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44 Special vs 44 Mag

The .44 Smith & Wesson Special has a rich history spanning over a century. Initially, it enjoyed immense popularity in the early 20th century. However, with the arrival of its faster, more powerful, and more favored counterpart, the .44 Remington Magnum, the Special faced the risk of fading into obscurity like a relic from the past. Fortunately, the .44 Spl managed to survive primarily due to the dedication of custom handloaders and cowboy action shooters.

Undoubtedly, the .44 Rem Mag delivers superior speed and energy, but this enhanced performance comes at a cost. Many shooters struggle to manage the Magnum’s intense recoil. On the other hand, the .44 Spl boasts a recoil as gentle as milk, making it more manageable for shooters.

If you’re unsure which of these classic large-caliber handgun cartridges to load in your six-gun, get ready to explore the fascinating world of .44-caliber cartridges by putting on your boots and joining us on this deep dive.

What is the Difference Between .44 Mag and .44 Special?

The .44 Remington Magnum, commonly referred to as .44 Mag, and the .44 Smith & Wesson Special, also known as .44 S&W Special, .44 Special, and .44 Spl, share more similarities than differences. Both were originally designed for large-caliber revolvers and utilize .429-inch (10.9 mm) heavyweight bullets. Consequently, they both serve as excellent choices for hunting and home defense.

The primary distinction lies in the case dimensions. The .44 Mag employs an elongated version of the .44 Spl case. This additional space enables loaders to accommodate 4.4 more grains of propellant in the .44 Mag. While this may not appear substantial, the extra powder generates higher velocities, flatter trajectories, and greater downrange energy.

While shooters may endlessly debate abstract concepts such as “stopping power” and “shootability,” the empirical data speaks for itself. Let’s examine the statistics of these cartridges.

PMC 44 REM MAG 180 gr JHP
PMC 44 REM MAG 180 gr JHP

Need bulk .44 Rem Mag ammo? Check out our .44 Rem Mag section to see what available!

Can You Shoot .44 Special in a .44 Mag Handgun?

Certainly! If you possess a .44 Magnum revolver, it is perfectly safe to use .44 Special cartridges in it. In fact, if you desire a practice session with reduced recoil using your magnum revolver, this is an excellent approach.

However, the reverse is not true. Due to the significantly higher pressures at which .44 Magnum cartridges are loaded, it would be extremely hazardous to fire them in a revolver chambered for .44 Special. Doing so could lead to catastrophic consequences for both the shooter and the firearm.


Based on the laws of physics, it is expected that the additional propellant packed into the slightly longer .44 Magnum case would result in increased recoil. This aligns with Newton’s Third Law, which states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

However, the recoil produced is also influenced by the weight of the handgun and the projectile being fired. A heavier handgun will mitigate felt recoil as its mass absorbs a portion of the rearward force. Thankfully, firearm manufacturers recognize this and often design .44 Magnum handguns to have more weight than the typical .44 Special.

Another way to manage the relatively strong recoil of the .44 Magnum is by using loads with lighter bullets. Shooting heavier bullets tends to amplify the recoil compared to shooting lighter ones.

Even when attempting to equalize external factors, the .44 Magnum still generates substantial recoil. In contrast, the .44 Special delivers recoil that is milder than that of a newborn kitten.

Although many firearm enthusiasts dismiss complaints about recoil, it undeniably impacts accuracy. Severe recoil not only diminishes the enjoyment of shooting but also makes it challenging to realign the aim. It necessitates additional effort to regain stability after each shot.

While it is true that certain individuals handle recoil more effectively than others, even the most assertive and confident shooters at the gun range will achieve greater accuracy when using a cartridge with milder recoil, such as the .44 Spl.


Drawing a direct comparison between the accuracy of two distinct cartridges is a complex matter. Accuracy is influenced by a combination of factors, including ballistics, firearm design, and the skill of the shooter. Ultimately, the shooter’s abilities play a significant role in achieving accuracy.

Both the .44 Mag and the .44 Special are utilized by serious bullseye competitors, highlighting their capability for consistent accuracy.

However, the increased velocity offered by the Magnum undeniably grants it an advantage in terms of accuracy and trajectory. With the .44 Mag traveling approximately 1.5 times faster than the .44 Special, it spends less time in transit towards the target. This translates to reduced exposure to wind and gravitational forces, minimizing the chances of the bullet deviating from its intended path.

Within typical self-defense ranges, the effects of significant bullet drop or wind drift are minimal. However, if you require an extended effective range for your pistol or revolver, the .44 Mag proves advantageous.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that lever-action rifles chambered in .44 Mag provide improved long-range accuracy and a flatter trajectory, owing to their longer barrels.

As previously mentioned, it is essential to acknowledge the impact of recoil on shooter accuracy. The milder recoil of the .44 Special makes it notably easier to control, particularly when it comes to executing accurate follow-up shots.


When examining metrics such as velocity and kinetic energy, it becomes evident that the .44 Magnum possesses impressive power. If it is capable of taking down a black bear, it certainly has the potential to stop human threats.

However, when a heavy bullet travels at Magnum velocities, over-penetration becomes a genuine concern. Excessive penetration in densely populated areas or when there may be loved ones behind a door can result in catastrophic collateral damage.

Moreover, the significant recoil of the Magnum poses a genuine challenge when attempting to deliver multiple shots accurately and rapidly. Managing such wild recoil requires substantial muscle strength and concentration, particularly in high-adrenaline situations.

In contrast, the .44 Special offers mild recoil and reduced penetration, making it a safer choice for home defense. But can the Special effectively neutralize a dangerous threat?

The ballistics of the .44 Spl are not far off from the popular .45 ACP, which is favored by both law enforcement and civilians for personal defense. Therefore, the Special is unquestionably a viable option as a defensive cartridge.

PMC 44 S&W Special 180 gr JHP
PMC 44 S&W Special 180 gr JHP

Need bulk .44 special ammo? Check out our .44 special section to see what available!

Should I Use .44 Mag or .44 Special?

While some shooters may perceive the .44 Special as outdated, this mild-recoiling large-caliber cartridge offers more than mere nostalgic appeal.

In comparison to the high-velocity .44 Magnum, the Special may not achieve impressive speeds. However, it compensates with minimal recoil, ensuring enjoyable shooting experiences while still delivering ample accuracy and energy at self-defense distances. Its popularity among cowboy action shooters and as a plinking tool further attests to its versatility.

Shooting the powerful .44 Magnum requires a sturdy resolve. Taming its recoil demands significant effort. Nevertheless, this high-velocity behemoth excels in pursuits ranging from hunting elk and black bears to defending against human threats.

Whether you’re an avid big-game hunter or simply crave the thrill of intense recoil, firing the .44 Magnum can provide a significant adrenaline rush. However, if recoil is a deterrent, the .44 Special is likely the more suitable choice.

Need bulk ammo? At True Shot Gun Club, we have a wide variety of handgun ammo and rifle ammo available to purchase. Please visit our website trueshotgunclub.com, call us at (888) 736-6587, or you can email us at [email protected] for more rifle ammo options.

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