22 grains No. 2400 and Keilh 250-grain bullet and also factory loads were tried on car bodies, old cook stoves and motor blocks. They’ll penetrate a lot of car body material and even get through the heavier steel braces. Each load cracks up motor heads and will penetrate the block and ruin a piston. One shot through a radiator un-corks it and these big heavy slugs placed almost anywhere on a motor will put it out of commission. The peace officer can stop a car with it, or stop the criminal in it by shooting through the body of the car. I only asked for a duplication of my old time tried 44 Special heavy load with 18.5 grains 2400 and the 250-grain Keith bullet, but the boys went me one better by producing a load that is even more powerful!
The big gun is, I would say, pleasant to shoot, and does not jar the hand as much as do my heavy 44 Special loads from the much lighter 4″-barrel 44 Special S. & W. guns. It is definitely not a ladies’ gun but I have known women who would enjoy shooting it. The recoil has not bothered me in the slightest, nor have several other old sixgun men complained who have fired it extensively, including Hank Benson and Don Martin. The recoil is not as severe as that of a two-inch airweight Chiefs’ Special with high speed 38 Specials. With 44 Special factory loads it is just as pleasant to shoot as a K-22 and with the 44 Magnum loads, which give heaviest recoil, it will not bother a seasoned sixgun man at all. Recoil with my heaviest loads of 22 grains of 2400 and the Keith 250 grain bullet is much less than that of the factory load. The factory load, fired with one hand, flips the barrel up almost to the vertical.
Factory load velocity is claimed to be 1570 feet with 1,314 pounds energy as against 1450 feet velocity and 690 pounds energy for the 357 Magnum factory load. We are a bit skeptical about the claimed 1570 feet velocity. Our own estimate would be somewhere nearer 1400 feet. We base this on a lot of reloading for the 44 Special with 18.5 grains 2400 which gave the Keith 250-grain slug something over 1200 feet from 6½ barrels. Pressure of the factory load is high, make no mistake on that score. Don’t rechamber any 44 Special cylinder to take the big load. Cylinders, as well as guns, should be made especially for this load, and I certainly won’t convert any of my 44 Specials to take the 44 Remington Magnum. A Model 1892 Winchester carbine, however, built to handle this load would make an excellent companion gun, especially useful to the peace officer, or to anyone in the back country.
The Remington 44 Magnum is the best case to reload I’ve seen. With the Keith 250 grain slug cast one to 16 tin and lead and sized exact groove diameter, to cut down pressures, the cartridge gives wonderful accuracy with 5 grains of Bullseye and would shoot accurately with even less of this fast powder. With 8½ grains of Unique it makes a fine medium load of around 1,000 feet or more; with 20 grains of 2400 one gets a good fairly heavy load about equal to my old 44 Special heavy load. If you don’t reload you can always buy a box of Remington factory loads and be sure of getting the most powerful and perfect sixgun ammunition ever made anywhere.
I’ve killed enough beef animals with an 85-pound yew bow, and broadheads that went entirely through the beasts, to know that an arrow gives a slow, painful death with no shock. Now we have a sixgun and load that is infinitely better in every respect as a big game weapon than any bow ever drawn. It kills two-year old steers too dead. They do not bleed well after being hit in the brain with the factory 44 Magnum load. One big porcupine, shot about dead center from the side, was killed instantly leaving a two-inch exit hole on the far side. This gun and load will kill deer just as dead as a 30-30, up to at least 100 yards, if well placed, and the big slug will leave a better blood trail, as it is so soft it expands on contact and continues to expand as it penetrates. Velocity is high enough to carry considerable shock to any animal.
Friends who returned from Korea, after fighting through that unpleasant affair, tell me that they encountered many enemy soldiers with body armor which our 45 auto ammo would not penetrate. The 44 Magnum loads go through quarter-inch dump truck beds like cheese and would penetrate any body armor a soldier would be likely to carry. Loaded with a full metal-jacketed bullet for military use, it would take care of any useful body armor.
After a lifetime of working with all manner of sixguns and loads, answering thousands of letters about them, and the writing of two books on the subject, as well as a great many magazine articles, I consider the 44 Remington Magnum Cartridge and the great Smith & Wesson gun that chambers it the greatest sixgun development of our time! I am happy to have had even a small part in its development.
This article, originally appearing in the 1958 edition of Gun Digest, is excerpted from the Greatest Guns of Gun Digest Book. Click here to download the 1958 edition; Click here to get a hard copy of Greatest Guns of Gun Digest.
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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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