Gun Digest
 

Best .44 Magnum Revolvers: A Buyer’s Guide

There are plenty of good options for this big-bore cartridge, but here’s how to select the best model for your needs.

While there are many good reasons to own a .44 Magnum revolver, there are plenty of reasons not to as well. 

So, let's go over what you want to look for while shopping for a .44 Magnum revolver, whether you should think twice about buying one in the first place and a few serious Big Maggies to consider adding to your arsenal.

Best Uses For A .44 Magnum Revolver

The .44 Magnum revolver shines as a hunting handgun, and it is arguably the standard woods handgun in bear country. It's effective on any North American game with proper shot placement, and it has an especially good record against maleficent bruins. 

Revolvers in .44 Magnum are also fantastic at separating people who think they want a big handgun from their money. Like the Desert Eagle, plenty of people desire one until the reality of owning the hand cannon kicks in.

It's worth noting Smith & Wesson couldn't give the Model 29 away until Dirty Harry came out. Following the movie, it became one of the most re-sold handguns of all time as stout recoil lead to buyer's remorse.

Clint Eastwood holding the now iconic Smith & Wesson Model 29 in “Dirty Harry.” Photo: IMFDB.

Why To Not Consider A .44 Magnum Revolver

Much of the time, folks get drawn into the mythical allure of owning the “world's most powerful handgun” (it's not anymore, by the way) and don't consider the more practical aspect of .44 Revolvers.

By and large, guns chambered for the cartridge are big and heavy–even in their more compact forms. A big gun is a necessity do to the pressures involved, which is tied into the other main drawback of the caliber–recoil.

For most shooters, it's excessive and management thereof requires practice and patience. Heck, even famed lawman and gun crank Bill Jordan admitted as much in his book No Second Winner.

Self-Defense

Overall, these aspects do not add up to an optimal self-defense gun in the traditional sense. Particularly the final trait.

Recoil is a nasty obstacle, particularly pertaining to life-and-death scenarios of lethal-force encounters. At the minimum, most shooters must overcome developing a flinch, particularly if they are new to large-bore handguns.

Secondly, follow-up shots—well aimed and quickly executed—are a task. Absolutely, there are gunslingers who make .44 Magnum revolvers sing like they were rimfires. Guess what, you likely aren't one of them.

Additionally, the .44 Magnum doesn't acquit itself any better than most other handgun cartridges in self-defense situations. Studies comparing the details of lethal-force firearms uses have found negligible differences in efficacy between .44 Magnum and other common carry calibers, at least against humans.

And it's a revolver, which comes with its own inherent challenges. From the perspective of self-defense, these include mastering a double-action trigger as well as reloads.

Why To Consider A .44 Magnum Revolver

OK then, a .44 Magnum checks nothing but “con” boxes. Take a hard pass, right? Not necessarily.

While for the general shooter, it might not prove the top self-defense choice, there is more to the world than lethal-force encounters.

Hunting

As alluded to earlier, the .44 Magnum revolver remains a staple for handgun hunting. And while its recoil is strong, it is considerably less so than many other big-bore options—.454 Casull and .460 Smith & Wesson, we're looking in your direction.

This three-shot group was obtained at 50 yards with the Ruger 77/44 rifle, but it still shows that .44 Magnum is plenty accurate for use at 100 yards.

Even with its kick, average shooters have the ability to master the intricacies of a .44 Magnum revolver in the field. This is aided by most hunters opting for a larger model, generally scoped, which reduces some of the felt recoil. When it comes to hunting, .44 Magnum is considered to be an excellent round for deer and powerful enough for larger game too. The cartridge has been used to take polar bear and even elephants in the past.

Competition

The .44 Magnum is preferred by some bowling pin shooters as well due to its knockdown power. But the majority of handgun competitors who use revolvers stick with other calibers with lower recoil and cheaper ammunition.

.44 Magnum Ballistics And Revolver Barrel Length

While .44 Magnum is overkill for most shooting tasks, the massive amounts of energy it can deliver on target certainly have utility.

If the job at hand calls for it, a .44 Magnum revolver in the right configuration and loaded with proper ammo can be an extremely effective tool. The most typical barrel lengths are 4- and 6-inch models, though shorter and longer barrels are available as well.

The classic .44 Magnum loading is a 240-grain bullet (wadcutter or jacketed soft point) that travels somewhere between 1,200 to 1,500 fps and with something between 1,100 and 1,200 foot-pounds of energy.

Projectile weights range from as light as 180 grains all the way up to 340-grain hard cast dangerous game loads. 

+P and +P+ loads can push velocity even further, such as Buffalo Bore's .44 Magnum +P+ Dangerous Game load, which pushes a 340-grain hard cast bullet to 1,425 fps (and 1,533 foot-pounds of energy) from a 7.5-inch barrel Ruger Redhawk. 

Three Colt Anacondas of varying barrel lengths. Photo: Wikipedia.

Generally speaking, you could expect the muzzle velocity from a 4-inch barrel .44 Magnum revolver to be about 100 to 200 fps slower compared to a 6-inch model. 

While power is the primary reason people are interested in .44 Magnum, its good accuracy is another potential benefit, thanks to its relatively flat trajectory.

According to ShootersCalculator.com‘s Point Blank Range Calculator, a 240-grain bullet travelling at 1,200 fps coming out of a gun with 0.08-inch tall sights would be 0.77 inches high at 100 yards, giving a maximum point blank range of 125 yards when aiming at an 8-inch target. 

Source: ShootersCalculator.com.

This gives .44 Magnum longer legs than most other handgun cartridges.

The obvious conclusion here is that the more velocity and or range you want your .44 Magnum revolver to have, the longer the barrel should be.

Features To Look For In A .44 Magnum Revolver

Like with all gun selection, the first thing to consider is the weapon’s intended purpose. For general use or as a backup gun in bear country, a 4-inch or even 3-inch barrel is preferable due to the reduced bulk and weight. For hunting, a 6-inch or longer model will be worth the added heft for the extra velocity provided.

Sights

Almost all .44 Magnum revolvers wear Patridge-style sights, and while they are very usable, a scope or red dot will be better on a hunting pistol. If that's a priority for you, look for a gun that's tapped or comes with a top strap/barrel shroud rail. 

A new-production Colt Anaconda with optional Picatinny rail being installed.

Grips

Some find the grips of large-frame revolvers to be too big, so you may also want to consider opting for a gun that has easily-sourced aftermarket grips. Many big-bore handgun shooters agree that Bisley-style grips are the best for handling recoil of this level, so also think about getting a model that includes them from the factory.

Ammunition

Also consider what and how you'll be feeding it, as this cartridge can be very expensive. Reloading is a good cost-saving option, and can also allow you to make loads to your exact specifications. Most reloading manuals even have a section titled “Ruger and Freedom Arms Handloads,” as revolvers from these manufacturers are recommended for shooting Bubba’s White Hot Handloads due to their stronger construction.

Double-Action Vs Single-Action

The final feature that warrants discussion is the action, as with most wheelguns, .44 Magnum revolvers are available with both double-action and single-action triggers. The speed at which DA/SA guns can be brought into action makes them preferable for defensive use, but for most other applications a single-action-only will be just fine.

Best .44 Magnum Revolvers

Ruger Redhawk

The Ruger Redhawk is the company’s large-frame double-action revolver. It comes with a stainless finish, and wood or rubber grips depending on the model. Patridge-style sights are standard, with a red ramp insert on the front sight. 

Options include either a 5.5- or 7.5-inch barrel with wood grips or a 4.2-inch barrel with a Hogue grip sleeve. The Redhawk is built like a tank and makes for a fine working gun that should last a lifetime. If you plan on shooting a ludicrous amount of full-power .44 Magnum through your gun, Ruger also offers the Super Redhawk line which features beefier frames and an integral mount for scope rings if you’d prefer an optic.

MSRP: $1,339 // ruger.com

Colt Anaconda

Colt recently revived the Anaconda, the big-bore cousin of the Python, and the qualities that made the original highly collectible after its relatively short production run make the modern version an attractive buy. 

The frame has been augmented compared to the original, with a redesigned firing mechanism for greater durability and an amazing trigger pull for a factory revolver. It has an adjustable rear sight and pinned front ramp sight. Hogue rubber grips come standard. 

The modern Anaconda comes tapped for scope mount as well and can be had with either a 6- or 8-inch barrel.

MSRP: $1,499 // colt.com

Korth NXR .44 Magnum

Korth of Germany makes some of the finest revolvers available, hand-fitted and tuned to perfection. They're sold in the US through Nighthawk, and the 6-inch model in the NXR series has all the bells and whistles one could want. 

Target sights are standard, with removable front sight wings, along with a DLC finish and Turkish walnut grips. The top of the frame and barrel is railed for mounting an optic, as is the barrel underlug for a light, a laser or the included barrel weight. 

Despite looking like a gun from science fiction, it's extremely functional and one of the finest revolvers that money can buy. The MSRP is staggering, but like a Nighthawk 1911, you're paying for the exquisite craftsmanship.

MSRP: $5,299 // nighthawkcustom.com

Ruger Super Blackhawk

When .44 Magnum was first introduced, the Ruger Blackhawk was much more widely available than Smith & Wesson’s Model 29, assisting with its initial popularity. Its reputation for quality persisted and even today it’s still a great choice for the handgun hunter. The Hunter and Bisley Hunter models (with Bisley frame and grips) have notches for mounting a scope, and rings are included as well. All models have Patridge-style iron sights. 

The Super Blackhawk is just a Colt SAA on steroids, with a thickened top strap and cylinder to handle the high pressure. This is the gun that was used to develop “Ruger handloads”.

The Super Blackhawk is only offered in .44 Magnum, and barrel lengths from 3.75 inches to 10.5 inches are available, as are blued and stainless finishes. The Hunter models have 7.5-inch barrels and stainless finishes only. 

MSRP: $1,019 // ruger.com

Taurus 44

The Taurus 44 is a working man's magnum, but it has some niceties added too. The Taurus 44 is the company’s most basic large-frame revolver, only offered with a stainless finish and rubber over-molded grips. 

You get an adjustable rear sight, a pinned (and therefore swappable) front sight blade and even a ported barrel.

The Taurus 44 is available with either a 4-, 6.5- or 8.37-inch barrel. If you wanted to add a top rail for mounting an optic, look at their Raging Hunter line too. 

MSRP: $727 // taurususa.com

Smith & Wesson Model 29

Practical, stylish, classic and desirable. The Model 29 is still the standard by which the rest are judged. Despite being so handsome, this is also a very functional handgun that can excel in nearly any role a .44 Magnum revolver may be useful in.

Blued steel and walnut grips complement its classic styling, and an adjustable rear sight, red ramp front sight and excellent factory DA/SA trigger make it very nice to shoot as well. It’s available with either a 4-inch or 6-inch barrel.

MSRP: $1,071 // smith-wesson.com


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