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)

  • Damian

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    I have the DE44 mag to me it is a fine gun that just like any large framed MAGNUM handgun takes a little getting used to compared to standard pistol rounds .Over the yrs i have owned more then 1 model 29 in various barrel lengths but when we are younger we find things we want more and sell things we should not have .You set a good red dot on the DE.44 mag and practice with it you can easily hit targets at 100 yards and pop out 9 rounds pretty damn quick .I would not want to carry either as they are just damn heavy and over penetrate for street use but either are great shooting big bores and the recoil is much less stout with the DE as it was with the same 6 inch barreled M29 but the DE is a great design and semi auto in 44 mag gets the job done when you need a big bore ,quick to reload and very accurate when gotten used too .

    Reply

  • Gr8ful

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    My 1st handgun almost 40 years ago was a Super Blackhawk 7.5″ in 44 mag. The 1st animal I shot wa a rabbit & all that was left was the ears. I’ve ownwd & shot a lot of 45/70, 450 marlin & 44 mag & the 44 mag has a sharper kick as the others are more of a big push. I assume the 44mag has a faster burning powder but in the same contender the 44 mag will sting your hands. I have a BFR in 450 Marlin which I think would be the most powerful production revolver but may be wrong. Just bought 2 Super Blackhawks with 3.5″ barrels. Also have owned & carried an orig Charter Arms Pug in 44Spec, it’s a very light small carry gun with a big hole in the barrel & bobbed hammer. Also have some Glock 10mm & Taurus M44s with 8 3/8″ barrels & a Desert Eagle in 50AE I’ve never shot. I love big bore handguns :)

    Reply

  • laurence benz

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    ive been shooting my ruger super blackhawk for 40 yrs its the most fun one can have real smooth

    Reply

  • DG

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    Smith thinned out the grips on the newer 29’s which is huge mistake the thicker grips are needed for magnum loads. Nearly every problem concerning the 29 and recoil are solved more than admirably by use of the .44 special cartridge. .45 acp type ballistics and a true manly pleasure to shoot.

    *Other than the hideous lock still a great gun although price prohibitive to the average gun buyer but what isn’t anymore!?!

    Reply

    • Spencer

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      Actually, thinner grips are very beneficial for those of us who have small hands.
      I fabricated thinner grips on my S/A 44 magnum & it’s been much better for me…… even with extremely hot loads.
      Not that I can speak for people with large hans, I suspect what you say is true, especially for those with very large hands.

      Reply

  • Mark Alderman

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    In 1971 at the age of 17 I had never shot a handgun and then I saw the Movie Dirty Harry. Afterwards, I got my Dad to take me to the local gun store and bought one along with some old Peters brand of 44 Magnum Ammo. I shot my first soda can with an 8-3/8″ Model 29. I was hooked so I began reloading both 44 magnums and specials. In 2018 it is still my favorite gun after shooting it thousands of times. Yes, I feel lucky!

    Reply

  • David Wehner

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    I am also big fan of the S&W 29 44mag. I like to shoot about 50 round box at the range. I usually shoot loads that are closer to 44 special FPS wise. I became a fan when I shot the remington 180 grain loads in it that have FPS of around 1700 and lights up indoor range — shoots fire out barrel about 6”. Lot fun shoot.

    Reply

  • kerry prance

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    I sure love mine. Pachmeyers or Hogues make it a lot more fun to shoot. A dozen rounds with the checkered Walnut grips will leave your hand feeling blistered. :)

    Reply

  • JoninCO

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    The last few times I shot my 629 it kept busting my knuckles so I adjusted my grip to hit the heel of my hand. The gun is fantastically accurate (more than me) and this didn’t affect the accuracy. 8 1/8″ barrel.

    Ammo was expensive and drove me to reload.

    Reply

  • karl

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    Try using a Hogue Monogrip.It works

    Reply

  • karl

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    Desert Eagles are huge.Get a uses Glock 17 or 21,put 24 lb springs and a Lone Wolf barrel[if necessary to replacement hexagonal rifled factory barrel]Cheaper.Nothing against UMI/Magnum Research,their BFR revolvers are interesting e.g.45/70

    Reply

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