Looking for the best .44 Magnum ammo to feed your wheel or lever gun? Here we cover eight top loads and the best ways to use them.
We went over .44 Magnum revolvers, so now let’s talk about .44 Magnum ammo. We’ll briefly go over ballistics and then look at eight great .44 Magnum loads and what they’re best used for.
.44 Magnum For Concealed Carry Or Home Defense
While .44 Magnum had some limited adoption in law enforcement, it is not an optimal choice for defense.
Arguably, the current authority on terminal ballistics and ammunition performance is Dr. Gary K. Roberts, the protege and colleague of Dr. Martin Fackler, who helped the FBI develop its testing protocol.
Dr. Roberts’ tests of .44 Magnum, hosted on AR15.com, indicate fast-opening, light-for-caliber bullets are the best picks for defensive use against human threats as they tend to not over penetrate.
For instance, the 300-grain Hornady XTP JHP load penetrated over 20 inches in bare gelatin and expanded to an average of 0.7 inches while retaining all weight. While impressive, the results indicate a possibility of over-penetration, meaning that the bullet could likely exit the target with enough velocity to still prove lethal to bystanders in a defensive scenario.
If overpenetration is a concern— and it needs to be for defensive use—choose your ammunition carefully. You are accountable for every bullet that leaves the muzzle. If it hits the threat AND someone else, you’re still liable.
.44 Magnum Ammo: Expanding Vs. Hardcast
The primary purpose of expanding ammunition is for the bullet to deform in a fleshy target, causing the bullet to slow down and not penetrate as deeply, making the chances of a through-and-through less likely.
While a larger wound cavity does result from the bullet expanding, most of it is only temporary. What a lot of people forget is that tissue is quite elastic and returns to its original structure fairly quickly. Marksmanship and penetration are the greater shares of lethality regardless of the projectile type being used.
What do hardcast bullets do? They punch deeper holes, and aren’t dependent on barrel length for terminal performance.
In short, hardcast bullets are preferable when over-penetration is irrelevant and the target needs a hole put in it good and hard, such as big or dangerous game. Expanding .44 Magnum ammo is better suited for soft targets that don’t need maximum penetration like whitetail or hogs.
.44 Magnum Ammo Buyer’s Guide
Hornady 300-Grain XTP JHP
The Hornady 300 XTP JHP load is perfect for medium-game hunting. It penetrates deeply, expands reliably and retains weight very well, which XTP hollow points have long been known for.
A 6-inch or longer barrel is best for expanding .44 Magnum ammo such as this, but it will perform just fine from a 4-inch gun as well. The advertised velocity is 1,150 feet per second with 881 foot-pounds of energy.
Price: ~$35 Per Box of 20 // hornady.com
HSM Cowboy Action Ammunition .44 Magnum 200 Grain Flat Nose
There’s no such thing as “cheap plinking”.44 Magnum ammo, but this load gets you close. HSM’s Cowboy Action line is made for CASS and SASS shooters, and is a very mild load utilizing a black powder substitute.
It’s a 200-grain cast flat nose (Keith semi-wadcutter) bullet, good for an advertised 975 feet per second and 422 foot-pounds of energy. While still not cheap, this is about the cheapest .44 Magnum ammo you can buy, and it’s very soft-shooting to boot.
If you enjoy shooting your .44 Magnum for fun, get this load and enjoy. It could also serve as a capable medium game hunting load in a carbine inside 100 yards if it’s all you had available.
Price: ~$50 Per Box of 50 // hsmammunition.com
Hornady .44 Magnum 225 Grain FTX LEVERevolution
Hornady’s LEVERevolution line purports to make cartridges more aerodynamic. The G1 BC of this load is .145…so it’s not. But it is a good hunting load in a carbine or handgun, as it’s the same bullet design as Critical Defense and Critical Duty.
According to Hornady themselves, this 225-grain FTX load—with a 100-yard zero—has a first intercept at 25 yards, a second intercept at 100 yards and drops 5.4 inches at 150 yards, for something like a maximum point blank range of about 125 yards with a 1.5-inch offset. At 200 yards, the point of impact drops about 16.5 inches.
Velocity is an advertised 1,410 fps with 993 foot-pounds of energy from a 7.5-inch barrel. A 16-inch or 18-inch carbine would add about another 200 to 300 fps on top of that.
MSRP: ~$30 Per Box of 20 // hornady.com
Buffalo Bore 305-Grain Hard Cast Flat Nose Gas Check
Buffalo Bore is one of the go-to ammunition brands for hard-hitting, heavy game loads for revolvers. Their 305-grain hard cast load would be an excellent pick for large or dangerous game in almost any .44 Magnum.
Factory velocities are given as 1,328 fps through a 6-inch barrel and 1,779 fps through an 18.5-inch carbine. At 1,328 fps, that nets around 1,200 foot-pounds of energy, but just shy of 2,000 foot-pounds through an 18.5-inch barrel. That’s the same muzzle energy as a .30-30.
This .44 Magnum ammo is designed to penetrate deeply in whatever it hits, so it’s a natural choice for a backup handgun or lever-action in bear country.
MSRP: $53.68 Per Box of 20 // buffalobore.com
Winchester Super-X 210-Grain Silvertip JHP
If you were going to keep a .44 Magnum for defense (.44 Special would be better, but we’ll save that topic for later) what information is out there favors fast-opening, light-for-caliber expanding bullets.
This 210-grain JHP load in .44 Magnum is a perfect candidate for defense or as a medium game load at modest ranges. Winchester claims 1,250 fps of velocity and 729 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle, so it’s mild as far as .44 Magnum ammo goes.
This would be a good defensive loading in a 4-inch revolver and decent for hunting medium game.
Price: ~$40 Per Box of $20 // winchester.com
Underwood Ammunition 255-Grain Cast Lead Keith Semi-Wadcutter
This is the original .44 Magnum woods load.
The .44 Magnum was the brainchild of the “.44 Associates,” a group of handloaders who hot-loaded .44 Special, among them the legendary Elmer Keith. Keith also devised a semi-wadcutter bullet design with a flat nose and sharp shoulder for multi-purpose use.
The 255-grain Keith SWC load excels at target shooting and hunting, hitting hard and penetrating deep. Excluding scenarios where overpenetration is of concern, it’s an excellent all-purpose load.
Underwood’s 255-grain hard cast Keith SWC has a polymer coating for cleaner shooting and is rated for 1,350 fps and 1,032 foot-pounds at the muzzle. It’s good for all platforms, and taking a Stetson and a cigar to the range is highly encouraged.
MSRP: $31.99 Per Box of 20 // underwoodammo.com
Remington UMC 180-grain Jacketed Soft Point
While not quite as cheap as the aforementioned HSM Cowboy Action load, Remington UMC 180-grain JSP is as close as you get to cheap .44 Magnum ammo that’s still loaded to full power. It’s tenable for defense or medium game hunting with most platforms including 4-inch and 6-inch (or longer) revolvers, as well as carbines.
It’s a fast, light-for-caliber, controlled-expansion load, and Remington claims it can do 1,610 fps and 1,036 foot-pounds at the muzzle. If you don’t have bears to worry about, it’s a decent all-purpose load for revolvers or carbines. The best at any one thing? Maybe not, but it checks a lot of boxes.
MSRP: $66.99 Per Box of 50 // remington.com
Federal Premium HammerDown 270-Grain Bonded Soft Point
Lest we forget, .44 Magnum is also a common chambering in lever-action rifles. The Federal Premium HammerDown 270-Grain Bonded Soft Point is made for the lever-action rifle hunter.
Bonded bullets hold together when penetrating tissue, keeping the jacket from separating and ensuring deeper penetration. That was the great leap forward in rifle bullet technology almost a century ago (Bitterroot Bonded and Nosler Partition) and in JHP pistol bullets in the 1990s with Speer Gold Dot.
This load is designed for deeper penetration with controlled expansion, ideal for deer, hogs, black bear and elk, and to function reliably in lever-action rifles. Federal advertises a velocity of 1,715 fps at the muzzle with 1,763 foot-pounds of energy and is good for a maximum point blank range of about 125 yards.
MSRP: $38.99 Per Box of 20 // federalpremium.com
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