Why the "special" cartridge in a magnum?

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gnappi

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I'm asking this mainly for those who reload as I get folks who are compelled to buy factory ammo have to buy what's available.

I've owned and reloaded for DA/SA and SAO magnum revolvers in .357, .44, and .41 over the last 50 years or so and while I'm not particularly an accuracy seeker I never found their "special" counterpart the equal of the magnum in achievable accuracy. I've also found the same with autos from a Coonan .357 mag / .38 and even a S&W model 52 .38 special with cut down special brass to use LRN bullets.

Add to that the other issues of cylinder crud encountered by loading special ammo, one can have one bin of brass, one die head and dies for a progressive press, and magnums can be downloaded sufficiently. All this to me makes using special brass in a magnum not an option.

One exception I can think of may be the .327 with its brass being unobtanium and loaded ammo so expensive, but other than doing something "just because I can" why shoot a "special" in a magnum handgun if you reload?
 
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Yep I have tried to figure out why the 44 Special is so special.
I can load 44mag to 44special and more. I have had 357 Blackhawks converted to 45 Colt and they can be loaded to 44 special and more.
If you want a 44 that will do it all get a 44 Mag. ;)

Unspecial 45 Colts:):)

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noahmercy

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Distances and components keep this from being an easily-answered question, IMO. Serious target work with low-velocity, low-blast, low-recoil, out to 50 yards, especially using wadcutters? Specials rule the roost. Past that? Magnums are king. Magnum loads may also be better from some guns as far as ultimate accuracy at any distance, but when downloaded to mild levels, fall short of the accuracy potential of the shorter cases loaded to the same speeds.

I have never found a 357 load- hot or otherwise- that I could shoot as accurately offhand with my GP100 (or the S&W 686 it replaced) as 38 Special wadcutter loads, at least out to 50 yards. None of the guys I competed against in PPC used downloaded 357 cases, and the majority had 586s or 686s (their issue sidearms) and all shot handloads.

My 44 Special "gallery loads" (lead round ball and a whiff of powder) for my Super Redhawk group as tightly as anything else from that gun at 25 yards, although accuracy falls off quickly as distances increase. Wadcutter loads in Special cases shoot nearly as well as my best Mag loads out to 50 yards, and I haven't found anything mild in the big cases that can match it.

32 S&W Longs with HBWCs are incredibly accurate from my 327 Federal SP101, and none of the downloads I have tried in full-length cases group nearly as well. Full-house loads shoot tighter clusters, but it's not much fun to shoot 100 of those.

Much of it comes down to efficiency. Small powder charges in big cases do not generally burn as consistently as charges that take up more of the capacity. I loaded the most position-insensitive powder on my shelf- Titegroup- in 38 Special brass and 357 Mag brass with the same 160 grain RNFP cast bullet to the same average velocity (near the top-end for standard 38 Special) and shot them from a Rossi R92 rifle. The standard deviation was far higher from the 357 cases, and at 100 yards, the vertical dispersion was significantly worse. This was for Cowboy Action Shooting, so velocities were limited.

Another factor is the bullet vs. case-wall thickness. Special brass is generally thinner, so soft cast or swaged bullets (especially wadcutters which seat deeply) aren't "squished down" as much as they may be when loaded in Magnum brass.

Yes, there is a ring formed by residue immediately in front of the case mouth that needs to be thoroughly removed when switching from Special to Magnum, and using a lot of hot loads in Specials can actually create cavitation in the chamber of guns with poor quality steels, leading to real issues.

So if we are talking ultimate accuracy, especially at long range, Magnums rock, but for putting small groups on paper or steel out to 50 yards, especially if you want less blast and recoil, the Specials are a wonderful choice. If you're just "plinking" and don't care about tight groups or don't want to deal with cleaning the chambers before using full-length cases, then by all means just download the Mags.

My opinion, based on my experience, and worth exactly what you paid for it... 😉
 

Bob Wright

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As to the .44 Special, I'll tell you my take o the subject, my opinion only:

The .44 Specail revolver is made on a smaller and lighter frame than the .44 Magnum. Revolvers such as the Colt Single Action Army and, of more interest, the New Frontier, most Colt SAA copies, and the Ruger New Model Blackhawk, are all made on the mid-sized frame. And most custom ex-.357 Magnum Rugers are mid frame cnversions. In short, a .44 Special is a more relaxed, friendlier, more loveable sized revolver. This opposed to the mass of a Super Blackhawk in .44 Magnum. And, for reloading, components, primers, bullets, and powders are the same for both calibers. Even the shell holders and sizing die can be used for either round. My Super Blackhawks are Dragoon sized revolvers, and well suited for the job at hand. When I need a sizzlin' varmint cartridge, its a .44 Magnum, with 7 1/2" barrel. When I want a bone crushin' slug of lead, its a .44 Magnum with 7 1/2" barrel.

But, when I want a cozy, comfortable svelte six shooter on my side, it'll be a .44 Special.

Can't offer any insight as to the whys of a .45 Colt, other than to say I like 'em.

Bob Wright
 
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I'm asking this mainly for those who reload as I get folks who are compelled to buy factory ammo have to buy what's available.

I've owned and reloaded for DA/SA and SAO magnum revolvers in .357, .44, and .41 over the last 50 years or so and while I'm not particularly an accuracy seeker I never found their "special" counterpart the equal of the magnum in achievable accuracy. I've also found the same with autos from a Coonan .357 mag / .38 and even a S&W model 52 .38 special with cut down special brass to use LRN bullets.

Add to that the other issues of cylinder crud encountered by loading special ammo, one can have one bin of brass, one die head and dies for a progressive press, and magnums can be downloaded sufficiently. All this to me makes using special brass in a magnum not an option.

One exception I can think of may be the .327 with its brass being unobtanium and loaded ammo so expensive, but other than doing something "just because I can" why shoot a "special" in a magnum handgun if you reload?
Duh. Specials are always short for the cylinder so the bullet has to jump twice in a Magnum. Not to mention the cylinder crud that builds up and craps up the gun when you actually want magnums. If you want a "Special" get a Special. I have a few 38's for something for people to use when they are over and my little ankle gun.
 

Bob Wright

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As to .38 Special cartridges in a .357 Magnum revolver, this one advantage comes to mind: On short barreled .357s, the short extractr throw often times will not clear a magnum case without a little coaxing. On the other hand, .38 Specials punch out with ease. Could make a difference in a dire situation.

Bob Wright
 

gnappi

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Bob, I said nothing about a .44 special or other special cartridge in a firearm chambered for that specific round. Mea culpa if I did not make that clear.

Bob and Noah, all valid points BUT! my question... Why the "special" cartridge specifically in a magnum handgun? and "I'm asking this mainly for those who reload" That means handgun chambered for a magnum cartridge.

To the reloader who may prefer having double the brass stash, re-adjusting dies,buying a separate set of dedicated special dies, or having separate tool heads, and scrubbing cylinders I have no answers only questions to the logic.
 
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Bob, I said nothing about a .44 special or other special cartridge in a firearm chambered for that specific round. Mea culpa if I did not make that clear.

Bob and Noah, all valid points BUT! my question... Why the "special" cartridge specifically in a magnum handgun? and "I'm asking this mainly for those who reload" That means handgun chambered for a magnum cartridge.

To the reloader who may prefer having double the brass stash, re-adjusting dies,buying a separate set of dedicated special dies, or having separate tool heads, and scrubbing cylinders I have no answers only questions to the logic.
They are off the shelf "light" loads that are safe to fire. Kinda like 22's. There's multiple shorter options that will go bang in it.
 

gnappi

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They are off the shelf "light" loads that are safe to fire. Kinda like 22's. There's multiple shorter options that will go bang in it.
Last year I bought a blued .357 Blackhawk that had the cylinder permanently etched from .38 special loads. Since I replaced it with a stainless cylinder I relegated that blue cylinder for use by the next owner for .38 special loads. I hope he/she thanks me! :)

Luckily I got the revolver silly inexpensively and I wound up spending more effort on it to replace all of the blued bolt on parts with stainless.
 
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A couple of mentions of "etching/cavitation" from .38 special loads. If that occurs, won't it also occur in front of .357 cartridges? Maybe even more often?
 

gnappi

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Code, no, yes, maybe, but from excessive use of .38's it will cause sticky extraction and hard chambering of .357 brass. Not so if you only fire .357 ammo that is unless you use wildly longer and shorter bullets, then maybe.

PS, my mom used to say... "just because a thing CAN be done, does not mean a thing SHOULD be done" for me that's a good lesson I learned a long time ago.
 
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Xrayist

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I shoot magnum loads, minimum 1250 fps with 255 gr. cast bullet in my 44 magnums. I shoot nice 700-750 fps loads with same bullet in my 44 specials. Of the 20+ 44 magnum pistols and rifles I have owned over the last almost 50 years or so, I have never fired a 44 special round through any of them. To me, sort of like owning a Shelby Cobra and just driving around town at 35mph or so.....I agree with the OP, don't understand the need or desire to.
 

Paul B

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To the reloader who may prefer having double the brass stash, re-adjusting dies,buying a separate set of dedicated special dies, or having separate tool heads, and scrubbing cylinders I have no answers only questions to the logic.
Many years ago before the .44 magnum all I had was a .357 Mag. I found the hassle of readjusting the dies fir thr ,38 Spl. and .357 mag. a royal PITA. Back then I made a set of rings, washers if you will and set them up so when switching from .38 Spl. to .357 Mag it was unscrew the die from the press, slip the ring onto the die and return it to the press and load away. Last time I looked RCBS makes those rings now so one doesn't have to make their own. FWIW, I still use the ones I made and made a set for my .44 Mag. dies as well.
Paul B.
 
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I like shooting more often, rather than less often, which is one reason I reload (more bang for the buck ;^). When it comes to reloading components, I usually find 'Special' brass cheaper than 'Magnum' brass, and I can usually buy lead bullets for a lot less than jacketed. I sometimes get great deals on standard small pistol primers, but at times it can be hard to even find magnum primers. And smaller cases require less of any given propellent than do larger cases, to generate equivalent pressures/velocities.

What it all adds up to is a choice: do I want to load 'Special' cartridges for maybe a nickel a piece, or do I want to load 'Magnum' cartridges for $0.10 to $0.20 each? Because of my budget & personal preferences, I load a lot more 'Specials' than 'Magnums'. Your priorities & decisions may be entirely different!

As always IMHO, FWIW, YMMV, etc.
:)
 

Bob Wright

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"Bob, I said nothing about a .44 special or other special cartridge in a firearm chambered for that specific round. Mea culpa if I did not make that clear."

I realized that after my wordy post. I just got carried by my own eloquence!

My apologies.

And...........as a matter of fact, I shoot magnum ammunitipn in my magnum revolvers. Though when I got my first .44 Magnum, an old Ruger Super Blackhawk, I shot a few rounds each of .44 Magnum, .44 Special, and .44 Russian just because I could. And, .44 Russian was still on the shelves back then!

Bob Wright
 

Bob Wright

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I honestly see no benefit to a Snubby Magnum unless you want to light your assailant on fire which can be more effective than shooting them.
As I recalll, the S&W Model 19 was THE snub nosed gun at the time, and was the choice of Sky Marshals, and a +P .38 Special round was specially developed just for this use. Can't verify this info today, so may be urban legend.

Bob Wright
 

gnappi

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Guys, I'm hoping I did not open a me vs. them issue, it wasn't my intent. I simply asked why? And as others also agree I'm not alone.

Leper, good points if true, but to me there's no reason you cannot use standard primers, the same bullets (lead, TMJ, or jacketed) or reduced charges of most powders downloaded in a magnum case which will last almost indefinitely (certainly better than .38's with equivalent loads in my experience) without the hassles of loading and supporting two calibers in a single cylinder.

At Starline the difference between new 38 special and 357 mag brass is one penny no difference between .44 mag and special, and .41 spec is generally unavailable there. If I'm looking on the range I find .357 brass many times more often than .38's. I don't see a delta of up to .15+ per round to simply use magnum brass. One cent uplift for brass? Sure but considering I reuse brass many times that one cent gets divided by the number of firings.

Anyway, suffice it to say for y'all purposes you're doing what you need to do. LONG ago I decided that minimizing the crowding of my reload areas made not using any special cartridges necessary.

For those of you who read this far, I have a box of .44 special (~100 pcs.) which was gifted to me (mixed in a box of .44 magnum brass) on another site with a stipulation that I pay it forward in lieu of remuniration and a few .38 (~50 pcs.) brass I'll ship to the first I'll take it and follow up PM.
 
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