As a long-time user of Smith & Wesson revolvers, I am excited to see the things the company is doing these days. One of the most interesting handguns to come along in some time is the Model 69 .44 Magnum. This is a 5-shot .44 Magnum revolver built on the L frame chassis. It features square butt grips and a 4-inch barrel.
Smith & Wesson intended that the L frame would strengthen the durability of the revolvers compared to the K frame, and it seems to have worked well. Shoehorning a 5-shot .44 Magnum cylinder into a 6-shot .357 Magnum frame makes a light-packing revolver well suited to personal defense and outdoors protection. A Model 629 .44 Magnum revolver, as an example, weighs in at over 44 ounces—10 more ounces than the Model 69. No, this isn’t a revolver for long-range hunting or silhouette competition use, but rather it is a handy revolver that will save your life if need be. One hunting pursuit it is useful for is hunting boar in woods and brush or over dogs. Shots are short and the M69 is plenty accurate and powerful.
Smith & Wesson has gone one better for personal defense shooters with the Model 69 Combat Magnum. This version features a 2.75-inch barrel and round butt configuration. All modern Smith & Wesson revolvers are round-butt frames with either square- or round-butt stocks dependent on the application.
You may order either, depending on hand fit and recoil tolerance. The Model 69 .44 Magnum features a satin stainless-steel finish. The pistol is put together well with no tool marks. The cylinder fits neatly in the frame window. The sights include a fully-adjustable rear sight and the trademark red insert Smith & Wesson front sight. This red insert has been helping good guys get a bead on the bad guys as long as I can remember.
Beginning with the loading rod of the Colt Walker .44, heavy recoil has taken its toll on handguns forward of the cylinder. Smith & Wesson eliminated the ejector rod’s forward lockup and moved secondary lock up to the frame. The crane and the cylinder lock-up are tight. Modern CNC machinery makes this lockup exact and it pays off in accuracy.
The fully-adjustable sights allow sighting the piece in properly for bullet weights of 165 to 300 grains. Some .44 Magnum revolvers have short cylinder that will not accommodate heavy cast bullet handloads. The M69 accepts these loads, although, whether you care to fire them is another matter. The grips are lightly abrasive and offer good hand fit for most hands. The trigger action is smooth and tractable. The single action option is there for deliberate shots.
The Model 69 will handle the full range of .44 Special ammunition. I believe that .44 Special fans buy a .44 Special for accuracy and mild recoil while .44 Magnum shooters purchase the Magnum for power and use .44 Special ammunition for practice and economy. In the case of the Model 69, I think that .44 Special loads are best suited for concealed carry, personal defense, and home defense. While the .44 Special standard loads are mild mannered and well suited to cowboy action and informal target use, there are formidable .44 Special loads that equal or exceed .45 ACP +P loads. They are useful for defense against all but the largest animals.
For this evaluation, I began with the Winchester 246-grain RNL loading at 740 fps. This is a mild load well suited to practice. I began drawing from a strong side holster. The Smith & Wesson is brilliantly fast from leather. The short barrel clears leather quickly and comes on target fast. Firing at man-sized targets at 7 yards, the groups were well-centered on target. Learning to fire the double action revolver many years ago, I learned to bring the trigger to the rear smoothly, roll with recoil, and allow the trigger to reset as I regained the sight picture.
Felt recoil was no more than a Smith & Wesson Model Ten .38 with target wadcutter ammunition. I moved to two good defense loads. The Hornady Critical Defense features a 165-grain tipped bullet. This load breaks about 900 fps and offers good control. Another choice at about 850 fps in the M69’s short barrel is the deeper penetrating Hornady 180-grain XTP.
Neither was difficult to handle and each provided good accuracy. At a long 25 yards from the bench rest, the Hornady 180-grain XTP produced a 5-shot 3-inch group. That is adequate for personal defense. The M69 offers a mild shooting alternative to the .357 Magnum as a personal defense revolver.
.44 Magnum Primary Role
The primary role of the .44 Magnum is in animal defense against the big cats, feral dogs, and bears. These animals will sorely test mans’ supposed ascendancy in the animal kingdom. I loaded the M69 with the Hornady 240-grain .44 Magnum and fired a box of 20 rounds including 10 at the 7-yard line. Surprisingly, recoil was not as difficult to control as many larger revolvers. The grip design and a lack of sharp edges aided in this effort. Just the same this is a hard kicker and one that requires experience to control.
Firing for accuracy the recoil results in severe barrel flip in this light handgun. At 25 yards, the revolver fired several inches high. Accuracy was in the same league with the .44 Special loads. The Smith & Wesson M69 .44 Magnum is clearly a viable option for backpackers fishermen, and hunters who want a powerful, compact, and lightweight handgun for defense against dangerous animals. For home and street use, loaded with .44 Special loads, the M69 is controllable and useful. Smith & Wesson has given us an option that for many will be the ideal revolver.
After evaluating my needs and deciding to use the Model 69 as a field gun, I added a set of beautiful Hogue grips. These grips considerably improve handling and make for a better fit and feel and overall accuracy. This was money well spent.
Is the Smith & Wesson Model 69 .44 Magnum on your wish list? If not, why not? Tell us what you think in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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