Special Or Magnum?

The .44 is a winner either way

Ruger, Mag-na-port, Smith & Wesson

Timing is everything in life. Sometimes we miss out on the wonderful, other times we evade disaster — and sometimes we’re at the right place at just the right time.

Just think if Bill Ruger had released his .45 Colt Blackhawk when a young cowpoke by the name of Elmer Keith blew up his Colt SAA .45 on a fateful 4th of July?

Fans of the .45 Colt would’ve had heavy +P loads 50 years sooner but things didn’t work out. Fans of the .44 are still thanking their lucky stars Elmer switched over to the .44 Special and started aggressive load development. See how wonderful and cruel fate can be, depending on how you think about things?

As you know, the .45 Colt is my favorite caliber but I don’t limit myself to it. How fun would it be? Nope, I enjoy several others and the .44’s hold a very near and dear place in my heart.

The Choice Of The Legends

As Elmer decided to concentrate on the .44 Special, which in turn led us to the .44 Magnum, Skeeter Skelton also held the .44 Special in high regard.

Man enough to admit he didn’t like the recoil of the .44 Magnum for police work, Skeeter’s common-sense approach made us realize 95 percent of our shooting chores could be accomplished with lighter, easier-carrying guns outfitted with .44 Special cartridges. In my book, there are no better endorsements for the .44 than these two (other than our own John Taffin, who literally wrote the Book of the .44!).

SA .44 Special

Everyman’s Single Action

For years I waited for a bona-fide, factory-new .44 Special I could afford. Eventually Lipsey’s Jason Cloessner had the gumption and pull to have Ruger build one in plow-handled form in 2009 and a Bisley-style in 2010, making the grand .44 Special affordable for the working man.

These new mid-framed Ruger single actions could easily digest Elmer’s hot loads consisting of his 250-gr. #429421 cast bullet over a stiff charge of Alliant 2400 powder for 1,200 fps. Incidentally, this load spurred the development of the .44 Magnum.


Make mine Special or Magnanimous! A selection of popular powders and 200- to 330-gr. bullets for the .44.

Skeeter’s Load?

While Elmer’s .44 Special load can be safely fired in old Colts and the newer model Rugers, the recoil associated with it was unnecessary. The famous “Skeeter load” consisting of the Keith #429421 bullet over 7.5 grains of Unique clocked at just under 1,000 fps in most guns. It’s still one of my favorites.

Here’s a little known fact: Skeeter actually got the Unique load from Keith after a letter Skelton wrote inquiring about different load recipes. Skeeter’s charismatic way with words made the recipe common knowledge and it’s still recognized as “The Skeeter Load” today through no fault of his own.

Why Get Pounded?

Admittedly, I started with .44 Magnums for their easy availability and affordable prices. Cast bullets and handloads made shooting these powder guzzlers cheaper to shoot — along with a satisfying sense of accomplishment to boot.

I shot many heavy loads of 2400 (and later H110) almost exclusively until a wiser, older shooter asked me, “What light loads do you shoot?” I was stumped. It never occurred to me to do such a thing. I rectified this and now shoot plenty of 250-gr. Keith bullets over 8 grains of Winchester 231 for about 1,000 fps.
For the .44 Special, 5.5 grains of 231 is a mild 800 fps load — perfect for plinking and teaching others to shoot. There’s no need to cause excessive wear and tear on our guns — or ourselves — by lighting off full-power loads every time we shoot, especially when punching paper.

Magnum ammo

Magnum (left) or Special (right)? What more could you ask for?

Howzabout Bullets?

Both .44’s — Mag or Special — are capable of shooting bullets from 180 to 300-plus grains. I’ve done so with both cast and jacketed with good results. Experience has taught me bullets in the 250-gr. range work just as well as the heavyweights on big game, as long as they have the proper meplat (the flat on the nose). After all, a through and through hole is the same regardless of bullet weight.

For simplicity’s sake — mixed with a sprinkling of nostalgia — a good cast “Keith” usually gets the nod for both my Specials and Magnums. It just seems right to me. Call me fickle …

As you can see, I’m pretty fond of the .44’s as well as my beloved .45’s. Thank goodness we have the freedom to shoot the calibers we please, at least for the time being. Hey, did I ever tell you about my .41 Mags? They’re mighty fun too… .

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