44 magnum self defense

Is .44 Magnum Good For Self-Defense?

Bigger and MOAR POWERFUL is a good thing (right?) so is .44 Magnum for self-defense a good idea? After all, if 9mm and .45 ACP don't really have stopping power, the big ol' Maggie has to have it right?


The whole picture is something closer to this: it will definitely work, but there are some good reasons why it's preferred for woods carry more than anything else.

Dirty Harry Had A .44 Magnum...Or DID He?!

44 magnum

Anytime someone brings up the .44 Magnum outside the handgun hunting realm and inevitably the topic of "Dirty Harry" comes up.

They're part of American culture, and sure helped Smith and Wesson sell a whole lot of Model 29 pistols. At the time of the first film, they could barely give them away; sales had plummeted to the point that it was special order only since gun stores couldn't find anyone interested enough to buy one.

There are known examples of police that carried .44 Magnums in the line of duty, and .44-caliber pistols were actually pretty common until the .357 Magnum basically took over the law enforcement market. In the late 19th Century, .44-40 was something of a default pistol round and in the early 20th century, the .44 Special was gun you got if you wanted a little more "oomph" than .38 Special, with the S&W Hand Ejector N-frame and Colt New Service revolvers being particular popular.

The funny part is that in the second film, "Magnum Force," it's revealed that the main character actually carries a light .44 Special as it provides more "better control and less recoil than a .357 Magnum with wadcutters."

Granted, that's just a movie but the thing is that .38 Special and .357 Magnum were the standards for the longest time. Why? The same reason why 9mm is the default personal protection round today.

The Typical .44 Magnum Revolver Is Enormous

magnum revolver

The .44 Magnum revolver didn't become the default police or personal protection gun because the guns made in .357 Magnum and .38 Special (that DID become default police and personal protection guns) were easier to tote and easier to shoot.

In the 1930s, S&W released its first magnum revolver, the Registered Magnum, followed by the Highway Patrolman, a plainer and less costly version for law enforcement; today, it's known as the Model 27, one of S&W's N-Frame revolvers just like the Model 29 and other .44 Magnum pistols, which require a large frame. Police departments soon learned it was bulkier, heavier and a little more unwieldy than the Model 10 and Police Positive .38 Specials. Some opted for the bigger gun for power, others stayed with the smaller guns to make life easier.

In the 1950s, S&W and Colt both started to wise up and created medium-frame .357 Magnum revolvers. S&W created the Model 19, Colt created the Trooper and Python revolvers. These became more popular with law enforcement. Since they were easier to carry and use - and also cheaper, except for the Python - than the Registered Magnum, fewer departments issued and fewer policemen purchased the bigger gun for their sidearm.

In short, the typical .44 Magnum is a large gun. It isn't the most pleasant to carry every day and the large grips aren't favored by all shooters, at least for most people.

Is this to say you couldn't carry one every day? You definitely could; Elmer Keith's packin' gun was a 4-inch Model 29, and he wore it almost every single day for decades. As mentioned, a good number of police carried a Registered Magnum and Hand Ejector in .44 Special before that. But a lot of people didn't when given the choice.

Additionally, a lot of shooters found .357 Magnum and .38 Special more controllable. This is why .44 Magnum pistols didn't sell very well (at all) for a very long time, and also why the .41 Magnum - while definitely easier than .44 - didn't fare well commercially, along with also requiring a large-frame pistol.

In essence, a good defensive pistol has to be controllable by the user, both in terms of handling and under recoil. While a person can certainly become proficient with a .44 Magnum or other large magnum revolver, the reality is medium pistols with moderate loadings are preferred by most shooters because they're easier to manage and to carry on a daily basis.

Is There An Advantage To .44 Magnum For Self Defense?

44 magnum

So, there are reasons why .44 Magnum for self-defense is not as good as a smaller caliber. The pistols are worse to carry - most are almost useless for concealment - and the round is not as easy to shoot, generating far more recoil (up to twice that of a .357 Magnum depending on gun weight and loading) than traditional self-defense chamberings.

Is there something you get for that? A home-defense shotgun is far more effective than a handgun, after all, which is (arguably) worth the trade-offs of recoil, less maneuverability and so on.

Not really, no. What few studies are out there (such as this one by Greg Ellifritz) indicate that when used in this capacity, .44 Magnum doesn't really achieve significantly better overall results in a defensive capacity than 9mm, .357 Magnum or .45 ACP. Maybe it gets a few more one-shot stops, but the failure to stop rate is about the same, accuracy is about the same, fatality rate is about the same...you just don't get that much more from it.

This isn't new or controversial information, but placement remains king. If you can hit with it, it's a good self-defense round. If that's .45 ACP, great. If that's 10mm, great! If it's 9mm, great! It also isn't that .44 Magnum isn't a good round; it's actually one of the greats when used for handgun hunting, protection in the outdoors, and can definitely work in a self-defense capacity. However, a .44 Magnum will not make the best carry gun for most people.

Sam Hoober  

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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