This month I’m going to cover what are probably the most used and popular calibers and those most associated with handgun hunting, the 44’s and 45’s.
I’ll start with the 44 special, as it seems to be having a resurgence in popularity. When loaded in strong revolvers like the Ruger Blackhawk or Freedom Arms 97, it easily meets the minimums for velocity and bullet weight, plus anything said about the 44 special is easily accomplished with the magnum. Given the moderate velocity of the Special, anything from 180gr. to 250gr. bullets will work be they jacketed hollow points or cast bullets. The Special does not tend to work a bullet beyond its capabilities. It pushes them easily down the barrel and when they run into something they just seem to do exactly what they’re supposed to, it just takes care of business. My personal preference for the Special would be something in the middle of the road, 200gr. to 240gr. and pushed at 1000 – 1200 feet per second. At those speeds, the 44 special is an easy shooting caliber that most could handle shooting without issue. Sadly while its popularity has grown recently, it still is not very well represented by the major ammunition factories and when it is, the ammo produced just misses my preferred minimum threshold. Buffalo Bore offers several loads that are much more suitable for hunting than the major manufacturers, even a “green” option. It’s a shame because the caliber, like the 41 magnum from part 1, is one of a few that are capable of allowing most anyone beginner or old hand to hunt very successfully. It uses enough bullet weight and has enough bullet diameter to be very capable of being the only handgun you might need for hunting in the lower 48. In fact, it would be a great starter caliber for someone and allow the user to purchase a 44 magnum revolver and simply start out with 44 specials.
When we step into the 44 magnums, we should choose our bullets a bit more carefully. The reason is the impact velocity, we now have the capability to push some bullets beyond their limits, and this can limit penetration. My personal preference for using jacketed hollowpoints in the 44 magnums is to use 240gr. bullets as the starting point for pigs. I have used lighter JHP bullets but have never really been pleased with the overall performance.
Luckily there are lots and lots of good factory-loaded 240gr. bullets available for the 44 magnums. You can get Hornady XTP’s, Speer Gold Dots, and others in factory fodder, Federal offers the Castcore line, and Buffalo Bore offers cast or jacketed so whatever flavor you favor you’re covered. Good bullet weights run from the 240gr. ones I’ve mentioned to 300gr., factory velocities run from 1400fps for the 240gr. to 1200fps for the 300gr. These bullets coupled with those velocities provide for very favorable performance both in trajectory and terminal performance on the game itself. I’ve taken quite a few pigs with 44’s, I’ve been using it to hunt with since the early eighties. In that time I’ve used several different bullet weights, bullet types, and construction. The jacketed hollow points were 200gr. or 240gr. bullets, Nosler’s, Hornady’s, and Sierra’s, with one exception the rest were with cast bullets weighing 300gr. to 320gr.
The one exception was with a 220gr. FPJ bullet from Sierra, that bullet behaves much like a cast bullet but it’s jacketed, I like it and plan on using it more. It penetrates very well and expands some, it’s available as a 220gr. or 250gr. bullet. A single pig was taken with a 200gr. JHP, that bullet was going 1600fps. The pig was a medium-sized one of about 160 pounds, and the pig took the bullet at 30 yards. It did not exit, and this made following the blood trail very difficult, the pig traveled 75 yards, but it took a long while to finally locate. It is for this reason that I strongly recommend a 240gr. bullet as a minimum when using a standard construction JHP design.
Recently Hornady has developed a line of hunting ammo using a new mono-metal bullet also developed by them, it’s called Handgun Hunter. I took some of the ammo for 44 magnum and used it for hunting during the 2020/2021/2022 seasons. The 44 magnum is offered with a 200gr. bullet and gives 1430fps from my 7.5” Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter, and 1320fps from a 4.7” Super Blackhawk. The 200gr. Monoflex bullet did very well on a 180ish pound pig at 80 yards, providing 20”-24” of penetration.
As we continue, we come to .45 caliber. When Ruger brought out the strong New Model Blackhawk single-action frame, the 45 Colt had new life. It was stepped up from an adequate hunting caliber, very similar to the 44 special, to a completely different level. Recently it has come into the class of the 44 magnum and in some custom guns well beyond it. If you stick with 200gr. to 250gr. bullets, and utilize traditional 45 Colt loads that push them around 1000fps you will be able to safely handle any normal-sized pig you should happen upon. However, when you step up to higher levels of power you now have a quite capable hunting round. These levels are typically referred to as “Ruger only” loads, due to them being unsuitable for guns like S&W revolvers or Colt single actions.
Factory loads from Buffalo Bore can generate more power than some are capable of handling and maintaining accuracy. Using them you have stepped into a caliber that is starting to become a handful. Just as with the 44 magnum, I suggest you start with 240gr. bullets for good pig killing. As far as factory ammo available for the 45 colt, all you need to do is search somewhere like Midway USA to see the variety available, cast bullet ammunition from Buffalo Bore, Grizzly, CorBon, jacketed ammo from Winchester, Hornady, Speer, CorBon, These are just a few of the brands available. If you live or plan on hunting in an area requiring “green” ammo, there are even brands offering all copper projectiles. My main hunting 45 Colt revolver uses a 300gr. Swift A-Frame and it gets 1200fps from its 5.5″ barrel. Before switching to the Swift bullet, I used a 335gr. LFN cast bullet from Cast Performance, loaded to 1200fps. I used this load when I was chasing after already shot pigs, that other hunters had hit. It provided excellent penetration and broke a lot of bones along the way. The first pig followed up with the load was a 280-pound one, that a good friend had shot with a 77gr. bullet from an AR. His shot was placed properly, but the bullet didn’t perform as expected. The shot from my 45 colt stopped the pig, broke the pelvis and spine, and exited.
Along with the venerable 45 Colt, this bore size also includes the 454 Casull and the 460 S&W, these calibers can really stress ordinary bullets if they are driven at max speed. For this reason, a premium bullet or mono metal bullet should be used if you’re going to use max speed. If you will use reduced speed loads (less than 1400fps) then you can get by with cast or ordinary jacketed bullets, you simply have a stout 45 Colt. Most of the factory ammo you will find is loaded to specs that should allow the bullet to perform as you would expect it to, with some expansion and good penetration. An exception I’m aware of is the Hornady pointed ammunition, FTX, it is better suited to lighter-built animals like deer and antelope.
The 454 is probably the most capable all-around hunting caliber for handgun hunting there is. If you only wanted one caliber for all your handgun hunting needs, the 454 Casull would probably be the most pragmatic choice there is. Not only are the guns chambered for it easily holstered or carried, but they are also capable of utilizing 45 Colt ammunition. This allows the same scenario mentioned with the 44Spec./44mag, you can purchase a 454 Casull and use 45 Colt ammunition until you are comfortable or need 454 power. My choice for bullet weight for the 454 would be 300gr. bullets, In fact, my do-it-all bullet for my 454 Casull is the same 300gr. Swift A-frame that I use in my 45 Colt, only this time it’s traveling at 1500fps. The extra speed requires careful bullet selection and using a partition style or mono metal bullet helps retain projectile integrity. In fact, if you use the lighter mono metal bullets you gain velocity as well as less recoil and give up nothing in terminal performance. Factory ammo is available from many sources: Hornady, Barnes, Swift, Buffalo Bore, Federal, and Winchester just to name a few. The 454, has definitely stepped out of its original offering from Freedom Arms and is now available from several gun manufacturers. My personal gun is a Ruger Super Redhawk, with Target gray finish and a 7.5” barrel.
The 460 S&W is available in a couple of different guns and in my opinion compared to the 454 Casull, is simply a case of MORE. More velocity, More recoil, More weight, and More muzzle blast. Anything the 454 can do the 460SW can do, including accepting 45 Colt or 454 Casull loads as well as stress ordinary bullets. This is why I only recommend premium bullets for both of these calibers, either bonded bullets, partition style, or mono metal type bullets. All of these styles are available in loaded ammunition from manufacturers. Just as in the 454, I’d recommend a 300gr. bullet as a minimum if lead and copper are your preference in order to achieve an exit on a pig. More velocity doesn’t equate to deeper penetration, more speed typically achieves less penetration and leads to bullet failures unless care is used in your choices. Factory ammo is available from Federal, Swift, HSM, Buffalo Bore, Underwood, and Hornady, using cast, mono metal, or premium jacketed bullets. One of the Hornady offerings is from their Handgun Hunter line and like the previously mentioned 44magnum load utilizes a mono metal bullet, making it a top choice. Federal offers several choices also utilizing good bullet selection, as does Buffalo Bore.
The 44’s and 45’s are probably our most versatile group of handgun hunting calibers, encompassing excellent starter calibers with the 44 Special and 45 Colt with traditional loadings. As well as the most versatile caliber of any, the 454 Casull. Our next caliber jump goes to a more specialized group, the .475’s and .500’s.