Some folks just love big-bore revolvers. This typically leads to picking up a Smith & Wesson Model 29, Ruger Redhawk or Blackhawk or something along those lines. A lot of these shooters want the .44 Magnum because “Dirty Harry” had one.
Nothing wrong with that at all! However, the dirty little secret is that you should opt for a .45 over a .44, for a variety of reasons.
Big-Bore Revolvers: Cheaper Shooting
Unless you travel all over the country hunting with a handgun, or live on a farm inundated with wild hogs, most (if not all) of your shooting is going to take place at the range.
Now there are some bona fide recoil junkies out there, but most of us are just not. A bit is okay, fun even, but after a while your hands just hurt. It’s kind of like eating really spicy food. The sizzle makes a dish interesting up to a point, but you eventually learn that most places use it to cover up bad or otherwise weak flavor. After that, it just starts to lose its appeal.
Since .44 Magnum revolvers will shoot .44 Special, many people use them for practice. The .44 Special doesn’t kick as hard, but it isn’t any less expensive than .44 Magnum; it is also in shorter supply on store shelves.
On the other hand, some pistols in .45 Colt also shoot .45 ACP. The projectile is the same and the cases will even fit in the cylinder, but moonclips are required. Of course, most guns will need the cylinder machined to accept moonclips, but it will pay off; .45 ACP is much less expensive than .45 Colt. Also, .45 Auto Rim is available, but it is really hard to find.
Big-Bore Revolvers: Less Wear
Many shooters don’t realize that big-bore revolvers will wear out. Cylinders stretch under recoil and eventually, metal fatigue and the beginnings of plastic deformation set in.
Big-bore luminaries, from Elmer Keith to Jeff Cooper and John Linebaugh, have all remarked that most magnum revolvers can only take so much of the hot loads. The exceptions Linebaugh, Freedom Arms, Magnum Research and select Ruger handguns (Blackhawk and Redhawks; the modern Vaquero is a Cowboy Action gun); some of these are actually chambered in .454 Casull or .460 S&W Magnum, both of which fire .45 Colt. This isn’t new information; that’s why you do most of your .357 Magnum practice with .38 Special or .44 Magnum practice with .44 Special.
With the right .45 Colt, wear will be even less likely, as .45 ACP has low chamber pressures, producing 22,000 psi or less. In fact, most .45 Colt loads produce closer to 15,000 psi.
A decent big-bore revolver usually involves a significant expenditure. Now, do you want to pay a lot of money for a gun that will have to be rebuilt after 1,000 rounds? Or would you rather get one that will last a lot longer? Most people opt for the latter for obvious reasons.
Big-Bore Revolvers: .45 Colt Power
Most shooters want a .44 Magnum for the power. However, the .45 Colt has a longer case than the .44 Magnum; the .45 Colt was a product of the black powder era.
Handloaders figured out that it held more powder and could be pushed into .44 Magnum performance without too much hassle. In fact, it puts less stress on the gun; hot loads of .45 Colt produce about 80 percent of the chamber pressures of .44 Magnum (around 28,000 psi compared to 36,000 psi) despite achieving the same velocities and muzzle energies.
However, you need to get the right gun. Cowboy guns, such as the various Colt SAA, Remington New Model Army and S&W Model 3 clones will NOT tolerate .45 Colt +P loads. These loads are reserved instead for modern .45 Colt revolvers, such as the Model 25, Ruger Blackhawk and Redhawk revolvers, and other high-end single-action pistols.
So, if you opt for a Model 25 over that 29, or the .45 Colt Redhawk or Blackhawk, you can shoot more for less. If you want full power, .45 Colt +P loads will roar from the barrel, and you can run .45 ACP +P and .45 Super loads as well.
Here’s something else to consider. The modern shooter doesn’t hunt. They shoot targets, and own and carry for self-defense, but do not shop in the grocery store of hard knocks. The .44 Magnum is not the most ideal personal protection gun (.357 Magnum has the edge among revolver rounds) unless one is in bear country.
If that’s you, revolvers in .45 Colt will provide the big magnum experience if you want it. You can also do a bunch of shooting with a lower-cost round, which .44 Magnum does not give you the ability to do.