Paco and the 44mag

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mickbr
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Paco and the 44mag

Post by mickbr »

Random musings, I always wished Paco would have articled some hotrod loads for 44mag in a Rossi92 like he did in the 357, 45 colt and 454 casull. Not that I need more power but would just be interesting to see how the cartridge did with similar upper pressure limit applications. :)
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JimT
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

Post by JimT »

mickbr wrote: Sun Feb 18, 2024 5:00 am Random musings, I always wished Paco would have articled some hotrod loads for 44mag in a Rossi92 like he did in the 357, 45 colt and 454 casull. Not that I need more power but would just be interesting to see how the cartridge did with similar upper pressure limit applications. :)

KING OF THE HILL.... 44 MEGA-MAGNUM
by Paco Kelly (from the old Sixgunner.Com website)

Like Texas, it’s not the biggest anymore....but in many minds, it is still the best of the best. The 44 magnum. It started a handgun hunting revolution in this country as well as opening the door for large caliber mega mags. But in truth for most of the game in the world, a heavy loaded 44 magnum will do the job and do it well. Certainly the likes of JD Jones, Larry Kelly, Lynn Thompson others like them proved that. Kelly for example in the 1970s and early 1980s killed everything Africa had to offer with the big 44. Jones and Thompson also used the 44 magnum extensively on big game all over the world...that’s all they needed at the time....that’s all, except for a great deal of money.

Cast bullets will usually give less resistance in the barrel and consequently give higher velocities and more striking power, with the same powder/pressure charges as jacketed bullets. The standard cast bullet in the 44s has been the 250 grain Keith design. This design was brought out in 1928/29 by Keith originally cut by Lyman.

And after 70 plus years...it’s still hard to beat.

It was used extensively in reloads for the 44 Special over those years prior to the 44 magnum, and still is, and now it’s used extensively in the magnum itself. My standard load in the 44 special in new and strong SAs is 18.5 grains of Herc 2400 under the Keith cast bullet for 1150 fps or so. Keith recommended 18.5 grains in the old balloon headed cases for the 44 Special and when the solid headed cases came out, he recommended we cut back one grain.

But I’m not sure how many of us really bothered to cut back, I know I stayed with the old load. The reason the commercial ammo makers cut the 250 grain bullet to 240 grains in the 44 magnum was simple. Remington had to have a bullet that when mated with the longer magnum case would still fit the S&W cylinder...so they cut the nose back in length, not to shove a longer bullet deeper into the case and cut precious powder space. Years ago I fired a bunch of second run Remington 44 magnum ammo over the screens. My notes show 1525 fps average velocity, out of a Ruger 7 and ½ inch Super Blackhawk. The advertising in the early days of that ammo was 1570 fps, if I remember...none of the rounds I tested came near that. They were from 1957 manufacture..though they were 50 fps slower or so, they still were close.

When I was a Federal Agent (DEA) I carried a 44 magnum, and my agency like most law enforcement agencies, would not allow reloads. So they insisted that I carry the all lead 240 grain SWC load rated at 1250 to 1300 fps. It clocked at around 1150 fps out of my 3 and ½ inch model 29 custom S&W, it was terribly inaccurate. NO reloads. (yeah right!) My everyday carry load was a 250 grain, cast 1 in 12, Keith SWC at 1300 plus fps, and a half ton of muzzle energy. The load was 23/Herc 2400 and 36,000 psi. The S&W was Mag-Na-Ported, and the 2400 powder would really put up a display at night out of the ports and short barrel.

In 1978 a Deputy Sheriff and I one night, were chasing a couple of standard issue type dirtbags.... and they ran into an alley in Tucson Az. I had an unfortunate meeting with a 2 by 4 in an alley once before...so I had an real aversion chasing antisocial types into dark ones. So instead, I fired a warning shot down the alley hitting a large dumpster I knew was at the end of it, against a brick wall....weelll about 20 inches of flame and noise came out of the muzzle and over a foot out of each port...it was like the electric company lighting up the night....

Our antisocial types immediately shouted not to fire the shotgun anymore they gave up...my partner was crouched down looking behind him, thinking someone had fired a shotgun over his head....and a nice time was had by all. By the way, I have never been night blinded by gunfire flashes....neither in the war or on the street. Maybe I'm different...I have had a number of occasions to fire at night with no problems in that area. I even ran night time qualifications for my guys..we never had a problem. Of course I read a lot of others, that say it is a problem...I always wonder if they ever had to shoot at something at night.

For decades I have used 2400 powder, by Hercules...it has been fairly consistent in it's burning speed over those years. Now a question was posed to me from a reader about 2400 from Alliant, (who owns Hercules powders now), speeding up the burning rate of this powder. Keith's famous load of 22/2400 (Herc) 250 Keith cast bullet at 1400 fps from a six inch barrel at 30,000+ psi, has been a main stay since the 1950s. I loaded 22 grains of Alliant 2400 under the 250 Keith and out of a 6 plus inch barrel it gave me 1522 fps, so it has to be generating more pressure. I can't find in my reloading notes going back many, many years...where I chronographed the old 22/2400 (Herc) load. So I'm not sure..but I do know that I am getting higher velocities with Alliant in my standard 357 mag loads then I got with the Herc 2400. That means more pressure, if the indications are correct. And that means we as reloaders must be extremely careful in using old reloading data with that ‘new’ Alliant 2400 powder.

In the July 1975 issue of Guns and Ammo, Keith wrote about the pressure testing he had done on the 44 magnum loads. He states his 22/2400/250 Keith cast was giving around 1400 fps and 34,000 psi with a 3000 psi variable...where as the factory 240 grain loads were giving 11,500 psi MORE pressure. Tests were done by White’s Laboratories. The factories cut back on their loads after these tests were published the first time in the 1960s.

I use 2400 for a majority of my shooting...in magnum handguns....also for some loads in my 45-70s and 444s, I will have to retest them all. Ball powders like H110 and WW296, which by the way are ostensibly the same and both made by WW. I find are hard on revolver throats especially when you use jacketed bullets with continuous use. I only use them sparingly and when I need them for hunting.

As much as I propagate the use of heavy loads in hunting...I still advocate the right bullet and velocity for the game hunted. With Elk and above surely the 300 and 320 grain cast bullets from good mold makers like LBT, Lyman, NEI and SSK for hunting will do the trick. Penetration is needed, breaking bones and ripping thru deep flesh, lungs and other internal organs. I want 30 to 40 inches of penetration (minimum) on very large game. A 300 grain cast bullet loaded to 1500 fps will do that with ease. And 22.5/H110 at 39,000 psi will do it. And we are in the Mega-Mag loadings...but my Super Blackhawk digests this load without a hitch.....yes it does recoil a mite. But I push the same bullet out of the New Winchester Fatside Model ‘94 leveraction/444 rifle, at 2350 fps/3670 ft.lbs using ReLoader #7 powder. It also lets you know you have just released Thor’s Hammer.

Not that if one day, I was woods roaming, and carrying my 44 Special loaded to 1100+ fps with a 250 grain Keith bullet, and an Elk popped up and gave me a good chest or broad side shot at 100 yards or so...that I wouldn't take it (18.5/Herc 2400). I would, and knowing this load would do the trick. But if the same Elk gave me a rear end going away shot and all I had was this load...I'd just wave goodby/have a nice day Elk. With the same bullet or heavier at 1500/1600 fps there would be Elk in the freezer. 24.5/H110 and the 250 Keith cast hard (water cast) at 1600 fps and only 36,000 psi...even my old flat top Ruger 44 magnum handles it well. With 1420 foot pounds of muzzle energy, there are few thin skin animals that can take it. The only rub here is that some of the American thin skin animals are huge and dangerous....

I really want to use the 300/320 grainers for very deep penetration and deep destruction on them. A brown bear in my book for example, is the most dangerous of all animals on earth. I’ve hunted elephant...I spent a week recuperating from just being bumped by a Cape Buff...killed lion and Crocks...and the Brownie still wins first place in my book. I’ve never had a chance to harvest one....at the costs today, I probably never will. But I’ve studied him...did you know that the big bears that they put in the arenas in ancient Roman times always killed the lions...and there are a special breed of lions that will hunt Cape Buff for food. The triangular indication on those facts, is the big bears are on top of the killing/power chain. The Brown Bear is the king of danger. If I hunted him with a handgun...it would be big cast bullets....a 454 or 475 with 360 grain to 400 grain bullets.

But for everything below him, grizzles to moose the 44 magnum with 300 to 320 grain bullets will do the trick, and nicely. Deer, normal sized black bear (200/250 lbs), these go down well to the warm 44 Special loads. But if the range is going to be long then the velocity has to be much higher.

When you hit medium small game with Mega-Mag loads strange things can happen. When your handgun is giving you 1500 ft.lbs. or so of muzzle energy, you are carrying lightning and thunder bolts. Hitting a Coyote straight in the chest at 40 plus yards one day, with a 250 Keith at 1700 fps and 1600 lbs of muzzle energy actually flipped him backwards when he was running towards me. It rolled him, butt over tea kettle. I hit an Antelope broad side in the shoulder joints with the same load, and it spun him around in a circle. He stopped, looked surprised, and then fell over dead. I hit a small deer in the chest, directly in...she was standing still when I hit her. Her head dropped, her legs stiffened she went down slowly as her legs spread outwards, until her body was about twelve inches from the ground..chin touching the dirt. And stayed that way till we rolled her over. The cast bullet went in directly center chest and exited her rear end.

I have shot 2000+ lb feral cattle with Mega Mags...including the 44 mag. In the 1970s I took a Super Blackhawk and opened the chambers to take a cut down 444 cases that were 3/16ths longer then the 44 mag case. Using 26 grains of 2400 (the old Herc brand) and the 250 grain Keith I shot a feral bull in the shoulder knuckle...he weighed in at 2200 lbs. The shoulder knuckle we cut out and weighed...it was 20 plus pounds. That bullet wrecked the shoulder went thru the bull and exited his ribs on the far side with a fifty cent sized hole.

We are not talking some old male cow here. These guys are the remnants of the turn of the century and earlier Tex/Mex feral cattle. Cowboys then used to gather them in giant round ups. They are tough, their bones and the fat in their meat...(which is very little), is light yellow in color from the manzeta they eat. They are born in the wild...raised in the wild...and they are aggressive...they don’t like people. The ranchers in the 1970s and prior didn’t like them...because they were raising Brama and Black Angus prime beef and didn’t want that gene pool mixed in. So it was open season on the feral cattle.....that was up until the dog food companies moved in and started buying them up cheap...can’t blame the ranchers it brought in a decent income for as long as it lasted. We were out of the bullet testing business on cattle, by 1979. And running into one today is unusual.

I was gathering up cattle for a rancher in the mid 70s, we did it the old way on horse back...I had a little quarter horse...(that means he’s a full sized horse but bred to be fast inside 1/4 mile) the horse weighed about 1000 lbs. And I had a Ruger Super Bhawk that I had cut the barrel back to 5 plus inches. It was loaded with five rounds of heavy loaded 250 grain Keith’s (23/Herc 2400 I think). When out of nowhere a feral cow hit my horse in the right back flank, ripping a two inch deep by fourteen inch long gouge forward....I found myself sans my transportation. Some where in my fast trip from the saddle to the ground I pulled that Ruger, and started working on that bitch cow. My last and fifth shot was so close, because she came for me, when I hit the ground, it burned the hair on her forehead.

We cleaned and stitched up the horse, leaving a few ugly bumps, but no other problems and in a few weeks she was as good as new. I took a week or so to heal the bruises and bumps I had also. It was the first time a 44 magnum saved me. The second time was during the 1980s, in a sting drug operation that went terribly sour, and my little custom S&W, mod.29, brought it to a quick and final end.

The strongest two handguns in 44 magnum...outside of the Automag series...are the Ruger Redhawk series and the Freedom Arms five shooters. The FA single action is rated at way over 55,000 psi in the 454 so you can imagine what the thicker steeled 44 mag will take. Loading the 250 grain bullets to well over 2000 to 2100 fps and nearly 2500 lbs of muzzle energy really does turn the 44 mag into a Mega-Mag and rifle energy. Loading the same handgun to 1800 fps with the 320 grain bullet and 2300 lbs of muzzle thump will give you a load and bullet that will shoot long ways thru a moose. Or knock the stuffing out of a Brown bear. The bullet and shot placement, again are the keys here. And that takes practice.

Rugers are stronger than most realize, they are over engineered, of excellent steels, and the bolt cuts are not over the chambers like most 6 shot revolvers...they are off set. Giving the Rugers a good deal more cylinder integrity. Yet I know personally of a Super Blackhawk cylinder that was badly cracked because of a 300 grain bullet and too much Herc 2400 powder! Please...Please don’t believe these turkeys that write that you can’t get into trouble with too much 2400....H110...or 296 in a gun the size and strength of the Super Blackhawk.

The Redhawk is a stronger still, Ruger handgun in 44 magnum...but I keep mine at 50,000 psi or less. There is diminishing returns to everything....if I am pushing a 250 gr Keith hard cast bullet at 2000 to 2100 fps and twenty-five hundred pounds of muzzle energy...why in the world do I need 2300 or 2400 fps and jump the pressure 10,000 psi more? Like I said about that 2200 lb bull I killed...that 250 grainer went right thru everything he had. Besides it’s not fun practicing with these loads....and flinches do start with sharp heavy recoil, and practice is critical if you are going to shoot big game, (or any other game).

As I have said before..."PACO’S RULE" is one shot for every yard of distance you might take game at, with the load and gun you are going to use. Minimum! And at unknown ranges out to the furthest range. If it’s dangerous game..twice that. So if fifty yards is your max range...fifty rounds need to be shot...100 rounds practice for dangerous game...150 yards...150 rounds, or three hundred if dangerous game is on the agenda. By the way moose can be dangerous...anything that stands up to seven feet and 2000 pounds and can be aggressive...is dangerous.

My Redhawk took to the 250 grain cast bullet and 26 grains of the old 2400. I have no idea of what the Alliant level would be...I would have to start at around 22 grains and work slowly up. That goes for the Super Redhawk also. Personally I don’t like the style of the Super Rhawk. A scope on the barrel of the standard Redhawk looks and functions fine for me even with the heaviest of loads if I’m going to use a scope....today with older eyes and the possibilities of long shots I sometimes use scopes on handguns. But as I’ve stated they go against my ascetic sense...like bras on the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders....ruins the looks.

As good as the Mega Mags are for the really big game...95% of all the game we take in the U.S. can be had with normal 44 magnum loads. And a good 80% of that can be taken with warm 44 Special loads. They are easier on the handguns...on the hands..ears...but not on the game, my 44 Special warm load gives 700 ft.lbs that’s not bad. But when needed, the power potential is there in the 44 magnum to get the big jobs done...with the right loads and bullets and handguns. Both Texas and the 44 magnum will go on for a long time after we go hunting in the green, green hills of the Kingdom.
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GunnyMack
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

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As always Jim, great stories!
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

Post by Walt »

Thanks, Jim! Yep, it's a great story.
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

Post by mickbr »

wow Jim thanks! had not seen this one before
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

Post by wvfarrier »

Awesome read. Sounds like a life well lived
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

Post by AJMD429 »

.
Paco and you both are such excellent writers and have such great experiences to write about.
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

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Thank you, Sir
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Grizz
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

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my thanks too, it's good info and relevant to my experience, er, experiments . . .
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

Post by 2ndovc »

Great article, Jim! Thank you for posting that.

The .44 Magnum has been my favorite revolver cartridge for the last 25 years or so. My Bowen, SBH being my favorite and constant companion when out on the woods is often loaded with similar load of 2400 or 296. My GP wandering around and target load has been 10.5 gr of Unique and a 240 LSWC. I have about half a dozen .44 magnums around here, but that SBH gets the most use. I keep looking at the
4" Redhawk lately. Might just have to get one with the next bonus check. I have a Marlin 94P that I really like, but it has a strange issue. I don't what to hijack this thread, so I'll start a new one when I have a little time.

jb 8)
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

Post by kaschi »

Just the other day I was reading an article in a 1986 AR Magazine article written by Charles Askins on the 44 Magnum. He mentioned that Elmer Keith killed a mule deer at 600 yds with a single shot using one which should get everyone's attention. Later in that same article, Askins states: " No one has asked my candid opinion of the 44 Mag., but truthfully I think it was a mistake. It kicks too much to allow the shooter to ever develop even a reasonable amount of shooting skill. It recoils too violently as a self-defense proposition-the second and third shots must follow too slowly. In any shoot-out the opposition would pump you full of lead while you were fighting the revolver down out of recoil. The cops sneer at the gun for this very reason. It is a poor hunting arm because the ball has all the arching trajectory of an 81 mm mortar round. And as for smash and oomph, it is pretty generally limited to not more than 75 yds. For my money the 44 Mag. cartridge might better have been still-born."

Well said Colonel. I love the 44 Magnum round but mine's a Browning B92 lever carbine. Those extra inches of barrel make it a worthwhile cartridge IMO.
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

Post by Walt »

Well, Askins also said something like, "People who complain about the recoil of a .44 mag must wear lace-lined panties.".

It may not be an ideal gun or caliber for law enforcement but within a handgun's limitations it has few peers. It may be the upper limits of power that most people can accustom themselves to; only a relatively few can master the really big boomers like the .475 and 500 Linebaughs and the 460 and 500 Smiths. And, Elmer Keith actually shot at that mule deer multiple times, walking his shots in until he hit it with the second cylinder full.
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

Post by JimT »

Askins generally wrote to stir people up. His editors loved him hate mail is as good an indicator of readership as positive mail. It's true he wrote of the .44 Magnum as being generally useless .. no good for self defense ... too much recoil for a hunting arm for most people. At the end of one of those articles he told how he used a .44 Magnum to take care of a Viet Cong that had tried ambushing them. He said it worked quite well. :lol:
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

Post by Walt »

Yep, Askins had a pretty aggressive style; passivity and humility were not in his DNA. He once gave a talk in a crowded auditorium in Albuquerque and possibly drawing from his Border Patrol service said, "Well, Mexicans aren't real men", whereupon you coulda heard a pin drop for the next few seconds. Rather surprisingly he made it out of the building unscathed.
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

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An old friend was shot by his Ex at point blank in the chest with his 29, 180gr jhp. He survived with the only lasting effect was a breathing tube due to a botched treachotomy in the er. The doctors were amazed he survived.
Now this guy was a BIG man, probably 6'6" and pushing 280 or more. He worked on a Mack truck assembly line pushing engines around so ya know he was not a blob of fat and the doctors figured since he was so strong was the reason he survived. And yes his ex went to jail for attempted murder.
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Re: Paco and the 44mag

Post by Woodsloafer2 »

Enjoyed the article greatly...thank you!
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