In this Article:
How do you choose a good .44 Magnum revolver when there are so many great guns out there? I’ll attempt to narrow it down a bit and, hopefully, by the end of this article you might have more information about them than you did before.
Are You Sure…?
Before we get into specifics, let’s make sure that the .44 Magnum is really the handgun caliber you want. What are you trying to do with a handgun? Why are you buying it? If your answer is something like:
- hunting medium-to-large game;
- ringing steel or hitting targets at least 100 yards;
- wanting a gun to strap on your hip as you wander through bear country;
then the .44 Magnum is the gun for you, especially if you’ve had previous handgun experience.
On the other hand, if:
- you’re a neophyte shooter;
- you don’t tolerate recoil well;
- you’re trying to “one-up” your buddy who just bought a new gun;
then maybe the big .44 isn’t for you. New shooters especially should consider starting with something a little less intimidating, like a .357 Magnum or even a .38 Special. I have told the story elsewhere on our site that, not too long after the .44 Magnum made its appearance in 1955, lots of guys plunked their money down for a Model 29 and a box of ear-ringing-wrist-twisting .44 Magnum ammo. It wasn’t too much longer after that you could walk into a lot of gun shops and see, in their used gun case, a brand-new-looking Model 29 with a box of cartridges that had six missing out of the 50. Those represented the six times the former owner fired the gun before he decided that maybe the .44 wasn’t such a great thing after all.
The recoil can be fierce – around 20 foot-pounds of recoil energy – so it isn’t for everyone. (For comparison, a .270 rifle generates about the same energy but it’s a rifle, a gun that weighs over twice as much and lets you get both hands and a shoulder on the stock. .44 Magnum recoil is not for the shy).
Cutting To The Chase
For those of you who just want to read about the guns, here they are. You can scroll back later and read the rest. I am only going to talk about readily available guns that you can find in almost any gun store or online (in normal times) that I’ve had some experience with. There are surely more .44 Magnums out there, but these are my favorites:
- Ruger Super Blackhawk
- BFR Revolver
- Smith and Wesson Model 629
- Smith and Wesson Model 69
- Ruger Redhawk/Super Redhawk
- Taurus Model 44SS
- Taurus Raging Bull/Raging Hunter
- Taurus Tracker 44
Where Did The .44 Magnum Come From?
The .44 Magnum has an interesting history. In one sentence, it came from the .44 Special. The .44 Special was very popular with handloaders in the early- to mid-20th century, in no small part due to its versatility. From gallery-type target loads to rounds that would put down a deer, the old .44 Special had it all. But it wasn’t enough for some intrepid pistoleros.
Elmer Keith is considered the father of the .44 Magnum, but he had help. Elmer was the unofficial dean of revolver aficionados from the early 1920s until his death in 1984. His influence jump-started several cartridge innovations. He had a hand in all three of the major magnum cartridge developments – the .357, the .41 and the .44 – but he is probably known best for his contribution towards the origination of the .44 Magnum.
After experimenting with the .45 Colt, Elmer settled on the .44 Special because the .45 Colt was loaded in what was called “balloon head” brass at the time. The web area of the case was not solid, as it is today – the primer pocket was extruded into the case and was not supported, which in turn caused the case head to not be as strong as it could have been.
Balloon Head Case vs. Solid Web
Many case-head ruptures led Elmer to re-think his cartridge of choice. Hence, his experimentation with heavy bullets at higher velocities continued with the .44 Special. He perfected a heavy load, using his 245-grain semi-wadcutter bullet and a healthy dose of No. 80 powder (which later became Hercules 2400). He was afraid that guys would try to shoot it in older, blackpowder-era .44 Special revolvers so he approached Smith and Wesson and Remington to bring out a new gun and new cartridge that matched his heavy .44 Special ballistics but wouldn’t be able to be shot out of older guns.
The case was lengthened about 1/10 of an inch, which solved the problem. It was named the .44 Remington Magnum (its official name). On December 15, 1955, the first .44 Magnum revolver made its appearance, the gun that became the Smith and Wesson Model 29. The next month it was introduced to the public and has been going strong ever since. Bill Ruger brought out his single action .44 Magnum Blackhawk (now Super Blackhawk) in mid-1956 and was shipping guns in November of that year. That’s the origin of this powerful round and the first two guns built to fire it in a nutshell.
Personal Experience With Both .44s – Special and Magnum
I’ve owned both .44 Special and .44 Magnum revolvers. I think a quick thought or two on the Special might help us see just how versatile the Magnum is, due to its roots. I had a Charter Arms Bulldog, a three-inch-barreled snub-nosed big boomer in .44 Special. This was the same gun that the “Son of Sam”, a.k.a. David Berkowitz, used in New York in 1976-1977 to commit a series of murders of couples parked in their cars. The gun gained a reputation, not necessarily good. However, even though the anti-gun media tried to make the gun the “evil instrument” in those heinous crimes, the more rational among us realized the gun was just the tool used. Why do I mention this? Simply to point out that the .44 Magnum’s “ballistic father”, so to speak, is a very capable round and that the Magnum comes from a strong heritage. I killed a deer with a Georgia Arms 240-grain JHP .44 Special load from my Model 629 at a measured 104 yards. So, the Magnum round has a great ancestry, if you will, and (once fully developed in the 1950’s), became everything it should be as a hunting cartridge.
I’ve owned a .44 Magnum since about 1978, when I traded for a 7.5-inch Ruger Super Blackhawk. Being a reloader, I tried many different loads (including Elmer’s favored load with his cast semi-wadcutter over a hefty dose of 2400). I soon decided that I had nothing to prove (especially my manhood) so I dropped the loads back to a more controllable, sane level. The Keith loading was pretty brutal for me – I’ve written elsewhere on this site about the time I competed in a silhouette shoot and raised a bone in my wrist from the massive recoil generated by that load in the many practice sessions I participated in. Needless to say, mid-range loads are my choice now.
I traded that single action Super Blackhawk for an honest-to-goodness Smith and Wesson Model 29 with a six-inch barrel (still available today in the blued “classic” version at extra cost). This was a gun JUST LIKE the one Dirty Harry used!
I have to admit to a certain amount of machismo when I took that “famous” gun to the range and had other shooters drool over it – they still weren’t in great supply, due to the Dirty Harry movies’ influence on their popularity. I did retain one hard-learned lesson, though…I loaded and shot mostly mid-range loads. (Heck, even Dirty Harry admitted to carrying .44 Special rounds in his 29!). With those loads, the gun shot like the winner it was. It came in a wooden presentation case, was finely tuned and had that bright blue Smith & Wesson polish job we old-timers remember fondly.
Having shot most of the popular .44 Magnums out there, I keep coming back to the fact that this cartridge is one of the most versatile revolver rounds you can stuff into a cylinder. All the guns I’ve shot did very well with everything from low-pressure mouse rounds to moose-thumpers. Single action, double action, lever action…what? Lever action? Yep, several of the more popular lever action carbines are chambered in .44 Magnum, but we’ll concentrate on revolvers.
I mentioned two kinds of revolvers…single and double action. What does single and double action mean?
A single action revolver must have the hammer cocked for each shot manually. The quintessential single action revolver is the gun most thought of as a “cowboy gun.” Colt introduced its Single Action Army revolver in 1873, and the style is still popular. Many thousands of SAA clones are sold each year. Bill Ruger was famous for, among other things, making the single action revolver popular again by building his to be very strong and adding features that most of the original production guns didn’t have like an adjustable rear sight with a ramped front sight, a transfer bar action (in 1973, with the New Model action) and coil springs. His guns are still going strong – the Super Blackhawk family is a good seller for Ruger. Some shooters consider the single action Rugers to be able to handle hotter loads than double action guns. Whether they can or not, the single action is a fine platform for this round.
The double action revolver still needs its hammer cocked in order to fire, but you can accomplish this by two different methods (hence double action). You can thumb-cock the hammer like you would a single action “cowboy gun”, or you can just pull the trigger. The gun’s action is made so that the process of pulling the trigger moves the hammer back to full cock and then releases it, which fires the round. The advantage of a double action revolver is that it tends to be faster for most shooters to fire since all they have to do is pull the trigger without having to manually cock the hammer. If you are shooting a lesser-powerful cartridge like a .38 Special target round, trigger-cocking is very advantageous. You can empty the gun almost as fast, or in some cases faster, as you could fire a semiautomatic. The problem comes in when you try to fire full-bore .44 Magnum loads by pulling the trigger as fast as you would a .38 Special. If you can do this and still hit your target, you are definitely a better shot than I am. First of all, it usually hurts your shooting hand and arm to fire the gun that many times as fast as you can. Secondly, the very hefty recoil tends to leave the muzzle pointing skyward like an anti-aircraft piece after five or six shots. It isn’t my idea of a good time spent with a gun.
So, for most purposes (or unless you’re shooting reduced-load ammo), thumb-cocking the hammer and firing deliberately is an easier way to hit your target than just jerking the trigger six times. Again, I am speaking for myself…if you have mastered fast double action fire with full .44 Magnum loads, my hat’s off to you and I would shake your hand…if you still have feeling left in that hand. Like I said earlier, recoil can do nasty things to your physiology, especially in a cumulative fashion. My wrist was rearranged for a good while until I finally figured out what was going on and quit shooting those really heavy loads.
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Single Action vs Double Action
What are some differences between single and double action revolvers? I’ll list three of the main differences. There are smaller variations in the way each sits in your hand, the way they carry in a holster, shape differences, etc. But here are the “big three”:
Recoil. Both types will kick like a Missouri mule with full-charge loads. It’s how they handle that recoil that sets them apart. The single action (with unmodified, standard grip panels) will roll back in your hand as the “plow handle” grip allows the gun to rotate around its axis (your hand, specifically your second finger) during the recoil impulse. In physics, this is called rotational motion and is exaggerated with successively-heavier loads due to the increasingly greater forces applied. This rolling action is what the gun’s grip was designed to do. What can be painful isn’t necessarily the grip, but the trigger guard. Ruger uses a “Dragoon”-style squared-back trigger guard on its Super Blackhawks that is supposed to negate the thump that your second finger gets when you fire the gun. In my experience, it is somewhat successful at that but it still doesn’t alleviate all of the recoil’s effects. My second finger still got whacked with my Super Blackhawk but not as badly as it does with my Ruger Blackhawk .45 Colt with the rounded trigger guard. I have loaded that .45 to energies hovering around those of some higher-end .44 Magnum loads, with the recoil to prove it. It hurts, so I’m back to mid-range loads in that caliber as well. Shooting, to me at least, should be fun and not be a time when you’re trying to prove something to yourself or others. That’s why companies such as Hogue sell so many after-market replacement grips for single actions. Recoil and how it is handled is definitely different between the two types of guns.
Triggers. The triggers on most unaltered, production single actions tend to be not as light or crisp as those of a double action gun fired in single action mode. It’s just the way they’re designed, nothing wrong with it. Granted, you can have an action job performed on either gun to improve the trigger but out of the box, by and large the double action gun is going to have a better trigger in single action mode.
This was brought home to me after I traded the Super Blackhawk on the Model 29 – the trigger difference between the two was amazing, even after I had installed a lighter trigger return spring in the Super Blackhawk. (One way that I lightened my new Blackhawk’s trigger was by performing what is known as the “Redneck Trigger Job” – I unseated one of the two trigger return spring’s legs from its post under the grip panel. It works for me, but I don’t recommend it as it could interfere with the proper return of the trigger after firing).
Sights. Unless you are shooting a modern, non-SAA-clone single action such as one made by Ruger, Freedom Arms or other manufacturer, the rear-trench-and-front-blade sights leave much to be desired if you are going to be using the gun for serious target or hunting uses. For informal shooting at closer ranges, the old system will surely suffice. I know that there are those of you out there who can ring steel with regularity at 100 yards with your SAA clone – I salute you, because I never could do that with those sights. (To illustrate my aversion to the rear trench opening, I have an inexpensive Heritage .22 revolver on which I filed that V-notch square. It’s easier to line up the sights now). The excellent adjustable rear sight and the Patridge-style front ramp on both the non-SAA-clone single action and the double action revolver tend to aid in accurate shooting at distance, not to mention the benefit of being able to adjust the rear sight for different loads.
One disclaimer, of sorts…there can be exceptions to just about everything I write about guns when I speak in general terms. It’s the nature of the beast-there are SO many manufacturers out there that I cannot be familiar with all of them. There are a few companies who make an otherwise SAA-style clone but put adjustable sights and trigger safety features on them (example, the Cimarron Bad Boy mentioned above or the Uberti Callahan 6-inch model), and there are a few double action revolvers with fixed sights (example, the two-inch Taurus Raging Bull .44 Magnum). Once you have found an accurate gun of either type, go with it and learn to shoot it with whatever sights it has or have others installed…good accuracy trumps most everything else in the revolver world. There is a place and a use for both types of sights. The advantage of the trench-type is that your rear sight will never be bumped out of zero like an adjustable sight can be, and once you’ve found a load that works, you can file the front sight down a bit if it is shooting low or have a gunsmith make other adjustments.
Most of the guns that I mention here (both single and double action) use a frame-mounted transfer bar instead of a firing pin on the hammer, although there are those single actions that will do that in an effort to be as faithful to the 1873 original as possible.
(One double-action exception is my 629 – it’s old enough that it uses a hammer-mounted firing pin. The hammer rebounds after firing, however, so the firing pin is never protruding into its channel unless the trigger is deliberately pulled). With the transfer bar on a single action gun, it is OK to load all six chambers, unlike guns with a hammer-mounted firing pin…that firing pin needs to rest over an empty chamber. Both types are good in their own way, depending on their use and purpose. Modern guns tend to be safer on average than older ones, and even “faithful” clones sometimes utilize safety measures that were not available when the originals were around.
The takeaway from all this is please be careful…nobody wants an accidental discharge.
OK…we’ve looked at a few differences between single and double action revolvers. How will we use these fire-breathers? What purposes can they fulfill?
The main reason for the .44 Magnum’s existence is hunting. Elmer Keith was a famous shooter and outdoorsman – he was a renowned handgun hunter before it was widely popular. We’ve seen how his influence and the “guidance” (a polite word for pressure) he shared with officials from Smith and Wesson and Remington led to the introduction of the Model 29. Elmer was presented with different guns by Smith and Wesson over the years, but he didn’t put them all in his trophy case. He used them. Fast-forward from Elmer Keith to today…there are hundreds of handgun hunters out there who use the .44 Magnum. I’ve even taken squirrels with mine, with reduced loads, and it didn’t turn them inside-out…it just made a .429-inch-diameter hole. The point is that the .44 is versatile, especially if you handload. So, for hunting, target shooting (especially at longer ranges), silhouette shooting or other uses I’ve not mentioned, the big .44 is the right choice.
Now that we have looked a bit at the origin of the .44 Magnum, the types of guns that typically fire it, and how it can used, how about looking at some specific guns? There are many good .44s out there, but some are better than others. Let’s divide them into two groups – single actions and double actions. (I won’t do my typical detailed Specifications listing, due to the fact that these revolvers are not like semiautos where there are a whole lot of variations in size, weight, capacity, etc. We will assume these guns will hold six rounds and have an adjustable rear sight unless otherwise noted. The numbers that .44 Magnum revolver shooters seem to care about is barrel length and weight – the first to ascertain velocity gain/loss and sight radius, with the second to see if the gun is substantial enough to help soak up some recoil).
Single Action Revolvers
Above, I mention Ruger’s Super Blackhawk. This is the gun most shooters envision when asked about single action .44 Magnums. Here are the various models made in .44 Magnum:
New Model Super Blackhawk Standard
The standard gun comes in ten different variations, with barrels ranging from 3.75” to 10.5” (counting distributor exclusives). Finishes include polished blue or satin stainless. Probably the most popular barrel length for all-around hunting use is 7.5”, with the shorter-barreled versions coming in a close second. Representative weight of a 7.5”-barreled Super Blackhawk Standard model is 48 ounces. The Hunter weighs a few ounces more, tipping the scale at 52 ounces. Other barrel lengths will weigh from 45 ounces (4.62”) to 55 ounces (10.5”). So, you can get whatever barrel you want and custom tailor the barrel length to your specific need.
New Model Super Blackhawk Bisley
The Bisley model, with its distinctive grip shape said to lessen felt recoil, is available in barrel lengths from 3.75” to 6.5”, all in stainless. One of the original flat top .44 Magnum Ruger revolvers had a 6.5” barrel – I had a friend who had one. This is a very handy length for hunting.
New Model Super Blackhawk Hunter
This gun sports a full-length solid rib atop the barrel, with scope mount cuts to aid in mounting a scope. Barrel length is 7.5”, and the gun is stainless.
New Model Super Blackhawk Bisley Hunter
There is one Bisley model with the same Hunter treatment as above; it has a 7.5” barrel and the solid rib. If you are a traditional cowboy-style single action fan, there is even a short-barreled distributor exclusive Vaquero revolver in .44 Magnum, but this is not a standard production item.
MSRPs range from $829 – $959, but you can find the Standard model for around $630, with the Hunters going for around a hundred dollars more.
Other Single Action Revolvers…
Ruger isn’t the only game in town when it comes to single action .44 Magnums. There are several SAA fixed-sight cowboy-style clones out there that are a bit lighter, some with shorter barrels. These guns are patterned after Colt’s Single Action Army revolver that used a trench in the top strap for a rear sight and a small, rounded blade up front. The firing pin was mounted on the hammer, which made the gun unsafe to carry with all six chambers loaded. (See the section on Safety Concerns). The practice of “load one, skip one, load four” became popular because when performed properly, the hammer was lowered over an empty chamber.
At last look on a few popular gun sales website, there were 113 different .44 Magnum revolvers available for sale. Most of the single action cowboy-style guns are Italian-made clones with some safety upgrades (like a frame-mounted or hammer-block firing pin that allows the gun to be carried with all six chambers loaded). They are popular, especially the shorter-barreled ones because a lot of them are used in cowboy shooting competitions (SASS). The short barrels tend to “clear leather” quicker than the longer ones. These guns usually are loaded with light target-type loads, so recoil isn’t much of a factor unlike with a hunting gun. Guns made by Pietta and Uberti are popular and are well-made. They can be lesser expensive than domestic models, but not always. The thing that sells these guns is that they look like what I have called “cowboy guns” (clones of the 1873 Colt SAA) and are a hoot to shoot. There have been several occasions when I wished I had one for roaming the woods or just carrying around the ol’ homestead. Maybe I will one day. You are well-served with a single action .44, because you’re probably not going to be shooting a .44 Magnum double action very often anyway.
Another segment of the single action .44 Magnum revolver market concerns upscale, built-like-tanks revolvers.
Magnum Research’s BFR line of revolvers is a good case in point. They claim that BFR stands for “big frame revolver”, but I’ve heard those initials refer to another name – a name that I won’t use here. It’s all good, as those guns are some of the strongest single action revolvers you can buy.
These guns come in many calibers, from .357 up through some high-end specialty numbers like .460 S&W, .500 S&W, .45-70, etc. in several barrel lengths. Prices start around $1300.
Double Action Revolvers
Smith and Wesson
The original .44 Magnum was a Smith and Wesson double action Model 29 (denoting blued finish) with a 6-inch barrel. It was made to S&W’s exacting tolerances and exhibited the fit & finish that the company was known for. I owned one of these, as I’ve related above, and it was a shooter. The trigger was excellent, as were the sights. My current .44 Magnum is a direct descendant of the original. I own a Model 629-1 (the “6” denotes stainless) that was made in or around 1982. (The accompanying Model 629 photos are of this gun…it has been well-used but cared for).
It wears a long 8 3/8” barrel and has scope mount cuts in the barrel rib. I briefly had a scope on it, but it was just too unwieldy and negated the easy handling that revolvers are known for.
So, it sports the original iron sights…fully adjustable white outline rear and red-plastic-insert front ramp on top of a rib that has longitudinal grooves in it to break up light reflections.
I have lost count of the number of deer this revolver has accounted for over the last 25 or 30 years, most falling to one of my cast-bullet moderate-velocity handloads. It was given to me by a dear friend before he passed on from stomach cancer, and it will occupy a place in my gun cabinet until I can no longer use it…then it will be passed down to one of my four sons. Guns can trigger some pretty emotional feelings and memories, can’t they? This is one VERY special gun to me.
I have owned and used both single and double action .44 Magnum revolvers and I won’t hesitate to say I prefer the double action variety with the loads I typically use. If I were still trying to turn my Super Blackhawk into a miniature field artillery piece, I would be sticking with that style but since I’m not shooting those loads any more, my 629 does very well for me. MSRP is $1029 on the 6.5-inch model but I’ve seen them for around $900 in the real world. With their Performance Center, Smith and Wesson is able to put together just about anything you desire, but I’m only talking regular production guns here. I do not see a production 629 with an 8 3/8” barrel like mine on their website, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find one, either from their Performance Center or on the used market.
A recent “big idea” from Smith and Wesson in terms of a new .44 Magnum was to take a 5-round cylinder, mate it to an L-frame (the 629 is made on the larger N-frame), add a 4.25” barrel with shroud and finish it in satin stainless with black accents.
This is the new Model 69. It weighs 37 ounces and loses the 6th cylinder chamber in order to make the cylinder fit in the L-frame window.
I had one of these excellent pieces in my hand today at my friend Duane’s gun shop and boy, did it feel like it belonged there! A set of Hogue rubber grips sets it off. I told him that the 69 would be a perfect gun to strap on your hip as you wander the woods and fields. I also remember loading, about 38 years ago, some Speer shot shells in .44 cases. So, you could have a couple of shot shells up front and back them up with three big boomers. The barrel is surrounded by a shroud, and the cylinder release, hammer, trigger and sights are in black.
It is a very nice-looking gun. Add Smith and Wesson’s quality into the mix and you have a very handy, reliable revolver. MSRP is $874, but I’ve seen them for around $100 less than that.
The Ruger Redhawk is one tough gun. I always say something to that effect when I talk about Ruger guns, but it’s true. Utilizing a no-side-plate design gives the gun some extra strength, and the single-coil spring mechanism tends to make for a lighter trigger pull.
An adjustable rear sight coupled with an easily-swapped front sight – you just press in on a plunger at the muzzle and the sight pops off – means you can fine-tune the sight’s height and insert color without resorting to a file or paint.
The cylinder locks at the front, rear and bottom to help hold things together tightly when the gun is fired. Barrel lengths range from 4.2 inch to 7.5 inches, with distributor specials adding some variation to these.
The 7.5-inch version weighs 54 ounces and has an MSRP of $1079, with a real-world price around $750. The gun just looks balanced, whatever the barrel it’s wearing and I like its looks.
This I cannot say about the Super Redhawk. This revolver looks like the Redhawk, except for the frame, which is beefed up mightily. Gun aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, to paraphrase the old saying and my eye just doesn’t like the frame-on-steroids look that the Supers have. One positive feature: the frame would probably withstand pressures that would make the regular Redhawk shake in its boots. (This is borne out by the fact that the Super Redhawk is also chambered in .480 Ruger and .454 Casull, two higher-pressure rounds while the Redhawk is not).
Regular production Super Redhawks come with either a 7.5- or 9.5-inch barrel and have scope ring mount cuts in the top strap. Weight of the 7.5-inch model is 53 ounces, with the longer-barreled version going for 6 ounces more. MSRP for the basic 7.5-inch model is $1159, with a real-world price around $850. As with other Ruger models, distributor exclusives tend to swell the number of available guns and to make them varied in terms of barrel length and other features. This changes, so check out Ruger’s website for specific inventory at any given time. (This applies to just about all the guns Ruger makes…if, for example, a large distributor company like Talo wants a run of shorter-barreled revolvers, as long as they order a certain minimum number of guns Ruger will produce them. Just check back on Ruger’s website for changes).
Please don’t misconstrue what I said about the looks of the Super Redhawk – it is one very capable gun and is found, sometimes scoped, in many chest holsters as hunters and guides take to the field. Ruger even makes an Alaskan version with a 2.5-inch barrel for $30 more MSRP that weighs 44 ounces…that’s a handful of power!
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No discussion of .44 Magnum revolvers that I write is complete without mentioning three Taurus models…the Taurus 44SS, the Raging Bull and the Tracker.
Taurus 44 SS
The 44SS is a double action revolver with a 4-inch (45 ounces), 6.5-inch (54 ounces) or 8 3/8-inch (57 ounces) barrel that looks an awful lot like a Model 629 Smith and Wesson. (I’ve explained elsewhere on this site that Taurus and S&W were both owned by the same parent company once upon a time and technology, designs and tooling were shared between them. That is why this gun can legally look like a 629).
I consider the Model 44SS a sleeper in the world of .44 revolvers. They are stainless, have good recoil-absorbing grips, a vented barrel, adjustable rear sight and great revolver ergonomics. I have drooled over a 4-inch version in Duane’s gun case several times…I consider it a darn-near- perfect hunting companion, since the minimum legal barrel length is 4 inches for handgun deer hunting in my state. This 4-inch-barreled gun would sit in its holster, practically unnoticed, till needed. Stoked with .44 Specials, it would be a good walking-around gun (what gun writer John Taffin calls a “perfect-packin’ pistol). These guns are very reasonably priced; MSRP/real-world prices are: 4-inch, $661/$475; 6.5-inch, $661/$475; 8 3/8-inch, $677/$490.
Taurus Raging Bull
The Raging Bull is Taurus’ version of a heavy-duty .44 Magnum hunting revolver. These guns have proven themselves in the field and incorporate a few interesting design twists, one of the most obvious features is the ported barrel these models incorporate. At the front sight, the barrel is given 4 ports on each side which does two things…it really helps tame muzzle flip in recoil, and it makes the gun exceedingly loud to shoot. This gun comes in a four-inch barrel length with an MSRP of $944. Sitting atop the barrel is a nice-looking vent rib. Lockup is tight (there are two cylinder release levers, one in the usual place and the other at the front of the cylinder). Another feature is the two-part rubber grip. There is the usual black “rubbery” material that surrounds the grip frame, but a separate red section at the back of the grip aids in helping mitigate recoil. Taurus just calls it a cushioned grip. One feature that deserves mention is the extra cylinder lock at the front of the cylinder. My first experience with this type of lock was when I owned a Dan Wesson multi-barreled .375. It had the cylinder release at the front of the cylinder, not the rear. The Raging Bull and Hunter also does this, which gives the guns a triple-locking cylinder. The strength that this front release adds is measurable – you don’t have to worry about the cylinder popping open. Trust me, that’s a bit unnerving. This is one strong revolver.
The Raging Bull will work in just about all situations where you need a hunting .44 with iron sights. It does have a full-length vent rib, so some scope mounts should work. If you want a Picatinny rail for optics, take a look at the Raging Hunter below.
A variation of the Raging Bull is the Raging Hunter. These are beefed-up Raging Bulls that have a Picatinny-style rail the full length of the barrel, which opens up a whole world of optics that can be mounted on the gun. They come in all black or a two-tone version and carry an MSRP of $929-939. Whether you get a Raging Bull or Hunter, you will have a very strong, reliable revolver that should stand up to years of service. You can read my review of the Raging Hunter here.
Taurus Tracker 44
The Tracker is probably my favorite of the lot (except for my 629, of course). This is a gun that was designed from the ground up to be easy to carry yet have plenty of punch if needed. The gun comes in .17 HMR, .22 LR, .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum. It is available in either blue or stainless. If 4-inch .44s are your thing, this gun may be a good one to look at. It features a 5-shot cylinder, like the Smith and Wesson 69 above. It also comes with a ported barrel, adjustable rear sight and Taurus’ proprietary “Ribber” grips. They are called that because they have horizontal ribs molded into the grip that stick out a little, which makes them semi-flexible. They do seem to help alleviate some of the recoil. If they are not to your taste, you can put replacement Hogue or other grips on the gun.
I have over 30 years of experience packing my long-snouted 629 in a hip holster. There are times that it just seems a little too big, with its 8 3/8” barrel. If I have a shot at 75 yards or more, the sight radius helps, but most of my shots are closer than that. And, with my mid-range loads, the velocity drop when I go from an eight-inch barrel to a four-incher isn’t that great.
The Tracker has a four-inch barrel and is a five-shot, as mentioned. That helps keep it on the small-ish side, a bit more portable. There are times I’d love to have this size gun with me, especially if I am hunting with a rifle and am carrying a revolver for close-in shots or other reason. Add in the fact that it weighs 34 ounces and is only an inch and a half wide at the cylinder and this gun could go almost anywhere you go. I’ve even heard of guys carrying them concealed. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but it would make a very handy trail gun. To be sure, I wouldn’t want to fire a box of full-charge .44 Magnum loads through this 34-ounce gun in one range session, but I wouldn’t want to do that with ANY .44…I’m totally happy with my fair-to-middling loads, thank you. This gun would handle those well. I’ve handled a few of these and they feel right at home in my hand.
The grip palm swell fills your hand nicely, and the pointability of the gun is enhanced by that grip. I think, loaded with either .44 shotshells, mid-range .44 Magnum or .44 Special ammo, this gun would definitely go into the woods with me every time I went. One in stainless steel would be just the ticket for an all-weather outdoors companion.
The MSRP on this gun is $578 (blue) and $594 (stainless). Real-world pricing is closer to $415 in blue, with the stainless about $10 more. Taurus sometimes gets a bum rap in the gun world, but their revolvers seem to be well-made, decently priced and are good shooters for the most part. Coupled with a lifetime warranty to the original owner, the Taurus .44s are worth a hard look.
We’ve looked in detail at the .44 Magnum…at specific .44 Magnum revolvers, a bit of the cartridge’s history and some typical uses for it. I’ve shared some personal experiences that I’ve had with this great caliber and hopefully have shed some light on why I think this is one of the greatest, most versatile revolver rounds going. There are many other guns I could’ve written about, but I wanted to keep it to guns I am familiar with. If you are looking to buy a .44 Magnum, any of the guns discussed should work well for you. If you look at used guns, pay attention carefully to what you’re looking at. I’ve seen some used .44s in less-than-good condition, mostly with cylinder timing issues. Start out slowly. If you’re a new(er) shooter, maybe a box or two of .44 Specials through the barrel might be in order as you get used to the gun and its recoil. I might then graduate to mid-range .44 Magnum loads, with the full-charge fire-belchers coming soon after. The trick is to adapt to the gun’s recoil gradually. Most anyone can enjoy shooting a .44 Magnum, but it does take some getting used to. I’d be interested to hear about your experiences with this great gun – leave a comment below. For an all-around, versatile revolver you can’t beat a good .44 Magnum…if you haven’t shot one, give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised!