Hunting With Handguns: Taming the .44 Magnum

_by Phil Bourjaily
_
After I eased into handgunnning and handgun hunting with a .357 magnum last year, I decided to move up to a .44 magnum this year - specifically the S&W 629 Stealth Hunter pictured here.

First trip to the range, I started out shooting .44 specials to get a feel for the gun. The .44 special in a heavy revolver like this one has no recoil whatsoever and is a lot of fun to shoot. However, I am hunting with .44 magnum ammo, so I loaded the gun with a full-power magnum cartridge, pulled the trigger, and immediately realized why it is you so often see nearly new .44 magnums for sale.

People think they will be fun to shoot, then they find out the .44 kicks. The kick isn't horrendous, but it gave me a good enough whack on the heel of my hand that my groups grew bigger, not smaller, the longer my practice sessions lasted.

My first thought was just to go back to the .357. It has a lot less recoil and is effective at the close ranges I will shoot, but I rejected that as being too wimpy a solution, even for me.

Instead I changed out the hard rubber Hogue grip that came with the gun for a much softer Pachmayr Decelerator grip(38.98, lymanproducts.com), which takes just a few minutes to install with a screwdriver. And, I dug around in my boxes of stuff in the basement until I came up with a pair of nearly forgotten Past shooting gloves (34.99, battenfeldtechnologies.com) with a thick pad in the palm of the shooting hand. Honestly, I don't even know why I had them but I'm glad I did, because they don't make the left -handed ones any more.

The combination of the gloves and the new grip resulted in a major reduction in felt recoil. The .44 is still loud, it bucks, but it doesn't hurt anymore. In the absence of pain my groups shrank right away. And, as I get more accustomed to shooting the 629, I can now manage it almost as well without the gloves. Currently my maximum off-hand range is about 25 yards (the distance at which I can hit a pie-plate consistently) but it's only August and I've got plenty more time to practice before December.

If you are among those who finds that .44 you bought to be a handful, take heart. With enough padding you can calm it down and make it do your bidding.