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The .44 Special goes all way back to the closing days of 1907 with Smith & Wesson bringing out their first large-framed, swing out-cylindered, double-action revolver. It bore several names, New Century, Model of 1908, 1st Model Hand Ejector, however it is more fondly known as the Triple-Lock. Smith & Wesson' s first .44 Special was built to showcase the talents of the Smith & Wesson engineers and gunsmiths. The name Triple-Lock came from the fact the cylinder locked in three places, the back of the cylinder, the front of the ejector rod, and a beautifully machined third locking feature at the front of the cylinder. This was only the first of many .44 Specials to come. Next came the 2nd Model in 1915, the 3rd Model in 1926, and then the above mentioned 1950 Target. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever envision having one of these great .44 Specials, let alone examples of all four. The last two are my favorites.
Almost from the very beginning there has been a mystique surrounding the .44 Special. The person most responsible for sparking it and sustaining it at least from the 1920s through the 1950s was, of course, Elmer Keith. However, when the .44 Magnum arrived Keith retired all of his .44 Specials most of which are now on display in the Elmer Keith Museum in the Boise, Idaho, Cabela's. Skeeter Skelton traded in his .44 Special for a .44 Magnum and then realized he had made a mistake. He decided the lighter, trimmer S&W .44 Special was a much better choice for an everyday working sixgun. By the late 1960s the .44 Special was basically dead as both Colt and Smith & Wesson had dropped it. In the 1970s Skeeter single-handedly revived the .44 Special by first writing of converting the Ruger .357 Flattop Blackhawk and Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman to .44 Special and then went on to convince both Colt and Smith & Wesson to bring it back. They did but not for long. Smith & Wesson made two runs of .44 Specials in the 1980s, the Model 24-3 and its stainless steel counterpart, the Model 624.
Skeeter died in 1988 and I have been doing everything I could for the past two decades to maintain a lively interest in the .44 Special. I have had several Ruger Flattops and Old Models converted to .44 Special by custom sixgunsmiths and have written about them as often as possible. I have also experienced, and shared that experience of .44 Specials from Colt, Great Western, USFA, and Freedom Arms. I've also been able to cover a full century of the Smith & Wesson .44 Specials through the four Hand Ejector Models, the Models 24-3 and 624, and the recent resurrections, the Thunder Ranch Special and the newest, the Classic Model 24. A man simply cannot have too many .44 Specials.
Mention was made of the Heavy .44 Special Keith Load using a 250-grain hardcast bullet over 17.0 grains of 2400. This load clocks out of a 7-1/2" barrel at 1,200 fps so it is definitely in the heavy class. There was a time this was all I used, however it is now used very sparingly. Brett Olin of the Speer
Ballistics Lab has tested this load and it comes out at just under 25,000 psi, so each individual sixgunner will have to decide for themselves if they want to use this load in their particular sixgun. Two things to remember: use standard primers, and cut the load approximately 6 percent when using today's 2400. Brett got 1,102 fps from a 4" barreled S&W with the older 2400 and with 16.0 grains of current production 2400 I get 1,129 fps from a 4-5/8" barreled Ruger conversion. I do keep several boxes on hand for hunting.
Every .44 Special connoisseur knows what is meant by the Keith Load and the Skeeter Skelton Load. I got the latter from Skeeter and he got it from Elmer. It uses the same Keith bullet but over 7.5 grains of Unique. Depending upon barrel length this load is right at 950 fps and can also be duplicated with the same charge of Universal or 8.0 grains of Power Pistol. It does just about everything I need an everyday working sixgun to do. More in depth information on these .44 Specials as well as many others I have experienced can be found covered in a major portion of The Gun Digest Book of the .44 by yours truly. f?I7H
a half century with sixguns
The year was 1950. I had spent the days between Christmas and New Year's at my cousin's house and returned home the afternoon of January 1 to find my family had moved. Actually they had told me they were moving, and I was overjoyed to now actually have a bedroom of my own. The house was small, we were what would be called low income today, however none of that mattered. We certainly had all the important things. After the war we had moved into a housing project built especially for returning veterans and now we not only actually had a house, it was backed up to a small wooded area. I would spend my most important growing up years here.
1950 was much more important for something else that happened: Smith & Wesson introduced the 1950 Target .44 Special. At that time, of course, I was too young to know anything about any of this, but I would find out within a few years. With the coming of Sixguns by Keith in 1955 I soon learned all about the .44 Special. Even though the 1950 Target arrived, at least officially, approximately six years before the .44 Magnum, I would see the latter long before I ever saw the former. Until the late 1950s the only .44 Special I had ever seen belonged to an older neighbor. His old Colt Single Action had been converted to a 7-1/2" .44 Special with a new barrel and cylinder and the grip frame had been swapped out for one from an 1860 Army. I thought it was just about the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.
After graduating from high school in 1956 and going to work I started gathering my personal collection of firearms. First came a Marlin .22, then a Ruger .22 Single-Six, both great starting guns. They were soon followed by a pre-war Colt SAA .38-40, a Ruger
.357 Blackhawk, one of the new Colt SAAs chambered in .45 Colt, a S&W .357 Highway Patrolman, even a Ruger .44 Magnum Blackhawk, however no .44 Special was to be found. This is not unusual as the Special has always been in short supply. Actually I would not see my first one until my wife presented me with a bright blue 6-1/2" 1950 Target for Christmas in 1959. I already had loading dies for the .44 Magnum as well as a mold for the Keith 429421 bullet. However, I made the same mistake as I had for the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum; that is everything was loaded to the hilt.
All my loads for the .44 Special in the early 1960s were assembled with the 250-grain Keith bullet over 17.0 grains of 2400. It would be quite awhile before I would discover the real joy of the .44 Special was not always found in shooting this heavy load. One year can make an awful lot of difference. For Christmas 1959 it was just the two of us and we had plenty of money to spend. One year later, I had started college, was laid off for the winter, we had our first baby due any day, and we had a grand total of $6.66 to spend for Christmas. We split the money in half and instead of another sixgun I got a bottle of Hoppe's 9 and some cleaning patches. But at least I still had my .44 Special not realizing it would be not for long.
Two years later we had three young babies, all which liked to eat regularly, and I also needed to get money together for tuition. We had no other choice — the .44 Special as well as two other guns had to be sold. I knew if I dropped out of school it would be difficult to start up again and we definitely had to take care of our kids, so the guns went. I'll never forget the look on Dot's face with tears streaming from her eyes as we left the gunshop; she looked up at me and said: "You will never have to ever, ever do that again!" She was right. Not only have we never had to do it again, but that .44 Special has been replaced many times over.
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