May 2019

Compact 44 Rem. Mag. Rifles: Rossi and Ruger Shoot It Out

This handgun round finds good utility in compact rifles suited to handle its medium-range power. We found a trio of handy long guns that offered passable short-range accuracy and pleasant firing.

Compact 44 Rem. Mag. Rifles: Rossi and Ruger Shoot It Out

The 44 Remington Magnum cartridge in a lightweight, short rifle makes a great hunting rig for whitetail deer, black bear, and feral pigs at ranges out to 100 yards. We found we liked the accuracy of the Ruger 77/44 (top) but hated the magazine release and dinged its grade accordingly. The Ruger 96/44 (middle) was accurate and offered fast follow-up shots with its smooth, short-stroke lever. It’s worth looking for used. The Rossi R92 (bottom) operated like we expected a Model 1892 to operate — but with a smooth action, an unexpectedly nice trigger, and plenty of recoil to let you know you were throwing some serious lead downrange. We’d opt for the Ruger 77/44 if we wanted to shoot with an optic and the Rossi R92 if we wanted to shoot iron sights and have a fast follow-up shot. If you find a good used Ruger 96/77, it would be worth taking home.

The 44 Remington Magnum has been a favorite hunting cartridge for some of our test team members who live in states where straight-wall cartridges are legal for deer hunting, but where short sight line conditions keep ranges way down. Chambered in short, carbine-length rifles, the 44 Rem. Mag. can be quick to shoulder, fast to shoot, and offer plenty of power. As one of our 44 Rem. Mag. hunters said: “They make big holes and leave a nice blood trail.” These rifles are lightweight and make for easy carry. In brush-choked terrain when pushing deer, sitting in tree stand for a black bear, or waiting on pigs to wallow, these carbines offer power, and in lever-action models, super-fast follow-up shots. They can also make a good truck gun.

While lever-action 44 Rem. Mag. carbines are common, we wanted to look at something different and assembled three candidates. To serve as a baseline, we chose the Rossi R92, a clone of the iconic Winchester Model 1892 and a good example of a typical lever-action 44 Mag. carbine with exposed hammer, iron sights and tubular magazine that’s loaded via a loading port. The Ruger 77/44 is quite different. It is a bolt-action rifle and comes with scope mounts and detachable rotary magazine. The Ruger 96/77 is a lever-action carbine similar to the Savage Model 99. The hammer is enclosed in the receiver, it has a scope mount built into the receiver, and uses a detachable magazine. The 96/77 was produced from 1996 through 2004 and our test sample was lightly used. The R92 and 77/44 are both current production guns and easily obtained; used 96/44 models are also fairly easy to find, especially on online gun-auction websites.

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