In the world of handgun projectiles there are cartridges that people love and that people hate. “X is too big for every day use, Y is too small and doesn’t have enough knock down power, Z is just not ‘used’ any more.”
Of course, much of the debate centers on the type of handgun being used, Revolver or Semiautomatic, and for what purpose it is being used, plinking, home defense, concealed carry, etc.
As I continue to learn about the wonderful world of firearms questions come to mind that I simply must research and work out. For this post I want to focus on a cartridge that has caught my attention and caused me some anxiety. The .44 Smith & Wesson Special.
Introduced to the American market in 1908 the .44 Special actually started much earlier as the .44 Russian in 1870. As the .45 Long Colt was introduced in 1872, this makes the .44 Special actually older. In 1908 the most popular handgun cartridges were probably:
.32 S&W Long (.32 Colt New Police)
.38 Long Colt
.38 S&W (.38 Colt New Police/ Super Police)
.38 S&W Special
So what happened in 1908? Smith & Wesson began producing a large (N) frame version of their already popular medium (K) framed M&P, which began production in 1899. As John Taffin puts it in his excellent article The .44 Special, cartridge of the century? Accurate, powerful and reliable, the .44 Special really is special, The dawning of the new century found the United States in a remarkable position. We had flexed our muscles, were now regarded as a powerful force in the world, Theodore Roosevelt was soon catapulted into the presidency, and a new age had arrived. To commemorate the new spirit, Smith & Wesson introduced the New Century revolver.
He continues, Smith & Wesson had modernized the double action revolver with their mid-framed Military & Police .38 Special in 1899, and now they expanded the M&P to a large framed revolver chambered in .44. This magnificent sixgun also featured an enclosed ejector rod housing and the cylinder locked in three places, at the rear, at the front of the ejector rod, and with a beautifully machined third locking feature at the front of the cylinder on the frame.
“So where does the new cartridge come into play,” you might ask? Hold on, we’re getting to it. Smith & Wesson could easily have chambered their new creation for the .44 Russian, however, they instead lengthened the case to 1.16″… from the Russian 0.97”… and introduced a new cartridge, the .44 Special. The article goes on to explain how the .44 Special became the parent case for the .44 Magnum and all of its high-powered goodness, as well as some other really neat things. But that is not the focus of this piece.
With the advent of the “Magnum Era” in the 1950’s and 1960’s the .44 Special, and .38 Special for that matter, seem to have fallen out of favor with the mainstream. And with the overpowering market appeal of Semiautomatics, revolvers appear to many new shooters as obsolete, old fashioned, or just “un-cool.”
Is there still room in this high-powered, high-capacity world for a cartridge like the .44 Special? I believe that the answer is Yes. Smith & Wesson has returned the Model 21 and Model 24 to their catalogue. They still offer the Model 29 and 629 (chambered for .44 Magnum but still able to shoot the .44 Special). And Smith & Wesson recently introduced their Night Guard series, with Model 396 in .44 Special.
I currently own a Ruger Super Blackhawk, chambered in .44 Magnum, and have fired .44 Specials through it. The recoil is manageable but the Super Blackhawk is a large, heavy revolver with a 7 ½” barrel. All of Smith & Wesson’s revolvers that can fire a .44 Special are large (N) framed, with the exception of the Model 396, which is a heavy medium (L) frame. I’m sure that the recoil is different in a revolver that has only a 4” or 2” barrel, but I’m also sure that it is still manageable, giving you .45 ACP stop ability with revolver reliability.
I am not a firearm expert by any means, and I am still a novice shooter (in my opinion), but if you’re looking for a large caliber handgun cartridge that isn’t going to “tear your arm off,” the .44 Special is looking more and more like the way to go.