The Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum is the all time classic Magnum Revolver. It was developed from the .44 Special cartridge by Elmer Keith, a famous adventurer, outdoorsman and ammunition hand loader in 1955.
The .44 Special was selected by Elmer to be the new Magnum cartridge as the revolvers that fired the .44 Special cartridge were already stronger than normal revolvers and so could stand the higher internal pressures that a Magnum round delivers.
Below is the classic Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum with 6½ inch barrel. This is the revolver that started the trend in the big 44's and is as popular today as it was when it was first introduced in the 1950's.
Below is a close view of the 8 inches and 3/8ths barrel of the Model 29 Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum.
There were three initial barrel lengths when the Model 29 first appeared and they were 6½ inches, 8 inches and 3/8ths and the longest barrel was 10 inches and 5/8ths.
The .44 Magnum was very accurate in any of these barrel lengths too, of course the longer the barrel the more accurate the revolver. So the ten inch barrel offered the best accuracy and the lowest amount of recoil because longer barrels always reduce recoil. A .44 Magnum fired through a 2 inch barrel would be a painful experience.
SQUEEZING THE TECHNOLOGY...
What will surprise a lot of people is that the bullet is squeezed under this high pressure and when it fires out of the muzzle, the diameter of the bullet is actually smaller and measures .42 and not .44, This is one of the best kept secrets of the power of a .44 Magnum...the bullet is squeezed out!
I actually discovered this a few years ago by inserting a vernier caliper gauge down the muzzle and taking the exact reading which was .425 (land to land, inside the rifling cut, not the pitch to pitch which is the bore surface) and incidentally, the breech was wider than .440 and measuring in at .447.
The .44 Special cartridge was originally fired in guns that were undersized Colt .45 Revolver cylinders so therefore had more 'meat' around the cylinders and thus were stronger and ideal for Elmer's experimentation.
Elmer fired a 240 grain bullet at over 1500 feet per second in his tests with the new high power loads, delivering twice as much power as a .357 Magnum. He was happy with the results so he then pushed manufacturers for it to be produced commercially.
Remington were approached by Elmer to produce a commercial version of his experimental Magnum cartridge and Smith & Wesson was encouraged to make the gun to go along with it. The .44 Remington Magnum cartridge was made a bit longer than the original .44 Special cartridge so that it could not fit into specifically designed and relatively weaker structured .44 Special revolvers.
The .44 Remington Magnum cartridge was produced and the revolver later designated the Model 29 was created and the legend was born, but not that anyone really knew. Not until sixteen years later when the 1971 Film Dirty Harry starring Clint Eastwood made the .44 Magnum famous and brought the gun out of the closet.
Almost everyone associates this gun with Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry. It was described as The most powerful handgun in the World and it was this statement that caught the imagination of the public.
This statement was slightly true but not completely true, as the record for most powerful handgun in the world was actually held by an old west style single action revolver, the .454 Casull Magnum that was made in 1959, as seen below.
So the .44 Smith & Wesson Magnum was the worlds most powerful handgun for only four years!
Smith & Wesson was inundated with requests for the gun after the film was shown, so seeing a niche in the market, Smith & Wesson put it into production. The Casull .454 Magnum however, was initially a custom made revolver and this meant that the Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum was the worlds most powerful production revolver. Below is shown the stainless Model 629 with 4 inch barrel and pachmeyer rubber grips.
The Model 29 is a double action revolver in that the hammer doesn't have to be cocked by the thumb before it can be fired, simply pulling the trigger back cocked and fired the gun, so maybe Clint Eastwood could have said " This is most powerful double action and production revolver in the world " but I guess it doesn't have the same ring to it!
The iconic Model 29 .44 Magnum will forever be associated with Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry and with any webpage or mention of the big .44 it is now mandatory to mention Dirty Harry as it is now so incredibly synonymous.
You may be surprised to learn that Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, John Wayne and Paul Newman all turned down the offer of playing the role of Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood was actually the last person to be asked, very wisely he accepted as he thought the role suited his persona in that field of acting.
In doing so, he increased his fame to megga status...along with the gun. I bet that those other iconic actors regretted their decision not to take up the offer, although John Wayne did do rather well from plating that very similar tough cop role as McQ. Below is a very shiny Model 29 .44 Magnum finished in nickle plate, this particular revolver was made back in 1956.
The .44 Magnum became ultra popular with shooters across the USA after the release of Dirty Harry and for the first time, big game hunting and shooting at distances normally associated with rifles, could be accomplished with the big .44 Magnum.
The recoil is quite punishing when firing full factory loads, so the lighter .44 Special was re-introduced as a popular round, the .44 Special still delivers a powerful bullet, but with less recoil. In fact during the movie Magnum Force which was another Dirty Harry movie, Clint Eastwood's character stated that he used a .44 light special, with wad cutters (flat nosed bullets) that gave the same power as a .357 but with less recoil.
This may be deemed as a bit of a backwards step as a designated .44 Special revolver could have been used instead of the fearsome full power Magnum. Recoil off big bore handguns is always a problem for law enforcement agencies as the gun will elevate high up off target after firing and then it has to be brought back down and re-aligned on target again. So the first shot is vital as there may not be enough time to get a second shot off.
Saying that though, any person hit with a single .44 Magnum round anywhere in the main torso would be killed instantly as the trauma and shock the bullet produces on impact is so massive. Someone once suggested it would be like getting hit by a freight train.
Usually custom revolvers such as the one above command a high prices and owners of them only rarely fire a few rounds through them.
Clint Eastwood selected the Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum for his role even though Smith & Wesson did not have the gun in production at the time. The gun was actually assembled from spare parts by Smith & Wesson at their factory in Boston, Massachusetts.
Clint Eastwood practiced for many weeks on a firing range, firing real .44 Magnum bullets to get used to the recoil and enable him to accurately imitate the movements of it when firing blanks during filming. The blank rounds also had to be specially made and adapted for the revolver too, as it is alleged that the Hollywood film studios didn't have any blank cartridges for the gun.
It is also alleged that Clint Eastwood didn't actually use the Model 29 .44 Magnum at all during the shooting sequences in the film but rather a Smith & Wesson Model 57 .41 Magnum or Smith & Wesson .45 Long Colt ctg was used instead, as both guns look almost identical to the Model 29 and blank cartridges for a .45 are very common in Hollywood.
Below the Smith & Wesson Model 57 .41 Magnum (with 4 inch barrel) does bear very strong resemblance to the Model 29, even experts are fooled when holding the gun, until they read the caliber description indelibly etched on the side of the barrel.
For movie goers though they might just have been fooled, its hard to say and the truth will never be known. At the bottom of the page is an image of Dirty Harry holding a gun from the movie Sudden Impact and its definitely not a .44 Magnum as the bore is way too wide.
THE REAL DEAL
The initial rumors of a fake .44 aren't substantiated. In fact it was stated that one of the guys who was on the production crew of the movie has retained the actual gun as used by Clint Eastwood and he refutes that it was a genuine .44 Magnum.
Below, Dirty Harry and his Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum. Looking down the barrel of that gun is not a favourable position to be in!
The Model 29 .44 Magnum is one of Smith & Wesson's most austere revolvers, it was beautifully made with a deep blued finish, exceptionally well fitting and well machined parts, a handsome walnut chequered grip, a smooth streamlined look to it and a wide trigger with a smooth action. The Model 29 showcased Smith & Wesson's skill as excellent firearms makers.
The Model 29 is also one of the most accurate revolvers made by Smith & Wesson. The .44 Magnum bullet has a very flat trajectory (flight path) and is accurate over 50 yards, with a longer barrel the gun can be fired accurately at targets 200 yards away or more.
SIZE AIN'T IMPORTANT...BUT LOOKS ARE...
The Model 29 is a nice revolver to have custom engraved and embellished and they become show pieces when they are. Below are some classic example of these customized revolvers.
The Model 29 was available in blued or nickel plate finish and a stainless steel version was introduced in 1978. There are several beautiful engraved and embellished Model 29 revolvers around, but finding them may be hard work.
Below is a very nice custom engraved and embellished Model 29-2 that was manufactured in 1965. It has been engraved and inlaid with gold by Smith & Wesson master engraver Russell J. Smith, who also carved the grips with the same swirl pattern.
Photo credits: Doc44 of the Smith-wessonforum.com
Below is another finely engraved and embellished Model 29. It is a beautiful example of the engravers art and indeed makes this revolver a work of art rather than the lethal weapon that it actually is.
Photo credits: Doc44 of the Smith-wessonforum.com
Indeed there are some very nice examples about of these engraved Model 29 Magnums and will remian as collectors pieces for years to come. It would be a shame to actually load them up and shoot them, but of course people do and it makes the shooting experience that much more special.
Below is a two tone Model 29 consisiting of nickel plated cylinder and barrel with a blued frame and plain custom walnut grips
Below is an Elmer Keith commemorative engraved Model 29-3 with 4 inch barrel and pearl grips.
Really very nice, but if you want a flashy anniversary single action .44 Magnum then look no further than the Super Ruger Blackhawk Alaskan 50th Anniversary, as seen below.
Single action, old west stlye revolvers are still popular with todays modern shooters. A touch of nostaligia is present whenever these "old school" style revolvers are fired.
I have generally based this page on the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum but would like to mention that the venerable company of Colt also have a nice revolver in this popular caliber and it is the Colt Anaconda as seen below.
Good looks, pachmeyer grips, stainless steel finish and Colt high precision, high tolerance, reliability, power and accuracy along with robustness. The Colt Anaconda was the first .44 Magnum that this company came out with when it decided to cater for connoisseurs of this caliber.
Built with the same attention to detail and workmanship as the famous .357 Magnum Colt Python, the Anaconda will carry the name of Colt forward well into the 21st century.
Have you noticed too that Colt like to name many of their revolvers after dangerous snakes, with Diamondback, Python, King Cobra, Anaconda already being well used, with the name Boa used on their custom Colts.
I will leave this page now with the undisputed king of the .44 Magnum...Clint Eastwood. In the Dirty Harry movies, Harry never wanted a partner, he didn't need partners...as he already had one, as he said himself...
Harry : Every day for the past ten years,
Loretta here's been giving me a large black coffee, except today she gives
me a large black coffee and it has sugar in it. A lotta sugar, I just came
back to complain. Now you boys just put those guns down... "
Sorry to disillusion all you Dirty Harry fans, but in the image below taken from the movie, the barrel of the revolver has apparently been bored out so it appears bigger for even more effect. It now looks more like a .60 or .70 caliber! and the barrel itself looks a lot wider too, in fact the whole gun is a made up prop.
Compared to the exact same real life .44 Magnum below, we can indeed see the bore is wider in Harrys gun!
When the gun was fired, the kaaboo-um, kaaboo-um, kaaboo-um sound effects were edited in afterwards for even more dramatic effect...still...that's Hollywood for you...and why not...it was a great movie.
Sometimes and very rarely, whilst firing a handgun, things don't always go as planned. See my interesting side page about an exploding .44 Magnum. Click on image below...
Page created August 17th 2007. Updated January 6th 2013