May 2007

Light, Powerful .44 Revolvers: Taurus Tracker Gets A+ Rating

The Tracker was a clear-cut choice for those who want a portable, powerful package. The lightweight Charter Pug earned an A-, but two costly S&W guns got B and C grades.

Some of the more useful handguns are those revolvers that take the .44 Special cartridge. They work well for hunting, self defense, and we know one shooter who used one to good effect in NRA matches. These revolvers include the .44 Magnum, but many .44 Mags are huge, heavy handguns designed to use the hottest loads in the longest barrels, for such efforts as hunting. While the big .44 is very good at that task, the other — probably more useful — side of the cartridge is as a general-purpose firearm for self defense or for the hiker or plinker who wants more power than the over-loud .357 Magnum. These outdoorsmen don’t want a big, heavy gun, but want a lighter package that still throws a 250-grain bullet at useful speed. The .44 Special fills that bill very well.

There have been a few small .44 Special revolvers on the market, perhaps none so obvious as the Charter Arms Bulldog. Charter was not alone. Taurus just informed us they recently discontinued a similar-size .44 revolver because of lack of sales. We suspect many shooters had no idea the small Taurus .44 existed, more’s the pity. We just found out S&W made a short run of 5-shot revolvers on the L frame, and would love to get our hands on one. But Charter’s near-snubby-size, five-shot revolvers have been around a long time. Those who own them generally like them, though they are hardly target-grade revolvers. With suitable loads they can be excellent self-defense revolvers, but with really hot loads they can be a handful. Some shooters prefer a larger gun for the .44 Special cartridge, but there aren’t all that many available, so the obvious choice is a light .44 Magnum with mild loads.

We gathered two relatively light .44 Magnums, one an older stainless S&W Mountain Gun, today offered in a blued special edition for about $1000. We also got a new five-shot, stainless Taurus Tracker, $584. And we acquired two .44 Specials, a stainless Charter Arms Bulldog Pug, $399, and S&W’s just-reissued 3-inch Model 24, another special-edition revolver, $1100. We also examined and shot an earlier blued Charter Bulldog, but did not include it in the final report. We wanted to see what changes were made over the years. We tried the four revolvers against each other for general outdoorsmen’s purposes, with an eye to easy carry, self defense, and overall usefulness. We tested all guns with .44 Special ammunition only, except as noted. We used Black Hills’ Cowboy Action loads, which feature a 210-grain cast-lead, flat-nose bullet. We also tested with CCI Blazer 200-grain GDHP, and with an unusual load from Black Hills we had not heard of before. This was the .44 Special "Thunder Ranch Special" ammunition, loaded with a 250-grain SWC cast Keith-style bullet. This ammo is available from Black Hills through any stocking dealer, in case you fall in love with it like we did. Any concealed-carry handgun is better off loaded with factory ammunition – not handloads – because of legal reasons. Keith-type cast SWC bullets have been outstanding performers ever since Elmer designed them in the early part of the last century. However, they are not commonly loaded by any large manufacturer, so this find from Black Hills was a revelation for us. Here’s what we found.

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