A collaboration by Remington and Smith & Wesson introduced the .44 Magnum to the world in 1955. Smith & Wesson created their now famous Model 29 around the new cartridge, and it supplanted Great Western’s brief claims for the .357 Atomic Frontier as the world’s most powerful handgun.
Bill Ruger responded to compete with Smith & Wesson almost instantly, and was building a .44 Magnum Blackhawk before the end of the 1956. Sturm, Ruger was a young company then, but had already upended the industry with its products on several occasions.
It is curious then that Great Western beat Ruger to the market with a .44 Magnum single action. Great Western was building .44 Magnum versions of its Frontier revolver in early 1956, and distributing them in quantity by mid 1956.
Certainly Great Western’s Frontier in .44 Magnum is not as ambitious as Bill Ruger’s .44 Blackhawk. Ruger’s Blackhawk was blueprinted to scale around the .44 Magnum cartridge. The Great Western Frontier in .44 Magnum is merely the Peacemaker pattern single action with a cylinder chambered for the big .44.
Simple as this might be, cartridge pressures dictated some dimension changes for Great Western’s .44 Magnum. Cylinders are counterbored for cartridge rims (usually) and barrels have less setback, both changes allowing for a fractionally longer cylinder than the regular Frontier model. Cylinder width is fractionally wider as well.
This made for an architectural effort that was simply to get as big a cylinder as possible into Great Western’s standard frame. It works, to a point. Which is to say these guns did not end up acquiring a reputation for splitting cylinders and blowing top straps. Over the years however several handloading writers have expressed hesitation about shooting aggressive .44 Magnums in a Peacemaker dimensioned single action. The Great Western in .44 Magnum would be a prime example.
Usually ‘.44 MAGNUM’. Some stamped merely ‘.44 MAG.’ are seen intermittently.
The first Great Western .44 Magnums appear somewhere shortly after serial 12000. This is early 1956.
There’s a run of them that exists from at least 15784 – 15887, where all or most guns are .44 Magnums. This is latter 1956. Such runs would seem to be an effort to capture sales when the .44 Magnum was new, excitement was high, and competition with Ruger very fierce.
.44 Magnums are absent from the serial survey from 17300 to 19000. I suspect this in some ways tracks with Great Western’s diminished machining capacity when they moved assembly to FerroCast’s foundry in Venice, CA. The .44 Magnums don’t actually reappear with regularity until after GW20500, by which point the Great Westerns were being sub-contract built by Moore Machining in west Los Angeles.
Models / barrels: Frontiers and Fast Draws. 4.75, 5.5, and 7.5 inch barrels. A couple target models observed. Buntlines possible. Some late kits. Mostly found in blue, but sometimes blue / CCH.
Build / Construction:
For the .44 magnum, Great Western usually used a fractionally longer cylinder that would yet still fit into the Frontier model frame. This cylinder was counterbored on the face for cartridge rims. This changed on the very last .44 Magnums, those from just before Great Western went out of business. These guns will have the standard dimension cylinder chambered for .44 Magnum, and are without the rim counterbores (…essentially the cylinder blank for the .44 Special but with the .44 magnum chamberings).