EARLY YEARS DEVELOPMENT

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1 MODEL 29

2 Smith & Wesson was known for quality double-action revolvers for many years prior to its N-Frame.44 Magnum, which became the Model 29. The gun that the powerful.44 was based on had been around for more than 30 years before the Magnum round made it legendary. DEVELOPMENT The Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver in.44 Magnum began as an experiment of the late, great Elmer Keith. Years earlier, Keith was one of the creators of the famous.357 Magnum, and had begun tinkering with heavy loads in Smith & Wesson N-Frame.44s as early as the 1920s. He was famous for taking a heavy caliber, cast lead bullet, using a heavy charge of powder and magnum primer, and pushing the limits of revolver performance. It was at the request of Keith and others that Smith & Wesson introduced a new cartridge in partnership with Remington. Remington developed a cartridge 1/8 longer than the.44 Special and sent it to Smith & Wesson in The first.44 Magnum load called for a 240-grain Keith bullet at 1,400 FPS from the test barrel. Smith produced four specially hardened N-Frame Hand Ejector revolvers, and began testing the new cartridge and revolver along with Remington. The barrel and frame of the revolvers needed to be strengthened by adding more steel to accommodate the powerful new cartridge. The beefier design of the new revolver added more than 7 oz. to the gun s weight. The first production.44 Magnums were ready in Hatcher of the NRA technical staff. The third.44 Magnum was presented to Elmer Keith, the driving force behind the project. The name Elmer Keith will always be synonymous with the.44 Magnum, and many loads have been developed using his famous bullet designs. EARLY YEARS The.44 Magnum revolvers were listed as being available with either a 4 or 6 ½ barrel, however it would be several months into production before the 4 version was available. The initial 500 revolvers produced were 6 ½ guns. The 8⅜ barrel became available in 1958, and versions were made in that same year. These revolvers are particularly rare and high in collector value. In 1957, Smith & Wesson changed the name of the.44 Magnum to the Model 29, as it is still known today. Sales for the new revolver were initially strong, but over time many shooters grew weary of the punishing recoil and loud muzzle blast associated with the powerful magnum cartridge. The revolvers sold well in law enforcement circles at first, but many officers opted for something with less recoil that allowed faster follow-up shots. Over-penetration was also a concern with the.44 Magnum, especially in urban environments. Eventually, sales of the revolver diminished, and it was not uncommon to see lightly used examples in gun store cases or up for private sale. The first revolver was presented to Remington, which had partnered with Smith & Wesson in the development of the.44 Magnum cartridge. The second went to Major General Julian S.

3 THE MODEL 29 BECOMES FAMOUS In 1971, the Dirty Harry movie series, starring Clint Eastwood, began. Detective Dirty Harry Callahan, played by Clint Eastwood, was a rogue cop wielding the most powerful handgun on the planet the Smith & Wesson Model 29. The revolver became legendary in the Dirty Harry movies, and will forever be associated with the famous line You have to ask yourself, Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk? Following the movie s release, sales once again surged as the powerful.44 was thrust into the national consciousness. The Model 29 was very popular for a while, until, once again, the recoil of full-power magnum ammo proved to be too much for many shooters. The late 1970s saw the rise in popularity of handgun hunting, which is where the.44 Magnum really excelled. Animals from all over the world were being taken by the.44, some as large as polar bears and elephants. Eventually, the popularity of handgun hunting would lead to scoped revolvers and even more powerful cartridges. The Model 29 and the.44 Magnum cartridge were also popular among handgun silhouette shooters of the 1980s and 90s. OPERATION The Model 29 is a double-action revolver. The term double-action refers to the fact that the trigger can perform both the cocking function and the release of the trigger with a single squeeze. The firer may also cock the hammer manually and fire the gun using the much lighter single-action trigger mode. Single-action fire allows more accurate placement of shots with its shorter travel and lighter pull. The cylinder is rotated counterclockwise by the hand or pawl, located inside the frame.

4 The hand pushes on the back of the star, on the rear of the extractor rod. After it is rotated to the proper charge hole, the cylinder is held in the proper orientation by the cylinder stop, located inside the frame below the cylinder. VARIATIONS Throughout its life span, the Model 29 has undergone numerous changes. In 1956, the upper sideplate screw was removed, resulting in the four-screw version. The designation Model 29 arrived in 1957; before that, it had been known simply as.44 Magnum. The first long-barreled Model 29s, with 8⅜ barrels, as well as the very rare 5 guns, were also made in The Model 29 had been plagued with an ejector rod spring, which, over time, came loose under recoil. The 29-1 came in 1960, with a reverse-threaded ejector rod screw that tightened under recoil. The 29-1 is a rare collector s piece, as the 29-2 was introduced in Prior to the 29-2, the fourth screw located in front of the trigger guard held a spring plunger. This plunger gave tension to the cylinder stop. This screw and plunger arrangement was changed to a cylinder stop spring in a hole in front of the trigger guard. The 29-2 was produced until The 6½ barrel was shortened to 6 in In 1982, the 29-3 arrived with two major changes. First, the cylinder was no longer counter-bored to completely enclose the rims of each cartridge in the charge holes. Secondly, the pinned barrel of previous years was gone the barrel now only held in place by thread pressure. The 29-3 was known for cylinders that would rotate in reverse when the hammer was cocked, a result of cylinders that would unlock under recoil. The 29-4 attempted to address these issues by strengthening the retention system on the cylinder crane and attempting to relieve metal stress on the frame. These changes were unsuccessful, and the 29-5 was introduced in The 29-5 represented a real step forward, and fixed the problem of unlocking cylinders by changing the internal mechanism so that the parts remained fixed in position under recoil. The 29-6 brought a change to Hogue Monogrips as the highlight. The Model 29 is offered today in the Smith & Wesson s Classics line, with its original 6½ barrel. There are also several stainless steel versions to choose from in the 629 series. These include everything from a 2.65 barrel all the way up to a full under-lug 7 Stealth Hunter model. The Smith & Wesson Model 29 is an iconic revolver in many respects. It was the first revolver ever introduced in a legendary caliber, the.44 Magnum. The S&W N-Frame opened the door for Ruger and Colt, among others, to produce their own legendary magnum caliber handguns. The revolver and caliber helped popularize handgun hunting, offering more knockdown power than any other handgun and cartridge from the era. This power paved the way for others, such as Dick Casull with his legendary.454, to develop even hotter handgun loads. After more than 60 years, the Model 29 and the powerful.44 Magnum cartridge it was introduced with are still in production and use today. And with their famous X-Frame.460 S&W and.500 S&W revolvers, Smith & Wesson has moved on to even faster and more powerful cartridges. All of these new developments in powerful magnum revolvers can trace their lineage to one place: the Smith & Wesson Model Magnum.

5 SOURCES CITED

6

54 GUNS & AMMO/JULY 2002

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