Friday, February 09, 2024

Less-Than-Special Sauce

The .44 Special cartridge debuted with the large frame Hand Ejector revolvers at the start of the previous century.

It was a hot-rodded version of the existing .44 Russian cartridge, and used a longer cartridge case so to avoid being chambered in the old top-break No.3 Smiths, in much the same way that .32 S&W Long had been stretched so as not to be used in older .32 top-breaks.

The natural home for the new round was a big N-frame with a 6.5" barrel, like the one at the top in the photo above. In those hoglegs, it lobbed a fairly heavy 246gr lead round-nosed projectile at velocities on the north side of 750 feet per second.

With the coming of the .44 Magnum, though, the old Special largely fell out of favor and is now mostly found in one of two settings. The first is cowboy action shooters who just gotta be different from the .45 Colt majority and are perfectly happy shooting 246gr LRN bullets in their single action sixguns.

The other setting is big-bore snubbies on medium frames, a fad that started with the Charter Arms Bulldog, but has since been riffed on by Rossi, Taurus, and Smith & Wesson.

Shooting heavy, unjacketed projectiles in these smaller pieces tends to turn them into kinetic bullet pullers, especially the lightweight models. In fact, the aluminum-framed and titanium-cylindered Smith & Wesson Model 296Ti, bottom center in the above photo, goes so far as to mark "MAX. BULLET 200 GRAIN" right there on the side of the barrel.

There are a few 200gr loads I'd carry without much in the way of worry: Speer's 200gr Gold Dot would be my first choice, but I wouldn't lose sleep if all I had was 200gr Federal LSWC-HP or 200gr Winchester Silvertips.

I dunno about the Hornady Critical Defense, though. It uses a 165gr version of their FTX Flex-Tip hollow point, and clocks over 900fps out of my Model 296. Thing is, Hornady's own ad copy says it'll only penetrate ten inches of ordnance gel after defeating 4LD. And against bare gel? Well, it expands beautifully but bleeds off a lot of penetration in the process, barely making it eight inches into the gel block. That's pretty underwhelming performance for a big-bore revolver cartridge.

Remember, bullet placement is three dimensional!