Can’t find that perfect cartridge? Why not make your own? Or at least that’s what one of the inventors of the Magnum cartridge did in the 20th century.
The prolific gun writer Elmer Keith kickstarted the Magnum era in the 1930s when he designed the .357 Magnum because the shell he wanted didn’t exist—and it became an instant hit! Thousands of firearm enthusiasts across the country loved it for its highly effective terminal ballistics. But Keith didn’t stop there.
He wanted more powerful and swift cartridges that would crank up the power of a revolver and allow him and his fellow hunters to take down big, elusive wild critters from at least a couple hundred yards. Thus, he continued experimenting with the .44 Smith & Wesson Special as his base—even if it meant destroying a handful of revolvers in the process—until he finally came up with the .44 Magnum in the 1950s.
In collaboration with reputable firearm manufacturers S&W, responsible for manufacturing the firearm—the model 29, and Remington, who was in charge of producing the ammo, Keith’s .44 Magnum was mass produced in 1955. This rimmed, large-bore cartridge possessed so much power for a handgun that it became one of the most iconic rounds in American firearms history.
As the years passed and more modern ammunitions emerged today that are stronger or bigger than the .44 Magnum, it remained to defend its reign as a reliable round for gunners today for hunting and self-defense. Its availability has also become an edge considering dozens of manufacturers still produce Keith bullets that follow his original instructions.
A standard.44 Magnum bullet weighs 240 grains, travels at 1,350 feet per second, and has a muzzle energy of up to 971 foot-pounds—triple the minimum requirement for self-defense. This, however, depends on what firearm you’re using.
Despite what the name suggests, the .44 Magnum cartridge has a diameter of .429 inches. Moreover, it has been intentionally made slightly longer than its parent case so that it won’t fit into incompatible revolvers chambered. One of the characteristics that define the.44 Magnum cartridge is its exceptional ballistics, which can reach supersonic speeds and easily knock out your target.
- Parent case: .44 S&W Special
- Case type: Rimmed, straight
- Bullet diameter: .429 in (10.9 mm)
- Land diameter: .417 in (10.6 mm)
- Neck diameter: .457 in (11.6 mm)
- Base diameter: .457 in (11.6 mm)
- Rim diameter: .514 in (13.1 mm)
- Rim thickness: .060 in (1.5 mm)
- Case length: 1.285 in (32.6 mm)
- Overall length: 1.61 in (41 mm)
- Case capacity: 37.9 gr H2O (2.46 cm3)
- Primer type: Large Pistol
- Maximum pressure: 36,000 psi (250 MPa)
The recoil can be jarring and quite challenging to manage, especially if you’re not used to it. For starters and non-seasoned shooters, you should opt for the .44 Special since it shot less intensity than the .44 Magnum. Using it in competition can also be difficult, considering that it cannot execute rapid-fire plus, again, it can be strenuous on the hands.
Aside from the S&W Model 29 revolver, the 44 Magnum cartridge can also be loaded into a semi-auto pistol Magnum Research Desert Eagle Mark XIX, Ruger Red Hawk, Magnum Research BFR, or Taurus Tracker, among many others. Throughout the years, the .44 Magnum has evolved and can now be loaded on carbines and rifles made by brands such as Winchester, Marlin, and Henry Arms. So, there are tons of firearms to choose from for the 44 Magnum.
The rise in Pop Culture
.44 Magnum, along with the S&W 29, rose to prominence in the general public following its cameo in the 1971 action film “Dirty Harry,” starring Harry Callahan as the iconic Clint Eastwood, who’s a San Francisco police inspector with his handy S&W 29 revolver always on his shoulder holster. The protagonist’s line describing the revolver as “the most powerful gun in the world” also became a direct shoutout that drove the firearm’s sales to skyrocket where gun shops couldn’t keep them in stock.
Other Hollywood films gave the firearm airing time as well, including “Point Blank” (1967), “Taxi Driver” (1976), “Resident Evil: Extinction” (2007), “American Gangster” (2007), and Witch Hunt (2021), among many others.
Keith died in 1981 after suffering a fatal stroke. But his legacy lives on and is likely to thrive thanks to technological advancements that have kept the .44 Magnum improving over the years.