.44 Smith and Wesson Special ballistic test

44 Special Ballistic test-1

The .44 Smith and Wesson, based off the .44 Russian was introduced in 1907 for the Smith and Wesson New Century Revolver.  Truthfully the .44 Special was nothing special at it’s inception. With similar ballistics and accuracy of the .44 Russian using the then new smokeless propellant. It was not a bad cartridge at all but nothing really new, yet.

A grouped dubbed the The .44 Associates formed around the end of the 1920s and was made up of such legends such as Charles Allan “Skeeter” Skelton and the famed Elmer Keith. The .44 Associates begin to really develop and push the .44 Special trading information with one another. It was not long and the potential of the .44 Special was realized and loads that were developed by that crowd are still around today and considered ideal. Elmer Keith had a huge part in the development of the .44 Remington Magnum, based directly off the .44 Special by lengthening the case  by .125″. Keith had suggested the round be called the .44 Special Magnum but Remington choose just .44 Magnum.

The .44 Special, though less powerful than the .44 Magnum, has distinct advantages. It is a shorter round so it can be chambered in smaller, lighter revolvers. Such revolvers are more conducive to carry. With such short barreled revolvers smaller bullets with high pressure cartridges such as the .357 Magnum are excellent cartridges but require longer barrel lengths to really perform. Take a large slower bullet that makes it’s energy with mass more than velocity and it can shine from a shorter barrel. Enter the .44 Special. A heavy slow slug that works great in revolvers that are easily carried, not unlike the .45 Automatic. The .44 Special and .45 Automatic have very similar ballistics.

With all that in mind, I choose the Charter Arms Bulldog, reviewed here for the ballistic test since it is designed primarily as a self defense handgun.

As with the previous ballistic tests we shot the rounds over a chronograph into bare ballistic gel. Recovered the bullet, measured how deep it penetrated, how much it expanded, and weight retention. Then we did the same SOP with 3 layers of khaki work pants type material.

44 Special Ballistic test-1-4

From Left to right, Hornady Critical Defense, Glaser Safety Slug, Hornady JHP, PMC SWC, reloads 1-2-3.  Top row is bare gel, bottom is 3 layers on cloth.


CCI 200gr JHP

44 special ballistic updated

Please click on the chart for a larger version

The first reload, the 240gr LSWC was loaded with Unique, the second was Blue Dot, the third was Power Pistol, and the fourth was American Select

As you can see, the Hornady Critical Defense and Glaser Safety Slug performed very well as a defensive round while the others penetrated deep enough that I would consider as hunting rounds. The PMC SWC was very mild recoiling and an accurate round.  I would have no problem with using the Bulldog as a carry handgun or with any of the other rounds would do well as a woods gun. It is true you can shoot .44 Special through a .44 Magnum and with a longer barrel you would get increased performance, but if you are going with a large revolver, why not carry .44 Magnum, though that may be a bit much for a self defense round, sorry Dirty Harry, but .44 Magnum would not be my first choice for a concealed carry defensive round for preservation of one’s self.

 44 Special Ballistic test-1-2

As always the Charter Arms preformed well and did the job as I asked, I am now seriously considering cleaning it for the first time, one day….soonish.  Promise.

By Hunter Elliott

I spent much of my youth involved with firearms and felt the call early on to the United States Marine Corps, following in my father's and his brother's footsteps. Just after high school I enlisted and felt most at home on the rifle range, where I qualified expert with several firearms and spent some time as a rifle coach to my fellow Marines. After being honorably discharged I continued teaching firearm safety, rifle and pistol marksmanship, and began teaching metallic cartridge reloading. In the late 1990s I became a life member to the National Rifle Association and worked with the Friends of the NRA. Around that time my father and I became involved with IDPA and competed together up until he passed away. I began reviewing firearms for publications in the mid 2000s and have been fortunate to make many friends in the industry. Continuing to improve my firearms skills and knowledge is a never ending journey in which we should all be committed. I am also credited as weapons master on a few independent films.

12 thoughts on “.44 Smith and Wesson Special ballistic test, updated”
  1. Hunter Thanks for the article. While I don’t have a 44 special pistol, I do have a S&W Mod 29 8 3/8″ 44 Magnum that has provide a great platform to shoot both. Handloads do bring out some great performance.
    Best regards, Wade

  2. Thanks for the in-depth test results, which were so interesting I’ve bookmarked this page for future reference. It’s difficult to find data like this for the 44 Special.

    I just purchased some Critical Defense for my new Charter Arms Bulldog. I also have some CCI Blazer with the 200gr Gold Dots. I purchased the Critical Defense after reading reports that the Gold Dots didn’t expand from the short Bulldog barrel, but your test indicates otherwise so now I have two good self-defense loads for my Bulldog.

    1. Thank you very much for the kind words and feedback.
      I am a huge fan of the .44 Special and the Charter Arms Bulldog is an excellent revolver. I enjoy the ballistic testing a great deal and I have done a lot of other calibers.
      I would appreciate any feedback you have on those or anything else.
      Thank you again, Hunter

  3. Thank you Hunter, I’m a fan of .45 auto performance and I’m considering a DAO bulldog in .44spl as a backup or deep carry/ pocket carry since my Glock 30 can be a bit big on some occasions. I used to carry a S&W J frame in .38spl, but I was always concerned about over-penetration with the .38. Thank’s to your article and data, I feel confident that a Bulldog with Hornady rounds will give me the performance I’m looking for. Thank you for the information!

    1. Jeremy,
      First of all, thank you for taking the time to post your comments.
      The .44 Special is very similar to the .45 Auto in ballistics, as you saw. I have had the Bulldog out several times since the review and it is still trouble free also there is a cool factor of the .44 Special. Charter Arms is now making a Bulldog in .45 Auto but I have only seen them but but I have not shot one yet. Please keep me posted on what you decide. Thank you again. Hunter

  4. Great article Hunter, I’ve been considering a carry revolver when going around wearing my Springfield Milspec1911-A1 becomes too heavy for me and I believe I have found it with the Charter Arms .44 Special. Although I like the look of the Tiger with the green and black tiger stripes as well.

    1. Thank you very much Tom.
      I am wrapping up my review of the Charter Arms Boomer, .44 Special DAO dedicated carry revolver. The Bulldog is a classic but you may consider the Nitride finish. It is very durable.

  5. I am curious about accuracy with the bulldog . The Hornadys perform well but you have to hit the target. How is its accuracy at 5, 7 and10 yards? Have you done research in that area?

  6. Just for the record, my old friend Elmer Keith (I consider myself very fortunate to have worked with him for several years.) was never a member of the “.44 Associates.” At the least that’s what I was told by gunwriter John Lachuk, who was indeed a member of the .44 Associates. Lachuk claimed to have invented the .44 Magnum about 15 years before Remington came out with theirs. Lachuk’s .44 Magnum utilized cut-down .405 Winchester brass in a modified Colt SAA.

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