Dear John ...


Duke Eats Crow Over The .44 Special

Hey, John Taffin! I’m about to eat some crow here so I want you to pay attention. Some years back you got a mite upset at an article I wrote saying the .44 Special wasn’t so special. Well, I’ll have you know in the last few days of 2017 I bought three — count ’em, three — .44 Special revolvers.

Why? They were priced right. All were Colt SAAs — two made in 1980 making them 3rd Generation. One was made in 1961 and, of course, that’s 2nd Generation. According to my research only 2,074 of nearly 74,000 2nd Gens were made as .44s, but we both know many 2nd Gen .38 Specials or .357 Magnums were re-barreled and re-cylindered to .44 Special. I know because I had a couple done myself.

But relax. This one I just bought came with a factory archive letter denoting it truly is one of those 2,074 originals.

Here’s a little more crow for this banquet. You’re certainly aware of my fondness for the .44-40. Well, I went one more step in this .44 Special business. I bought both nickeled and blued .44 Special cylinders fitted to nickeled and blued 3rd Gen .44-40s. Since I already had a 3″-barreled Colt Sheriff’s Model with dual cylinders, this now makes a total of six Colt SAAs I can use for .44 Special.

Ye Olde Horse Trader: Duke got good deals on these three .44 Special Colt SAAs.

3rd Generation with 7-1/2" barrel, 2nd Generation with 5-1/2" barrel,
3rd Generation with 4-3/4" barrel.

Variable Dimensions

But I’m going to hedge a bit with this eating crow business. I still don’t think the .44 Special is any more special than the .38-40, .41 Magnum, .44-40, .45 Colt (or even as good as a .45 Auto-Rim!). But some of the finest revolvers ever created have been chambered for it. I bet you still have samples of Smith & Wesson’s Hand Ejector’s, 1st through 4th Models. I did have them all but parted with some when financing my WWII collection. Never did a Colt New Service .44 come my way.

But let’s get back to the Single Action Army. Colt actually resisted the .44 Special in their 1st Gen with only 507 having been made when production ceased in 1941. And, only a small fraction of 2nd Gen SAAs were .44s. But after Skeeter Skelton got on Colt’s case when the 3rd Gen was introduced, they made a boatload of them starting in 1978.

It’s a little-known fact Colt didn’t make two separate barrels for .44-40 and .44 Special. But they actually did for .44-40. This is confirmed in the Ideal Handbook No. 28 published by the Lyman Gunsight Company in 1927. In it is stated early Colt .44-40 barrels were .424″ across the barrels’ grooves, but later the dimension was changed to .427″. Confirming this is a Colt factory barrel spec sheet I have dated 1922 giving .426″/.427″ as minimum/maximum barrel groove diameter for all their .44 barrels; that’s for Colt SAAs, New Service .44-40s and .44 Specials.

Out of curiosity, I slugged the barrels of my three new Colt SAA .44 Specials. No surprise; all three were at or barely over 0.426″ across their grooves. My seven .44-40s were 0.426 to a pinch over 0.427″.

Few and far between! Here’s the barrel logo on a 2nd Generation Colt .44 Special.

Duke’s been using Lyman’s No. 429667 mold for loading .44 Russian, .44 Special and .44 Magnum.
Yup, Duke’s shooting the special these days. Rub it in Mr. Taffin.

Keepin' It Light

Something else I’m going to hold firm about regarding this crow banquet is my handloading for the .44 Special. I’m not going for SWC bullets as pushed so hard by Elmer Keith. And I’m not going to try supercharging my Specials with slow-burning pistol powders into the lower ranges of .44 Magnum ballistics — as I was guilty of when younger. Instead I’m going to load mild charges of IMR’s Trail Boss under 250-gr. RNFPs from Lyman’s No. 429667 mold. That’s a 240-gr. design, but weighs more with my favored 1-part tin to 20-parts lead alloy.

You can go ahead and say, “I told you so!” It doesn’t matter. My new .44 Specials are going to be used for fun and relaxation by mostly banging away at swinging and falling steel targets.

That’s going to make crow taste pretty good.

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