Dan Wesson Model 44 Magnum Double Action Revolver Handgun Review

01
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Introduction, Scope Woes, Grip, Right Side

Right side of Dan Wesson 44 Magnum Model 44 double action revolver.
Right side of a Dan Wesson 44 Magnum double action revolver, known as a Model 44 but not marked as such. A Leupold scope is mounted to the shroud for the 8" barrel, and a 6" barrel complete with shroud and barrel nut is also shown. Photo © Russ Chastain

Introduction

There is fond spot in my heart for the Dan Wesson Model 44, a double-action revolver, chambered for the delightful 44 Remington Magnum cartridge. In my distant youth, I recall a Saturday outing with my father during I bought a used vinyl record album and he bought this fine fun. I've long since lost track of the album, but the gun remains one of my favorites, both for its performance and the nostalgic value. 

The revolver was already used when we bought it all those years ago, but it had been well-cared-for and was in great shape. It wore a Pachmayr grip and an eight-inch barrel--and had a Weaver scope mounted to the barrel's rib. Also included were a hard plastic case, a six-inch barrel with shroud and nut, wrenches and instruction sheet for the B-Square scope mount, and the original tool and gauge for removing and installing barrels. Soon after Dad started using it, though, the Weaver scope proved inadequate, and he soon ended up with a Leupold gold ring M8 2x handgun scope--which is still part of the gun I use today. 

As a teen, I loved hunting and guns although I also had other interests. Dad taught me about the Dan Wesson barrel system and other unique features of this excellent iron, and we enjoyed that gun. Eventually, it was put away and brought out only to be admired and very rarely fired, but it remains one of my favorite handguns.

The following pages will detail everything about this fine handgun, focusing on its innovative departures from conventional revolver design. 

Grip

As you can see in the photo above, this gun has a Pachmayr grip. For many years, the first thing Dad did when he got any revolver was hunt down Pachmayr grips for it. I believe, in this case, that the gun already had this grip when he bought it. The original grip was also included, and is pictured later in this article. It is shaped well, but its smooth surface doesn't always provide a reliable grip in the same way the Pachmayr does. 

Barrel

The barrel on the gun is 8", and the spare is 6". A barrel nut sits in front of the shroud for the 6" barrel. (As in all photos of this gun, the serial number has been altered for security reasons.) Both barrel shrouds are marked on the right side "DAN WESSON ARMS 44 MAGNUM CTG" in two lines, and the right lower portion of the frame is marked DAN WESSON ARMS MONSON, MASS. U.S.A." in two lines, with the serial number below.

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02
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Inventor, Action, Barrel System

Left side of Dan Wesson 44 Magnum Model 44 double action revolver.
Left side of a Dan Wesson 44 Magnum double action revolver. Unlike many other double action revolvers, the cylinder latch is in front of the cylinder. Photo © Russ Chastain

Inventor

The Dan Wesson company has had a long and varied history.  First of all, the design of the legendary Dan Wesson double-action revolvers is not attributable to the late Dan Wesson (great-grandson of Smith & Wesson founder Daniel B. Wesson). Instead, it was the brainchild of Karl R. Lewis, a brilliant gun designer responsible for such well-loved guns as the Colt MK III and the Browning BLR.

Action

The Dan Wesson revolver action is a good one, with a smooth and very reasonable double action trigger, and a good single action trigger, as well. It uses a transfer bar between hammer and firing pin, which only allows the gun to fire when the trigger is in the rear position. This eliminates the possibility of the gun firing if dropped or otherwise smacked on the hammer spur .

Barrel System

Most notable of all, though, is the interchangeable barrel system developed for this revolver. On most revolvers, the barrels are installed with an extremely tight fit--this prevents them from shooting loose, but it also limits each gun to one barrel length. The Dan Wesson system offered shooters the chance to purchase one gun and multiple barrels--essentially allowing one revolver to serve as both a carry gun and a long-range target or hunting gun.

The barrels themselves are simple and slim, as you can see. When installed, the barrel is placed under tension by "stretching" it between the frame and the barrel nut; this helps stabilize the barrel, adding to the gun's accuracy. The use of a 0.006" feeler gauge to set the gap between the cylinder and barrel also helped with accuracy, as it reduced the distance a bullet must "jump" after leaving the cartridge and before reaching the rifling.

As you can see in the photo, this gun is highly polished and sleek, and it features no markings on its left side.

03
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Scope and Mount

Dan Wesson 44 B-Square barrel shroud scope mount.
The scope mount on this Dan Wesson 44 was made by B-Square, and attaches to the vent ribs on the barrel shroud. Photo © Russ Chastain

The scope mount on this revolver was already on it when Dad got the gun in the mid-1980s. It is a B-Square brand, and it clamps to the ventilated rib atop the barrel shroud. Interestingly, the portion of the rib to which the rear scope base is clamped is bent upward. I have no idea how that happened, but it's bent to such an extent that you can see it in the photo above (look at the wedge of daylight visible below the rear scope base).

The nature of the scope mount allows the scope ring to remain true on the scope tube even though the base is crooked due to the bend, so it's not a problem as far as the gun shooting accurately to the point of aim. 

Because the scope is mounted to a shroud that is separate from the barrel and screws into the frame, I find it impressive that this revolver will hold zero and hit where the scope is aimed, even after the barrel and  shroud have been removed and re-installed. I always fire it at a target to be sure before I take it hunting, but so far have not had problems.

Using a scope on a handgun can be an odd experience. It's more difficult to find the correct position of eyeball-to-scope--aligning your eye just right so that you see a good image through the scope and are able to center the crosshair. And after you do all that, holding it steady on target can be even more challenging.

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04
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Hammer Spur

Dan Wesson 44 hammer uncocked.
The Dan Wesson 44 has an oddly-shaped hammer with a large, easy-to-use hammer spur. Photo © Russ Chastain

The hammer on the Dan Wesson 44 mag is not shaped like many other revolver hammers. The hammer spur is longer than most, is located lower on the hammer, and is more "level" when uncocked. This means that the spur is easy to reach, and that the spur (thus the thumb) has to travel a shorter distance rearward in order to cock the hammer. It's one of the unconventional features of an impressive gun that maintained the general form of other revolvers while improving on function.

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05
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Transfer Bar

Dan Wesson 44 hammer cocked, transfer bar.
The Dan Wesson 44 uses a transfer bar rather than allowing the hammer to directly contact the firing pin. This prevents the uncocked revolver from firing if dropped. Photo © Russ Chastain

When cocked, the lockwork in the Dan Wesson Model 44 allows a transfer bar to raise upward. In the photo, you can see the firing pin peeking above the edge of the transfer bar. When the gun is fired, the hammer strikes the transfer bar, transferring that energy to the firing pin, which strikes the primer of a chambered round, if present.​

If the hammer should somehow become uncocked without the trigger being held rearward (the trigger would be held there by the finger if fired), the transfer bar will drop down before the hammer can reach it. The top portion of the hammer, which protrudes forward, will strike the frame above the firing pin, and the gun will not fire.

When the revolver isn't cocked, the transfer bar is below the firing pin, and the gun cannot be accidentally fired by a blow to the hammer.

The transfer bar isn't a novel concept by any means, but its use here proves that a revolver so equipped doesn't have to have a poor action.

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06
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Grip, Frame, Trigger

Dan Wesson 44 without barrel or grip.
The Dan Wesson 44 looks a bit odd without its barrel and grip. The cylindrical mainspring housing takes the place of a traditional grip frame. The grip is held on by a single screw through its butt. Photo © Russ Chastain

When stripped fore and aft, the Dan Wesson Model 44 doesn't look like much.

At the rear of the frame is a cylindrical protrusion, which serves several purposes: it contains the mainspring, a coil spring which powers the hammer; it serves as a pilot on which the grip (or stock, if you prefer) fits; and it provides a threaded hole for the single screw which retains the grip on the gun.

A Unique Grip

The coil mainspring is not a unique feature, but it is an intelligent departure from older leaf-spring designs. The use of this relatively small housing as a place on which to mount the one-piece grip, rather than constructing a grip frame and two-piece grip set that takes more material and labor to produce, is equally smart.

The flexibility of this system is manifest in the fact that some Dan Wesson kits included grip blanks that were drilled and routed to fit the revolver, but which were externally unformed (large and squared-off). This allowed the end user to create a grip to any desired shape and size, which can be a real plus--especially to competitive shooters ( Dan Wesson revolvers found their strongest following among silhouette shooters).

Front of Frame

Protruding from the crane and sticking out in front of the frame is the ejector rod, used to eject ammo or empty shells when the cylinder is open.

The large threaded hole is, of course, for the barrel. The small pin sticking out below the ejector rod is the "shroud locating pin," which does exactly as its name suggests. A hole in the rear of the barrel shroud mates with this pin, which prevents the shroud from rotating or otherwise moving around after it's installed.

Trigger

The trigger is notable for its comfortable, wide, smooth surface. The double-action pull is smooth and fairly short, though the weight of pull changes more than once along the way. The single-action pull has a little creep but is not bad, and weighs in at about 4.25 pounds.

Dan Wesson had some ups and downs over the years, and it's reported that a number of their revolvers had poor triggers due to manufacturing problems. This particular gun is apparently one of the better ones.

The Dan Wesson Model 44 differs from many of its double action predecessors in that it lacks a side plate-- all of its "guts" are installed from above and below. The separate trigger guard is an assembly containing the trigger and other parts.

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07
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Barrel Installation with Feeler Gauge; Finish

Dan Wesson 44 installing barrel with feeler gauge.
When installing a barrel on this Dan Wesson 44, a gauge is used to set the distance between the cylinder and barrel. Arrow indicates the rear end of the barrel, which is threaded all the way through the frame. Photo © Russ Chastain

When installing the barrel in a Dan Wesson revolver, you must use a gauge to set the distance between the rear of the barrel and the front of the cylinder. In most cases (including this one), the gauge measures 0.006 inches--though a smaller 0.002" gap was used ONLY with 357 Max/Supermag Dan Wessons. You screw the barrel through the hole in the frame--and there's no confusion about which end of the barrel is which, because only one end has enough threads to go through the frame.

Insert the feeler gauge between barrel and cylinder and screw the barrel to it. Try to slip the gauge out. It should slide out without undue force, but with some feeling of snugness. Adjust by turning the barrel in or out in the threads until it's just right.

In the photo, the arrow is pointing to the place where the barrel touches the feeler gauge.

Interestingly, both a dial caliper and digital caliper told me that this gauge, which is marked 0.006", was 0.004" or 0.0045" thick. I then checked it with a micrometer, which measured its thickness at exactly 0.006".

In the absence of a Dan Wesson "official" feeler gauge, any 0.006" feeler gauge will do.

The Finish

The finish on this revolver is an example of something that plagued Dan Wesson and which bothers some people: the color varies. It's highly polished, which is desirable because of its attractiveness and the fact that it's more resistant to rust than non-polished steel, but the color of the bluing varies. Both of the barrel shrouds, the crane and the cylinder are all the deep black-blue color that you'd expect a gun to be--but the frame, trigger guard and cylinder latch are purplish. Making things worse is the fact that the trigger guard's purple hue is a bit lighter than that of the frame.

This variation in color isn't visible in most of the photos in this article--although the photo above does show a difference between the trigger guard and the frame--but it's definitely there. Some people dislike this variation in color, which was often a characteristic of Wesson revolvers, but it doesn't bother me.

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08
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Barrel Threaded Into Frame

Dan Wesson 44 barrel without shroud.
This shows the Dan Wesson's barrel without the shroud. That small pin below the ejector rod serves to index the shroud so it doesn't rotate. The barrel nut will go onto the threads at the muzzle. Photo © Russ Chastain

The photo above shows the Wesson 44 revolver with the 6" barrel installed, with neither grip nor shroud installed. The ejector rod and shroud locating pin are easily visible in front of the frame. As you can imagine, the ejector rod could be easily bent if clobbered; this is why most double-action revolvers provide some protection for it. With the barrel shroud installed, this ejector rod will be safely surrounded by protective steel when the cylinder is closed.

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09
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Barrel Shroud on Gun, Changing Front Sights

Dan Wesson 44 barrel with shroud but no nut.
Barrel shroud has been slipped over the barrel, but the barrel nut isn't installed. When the nut is tightened it puts tension on the barrel, helping accuracy. In the small hole above the muzzle is the front sight retaining screw. Photo © Russ Chastain

After slipping the barrel shroud over the barrel, this is what you see. The end of the barrel is slightly lower than the end of the shroud, which allows the shroud to help protect the crown from damage. The threads on the exterior of the barrel are clearly visible; the barrel nut threads onto these.

Changing Sights

Above the barrel and below the front sight is a small hole. The front sight retaining screw is in that hole, and when turned out using an Allen wrench, it will allow the front sight to be removed. This allows easy swapping of sight blades so that blades of various heights may be used--this may be necessary for long-range shooting,or for shooting a particular "pet" load. Just another special feature not found on most other double action revolvers, and which made these guns popular with competitive shooters.

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10
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Starting the Barrel Nut, Barrel Tension

Dan Wesson 44 barrel with shroud and loose nut.
This barrel nut has been started on the barrel threads, but needs to be tightened using a special wrench. Photo © Russ Chastain

This photo shows the barrel nut started on the barrel threads. It needs to be tightened down snug using the correct barrel nut wrench. After tightening this nut, use the 0.006" feeler gauge to check the gap between barrel and cylinder again. If it's not right, fix it--it's important.​

Once tightened, this nut puts the barrel under tension by pulling against the frame. This tension is one of the outstanding features of Karl Lewis's design, because it enhances accuracy.

When a gun is fired, the barrel ​can vibrate, oscillate and do all kinds of odd things--especially if it is simply a tube whose only connection to the rest of the gun is at the frame. By using the shroud and barrel nut to essentially pull a barrel tight), the Dan Wesson system helps stabilize the barrel and reduce, normalize, and/or tune the way it moves when the gun is fired. This allows for much better consistency, which in turn leads to increased accuracy.

Some folks even contend that you can even "tune" a Dan Wesson barrel by varying the tension on the barrel nut, allowing for the best possibly accuracy with a given load and barrel.

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11
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Barrel Lengths, Cylinder Latch

Dan Wesson 44 with 6
Dan Wesson Model 44 with 6" barrel and original factory wood grip installed. Photo © Russ Chastain

Barrel Lengths

Here we see the Dan Wesson Model 44 wearing a 6" barrel and the original wood grip. The revolver appears quite different than it does in earlier photos --and this is one of the appealing things about Dan Wesson revolvers. Their versatility is unmatched; with a simple change of grip and barrel you could take a long-barreled competition gun--barrels as long as 15" and as short as 2" were offered--and turn it into a snub-nosed carry gun with an unobtrusive rounded grip.

Cylinder Latch

Another way in which the Dan Wesson differs from most other revolvers is in the cylinder latch, which is located on the crane--in front of the cylinder rather than behind it. This is unique, but I can't say that I like it very much. Of all the double action revolvers I have handled and used, this is the least convenient one to open.

Locking the crane to the frame is a great idea to increase stability in the cylinder and may well contribute to the revolver's fine accuracy, but it's not very easy to use. The latch has a fairly small surface to push against when you slide it towards the bottom of the gun to open the cylinder, and sometimes I have to wiggle and fight the cylinder to get it to swing out. This isn't always the case, although the gun is in good repair. 

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Rear View and Sight Alignment

Dan Wesson 44 rear view.
Rear view of the Dan Wesson Model 44. Photo © Russ Chastain

The accompanying photo shows a rear view of the Dan Wesson 44 magnum. The sights are aligned pretty well, but because the camera lens was so close to the rear sight, the front sight appears smaller than it should. When the gun is held out at arm's length as it should be, the sights are well-proportioned and the front sight fits the rear notch well.

Although the rear sight appears to be off-center here to the right) appearances are a bit deceiving; for some unknown reason, the notch is not centered in the rear sight.

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13
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Rear Sight

Dan Wesson 44 rear sight.
Dan Wesson Model 44's rear sight is fairly rugged and is fully adjustable for windage and elevation. It fits into a cut in a raised portion of the top of the frame, and is retained by a cross pin. Photo © Russ Chastain

The photo shows the Model 44's rear sight well. As you can see, the sight is mounted in a recess machined into a raised portion of the frame's top surface. One end of the rear sight retaining pin is visible; this keeps the sight in the frame, and the sight pivots on that pin when it's adjusted for elevation. The elevation adjustment screw is visible on top of the sight, near the rear of the frame. To adjust windage, turn the screw on the side of the sight.

Neither adjustment screw is graduated, but both have definite "clicks," so the screws won't turn without definite effort. The click detents prevent the sight from losing adjustment due to vibration or recoil.

The sight is a bit obtrusive, and its square corners aren't very forgiving should you bump into them, but the Model 44 isn't exactly a carry piece; it's much better suited for target work, which is where it found most of its fans.

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Front Sight, Not Ported

Dan Wesson 44 front sight and barrel shroud vent.
Ramp front sight with plastic insert is easily visible and very durable. Barrel shrouds are vented - there is a matching elongated hole on the other side of the rib. They are not ported (no holes in the barrel). Photo © Russ Chastain

The Dan Wesson 44 has a wide, rugged front sight blade made of blued steel. Its rear ramp surface is serrated to prevent glare, and it features a red plastic insert for permanent contrast, which is a great feature.

The front sight can be changed, if necessary. Both of the barrel shrouds for this gun have the same height and type of front sight, so I can only assume that they can be accurately called "standard height." Measured from the top of the rib, this front sight's height measures about 0.285".

Not Ported

The elongated hole in the barrel shroud next to the rib is not a port-- it's a vent. There's another one, identical, on the opposite side of the rib. These vents are common on these guns, and by themselves mean nothing in terms of porting or recoil reduction.

Some Dan Wesson barrels are indeed ported, but you won't see that from the outside. The ports will be in the actual barrel (inside the shroud), and gasses from those ports will exit the barrel shroud via these vents when the gun is fired.

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15
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Special Dan Wesson Barrel Wrench and Multi Tool

Dan Wesson 44 barrel wrench multi tool.
This tool does several tasks on the Dan Wesson 44. Studs on either side of the round protrusion engage the barrel nut; right hex fits grip screw; left hex fits mainspring retaining screw; small hex fits front and rear sight assembly screws. Photo © Russ Chastain

In the photo above, you can see the special barrel wrench tool that was included with each revolver sold. The plastic portion of it wasn't of great quality, but this one is about thirty years old and is still holding on, in spite of casting flaws and small cracks in the clear plastic.

The short, larger wrench on the right end is used to remove or install the grip. The longer, slimmer wrench on the left fits the mainspring retaining screw. The tiny wrench pointing downward can be used to change the front sight blade or to disassemble the rear sight (not recommended).

Above all, this tool is used to change barrels. To tighten or loosen the barrel nut, you insert the wrench with the cylindrical portion (the part with the tiny wrench, pointing down in the picture) into the barrel; the two lugs on the wrench engage the two notches in the barrel nut.

Dan Wesson wrenches come in several different forms, but this is probably the most common type.

16
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Successful Hunt, Specifications, Conclusion

Dan Wesson 44 with grips ammo feeler gauge paper clip and barrel wrench multi tool.
Dad named this old gun Danjo. Here, it's wearing an eight-inch barrel with Leupold scope, and Pachmayr grip. The empty sixth shell killed a deer on Dad's birthday. Paper clip is used for disassembly. Feeler gauge and wrench are used to change barrels. Photo © Russ Chastain

The photo shows the gun I came to call Danjo ready for a hunt. When I have hunted with it, I've always done so with the scoped 8" barrel and Pachmayr grip. The rearward sweep of the wood grip's bottom (butt) end is necessary on that grip, because the smooth wood doesn't provide a good purchase on the gun--the fine checkering and general "grippiness" of the Pachmayr grip allow for a good grip without that extra heel material. However, I'm at a loss to explain why the butt of the Pachmayr grip is rounded rather than flat. 

The empty shell is from the Danjo Doe, which is the first critter that my family ever took with this gun. We owned the revolver for almost three decades before we ever connected with a critter, and when it finally happened, it was on what would have been my late father's 79th birthday.

The paper clip shown in this photo is something I've found useful for disassembly.

Specifications

The Dan Wesson Model 44 is a six-shot double-action revolver chambered for 44 Remington Magnum. Wearing the original wood grip and six-inch barrel, it weighs in (unloaded) at 3.32 pounds. The 8" barrel, mounted scope, shroud, and barrel nut weighs 1.88 pounds. With the wood grip and 6" barrel, the greatest length (from front sight to heel of butt) is 13 1/2 inches. Neither barrel is ported.

Barrels and shrouds for this gun were made in lengths from 2 to 15 inches, with shrouds of varying shapes and weights. Different grips were available also, which meant you could effectively turn a long-range target gun into a stumpy round-butt revolver with very little effort.

This gun was probably built in the early 1980s.

Conclusion

The Dan Wesson 44 Magnum is a good gun-- reliable, accurate, and well made. While that's not true of every Dan Wesson, it is definitely true of this one. It as a smooth action and a good trigger, and it is more than capable of taking big game. While the color of the finish varies between parts, the highly polished steel has zero rust on it, although I have carried it afield in poor weather many times.

I have used this gun to take a deer, and chances are good that I will carry it afield again in the future. It is not ideal for self-defense because it's so big and heavy,  but it would certainly do the job. I would feel comfortable carrying this to protect myself against errant bears.

Next time I take Danjo hunting, I might just have to leave the scope at home. I like that versatility.

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Chastain, Russ. "Dan Wesson Model 44 Magnum Double Action Revolver Handgun Review." ThoughtCo, Apr. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/dan-wesson-model-44-magnum-1927636. Chastain, Russ. (2017, April 2). Dan Wesson Model 44 Magnum Double Action Revolver Handgun Review. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/dan-wesson-model-44-magnum-1927636 Chastain, Russ. "Dan Wesson Model 44 Magnum Double Action Revolver Handgun Review." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/dan-wesson-model-44-magnum-1927636 (accessed November 18, 2017).