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The Future for Magnum Pistol Hunting

Have high-­performance cartridges for handgun hunters led to the magnum market's demise?

The Future for Magnum Pistol Hunting

Left to right: .44 Magnum, .429 DE, .50AE. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

Elmer Keith inspired both handloaders and handgun hunters through his exploits and writings. He often reported on developments for the .41 and .44 Magnums, often calling attention to his namesake bullet molds. The pursuit to deliver maximum energy and velocity from the hand of a skilled shooter was typified in the controversial story where Keith put down a client’s wounded mule deer from 600 yards using his .44.

Dick Casull and Jack Fulmer were among those who hunted with handguns. In 1958, they set a goal of shooting a 230-­grain .45-­caliber slug at 1,800 feet-­per-­second (fps). They customized a Colt Single Action Army with a 7½-­inch barrel, and a Bisley. Though their goals were met, the pressures eventually blew out the single actions’ cylinder walls and ripped apart the topstraps. They turned to a gunsmith to fabricate a new revolver frame using five-­shot cylinders instead of six, and a 4140-­alloy steel barrel with 1-­in-­24-­inch-­twist rifling. The story was related to Guns & Ammo’s readership through P. O. Ackley in the November 1959 issue. The cartridge was called the “.454 Magnum,” and Ackley noted several “one-­shot kills” on deer with complete pass-­throughs at 100 yards. Some 38 years later, the round was commercialized by SAAMI as the “.454 Casull.”

Several handgun manufacturers attempted to bring to the mainstream such magnum firepower in semiautomatic form, several with an assist from Hollywood. You might recall Clint Eastwood’s character “Harry Callahan” using the .44 Automatic Magnum in “Sudden Impact” (1983), and Eddie Murphy’s “Detective Axel Foley” investigating a robbery to find a modified “.308 rifle shell cut to fit the .44 Automatic” in “Beverly Hills Cop 2” (1987).

There were many efforts to create a magnum semiautomatic using the Model 1911 as the basis. Wildey developed a modular example in its gas-­operated, single-­ or double-­action pistol in 1973. There were several proprietary Wildey cartridges that followed, but pistols chambering the .44 Auto. Mag., .45 Winchester Magnum and .475 Wildey Magnum were its best-­sellers. Charles Bronson personally owned a Wildey and used it throughout “Death Wish 3” (1985). The attention that movie earned was credited for saving Wildey from bankruptcy. Founder Wildey Moore was quoted, “Every time ‘Death Wish 3’ aired on cable TV, sales spiked.”

L.A.R. Grizzly pistols continued the ’80s trend of modifying the 1911 to accept powerful cartridges, which included the 10mm, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum and .45 Winchester Magnum, to name a few. Though the grip-­frame was oversized, the single-­action, short-­recoil operating principle remained the same. Some 15,000 L.A.R. Grizzly pistols were produced, but it fought to compete against the rising popularity of the Magnum Research’s Desert Eagle and the .50 Action Express (AE) cartridge. L.A.R. even went as far as offering the Grizzly in .50 AE, but it was gone by 1999.

In 2018, Magnum Research developed the .429 Desert Eagle. Its .50 AE rimless case was given a bottle neck to accept a .429-­inch diameter bullet, the same bullet used in a .44 Mag. This wasn’t uncharted territory for Magnum Research since it was already offering the Desert Eagle with a .44 Mag. chamber since 1996. When loaded with a 240-­grain Speer Gold Dot charged to produce a muzzle velocity of 1,625 fps, the result was 1,407 foot-­pounds of energy. This offering, and the fact that the Desert Eagle models feature a stationary optic rail on the barrel, keeps it relevant. It is one of only semiautomatic handguns still offered for hunters, that is, of course, if you dismiss AR-­type pistols chambered for J.D. Jones’ .300 Whisper.

The market for magnum handguns is small, but I’m among the few. A fan of the movies that made them famous, I’ve managed to collect most of the guns mentioned above. However, trends tell me that interest in handgun hunting has diminished. So, I ask: “What does the future hold for semiauto handgun hunting?”

Sound Off

Where do you think handgun hunting is going? Let us know by emailing us at GAEDITOR@OUTDOORSG.COM, and use "Sound Off" in the subject line.

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