The .44 Magnum: A Love Story

Here's why I'm still dancin' with the one that brung me.

posted on May 23, 2024
Elmer Keith Saa
Elmer Keith's Colt Single Action Army wound up fetching $12,000 at auction in 2015.

Like a lot of you, I grew up reading the works of Elmer Keith. That old cowboy was pretty savvy about all kinds of guns and their uses. But his crowning glory, in my opinion, was to lead the push for the .44 Magnum handgun cartridge. And one of his great joys in life was the big N-frame Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum revolver that we know as the Model 29. By gollies, if it was good enough for Mr. Keith, I just had to have one!

Mostly, what that S&W .44 Magnum taught me was that I was not, and never going to be, Elmer Keith Junior. The recoil hammered my hand badly enough that every practice session resulted in my flinch getting worse. I also found that I could not manage the recoil sufficiently to produce fast, double-action shots. (Love stories don’t always start out happily.)

Almost as an afterthought, I decided to try the big Ruger Blackhawk. The gun that I found was a first-production Super Blackhawk with a large grip frame that incorporated the square-back trigger guard. This worked much better, but I wasn’t real crazy about the large grip frame or that square-back trigger guard. Determined not to give up, I discovered that the grip frame from Ruger’s cap’n’ball Old Army would fit on the Super. That change was made along with a nice set of maple stocks from Ted Adamovich at Blu Magnum.

Now we were really getting somewhere. Riding in a custom crossdraw holster from Thad Rybka, this old sixgun became my constant hunting companion. It was a good one and, together, we took a lot of game. It now belongs to my friend Shane Jahn.

You see, that old gun found a new home, because some years ago I was able to obtain an orgininal 6½” Flat Top .44 from gun wizard John Gallagher. I would have liked to have had one with a 7½” barrel like Skeeter Skelton used, but the shorter gun did just fine on game, and I was content.

Like Skeeter, I quickly figured out that, for me, the .44 Special was a better choice for law enforcement work, while the .44 Magnum was the ideal for handgun hunting. One of the values of the .44 Magnum caliber is that, when fired through quality guns, it is extremely accurate. And another benefit is that the caliber became so popular that there are all sorts of bullet designs and bullet weights to choose from.

I get along pretty well with either a 240-gr. JHP load or a 250-gr. SWC hardcast bullet. These choices have accounted for whitetail deer, mule deer, javelinas, wild turkey, feral hogs – tons of feral hogs – coyotes and one black bear. If it matters, I try to stalk within 50 yards for a game shot, although I’ve made a few shots that were a bit longer.

Now, I know that there are now a number of handgun cartridges that are more powerful than the .44 Magnum. And they are good, accurate cartridges, too. But me and this old Flat Top are still perking right along and I imagine that will be the way it is until the last hunt.

Down here along the Rio Grande we have a saying, “Dance with who brung ya!” I believe I’ll just stay faithful to that old Ruger sixgun and the .44 Magnum cartridge.




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