The .44 magnum pistol is a very serious pistol. Upon its debut several decades ago it was the most powerful factory produced handgun in the world. Its development was brought about by the rising need for a more powerful pistol cartridge that could be used for hunting big game and for possible use in the law enforcement community. At the time there existed some rather exotic and esoteric custom pistols that were more powerful than the .44 magnum but they were just not practical. For instance there was the Howdah pistol used in India which was an enormous double barreled pistol that was powerful enough to kill an elephant. It was also extremely heavy and scary, almost as dangerous to the shooter as the shoo-tee. There were rumors that it would actually bust your thumbs if not fired correctly.
Not so the .44 magnum. It is an efficient, powerful, easily portable pistol. The late and legendary gun writer Elmer Keith has been given much credit for the development of this round in conjunction with Smith and Wesson. Much like the .357 magnum pistol is based on a stretched out and beefed up .38 special the .44 magnum is based on work done by Keith and Smith and Wesson on the old .44 special. After years of research and testing, including target shooting and game harvesting, the result was one of the most successful cartridges ever developed.
The .44 magnum has taken almost every species of land animal in the world. And, importantly, it has done so cleanly and efficiently. For it is a humane killer of game when used correctly. Most bullet weights are in the range of 180 to 265 grains. However if you reload you can use many different bullet weights, powders, brass, and primers for any application. And though it has dispatched gophers and elephants it is the game from turkey size up to Moose where this big thumper is truly effective.
The popularity of this round is world wide. Factory ammunition can be found all over the globe. In recent years there have been more powerful pistol rounds developed that have encroached upon the popularity of the .44 magnum namely the .454 Casul, the .480 Ruger, and the behemoth .500 Smith and Wesson. Be that as it may the .44 magnum remains very popular for reloading components according to RCBS and Lee which are two large reloading companies.
In the recent past the .44 magnum has faced stiff competition before. The slightly smaller, slightly less powerful, but extremely effective .41 magnum gave the big .44 a run for its money back in the 70’s and 80’s. The .41 was developed as a possible law enforcement round, one that would hit criminals like the Hammer of Thor and not only dispatch them quickly but also intimidate them so that they were quaking in their shoes. But the round was so powerful and the pistol made to shoot it so large it had policemen quaking in their shoes. When a criminal was shot with this round it would pass completely through him and anyone or anything standing behind him. Therefore a special round was developed with a lighter 170 grain bullet with reduced ballistics. This worked O.K. but turned the .41 into a large heavy cumbersome pistol not much more powerful than the existing smaller but deadly .357 magnum pistol. So it was goodbye to the .41 for law enforcement use. In the hunting fields the .41 magnum is almost the equal to the .44 magnum. But it does not hit as hard and is not as effective.
Today the .41 magnum is basically a non-entity.
The .357 magnum was actually developed before the .44 magnum and its use was planned for law enforcement. And there it has shined. It is one of the most successful law enforcement rounds ever made. But that is for another story. As a hunting round the .357 magnum does not come close to the power or take down ability of the .44 magnum. Conversely the .44 magnum did not last long as a law enforcement round. It had too much recoil and over penetration.
The grand old .44 magnum can be found in double action revolvers, single actions, single shots, and even in a few semi-automatics. It is a large powerful handgun cartridge that has found a home in the hunting outdoors. It used to be, as Dirty Harry informed us, the most powerful handgun in the world. But it is not anymore. It is a solid effective handgun round when used for what it was intended for. And it is not a beginners round either. It should be used by experts who know how to handle it.
The .44 magnum has been with us a long time and though many cartridges have made a run at it the big .44 is still here after all the dust has settled. Old Elmer Keith and Smith and Wesson really put together a legendary cartridge.