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)

  • Scott

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    I have a S&W 629 and I could only take about 4 240 gr rds before the web of my hand hurt too much. I do like the gun – it just comes up on target real easy and the trigger is smoother than my 686. I figured what was good for Harry was good for me so I handloaded some 44 specials and some lighter load 44 mags but i haven’t had a chance to get the the range to try them out. I’m sure i’ll find a combination that will work.

    Reply

    • Elton P. Green

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      You can solve a lot of the web of the hand recoil problem by buying Pachmayr Signature grips of the M29. The grips cover all of the backstrap on the revolver and round out the upper backstrap area, cushioning the hand from the recoil. It still is a handfull after about 30 or 40 rounds of medium-heavy loads, but it doesn’t act like a hammer on the web of the hand.

      Reply

  • Karl

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    Seemed like an interesting development that unfortunately failed. Manufacturing or financial reasons?I don’t know how it compares with the Wildey or Desert Eagle?The DE is a bit huge.
    If I ever get my NICS back[5 years and counting],I’d get a full size 3rd generation Glock 21 and put 24 lb springs and perhaps a Lone Wolf barrel for 460Rowland or 45ACP+P
    That would be a near 44Mag auto sans the bulk of the Desert Eagle

    Reply

  • Karl

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    Although I started with S&Ws[mdl 28 in 12977]I have largely gone over to Ruger for”serious”applications.Not as pretty as a D&W but goes off every time and the trigger pull can be smoothed out.

    Reply

  • Karl

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    One summer I shot 6-12 rounds each week.By the end of the summer I didn’t really notice the recoil any more and the gun/my body were”melted together.
    More frequent but less rounds per session worked for me.
    With the large calibers I’ve done round balls at black powder velocities to >=300 grainers,and even a few Speer shot capsules.Takes time and effort but…

    Reply

  • Dale H

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    I love my 29 but not the recoil. So, because I reload my own bullets with 240 grain lead I load it with a 44 special load made with 6 grains of Winchester 231and its now a pleasure to shoot. After I’m finished shooting it I fire 5 rounds of full factory magnum loads and this cleans out any lead in the barrel. 5 to 10 rounds of full magnum loads is about all I can handle. After firing the full magnum loads my hand is literally shaking involuntarily from the recoil. I just wish S&W would blue their guns the way they used to. Mine has a tremendous deep blue and it looks like a mirror. If only S&W would continue to blue their guns the way they used to, like the way they did when this gun was in it’s heyday or replicating the way a Colt Python is blued I’d be much happier. I guess it’s just too much work to do so or else it would make a new gun more expensive. I’ve been told that the gun manufacturers of today don’t have the craftsmanship of the manufacturers of yesteryear.

    Reply

  • karl

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    Also what about the 44 Automag?Eastwood also used that.I recall that Automag ammo was made from cutting down 308Win brass.

    Reply

    • Spencer

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      I had one of those ordered before they were ever stocked in gun shops. I still have all of the literature & a beautiful brochure in full color along with all the info for modifying 308 brass to work. I still have a shop made sizing die & a special reamer I’d modified to make the wall thickness to specs while the case was still in the sizing die I also made.
      That company went bankrupt before I ever received delivery of my 44 AutoMag.The original ammo from my recollection was manufactured in Mexico.
      I’ve tried to ge copies of the brochure made, but I’ve always been refused because of copyright laws, even though the company had long been out of business.Maybe I could get it done now since it’s been over 20 years since I tried last.
      From my recollection the ballistics were about 5% hotter than the Model 29 S&W.

      Reply

    • Scott

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      I had either seen on TV or read somewhere that they are going to to produce the 44 automag again. With Desert Eagles out there now it might be a tough sell.

      Reply

    • Spencer

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      I saw that also when doing an internet search.
      They aren’t stocked yet. They want a deposit & don’t expect to have them available for 6 months ore more. I went down that road with the original Auto Mag. No thanks! I think it’s the same company that makes the :Desert Eagle”?????
      From what I can see, it’s not the same pistol.The grip is different & there’s an exposed rod of some sort under the barrel in front of the trigger guard. It really detracts from the appearance. The barrel it’s self with the vented barrel rib looks the same. They don’t even have a price on it yet.
      It sounds to me like they don’t have enough money for design & manufacture. Screw them & their deposit. I ain’t taking a chance of losing my money again.
      I’ve never wanted a gun I wanted more than the original 44 AutoMag. If I recall correctly after High Standard began manufacturing them, it was available in at least one smaller caliber.

      Reply

    • Joe

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      I’m not sure if it’s the gun you’re talking about, but there was a .22 WMR copycat called the AutoMag II made by Arcadia Machine & Tool (AMT, now High Standard). It was my first handgun (well, technically my mother’s, as I wasn’t yet of age…). It was a pleasure to shoot, until the rear end of the firing pin broke off and hit me in the forehead. It went back to the manufacturer for repair, then later something broke inside and the whole slide assembly nearly recoiled off the back of the frame. We called it quits and returned it to AMT for a full refund. Wikipedia says it’s still manufactured by High Standard, but their website is offline as I write this so I can’t confirm.

      I was old enough to go my own way by then, so I replaced it with a Ruger New Model Super Single-Six “convertible.” For those who haven’t seen one, it’s a .22 revolver that comes with 2 cylinders, one for both .22 Short and LR, and one for .22 WMR. The “Super” refers to it having adjustable target sights. Mine has a 9-1/2″ barrel and very comfy Hogue grips. It’s a perfect gun for introducing kids to shooting, as it looks very impressive, drives tacks, is cheap to shoot and has almost no recoil, even with .22 WMR.

      Reply

  • Tombstone Gabby

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    When an industry study of violent games or movies finds that ‘our product doesn’t have any effect of the player/viewer’ – think of the Movies “Dirty Harry” and “Smokey And The Bandit”. After Harry, some folks were offering gun stores twice the MSRP just to get one. Of those that were sold in that rush, a significant number came on the second-hand market in the next year – usually accompanied with a box of shells with two or three missing. After Smokey, the wait time on a black TransAm from the factory went to six months. Movies (and violent games) do have an effect on people – irrespective of what Mrs Clinton claims…..

    Reply

  • Karl

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    Didn’t have luck with stainless 29-wouldn’t go off in single action.Traded it for a Ruger Redhawk.Perhaps not as smooth as the 29s but utterly reliable-and can tolerate >=300gr slugs

    Reply

  • Konrad Lau

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    Funny thing about the 44 Magnum cartridge, it seems to be inherently accurate. I have a Ruger Super Blackhawk that has shot everything from 185 to 300 grain bullets with laser-like accuracy!

    I gave up fooling around with load experimentation and now load the Sierra 3oo grain flat point as my “standard”.

    I never quite figured out what the fascination with the 357 was.

    Like Harry said, he used a 44 Special load in that Model 29. It had less recoil and blast but provided penetration on auto glass. It was a good recipe then and it is now. I feed the 44 Special to my Model 94 too
    Sierra 210 grain…

    Reply

  • Dave

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    Just to nitpick, I counted. He only fired four shots!

    And it is an awsome weapon!

    Reply

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