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S&W M-29
Length Overall Barrel Length Weight Caliber Action Type Magazine Capacity
 12" 6.5"  49.5 oz .44 Mag D.A. Revolver 6
     Do you feel lucky punk? I apologize for this bit of foolishness, but I just had to say it. There is not a man alive, who has seen a Dirty Harry movie, who would not do the same thing, at least once, after having this revolver in his possession. This is right up there with "You talkin' to me?" from the movie Taxi Driver, which also featured a Model 29 44 magnum revolver. This is the gun that Clint Eastwood carried as Harry Callahan. It soon became the gun that everyone wanted to own, or at least to shoot. This gun was introduced in 1955, simply as "The 44 Magnum". The name was changed to the Model 29, in 1957, when S&W organized, and categorized it's entire line. The pistol itself is built upon the highly regarded "N" frame, which is, appropriately, the largest revolver frame that S&W produced at the time. Other weapons built on this frame include the models 28 (357), 27 (357), 57 (41 Mag), 25 (45 ACP), and the old M1917 (45 ACP). These guns are all, more or less, indistinguishable from each other, without examination (though a bit of barrel taper is detectable on the 357 Model 27), and comparison of the bore, and all of the parts will interchange, with the exception of the barrel, and of the cylinder. The Model 29 has been featured in other movies, but it's most memorable appearances have been in the Dirty Harry series (6" and 8 3/8" blue), and in Taxi Driver (8 3/8" blue). This was S&W's flagship handgun, for decades, and continues to be one of it's top of the line revolvers. My personal model has the 6 1/2" barrel, which was the most popular offered on the stock gun. This is the same as Harry's 6 1/2", and is a bit better choice for a magnum cartridge, than the 4" (though not as good as the 8 3/8"). My gun is also nickel plated, rather than blued.
    Though the 44 Magnum cartridge is mentioned separately on it's own page, a brief summary follows. This cartridge was developed as a result of experiments done by a number of handloaders. The leader, and most highly regarded member of this group of handloaders was Elmer Keith. He is thus credited with it's development. In 1955, S&W took some specially heat treated revolvers, chambered them for a slightly lengthened version of the 44 Special, and a legend was born. In order to avoid repeating myself too much here, I direct the interested reader to my section on the 44 Magnum.
    The fit and finish of this gun are superb, as the photo shows. This is a heavy piece, and was considered to be ungainly, and burdensome to carry, back in the fifties, and sixties. Guns have grown larger, in the last few decades, in part because of the increase in handgun hunting. There are now several pistols which make the old N frame Smiths seem almost petite. The double action pull is smooth, crisp, and light, at least on my gun. The single action pull, is startlingly light, and crisp, and breaks without any warning; perfect. The gun was bought used, and I suspect that a previous owner may have had the action smoothed, or it may just be that the gun was well cared for, and properly broken in. In general, these guns are very stable platforms, for deliberate aimed fire. Single action shooting, with .44 special loads, can produce groups of 2". Double action work, particularly with magnum loads, can more than double this group size, at least for me. I suspect that there are few shooters out there who use rapid fire, double action with this gun. Shooting the 44 magnum cartridge out of this gun, single action, with a proper rest, can give me sub 2" groups; but I suspect that the gun is capable of even better accuracy than this, when in highly skilled hands.
    My gun is a model 29-2. This is, more or less, the original version of the 29, with recessed chambers, pinned barrel, and the short ejector shroud, rather than the full length lug under the barrel. The 29-2 was the first three-screw version. The 29-2s are the most common version of the model 29, and had a longer production run than any other variant. This variant was made from 1962, until 1982, though the 6 1/2" barrel was cut down to 6" in 1979. In the case of the nickel gun, the star extractor, along with the sights, and some other parts, are finished in blue, rather than nickel plate. The trigger and hammer have their natural case hardened finish. There is no field grade gun produced, by S&W, in 44 Magnum. The Model 29 has always been a top of the line gun, and a member of the S&W N frame magnum triad, which includes the Model 57, and the Model 27. As such it has all of the deluxe features that S&W can add. These include a target trigger, target hammer, and target sights (known collectively to S&W fans as TH, TT, TS), as well as the deluxe blue, or nickel finish, and a very high level of polish. These guns were available in wooden display cases, with blue flocked interiors, which included a screw driver, and a cleaning tool. In 1981, S&W discontinued the practice of pinning the barrels to the frame, and also of counterboring the chambers of the cylinder.
    The model 29 became hugely popular, after the Dirty Harry movies, and Smith never did bring production up to a level to meet demand. At their peak of popularity, these guns were selling for almost triple what the suggested price was. I recall in the late seventies, When I bought my first model 29, they retailed for around $200; but you could not touch one for less than $600. The feeding frenzy ended with the introduction of double action .44 revolvers by several competitors, and the realization of many shooters, that the .44 was a bit more gun than they really wanted.
     With the introduction of the Ruger Blackhawk, as well as a number of other single action revolvers chambered for the 44, a large number of handgunners were able to sate their desire for a 44, without paying the ruinous prices being asked for the Model 29 during their Dirty Harry years. With the introduction of the Ruger Redhawk, as well as the introduction of the Dan Wesson 44, S&W had some real competition. Not only did their added numbers affect the market; but there was also the fact that these guns were stronger, and less expensive than the big S&W. In order to maintain their hold on the market, S&W intitally resorted to some cost cutting measures, so that they could lower the cost of the guns. They then took some steps to increase the strength of the Model 29.
    The Model 29 has an actual bore diameter of .429, giving just a bit more metal between the cylinders, than would be the case with a 45. This margin of strength is part of what permits the 44 Magnum to have such high operating pressures. In the late eighties, S&W made some internal changes, including the use of a frame mounted firing pin, in what they called the Endurance package. Actually the full endurance package was not introduced all at once. From 1987 to 1990, in models 29-3, 29-3E, 29-4, and 29-5, the Endurance Package was introduced as a series of improvements. Interior parts were fitted tightly, studs were radiused, a new yoke retention system was designed, a bolt block was installed, and the cylinder locking bolts were cut longer. Some gun enthusiasts will argue that the older guns, particularly with the Pinned barrels, and recessed chambers, are better; but no one will argue that the newer guns aren't stronger.
    As was true, during the filming of Dirty Harry, the M-29 is once again out of production, though the stainless steel version (M-629) is still being made. A 50th anniversary model was produced, in 2004; but I fear that this may be the future of the big N frame magnums --- limited editions, and commemoratives. There are currently no N frame revolvers being made in regular steel, and as far as I know, only the 629 (44), 657 (41), and 625 (45) are being made in stainless. The classic, big frame Smiths are becoming a thing of the past, with only the 629 being produced in any kind of quantity. They will be mourned.

Dirty Harry
    You can't read about the 44 Magnum, or the Model 29, without hearing a long dissertation on Dirty Harry. Many gun enthusiasts tire of the hype, and of the wearisome tirades about how this movie made the gun what it is today. This is similar to the relationship between the Walther PPK, and the James Bond series of movies. For those who are fed up with hearing about Dirty Harry, and for those who wish to hear more, I have set the Dirty Harry commentary separate from that of the M-29 itself.
    There is some disagreement on whether a genuine .44 was actually used in these movies or not. It is rumored that the actual gun used during filming, was a model 57 (41 Magnum), because of the lack of production M-29's at the time the movie was being made. This could have been pulled off quite easily, for two reasons. The bore sizes of the two calibers are very close. The .44 Magnum is based on the .44 Special, which itself is based on the much older .44 Russian. This cartridge (the .44 Russian) was developed in the 1870's to compete with the .45 Long Colt. The actual bore size of all of these .44's is .429, rather than .44. The .41 Magnum is a much more recent cartridge, and has a bore size of .41, more closely reflecting it's name. The difference between the two bore sizes, is therefore only .019". This is approximately 1/50th of an inch. It is doubtful that most people could tell the difference, particularly on casual examination. There is also the fact that the three top of the line S&W magnum revolvers, are all built on the same frame, and all use the same cylinder, and barrel blanks. Other than the different borings of the barrels and cylinders, the guns are identical. It has also been said that a Model 25, in 45 A.C.P. was used, due to the more easy availability of 45 blanks. About the only thing that  seems to be agreed upon, is that the gun used for filming was not a Model 29.
    So why might a different caliber been used, rather than the .44? The truth is that, previous to all of the hype generated by the Dirty Harry movies, the M-29, was just plain not popular. The gun was (and continues to be) big, heavy, unpleasant to shoot, and overpowered for defense. It's only real use would be for hunting larger animals, and hunting with a handgun was almost unheard of back in the fifties, and sixties. Many hunters had considered it to be inhumane. The Model 29 was always a gun of very limited numbers, bought by a small and specialized segment of the shooting public. Because of the relatively slow demand, production would sometimes stop, though the gun was never removed from the S&W catalog. At the time that Dirty Harry was being produced, the Model 29 was not even being made. Clint Eastwood has never commented on these rumors, and may not have known himself, what he was firing, so closely do these guns resemble each other. Movie guns are generally specially modified so that real ammunition can not chamber or fire in them, making the distinction between these, very similar guns, even more difficult to determine. Typically, movie guns fire 6 in 1 blanks, which make filming action seens quite a bit easier, as frequent reloading between takes is not required. Studio armourers handle all firearms, and all blank ammunition. What is known, is that Eastwood procured an actual  .44 so that he could get a feel for what shooting the gun was like, to help him better play his part, but did not use this gun during filming. The gun he used, is said to have been made up specially from extra parts, and repair spares that were stocked by the factory. I have seen many "proofs" on both sides of this issue, and hope to take a trip down to the S&W museum, to verify. Emails to S&W have not yet recieved a satisfactory response.
    Another difficulty, was in procuring a proper holster for this gun. Detectives, and inspectors do not go around packing guns on their hips like cowboys. The N frame Smith, with a 4" or 6" barrel was commonly carried in a belt holster, either on a police duty belt for law enforcement, or in a field holster for hunters. There were some shoulder holsters available; but these tended to be intended for field use over a jacket, and were not designed for concealment. So who made a concealment holster, back in 1971, that offered a fast draw, and reasonable comfort? Well as it turns out, the now defunct, Lawman Leather Company did. The holster finally settled upon was the Model 296 Lawmen Leather shoulder holster. These have long been out of production; but have been copied by several other manufacturers, over the years. As far as I know, nobody makes this particular style of holster as of this writing.
    The holster itself is deserving of some comment, as it was quite an advanced design, in it's day, and incorporated a number of new features, which still hold it in good stead today. The most significant was the use of a bit of spring steel to permit the gun to be securely held, while offering a very fast draw. This was done in combination with a, then new, open fronted holster design, producing what has come to be called the clamshell holster. Holsters have traditionally been designed to have the pistol pulled straight out of the top. This is a natural enough design; but offers certain disadvantages for the shoulder holster.
    The main disadvantage of a traditional top draw, in a shoulder holster, is that it tends to make the draw exaggerated, and very circular. This costs a great deal of speed, and can also make the gun liable to snag. The clamshell design allows the gun to pivot, and be drawn straight out. So great can this advantage be, that it also began to be incorporated into certain belt holsters.
    The clamshell design was incorporated into a number of latter shoulder holsters, most notably the popular Bianchi XP-1000 series; but never with the elegance of this groundbreaking model. Note that this holster features a cut out for the revolver cylinder, allowing it to be a bit thinner, and also giving the holster a better and more secure grip on the gun. Some latter models incorporated a pouch for speedloaders, in the side opposite the gun. In the Movies, Dirty Harry simply carried three speed loaders in his jacket pocket giving him a total of 24 rounds, inclusive of the cartridges loaded in the Revolver's cylinder.
    Due to the perversity of the collector mentality, these holsters are often more expensive than the guns which they carry. A genuine Dirty Harry holster can cost $500-$1000, if it is in pristine condition. The reason for this is pretty simple --- rarity. A Model 29 handgun is made to withstand the force of explosions taking place within it's cylinder. It is made from various sorts of alloyed steel, and is proof tested before leaving the factory. A holster is not. A holster is made from leather, or synthetic, and only needs to be strong enough to hold the weight of a gun, with a reasonable margin built in. Holsters rot, tear, and are sometimes lost. A gun owner will lovingly clean, oil, and carefully store his handguns, after use. A holster, on the other hand, will generally be removed, and tossed in a closet, or drawer.
    There is also some argument over what barrel length was used. This is a bit easier to answer. The 6 1/2" barrel was used in the first two movies, while the 8 38" barreled gun was used in the next. Just to complicate matters, the posters, and publicity art sometimes depicted longer barrels  than those used on the movie guns. What needs to be kept in mind, when discussing such matters, is that these are movies. Things are done for effect here, and reality often takes a back seat.
    The 44 Magnum, and Model 29, were featured, or referred to in a number of other movies; but their most famous appearances, outside of Dirty Harry, were in the classic, Taxi Driver, and in the James Bond movie, Live And Let Die. The gun featured in Live And Let Die was pretty much identical to the one I own. This was the first Bond movie featuring Roger Moore, who happens to be my least favorite of all of the Bonds. The gun was used in a single scene, where Bond was to rescue Jane Semour from the clutches of the evil dictator Kananga, as she was about to be sacrificed in a voodoo ritual. The Model 29 had thus achieved such cult status that, during the seventies, even James Bond had to use one.