Feeding the Gunblast Bulldog - A Study in Terminal Ballistics


by Mark Cassill

photography by Mark Cassill

July 28th, 2004




Ed. Note: Mark Cassill is a Gunblast member, and won the custom Charter 2000 Bulldog .44 revolver in April 2004. He researched and wrote the following article using his "Gunblast Bulldog". - Boge Quinn

Since winning the Charter 2000 Bulldog Pug that Gunblast.com gave away this spring, I have faced the usual quandary of those who pick a large-bore snubby for concealed carry.  Namely, which ammunition to use?  Properly loaded, the .44 Special should easily equal the excellent performance of the .45 ACP.  The one fly in the ointment is that the short barrel may cause the loss of a good deal of velocity, which could compromise bullet performance.  I select defense ammo by the following criteria: I want stuff that works. Period.  In the unfortunate event of having to actually use a firearm on somebody in self-defense, my overriding desire is to put the bad guy out of the fight as quickly as possible.  The longer the felon is still standing, the more opportunity he would have to do harm to myself or loved ones.  Thus I want ammunition that does major damage to whatever body parts it hits; a bullet that expands quickly and creates a large permanent wound channel through vital organs.  Since I spend a fair amount of time in urban areas, a bullet that exits is to be avoided, lest it wound a bystander elsewhere.

The Bulldog Pug was well reviewed by Jeff Quinn here: http://www.gunblast.com/Bulldog_Pug.htm. I found it much like Jeff did, as a well-built, reliable little sidearm.  Someday my shooting skills will get to the point where I can duplicate the excellent groups that Jeff produced.  I typically do better with guns that have a longer sight radius and adjustable sights; but as it is I have no problem keeping all the shots within the torso of the Osama silhouette at 25 yards, offhand, double action even, with a variety of ammo.  In single-action mode offhand head shots are no problem at that distance.

I gathered up boxes of all the .44 Special factory loads I could find.  Those include: the Hornady 180 grain jacketed hollow point, the Speer Gold Dot 200 gr. JHP, the Winchester Silvertip 200gr. JHP, the Federal 200 gr. swaged lead hollow point load, and a Grizzly Cartridge Co. load using the 250 grain Hawk jacketed flat point.  At one time I had a box of Cor-Bon .44 Special; that has managed to get lost in a recent move, which is unfortunate as I have not been able to locate more, and Cor-Bon ammo has a reputation for working quite well.   Finally, since every scientific study needs a "control", I elected to test one .45 ACP load.  For that I went with the Remington 230 grain Golden Saber standard pressure load, which has a good track record in actual shootings.  This I fired from my "truck gun", a Brazilian contract Smith and Wesson 1917 revolver.

In addition to these factory loads I put together two handloads for testing. One used a Rainier 240 grain plated hollow point loaded at +P pressure levels.  I believe this particular bullet was intended for use at .44 Magnum velocities; it simply didn't work in this test.  The other load involved a batch of hollow point bullets which I cast in a Lyman Devastator mould, using an alloy of 1-20 tin to lead.  With gas check and LBT lube this bullet weighed in at 267 grains, and was also loaded with a +P charge of Hodgdon Universal.  Casting up this particular bullet is a bit of work; having done a batch I can see why nobody offers cast hollow points on a commercial basis.  These should not to be confused with the swaged lead bullets offered by various firms, which are usually formed from pure lead or an alloy pretty close to that.

At this point I should mention that there are definite  limits on what the Bulldog should be fed.  It is simply not as stout as the big N-frame Smith & Wessons or other .44 Specials that are on the market.   Some loads such as the otherwise excellent "Heavy .44 Special" loads offered by Buffalo Bore Ammunition or Elmer Keith's famous hunting load (the 250 gr. Keith bullet over 16.7 grains of Alliant 2400 in modern brass) are simply too hot for the little Bulldog and will shoot one loose in short order.  Uncle Elmer's "all-purpose" load, the same 250 Keith over 7.5 grains of Unique (I use Universal, which seems to have an identical burning rate) is about as hot a load as I care to fire in this piece, and even it only sparingly.  This particular load clocks 910 fps out of my Bulldog or 1030 fps out of my 5.5" Freedom Arms model 97 and would be quite adequate for many tasks outdoors.  Recoil of this load is much brisker than factory .44 Specials but quite manageable.  Then again, I shoot a .500 Linebaugh for fun, so your perceptions about recoil might vary.

The test procedure was a fairly simple one.  First I would fire two rounds through a chronograph to get a velocity reading, and then fire one round into a stack of wet newspaper.  Then the bullet was recovered from the stack and its penetration depth measured.  The wet paper is well-established to be a reasonably close approximation to heavy muscle tissue.  It is also easy for the amateur ballistician to handle, unlike ballistic gelatin, which is a pain to make up and an even bigger pain to work with.  In an actual body these bullets would give double (or more) the penetration that they show in this test media.  All testing was performed in an Iowa cow pasture at a temperature of ninety degrees; your mileage may vary.

The first round tested was the Remington .45 "control".  This round averaged 840 feet per second and in the paper demonstrated a picture-perfect mushroom while penetrating to a depth of eight inches.  This is the sort of performance we are seeking for our .44 Special carry load.

The next load tested was the cast hollow point handload.  This one clocked 895 fps and penetrated a quarter-inch less than the .45 load while expanding to about .74 caliber.  The recovered bullet weighs 265 grains; most excellent performance by any standard.  Recoil is just a bit brisk; if one wanted an easier-shooting load it would be a simple matter to cast the bullets from a softer alloy (say, 1-30) and reduce the powder charge.  With a bullet this heavy out of a gun this light a good deal of muzzle flip is a given; follow-up shots will not come as quickly as with the lighter factory loads.  This load does have the advantage of shooting to point-of-aim in my particular revolver without the need to file the front sight.  I am aware that in some jurisdictions, actually shooting someone with such a handload will get you branded in court as a mad scientist type by some bottom-feeding attorney who files suit on behalf of the "poor, innocent" deceased.  The reader would have to survey his particular area and understand what sort of people he would have on a jury there before using such ammo for self-defense.  Such loads work; whether you use them is your decision.

The next round tested was the plated hollow point handload.  This load clocked 736 fps, penetrated twelve inches and showed no expansion whatsoever.  This bullet clearly needs a lot more velocity to work.

Next up is the Grizzly Cartridge Company load, and a learning experience.  This load clocked 840 fps and penetrated 15  inches while showing very minimal expansion.  This load (and all of the Grizzly offerings, for that matter) is tailored for the needs of big game hunters and people living in bear country.  Having used one of their .45-70 loads on a recent hunt for Corsican Ram and tested other loads in .475 and .500 Linebaugh, I can attest they work quite well for that.  Mike Rintoul, the proprietor of Grizzly Cartridge, tells me that he has customers in Alaska carrying .44 Specials for bear protection.  This load might work reasonably well for that, although I think I would prefer to be packing one of my larger handguns (such as my custom Ruger Redhawk in .500 Linebaugh) for protection against irate grizzlies.  In calibers such as this you can make a load to work well either for hunting or for personal defense against humans; you aren't likely to come up with a load that does both well.  This is a perfect example of that.

The Federal swaged hollow point load, by any armchair analysis, should have performed a lot better than it did.  The dead soft lead SHOULD expand like crazy.  Unfortunately it didn't.  It averaged 792 fps and penetrated 13.5 inches while showing minimal expansion.  I suspect the hollow point may have became plugged up with paper fiber, causing the lack of expansion.  Perhaps more velocity would have helped, but then you may run into severe leading problems.  In any event, there are better choices.

The Speer Gold Dot load is more like what we're looking for.  It clocked 761 fps and penetrated six inches while mushrooming beautifully.  It also has fairly mild recoil for fast follow-up shots.  This load and other 200 grain loads shoot about a foot low at 25 yards from my gun, but it is a simple matter to file the front sight to make it shoot to point of aim.

The Winchester Silvertip also turned in excellent performance.  It clocked 784 fps and penetrated seven inches in the wet paper while mushrooming all the way back to the base. 

The last load tested was the Hornady 180 grain.  This load clocked 808 fps and penetrated 9 inches while expanding to a little over bullet diameter.  Just out of curiosity I chronographed this load from the 5.5" tube of my FA 97 .44 Special; out of that gun it averages 941 feet per second.  This particular bullet would probably be greatly helped by the added velocity.

It would appear that the person carrying a Bulldog for self-defense would be well-served with the factory loads from Speer or Winchester, or by the cast hollow-point load if he wants something with more "thump".  With any of these choices you will have a very effective carry gun that didn't break the bank.

Mark Cassill

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Click pictures for a larger version.


The Gunblast Bulldog with the assortment of ammo tested in it.



Lyman mould used to cast the "Devastator" cast hollow point tested. The bullet seems quite capable of living up to the name.



The Lyman cast hollow point after being sized, lubed, and the gas check seated in place.



The author's testing set-up, out in an Iowa cow pasture.



A stack of wet newspaper is an easy way of testing your bullets' effectiveness; it also is a good use for your local liberal rag for those who don't have a birdcage to line.



This test included five different .44 factory loads, two handloads, and a .45 ACP load used as a benchmark.



The Remington .45 ACP "control" load performed as advertised.



The cast hollow point load is a very good performer indeed.



The Rainier plated hollow point, on the other hand, just doesn't work at the velocities obtained here.



The 250 grain Hawk bullet in this Grizzly Cartridge Company load simply wasn't moving fast enough from the short barrel to expand in paper; a good hunting bullet, isn't what we're looking for here though.



The Federal swaged hollow point didn't work at all for some reason.



The recovered Speer Gold Dot; it expanded to about .61 caliber.  It would be interesting to load this bullet to a higher velocity to see what would happen.



The recovered Winchester Silvertip;  expansion to .66 caliber with decent penetration.  Couldn't ask for a whole lot more.



The Hornady load would probably work better out of a longer barrel that gives it more velocity.  For our purposes it does beat a sharp stick though.



The lineup of recovered bullets.



The author carries the Bulldog in an IWB holster made by Rob Leahy.  Simple, rugged, and very effective.