Firearms

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

Smith and Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum right profile

“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 (53)

  1. I love mine. Its a 29-3 nickel plated 6″ bbl. And unlike the author I love to shoot mine. I love that power. It always draws a crowd at the range.

  2. I just bought my 2nd M29 6.5 barrel. 90% of my guns are from movies. From westerns to action. I have reproduction guns of Clints movies, 3 .45 Peacemakers, a Shilo Quigley .45-110 with 34 inch barrel. Hardly shoot, don’t hunt. But my favorite gun is Inspector Callahan’s. Me and my friend still try to reproduce the target range scene in the basement of Magnum Force. lol . Just personally love revolvers more than automatics. I’m on the hunt for Harry’s automag now.

  3. Missed this last year.
    I bought, owned, and carried many Mod. 29 S&W revolvers. First was a five-screw 4″, BrightBlue that I let get away to another Deputy Sheriff who carried it. My long-time duty gun was a four-screw 6 1/2″, manufacture date in 1958, S178XXX. Our Department authorized duty carry with regular qualification. My dates of carry were 1971-1977. We transitioned to issue Model 66, .357, 4″ bbl. about that time, which forbid any further .44 carry. Upon retirement of my 6 1/2″ I sent it to S&W and had it Nickel Plated, with a new wood display case. I also own a 6″ 629 in SS, an 8 3/8″ M-29-2 in BrightBlue. I carried the M-29 before the Dirty Harry movies…

  4. For SERIOUS i.e. heavy weight projectiles[>=300gr],full charge loads go with the Ruger Redhawk or Super Redhawk.Perhops not as smooth as the S&W* but the Rugers go off every time!..I had problems with the S&Ws.*Also Rugers can be tuned.

  5. 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

  6. 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…

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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,

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

    1. 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.

  21. 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.

    1. 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.

  22. 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 .

  23. 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 🙂

  24. 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!?!

    1. 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.

  25. 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!

  26. 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.

  27. 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. 🙂

  28. 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.

  29. 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

  30. 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.

    1. 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.

  31. 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

  32. 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.

  33. 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…

  34. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

  35. 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…..

  36. 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

  37. 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…

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