Relative Strengths and Weaknesses
.44 Magnum DA Revolvers
The Smith & Wessons which started it all have unquestionably the best triggers and are aesthetically the best-looking .44 Magnum revolvers on the market. The vast majority of shooters consider them to balance and "point" far better than all other makes. The correctly-dimensioned chambers, throats, and barrels of S&Ws make them all very accurate. S&W also offers by far the greatest number of variations in this caliber (barrel lengths/weights, finishes, etc.) S&W customer service is second to none.
However, the Models 29 and 629, despite ongoing engineering and metallurgical improvements, are based on a frame design that is nearly a century old and was originally built to handle a cartridge producing less than 15,000 PSI pressure. With the advent of widespread high-volume shooting made possible by low-cost progressive reloading equipment, and the common desire to push extra-heavy bullets at magnum velocities, the S&Ws do not hold up as well under this type of treatment as the Rugers, Dan Wessons, or Taurus guns. (The 26.5-ounce Ti/Scan 329, a tremendous engineering achievement, has no track record yet but is unlikely to be stronger in this regard than its dimensionally identical all-steel cousins.)
Smith & Wesson has been here before, with the tremendously popular .357 Models 19 and 66. These guns did not stand up as well to high-volume magnum use as the companyís own heavier Model 27. In this case, S&W does not (yet) make a more-durable gun in .44 Magnum than the 629.
Rugerís Redhawk and Super Redhawk are capable of digesting large quantities of 320-grain magnum loads without ill effect. Thatís the good news. The bad news is that from the factory they have poor quality triggers, and their design is such that even the most talented gunsmith canít make them as good as an out-of-the-box S&W trigger. Further, Rugerís interrelated dimensional tolerances for chambers, throats, and barrels are not nearly as precise as Smith & Wessonís, and Redhawks tend to be oversize in at least two and usually all three of these areas, with resultant mediocre accuracy. The problem is so pervasive that Hamilton Bowen has built a business out of taking Redhawks in .357 or .41 Magnum caliber and reboring, rerifling, and rechambering them to .44 Magnum so as to get the proper (tighter) dimensions. This more than doubles the cost of the gun but some are willing to pay that to get a bull-strong .44 that is accurate and points almost as well as a S&W.
Dan Wessonís .44 was designed by a firm that knows a lot about making a gun that is strong and accurate but considerably less about making a gun that feels lively in the hand. They are a small piece of the .44 Magnum market and many of their customers are competitive silhouette shooters.
Taurus makes a strong .44 that will take heavy loads and is usually quite accurate. Their rubber grips are very good at absorbing recoil. On the debit side, their triggers are mediocre, the guns are ugly, and if you dislike a muzzle-heavy feel you wonít like the way they balance. All of them are "ported," which means
increased noise, lead blowback, and concussion. Quality control is spotty and customer service is sometimes nonexistent.
Coltís Anaconda is available again, from their custom shop. They have a fairly smooth action but are expensive and MUCH worse than a S&W at tolerating high-volume shooting. Their ideal customers are people who donít fire their guns and think the Python has great looks.
Hamilton Bowen, the custom pistolsmith mentioned above, takes a Redhawk in a smaller caliber and remachines it to a properly dimensioned .44 Magnum. He is doing what Ruger should be doing in the first place. Using his best efforts, his Redhawks feel almost as good as stock S&Ws, and are definitely more durable when using the heaviest loads.
.445 SuperMag DA Revolvers
The small Dan Wesson firm is the only DA revolver maker to chamber this long round. Thus, this little-known cartridge is only used by a fairly small group of silhouette shooters, handgun hunters, and experimenters who like to plink at long range.
.45 Colt (Heavy Load Capable) DA Revolvers
Rugerís Redhawk possesses all the strengths and drawbacks of the .44 Magnum version of that gun.
Bowenís custom Redhawk starts life as a .44 Magnum and gets rebored, rerifled, and rechambered to .45 Colt with proper (tighter and more precise) dimensions. This costs $600 plus the cost of a .44 Redhawk.
Smith & Wesson makes the N-framed 625 in .45 Colt but this gun IS NOT suitable for loads anywhere near as heavy as what a Ruger will accept because the N-frameís smaller cylinder gets VERY thin at the bolt stop notches when bored to accept .45 Colt cases. Loads must be kept to levels similar to factory ammo designed for 19th century revolvers.
.454 Casull DA Revolvers
Taurusí Raging Bull was the first DA .454. The gun is well made and accurate. Their rubber grips are very good at absorbing recoil. Like the .44, Taurus .454 triggers are mediocre, the guns are ugly, and if you dislike a muzzle-heavy feel you wonít like the way they balance. All of them are "ported", which means increased noise, lead blowback, and concussion with the high-pressure .454. Quality control on the .454 seems to be better than the .44 and customer service has generally been pretty good with the .454.
Rugerís ugly Super Redhawk is available in .454. It required the use of a special alloy steel (Carpenter 465) and heat-treat because Ruger insisted on making their .454 a 6-shot gun. Other previous Ruger comments apply here.
Bowenís custom 5-shot Redhawk costs $1400 plus your .44 Redhawk.
.480 Ruger DA Revolvers
Rugerís 6-shot Super Redhawk is also available in .480 Ruger, which can be thought of as a lower-pressure, shorter "little brother" to the .475 Linebaugh, a high-pressure cartridge Ruger DOES NOT chamber. The .480 is for people who want more power and bullet diameter than the .44 Magnum but do not want the intensity or concussion of the .454 Casull. The 480 gives 1325 FPS with a 325 grain bullet.
Taurusí Raging Bull is available in a 5-shot .480 Ruger. The gun is well made and accurate. Their rubber grips are very good at absorbing recoil. Like the .44 and 454, Taurus .480 triggers are mediocre, the guns are ugly, and if you dislike a muzzle-heavy feel you wonít like the way they balance. All of them are "ported", which means increased noise, lead blowback, and concussion. Quality control and customer service on the .480 seems to be on a par with the .454.
Bowen custom 5-shot Redhawks in .475 Linebaugh (see below) can also chamber and shoot .480 Ruger ammo in the same way that .357 Magnum revolvers can fire .38 Special ammo. The conversion costs $1400 plus your .44 Redhawk.
.475 Linebaugh DA Revolvers
Bowenís custom 5-shot Redhawk costs $1400 plus your .44 Redhawk. This high-pressure caliber will push a 400 grain bullet to 1400 FPS. The .475 Linebaugh is one of the best revolver rounds in the world for hunting big game..50 AE DA Revolvers
Bowenís custom 5-shot Redhawk costs $1500 plus your .44 Redhawk, and includes four full-moon clips for this rimless round. The .50 AE fires a 325 grain bullet at about 1300 FPS in a revolver.
.500 Linebaugh DA Revolvers
Bowenís custom 5-shot Redhawk costs $1400 plus your .44 Redhawk. This caliber will throw a 450 grain bullet at 1250 to 1300 FPS. Note that the .500 Linebaugh is actually a .510" bore and thus slightly larger diameter than the S&W round listed below. Linebaugh rounds cannot be used as "lower power alternatives" in the .500 S&W revolver.
.500 S&W Magnum DA Revolvers
Smith & Wessonís Model 500 was the first DA revolver chambered for this cartridge. The S&W .500 has a number of strengths that no other gun possesses.
First of all, with its .500" bore, 1.615" long case, 2.300" long cylinder, and maximum working pressure of 60,000 PSI, the S&W .500 can be loaded to MUCH greater power levels than any other cartridge listed here. Bullets for this long-cylindered gun can be designed with noses .700" long in front of the crimp groove; this makes even more powder space available and truly impressive ballistics result, to the point that the gun really is suitable and not merely marginal for the largest African game. Semi-pointed cast slugs of 400 grains with .700" noses and .200" long shanks can achieve over 1900 FPS out of 8 3/8" barrels. 510 grain flatpoints can be sent out at over 1700 FPS, which is nearing the power level of the factory .458 rifle ammo that is being downloaded to be safe in double rifles. Longer 640 grain slugs for the .500 can get 1300 FPS, and a huge 725 grain bullet 1.4" long with a .460" diameter flat nose can be launched at 1175 FPS. Naturally, any of these bullets can be loaded to whatever lower velocity the shooter prefers.
Second, S&W has designed a recoil-absorbing grip that makes top loads tolerable in this gun.
Third, the .500 has S&Wís expected excellent trigger, better than any other make discussed, and S&Wís correct chamber/throat/bore dimensioning and tolerances for best accuracy. The .500 is one of, if not the, most accurate magnum DA revolvers made. The 500 also has S&Wís traditional build quality and carries a lifetime warranty.
The drawbacks to the S&W 500 are in the "too much" category. The gun as now offered weighs 72 ounces empty and is extremely muzzle heavy with its full-underlug 8 3/8" barrel. It balances nothing like a traditional 6" or 8 3/8".44 Magnum with a half-length underlug. The 500s come with non-removable muzzle compensators that greatly increase blast and lead blowback. Some shooters firing lots of cast bullets are seeing the comps fill up with lead and eventually they shoot them off their guns. Finally, many shooters do not need or want a gun with three times the energy of a .44 Magnum. The handloader can of course always load down his .500 S&W to whatever power level he prefers, but he is still stuck with a muzzle-heavy gun that weighs 5 pounds loaded. For many shooters, that's too much weight to carry on a belt and the balance is wrong.
Taurus, many believe, has a spy at the S&W factory. If this is true, he's not a very good one.
At the 2004 SHOT show, Taurus had a DA 500 on display. Delivery is supposed to be yearend 2004. The gun was priced $100 lower than the S&W, but had two serious shortcomings compared to the Springfield offering: First, the trigger was much worse. Second, Taurus made the cylinder of their gun about .200" shorter than the one on the S&W. This won't mean much to those people who shoot only factory ammo, or who don't shoot. For the handloader, the shorter cylinder means a .200" shorter powder column with bullets designed to use the entire length of the cylinder, and this reduced case capacity means 500 foot-pounds LESS energy in top loads, and higher pressures for milder loads. Think of it like turning your .30-06 into a .308.
Some people (and I am completely serious here) enjoy owning guns without ever shooting them. They like to look at them, and show their friends. These people are good candidates for the Taurus 500.
S&Wís product line addresses three segments of the heavy magnum DA revolver market:
A. Shooters who want the highest-quality .44 Magnum revolver in a variety of styles and weights, in which they will primarily fire ammo no heavier than 240gr.-250gr. bullets at 1200-1400 FPS.
B. Shooters who want a featherweight .44 Magnum revolver that is safe with full-power loads, to be carried a lot and shot much less than a typical .44 Magnum range gun, or shot mostly with lighter loads.
C. Anyone who wants the most powerful DA revolver made, whatever it is (and perhaps disregarding practicality considerations) if accuracy, safety, and build quality are there.
S&W has thus far ceded the following eighteen segments of the heavy magnum DA revolver market to other manufacturers, who are currently filling the first twelve of these needs:
1. Shooters who want to fire full-pressure, heavy-bullet .44 Magnum loads (250 grain bullets at 1500 FPS or 320 grain bullets at 1300 FPS) out of their guns on a steady basis, want an affordable gun with fairly normal weight and balance, and want these things enough that they are willing to put up with lousy triggers and mediocre accuracy. (Ruger Redhawk buyers)
2. Shooters who want to fire heavy-bullet .44 loads (250 grain bullets at 1500 FPS or 320 grain bullets at 1300 FPS) out of their guns on a steady basis, want an affordable gun with a good trigger and excellent accuracy, and want these things enough that they are willing to put up with a heavy gun with mediocre balance. (Dan Wesson .44 Magnum buyers)
3. Shooters who want to fire heavy-bullet .44 loads (250 grain bullets at more than 1500 FPS or 320 grain bullets at more than 1300 FPS) out of their guns on a steady basis, want an affordable gun with a good trigger and excellent accuracy, and want to do it enough that they are willing to put up with a heavy gun with mediocre balance that uses non-standard brass. (Dan Wesson .445 SuperMag buyers)
4. Shooters who want an affordable gun in .45 Colt to shoot loads similar to the heaviest 44 Magnum ammo, such as 335 grain cast bullets at 1300 FPS, and want to do it enough that they are willing to put up with lousy triggers and mediocre accuracy. (.45 Colt Redhawk buyers)
5. and 6. Those people who want the things mentioned in 1 and 4 above in an accurate, better-quality gun and are willing to pay more than $1300 to get it (Bowen rebored Redhawk in .44 Magnum or .45 Colt buyers)
7. People who want a reasonably priced .454 Casull to fire either full loads or .45 Colts, and are willing to put up with either muzzle-heavy balance and lots of blast, or muzzle-heavy balance, weird looks, and indifferent accuracy. (.454 Taurus and Ruger .454 Super Redhawk buyers)
8. People who want a .454 and care enough about balance, accuracy, and build quality that they are willing to pay $2000 to get them all in one gun (Bowen 5-shot .454 Redhawk buyers)
9. People who want a reasonably priced .475 caliber revolver to fire bullets heavier than the .454 at user-friendly pressures, and are willing to put up with either muzzle-heavy balance and lots of blast, or muzzle-heavy balance, weird looks, and indifferent accuracy. (.480 Taurus and .480 Ruger Super Redhawk buyers)
10. People who want a high-intensity factory-loaded .475 that can also shoot milder factory .480 Ruger ammo, and care enough about balance, accuracy, and build quality that they are willing to pay $2000 to get them all in one gun. (Bowen 5-shot .475 Linebaugh Redhawk buyers)
11. People who want a well-made, well-balanced, accurate .50 caliber revolver of relatively standard size and weight that fires factory-loaded ammo, and are willing to pay $2000 for it (Bowen 5-shot Redhawk in .50 AE buyers)
12. People who want a well-made, well-balanced, accurate .50 caliber revolver of relatively standard size and weight that fires a 450 grain bullet at 1350 FPS, and are willing to pay almost $2000 for it. (Bowen 5-shot Redhawk in .500 Linebaugh buyers)
13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. People who would buy something similar (or superior) in quality, balance, strength, and accuracy to the Bowen-modified Redhawks (described in numbers 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, and 12 above) if those guns were available with a lifetime warranty, shot factory ammo, and sold for a suggested retail price of under $1000.
Just as Smith & Wesson continues to produce their excellent Model 66 despite the fact that it will not tolerate constant use of heavy .357 loads as well as other, stronger .357 revolvers, so should the Company continue to produce their 629 and 329 in the
various standard and Performance Center versions. These existing arms are the best choices available for a large (probably the largest) segment of the .44 Magnum-buying public: those people who want an affordable .44 Magnum with the best possible trigger, best feel, best balance, best workmanship, best warranty, best quality control, and best customer service and who donít need or want to shoot bullets heavier than 250 grains at magnum velocities on a regular basis.
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