44 Special Load Data

44 Special Load Data
There are plenty of bullet weights and styles available for reloading the .44 Special: (from left) 180-gr. cast FP; 200-gr. cast RNFP; 240-gr. cast SWC; Hornady 200-gr. XTP; Hornady 240-gr. XTP; Nosler 240-gr. JSP; Nosler 240-gr. JHP; and Sierra 240-gr. JHC.

There are plenty of bullet weights and styles available for reloading the .44 Special: (from left) 180-gr. cast FP; 200-gr. cast RNFP; 240-gr. cast SWC; Hornady 200-gr. XTP; Hornady 240-gr. XTP; Nosler 240-gr. JSP; Nosler 240-gr. JHP; and Sierra 240-gr. JHC.

The .44 Special is often ranked as one of the best revolver cartridges of all time. It's superbly accurate and extremely versatile when handloaded to any of several power levels for plinking, personal defense or hunting.

The Special's inherent accuracy stems from a previous design. In 1870 Smith & Wesson developed the .44 Russian for its military revolver made for the Imperial Russian army, and a civilian model followed in 1878. The .44 Russian proved very accurate, and it didn't take long for savvy target shooters of the day to realize its potential.

This was the dawn of the smokeless era, and with it came some problems. The Russian case is but .970 inch in length and just couldn't hold enough of the bulky new powder to achieve the desired velocities, so in 1907 Smith & Wesson lengthened the older case by .190 inch and a star was born.


Target shooters flocked to the .44 Special. Although the new S&W large-frame Hand Ejector revolvers of 1908 were fully capable of handling stiffer loads, the Special was never factory loaded to its full potential. It was left to handloaders to fill the power vacuum.


Experimenters such as Elmer Keith proved that a heavily loaded .44 Special was very effective on big game. Keith pestered the ammo companies to bring out heavier .44 Special loads, but there was a fear that such powerful loads would blow up an older, weaker revolver. But in 1956 Keith's efforts culminated in the introduction of the .44 Magnum.

Our test guns are both S&Ws: a blue M24-3 made in 1983 and a stainless M624 from 1986. Both are N-frames with trim 6 ½-inch barrels. I used the M24 for jacketed bullet loads and the M624 with cast bullets. Since many shooters shoot Specials in their .44 Mags for practice and plinking, I also chronographed some representative Special loads in a six-inch M29-3.

Reloading the .44 Special is an uncomplicated delight. Dies are made by virtually everybody, and for years they have been configured to accommodate both Special as well as Magnum cases with minor die adjustments. The difference in Special and Magnum case lengths is .125 inch, and Redding includes a washer of that thickness to use under the die lock ring that makes switching calibers easier. Cases for the .44 Special are straight-walled, so carbide sizers further streamline the loading process. An occasional trip through the case trimmer will result in more uniform crimps - a big part of consistent ballistics - and better accuracy. A healthy roll crimp is recommended.

[nggallery id=184]


Suitable powders for the .44 Special run the gamut of burning rates, depending on the bullet weight and velocities desired, but one stands out, and it is well known to the round's legion of fans. Several years ago, a prominent gun magazine asked readers what their favorite powder was for reloading the .44 Special. The overwhelming answer in the avalanche of replies was "Red Dot!" I can't agree more. A charge of 5.5 to 6.5 grains of Red Dot with just about any decent bullet - jacketed or cast - almost always results in adequate velocity, uniform ballistics and terrific accuracy. For several years I used the M624 in IPSC-type matches, and my ammo was all powered by Red Dot.

Powder charges used in the .44 Special case seldom require magnum primers, although they are frequently recommended with ball or spherical powders. I used CCI-350 magnum primers with HS-6 and Silhouette powders, but regular primers would work just as well.

An excellent assortment of expanding jacketed bullets is available in .44 caliber these days. The 180-grain hollowpoints from Sierra and Hornady offer reliable expansion, and Speer offers a 200-grain "personal protection" version of its Gold Dot Hollow Point specially designed for the .44 Special. Red Dot, Green Dot and Blue Dot shotgun powders, and HS-6 and Unique excel with these lighter bullets. Hornady's new 225-grain Flex Tip eXpanding bullet borrows technology from the company's popular rifle ammo and is a good midweight hunting bullet. A charge of 9.5 grains of Blue Dot produced 880 fps and consistent accuracy with the FTX.


Although it's a bit longer than the hollowpoints, loads with it fit comfortably in the S&W's cylinders.

The traditional .44-caliber bullet weight is 240 grains, and here we have several proven performers. The Hornady XTP, Sierra JHC, Speer GDHP and Nosler JHP and JSP versions are all suitable for the .44 Special. Just stick to near-maximum loads to keep up the velocity and ensure adequate expansion. HS-6 and Blue Dot are excellent choices for such applications. Bullets as heavy as 300 grains are available, but it's difficult to get enough velocity out of the Special case to make them useful.

Before the readership has a collective coronary, let me quickly point out that the .44 Special can live happily ever after on a steady diet of ammo loaded with quality cast bullets. A good, hard 240-grain semi-wadcutter at close to 1,000 fps will take deer, elk and black bear. With 5.5 to 6.0 grains of Red Dot, that same bullet does yeoman service in target loads, too. All of the cast bullets shown in the load table were obtained from a local commercial caster and had a Brinell Hardness Number of 15 (the same as Lyman No. 2 alloy), and no leading was noted.

Cowboy Action has recently given the .44 Special a shot in the arm, and the lighter cast bullets further broaden the Special's appeal. A popular Cowboy bullet is the 200-grain RNFP. My favorite load with this bullet is 7.5 grains of TiteGroup for a modest velocity of 745 fps, light recoil and one-hole groups. Charges less than those shown are not recommended, however, as there is the very real danger of sticking a bullet in the barrel.

For defense purposes, a lighter 180- or 200-grain HP bullet makes sense. Either weight can be driven over 1,000 fps and provide about all the power that can be comfortably housed in a medium-weight revolver. The 240-grain cast bullet loads shown also offer potent protection.

Fortunately, S&W has recently reincarnated the M24 in its Classics series. It is a faithful rendition of the original and should quicken the pulse of .44 Special fans everywhere.

M24-3 test gun for 44 Special handloads
The M24-3 test gun turned in great accuracy with many loads. This group was made with the Hornady 200-grain XTP over 11.0 grains of Blue Dot. Velocity was 1,019 fps.

Whether it's punching paper, whacking steel, hunting or protecting what's yours, the .44 Special makes a lot of sense. If you think I'm an unabashed fan of the old round, you're right. For more than 100 years it has served the shooting public, the military and handgun hunters with distinction. Let us hope that for the next century, the grand old .44 Special continues to make as many shooters happy as it already has.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Beretta

Beretta's New 92X

The 92X Performance model from Beretta was created to satisfy two requirements: Speed and accuracy. Beretta's new competition pistol is uncompromising and aims for top performance.

Armscor Semi-Auto Shotguns

Armscor Semi-Auto Shotguns

We look at the new shotguns from Armscor - the VR80 and the brand new bullpup VRBP100.

A New Season of G&A TV

A New Season of G&A TV

In this new season of Guns & Ammo TV, we introduce two new series and bring back a viewer favorite - Camera's Don't Lie. We look at long-range tech and see how to make shots previously thought impossible. Next we visit ISS Prop House in Hollywood.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Check out these great options for Dad on Father's Day! Accessories

2019 Guns & Ammo Father's Day Gift Guide

G&A Digital Staff - May 07, 2019

Check out these great options for Dad on Father's Day!

The Savage MSR 15 Competition is an out-of-the-box racehorse ready to help you win 3-Gun matches. Here's why. Reviews

Savage MSR 15 Competition Review

James Tarr - May 21, 2019

The Savage MSR 15 Competition is an out-of-the-box racehorse ready to help you win 3-Gun...

Crossbreed's new The Reckoning holster is a simple leather-Kydex combination with multiple points of retention adjustment and clip options. Accessories

Crossbreed's The Reckoning Holster

Eric R. Poole - May 13, 2019

Crossbreed's new The Reckoning holster is a simple leather-Kydex combination with multiple...

The Hornady 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) is a Rifle

6.5 PRC - Magnumized 6.5 Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand - August 01, 2018

The Hornady 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge) is a "magnumized" 6.5 Creedmoor. It offers...

See More Trending Articles

More Reloading

With the right bullets and powders, reloading 45 ACP can yield ammo more than capable of winning matches and protecting the home. Reloading

Reloading 45 ACP

Layne Simpson - July 23, 2019

With the right bullets and powders, reloading 45 ACP can yield ammo more than capable of...

Handloaders can have a ball working 224 Valkyrie loads. Hodgdon offers several of powders suitable for the 224 Valkyrie, including CFE 223 and the IMR Enduron series, all known for limiting jacket fouling. Here's some 224 Valkyrie load data to get you started. Reloading

224 Valkyrie Load Data

Steve Gash - August 19, 2019

Handloaders can have a ball working 224 Valkyrie loads. Hodgdon offers several of powders...

The 6mm Creedmoor is a new member of a wonderful family of 6mm-caliber (.243) cartridges; it's easy to handload and should make its mark in the hunting fields, just as it has in competitive shooting.

6mm Creedmoor Load Data

Layne Simpson - August 19, 2019

The 6mm Creedmoor is a new member of a wonderful family of 6mm-caliber (.243) cartridges; it's...

The .224 Valkyrie was created to provide optimal long-range performance, and matching factory-load ballistics with handloads is relatively easy.

.224 Valkyrie Reloading Tips

Lane Pearce - January 29, 2019

The .224 Valkyrie was created to provide optimal long-range performance, and matching...

See More Reloading

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now