March 2008

Long-Barreled .44 Magnum Revolvers: Bravo for the Bull

Ready for ?eld work at the right price, the Taurus Raging Bull is our ?rst pick. Rugerís Super Redhawk and the Smith & Wesson 629 Classic need simple upgrades, in our opinion.

Our more recent evaluations of .44-caliber revolvers have focused on service models designed primarily for law enforcement or personal self defense. In this test we will compare three large-framed long-barreled .44 Magnum revolvers that are best suited for hunting or competing in events that mimic hunting, such as steel-silhouette shooting. We narrowed this category by limiting our selection to double-action revolvers. Furthermore, each of our guns featured the longest barrel length available from their respective manufacturers.

Our three .44 Magnums were the $625 Taurus Raging Bull, Rugerís $888 Super Redhawk, and the $964 Smith & Wesson Model 629 Classic. Both the Taurus and Smith & Wesson revolvers carried 8.4-inch barrels. The Ruger Super Redhawk was fit with a whopping 9.5-inch-long barrel. All three guns held six rounds.

Taurus Raging Bull Model 444B8

The $625 Taurus Raging Bull Model 444B8 was the only one of our three .44 Magnums that we thought was ready for the ?eld straight out of the box. The sights were plain and clear and thanks to porting, heft, and a shock-absorbing grip, the Raging Bull was also the most comfortable to shoot, moreso than Rugerís $888 Super Redhawk (top inset) and the $964 Smith & Wesson Model 629 Classic (bottom inset). In the Taurus, the most accurate round was Federalís 300-grain Cast Core Vital Shock ammunition, which was responsible for this group. Our shooters scrawled ďMost FunĒ above the Taurusís target.

How We Tested

For test ammunition we focused on magnum ammunition rather than mixing in a sampling of .44 Special. Anyone serious enough about handgun hunting with one of these behemoths was not likely to load anything less than full-power rounds. First we chose American Eagle 240-grain JHP rounds, which are less expensive than most and easy to find. Then we test fired with dedicated hunting loads, Winchesterís 240-grain Hollow Soft Point rounds and Federalís 300-grain Castcore ammunition. The Castcore used a flat-nosed lead bullet which was designed to smash through bone without coming apart. The long barrels of our guns afforded so much sight radius that we tested with the supplied sights at 25 yards. Our test shooters utilized the support of sandbags and an extra-long bench that they could really stretch out on.

Test firing from the bench was limited to single action only, and we shot double-action fire standing offhand. Results varied, but the excessive muzzle weight of each gun made repeat fire challenging as the big barrels see-sawed up and down. We also shot in field positions, seated behind cover or leaning against a tree with support supplied by a branch. Here is what we learned.

Taurus Raging Bull

.44 Magnum 444B8, $625

Eight years ago (February 2000), we tested the Raging Bull model, which was designed to take the pounding of the newest grenade on the block, the .454 Casull. At the time, the Bull was built on a new larger frame that was fit with a heavy 8 3/8-inch barrel. The barrel featured a deep full-length underlug and porting. The cylinder was braced with a second latch on the crane. The grip was also a new design with a shock-absorbing insert along the backstrap. Each of these features were carried over to subsequent chamberings, which today include .454 Casull, .41 Magnum, 500 Magnum and of course .44 Magnum.

Given that construction was the same for our .44 Magnum as it was for the original .454 Casull Raging Bull, we would expect durability from this gun. In fact throughout our tests none of our guns experienced a failure of any kind. The blued finish that distinguished our Taurus from our stainless-steel test guns proved durable, holding up to a couple of gaffs where we unceremoniously dropped the gunóonce out of a tree and another time on to the door frame of a gun safe. Built to handle the Casull, we also expected our Raging Bull to be the most comfortable to shoot in .44 Magnum. This assumption turned out to be correct. Even when shooting fully locked-in over a bench, felt recoil from the Taurus was the least abusive among our test guns. The single-action trigger did not offer any type of take-up and the action was grit free. The double-action trigger was also clean and consistent from shot to shot.

When preparing to load the Raging Bull, we had to remember to work the two cylinder releases mounted on the left simultaneously. The frame-mounted latch to the rear needed to be pushed forward with the thumb. The latch on the yoke, which swings outward with the cylinder, needed to be pushed upward. The ejector rod did not take part in lockup. All three revolvers shielded the ejector rod in a cavity machined into the underlug.

The rear sight was fully adjustable for windage and elevation. Its rearward face was not grooved to diffuse light, but it was slanted to the rear to reduce glare. This helped us peep through the rear notch and find a clean picture of the front sight, which was a plain black rectangle. The rear-sight blade appeared to be fragile, in our view, and its edges were unprotected. But the front sight was long and firmly mounted upon a stanchion. Regarding facility for a scope, Brownells lists a drill-and-tap scope mount for $30 from Weigand Combat. Taurus (taurususa.com) offers a $50 scope mount that bolts on using brackets that weave through the vents that run along the top of the barrel.

Firing offhand, standing or seated, our testers found the Raging Bull to be well balanced. Taurus did their homework in designing the grip, which offered finger grooves and a subtle but effective palm swell.

From the bench the Taurus Raging Bull was the top overall performer. We shot groups averaging about 1.5 inches across with two of our three test rounds under conditions that were fair at best. The Bull also had the two best groups of our test, 1.1 inches and 1.2 inches, respectively. If any of our test guns was in tune with heavy recoiling ammunition, we think it would have to be the Taurus Raging Bull.

Ruger Super Redhawk

KSRH-9 .44 Magnum, $888

The Ruger Super Redhawk is another gun that was evaluated in our February 2000 test of .454 Casull revolvers. But this time our test gun shot from a 9.5-inch barrel and was rendered in stainless steel with a satin stainless finish. The barrel was not shrouded but had a round profile from the muzzle to its overbuilt frame. If we were to imagine this gun without the barrel in place, the Super Redhawk would look like a large snub-nosed revolver. The top strap of the frame was flat, but two inlets for mounting a pair of scope rings were machined along its edges. Rugerís integral-mount scope rings are the only rings that will fit this pattern. A pair of 1-inch scope rings, $81 from Rugerís online store, was supplied. Weaver-style scope mounts that fit the Ruger cuts are available aftermarket. Brownells (brownells.com) lists several as well.

The front sight was a ramp style with orange insert. This was not an ideal target sight because the slick surface of the insert added glare. But the design looked very strong dovetailed into a stanchion that covered about 2 inches of barrel from the muzzle back. The rear sight was fully adjustable, with the stem seated deep into the top strap. The rear-sight blade was protected by an outer body. The blade moved back and forth by opposite movement. Turning the windage screw left moved impact to the right, etc. Both the windage and elevation screws were of a different size. The windage screw was about the size of what we would find in an eyeglass repair kit. The elevation screw was bigger, but the slot for the screwdriver blade was narrow. We did not like having to carry two screwdrivers to make sighting adjustments, and both the windage and elevation screws required blade sizes rarely found in most screwdriver sets.

We did like the operation of the cylinder latch, however. We think the push-button action, which is actually a pivoting lever, may be the best solution for releasing a revolver cylinder. The tip of the ejector rod did not play a part in lockup, but there was a detent in the crane that remained hidden (and clear of debris) when the cylinder was in place.

From the bench we were able to achieve consistent performance with each type of ammunition. Group size varied more when shooting the American Eagle ammunition, but the Winchester and Federal rounds produced groups that were nearly identical in size. Overall, the Ruger Super Redhawk delivered groups that averaged about 2.1 inches. We think we should have been able to do better, and here are two reasons why.

First, we liked the single-action trigger on this gun best. Once the hammer was back, we were able to engage the trigger with a smooth calculated compression that let us squeeze the trigger and focus on the front sight. We thought this made it easier for us to stay visually connected to the front sight from shot to shot. This can be a big advantage because one of the traps a shooter can fall into is closing the eyes in response to the blast of heavier caliber ammunition. Finding the break in the trigger was not sudden, nor was it prolonged. It was just downright pleasant. We thought we were shooting the best groups of the day. Better accuracy may simply be a matter of choosing different ammunition.

Another issue was the grip. We found the supplied grip to be harsh and unsuitable when we tested the .454 Casull model. But even when firing .44 Magnum ammunition, we felt inclined to wear a glove and wrist support. One way in which we dealt with the recoil was to lower the hand on the grip. This increased circumference, offering more grip area over which to disperse the energy. But with our hands placed so much lower than the bore line, recoil control and follow through technique suffered.

When firing the Super Redhawk double-action only we noticed that the process of rotating the cylinder and setting the hammer ended with a secondary takeup or staging period. We wouldnít want this characteristic in a gun built for a speed contest. But it did provide for a final controlled press that we think many hunters would prefer. However, the area between the rear of the trigger guard and the front strap of the grip was too high and trapped the shooterís hand. This made it painful to hold and did not offer enough support.

We think this gun should be shipped with the same rubber grip that comes with the Alaskan revolver. Sold through the Hogue Grip Website under the name Rubber Tamer grip (getgrip.com), it is also available for the Super Redhawk from Rugerís online store, ($23 at ruger-firearms.com). This grip offers soft rubber and more surface area and fills the gap behind the trigger guard to offer more support.

We suspect the Super Redhawk had more to offer than it showed in our accuracy tests. A true target sight up front might have helped, but just as the right tires can make or break a racing car, such is the importance of connecting the gun to the hand via the proper grip.

S&W Model 629

Classic No. 163640

.44 Magnum, $964

The Model 629 Classic was built on Smith & Wessonís "N" designation frame. Now dwarfed by the X frame, the N series is no longer the largest revolver made by Smith & Wesson. Compared to the Raging Bull and Super Redhawk revolvers that are the biggest revolvers available from Taurus and Ruger respectively, the 629 Classic does indeed appear to be smaller.

Perhaps this is because its design is so much like other Smith & Wesson models. At a glance this gun could easily be mistaken for a smaller revolver, such as the L frame 686. Here is how some of its dimensions match up. The Taurus was about 0.3 inch longer than the 629, but the Super Redhawk is longer still by about 1.3 inches. All three guns were within 0.3 inches in terms of height. Sight radius of the Ruger dwarfed both the Taurus and Smith & Wesson. But this measurement would be negated by mounting a scope. In the case of the 629 Classic, this meant removing the rear sight and bolting a scope mount on to its drilled and tapped frame.

The 629 Classic offered a sleek appearance. The satin-stainless steel from end to end created one smooth line. Machining was first rate. We could barely make out the point at which the yoke separated to swing out the cylinder. Further adding to its visual appeal, the round-butt frame was visible through the rubber Hogue Compact grip that exposed the polished back strap. Both of these features were helpful in adapting the large gun to a smaller hand and creating a more concealable profile.

But are these features helpful in a hunting gun? What we are getting at is that despite being chambered for .44 Magnum, a caliber which is more gun than most shooters are willing or able to handle, little or no extra device has been built into this revolver to beef it up. Lockup via a detent at the tip of the ejector rod is the same as found on lesser caliber models. The only armor the 629 Classic appears to have against heavy recoil was the weight of the long full-underlug barrel.

Another feature that we think should be more specific to the gunís purpose was the front sight. The supplied ramp-style sight was developed to avoid snagging. The colored insert was meant to speed sight acquisition. We all thought accuracy would be improved with the application of a target-style blade that helped refine the sight picture.

After firing a just a few shots offhand, we decided to replace the Hogue Compact grip with a $25 Hogue Full Size Conversion grip. This met the same mounting requirements of the Compact grip but filled out the back strap and covered the frame. It also changed the contour of the base of the grip to mimic a square-butt design. The result was insulation from the frame and more surface area over which to spread recoil. It also gave us more leverage against the long barrel.

At the bench we had our best results firing the 240-grain American Eagle hollow points. Group size varied little with an average width of about 1.7 inches across. The 629 Classic shot 2.0-inch groups on average with both the Winchester and Federal rounds. In fact all three guns averaged about 2.0 inches across per five-shot group firing the Winchester 240-grain Hollow Soft Point ammunition. That makes this hunting round a good bet no matter which forty-four you choose.

We would describe the single-action trigger of the 629 Classic as presenting very solid resistance. Let off was brief with virtually no hint of takeup. It was like setting a boulder in motion with the touch of a fingertip. But not all handgun hunting is accomplished single action only. Double action also has its advantages in the field. Follow up shots can be important, and not having to reset the hammer manually made it easier to stay on target and maintain a consistent grip. From improvised support we tried firing the Smith & Wesson double action only and we were able to land accurate hits throughout a continuous string of fire. We would rate its double-action trigger as being easiest of the three to fire quickly.

TAURUS RAGING BULL 444B8 .44 MAGNUM

RUGER REDHAWK SUPER REDHAWK KSRH-9 .44 MAGNUM

SMITH & WESSON 629 CLASSIC 163640 .44 MAGNUM

ACCURACY AND CHRONOGRAPH DATA

GUN TESTS REPORT CARD