The .44 Magnum was developed by Smith & Wesson, who made this particular model, but the real father of the cartridge was the late, great gun writer Elmer Keith, who had a deep love of and fascination for large revolvers. Keith's favorite caliber was the .44 Special, but like a lot of serious gun nuts, he liked tinkering. There's a long tradition of what's called "wildcat" cartridges, which simply encompasses ammunition that isn't factory-produced. Maybe nobody makes the caliber, maybe nobody makes that it with that powder charge. Keith started playing around with wildcat cartridges for the .44 special, and discovered that he could load the firearm for way-above-redline pressures, and get a lot more oomph out of the gun than the manufacturer had ever intended. Keith liked oomph. He blew up a few guns figuring out how to get it. Then he used his position as a prominent gun writer to prod gun manufacturers into playing around with it. Smith & Wesson wound up running with it (though Ruger got hold of cartridge specs and gave them competition right off the bat), and the result was the factory-produced .44 Magnum. Keith was so pleased he immediately switched out the .44 Specials he always carried for .44 Magnums, and kept that arrangement until he died. The cartridge is the same width as the .44 Special, but longer, so you can't accidentally chamber a .44 Magnum round in a .44 Special gun. (You can shoot .44 Special in the .44 Magnum, though. Like the .38 Special in the .357 Magnum.)
A terrible picture of me, but not bad of the gun. Purty, ain't it?
(Yes, I am wearing a SLEDGE HAMMER! ballcap.)
You can see some empties on the shooting bench, if you want to get an idea of scale.
It was fun to shoot.
Though I really need to work on controlling the recoil.
The downside of the range I was shooting at was that they didn't have any serviceable target holders. I need to bring my own next time. So I just shot at the steel targets, ding, DING, dong. But I wanted to see what kind of groups the gun would get, so I rummaged in my range bag for a Shoot-N-See target. These are nifty little things: they're sticky on the back, so you adhere them to your silhouette or cardboard backing, and they have two layers of color. The top layer is black, the bottom flourescent yellow. When you shoot one, the impact knocks loose some of the top layer around the hole, so the hole is outlined in flourescent yellow. This is really handy when you're shooting for a while and have so many holes in your target you can't tell where that last shot went. I didn't want to stick it full-on to the steel, because I didn't know if I'd be able to get it off, so I used a couple of smaller stick-ums to adhere the Shoot-N-See to the steel plate, knowing I'd be able to pull it off afterwards.
I took aim, fired one shot -- and the target EXPLODED off the steel. I wish I had video; it was astounding.
Here's what it looked like afterward, from one shot:
Well! All righty, then.
Truefax about Elmer Keith. This is how hard-core he was: when he was twelve, he was in a terrible fire. He lived, but came out very badly burned, and suffered from adhesions and scarring. His left hand was drawn up to his wrist, so it was basically a twisted claw, real Johnny Tremain stuff; when he went to school, Keith wrapped a towel around it so he wouldn't scare the girls. The doctors in town all refused to do anything, because they figured the operation would do more harm than good. So Keith got his father to do it. No lie. He got Elmer good and drunk, cut the hand free, put it back in place, and bound it flat to a board. Keith claimed that the flesh on the hand was so thin you could see light through it. Liquor was the only anesthesia available to the Keiths. Elmer stayed awake for three days and three nights, pacing the floor, and drank about a gallon of Old Granddad. For aftercare, he kept an array of soft deerskin gloves which his mother filled with tallow. He'd slide his hand into one of those, go off and do whatever, and switch out the glove when it got too... er, stained.
Hey, man, it worked.
Elmer Keith: more hard-core than you.