Heavyweight .44 Remington Magnum Hunting Loads for the Ruger Redhawk

by Jay D. Hunt, Ph.D.

This article was first published in the April-June 2012 issue of The LSA Quarterly (Volume VI No. 2). The loads mentioned in this article are safe in my particular Ruger Redhawk, but should not be used without first reducing the load in your handgun, and working up to maximum loads. Check your loading data against a reliable source before attempting to work up a load. The overall length of these rounds are too long for a standard length cylinder and will not work on a Ruger Blackhawk.

The traditional gift for the 5th wedding anniversary is wood. Okay, I can see you shaking your head and thinking, “Jay’s lost it.” But, lucky for you, and even luckier for me, I married the right girl. In 1989, Suzie gave me a Ruger® Redhawk® in .44 Remington Magnum as a gift to celebrate our anniversary (wood grips!). Conventional wisdom in those days capped maximum bullet weight at 240 Gr. based mainly on the work of the Dean of all things .44 caliber, Elmer Keith, who jointly designed the cartridge with Smith and Wesson. The original work done on this caliber was based on super hot hand loads that Keith had produced for his .44 S&W Special. These loads were based on a semi-wadcutter (SWC) of 240-250 Gr. designed by Keith, and often referred to as a Keith-style bullet. Keith encouraged Smith & Wesson and Remington to produce a commercial version of this new high pressure loading, and revolvers chambered for it. While S&W produced the first prototype revolver chambered in .44 Magnum, the famous Model 29, Ruger actually beat S&W to market by several months in 1956 with a .44 Magnum version of the single action Blackhawk revolver.

Traditional bullet selection for the .44 Remington Magnum vary between 180 Gr. to 240 Gr.; however, newer bullet designs allow one to take advantage of the longer cylinder length of the Ruger Redhawk: (from left to right) Sierra 180 Gr. JHC, Hornady 180 Gr. XTP, Speer 200 Gr. Magnum JHP, Missouri Bullet 200 Gr. RNFP Cowboy #5, Speer 225 Gr. JHP, Barnes 225 Gr. XPB, Keith-style 240 Gr. SWC, Hornady 240 Gr. JTC-SIL, Hornady 240 Gr. XTP, Hornady 300 Gr. XTP, Oregon Trail 310 Gr. WNFP-GC, and Beartooth Bullets 325 Gr. LCMN-GC.

The Ruger® Redhawk® revolver, introduced in 1979, was Ruger’s first double-action revolver specifically designed for the powerful .44 Magnum cartridge. The Redhawk is reinforced to handle extra pressure, making it very popular for use by hand loaders and by those who need additional power and big bullets. In addition, the cylinder itself is longer than those on most competing handguns, allowing ammunition to be loaded to a longer overall length. This allows for either increased powder capacity, heavier (and therefore longer) bullets without compromising the powder load, or a combination of both.

SAAMI specifications for the .44 Magnum lists an overall length (OAL) for a loaded cartridge as 1.610 inches. With this standard in mind, firearms manufacturers produced lever action rifles to function properly with cartridges that are loaded to an OAL of 1.610 inches with round nose bullets. Given the popularity of having a lever action rifle and a revolver that can fire the same load, original revolver designs were likewise manufactured with cylinders that accept cartridges that are loaded to an OAL of 1.610. Rugerʼs famous single action Blackhawk and Super Blackhawk both have cylinders of this length. As the popularity of the cartridge grew in the minds of the shooting public, bullets in excess of 240 Gr. began to show up; however, the limited length of the cylinders in early revolvers resulted in a loss of case capacity as heavier bullets were pushed into the case to allow for a maximum OAL of 1.610 inches. As case capacity decreased, pressures increased along with the probability for disastrous cylinder failures. In the mid- 1970s, firearms manufacturers recognized that a beefed up revolver with a longer cylinder would more fully realize the full potential of this power house cartridge. One resulting revolver which you can get from a local gun store, the Redhawk, with its 1.760-inch cylinder, can easily handle cartridges with an OAL of 1.755 inches, perfect for hunting or at an indoor firing range or a Firearms Simulator facility.

About the Author

Competitive shooter, hunter, fisherman, pilot, vizsla servant, father, son, scientist, and lover of Civil Rights.

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