Like many magnum revolver cartridges, the .44 Magnum wasn’t developed out of whole cloth. It was developed from a predecessor that once fell out of favor, but that recently has been making a resurgence, the .44 Special.
The .44 Special was an outgrowth of the 1870s-era .44 Russian, itself a development of the 1860s-era .44 American. The .44 Special was developed to improve upon the performance of the .44 Russian during the conversion to smokeless powder. It was also chambered in a new revolver that Smith & Wesson had developed at the beginning of the 20th century.
Initial factory loads of the .44 Special were underpowered compared to the cartridge’s size, merely replicating the .44 Russian’s ballistics, a 246-grain bullet traveling at 755 feet per second, for just over 300 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. Firearms enthusiasts such as Elmer Keith realized that the longer case of the .44 Special could provide significantly greater performance than the .44 Russian, and they began to load the .44 Special to higher power levels.
Those experiments eventually led to the creation of the .44 Magnum, which took the firearms world by storm in the 1950s. And with the growing popularity of the .44 Magnum, the .44 Special took a back seat. Manufacturers stopped producing as many revolvers in .44 Special, and the cartridge started to fade away. But recent developments in powder technology, as well as the growing popularity of Cowboy Action Shooting over the past few years, have brought the .44 Special a renewed popularity.
The .44 Special is a perfectly capable self defense cartridge, and modern loads can feature a 200-grain bullet at 1,050 feet per second, or a 240-grain bullet at up to 950 feet per second, for nearly 500 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. That’s perfectly sufficient for home defense and, at short ranges and with the right bullets, could even take game up to deer size. Load data exists for lighter loads too, down to a 240-grain bullet at 600 feet per second, for less than 200 foot-pounds of energy. That allows for very light, comfortable loads for target practice and plinking.
Like the .38 Special and .357 Magnum, and the .45 Colt and .454 Casull, the .44 Special is capable of being fired in a .44 Magnum-chambered firearm. That means that anyone with a .44 Magnum revolver or rifle can take advantage of the lower-powered .44 Special ammunition to give their shoulders, wrists, and firearms a break.
Ammunition cost of the .44 Special is roughly in line with that of the .44 Magnum, as are the costs of reloading supplies such as cases. You can also trim .44 Magnum cases to .44 Special length, useful in instance where case necks crack, chip, or get mangled in sizing. So while you won’t necessarily save money shooting .44 Special versus .44 Magnum, you definitely won’t spend more money practicing with the weaker cartridge.
If you already own a .44 Magnum-chambered firearm, you could consider making .44 Special ammunition a part of your preparations. And if you have a firearm chambered in .44 Special, rest assured that the cartridge isn’t obsolete, and that it can play an important role in your survival planning.