The .44 Special was introduced by Smith & Wesson in 1907. I am not that old, but my involvement with the .44 Special goes back over half a century. Back then, an older cousin seemed to have a knack of floating into and out of the possession of a rather wide range of firearms. Sometime in the early 1950s, he came into possession of a Smith & Wesson Model 24, which as I recall had fixed sights. This model with fixed sights was known as the Model 1950 Military whereas the version with adjustable sights was called the 1950 Target Model. The Model 24 was built on the N-frame that eventually was used with the Model 27 and 28 .357 Magnums and the Model 29 .44 Magnum. Along the way, the N-frame was also used with the .41 Magnum and the Model 610 chambered for the 10mm auto.
THE VENERABLE MODEL 24
Sometimes when I was visiting my cousin, we went out to a gravel pit to enjoy some casual shooting. I remember that on several occasions, his .44 Special went along. I was impressed enough with that big gun that even after three score years I can recall how easy it was to align the sights…and see the effect of the large bullet as it impacted—always, it seemed, right near the point of aim. I never managed to come upon a Model 24 at a time when I could seriously consider buying it, though.
Before (and after) the introduction of the .44 Magnum, shooters often loaded the .44 Special to outlandish levels thinking that it could be made to closely approximate a .44 Magnum. The usual pressure of .44 Special loads is around 14,000 psi whereas those for the .44 Magnum develop approximately three times that pressure.
In recent years, revolvers chambered for the .44 Special have been designed with defensive use in mind. Barrels are typically three or four inches in length with a frame of medium size. Some of these compact models are designed as 5-shooters and should be used only with light to moderate loads. Smith & Wesson has recently introduced the Model 24 as an item from the custom shop. It features a 6.5 inch barrel, target sights, and a target hammer and trigger.
The Model 24 went out of production many years ago, but in the 1980s, Smith & Wesson made a run of the Model 624, a stainless steel version of the 24 with adjustable sights. The specimen that I encountered also had a target hammer. I do not know whether someone had worked on the action or not, but it is awfully slick and the trigger action, both in single and double action, is superb. So, I filled a void that had existed for many years.
I do not have particularly large hands, so the factory Smith & Wesson wood grips always seemed too large. That was corrected by cutting off one-fourth inch from the grip panels and refinishing the bottom. Even that slight shortening of the grip made the gun seem more compact.
Because I also have guns chambered for the .44 Magnum, I have no need to try to overload the .44 Special. Frankly, such a practice is decidedly unsafe and should never be considered, much less attempted. In spite of having owned a .44 Special for a considerable number of years, I usually loaded batches of ammo using one or two loads and stuck with them. However, that belies the versatility of this fine gun and cartridge so I undertook a more serious look at .44 Special loads.
The results of that study will be described in an upcoming post, stay tuned!
Story & Photos by James E. House