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Ammo S&W model 29 .44 Magnum: Part 1

S&W model 29 .44 Magnum: Part 1

SW 29
Smith and Wesson model 29 revolver.

This report covers:

  • History
  • How hot?
  • Remember toilet paper in 2020?
  • An important lesson
  • Desert Eagle
  • Trigger
  • Bluing
  • Dirty Harry
  • First photo?
  • Summary

Today we look at an iconic revolver that you can own — the Smith & Wesson Model 29.

History

The report will be all about the history of the Model 29 Smith and also the .44 magnum cartridge it’s chambered for. The history begins with the cartridge. Elmer Keith was impressed with what Smith & Wesson did to the .38 Special cartridge in 1935, by turning it into the .357 Magnum. At that time it was the world’s most powerful handgun cartridge that was made by a manufacturer. There were pistols that were more powerful, such as the Howdah pistols that often fired .577-caliber cartridges for killing tigers at close range. But, where the Howdah pistols were handmade and unique, the the .357 was available on the market and a box of 50 rounds could be purchased.

Elmer Keith thought .44 and .45 calibers were better for shooting larger game than the .357 Magnum. He liked the .357 Magnum for rabbits at long ranges but he especially championed the .44 Special cartridge. I believe he chose that caliber over the .45 Colt because in his day a .44 Special Colt single action had more metal around each cylinder chamber, and Keith was loading them hot. Also there were cartridge cases that were thin brass in those days and the .45 Colt was the weakest of the two.

How hot?

I won’t tell his loads but Keith’s .44 Specials were putting out 240-grain bullets at 1,200 f.p.s. That’s well beyond what the .44 Special cartridge is supposed to do, which is just under 800 f.p.s. It is in the range of the early .44 Magnum rounds. Keith shot several revolvers with these loads, but two were double action — a Smith & Wesson Triple Lock and a Smith & Wesson model 1950. The Triple Lock looked large and strong, but the metallurgy of the early 1900s (1908 to 1915) wasn’t really up to those loads.

Elmer Keith reported successful first shots on game at up to 400 yards with these loads. Smith & Wesson was obviously paying attention, because in 1955 they started serious work on a bigger .44 cartridge to satisfy Keith’s needs, as well as many other handgun hunters like him. The cartridge they designed in cooperation with Remington and designated the .44 Magnum was housed in a strong brass case that was one-tenth-inch longer that a .44 Special cartridge, to avoid loading them into weaker guns. A .44 Magnum revolver will also shoot .44 Special and .44 Russian, an even shorter cartridge that is now obsolete.

Their Model 29 revolver, which is based on their large N frame revolver, was released to the public in 1956 with Keith being presented with the first one. And the race was on!

Remember toilet paper in 2020?

Hoarding and highgrading that we saw in 2020 isn’t new by any means. After the .44 Magnum Model 29 came out many more people wanted them than Smith & Wesson was able to produce. So opportunists began buying them in bulk before they reached the public. By 1960, when BB Pelletier was getting into the game (somewhat — at the tender age of 13) a revolver that listed new for around $100 would easily sell for twice as much. That went on year in and year out until young lieutenant BB was serving in the Army, ten years later. At that time a used Model 29 happened to pass his way for probably more than the new gun list price at the time, but since new guns still weren’t available at list prices it was a great bargain and he snapped it up. This one was in an old wooden box with green lining.

SW 29 box
Early Model 29s came in wooden boxes.

An important lesson

When BB bought his first Model 29 it came with an almost-full box of cartridges. He wondered why his luck was so good until he fired the first full cylinder. The recoil split the web of his shooting hand and a blister on the thumb of the same hand after just 6 shots. That was his education to the Model 29. You have to know how to control that revolver.

This Model 29 was not BB’s only .44 Magnum. He also had a Ruger Blackhawk with a 10-inch barrel that didn’t recoil half as much as the Smith. That gun he shot a lot. 

Later in his life he acquired a Thompson Center Contender with a 14-inch barrel, and he thought that as big as it was it would also be a pussycat. Wrong! It recoiled as hard as the Smith. That was when BB learned that the shape of the grip has everything to do with how a powerful handgun feels under recoil.

The model 29 doesn’t recoil that hard, but the shape of the grip will make you think that it does unless you hold the gun right. Don’t give it any slack to move in your hand! The Ruger Blackhawk rotates in your hand because of its rounded grip. If you aren’t holding the Model 29’s grip tightly the bump at the top will rotate back and whack you in the web of your hand. This is where the story of the .44 Magnum recoiling hard originates.

Hunting Guide

Desert Eagle

I have fired a Desert Eagle pistol in .44 Magnum and been surprised by how gentle it feels. The 4.5 pound weight of the pistol is a help, but I find the .44 magnum in that gas-operated semiautomatic to be a very civilized round. The muzzle blast may frighten everyone around you, but the wide grip of that pistol, coupled with its weight and the gas operation all serve to gentle things out.

SW 29 Desert Eagle
The big Desert Eagle tames the .44 Magnum.

Trigger

Though the Model 29 is a double action revolver, more than 95 percent of its shots will be fired single action, which means the hammer will be manually cocked each time. Once that is done the trigger of this big Smith has to be experienced. Smith revolvers have long had a reputation for smooth, crisp triggers and the Model 29 trigger could be the poster boy for all of them.

There was a trigger blade that was wider at the bottom than at the top. It was called the target trigger. Supposedly it made squeezing the trigger easier, though I find all S&W triggers to be superb. The target hammer also became wider in the back. Both model 29s I had carried the target trigger and target hammer.

SW 29 target trigger
The target trigger swells wider at its bottom. You can also see the target hammer in this photo, and it swells wider as well.

Bluing

All S&W revolvers except stainless were highly polished and deeply blued. Only the Colt Python Royal Blue was brighter and deeper. I own a Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector, Military and Police second model that was made in 1908 and it still has 90 percent of its original deep blue — on a revolver that’s over a century old. These revolvers last!

Dirty Harry

Can’t talk about the Model 29 without someone bringing up Dirty Harry Callahan. In the 1971 movie of the same name he made the public aware of the revolver that was already an icon to the shooting community. His Model 29 had the popular 6-1/2-inch barrel that both of mine had.

First photo?

But the photo at the start of this report shows a model 29 with an 8-3/8-inch barrel. What’s with that? Well, that gun is really a BB gun replica from Umarex that this report is all about. That’s right! You see, dear readers, you can buy this Model 29 for $150 right now — until the current supplies are exhausted.

The realism is amazing, as it is with many Umarex replicas. You can see the deep bluing in the picture.

I knew about this revolver months ago, but kept quiet so nobody would want to buy one when they weren’t available. Now they are. And BB is going to test one for you! I wanted to put it on my Christmas gift list, but didn’t know when supplies would be available. If you want one for this Christmas you have to act quick.

Of course you can still buy a .44 Magnum Model 29 firearm from Smith & Wesson because they are still being made. That one lists for as little as $1,051.00, plus tax, but try to find a new one at that price. You see, the toilet paper guys are still at it more than half a century later. Check around. They are all backordered. The cheapest one I found on Gun Broker that was actually for sale was $2,500. Oh, there are lots of auctions that are less but who knows where they will end up?

Summary

We are starting to examine a real icon of a replica airgun. Stay tuned and try to feel lucky!

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

33 thoughts on “S&W model 29 .44 Magnum: Part 1”

  1. BB,

    Longest introduction to an airgun you have ever written. An entire blog just for the intro!

    Siraniko

    PS: Section An important lesson 1st paragraph 4th sentence, “That was his education t6o (to) the Model 29.”

  2. S & W model 29’s are iconic. In this same vein…. These days I’d recommend the new Pythons with a 6” since Colt has truly improved a classic. Can’t wait for the next blog on the Umarex 29.

  3. Wow! Talk about a trip down memory lane! I used to own a T/C Contender in .44 Magnum. It had the removable choke for the shot shells and I believe it was ported. I loaded my own shells for that hand cannon. It would indeed make the web in your palm bleed. My father shot it one time, just one. The recoil of those loads would cause the pistol to rise and the fore stock to drop to the ground.

    I also have owned the Desert Eagle in .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum. Those are big honkin’ pistols. I like the way they shoot, but those are big honkin’ pistols. Did I say those are big honkin’ pistols? The stamped metal sear can be an issue.

    Never have owned a 29. Soon after, I fell in love with the .45 ACP. Never looked back.

    History
    Elmer Keith thought .44 and .45 calibers were better for shooting loarger (larger) game than the .357 Magnum(.) He…

    • Yogi,

      Most of the popularity of the 29 is because of that movie and its sequels.

      In the films both 6 inch and 8 inch models were used, depending on the camera placement and angle. The use of the 8 incher was done more in the second installment, “Magnum Force,” I believe, In many promotional stills for those films 8 inchers were used as well.

      Of course in the movies the Dirty Harry character carried just a 6 incher. The 8 was used sometimes only to create a visual effect in the shot’s perspective.

      Michael.

      • Well, if you ever are in the neighborhood B.B., we can go and shoot mine. FM’s younger hands could handle the recoil, but haven’t fired it for way too long – better try it again first. Seems the “tolerance level” before the younger hand tired out was 50 rounds of .44 Remington Mag. 240 grain semi-jacketed hollow-point. The most accurate shooting FM ever did with a handgun was with this one.

      • B.B.,

        I seem to remember reading somewhere that S&W has made a few Model 29s with 10+ inch barrels. One of those ought to have the least muzzle rise of the them all, right?

        Michael

  4. that model 29 cannot take the pounding of firing a lot of 44 mags. S&W 357’s could not either. Ruger in 44 mag single action black hawk and the double action redhawk and super redhawk 44’s much stronger. most guys will never shoot as many rounds as it takes to wear out a 29

    • mildot52,

      Your insight suggests that the benefits to shooting 44 Specials in Model 29s are not just less of a beating on the shooter’s hand. The revolver also would get lesser beatings than with magnums, yes?

      Michael

  5. BB, The modern airgun equivalent would be the Umarex HDR 50 paintball gun,
    but this one looks much nicer. That would be a nifty conversion, but beyond my abilities.
    I dont know if co2 can push a .25 pellet at 450 fps or so, but that would be the one for me.
    A 25 yard pesting model 29, yea, that’s the ticket. It would be even more fun to fan a SAA
    than it is already. Full, feral soda cans exploding. yea.
    Rob

    • 1stblue,

      I have a DAQ .25 conversion 25XX receiver and .25 caliber barrel on a Crosman 2250 lower in CO2. With a 12gram powerlet it could push a 24 grain pellet at that MV and more on a warm day. With a heavily modified and enlarged/lengthened valve and a DAQ CO2 extension it shoots .43grain bullets at over 650FPS at 70° F.

      Rob, you could have your wish for performance. Just not in a S&W Model 29 probably.

      shootski

      • It’s allot to ask from a $150. replica to be sure. The Huben K1 pistol does what I want but it is way too costly. Heck, your mod is not inexpensive either. I suppose it’s doable, seems like a good niche aftermarket to me because American shooters love more power, and many shooters don’t have 50 yards to play with at home, so pistol range with 12 ft/lbs might be very popular in a way the little bb just isn’t. So, it would not be a “toy”.
        I read that Americans spend a ton on rereational shooting, I think it’s true.:)
        Rob

  6. B.B.,
    I hear you (and feel you) on the “Ouchiness” of the S&W model 29 when fired with full-house loads. I had a 5-inch heavy-barreled 629, with rubber grips, with which I hunted hogs in Florida. I had read a copy of Elmer Keith’s book, “Sixguns,” so I only loaded the gun with handloads made to duplicate Elmer’s loading of a 240 grain bullet at 1200 fps. The first hog I shot was a fairly large one (dressed out at 250 pounds), but two bullets passed through the heart and lungs and the third one broke both front legs (as I wanted to make sure it went down before getting into the thick brush). Mr. Keith knew his stuff; I always found that load to have plenty of power, while still maintaining a level of recoil that was controllable.
    Thanks for the great history lesson on this great gun.
    Take care & God bless,
    dave

  7. BB
    You’re in for a treat when you shoot this one. If it’s anything like the 629 we have in the UK (and why wouldn’t it be?), then you’ll be amazed how accurate a smooth bore barrel can be.
    Make sure you try it with pellets. RWS Geco and H&N Econ work well.

  8. B.B.,

    I have owned a S&W .44 or three in my time; I’m currently down to one that is engraved with a 4″ barrel. I haven’t found a considerable difference to the recoil compared to the longer barreled M29s. I guess my paws are big enough to never have experienced the split web. I also usually have at least a fingerless glove on when shooting so that probably has saved me, so far, from a painful experience.
    As far as durability i have never had a problem even when shooting 300 grain hot loads when I was younger and dumber.
    As with most things mechanical a good Preventative Maintenance Schedule (PMS) is the key to longer life and fewer failures.

    shootski

  9. BB,

    I also have a T/C Contender with a .44 Magnum barrel. Although I never owned one I shot a few times a friend’s 6” SS M29 in the range. My experience was similar to yours – they are both about equally brutal. On one hand I did prefer the smoother grips of the T/C but on the other the Chrony gave the T/C an advantage in energy, which probably contributed to the felt recoil.

    My idea was to use it for hunting white tail so I soon started reloading at lower .44 Special levels for extended practice, ending the sessions with a handful of commercial loads. Things changed and it was never used as a hunting tool.

    And to the subject of today’s blog, the Umarex version of the M29 seems gorgeous from the picture. Definitely a good addition to the realistic replica market. Looking forward to the full evaluation!

    Henry

  10. “Memory Lane”
    Well, this has been a trip down memory lane, and all this talk of recoil in the model 29 has me thinking back to a demo I saw of Jerry Miculek versus a shooter from Colt…sorry I cannot recall his name; and I cannot find the video on it; there was a reporter there from a small local station; this was over 23 year ago, it was a shoot-off of .45 acps: Jerry was shooting a S&W model 625 revolver that took full moon clips (made for some FAST reloads!), and the Colt gent was shooting some version of the 1911.
    Anyway, they were both in on the (indoor) range alone; all of us spectators were out in the observation area. They were shooting cardboard torso targets at 21 feet (combat distance). Both guys were amazing! They were shooting 3 magazines a piece (I think the Colt guy may have only loaded 6 into each mag for fairness sake) from a holster draw. When the Colt dude shot his 3 targets, my friend, Ed, said, “I never even saw him reload!” Me: “Watch his left hand next time; he’s quick as a snake.” One of the most interesting comments came from someone who asked the Cold guy, “When do you start to press the trigger?” Colt guy: “Just as soon as my gun clears the holster…but I wouldn’t recommend that YOU do that…I practice this 8 hours a day…it’s my job.”
    As for Jerry, *shrugs*…well, you’ve all seen the videos on Youtube; he’s amazing. He showed the reporter how easy it was to load a full-moon clip by tossing one into the gun from a foot away. Then some wise-cracker allowed as to how it must be easy to shoot a revolver fast once it was fully-customized and shooting powder puff loads. Well, the “Ragin’ Cajun” looked hot at that, but kept his cool; he turned to the owner of the range/store, and said, “Scott, may I borrow one of your guns and some factory ammo?” Scott: “Be my guest.”
    Jerry picked a brand new S&W model 629 from a glass case, and grabbed a box of full-power hunting ammo with 240-grain bullets. Then he held both under the wise-guy’s nose and said, “How about this? Will this be good enough for you?”
    Then he went into the range and fired off six of those .44 magnum rounds, but all I heard was one “brrrrap!” His 6-shot group could be covered by just the palm of my hand. How many people could fire off 6 full house loads from a .44 magnum in a second and with that level of accuracy? Not many, I’ll wager.
    Oh, and as for the wise-guy; when he saw that, he never said another word. 🙂
    Blessings to all,
    dave

  11. OK, I have a funny story for the blog. Back in the 70’s in NJ, I was at an outdoor range with about 7 others. This big guy shows up and takes out this BIG revolver. Now this is a long table outdoors with no separation between ports. His first discharge was like someone slapped me in the face. The second discharge caused me to remove the magazine from my Hi-Standard 22, pull the slide out of battery and walk off the line. The next round caused everyone else to do the same. The big guy finished his 6th round and looked left and right, finally realizing he was the only one left on the line. Very funny as we all started laughing and came up to him to see what in the world he was shooting. He said he was going bear hunting and this was his back-up in case his rifle jammed.

    He reloaded and handed it to me, I fired 3 rounds and put the gun down, my hand being beet red. While I hit the tin can with my first round, I have no idea where the next two landed, What a beast. That has to be almost 45 years ago!

    Fred formerly of the Peeples Demokratik Republik of NJ now happily in GA – feeling lucky!

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