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.44 Auto Mag: Dirty Harry – Mack Bolan Gun Making a Comeback?

.44 Auto Mag
.44 Auto Mag. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

“Well, this is the .44 Magnum Auto Mag. And it holds a 300-grain cartridge, and if properly used it can remove all the fingerprints.” 

That line comes from the great Clint Eastwood in his role as the legendary Inspector “Dirty Harry” Callahan in the 1983 film Sudden Impact, the fourth installation of the Dirty Harry franchise. The quote goes to show that the Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver wasn’t the only gun that the movie character made famous. 

The .44 Auto Mag was actually well known already to action-adventure novel fans before Dirty Harry’s introduction. That was thanks to Mack Bolan, the hero of Don Pendleton’s bestselling The Executioner series. Surprisingly, despite the notoriety bestowed upon it by cinematic and literary fiction, the .44 Auto Mag was a commercial failure. Now it’s attempting a comeback after all these years. 

Gun and Cartridge History 

One would think that a semiautomatic pistol option for the .44 Magnum cartridge would be a surefire ticket to success. That was certainly the mentality of designer Harry Sanford when he founded the Auto Mag Corporation and opened a factory in Pasadena, California, in 1970. Sanford shipped the first of his pistols on Aug. 8, 1971, in the same year the original Dirty Harry movie debuted at the box office. What Harry gave us was a short-recoil operated pistol featuring a rotary bolt with locking lugs – similar to the AR-15 rifle action. It was one of the few post-World War II autopistols – another was the Ruger Standard .22 LR – to employ a bolt instead of a slide. But there were problems from the get-go.

For one thing, the Auto Mag wasn’t compatible with the .44 Magnum rimmed revolver cartridge developed by Elmer Keith in 1955. Sanford instead developed the specialized .44 AMP (Auto Mag Pistol) rimless cartridge to emulate the original round’s ballistics. In order to do so, he took empty .308 Winchester or 30-06 Springfield brass cases, cut them to length, and loaded a .429-inch diameter bullet into the case mouth. No other major firearms manufacturer ever built a gun that would chamber the cartridge, but for what it’s worth, the round was used successfully to take down deer, black bears, feral hogs, and wild sheep. (By contrast, the much more commercially successful Desert Eagle semiauto .44 Magnum does use .44 Magnum revolver ammo, though only jacketed bullets. Heck, even Mack Bolan eventually switched from the Auto Mag to the Desert Eagle.) 

That aside, Harry’s company and product failed because he and his design team believed that the market would support the sale of thousands of Auto Mags per month. There were also problems related to production costs, reliability issues, and a need for subcontractors to produce many of the parts. The original company declared bankruptcy on May 3, 1972, a mere nine months after the first pistol was shipped. Fewer than 3,000 of the pistols had been built. Fortunately, the gun didn’t die right then and there. From 1973 to 1982 an additional 6,000 such pistols were produced under various company names, most notably Arcadia Machine & Tool (AMT)

What Might’ve Been

It’s a damn shame that the pistol didn’t attain true commercial success, because it certainly had potential. Big-bore handgun guru J.D. Jones, founder of SSK Industries and longtime writer for American Handgunner, was a huge fan of the pistol. Back in the early 1990s Jones wrote that if one understood how they worked, they were “the most accurate and reliable pistols in the world.” Now, in case you’re not familiar with J.D’s personality and writing style, he’s very blunt and does not dole out praise lightly – especially praise of that magnitude. Since I’m fortunate to have J.D. on my Facebook friends list, he recently gave me these extra nuggets on the Auto Mag: “I used them a lot. Almost all problems were ammunition related. Usually too fast a burning powder used.”

Will It Succeed This Time? Do You Want Your Own?

As the saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” As the all4shooters elaborates, “In 2015 a new company, Auto Mag LTD. Corp, was formed to bring this legend back to the market.  The new company purchased all of the assets and rights to the Auto Mag and – to cut a long story short – after long testing, some prototypes and many improvements over the original design, in these days the first newly-made pistols are being shipped.” 

The anonymous author of the piece goes on to quote the manufacturer’s assertion that their market analysis “’supports sales of the new Auto Mag of approximately 150 pistols per month. As part of this market analysis, we have not planned for an extensive marketing strategy. We believe word of mouth, social media, web traffic and Auto Mag aficionados will drive sales. In general, we would like to sell directly to buyers.’”

The new manufacturer offers three versions on their website:

–“The Raven;” this is a special production run, the Auto Mag® RAVEN features a 6.5-inch barrel with an all-black finish, Hogue wooden grips and a brush satin cocking piece to accent the upper and receiver, and a list price of $3,895.00;

–Auto Mag Model 180-D 44 AMP Classic Edition; 8.5-inch barrel, available in two finish types — Brush Satin or High Polish — and with two different Hogue Grip styles (G-10 or Checkered Wooden), list price of $3,795.00 or $4,070.00 depending on whether one chooses the former or latter finish;

–Auto Mag Model 180-D 44 AMP Classic Edition w/6.5-inch barrel; once again, with the options of either Brush Satin or High Polish finish and either the G-10 or Checkered Wooden grips, list price of either $3,945.00 or $3,770.00. 

The manufacturer currently advises that they are fulfilling backorders for all three products, so sales are temporarily paused. Hopefully this is a good sign that the Auto Mag is selling well enough to survive for the long term this time. 

Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  In his spare time, he enjoys (besides shooting, obviously) dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports.

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. xheavy

    November 24, 2022 at 10:06 am

    Several Thoughts.

    I recall the Mack Bolan Books. Or Pulp Paperbacks in the dime store back in school days long ago. My opinion of those books are different now than as a kid. Its full of what I could consider license to kill with the .44 and excessively celebrates acts that I would not consider lawful now. Hence my calling it Pulp.

    With that said, the weapon is a big gun. I fire a .45 Colt short and its pretty hefty on its own. I did at one time go through a small supply of Colt .45 in Super at about 1350 feet per second on a bigger stronger recoil spring against a steel frame etc. That went through a barrel pretty quickly although it did a good job. Its a really big round.

    The .44’s are a fine gun, so is the .50 Desert Eagle. However I was a trucker and have the hands to handle those no problems other than a big Hogue Grip installation. They are very powerful handguns. If you wanted to say fire a .357 magnum on a snub revolver then its a exercise in pain management in addition to gun control to put rounds on target. It kicks like a mule.

    Whereas the DE .50 and the .44 has the potential to clock you and lights out. Not something you want in a real world defensive situation whatever it may be. They are very good guns. But only to those who can “Ride” them properly. I am nothing special as a human, what I did was rent a entire collection of gun store guns, all the ammunition for them at the range one day years ago. After half a day I had a pile of guns over here that I cannot hit anything with for a variety of reasons usually because they were too small etc.

    Another smaller pile was the guns that I could put rounds where they need to be and felt part of the gun at 10 yards or more and those are the ones I concentrated on. Which happened to include the DE, .44 and so on. The Colt Govt was the best fit. The 357 simply hurts too much with that kick. There are people who can do way better with that than I am willing to put up with.

    So those are my thoughts. The old Mack Bolan came from a Pulp Novel series at the dime store, and is considered essentially junk reading with what I could consider filth today as a older adult. However you can imagine a teen who is impressionable and sheltered by parents from anything and everything reading that trash. I have long since sorted that out and its not a problem anymore. The Parents in many ways did a disservice by failing to teach guns, life and other things while growing up. But Mack Bolan on paper back did in a way.

    As far as the two weapons, the 44 and the DE… if there was a need for them I would be very happy to have them. However the liability is that these are difficult guns to feed. You can get bags of 9’s, 22’s and 45’s all day long in addition to long Colt and so on so forth. But try finding a pallet of .50’\s and 44’s Have a store locally that has them. However in a future where there is no law or outright post nuclear attack, it will be bare and what you have is it.

  2. Bill Dettmer

    November 24, 2022 at 10:13 pm

    The current owner of Auto Mag happens to be a personal friend of mine. (He’s promised me the chance to shoot it on his indoor range in Myrtle Beach … if I can ever get down there.)

    We spent a fascinating hour on the phone not long ago, during which he explained in detail how he enlisted a superior gunsmith/engineer to redesign/refine the flaws that made it such a chancy weapon.

    If he gets the production and logistics issues sorted out, I think he’ll have a winner on his hands.

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