Ruger recently introduced their GP100 revolver in .44 Special. I still remember the very first .44 Special handgun I ever owned and shot. At that time, it was the “new” Charter Arms .44 Special Bulldog. And, if I recall correctly, back then the only factory ammo available was some lead round nose ammo that wasn’t very accurate. I couldn’t hit the target very often. When I did, the round key-hole went through the target sideways. Still, I kept that gun for a good long time. I don’t know why!
My long-time friend, confidant, and fellow gun writer, John Taffin, is probably the biggest proponent for the .44 Special caliber that I’m aware of. He has written tens of thousands of words on the virtues of the .44 Special caliber, not to mention a book on big bore handguns, which focused on the .44 Special & Magnum. When John speaks, my ears perk up and I listen, intensely. Taffin has promised to leave me one of his .44 Special handguns in his will, too. I don’t expect one of the fancy custom guns. Nope. I’ll take whatever he cares to leave me.
I used to be a huge fan of the .44 Magnum caliber. I still like it for medium to bigger game hunting, but I don’t much care for it as a self-defense round. It’s just too hot and will over-penetrate the human body, with most of the ammo available. That’s not a good thing. However, when stoking the .44 Magnum with .44 Special ammo, it’s a whole different ball game.
John Taffin’s Expertise
John Taffin has probably forgotten more than I’ll ever know when it comes to reloading the .44 Special round. He has devoted his life to experimenting with this round. It is good for self defense. No! I take that back. It is a great self-defense round, with the proper bullet. It will also take medium and even some big game. I’d have no problem taking a black bear with a well-placed and properly designed .44 Special bullet. Plus, one of the great things about the .44 Special is that it doesn’t have nearly the recoil and muzzle blast that the .44 Mag has. That’s outstanding!
Ruger’s GP100 .44 Special has taken everyone by surprise and by storm. It is a very hot-selling revolver. The GP 100 usually comes in .357 Mag but can be found in .38 Special too. And, to be sure, the GP 100 is a very sturdy revolver. It will handle all the .357 Mag ammo you care to put through it. So, I was curious about the .44 Spl chambering. Well, to start with, it is only a 5-shot revolver, instead of the traditional 6-shot version. I don’t have a problem with that at all.
A quick run down is in order on the GP 100 in .44 Special: It is manufactured out of stainless steel and has a nice brushed finish to it. The barrel is only three inches long, but I’m hoping Ruger will come out with one with a 4-inch barrel for just a little more velocity gain. The grips are rubber from Hogue and have a nice soft feel to them. Plus, they easily absorb the recoil from the .44 Special load. The rear sight is adjustable for windage and elevation. The front sight is a large, green fiber optic version, which is very easy to see. It’s very, very nice.
Weighing in at only 36 ounces, the GP 100 in .44 Special is not a heavy-weight at all and makes for easy packing all day long. It’s a great trail gun, if you ask me. Of course, it all depends on the ammo you have loaded in the GP 100. Some ammo is great for punching paper, some for taking small- to medium-sized game, and some are useful for medium to bigger game.
I have a very difficult time getting new shooters to understand this very simple fact. You don’t want a light-weight, low velocity target round loaded in your gun if you happen to be in black bear country. It’s not going to stop a charging black bear. So, stop and think about what kind of threats you may have to face. Will it be four legged dangerous game or are you looking to fill the pot for dinner, in which case small game will be your intended game. The ammo makes a huge difference!
From Double Tap Ammunition, I had their .44 Special 180-g JHP, 200-gr Bonded Defense load, and their 240-gr SWC Hard Cast load. From Black Hills Ammunition, I had their Cowboy 210-gr flat nose, soft-shooting cowboy load, which is a favorite for cowboy action shooting. Buffalo Bore Ammunition provided their 200-gr Hard Cast Wadcutter anti-personnel round, 200-gr Barnes all-copper TAC-XP hollow point, 255-gr SWC Keith load (a favorite), 180-gr JHP, and their 190-gr Soft Cast Hollow Point. That’s a great sampling of loads for the .44 Special. It is certainly unlike my circumstances more than 40 years ago when the Charter Arms Bulldog came out and all that was available was a 210-gr lead load.
Elmer Keith’s Legacy
The late Elmer Keith did a lot of experimenting with the .44 Special. As a result, we have the .44 Magnum. However, it’s interesting in that Keith loved the .44 Special with his hot loads a little bit better than he did the .44 Magnum. Keith, as many may know, was quite the gun writer, and he loved to experiment. He even blew-up more than a few revolvers over the years with his loads. We have a big “thank you” that is well-deserved for Keith. BTW, the Cabela’s in Boise, Idaho has quite the display of many of Keith’s firearms. And John Taffin helped put this display together.
I personally do not experiment at all, when it comes to handloading ammo. For the past several years, I simply haven’t done any reloading at all. There just are not enough hours in the day. When I do reload, I use several reloading manuals and never exceed the recommended loads. And, as always, I work my loads up. I don’t start with the hottest loads. The hottest loads aren’t always the most accurate loads. I readily admit that I’ve never reloaded for the .44 Special. Have I loaded for the .44 Magnum? Yes!
I didn’t have a proper holster for the Ruger GP 100. I used to like to hike some of the logging roads in my area, and I always packed a handgun with me. However, at the time of this testing I have an upcoming hip replacement surgery. It will probably be over with by the time this article appears in print. So, I haven’t been physically able to do much walking at all for quite some time. Still, if I were out hiking, I wouldn’t find myself undergunned if I had the GP 100 on my hip, even in black bear and cougar country, with the right loads.
The most comfortable load to shoot was the Black Hills Cowboy load. Moving along at under 700-FPS, this load was a sheer pleasure to shoot. It was like shooting .38 Special wadcutter loads in a full-sized revolver. It’s great for punching paper or just plinking all day long. From Buffalo Bore Ammunition, my favorite load is the 255-gr Keith SWC load, moving along at about 1,000-FPS. This is all the load you’d need for stopping a black bear. It will penetrate plenty deep enough to get the job done.
I’ve experimented with Buffalo Bore 200-gr Hard Cast Wadcutter load in .44 Magnum before, and this is a great anti-personnel load. Its flat design will sure get the job done. Also, for everyday carry, I’d love the 190-gr Soft Cast Hollow Point load. It should be an outstanding self-defense load. The 200-gr Barnes TAC-XP all-copper hollow point will be a great self-defense load as well.
From Double Tap Ammunition, their 240-gr hard Cast SWC load will sure do the job on black bear. Their 200-gr Bonded Defense load would be great for self defense and danger game, like cougar. Their 180-gr JHP would also make a wonderful self-defense load or cougar load.
The .44 Special is a great caliber and can be used for a variety of purposes. For me, I’d pack it when out hiking in my neck of the woods. And, depending on what I might run into– black bear or a two-legged threat, I’d load the gun accordingly with the right ammo. It would be hard to go wrong with either a 180-gr JHP or 200-gr Barnes load for two-legged threats, and they would also suffice for black bear. However, I’d feel a lot more comfortable with either the Buffalo Bore 255-gr Keith SWC of the Double Tap 240-gr hard Cast SWC.
Either would do the job on black bear and even bigger game. Up close, I wouldn’t hesitate to use either of these loads on an elk in a survival situation, where deep penetration is called for. You don’t want to take big game like that with a JHP load. It will expand too fast and not penetrate deeply enough.
The .44 Special is very versatile, as you can see. I would probably pick it over a .357 Magnum revolver for a survival situation. The .357 Magnum is a great round, but I prefer the .44 Special living where I do, where we have some dangerous game like black bear. I have taken a black bear with a .357 Magnum, though it took four shots before it went down. The .44 Special would do it faster, without a doubt.
I did fire the Ruger GP 100 at 25 yards, using a sleeping bag as a rest over the hood of my pickup truck. The most accurate load was the Black Hills 210-gr Cowboy load, which was giving me 3-inch groups. However, the Buffalo Bore 190-gr Soft Cast Hollow Point was hot on the heels of the Black Hills load, followed by the Double Tap 240-gr Hard Cast SWC load. The difference in the group sizes really wasn’t all that much, honestly. I believe, with more shooting, the Ruger can bring those groups down to 2½ inches, if I’m on my game.
I’m not sure that any of the HKS speedloaders currently available will allow you to rapidly reload the GP 100. I haven’t checked. However, with a couple of speedloaders on your belt and the gun loaded with 5-rds of your favorite load, it will sure get the job done. This is true either in a self-defense scenario or out hiking/camping or in a survival situation. If pressed, I’d load the GP 100 with the Buffalo Bore 255-gr Keith SWC load while out hiking in the boonies.
While in the city, carrying for self defense, one of the other JHP loads would work, as would the Buffalo Bore 22-gr hard Cast Anti-Personel load. There’s just a lot of variety of ammo that will surely get the job done. I don’t see the need to start reloading .44 Special ammo with the outstanding loads I tested, and there are even more loads that I can test.
It wouldn’t feel too bad if all I had on my hip, in a wilderness survival situation, was the GP 100 in .44 Special and a good supply of ammo to go with it. I don’t see myself ever going up to Alaska again. But if I did, I’d probably opt for a handgun in .44 Magnum. However, with this GP 100 in .44 Special loaded with one of the Hard Cast SWC loads, I think it might just shine against one of the brown bears. Remember, it’s all about shot placement.
You make do with what you have on hand. Save the hate mail. A handgun wouldn’t be my first choice for dispatching a brown bear. I’m just saying, it would be handy to have on your side. It’s better than throwing rocks or a sharp stick. And, of course, you can load your own ammo, too. Take it for what it’s worth.
As an aside, my wife isn’t into revolvers for the most part. She loves her 9mm handguns, and she has more than a few. However, she really loved shooting the Ruger with the Black Hills Cowboy loads. The recoil didn’t bother her in the least, and a few of the hotter JHP loads weren’t bad either. She gave me “that look” and mentioned that she wouldn’t “mind” having one of her own, just for shooting fun! It’s no wonder that I’m always broke!
The Ruger GP 100 retails for $829, and right now they are a bit hard to find. They are selling as fast as they hit dealer shelves. The gun shop I haunt had three of them in stock, and they sold all three in a couple of days. One of the owners of the shop was shocked. He didn’t think this gun would sell, but sell it did, and it is selling fast. Check one out, if you can find one.
– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio