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 (50)

  • Elton P. Green

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    I bought my ‘Dirty Harry’ M29-2 with the 6 1/2 in barrel back in 1972. I still shoot it today. I generally try to keep the 240 grain loads at around 1100 to 1200 feet per seconds, and my .44 Special loads aren’t far behind that. One of the first things I did after I bought the revolver was put Pachmyr Signature grips on it. That took care of the heavy recoil. The grips covered the exposed steel hump on the grip and let the gun roll a little in the hand when fired. With loads in the 1200 fps range this pistol is extremely accurate. Its still my go to pistol when hunting elk.

    Reply

  • Brent Wilson

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    The actual pistol used in The Dirty Harry movie was not a 44 Magnum. But a Smith & Wesson Model 29 in 41 magnum. Just a little tidbit of info for you.

    Reply

    • Wesley Warnke

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      The .41 magnum was the model 57

      Reply

  • Kenneth Gonzales

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    I bought my Model 29 in 1986 and have been extremely pleased shooting and hunting with it…very lucky indeed

    Reply

  • Kenneth Gonzales

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    I bought my Model 29 in 1986 and have been extremely pleased shooting and hunting with it…very lucky indeed q

    Reply

  • Lewis Jones

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    I have a Ruger Super Redhawk and I absolutely love it. To me the recoil is very soft and I can shoot as much as a hundred rounds before it bothers me.

    Reply

  • Keith D

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    My best friend Lewis gave me his 44, when he discovered he had terminal cancer. It will always hold a special place in my heart. What a blast of adrenaline to shoot. It’s a favorite for everyone to shoot each year at our Christmas family reunion at the ranch.

    Reply

  • Basehorfarm

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    Mr. Eastwood got me hooked on the .44 magnum. I bought a Dan Wesson 8”. 500 rounds, shot it all up on a weekend. Won many competition’s, kill deer and even a buffalo with it.
    Many thanks to Elmer Keith and Clint Eastwood for my genuine love affair with the mighty .44 Magnum!!

    Reply

  • RazerActual

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    If, you really knew about the first “Dirty Harry” movie, you would KNOW the actual caliber used was a .41 Mag Model 29 **** NOT a .44 Magnum **** Because the film maker could not find a .44 Mag Model 29.

    Reply

  • John S.

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    Clint Eastwood in the movie while at the Range admits to shooting 44 Specials in his firearm, not Magnums. I had to replay several times I couldn’t believe he said it, but it is a fact.

    Reply

    • Elton P. Green

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      That was in ‘Magnum Force’, and I believe he said they were ‘hot’ 44 Specials. Also, the .41 Magnum was an N frame model 57, which was actually not used for the first movie, and that is attested to by Rick Hacker in an article from American Rifleman, July, 2013. S&W Historian Roy Jinks said that S&W brought a hand-fitted M29 with 6 1/2 in. barrel to the studio for the production, after John Milius and possibly Clint Eastwood had contacted them for the weapon. Mr. Milius brought two with 6 1/2 barrels, and maybe one other was supplied with an 8 3/8″ barrel. No 4 inch barreled M29s could be found, according to Mr. Milius. The .41 magnum story is a myth according to Mr. Milius, who wrote both the first and the second scripts for the Dirty Harry series.

      Reply

  • Michael Dean Hanson

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    I’m with the author. I have shot a .44 mag once….once. Only handgun I ever shot that scared the daylights out of me. But I do like to look at them.

    Reply

    • Patrick Vernacchio

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      I believed all the mostly-negative hype about the 44 Magnum, influencing me to buy a Model 19 .357 Magnum as my first handgun in 1983. A few months later, I was shooting at an indoor range in Riverside, Ca. In walks a local PD officer, with his 10yr old son, carrying and then shooting a Model 29 8 or 10 inch revolver. Watching this kid shooting it, I thought to myself, “I am such as wuss.” Later that week, I plunked some money down on a new S&W Mod 29. It’s still my favorite.

      Reply

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