In 1872, one year before the Colt Single Action Army was unveiled, Smith & Wesson had already delivered 20,000 top-break cartridge firing big bore sixguns to Russia chambered in the improved .44 Russian cartridge. Just prior to this, the U.S. Government had ordered 1,000 Smith & Wesson single action sixguns in the S&W 44/100 chambering. The Russians changed the cartridge to consist of a bullet that was smaller in diameter than the cartridge case requiring a two-step cylinder chambering, as opposed to the previous method of boring the cylinder straight through, to accept the case and the bullet.

By 1878, the Russian Model had evolved into the New Model Number Three, certainly one of the most beautiful single action sixguns ever. Then Smith & Wesson, took a giant step backwards and brought forth the ugly duckling Frontier Double Action. All has since been forgiven as after the turn of the century, Smith & Wesson engineers went to work with the result being the double action .44 Military Model of 1908, better known as the New Century or Triple Lock, one of the finest examples of the gunmakers art ever.

The Triple Lock, so named because the cylinder locked at the rear, and at the end of the ejector rod as do all Smith & Wesson sixguns today, and also at the front of the frame with a Swiss watch style third lock that mated the frame and the cylinder crane. Smith & Wesson offered the Triple Lock in a new chambering, the .44 Special. It was obvious that neither the ammunition makers nor Smith & Wesson realized what they had as the .44 Special cartridge case was nothing more than the .44 Russian lengthened to 1.160 inches. We had a beautiful sixgun, a grand cartridge perfect for the twentieth century, so a giant step backwards was taken once again and the loading for the .44 Special was not all that different than the .44 Russian of the 1870's as the powder charge was increased from 23 to 26 grains of black powder. Sixguns were back in the nineteenth century.

The ammunition companies never did offer a loading for the .44 Special that took advantage of the performance of which the .44 Special and the Triple Lock were capable. The standard loading has always been a 246 grain round-nosed bullet at 750 feet per second. Identical to the black powder loading.

Production of the Triple Lock, or First Model Hand Ejector, lasted only seven years as it was dropped in favor of the Second Model in 1915. To cut cost, the third locking feature was gone as well as the enclosed ejector rod housing. In 1926, the Third Model arrived as Wolf & Klar, a Texas distributor, placed an order for .44 Special double action Smith & Wesson sixguns with the enclosed ejector rod housing returned. By 1950, the .44 Special Smith & Wesson reached its climax with the 1950 Target Model. This final .44 Special would be resurrected for a short time in the 1980's as the Model 24 in blue and Model 624 in stainless. Smith & Wesson provided the sixguns but it remained for men like the members of the .44 Associates to bring out the best of the .44 Special cartridge. From the 1920's to the 1950's, Associate members, most notably Elmer Keith, called for a "real .44 Special" load.

Keith especially called for a ".44 Special Magnum" with a 250 grain hard cast bullet at 1200 feet per second. His pleas seemed to fall on deaf ears. Ammunition companies were afraid of heavy loaded .44 Specials taking old sixguns apart. Keith then asked for a new cartridge 1/10 of an inch longer than the .44 Special to preclude its being used in any old sixguns, and also a new sixgun chambered for the new cartridge. Again, the plea was ignored.

In the early 1950's Smith & Wesson started to listen. Working in tandem with Remington, who would supply the new .44 Magnum ammunition, Smith & Wesson engineers went to work on the new sixgun. In 1954, Remington gave Smith & Wesson the dimensions of a new cartridge that was 1/8" longer than the .44 Special. Smith & Wesson then chambered four specially heat treated 1950 Target .44 Special sixguns for the new ".44 Magnum". The guns performed well but at the thirty-nine ounce weight of the 1950 Target, recoil was brutal to say the least. Elmer had asked for a new .44 with a 250 grain bullet at 1200 feet per second. This is the .44 Special Keith load and it generates heavy recoil in the Model 1950 Target .44 Special. Remington delivered a 240 grain bullet at 1500 feet per second that was originally fired in the same thirty-nine ounce Model 1950 Target .44.

Weight had to be added. The cylinder was lengthened to fill in the cylinder window and the six and one-half inch barrel was changed to a heavy weight full bull barrel style as found on the 1955 Target .45 ACP, resulting in a weight of forty-eight ounces. The new sixgun, as the first Magnum introduced twenty years earlier, was simply named by its chambering and called "The .44 Magnum" in those pre-model number days.

The first .44 Magnum went to Remington, the second went to the NRA and the third, he should have received the first, went to Elmer Keith. Keith quickly developed a standard loading for the new .44 Magnum consisting of the same 250 hard cast bullet he used in his .44 Special loads and 22.0 grains of #2400. This loading is over 1400 feet per second and Keith was ecstatic to say the least. He was also much smarter than he is often given credit for by his few detractors. Writing in The Gun Digest a year later, he said that he fired the new .44 Magnum 600 times the first year. That is twelve rounds per week!

Keith urged Smith & Wesson to also bring forth the .44 Magnum with a four-inch barrel for defensive and peace officer use and while waiting for this to occur, he had at least one .44 Magnum cut to four-inch, actually four and one-half inches and engraved and ivory stocked by the now long gone Gun Re-blue Company.

The original .44 Magnum by Smith & Wesson is one of the most beautiful sixguns ever offered to us sixgunners and in the four-inch length especially it is second only to the Colt Single Action Army in being deserving of engraving. All of the .44 Magnums from Smith & Wesson were finished in the incomparable Bright Blue finish, and carried a wide target trigger and hammer, and the finest sixgun sights then available, a fully adjustable white outline rear sight mated up with a ramp front sight with a red insert. Actions were superbly tuned and smooth.

The .44 Magnum has now been in production for more than four decades. The first .44 Magnum, the one that went to Remington, was completed on December 29, 1955 and serially numbered S130927. Along the way changes have occurred, some to improve the .44 Magnum, others to make production easier or less expensive or both. The first of such changes occurred in 1956, as the upper sideplate screw was dropped. The five-screw .44 Magnum was now a four-screw with three screws attaching the sideplate, and one in the front of the trigger guard. This change occurred at serial number S167500.

In 1957, the .44 Magnum became the Model 29 as Smith & Wesson switched from such names as the Outdoorsman, the Combat Magnum, the Highway Patrolman, and the Heavy Duty to a system of model numbers. We lost something here as Model 15 just doesn't evoke the same emotion as Combat Masterpiece. Stamping of the .44 Magnum with Model 29 inside the crane began at serial number S179000.

It was about this same time that the first of the long barreled .44 Magnums arrived as the Model 29 joined the Model 27 .357 Magnum with an eight and three-eighth's inch barrel length. These quickly became quite popular with hunters and long range shooters. At this same time in 1958, the H.H. Harris Co., a Chicago distributor, placed an order for 500 five-inch barreled Model 29's. These sixguns are now very rare and quite valuable. I've never seen one.

One of the problems with those early .44 Magnums was the fact that the ejector rod screw would loosen under recoil, back out and move forward making it impossible to open the cylinder. In 1960, this rod was given a reverse left thread so it would tighten rather than loosen under recoil. With this change, the Model 29-1 had arrived with serial number S270000.

The 29-1 is quite rare as the 29-2 arrived just one year later. Previous to this change the screw in front of the trigger guard held a spring plunger that provided power to the cylinder stop or cylinder bolt. This screw was dropped and we now had a three screw .44 Magnum with the cylinder stop spring riding in a hole in front of the trigger guard.

The 29-2 is the .44 Magnum most prevalent on the used gun market as it stayed in production from 1961 to 1982. During this time of production, the serial numbering was changed to an N prefix in 1969, while the six and one-half inch barrel model was shortened to six- inches, a negative move in my estimation. The meager extra one-half inch of the original barrel length seems to balance much better in my hands and it definitely looks better.

With the dawning of 1982, and Smith & Wesson under the control of those who seemingly cared nothing about providing quality sixguns, two major changes were made to cut costs. The 29-3 arrived without the pinned barrel and also counter-bored cylinders disappeared. Up to this point in time, all Smith and Wesson barrels were held tightly in place not just by thread pressure but also by a pin that transversed the frame through a slot in the top of the barrel threads. With today's strong brass, counter bored cylinders, or cylinders that completely enclose the rim of the cartridge case, are probably not needed. They also fill with crud and must be periodically cleaned or cases will not chamber BUT they are a sign of manufacturing quality and they are gone.

For years, Smith & Wesson refused to acknowledge a problem that definitely existed. It became especially prevalent when silhouette shooters started pounding hundreds of rounds of fullhouse loads down range in a single day. When a cartridge was fired, the cylinder would unlock, rotate backwards and when the hammer was cocked, the fired round would be back under the firing pin. Silhouetters literally "beat their swords into plowshares" as far as the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum was concerned. About the same time silhouetters were pounding 240 grain bullets unmercilessly through the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum, handgun hunters discovered 300 grain bullets which put a further strain on the mechanism whose basic design went back to 1899.

Instead of listening to silhouetters about this problem, Smith & Wesson refused to publicly acknowledge that anything was amiss and instead brought forth a Silhouette Model in 1983. This model featured a ten and five-eighth's inch bull barrel and sights with a standard adjustable rear sight with a higher blade and also a four position adjustable front sight. The front sight was to be set for the four distances addressed in long range silhouetting. Nothing was done to correct the mechanical problem. Of all the .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson sixguns I have shot over the past four decades, this one, Smith & Wesson's answer to the unlocking cylinder problem, is the only one that I have ever encountered in which the cylinder unlocked and rotated backwards on a regular basis! Needless to say, silhouetters did not flock to the .44 Magnum Silhouette Model.

Finally with a change of management, Smith & Wesson began to address some of the problems associated with the .44 Magnum Model 29. By now, both Ruger and Dan Wesson had heavy duty .44 Magnum sixguns on the market that were designed around heavy usage. The Smith & Wesson had a distinct disadvantage as it was built on a platform going back to 1908. Should they scrap it and start over? Or should they try to fix what they had? They opted for the latter and I am certainly pleased that they did. In 1988, the 29-4 was ushered in with two changes. The retention system on the yoke or cylinder crane was strengthened and studs within the frame were radiused to help remove metal stress. It was not enough. At the same time eight and three eighth's inch models were made available with integral scope mounts on the barrel rib.

The 29-4 lasted only two years to be replaced by the 29-5 in 1990. Now we began to see obvious outer changes in the Model 29 as the cylinder notches were made longer to prevent the bolt from jumping out of the notch upon recoil. At the same time the bolt was changed and the innards of the Model 29-5 were changed to provide a method of holding everything tightly together when the .44 was fired to prevent battering under recoil.

Finally, the latest Model 29, the 29-6 arrived in 1994 with the main changes being a switch from wooden grips to Hogue's rubber Monogrip. The wooden stocks from Smith & Wesson had been deteriorating for many years changing from a useable, smoothly rounded stock that filled in behind the trigger guard in 1965 to a pair of sharp bulky saw handles that had so much wood removed from behind the trigger guard that the knuckles were routinely punished in the 1980's. Hogue's Monogrips were a welcome change and though not having the beautiful grain of Goncala Alves wood, they were at least useable.

The 29-6 also arrived with a rear sight assembly that is rounded at the front of the frame signifying that it is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. All the recent Smith & Wesson's I have seen, both long and short barrels, K-frame and N-frame, .44 Magnum and other calibers, are all drilled and tapped for scope mounts.

For the first time, the basic outline of the Model 29 was changed with the arrival of the .44 Classic series in 1991. The 29-5 was also available with a full underlug barrel, non-fluted cylinder, drilled and tapped for scope mounts plus the "strengthening" package offered in the standard Model 29-5 and 29-6. The Classic .44 was available both as a 29-5 and a 29-6 from 1991 to 1994 in blue finish and barrel lengths of six and one-half inch, eight and three-eighth's inch, and for the first time in a factory production .44 Magnum, a five-inch barrel. The Classic also ushered in the round-butted grip frame on the N-frame series of Smith & Wesson sixguns.

A deluxe version of the Classic was offered as the .44 Classic DX with six and one-half and eight and three-eighth's inch barrel lengths, round butted grip frame, and the choice of finger groove Smith & Wesson stocks or Hogue's Monogrips that changed the grip profile from round to square butt. Most importantly, a new front sight system was present on the Classic DX with five interchangeable front sights including a gold bead as available on a custom order prior to the 1970's.

Finally, a special custom deluxe 1 of 3000 Magna Classic was issued in 1990 with a barrel length not seen since before World War II on Smith & Wesson sixguns, namely a seven and one-half inch length. These were all 29-5 sixguns with serial numbers running from MAG0001 to MAG3000.

Today the only Model 29 cataloged is the standard blue finished Model 29-6 with a choice of either a six-inch or eight and three- eighth's inch barrel length. Long gone is the highly polished Bright Blue finish as well as nickel plating, the pinned barrel, the counter bored cylinder, and the four-inch barrel length. That is the bad news. The good news is that the present sixguns under the Model 29 banner are stronger and better shooting sixguns than the originals.

There have been numerous special runs of the Model 29 over the years other than the 500 five-inch sixguns ordered by the H.H. Harris Co. back in the late 1950's. Some notable ones are the three-inch barreled Lew Horton Special in 1984, a Combat Magnum, round-butted style of defensive sixgun; and the Elmer Keith Commemorative in 1985, a four- inch specially engraved Model 29-3 serial numbered from EMK001 to EMK2500. The first 100 of these Elmer Keith sixguns were deluxe models with ivory stocks.

Distributor Lew Horton also ordered 5000 Classic Hunter Specials in

1987 with six-inch full underlug barrels and the four position front sight. These were all 29-3 sixguns. In 1989, 2500 Classic Hunter Model 29-4's with eight and three eighth's inch barrels were manufactured, followed by the re-introduction of the six-inch Classic Hunter in 1991. A small number of five-inch Model 29-4's with full underlug barrels were also offered in 1989.

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. In 1980 both four- inch and eight and three-eighth's inch barrels were added to the catalog. A very few five-inch 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 8000 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 629's 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 latest model remains in production today with barrel lengths of four, six, and eight and three-eighth's inches with 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 remain in production as 629-4's with five, six and one-half, and eight and three-eighth inch barrel lengths. One year later, the Classic DX 629 arrived in the latter two barrel lengths with interchangeable front sights. Both models remain in production today.

As with the Model 29, several special variations of the Model 629 have been offered over the years since its introduction. Some notable ones are the 629-3 Magna-Classic. These were highly polished, heavy- underlugged, seven and one-half inch barreled .44 Magnums with interchangeable front sights and marked on the barrel "1 of 3000". All Magna Classics that I have known that have been shot 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.

As with the blued Model 29-3, the stainless 629-1 was offered by Lew Horton in a three-inch Combat Magnum version. Five thousand of these were manufactured in 1985. The 629 also received the Classic Hunter treatment with 5000 six-inch guns brought forth in 1988, 2500 being offered with eight and three-eighth's inch barrels in 1989, 3200 three- inch barreled models in 1989, and 2000 eight and three-eighth's inch barreled 629-3's in 1991.

The most famous, and probably the most sought after, Model 629 is the Mountain Gun. There have been three runs of Mountain Guns in .44 Magnum all with round butts and four-inch .44 Special type slim tapered barrels. The first run consisted of special group of blued Model 29's 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 three-inch 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 5000 standard 629's with three-inch 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.

Other variations on the Model 29 and 629 have been offered by various distributors and organizations. I hereby give full credit to Jim Supica of Old Towne Dispatch and co-author of The Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson for much of the model variation information above. The reader is also referred to this excellent publication for information on all Smith & Wesson sixguns, and their current value, from the 1850's to the present.

One of the latest Model 629's available from Smith & Wesson is the Performance Center's Model 629-4 with PowerPort. This is a six-inch heavy underlug barreled .44 Magnum with a special recoil reducing port in front of the front sight.

The following is a complete listing, subject to change at any time by Smith & Wesson's production plans, of the available .44 Magnums. All N-frame Smith & Wessons now are of the round-butted style.



Barrel Length

Barrel Style



8 3/8"




4, 6 and 8 3/8"


629-4 Classic


5, 6 1/2, 8 3/8"


629-4 Classic DX


6 1/2, 8 3/8"


I am an admirer, in fact a real fan of the Model 29. As such I treat it right. There is no way that the Model 29 or 629 in any variation can take the punishment that larger framed and heavier cylindered sixguns such as the Ruger Redhawk, Dan Wesson Model 44, or Freedom Arms .44 can handle and beg for more.

In the late 1950's/early 1960's I would not think of shooting any load except the Keith load in a Smith & Wesson. Anything else would have seemed almost sacrilegious. Today I know better. My Smith's, especially the early Model 29's, are treated like the thoroughbreds they are. I still use the heavy loads. Sparingly. My standard loads are either a 250 grain or 300 grain hard cast bullet over 10.0 grains of Unique for 1150 feet per second. Both I and the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum sixguns appreciate this load and will both last longer shooting it.