Self-Defense .44 Mag. Carbines: Ruger, Winchester, and Marlin
Winchester’s Model 94 Trapper edged out the Marlin 1894 and Ruger’s semi-auto Deerfield. Even compared to dedicated defense carbines, we’d be comfortable with the Trapper.
When it comes to choosing a defensive weapon, there are as many choices as there are applications. But how about a firearm that is more powerful than a handgun, more controllable than a shotgun, and easier to handle than a full-sized rifle? Add economical to buy and feed as desirable characteristics, and you have our choices for this test.
We recently got three handy carbines, two lever actions and one autoloader, chambered for .44 Magnum. Why .44 Magnum? Because for most people, the .44 Magnum creates too much recoil in a handgun, but is not nearly as punishing when chambered in a shouldered weapon. Yet the .44 Magnum has plenty of self-defense potential, but less “shoot-through” problems that standard rifle cartridges might cause in a home or apartment protection situation. Our test guns included two short lever actions, the $591 Marlin 1894 and the $458 Winchester Model 94 Trapper. We also found a $702 semi-automatic by Ruger, the 99/44 Deerfield.
The lever-action models would function with .44 Special ammo, but the Deerfield would not cycle the shorter rounds, so we limited testing to magnum ammunition. Our choices were 180-grain JHP rounds from PMC, 270-grain GDSP rounds by Speer, and 300-grain JHP/XTP rounds from Hornady. We bench-tested the guns for accuracy at 50 yards at American Shooting Centers in Houston, shooting them off Protektor leather bags front and rear.
Also, to evaluate the guns’ self-defense capability, in particular ease of target acquisition and elapsed times between follow-up shots, we set up a Hoffners ABC16 humanoid silhouette type target (hoffners.com) at 10 yards and from port arms delivered five strings of three rapid-fire shots. This drill was engaged five times for a total of 15 shots on target. The point of aim was the chest area, with hits counting within any vital area. We also looked at characteristics such as magazine capacity and the ability to reload under stress. We also considered the availability of aftermarket parts to enhance performance.
Eyes and ears everyone, this test made some noise.