THE STAINLESS STEEL 44 MAGNUM THE MODEL 629

BY JOHN TAFFIN

The number one variation on the Model 29 theme is the Model 629, a stainless steel .44 Magnum introduced in 1978 with serial numbers N629062 to N629200 for a special run of "pre-production" guns followed by the first production gun, serial number N748564 all with 6” barrels. In 1980 both 4” and 8 3/8” barrels were added to the catalog. A very few 5” barrels have been offered.

            In 1982, the 629-1 joined the 29-3 in dropping the pinned barrel and counter bored cylinder features. The 629-1 lasted until 1988 with 8,000 also offered with three-inch barrels and round butts.  In 1988, the Model 629-2 arrived with the same internal changes as the Model 29-4. Transitional changes were made in 1989 along with the cylinder crane being hardened and these 629s were stamped 629-2E. 

            In 1990, the 629-3 ushered in the same changes as found on the blued 29-5. Four years later, the addition of Hogue Monogrips, frame drilled and tapped for scope mounting, and a change in the extractor brought forth the Model 629-4. This model was  produced with barrel lengths of 4”, 6”, and 8 3/8” Hogue grips, target hammer and trigger, and red ramp front and white outline rear sight.

            As with the blued 29, the stainless 629 received the Classic treatment with full underlug barrels first being offered in 1990. These were produced as 629-4s with 5”, 6”, and 8 3/8”barrel lengths. One year later, the Classic DX 629 arrived in the latter two barrel lengths with interchangeable front sights. By 1998, the 629-5 had an MIM hammer and trigger and frame mounted firing pin.

            As with the Model 29, several special variations of the Model 629 have been offered over the years since its introduction. One most notable ones is the 629-3 Magna-Classic. These were highly polished, heavy-underlugged, 7 1/2” barreled .44 Magnums with interchangeable front sights and marked on the barrel "1 of 3000". All Magna Classics I know of have been superbly accurate sixguns. Mine is sighted in for 100 yards using the gold bead front sight insert and 300 grain cast bullets over 21.5 grains of WW296 or H110; more on this sixgun shortly.

            As with the blued Model 29-3, the stainless 629-1 was offered by Lew Horton in a 3” Combat Magnum version with 5,000 of these manufactured in 1985. The 629 also received the Classic Hunter treatment with 5,000 6” guns brought forth in 1988, 2,500 being offered with 8 3/8” barrels in 1989, 3,200 3” barreled models in 1989, and 2,000 8 3/8” barreled 629-3s in 1991.   

            The most famous, and probably the most sought after, Model 629 is the Mountain Gun. There were three runs of Mountain Guns in .44 Magnum all with round butts and 4” .44 Special type slim tapered barrels. The first run consisted of special group of blued Model 29s for the Smith & Wesson Collector's Association's 25th Anniversary. The regular factory production of the Mountain Gun consisted of 629-2 Mountain Revolvers in 1989 followed by a second run in 1993. 

            The 629 has also been offered in numerous 3” barrel lengths such as the 629-3 Carry Comp and Carry Comp II Stainless sixguns from the Performance Center through Lew Horton, a run of 5,000 standard 629s with 3” barrels, semi-target hammer, smooth trigger, standard 29/629 sights, and wooden stocks. In 1994, the same basic sixgun as the latter was offered as the BackPacker. All production figures and model variation information comes from the excellent book that every Smith & Wesson devotee must have, The Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson by Richard Nahas and Jim Supica, (Krause, 2001).

            In 1989 S&W began to add the Endurance Package to both the 29 and 629. Using high-speed photos, Smith & Wesson engineers studied the .44 Magnum under recoil and concluded that problems arose as various parts moved under recoil. The frame recoiled backwards and the cylinder pin did not. The result was the cylinder was free to rotate. Heavy recoil was causing the trigger to kick back and the hammer was bouncing and hitting the primer a second time resulting in two indents on the primer. The engineers went to work. Longer notches were machined in the cylinder so the cylinder stop could not bounce out under heavy recoil. A bolt block was added that keeps the bolt from transmitting movement to the trigger.  All mounting studs for rebound slide, trigger, hammer, etc., were radiused where they attach to the frame as round corners are less likely to "tear" then sharp corners; all receiving holes were also radiused for the same reason. To help increase strength, the bearing surface on the cylinder yoke was increased and the yoke also received a new heat treatment. All of these improvements were phased into the S&W .44 Magnums in the late 1980s and those with the complete package have a noticeable longer bolt slot cut into the cylinder.

            The first .44 Magnum to have all of these improvements was the semi-custom sixgun, the MagnaClassic. Three thousand of these were made and mine has "008" hand inscribed inside the crane. Smith & Wesson described this gun as "the most beautiful gun you'll probably never shoot" referring to the fact that many would purchase the gun and put it away for a future investment. The best investment is in shooting pleasure and I have shot it and shot it hard.

            At first glance the MagnaClassic appears to be a nickel-plated Model 29 but is instead a highly polished stainless Model 629 and is one of the most beautiful sixguns to ever come out of the Smith & Wesson factory. The lettering on the side of the barrel, is quite attractive and has a classic look with the right side of the heavy 7 1/2” barrel  marked in two lines with  "629 MagnaClassic" over "1 of 3000", and on the left side of the barrel we find "Smith & Wesson" above "44 Magnum". This is probably the nicest lettering I have ever seen on a factory revolver.

            The .44 MagnaClassic was probably one of the first S&Ws with the rear sight leaf not squared off at the front of the leaf but rounded and dovetailed into the top of the frame. The front sight was a radical departure for Smith & Wesson being of the interchangeable style, easily removed and replaced by pushing rearward on the front sight and lifting out. A sight package was offered consisting of eight front sights in a special box, four black patridge styles in heights of .187", .208", .227", and .250" marked on the bottom side as to height; two more .250" patridge style sights were included, one with a white dot and the other with a gold bead; and rounding out the package were two ramp front sights, both of .250" height, one with a red insert and the other plain black.

            Interchangeable front sight blades are one of the best features of the .44 MagnaClassic and should be offered on all adjustable sighted sixguns. Smith and Wesson provided a detailed chart showing the trajectory data for different sights heights. This is fine on paper. The problem is that each of us holds guns differently and sees sights differently and none of this enters into the mathematical equations. It is a matter of finding what works best for each individual. For example, I normally shoot lower than most other shooters do with the same gun, load and sight setting. The MagnaClassic sight system allowed each shooter to choose the best possible front sight combination of height and configuration. My shooting chores with the MagnaClassic are being well-handled by the gold bead front sight.

            Hammer and trigger on the MagnaClassic are the standard checkered and serrated target style, which is loved by many and also destined to be reshaped and made smaller by many others. The grip frame is the by then standard round-butt style and fitted with finger groove grips. This is the one feature I do not particularly care for on the MagnaClassic. The grip is certainly much more comfortable to use with heavy loads than the former standard target grips, however the improved recoil handling qualities of the round butt notwithstanding, I do not have a real feeling of security, as the long heavy barrel of the MagnaClassic seems to me to be incompatible with the stubby round-butt design which would be better appreciated by this sixgunner on a short barreled revolver. If, however, I was forced to choose between using the blocky "target" grips long provided on the .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson, and these smaller round-butt grips, I would opt for the improvement.

            A better solution is the use of custom grips. The MagnaClassic now wears Herrett’s Jordan Stocks as does the companion Model 629-3 with the standard finish, heavy underlugged 8 3/8” barrel, and this also one wears a special set of long range sights consisting of an undercut front post and a Bo-Mar rear sight. TheMagna Classic performs exceptionally well with some of my favorite hunting loads. Garrett Cartridges’ load of 320 grain cast bullet at 1315 fps puts six shots into one-inch at 25 yards while my handloads consisting of BRP's NEI 295 grain Keith bullet over 21.5 grains of WW296 for 1,290 fps, and  NEI's #260.429 Keith bullet over 25.0 grains of WW296 for 1,473 fps  both go into 1 1/4”

            The real test of a sixgun, as the old-time sixgunners would say, is what she'll do at long range. Using my long-time favorite silhouette load consisting of Hornady's 240 grain full metal jacket bullet over 23.0 grains of WW296 for right at 1300 fps, and guessing at the sight setting I set up a 200 meter ram bolted down, and put five shots on the ram’s body the first time I shot this excellent sixgun at long range. I now have it sighted in for 100 yards putting me about three inches high at 50 yards.

            Forty years after the advent of the original .44 Magnum, the Model 629 Classic Deluxe with PowerPort arrived and it differs from the 1956 significantly. The 629 Classic is weather resistant stainless steel rather than the blue carbon steel of the original, the lockwork is the improved style to prevent as much stress wear as possible and still maintain the original size and feel, the barrel of the 629 Classic is of the heavier full underlug style, 6” in length rather than the original 6 1/2”, and the sights are greatly improved being black instead of a red ramp insert matched up with a white outline rear sight. The front sight is also a black post, or Patridge style, which for me at least is much easier to see. The front sight does not extend all the way to the end of the barrel, but rather sets back about one half-inch.

            The 629 Classic is also scope ready. That is, removal of the rear sight reveals three holes drilled and tapped to accept a scope base, the wide trigger is of the much preferred smooth style rather than the finger annoying serrated trigger of the 1956 .44 Magnum, the grip frame is the standard round-butted style allowing a greater latitude in fitting custom grips, stocks provided are the highly functional Hogue pebble grained finger groove rubber grips, and to further reduce felt recoil, the 629 Classic .44 Magnum carries a slot cut longitudinally through the barrel in front of the front sight. This Smith & Wesson answer to reduce felt recoil is known as PowerPort. 

              The original .44 Magnum carried full target stocks that on the plus side filled in behind the trigger and were shaped so there were no hot spots. Unfortunately they were checkered to eat into the palm under recoil and a smooth grip was soon offered to counteract this problem. Over the years, the Smith & Wesson stocks somehow became blockier and filled in less behind the trigger guard accentuating recoil even more.

            The rubber finger groove grips by Hogue are a great improvement over the late issue Smith & Wesson wood stocks. However, I still prefer wood and this Classic 629 now wears a beautiful pair of Hogue's Tulipwood finger groove grips. Hogue's grips are one piece-style that slide up and over the grip frame and fasten with a stirrup and screw entering the bottom of the grip. They are easy to install and lock up tight with no wobble. They also look great matched up with the stainless finish of the 629 Classic. Normally I prefer grips without finger grooves for everyday use and especially for fast work from a holster. However I find them very useful, almost mandatory on a heavy, hard kickin' handgun or a sixgun with a scope and heavy underlugged barrel. Hogue's grips fill the bill nicely for these applications. With all these changes it is easy to see this 629 which arrived in 1996 is far removed from the .44 Magnum of 1956. The latter looks a whole lot better to my biased eyes; but I have to admit, the Classic PowerPort not only shoots easier, it also shoots better.

            With the 629 Classic .44 being scope ready, it only seemed natural to scope it for test-firing. Weigand's Combat Handguns one piece scope mount mates up with the pre-drilled and tapped holes in the 629 Classic under the rear sight and three Weaver rings were used to mount a bright finished Leupold 4X EER pistol scope. I've always found Leupold scopes to be rugged and also easy to focus. If I recall correctly, my first Leupold scope was mounted on a hard kickin' Contender in 1981, and I've never had a scope problem under normal circumstances. The combination of heavy underlug barrel, Hogue finger groove grips, Weigand scope base, rings, and Leupold scope, all combined with PowerPort made this the most pleasant Smith & Wesson I have fired in forty years. Four decades have not dulled the memory of my first experience with a 4” Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum with full-house loads!   

            As noted several times, Keith's original load worked out for the .44 Magnum was 22.0 grains of #2400 under a 250 grain plain based bullet of his design. About the same time, Ray Thompson designed a .44 bullet for Lyman with Keith's basic semi-wadcutter design incorporating a gas check. This is Lyman's #431244GC and is a superb performer in most .44 Magnum sixguns. The 629 Classic is no exception. Loaded over Keith's recommended 22.0 grains of #2400 iginited by a CCI #350 Magnum pistol primer, the Thompson .44 clocks out at 1,460 fps and puts five shots in 1 1/8”at 50 yards. It can't get much better than this!

            For a heavy bullet handload, RCBS's #44-300GC is an excellent performer. Loaded over 21.5 grains of H110, muzzle velocity is 1,330 fps from the 6” barreled 629 and shoots well within two inches at fifty yards. This is a heavy load and I only use it sparingly in the 629.     When factory loads are employed for deer sized game I reach for Black Hills 240 grain XTP loaded .44 Magnum ammunition. This is not a heavy load clocking out at an easy shooting 1,228 fps. However, the combination of the performance of the Hornady XTP Bullet and the accuracy of Black Hills ammunition does the job as I have used it to take several whitetail deer and a cougar cleanly. In the 629 Classic, Black Hills' 240 .44 Magnum load groups five shots into a most satisfying 1 1/8”. 

            The 629 Classic really tames the felt recoil of the .44 Magnum especially when compared to the first firing of the 4” Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum a half-century ago. Could any S&W .44 ever be worse than that original short-barreled Magnum? We find out next.

 

22-1) The Smith & Wesson 629 Classic carries easily for hunting in this #44

shoulder holster by Idaho Leather.

 

 

22-2) One of the finest shooting sixguns ever manufactured by Smith & Wesson

was the 629 MagnaClassic in high polish stainless and limited to 3000 pieces.

 

 

22-3) Both of these 629 Classic .44 Magnums are exceptionally suited for long-range shooting.

The top Classic has long-range sights while the MagnaClassic has Smith & Wesson's

interchangeable sight system. Both wear stocks by Herrett’s.

 

 

22-4) Great shooting .44s by Smith & Wesson: 6 1/2” Model 29, 6” Model 629,

5” Model 629 all with BearHug Skeeter Skelton Style stocks;

and a 6” Classic 629 with Herrett’s stocks.

 

 

22-5) The special edition 629 MagnaClassic featured an interchangeable front

sight system with all these options.

 

 

22-6) Four examples of 629s and custom stocks: 5” with Eagle Grips, 6” with

BearHug grips, and a pair of 629 Classics stocked by Herrett’s.

 

 

22-7) BearHug Skeeter Skelton stocks grace this pair of 629 Classic .44 Magnums.

 

 

22-8) Taffin considers the 629 Classic to be one of the finest long-range

shooting .44 Magnums he has ever experienced.

 

 

22-9) Five shots on the 200-meter silhouette ram using a 629 Classic.

 

 

22-10) What Smith & Wesson did not do, a custom sixgunsmith can; a 5” 629

with ivory micarta stocks by BearHug.

 

 

22-11) It came along too late for silhouetting, however this 629 Classic .44

Magnum is an excellent long-range sixgun.

 

 

22-13) These 629 .44 Magnum sixguns cover most sixgunning situations: a

7 1/2” for long-range shooting, a 6” for hunting, and a 5” for every day carry.

 

 

22-14 The gold bead front sight on the 629 MagnaClassic is excellent for

long-range shooting.

 

 

22-15) Four ways to shoot Smith & Wesson .44 Magnums: an 8 3/8” Model 29,

an 8 3/8” Model 629, a 6” 629 Classic, all stocked by BearHug; and the 7 1/2”

629 MagnaClassic with factory stocks.

 

 

22-16) Smith and Wesson has never seen fit to issue a 5” 629; Jim Stroh tuned,

tightened, and shortened this 629.

 

 

22-17) The 4” 629 and 4” Model 29 both make excellent every day

Perfect Packin’ Pistols. Photo courtesy of Ted McIntyre.

 

 

22-18) This Model 629 with PowerPort and a scope is an exceptionally easy

shooting and accurate .44 Magnum.

 

 

22-19) One man’s Perfect Packin’ Pistol, the S&W Model 629 Classic 5”

Photo courtesy of Glen Fryxell.

 

Chapter 21       Chapter 23