Ever hear of the Smith & Wesson NT-430? Maybe not by that name, but the easiest description would probably be to use a famous movie quote, “Go ahead, make my day.” Yep, the NT-430—later dubbed the Model 29—was famous long before Inspector Callahan wielded it in back in ’71. However, “Dirty Harry” ensured it would always have a place in firearm history, but he wasn’t the only champion of the Model 29 and the .44 Mag.
The .44 Mag. was a follow on to the .357 Mag., which (officially) saw its genus back in 1935. The development of the .357 Mag. is credited as the brainchild of gun enthusiasts Doug Wesson, Phil Sharpe and Elmer Keith. Keith, however, and a small group of big-bore pistoleros, had been documenting their efforts to work up experimental loads based on the .44 Spl. back as far as the 1920s.
The .44 was a logical choice over the .45 Colt. The iconic .45 used a thinner case and the cylinder walls were not as stout. Loading it with an over pressure load of Hercules 2400 touched off with a magnum primer had serious potential to cross into the red zone. Besides, the .44 offered more bullet designs and options for Keith and others to tinker with.
Elmer Keith should be a familiar name to gun enthusiast, but perhaps I am just dating myself. His works were prolific for many years on the pages of Guns & Ammo and American Rifleman as well as a few other notable publications. Keith was anything but silent about his thoughts and made good use of his literary abilities to beat Smith & Wesson and Remington into submission.
This was a case where the pen was mightier than the revolver and Remington responded in 1954 with a new cartridge that was an eighth-inch longer than the .44 Spl. cartridge. Within a couple of months of receiving the new cartridge, S&W had four N-frame Hand Ejector models that were specially heat-treated and chambered for the new round.
Guns were exchanged for cartridges and both sides went through an evaluation period. The new round had promise for both power and accuracy, but more work was necessary. Engineers went back to the drawing board and made a new revolver that was more stout—adding about 7.5 ounces to the mass weight.
Just before the New Year, on December 15, 1954, a new revolver was born with the first production .44 Mag. wearing serial number S130927. S&W dubbed this model the NT-430 for N-frame, Target, .430 bore diameter. Smith & Wesson finished the next production model just before the end of the year and presented it to R.H. Coleman of the Remington Arms Company (S130806). January 1956 saw five more of the new hand cannons produced. The third (S130942) went to Julian Hatcher of the NRA and the fourth, serial number S147220—the Holy Grail of the .44 Mag.—went to none other than the hero of our story, Elmer Keith.
On January 19, 1954, during a special telecast from Springfield, MA, the “Most Powerful Handgun in the World” was announced to shooting enthusiasts. The NT-430 was offered in 4- and 6-inch barrels, with either a blue or nickel finish and initially retailed for $135. 1956 saw the manufacture of the first 3,000-plus of the new hand cannons and handgun history has never been quite the same since.