The .44 Magnum may not be the most powerful handgun in the world (anymore) but it’s still plenty big and plenty bad.
I happen to absolutely love .44 Mag, so of course, I wanted to talk about it.
Sure, it’s expensive, and yeah it recoils like a sonofabitch, but my God is it fun to shoot.
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Pick up an old S&W Model 29 and tell me you don’t immediately feel a connection to Clint Eastwood.
There’s something distinctly American about the .44…and letting one off feels like apple pie, baseball, cowboys, and old movies about lawmen cleaning up a troubled town…all rolled into one.
Of course, there are practical benefits too.
Like I said, it’s not the most powerful handgun cartridge on the block anymore, and we have things like .454 Casull and the preposterously powerful .500 S&W Mag if we really need to go out loaded for bear. But it’s still a mighty big boom for something you can wear in a belt holster.
Its popularity for hunting and self-defense, coupled with its somewhat legendary history makes it one of the quintessential American cartridges, and I truly think every gun guy or gal should own either a revolver or an old-school lever action chambered in it.
Of course, that means feeding the beast, and with ammo prices being what they are, at least where .44 Mag is concerned, it’s important to get the most bang for your buck (pun vigorously intended).
So I rounded up the best .44 guns around and decided to gift you a list of my favorites, as well as some history of the .44, and a little background on choosing the perfect .44 ammo.
It’s a hard job, talking about guns on the internet (and writing ammo purchases off on your taxes) but by God, you guys are worth it. No, I’m no hero. Well, maybe a little.
Anyways…let’s get started.
A Brief History of the .44 Magnum
The .44 Magnum is actually a relatively new cartridge compared to some. It was first designed in 1950, and wasn’t commercially produced until 5 years later.
The cartridge was developed by one Elmer Keith, a writer and outdoor sportsman who was also instrumental in the development of the .357 Magnum and other magnum handgun cartridges.
Keith began experimenting with the .44 Special cartridge of the day, lengthening it and playing around with powders and bullet weights until he ended up with what today is the .44 Magnum.
The thicker sidewalls of the .44 Special cartridge and the variety of bullets available at the time made it perfect for this sort of experimentation, and eventually, the .44 Remington Magnum entered production…
Even though Remington didn’t make a revolver that fired it at first.
Since then, the .44 Magnum hasn’t gained much traction in the police world (despite the success of the Harry Callaghan movies) but it has gained one hell of a record as a self-defense and hunting caliber.
While the recoil and muzzle flash when fired from a revolver make it…if not unpleasant, at least certainly less pleasant than other cartridges, it has been used to harvest game from whitetail to elephant (though we don’t recommend this last one for a number of reasons).
It has been used to kill a record-breaking polar bear, and even holds a place as one of the most popular backup guns for those trekking through bear country, or going after dangerous game.
One of my good friends is a safari guide, and he readily assures me that .44 Magnum will stop anything likely to come after you as long as you put your shots where they need to go.
I don’t know about you, but there’s something comforting about knowing I could put a hurt on a Cape Buffalo even if he’s hiding behind my refrigerator.
And while it doesn’t quite stack up as the most powerful handgun cartridge in the world anymore, it still packs quite a lot of punch in a self-defense scenario against a two-legged threat as well.
.44 Magnum probably isn’t the ideal choice for a self-defense weapon, and good luck carrying one concealed.
But if you want to make sure your attacker knows they’ve been shot, and you want a good chance of stopping an altercation with just one bullet, you could certainly do worse than the hefty .44.
Sure, the recoil of full-bore hunting loads means you’re likely to get only one shot.
But modern reduced-power loadings make follow-up shots manageable, if not exactly easy, and modern .44 hollow points do just…devastating things, which might be worth the tradeoffs for you.
Because of that recoil and the sheer weight of revolvers chambered in .44 Magnum, I don’t really recommend it for a carry gun but hey, this is America. You’re free to make your own bad decisions.
Modern .44 Magnum Firearms
You may disagree with what I just said, but most experienced shooters don’t and the truth is that modern hollow point technology has more or less closed the gap between the bore sizes.
9mm is just as good as .44 Magnum for 99% of self-defense situations, so it makes more sense to carry more rounds on tap, in an easier-to-control package.
But that doesn’t mean you should completely overlook the .44 Magnum. It was originally designed as a sidearm cartridge for defense against bears and other dangerous animals, and in this respect, the legendary round absolutely excels.
Many people also like it because they can carry a levergun in .44 Mag, which will be soft-shooting and accurate, and then pair that with a .44 Magnum revolver.
This is a common combination for hunters in heavy brush, as well as in certain cowboy action shooting competitions.
Why Choose .44 Magnum?
Some people may say there’s no reason to choose .44 Magnum over another caliber. I say those people are dull and uninspired.
The legendary .44 Magnum isn’t something you choose because you need it, it’s something you choose because you want it.
It’s the mountain that you climb just because it’s there. It’s taking a long way home to enjoy the scenery and maybe drive a little too fast.
Yes, it’s overkill for self-defense against your fellow man (or woman) looking to do you harm. Yes, it’s a little underpowered compared to other bear slayers like .454 Casull.
Yes, it is absolutely worth it anyway.
.44 Remington Magnum is one of the finest cartridges ever devised, and it sits at the precise upper limit of what most shooters find comfortable (although I wouldn’t want one in a snubnose).
The .44 Magnum is, to me, one of the quintessential American calibers, with a lineage that’s tied directly into some of our most beloved characters, from Dirty Harry to Harry Dresden. And that alone makes it worth it.
If you need more reasons, it’s easy to reload, fun to shoot, incredibly powerful, can be used to hunt most common game in North America, and again, is really really fun.
You need a practical reason for every gun you own?
If you’ve got a bad case of SSS (Skeptical Spouse Syndrome) ask them what their plan is for when the robots rise up and you are stuck in a kill-or-be-killed scenario with your Smart Fridge. What’s your .380 gonna do against that?
Nothing, that’s what. That’s why you need that shiny new (or darkly blued) .44 Magnum.
Best .44 Magnum Rifles
While the .44 Magnum wasn’t really developed as a lever-gun cartridge, boy does it work as one. .44 Special was a common chambering for lever-action rifles back in the Old West, and you can still find examples of them around today, or pick up modern versions if you aren’t looking to buy an antique.
The Henry Big Boy is one of the finest examples of a lever-action on the market today.
The Big Boy in .44 Magnum is truly a sight to behold, and is, in my opinion, one of the best looking guns on the market.
The .44 Magnum chambering makes for a versatile ranch-style rifle that’s good for everything from plinking at cans on a fence rail, to hunting and putting down predators.
The extra velocity you get from the longer barrel coupled with the extra mass of the rifle gives you a practically tame shooting experience when compared to a rifle, which makes this a great way to scratch that .44 Magnum itch.
If you want to see what else Henry offers, we have an Article For That Too!
The other major player in Lever-Action .44 rifles: Marlin. Now, I’ll admit, I love Marlin. From my .22 LR to this beast of a rifle, I’ve never met a Marlin that I didn’t love. Every single one I’ve used has just worked – always.
But even I must admit, they aren’t nearly as pretty as that Henry Golden Boy. Although, that might be a good thing if you’re looking for a working or hunting rifle.
Marlin features an adjustable rear sight and a brass bead front sight – but it is also drilled and tapped on top for a scope mount. Open sights are great and all, but personally I still rather hunt with an optic on my side.
Henry is hands down what I would choose for a wall hanger, range toy, or CAS event shooter. But Marlin is what I would track deer in thick woods with.
Best .44 Magnum Revolvers
Obviously, I can’t talk about modern .44 Magnum guns and not include the one that started it all. It may not be the most powerful handgun in the world anymore (and it actually wasn’t at the time that line was said) but my God, will it get somebody’s attention.
This is Dirty Harry’s gun, specifically the blued version, and it is just as awe-inspiring to non-gun geeks as it is to those that will recognize it.
You’ll be inundated with looks of jealousy and appreciation at the range, and probably not a few requests to test-fire it.
If you want a classic piece of movie and firearms history in one practical and convenient package, this is for you. It’s as accurate as a Swiss watch, and will very probably outlast you if you take care of it.
It’s probably the most versatile of the .44 Magnums on this list, being perfectly suited for hunting, plinking, or self-defense, depending on your needs, or your mood.
What’s your take on the 29?
We’ve looked at the Ruger Super Redhawk for Big Game Hunting, but that was in .454 Casull – if you’re looking for something a little lighter but still packs a wallop, .44 mag might be what you’ve been looking for…
This is an outstanding self-defense gun for four-legged critters, it’s also ready to be set up for hunting with a Picatinny rail on top just begging for a low power scope or red dot.
4. F.LLI Pietta 1873 SA Revolver (Colt Peacemaker Recreation)
On the list of “Most American” firearms, you’ll find the M1 Garand, the Colt 1911, the AR-15, and more. But the granddaddy of all of them, possibly the first classically American firearm since the Kentucky Longrifle:
The 1873 Colt Single-Action Army
And while Colt still makes their Peacemaker, getting a current production model might cost you an arm and a leg that you don’t have to spare ($1,800). And getting an original, besides being madness to shoot it, would cost you double. At least.
Enter, the F.LLI Pietta 1873 SA Revolver.
Known for their quality and their faithfulness to the original design, these aren’t safe queens. These are meant to be used and fired…a lot.
And for only $400 – anyone can get one. Or get two and really complete your Cowboy Action Shooting outlaw look.
.44 Magnum Honorable Mentions
If you want to go big, it’s best to go all the way. And nothing quite says “all the way” like a Desert Eagle. Big, heavy, and known around the world as the king of the Mall Ninja pistols.
It also costs approximately 1 arm and 1 leg. Give or take some fingers.
But is it worth it?
I dunno, do you want to hold four and a half pounds of pistol in your hand and spit 220gr projectiles in fully semi-automatic fashion? Do you want a pistol that works just as well as a club or in a pinch, as a boat anchor?
Do you find yourself with an abundance of money that, for whatever reason, you need to get rid of?
If any of that sounds like you, this is the gun you want.
On a practical note, the frankly ridiculous weight makes recoil incredibly light, and indeed this may be the lightest recoiling .44 Mag handgun on the market.
Its also a good option if you want a Desert Eagle, but don’t want to shell out for the .50 AE version.
Henry Mares Leg
I know what you’re thinking – “That’s a rifle!” Well, no it isn’t. At least, not technically.
Back in ye-olden day, a Mares Leg was just a lever-action rifle that was cut down, basically an early day SBR. But with modern firearms laws – we can’t really do that. But thanks to Henry, we can still get a Mares Leg!
Built from the ground up as a pistol, this is legally a…pistol. It’s even more legal in some states since it has a fixed 5+1 tube magazine!
Probably not the best option for self-defense or working, but absolutely a lot of fun to use!
That about does it for the .44 Mag stuff. I hope I’ve answered your questions and shed some light on the ins and outs of this great caliber. I guess there’s really only one question you have to ask yourself now: Do I feel lucky?
Well, do ya?
If you’ve got any other questions about the .44 Magnum, drop me a line in the comments below, and be sure to let me know about your other favorite big-bore pistol cartridges and .44 Mag stories.
If you’re thinking a little bit smaller (or more practical), check out our 9 Best .357 Magnum Revolvers.