By Sheriff Jim Wilson
The .44 Special cartridge is the result of cartridge evolution initiated by Smith & Wesson. It actually began with the .44 Russian cartridge, which drove a 246 gr. Bullet at about 750fps. Smith & Wesson wanted to develop a similar cartridge that would make use of the relatively new smokeless powder, which seemed to be the wave of the future. Accordingly, S&W lengthened the .44 Russian cartridge, slightly, and began calling it the .44 Smith & Wesson Special. The .44 Special, as we know it today, was first introduced in 1907.
Sadly, Smith & Wesson did not see fit to improve the performance of this new cartridge, retaining the same 246 gr. Bullet and driving it at 750fps. We’ll never really know why this happened because the cartridge is capable of handling much higher pressures and velocities. It wasn’t long before a loose-knit organization, called The .44 Associates, began to circulate a newsletter, sharing improved handloads for the .44 Special.
Gun writer Elmer Keith had been working primarily with the .45 Colt cartridge, however he decided to see just what this .44 Special was capable of. Keith designed the great SWC bullet that came to be known as the Lyman #429421, and generally weighed in at 250 grains. Using N-frame Smith & Wesson revolvers as the test vehicle, Keith soon settled on a handload that sped this hard-cast bullet along at some 1250fps. Mr. Keith really did not come up with the idea of a .44 Magnum. He was just trying to get the ammo companies to manufacture a .44 Special factory load that would duplicate his handloads.
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