In The Beginning

The .44 Magnum basically begins with Elmer Keith. If you are not a reader of Keith, now would be a good time to start. Although he has been gone now for over 35 years and some of his writing is definitely dated, for much of his life Elmer was way ahead of his time. His books Sixgun Cartridges & Loads (1936) as well as Sixguns (1955) and his many articles in American Rifleman from the 1920s and 1930s make fascinating reading and are filled with real sixgun knowledge. In the closing pages of his 1955 book, Keith wrote: “We desperately need a modern, up-to-date, full powered factory loaded .44 Special — The King of all handgun cartridges.”

For 30 years, Keith had been writing about his heavy handloads in .44 Special sixguns — the Smith & Wesson Triple-Lock and 1926 Target Model along with the Colt Single Action. His standard load was 18.5 grains of #2400 under his hard cast, 250-gr. #429421 bullet loaded in the old-fashioned folded, or balloon head, cases. With the coming of modern solid head brass, he dropped his load back to 17.0 grains of #2400. Both loads yielded around 1,200 fps from 6-1/2" and 7-1/2" barreled sixguns.

For those same 30 years, to no avail, he had been trying to convince ammunition manufacturers to bring out his .44 Special load. Product liability is nothing new and they were afraid someone would blow an old .44 Special apart. Keith claimed there would be no problem with any Colt or Smith & Wesson heavy-frame sixgun, as he had been shooting his loads in pre-World War I Triple-Locks for years.