January 2018

Five-Shot 44-Caliber Revolvers From Ruger, S&W, and Taurus

These powerful wheelguns can be used for self-protection from both human and animal adversaries, depending on your needs. But if you want top-level power, you’ll be happy with the Tracker.

Five-Shot 44-Caliber Revolvers From Ruger, S&W, and Taurus

Taurus Tracker in 44 Magnum

The medium-frame 44-caliber revolver, whether chambered in 44 Special or 44 Magnum, is a great outdoors revolver, often used for defense against animals. We agree that this is a formidable combination, but it also demonstrates formidable recoil, perhaps a step beyond what’s necessary to do double duty as a personal-defense round day to day.

To see how a trio of wheelguns would do when pitted against each other at the range, we selected the Ruger GP100 1761 44 Special, a Smith & Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum 10064 in 44 Magnum and a Taurus Tracker, also in 44 Magnum. All are stainless-steel five-shooters, weigh within a few ounces of each other, and have similar features. The Smith & Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum is a new version with a 2.75-inch barrel and round butt. The Taurus Tracker 44 Magnum has a 4 inch barrel. The Ruger GP100 chambered in 44 Special is a relatively new introduction, being introduced in 2016.

With an overall length of 7.8 inches and an overall height of 5.7 inches, the 35.8-ounce loaded Smith & Wesson is the most compact and easiest to carry. The 44 Special–chambered Ruger GP100 exhibited one of the finest accuracy performances we’ve seen, shooting 1.7-, 1.6-, and 1.5-inch average groups with three loads. The Taurus Tracker delivered the highest velocities and energy with two of the three 44 Special loads and both 44 Magnum loads we used — in particular the Winchester Super-X 44 Magnum 240-grain jacketed hollowpoint, which ran at 1288 fps and produced 883 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.

The 44 Special revolver is an outdoors mainstay. Savvy outdoorsmen appreciate the accuracy and modest recoil of the 44 Special. The 44-caliber bullet, particularly a 255-grain semi-wadcutter, offers plenty of mass and has good sectional density that translates to deep penetration at less than Magnum velocity: 1000 fps isn’t slow for a heavy revolver bullet. While there are small-frame and ultralight revolvers designed for defense use, a medium-to-heavy-frame 44 Special will safely handle loads that move the cartridge into deer and boar territory out to 50 yards. For protection against bears, feral dogs, and big cats, the 44 Special with heavy loads is adequate. The 44 Magnum is even better if big Western bears are part of the problem. But it is difficult to carry a 46-ounce Smith & Wesson Model 629 loaded handgun on a daily basis. When fly-fishing or hiking, this is a heavy weight on the hip. A medium-frame revolver should offer all of the power we need for animal defense at close range. It is also all of the recoil an occasional user may care to handle. This same revolver isn’t too bulky to conceal for personal defense, and with proper loads, it will make a good personal and home-defense revolver. The major manufacturers make this happen by offering five-shot revolvers chambering the 44 Special, allowing the shoehorning of the 44 into a 357 Magnum-size frame. The relatively short barrel and hand-filling grip makes for a revolver that is fast into action. These revolvers are intended for use at relatively short range and the demands on accuracy are not great. However, we found that these handguns are quite accurate. We were concerned with the shooters’ ability to control a 35-ounce 44 Magnum revolver and used a variety of loads to test our fears. We found three capable revolvers that will tax the skill of any shooter to be all he or she can be. Not surprisingly, most of the firing was done with the more genteel 44 Special ammunition, which offered better control and less banging than the 44 Magnums.

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