This post describes shooting results with factory loads and handloads for the Remington Model 788 .44 Magnum.
My post of September 18, 2012 gave a cursory description of the Remington Model 788 in .44 Remington Magnum. The passage of time has allowed me to complete several range trips accompanied by this rifle. I am now able to give a good account of the shooting ability of this interesting, big bore rifle.
If you want to blow .44-caliber holes in your target or quarry, there are not a lot of choices. There is the ancient .44 WCF (.44-40), which was fine in its day, 1873 to the end of the 19th century. There are a number of replica, lever action rifles made in this chambering, but ammo must be held to low pressures. Much later came the .44 Remington Magnum, the star of this post, and then the .444 Marlin, essentially a lengthened .44 Mag for lever action hunting rifles. The best combination of power and economy in shooting is the .44 Magnum.
If you are a devotee of that fine, old 19th century custom, “Rifle and Pistol Take the Same Cartridge,” you could combine a replica 1873 Winchester with a replica Colt Single-Action Army in .44-40 and you would have a lot of fun with it. A much more powerful combo, however, would have rifle and pistol using the .44 Mag. There are several makes of replica lever action rifles and single action revolvers that could be put together, for instance, a Marlin Model 94 with a Ruger Super Black Hawk.
If you would perhaps like to go more modern with your rifle-pistol pair, that could happen with pairing a Remington Model 788 with a Smith and Wesson Model 29. Check out the picture.
The Remington Model 788 in .44 Magnum
I must begin by saying that this model is scarce on used gun racks. The Model 788 was discontinued over thirty years ago, and then, the .44 Mag was not produced in large numbers. Nevertheless, I found mine, and I still occasionally see one on an internet gun list. If you want one, be persistent and patient.
Design features of the 788, with its rear locking lugs and rimmed cartridge bolt face, have been covered in other posts at this site. The Model 788 .44 magnum rifle rifle has a 22-inch barrel. I wanted to try it out in factory form, so it has had no accuracy work.
The action makes its strongest contact with the wood in the area around the action screw, just behind the recoil lug. The barrel is not supported just ahead of the recoil lug, but it makes contact with the barrel channel about four inches from the end of the forearm. This is not the best kind of bedding, but it is the way a lot of rifles with wood stocks came to their owners in the days of the Model 788. My feeling prior to shooting tests was that the .44 Magnum might not be as demanding in regard to action bedding as a higher-velocity rifle cartridge. If it shot quite well in original form, then I would want to know that before doing any accuracy work. The trigger pull was very crisp and the bore was excellent.
At the Range With the Model 788 .44 Magnum
Three-shot groups were fired over the Pro Chrono chronograph at a distance of fifty yards. A front bench rest and a rear bunny ear bag held the rifle. Several factory loads and a couple of handloads were tested with results as follows.
- Winchester factory 240-gr 1866 fps
- Remington factory 240-gr 1774 fps
- MagTech factory 240-gr 1606 fps
- Hornady LEVERevolution factory 225-gr 1759 fps
- Handload: 19.6 gr Accurate No. 9 and Hornady 240-gr XTP 1695 fps
- Handload: 19.6 gr Accurate No, 9 and Sierra 240-gr JHP 1674 fps
- Handload: 20.5 gr Accurate No. 9 and Hornady 240-gr XTP 1758 fps
The Winchester factory load was the velocity champ, very stout, at over 1866 fps from the 788’s 22-inch barrel. Being the velocity champ, the Winchester would also be the energy champ, with 1855 foot-lbs of kinetic energy at the muzzle. The MagTech lagged a bit, but, actually any of these loads would be adequate for deer and black bear hunting at appropriate ranges, and by that we mean up to 150 yards or so. Whilst speaking of hunting, if I imagine that I might meet up with a bull elk at 80 yards, I think I would prefer to be armed with my 788 .44 Mag, rather than a .30-30, maybe rather than a .308. Could be a bit too exuberant there, the opinion not being based on actual hunting experience but rather on the reading of lots of breezy hunting articles in the shooting press. Poking a big hole with a heavy bullet always seems to get respect.
My game, as you know, is tweaking rifles for accuracy, loading accurate cartridges, and shooting small groups. The rifle-launched .44 mag is deadly on targets, as we shall soon see.
The accuracy of the seven loads listed above ranged from very good to superb. Results lead me to believe that the Model 788 is the most accurate of rifle-length .44 Magnums. That might offend some lever action fans, especially since I have never owned a .44 lever action, but it is nevertheless my opinion. If you have a superbly accurate lever action .44 mag, I would love to hear about it.
Among factory loads, six Groups of Remington 240-gr gave an average 1.86 MOA. Four groups of the Hornady LEVERevolution 225-gr averaged 1.78 MOA. Four groups of the MagTech 240-gr averaged 1.80 MOA. There was one group of about 0.8 MOA in each set. The largest group of 2.82 MOA occurred in the Remington set.
The Winchester 240-gr load was the class of the factory loads. Four consecutive groups averaged 1.20 MOA, with a smallest of 0.62 MOA and largest of 1.84 MOA.
Handloads gave somewhat better accuracy than the factory loads. Four groups using 19.6 gr of Accurate No. 9 and the Sierra 240-gr JHP averaged 1.78 MOA. Four groups using 19.6 gr Accurate No. 9 and the Hornady 240-gr XTP averaged 0.98 MOA. The XTP set also had the smallest goup at 0.50 MOA.
The very best accuracy results were obtained with a handload of 20.5 gr of Accurate No. 9 and the Hornady 240-gr XTP. Four consecutive groups averaged 0.60 MOA! The smallest was 0.32 MOA, the largest 1.08 MOA. This, by the way, should be considered a maximum load of AA No. 9 with a 240-gr bullet. Yes, the .44 Magnum is an accurate cartridge and the Model 788 is an accurate rifle. Results are backed up by the picture.
Rifle vs. Revolver
A good comparison is provided by the fact that the steamy Winchester 240-gr factory load gave an average 1351 fps from the six-inch barrel of my Smith and Wesson Model 29. Thus, the rifle gets about 500 fps of additional scat when compared with the handgun. Did you hear that? FIVE HUNDRED FEET PER SECOND! That is about the same as the difference between a .30-30 and a .30-06.
It is the case that the .44 Magnum gets a much bigger boost when used in the longer barrel of a rifle than does an old cartridge like the .44-40 Winchester. That is the result of operating at pressures in the 30-40,000 psi range. A longer barrel can take best advantage of that pressure level, while a cartridge held to near black powder pressures, like the .44-40, can’t come close. This does not mean that the .44-40 is not an effective cartridge for some uses.
This is good place to mention that, if you just want a stimulating range experience, you might try a few rounds of the Winchester ammo, or a similar load, in a Model 29. It is not the most comfortable arm to shoot with a heavy recoiling cartridge. The grip comes back and smacks the middle of your palm while the rear of the trigger guard bashes your bird finger. Pain often results, and the muzzle will end up considerably above the original level of aim, but the guys shooting 9 mm at the benches next to you will be mighty impressed, that is, if you tightly hang on to your piece.
Since its introduction in 1953, the .44 Remington Magnum has been considered to be one of the premier handgun hunting cartridges. Handgun guru Elmer Keith loved it. Get a 22-inch barreled rifle and add 500 fps to the performance of this premier cartridge. Where will that put you?