rounds.” For those who don’t get the joke, handgun rounds are normally sold 50 to the box. Thus firing one round of full-power .44 Magnum ammunition is enough to make most people want to sell the gun.

There’s no doubt that the recoil of the .44 Magnum in a revolver is stout. Standard loads feature a 240-grain bullet at around 1,200 feet per second, for about 750 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. That same bullet can be driven at up to 1,400 feet per second, for over 1,000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Some loads even push that bullet to 1,600 feet per second, for over 1,350 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, about equivalent to 5.56×45 NATO fired from an AR-15. With no slide or recoil spring to soak up recoil as in a semiautomatic pistol, firing a revolver that powerful requires strong wrists and hands. They’re not for the faint of heart.

Modern hunting loads often feature heavier bullets, like 300-grain bullets traveling at over 1,300 feet per second, or 355-grain bullets at 1,250 feet per second. With the right bullets, large and dangerous game are certainly fair targets for handgun hunters armed with a .44 Magnum. And .44 Magnum revolvers are certainly a favorite self-defense firearm for those hiking or traveling through bear country.

Like many other revolvers that were developed from older cartridges, the .44 Magnum retains the ability to fire those cartridges. So just like revolvers in .454 Casull can fire .45 Colt, and revolvers in .357 Magnum can fire .38 Special, the .44 Magnum can fire .44 Special ammunition, allowing shooters to practice without the punishing recoil of full-power .44 Magnum ammunition.

Ammunition for the .44 Magnum is more expensive than smaller calibers such as 9mm Luger, but pricing isn’t out of this world. Expect to pay 50-55 cents a round for practice ammunition, with hunting ammunition being a lot more expensive. The .44 Magnum is definitely one caliber for which it pays to handload.

With many rifles also chambered in .44 Magnum, such as the Winchester 1894, the Ruger Models 44, 96/44, and 77/44, Henry and Rossi lever-action rifles, and others, adopting the .44 Magnum allows the opportunity to have both a handgun and a rifle chambered in the same cartridge, and a very effective cartridge at that. While there may be other whiz-bang cartridges that come and go, the performance and efficiency of the .44 Magnum will ensure that it remains a vital part of anyone’s survival preparations.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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