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GUNS Magazine September 2011 Digital Edition - Page 82
ThE dROUGhT IS OVER! it’s raining .44 Specials! s i write this, it is the first month of the New year and it is cold and snowing; however, it is also raining— a raining .44 Specials. Suddenly it seems .44 Specials are everywhere, being offered by at least four american manufacturers in addition to imports and special limited runs by distributors. The .44 Special goes back over 100 years and has always been the connoisseur’s cartridge. The neat thing is more and more sixgunners are becoming connoisseurs. anywhere thinking sixgunners gather, the .44 Special becomes a topic of conversation. if that’s not cool i don’t know what is! Although the .44 Special arrived in the closing days of 1907, it would remain for Elmer Keith to really make it a household name among sixgunners. From 1929 to 1956 he called it the “King of Sixguns” and several of his .44s including the “No. 5 SAA” as he called it are on display in the Elmer Keith Museum in the Boise, Idaho, Cabela’s. Keith worked for nearly three decades trying to convince ammunition makers to offer his .44 Special Heavy Load consisting of a 250-grain hardcast bullet at 1,200 fps, and if necessary he felt revolver manufacturers could come up with a new sixgun for this load. He got a lot more than he asked for when the new .44 Magnum arrived and clocked out at nearly 1,500 fps. Both S&W and Ruger offered excellent sixguns for the new cartridge which was simply a lengthened .44 Special. Keith was so happy he retired his .44 Specials and used the .44 Magnum almost exclusively for the next 25 years. Suddenly .44 Specials such as these are everywhere, including (from top left clockwise) 2nd Generation Colt New Frontier, USFA 3-1/2" Double Eagle, MG Arms Dragonfly, Ruger’s Production Model .44 Special Flat-Top. Skeeter’s Pick Keith laid the .44 Special torch down in the mid-1950s, however, Skeeter Skelton picked it up in the 1960s carrying it for nearly 25 years. The following quote is from my Book of the .44, which is available at www. sixguns.com: “Once the .44 Magnum arrived, the .44 Special appeared to be doomed. Elmer Keith who had relied upon the .44 Special for three decades retired his Specials, took up the Magnum, and never looked back. The Smith & Wesson 4" .44 Magnum even fit the same holster as his 4" 1950 Target Model .44 Special. Keith was not the only one pushing the .44 Special aside. In 1966, along with several other great sixguns, Smith & Wesson dropped the 1950 Target .44 Special from its catalog. “Another devotee of the .44 Special was Skeeter Skelton, and just as Keith he dropped the .44 Special in favor of the .44 Magnum. He swapped off his 5" 1950 Target .44 Special and took up the 4" .44 Magnum. However, Skeeter did look back and he longed for his .44 Specials realizing there was room for both .44s. He wrote in the March 1975 issue of Shooting Times, ‘With full loads the muzzleblast and recoil of the 4" Model 29, while not as fierce as sometimes described, brought me to the conclusion that the .44 Magnum was not the optimum choice as a lawenforcement gun. While it is certainly true that one well-placed shot from it will anchor any man, there are other considerations… For lawenforcement use I returned a favored 1950 Target .44 Special with 4" barrel to my holster. After reflecting on my experiences with the .44 Magnum, I even loaded the .44 Special down to a manageable 250-grain 900 fps rate that gave me good DA control and retained more than adequate stopping power. If you’re thinking that I quit the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum, you’re wrong. It simply switched roles in my cast of handgun characters. The Model 29, in my mind, became an outdoorsman’s gun—perhaps the finest ever made for the handgun hunter. I soon learned that the 6-1/2" and 8-3/8" models performed better than the 4" gun.’ “It would not be long until Skeeter would begin a campaign to resurrect the .44 Special… It was my good fortune to first meet him at the NRA Convention in Salt Lake City in 1978 when he was awarded the Outstanding American Handgunner Award. I had taken along a picture of a First Generation Colt Single Action Army with the barrel marked ‘RUSSIAN AND S&W SPECIAL 44.’ All I had to do was show him that picture without a word and he grabbed my arm and said, ‘Let’s go talk.’ I had found the way to his heart.” Elmer Keith and Skeeter Skelton continued on page 81 82 WWW.GUNSMAGAZINE.COM • SEPTEMBER 2011