If you’re looking for a powerful handgun that you can move between several gun-use arenas, such self defense, home defense, car defense, and defense against dangerous animals in the woods, we could make a good case for a heavily-loaded 357 revolver and an even better argument for a 41 Mag. However, perhaps the two most popular cartridges at the top of the power curve are the 10mm Auto and the 44 Magnum. We tested four 10mms in the August 2020 edition of Gun Tests, so this time we are going to concentrate on two 44 Mags, one old and one new, that would fill several of these roles.
Our first medium-frame iron-sighted pistol was a brand-spanking-new Taurus Model 44 with a 4-inch barrel (2-440049), $661. We also had a 4-inch-barreled Smith & Wesson Model 29-2 with a serial number that dates to around 1972. We grade its condition as Very Good and its selling price as $1250.
Why do we shoot old guns and report on them to you? We love the history and like to track the design changes, and more important, can you think of a better way to prove a design concept? Guns that suck won’t hold their value. With a few improvements, this Model 29 is still essentially the same pistol you can buy new today, and its almost 50-year-old age has only made it better and smoother, much like Gun Tests testers, writers, and editors. If you want a current iteration, you’ll be looking for a Model 629 with a 4.125-inch barrel (163603, MSRP $969).
How We Tested
Factory ammunition was almost impossible to obtain as of this writing, so because we have been loading for this caliber for a couple of decades, we decided to roll our own. We used a 240-grain hard-cast Keith-style semi-wadcutter from Hunter’s Supply (MidwayUSA.com, 267313, $53/250) loaded both as 44 Special and 44 Magnum cartridges along with the 240-grain Speer Gold Dot jacketed soft point (MidwayUSA.com, 166262, $25.49/100). We assembled loads using Starline brass, Winchester large pistol primers, Vihta Vuori N110 or Alliant 2400 powder and recipes from the Lyman #50 loading manual. This is a cartridge that has proven itself to work well with a variety of components. It is a great caliber for the reloader.
All shooting was done at American Shooting Centers in west Houston. Accuracy was tested at 15 yards by shooting multiple five-shot groups from a well-sandbagged Caldwell Pistolero shooting rest (MidwayUSA.com, 517357, $28). Velocities were obtained via LabRadar (MyLabRadar.com, $559). Speed tests were conducted using multiple runs consisting of five rounds fired at a 9-inch white plate at 10 yards. In particular, we were curious how much the porting on the Taurus mattered in terms of recoil, recovery between shots, and overall accuracy. That single feature — not available on the older Smith & Wesson without expensive aftermarket work — could easily determine the outcome.
Gun Tests Grade: B
The Taurus M44 brings many of the changes S&W decided were good for its guns. This genre of handgun tends to spend much of its working time in the outdoors, in inclement weather and in sweaty holsters, making stainless-steel construction preferable to blued carbon steel. The Taurus M44 uses brushed stainless on almost everything we could see, except the sights. Those were blued to help cut down on the glare. Though not luminescent, the front sight has a stripe of red/orange paint that was very visible. The rear sight is matte black with no rear outline (which we prefer), and it was adjustable for both windage and elevation.
|Overall Length||9.4 in.|
|Overall Height||6.1 in.|
|Maximum Width||1.75 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||2.9 lbs.|
|Weight Loaded||3.2 lbs.|
|Receiver Material||Brushed stainless steel|
|Front Strap Height||2.5 in.|
|Back Strap Height||4.5 in.|
|Barrel Length||4.0 in.|
|Grip Thickness (Maximum)||1.16 in.|
|Grip Circumference||5.0 in.|
|Cylinder Capacity||6 rounds|
|Front Sight||Black ramp with red stripe|
|Sight Radius||6.0 in.|
|Trigger Pull Weight Single Action||5.7 lbs.|
|Trigger Pull Weight Double Action||11.5 lbs.|
|Trigger Span||3.4 in.|
|Safety||Transfer bar, manually keyed lock|
The barrel is a medium profile with an almost full-length underlug to lessen muzzle lift. The cylinder locks up in two places. The location at the rear of the cylinder is fairly standard, but the second location is a wedge on top of the crane that lines up in a detent in the frame. Lockup is solid with no discernable fore and aft movement. We always check timing on revolvers to make sure that the bolt locks into the notches before the hammer is released forward. Timing on the Taurus was perfect, with the bolt rising into the notch with an audible “thunk” each time the cylinder is rotated with the trigger.
As with the S&W, the hammer spur is checkered and the trigger is not, but both units on the Taurus are somewhat narrower than on the Smith. The cylinder release is an angled/checkered piece on the left side of the frame that pushes forward to allow the cylinder to swing out. When opened, the ejector had plenty of length to help the shooter dump his empty cases. The firing pin on the Taurus is frame mounted. The M44 allows the user to lock the hammer, rendering it unusable, if so desired.
The Taurus system also employs a transfer-bar system. In this arrangement, the transfer bar raises into position between the hammer and the firing pin as the hammer is cocked (or the trigger is pulled). This fills a gap between the hammer and the firing pin. If the trigger is not kept firmly to the rear, the transfer bar does not remain in the elevated position, and the hammer cannot make contact with the firing pin, allowing the revolver to fire.
Grips are listed as being made of “soft rubber,” though they didn’t feel that soft to us. Still, they were a lot softer than wood and are designed to cover the backstrap of the grip, giving a bit more cushion to the hand. The panels are a thinner type with a decent palm swell in the middle. The grip profile reminds us of Pachmayr grips, and the pebble grain reminds us of the Hogues on the Model 29. Perhaps the grips are a bit too thin. Those skinny grips seemed to guide the recoil back into a fairly narrow part of the hand, making the recoil impulse pretty noticeable.
The grips aren’t the only thing the Taurus uses to mitigate the 44’s recoil. The M44 has four ports on either side of the front sight near the muzzle. They help, perhaps more with muzzle flip than straight-line recoil.
The Taurus averaged a very respectable 2-inch group across the three types of ammo. The times for the speed drill were a hair slower on the Taurus than on the S&W. We should note, however, that the S&W had had its trigger worked, and that the Taurus trigger was not so improved. We think part of the credit for the Taurus’s near tie in speed drills was the job those eight ports did in holding down muzzle flip.
Our Team Said: The ported muzzle worked well to reduce muzzle flip. The M44, even with the factory trigger, came close to matching the S&W Model 29 on the speed trials. It wasn’t quite as accurate, so we bumped the grade down a little.
How would we choose between these two? If you expect your handgun to live its life outside in inclement weather, the Taurus M44 is the easy choice. Its stainless finish is much more utilitarian than the gorgeous blued Model 29. Also, availability gives the Taurus an edge if you want to find a competent sample to put into use immediately.
If you want Model 29-like design elements in a modern stainless sample, then the Model 629 163603 is probably the gun you want. But for use in controlled environments against mostly two-legged adversaries, we would start looking for the right Model 29-x. These were well-built handguns from the get-go, and all nostalgia aside, our gun (if well cared for) would be just as good on its 100th birthday as on its 50th. You just have to be patient and determined to find the right match at your local gun store or online.
Drill Data (5x9x10)
|Pistol||Time to First Shot (seconds)||Split Average (seconds)||Total Time (seconds)|
44 Special & 44 Magnum Range Data
|44 Special Handload HS 240-grain LSWC||S&W Model 29||Taurus M44|
|Average Velocity||891 fps||904 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||426 ft.-lbs.||439 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||0.83 in.||1.47 in.|
|Average Group||1.46 in.||1.91 in.|
|44 Magnum Handload HS 240-grain LSWC||S&W Model 29||Taurus M44|
|Average Velocity||1240 fps||1266 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||826 ft.-lbs.||861 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||1.13 in.||1.62 in.|
|Average Group||1.64 in.||2.15 in.|
|44 Magnum Speer 240-grain Gold Dot||S&W Model 29||Taurus M44|
|Average Velocity||1231 fps||1204 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||807 ft.-lbs.||772 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||1.39 in.||0.91 in.|
|Average Group||1.67 in.||2.01 in.|
Testing was done at American Shooting Centers (AMShootCenters.com) in west Houston. Muzzle velocities were determined via a LabRadar chronograph (MyLabRadar.com, $559). All shots for group were done from a well-sandbagged Caldwell Pistol Rest from MidwayUSA and aided by a mini-DRC Fortune Cookie bag from Wiebad.com.
Value Guide: Powerful Revolver Rankings
|Colt Python (2020) PYTHON-SP4WTS 357 Magnum, $1300||Jan. 2021||A||Pricey, but the new Python is a winner, even if it isn’t an exact clone of the original Python.|
|Colt Python (2020) PYTHON-SP6WTS 357 Magnum, $1800||Jan. 2021||A||We really liked the trigger and found the revolver to be quite accurate.|
|Colt Python (1980) 357 Magnum, ~$2500||Jan. 2021||A||The trigger is superb and the royal blue finish is brilliant. The aftermarket Hogue grip helps reduce felt recoil.|
|Colt Python (1964) 357 Magnum, $1800||Jan. 2021||A-||It provided good performance and accuracy. This is a shooter and perhaps is a candidate for restoration.|
|Colt King Cobra KCOBRA-SB3BB 357 Magnum, $838||2020-05-01 00:00:00||A||The revolver offers good performance with the 3-inch barrel and is well made. Carrying it takes a bit of effort.|
|Rock Island Armory AL3.0 357 Magnum, $504||2020-05-01 00:00:00||A-||There was a lot to like, price, accuracy, shooting comfort. Not a beautiful revolver for sure..|
|Rossi Model 971 VRC 357 Magnum, $295||2020-05-01 00:00:00||B||A great trigger, and the porting helped keep us on target. But the accuracy was less than stellar.|
|Taurus Raging Hunter Model 2-440085RH 44 Magnum, $683||Dec. 2019||A||The Raging Hunter comes optic ready and offers the versatility of the 44 Mag cartridge.|
|Smith & Wesson PC M460XVR 170262 460 S&W Mag., $1369||Dec. 2019||A||The 460XVR is very versatile, with the ability to shoot a variety of calibers. It comes optics ready.|
|Smith & Wesson S&W500 163500 500 S&W Mag., $1082||Dec. 2019||A-||Cartridge choice is limited. We found this revolver to be accurate and offer plenty of punch both ways.|
|Taurus Model 66 2-660041 357 Magnum, $371||Oct. 2019||A||Well suited to personal defense and home defense. Good field gun for protection against animals.|
|Taurus 608 Matte Stainless 2-608049 357 Magnum, $548||Oct. 2019||A-||It is a big gun. Just the same, the size and eight-shot capacity made it ideal for home defense.|
|Smith & Wesson M27 Classic 150339 357 Magnum, $909||Oct. 2019||B-||The grips are not the best design for handling magnum loads. Trigger action was the big problem, very heavy.|
|Ruger GP100 KGP-141 357 Magnum, $500||Sep. 2018||A||The stainless-steel GP100 performs in all categories: accuracy, smoothness, control, and velocity.|
|S&W M66 Combat Magnum 357 Magnum, , $420||Sep. 2018||B+||Stainless steel, smooth action, and a round-butt configuration seldom seen on the Combat Magnum.|
|Ruger GP100 GP-141 357 Magnum, $480||Sept. 2018||B+||The blued GP100 doesn’t perform on par with the stainless, and the stainless is easier to maintain.|
|S&W M19 Combat Magnum 357 Magnum, $800||Sept. 2018||B||Came with a display case and a knife with matching serial number — pretty neat, but also pricey.|
|Taurus Model 66 357 Magnum, $325||Sept. 2018||B-||The barrel length of 6 inches did not generate greater velocity. Current-production version is 2-660069.|
|Taurus Tracker 44TRACKER4SS 2-440049TKR 44 Mag., $449||Jan. 2018||A||Best Buy. A formidable revolver. Proved reliable and should be useful as a home-defense revolver.|
|Ruger GP100 1761 44 Special, $649||Jan. 2018||B||Accuracy was outstanding. The largest and heaviest revolver in this test.|
|Smith & Wesson M69 Combat Magnum 10064 44 Mag., $732||Jan. 2018||B-||Good for personal defense when loaded with 44 Sp. With 44 Mags, a last-ditch defense against bears.|