This is a guest post by Andrew Betts
If you spend enough time around gun people, you are bound to run into that guy. The one that never misses an opportunity to tell people about how his choice of caliber makes him so much more manly than the rest of us mortals. “Sure, a .45 Auto is okay, if you can’t handle the recoil from a real gun, but I keep an 8” barrel S&W 629 on my nightstand because I want to be sure to get the job done.”
I suppose they feel insecure or maybe they get to be that way because the rest of us just kind of nod our heads and wait for them to finish instead of laughing when they run off at the mouth like that. But is .44 magnum a legitimate choice for defense?
Obviously, there is a great deal of power in that cartridge. There is a saying that rifles are rifles and pistols are pistols and that is true, except when we are talking about .44 mag. You just can’t compare .44 magnum to other, more pedestrian handgun calibers. The destruction it leaves in its wake is more akin to what we are used to seeing from intermediate rifle cartridges like .223 and 7.62x39mm, than other handgun cartridges. There is no argument that big bore magnum bullets can make a real mess of a bad guy’s innards.
But the elephant in the room is penetration. Someone is bound to point out that many .44 mag loads will penetrate far more deeply than is ideal for defense. Someone might even say that they over penetrate. Over penetration is a concern that is often dramatically overstated. While it is certainly possible that a bullet could pass through a bad guy and hit an uninvolved third party, that risk is extremely low and if someone is injured, it is statistically far more likely to be the result of a missed shot, since more rounds tend to miss the target than to strike the target in a shooting.
Moreover, I know of not one single instance where an innocent person was harmed by a bullet fired in justified home defense after passing through the intended target. Nevertheless, penetration that exceeds 18 inches or so is not particularly useful because that depth of penetration will usually be enough to pass completely through a target, even if the bullet strikes a limb first and has to traverse the torso at an angle. So the question is whether it is fair to say that .44 mag penetrates too deeply.
Most of the ammunition available for .44 mag is designed for hunting, where weight retention and penetration are priorities so most of the commercially available ammo will penetrate at least two feet of tissue with ease. It is not too terribly difficult to find loads that are made with lighter bullets that have lower sectional density, such as the 180 gr XTP or 200 gr Gold Dot. These will tend to penetrate to much more reasonable depths.
The real reason that .44 magnum is a less than ideal choice for defense is that it produces excessive muzzle blast and recoil. Handguns in general are more difficult to get fast, accurate hits with, in comparison to a rifle or shotgun. The only strength of a handgun is being portable enough to have on your person.
A .44 mag carbine might not be a terrible choice for home defense. The recoil tends to be more manageable in a rifle, but it still kicks a bit. A carbine in an intermediate cartridge is an objectively better choice. A shotgun in 12 ga or 20 ga is also a very practical choice. There is also something to be said for a fighting pistol like a Glock or 1911 simply for its ability to be on your person at all times. But a .44 magnum revolver is less than ideal. Of course, any gun is better than none and the real deciding factor is your mindset and level of training, not your choice of tools.
Andrew Betts served with the Arizona National Guard for over 12 years, including a tour to Afghanistan. Visit his YouTube Channel for more great shooting information.