By Jeremy Harding

The sun is shining. Birds flutter past you chirping to one another on the gentle breeze as they circle overhead. Pine needles crunch under your every step despite still being soaked in morning dew. Their woodsy fragrance drifts up to fill your nose as you lazily wander past silent towering trees and weathered boulders. You reach out to let your fingertips brush along the smooth stone surface of the giant rock beside you before pulling away as your hands tickle over a patch of rough lichen. Everything around you is completely calm and serene. Barely a sound reaches your ears as even the birds fall silent. Then, your whole world explodes.

Something heavy barrels into you from behind, roughly knocking you to the ground. Moist earth mixed with pine needles sprays out in front of you as you plow headfirst into the dirt. You barely have time to comprehend what is happening as a huge set of paws lands like a ton of bricks on your back. You instinctively start to reach for the back of your head as you feel hot breath on your neck. A terror-fueled scream starts to tear free of your throat while massive teeth bare down on your vulnerable flesh before suddenly… You wake up.

The very next morning you march into your local gun shop with unwavering purpose. You walk up to the nearest unoccupied employee and forcefully declare. “I want the biggest, baddest, hand-held boomstick you got!” Their expression lifts into a knowing grin. “Right this way.” You follow them over to an immaculate glass case where a full spread of gleaming pistols lay nestled on a bed of green felt. The clerk gestures grandly at the assortment of high-quality steel in front of you. “Sounds like you need a hearty dose of 44 magnum. Here’s 5 of the best you’re likely to find anywhere.”

Ruger Super BlackHawk

Manufacturing of the single-action Super BlackHawk started back in 1955, and just like any good wine, it’s only gotten better with age. Durability was a major focus so design choices, like using coiled springs as opposed to leaf springs, blued steel finish, hardwood grip, and a non-fluted 6-round cylinder, helped to achieve that objective. With barrel length choices ranging from around 4.5 inches up to 7.5 inches, and a weight starting around 2.25 pounds, the Super BlackHawk is built like an extremely stylish tank. Although it’s a hair on the lighter side with the shorter barrel option, it still does a decent enough job of mitigating the 44 mag’s infamous kick. An adjustable rear sight with a very clean 6-pound trigger pull makes accuracy top notch, especially with longer barrels. Overall, Ruger knows how to make a darn good pistol, and at around $700, the Super BlackHawk is a testament to that expertise.

S&W Model 629

Another one of the more venerable designs that’s beautifully withstood the test of time is the 629. Quality revolvers are essentially synonymous with Smith & Wesson so it comes as no surprise that the 629, and the 29 before it, are something of a benchmark that other big-bore wheel-guns are measured against. At a price point starting around $950, you absolutely get what you pay for. Its black synthetic grip creates a striking contrast with the gun’s brightly polished, stainless-steel finish. With a double-action trigger pull of nearly 13 pounds, this cannon won’t go off unless you’re sure you want it to. However, when the hammer is cocked, the breath of a baby lamb could set it off, so you’d better be ready for the fireworks. At 2.6 pounds to 3.4 pounds, it’s no feather weight, but it does a fine job keeping muzzle climb under control. Many of us remember watching Dirty Harry laying down the law on the big screen with his Model 29. However, what we didn’t see was how he single-handed a 629 to put the fear into bears that were unlucky enough not to know whether he fired 5 shots or 6 from the 6-round cylinder.

Taurus Model 44

So, now you’re totally sold on the 629, but you don’t have a cool grand burning a hole in your pocket. What do you do? Give up in despair? No way. The double/single action Model 44 is a perfect substitute for half the cost. A satin stainless finish coupled with a rubber grip makes for one handsome looking package. The 6-inch barrel, adjustable rear sight with orange painted front, transfer bar safety, and 6-round cylinder make it more than just another pretty face. One big advantage the Taurus showcases is vertical ports running along either side of the front sight which helps to temper the rise from heavy 44 loads and keep you on target for follow up shots. Its 3.25-pound weight goes a long way in taming recoil as well as making it one of the best wheel-guns you can buy for pistol hunting. It’s no S&W 629, but it’s pretty darn close, and with a starting price right around $500, you’d be hard pressed to find a better piece of reliable hardware.

Ruger RedHawk

“Speak softly and carry a big stick.,” Theodore Roosevelt said on January 6th, 1900. While this famous phrase was used to refer to the politics of the time on a much grander scale, it is nonetheless relevant to what the RedHawk aspires to be. Its smooth hardwood grip, or optional Hogue rubber mono-grip, fits comfortably in hand while its stainless-steel frame, weighing in at almost 3 pounds, helps keep kick manageable. The 6-shot cylinder has one of the tightest lock ups you’re likely to find making wear-related timing issues extremely rare. The fully adjustable rear sight and dovetailed front combined with a double-action trigger pull of 11 pounds, and a single action of about 6.5 pounds, ensure precise shot placement at longer ranges. The Redhawk has long been known for being almost indestructible, so a starting price point of $850 is well worth the investment in this classic wheel gun.

Desert Eagle

The only semi-automatic to make our list is the infamous Desert Eagle by Magnum Research Inc. It takes an extreme amount of strength to contain the explosion from a 44-mag cartridge, which is why the Desert Eagle weighs in at a whopping 4.4 pounds. The tungsten finish helps this iconic weapon stand up to the elements while its 8-round magazine means you’ll have plenty of chances to turn range paper into confetti before reloading. The 4-pound trigger, and adjustable rear sight in tandem with a dovetailed front ramp, make for excellent accuracy even without factoring in reduced recoil from weight and semi-auto gas cycling. However, it needs to be mentioned that in order to run a Deagle properly, you need to have a very strong grip. Otherwise you risk stove piping because the slide won’t have enough resistance to complete a full stroke. Higher weight bullets and hotter loads can help mitigate failures to feed, but there’s no substitute for an iron-hard, Kung Fu grip. You can expect to put down around $1,400 for this unique, and mean looking, hand cannon.

The sun is shining. You’re walking along a path that’s not so dissimilar from the one you remember from your nightmare. The birds are singing just like before as you let the calm tranquility surround and envelop you. As you meander down the winding trail, you feel the comforting weight of cold steel bumping against your hip. As you pass a dense thicket of scrub oak you hear the unnerving crunch of leaves underfoot.

In an instant your brain kicks into overdrive as you leap away from the noise, and your hand reflexively dips to yank your new firearm from its holster. You stand motionless with the muzzle locked firmly on where you heard the noise coming from. Your finger starts to tighten on the trigger as the sound of crumbling leaves draws nearer until… A squirrel pops out of the undergrowth, chitters indignantly at your intrusion, and scampers back into the bushes completely unaware of how close it was to becoming a messy stain on the forest floor. You let out an exasperated sigh before gingerly holstering your weapon. You chuckle at your own twitchiness and continue enjoying your hike secure in the knowledge that whether it’s a bear, a cougar, or an irritable, man-eating squirrel, you’re prepared to deal with whatever creature nature decides to throw at you.