Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum Pre-Model 29

Elmer Keith created the .44 Magnum and Dirty Harry made it immortal. To shooters of my age or beyond, mentioning the .44 Magnum will most likely trip memories of the writings of Elmer Keith. Most of the younger folks will think of the big revolver used by Inspector Harry Callahan. Smith & Wesson first made their .44 Magnum revolver in 1955; the first Dirty Harry movie was in 1971, followed by sequels in 1973, 1976, 1983, and 1988.

I know what you're thinking — "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kinda lost track myself. But, being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?

You will not find me buying one of the snub-barrel, super light, .44 Magnum revolvers that are available today. I have fired many of the designs and they do not agree with my sensibilities. I have only owned three .44 Magnum revolvers in my lifetime, two of which I sold; one was a Colt Anaconda, the other was an S&W Model 29 Mountain Gun. This old pre-Model 29 I favor over all others. The balance and weight of this revolver feels just right to me and the factory trigger pull is smoother than what I have ever found on any other S&W revolver. The Goncalo Alves target grips fill my hand perfectly and are still beautiful after all of these years. Artisans built these old revolvers back in the days when attention to detail was not an expendable commodity subject to cost cutting. While this revolver is not durable enough for the super-hot, super-heavy, big-game loads, it will handle loads that many people will find too intimidating to shoot on a regular basis. Although I find the best protection against black bear attacks is to hike with someone who I can outrun, many available factory loads would offer suitable protection when chambered in this old gun. If I need protection from something the size of a Grizzly, I would prefer to cower behind someone who is carrying a more formidable caliber. If I were to use this gun for home or personal defense (which I don’t), I would choose the .44 Special 240-grain Winchester Silvertips shown in one speed loader above. The other speed loader contains .44 Special lead round-nose practice rounds, which were somewhat affordable before the current ammo shortage. The empty cases are from Winchester white box 240 grain .44 Magnum jacketed soft-points.


The variety of factory loads available for the .44 Magnum helps to keep it popular. For this photo, a random grab of some ammo boxes from the rack shows only a tiny sampling of the many .44 Magnum loads that are (or were) available. For those who get lost hiking in bear country, having a couple of boxes of .44 Magnum birdshot in their kit could provide the option of bagging small game for dinner. I’m not sure that CorBon still has their mild (less noise and recoil) 1200-fps 180-grain self-defense loads available. While not loaded to the max, the erstwhile 250-grain Winchester Black Talon was quite substantial, probably more suited for hunting whitetail deer than for personal defense; the same could be said for the 240-grain Federal Hydra-Shok. The 180-grain Samson cartridges (made by IMI) are very hot, generating plenty of recoil and noise. They also have very hard primers. I never suffered a misfire while using them in any of my three revolvers but the spent primers always looked barely dimpled by the firing-pin strike.
Once upon a time, long ago, handguns were not demonically possessed and department stores throughout the USA commonly sold them. The original owner of my 1957 vintage pre-model 29 S&W said he purchased it from Marshall Field’s. While I don’t doubt the story, there is no way to verify it; according to Roy Jinks, S&W shipped the revolver to a large distributor and dealer, Rex Firearms of New York, which is now out of business. There are no records to verify where it went from there.







2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Cool Magnum James!

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

Many thanks!