Hunting with the .44 magnum handgun
Pat Cascio 06.26.13
It took six shots to finally dispatch the badger, from a distance of only twenty five feet. On another occasion, it took four shots to take down a 250-pound black bear, from about twenty five yards away. Both times, I was using a .357 Magnum revolver. After the incident with the bear, I decided that a .44 Mag handgun is better suited for handgun hunting than a .357, and I’ve since reserved .357 Mag and .38 special loads for rabbit and small game.
In the badger’s case, the gun that shot him was a Colt Trooper Border Patrol revolver with a 4″ barrel, loaded with 125-gr JHP ammo — a well-known man stopper. I happened upon the badger while riding around my brother-in-law’s ranch on an ATV, and I saw it run off into some bushes. The 125-gr JHP .357 Mag round supposedly stops an attacker in his tracks 96% of the time, with one shot. Every shot hit the badger, and every shot should have put an end to his life — but it took six shots to do it.
For the bear, I used a S&W Model 686 with a 4″ barrel, loaded with Federal 180-gr cast SWC-style ammo. I had just pulled off the main road to one of my favorite hunting spots, when I spotted the bruin sitting on the side of the road, just twenty five yards away. I had my Winchester Model 70 .300 Win Mag rifle in a case in the back of my SUV, and I wasn’t able to get to it. So I stepped out of the car with my holstered S&W 686, and unlimbered on the black bear. It wasn’t until the 4th round that the bear took a tumble down the embankment into a creek, dead at last.
At that point, I knew that the .357 Mag wasn’t for me, and today I won’t even hunt deer at close range with a .357 Mag handgun. Not that deer are that hard to kill, but they are extremely difficult to put down. Even when they take a hit for a high-powered rifle round, deer have been known to run hundreds of yards or further, with a shot that was deadly to start with — they’re dead, but they just don’t realize it, so they continue to run, and you have to track them.
I don’t write for any of the hunting magazines, and I’m not a year ’round hunter for the most part, but I am someone who really enjoys hunting big game, especially black bear and deer. I probably spend half my time hunting with a handgun, and the other half with a high-powered rifle. I enjoy the challenge of getting up close to my game with a handgun, and none of my handguns have a scope on them — I use iron sights and limit my shots to seventy five yards or less, and whenever possible, fifty yards or less. To tell the truth, I’ve never taken any big game or deer beyond 150-yards, and most game has been taken at less than one hundred yards with a high-powered rifle. Sure, with the right rifle and load I have the ability to take game out to 500+ yards, but I’d rather stalk my game and get closer. That’s why they call it “hunting” instead of “shooting.”
Picking your .44 ammo
If you’re like me, and you’ve decided to do all your handgun hunting with a .44 magnum, then the first thing you should know is that not all .44 Magnum ammunition is the same. So should pick and choose your loads according to the game you are hunting, and don’t foolishly assume that all .44 Mag loads can be used against any and all game.
I have used two loads from Black Hills Ammunition for a lot of years: their 240-gr JHP load, which has a velocity of about 1,260 FPS and a muzzle energy of about 848 foot-pounds at the muzzle, and their 300-gr JHP load, which clocks in at 1,150 FPS with about 848 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. Either one of these rounds is adequate for medium to larger deer, if you keep your shots at 50-yards or less. Yes, some folks can cleanly take a deer at longer distances; my long-time friend and fellow gun writer, John Taffin, can reach out there and do it — but he has many more years on me as a handgun hunter, and he uses scoped handguns.
I would also consider using the Black Hills 300-gr JHP .44 Mag load on small/medium wild pigs, too. I believe it will mushroom and penetrate a little better than the 240-gr JHP .44 Mag load will — just my take on it.
Tim Sundles, who operates Buffalo Bore Ammunition, has a wide assortment of .44 Mag loads for just about any of your medium to big game hunting needs, and I’m only going to touch on a few of his loads in this article. One of the newest .44 Mag loads Buffalo Bore has is their “Deer Grenade.” This is a 240-gr soft-cast, hollow-point +P load, and it is advertised as a real game-changer when it comes to taking deer — hence the name “Deer Grenade.” This isn’t really a “soft” cast bullet; instead, it’s in between a soft and a hard cast bullet. It will get the job done on deer, no doubt about it.
Next up, we have the 300-gr JFN (Jacketed Flat Nose) round with a velocity of 1,300-FPS and a muzzle energy of 1,126 foot pounds. It will penetrate very deeply when fired from a handgun, through about three feet of muscle and bone. When shot through a rifle, it doesn’t penetrate as much, as the velocity is higher and the bullet will expand more and penetrate less. This load is for use only in steel-framed handguns — no alloy or Titanium handguns — as the bullet might jump the case and tie up your gun.
Buffalo Bore also has a 305-gr LBT Lead Flat Nose round that’s hard cast with a gas check, and it moves at about 1,325 FPS with a muzzle energy of 1,189 foot pounds. This load will also penetrate about 3-feet through muscle and bone when fired through a handgun. And it’s rated at +P velocities and energy.