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What's So "Special" about the .44 Special?

Here's one sublime revolver cartridge, suitable for the most discriminating fan of the revolving breach pistol. This might be one of the very best practical handgun cartridges ever created. Developed by Smith & Wesson and introduced in 1907 as a proprietary cartridge for the celebrated N-Frame New Century Hand Ejector, a new large frame revolver the company also introduced at the end of the same year. This new large revolver was bestowed with the nickname "Triple Lock" because of its unique third lock located on the revolver's yoke.

The Triple Lock's Third Lock

The .44 Smith & Wesson Special was the result of further development of the .44 Russian, a popular Smith & Wesson-originated black powder cartridge of the late 19th century, itself having been introduced in 1870 in a revolver Smith & Wesson produced on a military contract for the Russian government. The .44 Russian went on to establish itself as an especially accurate big-bore cartridge of the black powder cartridge era and enjoyed use, even into the opening decades of the 20th century.

One of the handsomest revolvers ever produced in my view, a commercial Smith & Wesson Model 3 in .44 Russian.

The .44 Special has been said to have originally been a black powder cartridge as well, its powder charge of 26 grains of FFFg by weight under the same .428-.429 inch diameter, 246 grain round nose lead bullet used by the .44 Russian cartridge. The charge weight was three grains greater than that used in .44 Russian loads. The .44 Special cartridge case is dimensionally similar to the .44 Russian, the only difference being that it is 2/10ths of an inch longer than the Russian case. Both the .44 Special and its parent, the .44 Russian garnered a special reputation for great accuracy.

Strangely enough, though the cartridge was longer and the powder charge greater by 13%, the original stated velocities for the .44 Special and the .44 Russian were the same 750-770 feet per second. This held true for factory advertising and reference purposes even after smokeless powder generally replaced black powder in the factory offerings of both calibers. In addition to the more generous case capacity, the .44 Special had another important advantage over the .44 Russian in that the .44 Special could be had only in the latest modern revolvers of solid-frame construction while the .44 Russian was popularized when top-break revolvers held sway. Top-Break revolvers which had distinct limitations with structural integrity and with more primitive metallurgy, both of which would ultimately stifle the .44 Russian.

"Special" as a Component of Cartridge Nomenclature

"Special" was tacked onto the new .44 caliber cartridge to indicate that it was ... well, something special. "Special" is nothing more than a marketing term, much as the British term "Express" and later, the term "Magnum" both are. Special wasn't employed for naming new cartridges for long and wasn't attached to very many proprietary cartridges at all. The .38 Special, introduced in 1899, the .32 Winchester Special, introduced in 1901, the .44 Special, introduced in 1907, as well as an obsolete .22 rim fire cartridge, the .22 Remington Special, introduced back in 1890 as a copy of the .22 WRF, are all that come to mind.

It took some intrepid experimenters to take the .44 Special under their metaphorical wings and make it their own.

.44 Associates

"There is no substitute for intelligent care in handloading."

This slogan was their watchword.

Elmer Keith will forever have the reputation as being the prime developer of the "enhanced performance" .44 Special and the later .44 Magnum which was an outgrowth of the .44 Special, just as the .44 Special was an outgrowth of the early .44 Russian. Keith wasn't the only one though. A group including men prominent within the firearms industry, as well as gun writers, hunters, and interested handloading experimenters adopted the .44 Special and its improvement as a unique hobby.

Gordon C. Boser
George V. Chapman
Eric M. Farr
Elmer Keith
J.W. Landon
R.G. Mosgrove
F.C. Ness
Lawrence I. Newton
Capt. Philip B. Sharpe
J.A. Smith
George W. Spence
Ray C. Thompson
Norman P. White
O.L. Yancey

Manufactures themselves also got in the act. Belding & Mull and Ideal/Lyman Gun Sight as well as a group listed as "competent ballistic authorities who prefer anonymity" were listed on the roster.

These men developed a loose confederation that styled itself "The .44 Associates" and, in an age long before the internet, swapped load data, experiments, and observations through the U. S. mail and also wrote it all up in magazine articles and even had their own newsletter. In this peculiar era of personal liberty and responsible self-reliance, experimentation was blossoming. Imagine companies being wiling to condone, yea to even encourage overloads! These days we are saddled with dire warnings, and timid internet hearsay. Men like Skeeter Skelton and John Lachuk, and even later John Taffin, were inspired to take up with .44 Special performance due partially to the influence of this previous generation of the intrepid experimenters who made up the ".44 Associates."

Keith is said to have taken up with the .44 Special when his experiments with heavily loaded .45 Colt revolvers resulted in blown guns. The .44 Special provided more "meat" around the cartridges in its cylinder. I suspect that .44 Special revolvers were blown too in the enthusiastic pursuit of big bore performance excellence. Keith used the early pre-World War I Smith & Wesson Triple Lock, the original N-Frame revolver, pronouncing it to be the best revolver ever produced and amply strong for his experimental loads. Wonder how many he busted? Heat treating advances developed during World War I made the later Smith & Wesson N-Frame .44s of the 1920-1940 period more suitable for such experimentation. The other popular revolver for .44 Special load development in the day was the Colt Single Action Army, either factory chambered for .44 Special or more often reworked and sometimes "reinforced" with "home engineered improvements," to chamber and shoot the cartridge of their fancy. Keith and some others gravitated to some extent to the Colt Single Action Army for their .44 Special performance work. A small number of Colt New Service revolvers were made for the .44 Special and likely saw experimental use, but it must be remembered that Colt and Smith & Wesson did not like chambering their revolvers for the competitor's proprietary cartridges. One sees few New Service .44 Russian or .44 Special revolvers cranked out of Hartford Connecticut and he will see even fewer Smith & Wesson N-Frame revolvers chambered for .45 Colt coming out of Springfield Massachusetts in those pre-World War II years.

Top: Smith & Wesson First Model New Century "Triple Lock" w/6 1/2 barrel from 1910
Bottom: Smith & Wesson Third Model, Model of 1926 w/5-inch barrel from 1931

Keith's No. 5

The .44 Special Associates were successful in their quest too. When the great .357 Magnum was introduced in 1935 as the most powerful handgun cartridge, the .44 Associates were said to have "harrumphed" their disdain. Their champion .44 Special cartridge had already been there, done that, and with more bullet weight and diameter to boot. The Associates continued to play with their loads in the secure satisfaction that their champion really was most potent of all.

The .44 Special Associates effectively put themselves out of business, for in 1955 Smith & Wesson introduced the world to the fabulous .44 Smith & Wesson Magnum, making both the .44 Special and the .44 Associates redundant. The .44 Special Associates had worked toward that end in a way and the shooting world owes them a debt of gratitude for their pioneering efforts advancing the cause of powerful handguns to the benefit of all.

.44 Special Lawmen

The early 20th century lawman who was firearms savvy recognized the goodness of the .44 Special cartridge early on and bought into the notion of the .44 Special almost from the beginning. The mighty Smith & Wesson Triple Lock was prohibitively costly at $21 in the years before World War I, but if the law enforcement officer could afford one it was a source of pride for him to own it and was also the envy of his fellows who didn't have theirs. Only around 15,000 Triple Locks were ever produced for the world to enjoy for all time.

Triple Lock shown in period Heiser holster

The initial military contracts obtained by Smith & Wesson upon Great Britain's entry into the European conflagration that was to become World War I, caused some changes to be made to the production of the big N-Frame revolver. Great Britain needed .455-chambered side arms to supplement their Webley .455 revolvers, which caused them to look far and wide for substitute standard side arms. Great Britain came calling to both Colt and Smith & Wesson and the call was answered. The Colt New Service was deemed an expedient substitute when chambered for the British service revolver cartridge. The British took a dim view of Smith & Wesson's Triple Lock though, with its finely fitted third locking point and shrouded ejector rod, which they felt would make the revolver more prone to becoming disabled by the dirt encountered in the field. It's been hinted that Smith & Wesson was doing no more than showing off its manufacturing prowess in the detail surrounding the fitting of that third locking point. As it was said that the third locking lug was "gilding the lily" anyway, unnecessary from a strength standpoint, Smith & Wesson was happy to delete the unwanted features, reduce the price of the revolver, chamber it for the .455 and give the customer what he wanted. The new N-Frame variant served Great Britain and, in .45 ACP was adapted to the U. S. Army's needs too before the War was over.

This second model N-Frame variant became the commercial work horse that housed primarily the .44 Special after "The Great War," now looking much like an overgrown K-Frame revolver. Around 34,000 of these second model N-Frames were produced up to 1940. The fans in the law enforcement community remembered the fantastic Triple Lock though with its sexy shrouded ejector rod and wanted more of those. Lawmen and some interested sportsmen agitated Smith & Wesson for some years about this until, in 1926 Smith & Wesson relented and again provided the shrouded ejector rod as the Triple Lock had featured though not the third lock. Factory nomenclature for this revolver was Model of 1926 and it was an uncatalogued, special order item, initially only available for some years through a single distributor Wolf & Klar of Fort Worth, Texas.

Lawmen, particularly Texas Rangers and other independent-minded sorts gleefully snapped up the Model of 1926 .44 Special. They also bought the cataloged second model without the shrouded ejector rod, but in the desired .44 Special chambering. The .44 Special was said to be especially popular in the law enforcement agencies of the southwestern U. S. . Only a little over 4900 Model of 1926 revolvers were made between 1926 and when World War II halted production.

Early 20th century lawman Frank Hamer had made a name for himself long before he was assigned to track down Bonnie & Clyde that day in May of 1934. Hamer was a user of the Triple Lock .44 Special as a back-up to his primary side arm, a 4 3/4-inch .45 Colt Single Action Army he nicknamed "Old Lucky."

Hamer's "Old Lucky"

The big .44 BUG came in handy one day in Sweetwater,Texas in the fall of 1917 and played its role in one of Hamer's gun fights. Two crooks were out to get Hamer and approached him face to face on the sidewalk right in town. One, an ex-Texas Ranger himself no less, pulled a Colt .45 automatic at close range and shot Hamer, hitting him in the the left shoulder, disabling his gun hand. Hamer grappled with the man, attempting to disarm him and the .45 went off again, hitting Hamer a second time in the thigh. Meanwhile the other crook sneaked up from behind and essayed a shot at Hamer's head with a shotgun. This was said to knock Hamer down though the shot only removed his hat. One wonders if the leg wound had some effect on Hamer's ability to stand and fight. Upon seeing Hamer regain his feet after the three shots, both miscreants beat it to their nearby car where the crook who shot Hamer extracted another shotgun and made to shoot at Hamer again. The effort came to naught though for Hamer had drawn the Triple Lock .44 Special and used it to shoot his assailant through the heart. Hamer recovered from his wounds and went on to continue to serve in law enforcement. The Texas Ranger gone bad was shipped back home to Dallas in a box for his dirt nap.

Delf A. "Jelly" Bryce was another lawman who chose the .44 Special in the Smith & Wesson Model of 1926 as his favored side arm.

One of Bryce's more legendary escapades with his .44 revolver involved a shootout with an ol' crook that never really got off the ground because Bryce shut the gunfight down before it really got started. It was 1934, same year as Bonnie & Clyde's demise. Bryce, an Oklahoma City detective at the time, went to the Wren Hotel in Oklahoma City in order to arrest an ol' crook. Seems the desk clerk let Bryce into the hotel room where they found this crook's associate in bed with the hotel's "lady" owner. This associate already had a pistol in each hand aimed for the door when Bryce came in. Bryce managed to draw and fire before the crook could. His first shot hit the crook in the chin, the next four shots hit the crook in the head, and a final shot buried itself in the bed's mattress.

Bryce had a reputation for being both fast and deadly. His early law enforcement career and his shooting prowess got him noticed by the FBI who hired him some months after the Wren Hotel incident.

The .44 Special As An Exclusive Cartridge

The exclusivity and perhaps snob appeal of the .44 Special cannot be denied and must be examined from a historical context. Not that many .44 Special revolvers were produced prior to World War II and they were uncommonly seen. As was mentioned earlier, the .44 Special was a Smith & Wesson development. Colt sold a smattering of their big New Service and Single Action Army revolvers chambered for the .44 Special. Only 506 Single Action Army revolvers were documented to have been produced in .44 Special prior to World War II. Numbers of New Service .44 Specials produced are unknown, but were small. Some early New Service revolvers were also chambered for the .44 Russian and so marked. After Smith & Wesson introduced the .44 Special in 1907 some New Service and Single Action Army revolvers were roll marked "Russian and S&W Special 44." New Service Target models manufactured up until at least the late 1920s are so marked. Colt didn't want to hawk a Smith & Wesson product though so preferred not to chamber for .44 Special. Not many are seen.

That left Smith & Wesson alone as the supplier of .44 Special revolvers. Oh, it's said that Spanish and Belgian makers produced .44 Special revolvers, but they must have been unpopular in the extreme as there is scarcely any evidence of them in today's collector's market. I've never seen one or even seen one advertised. The commercial Triple Lock, made for only seven years, was produced in calibers other than .44 Special such as .38-40, .44-40, and .45 Colt, but total production of revolvers in these calibers amounted to a few hundred each. There were 5000 military contract Triple Locks produced in .455 so that dents the total number of .44 Special Triple Locks produced, leaving roughly 10,000 .44 Special Triple Locks.

Likewise with the Smith & Wesson Second model produced between 1915 and 1940. Commercial production of the .38-40, .44-40, and .45 Colt was only a few hundred (or less) each leaving the bulk of commercial Second Model production to have been in .44 Special, making this the most commonly encountered pre-WWII .44 Special revolver at about 34,000.

The Model of 1926, otherwise known as the Third Model, is scarcest and contributed fewest numbers of .44 Special guns to the pre-war Smith & Wesson total. Again, precious few of the Model of 1926 revolvers were produced in calibers other than .44 Special, a few in .45 Colt and fewer still in .44-40. This model would have added about 4900 to the pre-war .44 Special revolver pool.

So roughly 49,000 .44 Specials were all Smith & Wesson produced prior to World War II. Add in a few thousand at most that Colt produced and that was it. When one considers the huge numbers of pocket pistols and small revolvers both made here and imported in the same era, along with the numbers of .38 Special revolvers produced commercially, and even over a 100,000 commercial Colt Government Model pistols, the .44 Special was comparatively uncommon.

After World War II, the production of .44 Special revolvers really slowed to a trickle with Smith & Wesson only producing around 6000 more total before finally discontinuing .44 Special revolver production in 1966.

All this means there never were that many .44 Special revolvers in circulation back in the day. This air of exclusivity extends down to present times.

The .44 Special In Song

The .44 Special appears to uniquely possess the most mentions in songs of all musical genres of any cartridge. Did y'all ever realize just how many songs make reference to the ".44" somewhere in the lyrics? Granted some of these could have been the .44 Magnum (Stones and Skynyrd) and at least a couple could have referred to the .44-40 (Gene Autry and Marshall Tucker Band), but still, because of the era in which many of these songs originated, the "Special" is pretty prominently featured ... and is sordidly disreputable too! See separate post below.

The .44 Special In Modern Times

Prominent gun writer Skeeter Skelton has to be given credit for reviving interest in .44 Special guns. He extolled the virtues of the .44 Special double-action revolver pretty stridently for some years. Smith & Wesson finally relented and restarted production of its Model 24 in 1983, last produced in 1966. Produced in both 4-inch and 6-inch guise, these sold readily, both to fans of the cartridge and to fans of Skeeter. I know I bought one at the time, a 6-inch. Wish I'd kept it. Distributor John Jovino conceived of a dedicated carry version of the Model 24 and more were produced with 3-inch barrel. Smith & Wesson even saw fit to address the burgeoning interest in stainless steel handguns and provided .44 Special revolvers as their Model 624. The Smith & Wesson Mountain Gun saw a run produced in .44 Special. These all seemed to satisfy demand for N-Frame .44 Special Smith & Wesson revolvers so have since been discontinued.

In the mid to late 1990s Smith & Wesson gave the .44 Special a try as a 5-shot L-Frame revolver, introducing three different models in a few years' time. The 696 was a stainless steel revolver with adjustable sights. The Model 396 was a lightweight version. The Model 296 was a lightweight version with a shrouded hammer. These all have a cult following now, but should have been much more popular than they were. A generation of shooters were enamored with high-capacity automatics so sales on these revolvers languished and all have since been discontinued.

There is no .44 Special revolver in the current Smith & Wesson catalog and that's a pity for any Smith & Wesson .44 Special revolver is far more sensible than that ridiculous .45 Colt/.410 Governor model they persist in cataloging. Only one opinion there.

Colt restarted production of the Single Action Army in 1956, creating the Second Generation and the .44 Special was there. 2300 Single Action Army revolvers and 255 New Frontier revolvers (SAA with adjustable sights) were produced between 1956 and 1966.

After Colt "re-rigged" their worn out Single Action Army machinery in the early 1970s, production of Third Generation Single Action Army revolvers commenced and again the .44 Special was offered to the tune of about 15,000 of them being produced by 1984. Additional runs of .44 Special chambered Single Action Army revolvers have been produced since that time. Colt currently offers the .44 Special as an available caliber for the Single Action Army through their custom shop as well as as a cataloged caliber for the New Frontier variant.

Colt Single Action Army clones have embraced the .44 Special for years and the cartridge is generally available in both new and used revolvers found on the market. Personally, I like the Cimarron Arms models for their finish and quality. A Cimarron Arms single action revolver in any of several calibers is subject to turning up here in the collection at any time. They're less than two hours from me.

Taurus explored the .44 Special marketing angle for a few years, introducing revolver variants chambered for the round, the Models 431, 441, and 445. It's Taurus and quality could be uneven. I've had some experience with an acquaintance's Model 431. It proved as disappointing as other Taurus revolvers of which I've had experience. Their latest online catalog features no .44 Special revolvers at this time.

Ruger has done its part to further the cause of the .44 Special in recent years with several tasty offerings in their line. The Ruger Blackhawk has seen several variants introduced in recent times. Currently the Ruger Blackhawk Bisley is cataloged in a couple of variant styles. Additional excitement is just now being generated by the introduction of a .44 Special version of the Ruger GP 100. Ruger's doing the obvious and providing a useful 5-shot, 3-inch .44 Special double-action revolver to the market that Smith & Wesson abandoned with withdrawal of their 5-shot L-Frame .44 Specials. This .44 Special GP 100 deserves practical consideration by any serious handgunner.

What with the production of 110 years' time combined with currently produced .44 Special revolvers, we have more .44 Special availability to us than ever they did in the first 65 years of the 20th century.

.44 Special Ammunition, Loads, and Performance

What can the .44 Special do for you? For a start the cartridge qualifies as a true do-it-all cartridge, capable of serving for all reasonable handgunning requirements. From personal defense to hunting, to target work, the .44 Special is amply capable. Even the mild factory load isn't bad by any means. An assailant fairly struck, will have a hard time differentiating between being hit with a lead 246 grain .44 Special and a 230 grain .45 hard ball. Take advantage of any factory loads offering improvement over the 246 grain original loading and one has a cartridge that easily addresses most reasonable requests one may make of a handgun cartridge.

No better handgun cartridge exists for endless fun than the .44 Special can provide the avid handloader. Remember those .44 Associates? The .44 Special can compare favorably with the most powerful .357 Magnum and 10mm ammunition. One can run the spectrum from mild to wild and with countless bullet combinations in weights from 180 grains to 250 grains, assembling real precision ammunition that will serve for all handgun uses. The .44 Special is like all other revolvers and is not constricted by bullet nose shape required for positive function in an automatic pistol.

I've been shooting .44 Special and handloading for it since the early 1980s, using and abusing decent .44 Special revolvers for fun and frolic. I get caught up in the lore of the cartridge so have enjoyed my own efforts to ratchet up performance levels. It's easy to do and performance improvements are within the astute and careful handloader's grasp. The best that the boutique .44 Special ammunition makers above can easily be duplicated. Always bear in mind though that it's possible to create too much of a good thing to the detriment of good load performance or even the detriment of a good revolver. There's always .44 Magnum if one truly requires nuclear-powered .44 revolver loads.

The most popular .44 Special revolvers produced down though the years are always lighter in weight than similar model revolver chambered for .44 Magnum. .44 Special revolvers typically have lighter weight barrels and are frequently provided with slimmer grip panels. Recoil of the really heavy .44 Special handloads, even in a big N-Frame can become surprisingly fierce, delivered to the shooter in a startlingly abrupt fashion compared with shooting a Smith & Wesson N-Frame .44 Magnum. The Smith & Wesson Model 629 Mountain Gun with its graceful tapered barrel exactly duplicates the balance of my 1931 vintage Smith & Wesson Model of 1926 .44 Special. Recoil of the .44 Magnum Mountain Gun is particularly brutal unless the revolver is equipped with grips that can mitigate recoil's effects.

Some of the following loads listed are not suitable for some .44 Special revolvers. Some are just too heavy. They should be kept completely away from Charter Arms Bull Dog .44 Special revolvers. They should also not be contemplated for any older .44 Special revolver that is in very worn condition. They would be best suited for modern Smith & Wesson N-Frame Model 24 and similar Smith & Wesson N-Frame models, modern Colt and clone single action revolvers, and in the Ruger revolvers.

I took a look at the Elmer Keith load I had developed, used, and tested in the Model of 1926 revolver all those years ago, considered the recoil experienced in shooting the load, considered the work required to again work up to such a load, and then looked at my now 86 year-old revolver, and demurred from again revisiting the Keith load for testing for this thread, even though some 250 grain cast lead bullets made to genuine Keith specifications are on hand. I'm older and maybe, just maybe a little wiser. Keith may have respected the Triple Lock for its strength and ability to handle heavy charges, but there ain't no way I'm going to crowd things in my 107 year-old Triple Lock.

MV = muzzle velocity
ME = muzzle energy
ES = extreme spread 10-shot average

Factory Loads

Winchester 246 grain round nose lead
Winchester 246 grain round nose lead: MV 681 fps, ME 253 ft./ lbs., ES 18 fps (tested 10/21/85 - 4-inch bb.)
Winchester 246 grain round nose lead: MV 714 fps, ME 278 ft./ lbs., ES 29 fps (5-inch barrel)
Winchester 246 grain round nose lead: MV 749 fps, ME 307 ft./ lbs., ES 60 fps (6 1/2-inch barrel)

Federal 200 grain lead semi-wadcutter hollow point Federal Premium Ammunition - Handgun
Federal 200 grain lead semi-wadcutter hollow point: MV 851 fps, ME 322 ft./lbs., ES 43 fps (5-inch bbl.)
Federal 200 grain lead semi-wadcutter hollow point: MV 901 fps, ME 361 ft./lbs., ES 69 fps (6 1/2-inch bbl.)


Sierra 180 grain Jacketed Hollow Cavity

10.0 grains Unique*, WW Lg. pistol primers, Remington cases: MV 1152 fps, ME 573, ES 59 fps (tested 10/21/85 4-inch bbl)
22.3 grains H110*, WW Lg. Pistol primers, Federal cases: MV 1039 fps, ME 432 ft./ lbs. ES 48 fps (tested 2/5/89 5-inch bbl)
20.4 grains IMR 4227*, WW Lg. Pistol Primers, Federal cases: MV 946 fps, ME 358 ft./lbs. ES 103 fps (tested 2/5/89 5-inch bbl)

208 grain Lee Wadcutter
4.0 grains Bulls-Eye, CCI 300 primers, MV 672 fps, ME 209 ft./lbs., ES 24 fps (5-inch barrel)
4.0 grains Bulls-Eye, CCI 300 primers, MV 697 fps, ME 224 ft./lbs., ES 45 fps (6 1/2-inch barrel)

240 grain Sierra Jacketed Hollow Cavity
18.5 grains H 110*, WW Lg. Pistol primers, Remington cases: MV 967 fps, ME 468 ft./lbs., ES 67 fps ( tested 2/5/89 5-inch bbl)
17.3 grains IMR 4227*, WW Lg. Pistol primers, Federal cases: MV 859 fps, ME 393 ft./lbs., ES 71 fps (tested 2/5/89 5-inch bbl)
8.0 grains Unique*, WW Lg. Pistol primers, Remington cases: MV 951 fps, ME 452 ft.lbs., ES 22 fps (tested 2/5/89 5-inch bbl)

245 grain cast lead semi-wadcutter (Lyman No. 429421)

5.5 grains Red Dot, CCI 300 primer, Remington cases: MV 743 fps, ME 300 ft./lbs., ES 62 fps (5-inch bb.)
5.5 grains Red Dot, CCI 300 primer, Remington cases: MV 794 fps, ME 343 ft./lbs., ES 80 fps (6 1/2-inch bb.)
(brother-in-law took a whitetail deer with this load season before last using a 5-inch Smith & Wesson revolver)

7.0 grains Unique, WW Lg. Pistol primer, Remington cases: MV 790 fps, ME 339 ft./lbs., ES 48 fps (5-inch bbl.)
7.0 grains Unique, WW Lg. Pistol primer, Remington cases: MV 829 fps, ME 338 ft./lbs., ES 76 fps (6 1/2-inch bbl.)

7.5 grains Unique, WW Lg. Pistol primer, Remington cases: MV 817 fps, ME 368 ft./lbs., ES 27 fps (5-inch bbl. A favorite since 6/9/83.)
7.5 grains Unique, WW Lg. Pistol primer, Remington cases: MV 877 fps, ME 374 ft./lbs., ES 53 fps (6 1/2-inch bbl.)

8.0 grains Unique*, WW Lg. Pistol primer, Remington cases: MV 878 fps, ME 419 ft./lbs., ES 36 fps (5-inch bbl.)
8.0 grains Unique*, WW Lg. Pistol primer, Remington cases: MV 944 fps, ME 489 ft./lbs., ES 58 fps (6 1/2-inch bbl.)

7.0 grains Herco, CCI 300 primers, Winchester cases: MV 716 fps, ME 279 ft./lbs., ES 57 fps (5-inch bbl.)
7.0 grains Herco, CCI 300 primers, Winchester cases: MV 755 fps, ME 310 ft./lbs., ES 82 fps (6 1/2 inch bbl.)

8.0 grains Herco, CCI 300 primers, Winchester cases: MV 813 fps, ME 360 ft./lbs., ES 41 fps (5-inch bbl.)
8.0 grains Herco, CCI 300 primers, Winchester cases: MV 869 fps, ME 411 ft./lbs., ES 50 fps (6 1/2-inch bbl.)

Keith's Heavy Load (250 grain cast lead semi-wadcutter)
2400* MV 1142 fps, ME 724 ft./lbs. ES 66 fps (tested 6/9/83 5-inch bbl.)

If you want to know more about the Keith load then research it online for I'm not tellin'. This load was carefully worked up in a 5-inch Smith & Wesson N-Frame revolver. Due to the revolver's configuration, with the thin service stock panels common to an earlier era and the lighter weight tapered barrel of that era, working up and testing the load was unpleasant. The load gave a surprisingly abrupt and stinging recoil. While it would be amply effective for personal defense in the right revolver, its best use would be as a short range big game hunting load for the dedicated .44 Special revolver owner. It would best be used in modern Smith & Wesson N-Frame .44 Special revolvers with more hand-filling stocks, modern Colt Single Action Army revolver in .44 Special, Ruger .44 Special single action revolvers built on the basic Black Hawk frame, or else any .44 Magnum revolver.

Personally, I don't even want to be around if someone intends to fire this load in really antique .44 Specials, the Charter Arms Bulldog, various Smith & Wesson L-Frame 5-shot .44 Special models, or various Taurus 5-shot .44 Special models.

*Not suitable for Charter Arms revolvers or antique revolvers (I wouldn't use 'em in one).

Is There a .44 Special Revolver In Your Future?

It's hard to say. Currently, compactness, light weight, and high-capacity are the order of the day with most shooters. For the person who primarily owns and uses handguns for self-defense needs as most perceive them the .44 Special revolver will not appeal. The modern non-handloading shooter will not be satisfied with the .44 Special as it is one of the more expensive cartridges one can support through the sole use of factory ammunition.

On the other hand: if one is a student of shooting and enjoys meticulous handloading, if a sense of shooting history warms one's heart, if the addition of a bit of exclusivity to one's firearms collection appeals, if one seeks a very well-rounded handgun cartridge that is just a little bit different than what the crowd admires, then the .44 Special stands ready to imminently satisfy.

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19,602 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)
The .44 Special: Bob Dylan had one.

"I ran right home and I went to bed,
with a .44 smokeless under my head."

"In search of Little Sadie" from Bob Dylan's "Self Portrait" album.

"Early one mornin' while makin' the rounds
Took a transfusion and I shot my woman down
Went right home and I went to bed I stuck that lovin' .44 beneath my head."

"Hold everything till I come home
No matter how long I'm gone
Just meet 'em at the door with a .44
And tell 'em I'm right next door."

"Well I wore my .44 so long, Lord it made my shoulder sore.
I wore my .44 so long, Lord it made my shoulder sore.
After I do what I want to, ain't gonna wear my .44 no more."

"Frankie drew back her kimono, she took out her ol' .44
Rooty toot toot, three times she shoot, right through that hardwood door."

"Hey Joe, where you goin' with that money in your hand.
Hey Joe, where you goin' with that money in your hand.
I'm goin' downtown, buy me a blue steel .44.
I'm goin' downtown, buy me a blue steel .44.
Hey Joe, where you goin' with that gun in your hand.
Hey Joe, where you goin' with that gun in your hand."

"Milton was down at the cold spring, a-drinkin' from a mason jar
He said, "John, you better get yourself to work or you're gonna fool around 'til you get fired."
John blew the dust from his old .44, put two holes in Milton's head."

"I heard a pistol shoot.
Yeah and it was a .44."

"And I'm telling you son, well it ain't no fun
Staring straight down a .44."

"Men were shot down for the sake of fun
Or just to hear the noise of their .44 guns."

"You better get a hold to yourself, baby,
Hide and close the door
Before you make your daddy pull out his .44."

"Now Curly's looking high, and Curly's looking low.
He shot poor Delia down, good people, with a big bore .44.
She's all I've got, is gone."

"He drinks beer and eats beanies.
Chases it down with ol' Thunderbird wine.
Carries brass knuckles and a .44.
Runs a loan shark business and a Mary Jane store."

"Carried a switchblade knife in his left hip pocket
And a .44 hog leg up under his coat.
Cut you down in a New York minute
If he catch you cheating that was all she wrote."

"Stagger Lee went home
And he got his .44."

"Heart breakers with your .44 ..."

"Ridin' the range once more.
Totin' my old .44."

I remember this one, sung to "Battle Hymn of the Republic" since at least back in third grade.

"Glory, glory, hallelujah
Teacher hit me with a ruler
I hid behind the door with a loaded .44
And the teacher don't teach no more."

Did y'all ever realize just how many songs make reference to the ".44" somewhere in the lyrics? Granted some of these could have been the .44 Magnum (Stones and Skynyrd) and at least a couple could have referred to the .44-40 (Gene Autry and Marshall Tucker Band), but still, because of the era in which many of these songs originated, the "Special" is pretty prominently featured ... and is sordidly disreputable too! Can y'all guess the tunes? Can y'all add any to the list?


680 Posts
Thank you very much for sharing. Elmer and Skeeter would applaud the work you put into this write up. It is a wealth of information. :35:

1,129 Posts
As of right this second, I scrolled ALL the way down to see how long this would be. And I am satisfied. Following this comment, I'm going to pour a few fingers of my choice whiskey and settle down for a good read.

The .44 Special is a cartridge I've always been interested in and I have even more interest now that Ruger has a GP100 chambered for it (though I think I might hold out for a 4").

Edit: Bravo!

1,065 Posts
Nice write up.

I don't have a 44 special per se, but I shoot a lot of 44 special rounds in my 629 2.5" backpacker.

That 629 weighs 38.5 oz vs 36 oz for the new Ruger GP-100 so pretty much equivalent.

I might still get a Ruger 44 special GP at some point, but I think instead I'd rather get the new short barrel Smith 69.

10,336 Posts
Thank you, sir! That's a wonderful write-up of some fascinating history.

Quick non-Special question: "The new N-Frame variant served Great Britain and, in .45 ACP was adapted to the U. S. Army's needs too before the War was over." Was that the M1917 revolver? I've seen a couple of those in stores locally (both priced in the range of $1400, I think), but don't recall ever seeing a .44 of similar vintage.

Super Moderator
19,602 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Yes maxwell97, the Model 1917 is the U.S. military contract variant of the Second Model N-Frame that took up where the Triple Lock left off.

The commercial N-Frame .44 Special of the era would have looked like the U. S. Model 1917 except the commercial model would have featured checkered walnut stocks with large gold medallions and been roll marked with the .44 Special caliber designation. After 1920, the medallions were deleted for a decade to return as large silver ones in the 1930s.

Don't have a Second Model .44 Special, but have a line on one with factory target adjustable sights if I gather the funds. Here's a older photo of the M1917 kept around here. It'll have to serve as an example of the Second Model. Notice the lack of the shroud for the ejector rod.

5,294 Posts
I'm glad 44 Spl is making a comeback. It's a lot more pleasant to shoot than my 44 mag, and I may start stocking some up if the prices are right.

Excellent write up, BTW. I greatly appreciate the time and effort that went into learning so much, let alone condensing it into an easily read commentary. Well done!

1,994 Posts
Great Post................thanks.

3,531 Posts
Nice write up. I've been looking for a nice model 24 for a while...this may have just lit a fire underneath me.

Oh, and another song that mentions the .44--The Clash's "Koka Kola"...

"Coming through the door is a snubnose .44..."

12,686 Posts
Always been among my personally favorite calibers. Super write-up B Mac! Thanks! :congrats:
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