In our tests, the S&W; revolver didn’t shoot as well as the Colt Anaconda and Ruger Super Redhawk wheelguns.
Handgun-equipped deer hunters who are in the market for a new revolver have a number of items from which to choose, but they must be careful to select a wheelgun that has the accuracy and oomph to quickly kill a whitetail at yardages up to 100 yards. Several rifle cartridges are being chambered in handguns, and they certainly have what it takes to put venison in the pan, but in terms of market share, the .44 Magnum stands alone because of its power and availability.
In addition to the right cartridge, a hunting handgun must also handle well in cold weather, be heavy enough to moderate the .44’s stiff recoil (but not so heavy that carrying it is a burden), and be scope-ready. Also, it needs to function flawlessly in hunting conditions and be easy to maintain.
We recently tested a trio of revolvers we hoped would suit these handgun hunting requirements: Ruger’s $589 Super Redhawk GKSRH-7, a stainless-steel version with a 7.5-inch barrel; a Colt Anaconda MM3080PDT, a ported 8-inch stainless .44 Magnum that lists for $629; and Smith & Wesson’s blued Model 29 .44 Magnum. It comes with an 8.4-inch barrel and a retail price of $566.
Without regard to price, we preferred the Anaconda over the Redhawk and the 29. It combined across-the-board accuracy with good field-handling characteristics, most notably a soft, sticky rubber grip. However, we also think the Ruger handgun is a best buy, for reasons we detail below.
How We Tested
We acquired a selection of .44 Magnum ammunition from three manufacturers. We used Remington’s .44 Remington Magnum 210-grain semi-jacketed hollow points (R44MG6), CCI’s Blazer .44 Magnum 240-grain jacketed hollow-point round (D01C3), and Winchester’s .44 Remington Magnum 240-grain jacketed soft-point loading (Q4240). To test for accuracy, we clamped the guns into a Ransom Pistol Rest with windage base. The rest was mounted on a 24-inch-square plywood base that was 1.4 inches thick.
This platform was C-clamped to a 1-inch-thick steel sheet attached to a steel pipe embedded in concrete and planted in the ground. We shot all our test groups outdoors at 50 yards. We fired 10 six-shot groups to collect our accuracy data, spotting the rounds with a Nikon 20- to 60-power Field Spotting Scope. Using a Parker-Hale cleaning rod and jag, we cleaned the guns with Pro-Shot copper solvent between lots and then fouled each gun before shooting the next test lot. We measured all the groups to the nearest tenth of an inch using a Neal Jones benchrest-scoring device. We also did extensive range testing on steel targets, and we packed them in a holster and toted them around to see if we could isolate any carrying faults that might not be apparent to the naked eye.
The Family Trees
Colt’s revolver line is extensive, and it includes three items in the Anaconda double-action .44 Magnum/.44 Special group. (Two 1996 models have been dropped from the 1997 line, the MM3080RT 8-inch camouflaged .44 Magnum and the MM4580 8-inch .45 Colt.) All the guns have matte-stainless finishes. The DT in their designations refers to “drilled and tapped” for Colt scope mounts. The P letter in our test gun’s name means the barrel is ported. Porting is available as an option on the DT models. The Anacondas sell for $629 suggested retail.
Ruger’s revolver line includes two Redhawk marques. The $589 Super Redhawk, introduced in 1987, is distinguished from the standard Redhawk by its heavy extended frame and its integral scope-mounting system on the wide topstrap. Also, the Super’s wide hammer spur has been lowered for better scope clearance. There are two versions of the gun in 7.5-inch barrel length (KSRH-7 and GKSRH-7) and two that wear the 9.5-inch barrel (KSRH-9 and GKSRH-9). The G-designation guns, like the GKSRH-7 we tested, have a high-gloss stainless-steel finish, while the other two have a satin-stainless exterior. Our gun came with a lockable case made of high-impact plastic, a lock and keys. Also supplied were two 1-inch stainless-steel scope rings, which fit the gun’s built-in Barrel Integral Scope Mounts. Two sight kits are offered for the revolvers, one of which is a steel gold-bead front sight with matching V-notch rear sight. We tested the other system, which paired four interchangeable fiberglass-reinforced nylon front sights with an adjustable rear sight with a white outline. Like Ruger and Colt, the S&W; revolver line is varied, and it includes several hunting-ready items in the .44 Magnum/.44 S&W; Special group. The Model 29 and 629 are twins except for their color. The 29 features blued steel, and the 629 is stainless. Both guns are built on the company’s N-Large frame to accommodate the pressures the .44 Magnum develops. The 29 line includes barrels 6 inches and 8.4 inches in length. We tested the 8-incher, catalog number 101208.
The Anaconda came with a padded plastic case, but it lacked scope rings like the Ruger. The Colt’s wide, deeply grooved hammer spur has been lowered for better scope clearance. A red ramp front sight is paired with a white-outline adjustable rear sight. The gun had a free-floating ejector rod, offset bolt notches, full-length housing, and full-length integrated ventilated barrel rib that contributed to its 56-ounce weight. It was drilled and tapped for a scope mount. Our test Anaconda had a matte-stainless finish on its 8-inch barrel and frame. Black-rubber grips with finger grooves—with the rampant Colt medallion embedded in them—accented the polished steel. The six-shooter measured 13.9 inches in overall length. The sight radius was 10 inches. The gun’s maximum height was 6.3 inches, and maximum width (across the cylinder) was 1.75 inches. The trigger broke between 4 to 4.25 pounds. The barrel/cylinder gap measured 0.006 inch. The ten ports on the top of the barrel measured 0.125 inch in diameter, and the muzzle was also recessed 0.050 inch. Fit and finish on all the parts was excellent.
Our test Super Redhawk had a bright-gloss stainless finish on its 7.5-inch barrel and frame. “Cushioned Grip” panels of Santoprene and Goncalo Alves wood accented the polished steel, making a very attractive firearm. The six-shot gun weighed 53.5 ounces and measured 13 inches in overall length. The sight radius was 9.5 inches. The gun’s maximum height was 6 inches, and maximum width (across the cylinder) was 1.75 inches. The trigger broke between 3.75 to 4 pounds. The gun featured an interchangeable red-nylon front sight, which settled into a square-shaped rear notch with a white outline. The barrel/cylinder gap measured 0.004 inch. The Super Redhawk had Ruger’s standard transfer-bar safety mechanism. Also, the gun has no sideplates, which means the sidewalls act as integral portions of the frame. Ruger says this design helps the gun withstand the stresses imposed by the .44 Magnum round. Fit and finish on all the parts was excellent.
The Model 29’s 0.5-inch-wide, deeply grooved target hammer spur was lowered for better scope clearance. On the gun, an interchangeable red ramp front sight was paired with a white-outline adjustable rear sight. The six-round 29 had a 0.4-inch-wide serrated trigger, Hogue black rubber grips, and an overall length of 13.9 inches. It weighed 54 ounces without a scope. The sight radius was 10 inches. The trigger broke between 4.5 and 5 pounds. The barrel/cylinder gap measured 0.005 inch. The Model 29 had a hammer-block safety that required the shooter to activate the trigger for the gun to fire. Fit and finish on all the parts was excellent. Our gun was drilled and tapped to accept a scope, like the other companies’ target models.
As the accompanying table shows, the Ruger gun shot the best in the test, amassing 2.9-inch groups on average and a best group of 1.3 inches with Remington 210-grain semi-jacketed hollowpoints. The gun’s overall average for the three test ammos was 3.7 inches. We didn’t note any accuracy variation from cylinder to cylinder.
The Colt came in 0.06-inch behind the Ruger with with Blount CCI Blazer 240-grain jacketed hollowpoint rounds. They produced 2.9-inch groups on average and a best group of 2.1 inches. The gun’s 3.3-inch cumulative average across the different ammos was almost half an inch better than the Ruger’s, which might indicate it is less finicky. We didn’t note any accuracy variation among the gun’s six cylinders.
Like the Colt, the Model 29 shot best with Blount CCI Blazer 240-grain jacketed hollowpoint rounds. That round produced noticeably larger 3.6-inch groups on average and a best group of 2.9 inches. The gun’s overall average across all three rounds was 4.3 inches.
Handling The Guns
We thought the Super Redhawk’s hammer movement and cylinder rotation were smooth, positive, and trouble free. The trigger broke cleanly between 3.75 to 4 pounds. The rubber/wood grips helped control the gun, we thought, and offered some cushion for the stiff recoil of the .44 Magnum. Still, even with a two-handed grip on the gun, we felt the .44 Magnum drive the muzzle drive up after each shot. The large, square rear sight notch provided suitable light bars on each side of the front blade, and choosing from the nylon sight inserts allowed us to tailor the sight picture to our tastes. We had no malfunctions during our test. With the supplied rings and a 2X Leupold scope, the gun tipped the scales at 64.5 ounces.
Like the Ruger, the Colt’s hammer movement and cylinder rotation were smooth and on time. The trigger broke cleanly between 4 to 4.25 pounds. The rubber grips cushioned the stiff recoil of the .44 Magnum, and the barrel porting kept the .44 Magnum’s muzzle from flying up after each shot. This factory feature gave the Colt a significant advantage, in our estimation. The white-outline rear sight notch was easy to align. We had no malfunctions during firing. When we added steel rings, base, and a 2X Leupold scope, the unit’s total weight climbed to 70 ounces.
Mechanically the S&W;’s hammer movement and cylinder rotation were on par with the other guns. The trigger broke a little heavier, but cleanly, between 4.5 and 5 pounds. The rubber grips helped ease the .44’s punch. To see how much difference the barrel porting made, we had the Model 29’s muzzle Mag-Na-Ported. As we suspected, this process significantly reduced recoil-related accuracy problems. The white-outline rear-sight notch was easy to align. We had no malfunctions during firing. With steel rings, base, and a 2X Leupold scope, the unit weighed 68 ounces.
Guns, Gear & Game Recommends
• If we were buying a hunting revolver today, we would choose the Colt Anaconda MM3080PDT. The Anaconda shot more ammo more accurately than the other guns, and its best group size was only hundredths of an inch larger than the Ruger’s. The gun’s big advantage was its factory barrel porting, which made the big snake easier to shoot than the others. Our only complaint about the Anaconda was that Colt’s needs to supply a scope base and rings as standard equipment.
• Though our shooters gave the nod to the Anaconda, we think the Super Redhawk is a best buy among these products. The Super Redhawk GKSRH-7 shot the best groups in the test, handled well, and brought several features to the table the other guns lacked, including an integral scope base and supplied rings. At $589, it was also $40 cheaper than the Anaconda.
• The blued Smith & Wesson Model 29 lacked a factory-supplied comp and showed only middling accuracy. The other guns are better picks, in our view.