Reloading Press: .44 Magnum

The Reloading Press is an at-least-weekly feature here on Gaming Ballistic for 2016. Each week it looks at some interesting real-world cartridges and presents them with hopefully-useful information in GURPS Format.

.44 Magnum/10.9x33mmR

The .44 Magnum is one of the iconic “this is serious business” cartridges both in film and in reality. When you’re packing a handgun that you don’t really care if someone sees you wearing it (open carry allowed, post-apocalyptic wasteland adventuring, or journeying through predator-infested wilderness), and the size of the hole is perceived to matter, this is going to be on the go-to list.

Designed in the 1950s and manufactured from the mid-50s to the present, it was designed as a bigger, badder version of the.44 Special (both of which actually fire bullets of 0.429″ – the 0.44″ spec came from an older method of measurement). 

Until the advent of such beasts as the .454 Casull and the .500 S&W Magnum, this cartridge was the go-to for being able to take any animal or unarmored human anywhere in North America. With some of the largest predatory animals (cape buffalo, Alaskan grizzly) even the .44M might not be considered “enough.”

For everything else . . . “Go ahead. Make my day.”
Ballistic’s Calculator Inputs

Basic inputs for the calculator are as follows, selecting 7.5″ (190.5)mm as the test barrel length, as this was the standard barrel for most of the data.

240gr .44M
Chamber Pressure 36000 psi
Barrel bore 10.9 mm
Case Length 32.6 mm
Chamber Bore 10.9 mm
Barrel length 190 mm
Bullet Mass 240 grains
Aspect Ratio 2 L/Bore
Burn length 12.7 mm
Projectile Caliber 10.9 mm
Total Accelerated Mass 240 grains
Expansion Ratio 1.75 expansion
Projectile Load 1
Output Stats
The rated cartridge is a high energy version of a lightweight projectile. It is modeled on a fairly modern 240gr JHP that develops a highly credible 450m/s out of the test barrel. If you’re going to carry a hand cannon in GURPS, you don’t go with the low-energy load! Note that the damage figured given are, nonetheless, for a FMJ round; there will be significant penetration loss with the JHP due to expanded diameter using the model.

  • The velocity is at the muzzle. The velocity with the 190.5mm test barrel is tuned to match the 450m/s spec with a 240-gr bullet. There are many other loads available, as the .44M is a bit of a handloader’s dream. This was the higher energy of several 240gr loads, but not the highest energy available (detailed in alternate loads, below)
  • Down below about a 2.5-3″ barrel, very small amounts of barrel change can throw the velocity all over the place. While the load information is scaled down to basically the same penetration as the .45 ACP (2d pi+), no one in their right mind would do this. If you’re going to carry a large-frame revolver like this (or the even larger automatic), you don’t tune it down to that level
  • The practical maximum for the barrel is likely less than the 36″ listed by quite a bit. Strenuous opinion on forums put the maximum useful barrel at about 20″ (508mm), with 24″ considered “too long.”
This is a good one size fits all cartridge if you must have something you can put in both a handgun and a rifle and you really want that pi+ rating. A 6-7″ barrel develops a whole lotta penetration and damage

Alternate Loads

Two “alternate” loads will be considered here.

The first is the actual performance of the 240gr JHP out of a 7.5″ and 18.5″ barrel using the data above.

The 240gr JHP will develop 3d+1 pi++ using my model (and 4d (0.5) pi++ using RAW). That’s 11.5 points of penetration for mine, or 7 points for the RAW. Both do high wounding for a handgun. The 18.5″ JHP will do 4d pi++ using my model and 5d (0.5) pi++ by RAW. Penetration is 14 points for the first one, and shy of 9 points for the second. Ironically, discussions about .44M penetration of the PASGT with +Michael Eversberg II recently hinge around this exact point – how robust is the bullet when it meets kevlar?

The other is the big dog. 340 grains of lead flat nose at 1425fps. This will develop 5d-1 penetration out of a 7.5″ barrel, boost the 1/2D range to 580 yards, and with a JHP configuration will deliver 4d pi++ using my model and 5d-1 (0.5) pi++  otherwise. Out of an 18.5″ barrel it’s 6d-1 FMJ and 5d-1 JHP.


There are going to be four archetypical platforms here.

The large-frame revolver format made iconic by Dirty Harry. The Smith and Wesson Model 29 has many barrel lengths possible, and the one picture is a bit over 8″ long – 8 3/8″ specifically. That’s a 4d pi++ with JHP, and 5d pi+ with FMJ.

The other big boy for handguns is the Desert Eagle in .44M. 

The Desert Eagle is iconic, perhaps, because film armorers like to use it because it’s massive size shrieks “GUN!” whereas more realistic-sized firearms don’t have quite as much screen presence. The Desert Eagle has 8+1 for magazine capacity, and comes in 6″ and 10″ barrel versions.

.44M Desert Eagle vs Glock 23

The Desert Eagle, because of high cache value as well as rarity, are both expensive and heavy weapons, and very large. Gripping  the Eagle is going to be difficult-to-impossible without very large hands.

Longarm options are mostly rifles, and specifically lever-action rifles are common. This is a “same cartridge for my revolver and my rifle” play, and given how well that this beast does out of a 16-20″ barrel (penetration like an AR15 in FMJ, wounding like a .308) it’s not a bad plan. 

The Marlin 1894 is an example of a lever-action .44M rifle, with a 10-shot tubular magazine and 20″ barrel. It’s available for about $700.

The last would be something like a bolt-action gun in .44M such as this Ruger 77/44. $1100 and 5.3 lbs, with a 4-shot capacity and 18.5″ barrel. Given the attractive choice above with most GURPS-related stats, it’s likely a poor choice for most applications relative to the lever-action gun. I’m sure there are reasons for it – maybe the layout of the Ruger is more amenable to higher accuracy and better (or possible) scope mounting.

One thought on “Reloading Press: .44 Magnum

  1. Woohoo! I'm mentioned and/or relevant to something!

    When I get a chance, I'll compare these stats to what's in HT and see what I can glean from that. I intend to do an article on a "Revised PASGT" set shortly, and I'll definitely reference this in there. Hoping to get to that tonight, though it probably won't be done for a few days. I get hung up on awful unimportant details.

    You (we?) do raise a good question, though, on how robust GURPS bullets seem to be after they strike a target. It'll need to go refresh myself on the details before I go slinging comments about.

    Needs to be a convention on what "DR" really does in this instance…

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