Dirty Harry’s Hogleg — S&W Model 29 .44 Magnum

By Will Dabbs published on in Firearms

“I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kind of lost track myself. But being that this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well do ya, punk?”

Will Dabbs shooting the Smith and Wesson Model 29 revolver

If ever there was a firearm that should receive title billing in a movie, it was the Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum used in Dirty Harry.

Words can be powerful. Nations go to war over words. People fall in love over the turn of a phrase. Words can be frivolous, powerful, dangerous, or inane. These particular words, likely penned by the legendary John Milius and spoken by Clint Eastwood in character as Dirty Harry Callahan, are some of the coolest ever captured on film. But for a remarkable turn of fate, they could have been uttered so much differently.

Dirty Harry defined Clint Eastwood’s career. Harry was originally supposed to be played by Frank Sinatra. The role was also offered to John Wayne, Burt Lancaster, Steve McQueen, George C. Scott, and Paul Newman. They all passed on the project citing its excessive violence. It was on the strength of Newman’s recommendation that the producers offered the role to Eastwood.

If ever there was a firearm that should receive title billing in a movie, it was the Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum used in Dirty Harry. The synergistic combination of Eastwood’s inimitable presence and the Model 29’s unparalleled power created an enduring cinematic icon. At a time when the Age of Aquarius threatened to castrate American virility, Dirty Harry gently reminded the world that we Americans were still the baddest boys on the block.

Smith and Wesson Model 29 with multiple boxes of ammunition and target

The Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum is capable of fine combat accuracy.

Origin Story

Elmer Keith was the father of the .44 Magnum. In the early 1950s, Elmer began experimenting with the .44 Special cartridge to produce something more powerful, and therefore better suited, for big game hunting. Once he devised the round, he approached Smith and Wesson and Remington about producing a gun to fire it. The S&W Model 29 first drew breath on December 15, 1955, and was offered for retail sale a month later with an MSRP of $140. That’s about $1,280 today.

The S&W Model 29 evolved through 10 different sub-variants between the mid-1950s and present. The gun has always been popular, but the 1971 release of Dirty Harry made it difficult for dealers to keep them stocked. While the pistol and cartridge have been subsequently eclipsed by such beasts as the .454 Casull and .500 S&W Magnum, in its day the .44 Magnum was indeed the most powerful production handgun in the world.

The Model 29 starts with a carbon steel frame and includes a fixed red ramp in front and an adjustable rear sight. The single action/double action trigger is wide and comfortable sporting the same slick greasy mechanicals for which Smith is justifiably revered. The 6.5-inch carbon steel barrel gives the gun an overall length of an even foot. The Model 29 has been produced in a variety of barrel lengths, but this one was Harry’s.

Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum with loaded cylinder open

The Model 29’s greasy smooth action makes reloads fast by revolver standards.

The cylinder, frame, and barrel are all beautifully blued, while the unpretentious walnut grips exude a timeless American power vibe. There is just something mystical about the synergy of all these graceful lines that causes an inevitable surge in serum testosterone. Just gazing upon it will make your heart race.

Range Report

Question my manhood if you must, but I do not find running the Model 29 .44 Magnum to be a particularly enjoyable experience. The Model 29 will push less energetic .44 Special rounds as well, and those are indeed fun. Full power .44 Magnum loads, however, peg my fun meter in fairly short order.

The greasy, smooth, double action/single action trigger should hang in the Louvre as the very physical manifestation of mechanical art. The gun’s particulars such as the cylinder release, ejector, cylinder fit, and sights are the embodiment of ballistic perfection. Prodigious recoil notwithstanding, the gun shoots better than do I out to fifty meters or more.

Technical Specifications

Smith and Wesson Model 29
Caliber .44 Magnum
Barrel Length 6.5 inches
Overall Length 12 inches
Weight 47.7 ounces
Capacity 6 rounds
Sights Red Ramp/Adjustable Rear
Finish Blue
Grips Wood
MSRP $1,169

Denouement

The classic blued Model 29 with its Dirty Harry-esque 6.5-inch barrel is currently offered on the Smith and Wesson website with an MSRP of $1,169. Adjusted for inflation this is about what they cost back in 1956. You don’t typically buy one of these massive wheelguns to really shoot much. Most of us just stare lovingly at ours. Simply hefting the thing will reliably give you the tiniest little twitch to your eye and sprinkle a little gravel in your voice. In a pinch, it will also likely blow a man’s head clean off.

Performance Specifications

Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum

Load Group Size (inches) Velocity (feet per second)
Federal 240-grain Hydra-Shok 1.25 1,387
Federal 280-grain Swift A-Frame 1.25 1,127
Federal Fusion 240-grain JHP 0.5 1,462
Hornady 240-grain JHP XTP 1.5 1,643
Hornady 225-grain FTX 0.6 1,433

* Group size is the best three of four rounds measured center to center fired from a simple rest at fifteen meters. Velocity is the average of three rounds fired across a Caldwell Ballistic Chronograph oriented ten feet from the muzzle.

Are you a fan of the big bore magnums? How many rounds can your fun meter tolerate? Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (48)

  • Karl

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    Too bad you didn’t put a Hogue Monogrip or Pachmayr Signature on it. Either would have helped;ditto a lanyard stud and retention strap

    Reply

  • Ron Willey

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    Bought 629 6″, fired a few rounds and it barked hard with full factory loads, but not too unpleasant. I was working for a Sheriff’s Dept, they authorized the gun so off to the qualification range up an new breakfront holster. It was a 60 round qual…after 36 rounds of quick timed draw and fire, the web of my hand was bleeding…I told the rangemaster I had enough…2 hand, firm quality grip is one thing, draw and fire without being able to get the same firm grip everytime was miserable…went on carrying my Colt 1911…

    Reply

  • Patrick Vernacchio

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    I’ve owned my Model 29 since ~1983. It’s accurate with everything put through it. I’ve shot nothing but lead pills though it, and then, mostly the Elmer Keith .44 Special load. It is my favorite gun.

    Reply

  • Kaniksu Kidd

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    I bought my first Ruger Redhawk in 1982. I found the receipt a couple of years ago – $292. I’ve been reloading .44 magnum longer than that. I have learned that fast burning powders really make for unpleasant loads. An old friend kaboomed a Ruger Super Blackhawk with an overcharge of Unique. MOST unpleasant! My favorite powders now are WW296/H110 and good old 2400 with either Keith 250gr. SWC or Beartooth 300gr flat points. It seems to me that cast lead bullets don’t kick as hard as jacketed bullets. The Keith 250 gr. over about 18 gr. of 2400 is very pleasant and superbly accurate. Its not a maximum load because it doesn’t need to be. I’d rather have a hit with a load that I enjoy shooting instead of a miss with a load that hurts to shoot. Last year I bought my first S&W .44 Mag – a model 69 five shot with a 4″ barrel. She shoots sweet with that Keith load right to point of aim out of the box – about the same size as my Ruger GP 100 .357 but its a .44 Magnum. I like that!

    Reply

  • oman

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    Fun is fun and I always enjoyed the double action part. I harvested 6) whitetail with my 629. The funnest thing I recall about that piece was when my LITTLE girlfriend got the opportunity to fire said piece. Amazingly she ra ttled off six and handed it back with a smile.The attending shooters were quite imressed and thought she must an accomplished pistolero,,,she was not. At 105 lbs, she enjoyed the double action part. Her first time.

    Reply

  • DM

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    I own a 29-3 with 8 1/2” barrel. Not the most valuable of my collection but still my personal favorite. Put hundreds of rounds through it.

    Reply

  • Karl

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    I also have a BFR but in 45/70=nice to be same caliber as two rifles],low muzzleblast,heavy recoil.Gld I have Hogue Monogrips on all my revolevrs/TCs.Better hand fit and less perceived recoil. Had a SW&W mountain Gun in 45 Colt,sorry I sold that.Keeping my 5.5″Redhawk 45Colt for all uses.
    Shooting a rabit or other small critter-“bark them”i.e. fire slug into the ground[or tree limb]alongside the beast.That’s the way muzzleloaders do it.OR use a round ball seated in the cartridge case with a small amount of Bullseye or Unique.

    Reply

  • Greg

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    I have the 629 in stainless steel with the 8 3/8” barrel. Whether hunting or on the range, it’s a definite attention getter. A classic piece of Americana by Smith & Wesson.

    Reply

  • Gr8ful

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    That’d funny that it was a 41 mag which is a great round. I was a dealer 30 years ago & Smith & Wesson had a fued with Ruger so you had to pick one so I went with with Ruger,

    Reply

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