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44 Special

44_spl

Introduced in 1907, the 44 S&W Special uses a longer version of the case used for the 44 Russian, loaded with the same bullet, but likely launched with a charge of bulk-smokeless propellant. I use the word likely because I am only guessing. But, I can find no other reasonable explanation for why the 44 Special retained the ballistics of the 44 Russian, despite the significant increase in case capacity.

Had the goal been to improve performance, the 44 Special would have been loaded to at least the same pressure as the Russian and it would have given significantly higher velocity. As it was, it was loaded to significantly less pressure to match Russian ballistics, which made sense only if there was another motivation for using the larger case.


One possible explanation is the above-noted use of bulk-smokeless. These propellants were common in that era and were designed, primarily to allow Shotgunners to use dram-for-dram substitution for blackpowder to achieve equivalent results. In small revolver cartridges, most likely the bulk substitutes did not quite match blackpowder results.

However, this theory is problematic because Hercules Lightning, now known as Unique was introduced in 1898 and it was no secret that it worked perfectly in any blackpowder revolver cartridge to achieve blackpowder ballistics with a far lighter charge while generating less pressure. So, unless there was some other reason to prefer the use of bulk-smokeless, my theory seems to fall flat.

The 44 Special was the progenitor of the 44 Magnum (see that discussion). It is still a fine revolver cartridge. When loaded to reasonable pressure with modern components it is a capable hunting round and a superior self-defense round.

As with any revolver round, best practice is to apply a roll-crimp after seating the bullet. A roll-crimp eases loading of rounds into the cylinder and can help limit bullet pull under recoil if only modestly. I cannot too-strongly recommend getting a second seating-and-crimping die so you can have one adjusted to seat the bullet and the second adjusted to only crimp the case mouth. Generally, attempting to do both operations in one step is a recipe for damaged and destroyed cases.


The text associated with the cartridge description reflects opinions and conclusions of the author, M.L. (Mic) McPherson. Lee Precision and its employees do not necessarily either agree or disagree with any of his comments. We present these with due deference to his recognized expertise in the firearms field. His acumen extends to handloading and all aspects of ballistics - internal, external, and terminal.
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