Top 5 Magnum Cartridges: Big Booms

The words “magnum round” tend to conjure up visions of Dirty Harry and his 44 Magnum. And while 44 Magnum is certainly a useful and well-liked cartridge, there are quite a few other magnum cartridges worth knowing about (and potentially using). We’ve done the work for you narrowing down the options to the top 5 we prefer, but there are definitely a lot of others out there. This is a versatile list for hunters and defenders alike. Check out our list, then tell us what you think we missed in the comment section.

44 Magnum

The 44 Magnum is among the most popular magnum cartridges, and it’s understandable. (Photo credit: Federal Premium)

44 Magnum is far more than the round popularized by Clint Eastwood. At the time “Dirty Harry” was made, Clint Eastwood famously declared it the most powerful handgun in the world. In reality, there are some hotter rounds than what’s typically found in 44 Magnum, but it’s still a fantastic Magnum round. It’s been around since 1954 and its very existence is heavily credited to the late Elmer Keith (who had a lot to do with other magnums as well).

This is a magnum round that’s ideal for handgun hunting but is also found chambered in lever-action rifles, along with the occasional bolt-action. There’s a limit to the velocity you can get out of it by running it through a rifle rather than a handgun, of course, but there are a lot of pros to having a 44 Magnum rifle. On the self-defense side, it’s not as ideal, although it would certainly be effective. If you’re going to use a gun chambered in 44 Magnum you’ll get greater ballistic results with a longer barrel, but there are some snubby 44 Magnums on the market. Just be aware there will be some felt recoil.

500 Smith & Wesson Magnum

hornady 500 smith & wesson magnum
500 Smith & Wesson Magnum definitely has its uses. (Photo credit: Hornady)

A step up in size from the 44 Magnum is the 500 Smith & Wesson Magnum, which has a .500-inch diameter bullet (44 Magnum’s is .429 inches). Now, this is a newer magnum than many if not most others, having been designed in 2003. It was specifically created by Smith & Wesson to be an impressively powerful handgun cartridge, if not the most powerful. Technology is constantly advancing, after all. But if you want an awesome magnum revolver that beats most with no problem, it’s going to be 500 Smith & Wesson Magnum.

The SAAMI (Sports Ammunition and Arms Manufacturer’s Institute) maximum pressure for this cartridge is 60,000 psi. However, as with many larger bore offerings, the 500 Smith & Wesson Magnum is regularly loaded at a lower pressure. This is a speedy, hard-hitting cartridge that can push a 350-grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of more than 2000 feet per second and muzzle energy beyond 2800 foot-pounds. What’s it used for? Realistically, this is one geared toward magnum lovers who will either run it occasionally at the range or use it hunting. In hunting circles, it’s not extremely commonly used, but ever so often someone runs one on deer, elk, or other game animals.

357 Magnum

remington 357 magnum
The 357 Magnum is a valid magnum option for self-defense use. (Photo credit: Remington)

On the self-defense side, we have the 357 Magnum. This is another cartridge with an existence credited to the late Elmer Keith, and we are forever grateful for his fascination with pushing the limits of the ammo of his era. 357 Magnum was created in 1934, quickly entered production, and has maintained its hold as a popular magnum handgun round ever since. Revolvers chambered in 357 Magnum can also run the softer shooting 38 Special, but the reverse isn’t true. There are a lot of options out there for 357 Magnum self-defense guns, and they’re not only revolvers. Yes, there are semi-autos chambered in this magnum cartridge.

It’s true that the 357 Magnum enjoys most of its defensive ammo popularity among revolver fans, but it’s also accurate to say that favoritism is deserved. It provides greater velocity and energy than 38 Special, making it a more effective defensive option, and is also good enough for varmints and small game. Using the correct load is important, as with any caliber ammunition, but 357 Magnum is more versatile than many people realize. In fact, there are lever actions chambered in it that make excellent brush guns and truck guns.

41 Remington Magnum

barnes 41 remington magnum
The 41 Remington Magnum is an underrated magnum cartridge. (Photo credit: Barnes)

41 Remington Magnum is a bit of an unsung hero. For whatever reason it’s often ignored by magnum cartridge fans despite it being a capable option. In fact, there’s a 41 Special, it just doesn’t get much play. The 41 Remington Magnum was created by, you guessed it, Elmer Keith in collaboration with Skeeter Skelton and Bill Jordan. It has a .410-inch diameter bullet and is typically found in 240 grain and less, although there are some heavier loads. Of course, when you compare that to something like 9x19mm Parabellum, the difference is significant.

Although 41 Remington Magnum is usually a revolver chambering, there are lever actions available as well. Those levers are frequently used by deer hunters. This is a magnum cartridge that doesn’t produce quite the overwhelmingly impressive ballistics as many other magnums, but that also means the felt recoil and muzzle rise is less (which can be a huge plus). It’s fairly common today to see this cartridge used by cowboy action shooters but it does make an occasional appearance elsewhere. Don’t underestimate its usefulness.

327 Federal Magnum

327 federal mag
The 327 Federal Magnum is a great defensive cartridge. (Photo credit: Federal Premium)

This is the newest magnum cartridge on this list. It was designed in 2007 by Federal Premium, hence its name, and it remains in production even though it didn’t quite take off like the ammo maker probably hoped it would. The idea behind its creation was to at least somewhat replicate the ballistics of the 357 Magnum, only with greater cylinder capacity. This one makes the list partly because it’s a magnum cartridge based on a magnum cartridge (no, not 357 Magnum, 32 H&R Magnum).

There are a number of revolvers offered in 327 Magnum with capacities typically of six or seven shots. There’s even a lever action, the Henry Big Boy Classic. 327 Federal Magnum is a reasonable option for defensive use and can also be used for varmint hunting. It’s seen by many as a niche cartridge, but it’s an interesting one. It also goes to show how the industry continues to try new things and make advances. Who knows what will be tried next?

Magnum handgun cartridges are great for self-defense, handgun hunting, and range use. There are too many fun magnums to list here. Do yourself a favor and do some digging on your own. You just might discover your next favorite round.

What’s your favorite magnum handgun cartridge? Tell us in the comments.

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