Handloading the 44 Magnum
The powder charge is 22 to 22.2 grains of what looks like Hercules 2400 but may be a duPont version of this powder with similar characteristics. We removed the slugs from a few loads, opened the crimp and put the original charge back in the case with my 250-grain 44 Special bullet, cast hard by Mar-Mur Bullet Co., copper plated and sized to .429″. It seemed to shoot in the same group as the factory load but clearly indicated at least 5,000 pounds less pressure, estimated from primer comparisons. With factory bullets the primer is well flattened, the firing pin indentation is not deep or full, and the primer flows around the perimeter of the firing pin indentation slightly.
When the Keith 250-grain hard .429″ slug was fired, the firing pin indentation was deep and the primer was not flattened to anything like the extent of the factory load. This clearly shows the value of one to 16 tin and lead, or harder bullets, when reloading this cartridge.
We also reloaded the fired factory cases with 22 grains No. 2400 and my 250-grain solid and 235-grain hollow base and hollow point bullets, getting, at an estimate, at least 5,000 pounds less pressure. This is a good way to leave it. Let the factory, with their pressure guns and precision instruments for managing heavy pressures, use the high pressure load. I’m well satisfied with either the factory load or my hand load, which develops far less pressure. It is on the safe side, yet a load substantially as powerful. It penetrates even better in beef, perhaps because it is harder, and gives equal accuracy.
The new 44 Magnum S. & W. does not group all loads of the same bullet weight to the same point as do many 44 Special guns. The new Magnum lighter loads print high and right at 1 o’clock; my heavy 44 Special loads a bit lower and nearer center; 20 grains No. 2400 with the Keith 250-grain slug in the Magnum case, just out of the black at 7 o’clock, while the full hand load of 22 grains 2400 and Keith 250-grain bullet print low and left at 7 o’clock. We settled for the full reload and the factory Remington (as both shoot to the same sighting) and sighted the gun for them. The target shooter wishing to use factory 44 Specials will have to sight for that load and change his sights when using the factory Magnum 44 load. Each load made small groups at all ranges tried. I have fired the big gun at least 600 times, both hand loads and factory hulls.
The factory bullet is soft enough to expand readily on impact with flesh and acts just like a soft nosed bullet from a 45–70 or 38–55. With my hollow point 235-grain bullet and 22 grains of No. 2400 expansion is even more rapid than with the factory bullet. It disintegrates on large bones and explodes jack rabbits, chucks, torn cats and similar vermin. The tests prove beyond any doubt that the 44 Magnum factory load will penetrate to the brain of the largest bear on earth or the biggest elk or moose if directed right. It will stop any mad cow or bull on the range with one well-placed shot if the cowpoke gets wound up and has to kill a critter. The fisherman or camera hunter, working the Alaskan streams, now has a gun for protection against a suddenly surprised Brownie with which he can stop the animal if he uses his head and shoots for the brain or spine. The prospector can kill all the meat he needs with this gun and factory loads or my heavy reloads.
About the Author: Elmer Keith (March 8, 1899 – February 12, 1984) was an Idaho rancher, firearms enthusiast, and author. Keith was instrumental in the development of the first magnum revolver cartridge, the .357 Magnum, as well as the later .44 Magnum and .41 Magnum cartridges. He was a regular contributor to Gun Digest.
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