The .44 Magnum round – its immortalization by Dirty Harry notwithstanding – is generally a bit of overkill for law enforcement and private citizen self-defense in urban and suburban environments due to its excessive penetration, recoil, and muzzle blast.
However, in rural and wilderness environments where overpenetration is less of a concern, the extra power and long-reaching, flat-shooting characteristics of the .44 Maggie may prove to be just the ticket against two-legged and four-legged assailants alike. (And believe it or not, even some big-city police departments like Houston PD and Detroit PD did actually authorize the caliber as an optional carry for officers who could qualify with it!)
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best .44 Magnum defensive loads out there.
Winchester Silvertip 210-Grain Jacketed Hollowpoint (JHP)
The .44 Magnum Silvertip has a couple of things in common with its .41 Magnum counterpart: (1) It’s the best-performing bullet for its caliber in The controversial one-shot stop statistical studies authored by Cpl. Ed Sanow and retired Detroit PD Sgt. Evan Marshall; and (2) it’s a so-called “80% load,” i.e., not quite loaded to original full-power ballistics, therefore still packing plenty of power but reducing both (1) felt recoil and muzzle flip, and (2) the likelihood of overpenetration in a bad guy’s torso and wasting energy whilst potentially endangering innocent bystanders and therefore creating a major potential liability issue.
To put this peppy projectile in proper power perspective, those 80 percent ballistics still generate a muzzle velocity of 1,250 feet per second and a muzzle energy of 729 foot-pounds.
I’ve fired .44 Mag Silvertips out of both the Smith & Wesson Model 29 and Taurus M44 that I used to own and was quite pleased with the accuracy and reliable function. I’ve yet to do so out of the lightly customized Ruger Redhawk that I currently own but plan to do so in the near future.
Federal Hydra-Shok Personal Defense 240-Grain JHP
The Hydra-Shok cartridge line has a superb reputation for real-world performance “on the street,” particularly in calibers like 9mm Parabellum and .45 ACP. (Though I’ve never been in a real-life gunfight, I can vouch for the performance of Hydra-Shoks in these two calibers in the static range environment.)
One thing that distinguishes the Hydra-Shok from competing brand JHPs is a distinctive central post in the base of the hollow; the specifics are too complex to explain here but as the aforementioned Cpl. Sanow explained roughly 30 years ago, that post employs fluid physics to bolster the round’s terminal performance and promote reliable expansion.
According to the anonymous author of The Snubnose Files in an article titled “Best .44 Magnum Ammo For Self-Defense, Hunting, Target Shooting & Lever Action Rifles,” “The new production Hydra-Shok 240 grain Personal Defense round is an excellent choice for concealed carry and law enforcement agencies. The center-post design delivers controlled expansion. The notched jacket gives maximum penetration. It offers a Muzzle Velocity of 1180 fps and Muzzle Energy of 742 ft-lbs.”
Remington 240 grain HTP Semi-Jacketed Hollowpoint (SJHP)
Completing the circuit of the “Big Three” American ammo manufacturers, we now turn to Remington. The “HTP” stands for “High Terminal Performance,” and as the MidwayUSA Product Overview elaborates: “Remington HTP “High Terminal Performance” ammunition is designed with self-defense and hunting in mind. All HTP ammunition feature an appropriate expanding type bullet designed for the task at hand. Waterproof sealant is used on the primers and case mouths to ensure consistent performance from everyday carry or adverse conditions.”
To quote The Snubnose Files again, “Top of the list of the best .44 ammo for self-defense. Available in 240 grain SP and SJHP rounds, this American-made defense load is inexpensive, but powerful. It boasts 1180 fps Muzzle Velocity and 742 ft-lbs Muzzle Energy.”
Though I have yet to fire the HTP SJHP round out of any of my own .44 Mag guns, past or present, I can still vouch for the quality of Remington ammo in the caliber in a general sense: in a range outing earlier this month, my girlfriend Lisa and I fired their 180-grain jacketed soft point (JSP) through my Redhawk, and we had a blast with it.
Hornady 240-Grain XTP JHP
The Hornady XTP (eXtreme Terminal Performance) JHP line debuted in 1990 and immediately garnered positive reviews for having a proper balance of expansion and penetration. Per The Snubnose Files, “It’s slightly more expensive than the Remington, but also more powerful. It boasts 1150 fps Muzzle Velocity.”
Buffalo Bore 305-Grain Lead Flat Nose (LFN)
What if you’re unable to get ahold of expanding ammo, either due to “woke” local laws, supply chain issues, or simply because your fellow ammo buyers at your local gun store beat you to the punch? Well, the beauty of big-bore calibers like the .44 Magnum is that it still punches a big enough hole and with enough “oomph” to get the job done far more often than not.
According to Palmetto State Armory: “The big flat nose keeps the bullet penetrating straight and thus deep. You can expect a good three + feet of penetration in normal flesh and bone. The flat nose also does considerably more damage than a round nosed type of bullet as the flat nose cuts and smashes it way through living matter, while round nosed bullets tend to slip and slide through matter, doing much less damage along the bullet’s path and achieving more shallow penetration due to getting sideways while slipping and sliding through matter.”
Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 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.
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