|DIRTY HARRY'S .44 MAGNUM IS BACK Smith & Wesson Revisits Eastwood Classic|
|(scroll down for photos)
Aside from JAWS (1975), perhaps no movie has left as deep an impact on our popular culture as DIRTY HARRY (1971). Inspired by the true-life case of San Francisco’s notorious Zodiac killer, Don Siegel’s gutsy, politically-incorrect thriller starred Clint Eastwood as disaffected detective “Dirty Harry” Callahan, whose blunt-instrument tactics in pursuit of a psychotic killer struck a responsive chord with audiences frustrated over a legal system that seemed to favor the rights of criminals over those of their victims. Eastwood’s droll, underplayed performance and casual but precise gunplay made the film an instant hit with moviegoers and shooters alike. And the gun itself was a character. If there were an Oscar category for best supporting firearm, it surely would have gone to Eastwood's bright blued Smith & Wesson .44 magnum, a weapon he grimly described as "the most powerful handgun in the world," which could "blow your head clean off."
The gun was a Smith & Wesson model 29 six-shot revolver with a 6.5-inch barrel, ramp front sights, and rear sights adjustable for windage and elevation. A state-of-the-art police gun chambered for the most powerful cartridge ever devised for a handgun.
First introduced in 1957, the model 29 gave new meaning to the term "deadly force," but was seldom if ever used as an actual police sidearm due to the devastating hydrostatic effects of the ammunition. Nevertheless, the "Dirty Harry" films established the .44 magnum as the 20th-century equivalent of the Colt Peacemaker in the popular imagination, and from the early seventies through the mid eighties, demand for the gun routinely outstripped the available supply.
With the advent of handguns chambered for more massive calibers such as .45-70, .454 Casul and .50 AE, Smith's once-popular model 29 eventually fell out of favor, and by 1998 production was halted altogether. By that time S&W had introduced a stainless steel descendent, the 629, however in a market flush with Desert Eagles, Raging Bulls, and titanic BFR wheelguns chambered for rifle cartridges, the .44 magnum had long since been eclipsed in terms of shock and awe.
In 2005, Smith one-upped the competition with the model 500, a massive .500 magnum hand-cannon that reestablished Smith and Wesson as the maker of the world's most powerful handgun. Weighing nearly five pounds, the 500 is certainly one of the biggest and heaviest, which is a good thing considering the exclusive Cor-Bon ammunition delivers on average 2-3 times more ft/lbs of energy than a .44 magnum.
The .44 magnum may no longer be the most powerful handgun in the world but it's certainly one of the most famous, and it made Clint Eastwood and Smith & Wesson household names.
Happily for collectors, the model 29 is back. Sort-of. As part of its 150th anniversary celebration, Smith & Wesson released an updated version of the revolver in limited numbers and with little fanfare, calling it the Model 29-B.
There are a few differences, but they are minor. Aside from an inconspicuous keylock safety next to the cylinder release and a more rounded butt frame (to accomodate Smith's recent generation of smaller, more ergonomic factory grips), the 29-B is virtually identical to Harry's original hand cannon. Slap on a pair of S&W's walnut round-square conversion stocks--or better yet, a pair of checkered Goncalo Alves target stocks--and you won't know the difference. (See photos below.)
And take a look at the targets. The groupings were all made from a distance of 20 yards. 50 targets were used in all, and that big ol' .44 consistently hit center of mass. Not because I'm a great shooter, but because this is a wicked accurate handgun. In targets 2, 3 and 4, two rounds struck so close together they practically went in the same hole.
Weighing a little over two pounds, the 29-B is not too heavy to lug around, yet has enough barrel heft to counteract recoil, especially when shooting light factory loads. .44 Special semi-wadcutters fly out of this thing with all the kick of a .22 Magnum, yet they punch a great big hole in whatever they hit, and are extremely accurate. In spite of the gun's intimidating appearance, the 29-B is a pure pleasure to shoot, and nobody capable of fitting their hands around the grip should be afraid of using it.
As the gun is a classic "Dirty Harry" style .44 Magnum, most folks will be tempted to shoot the higher-powered magnum cartridges on occassion just to be able to say that they have. And that's probably not a bad idea, as it'll remind the shooter of what this powerful gun is capable of. But unless you have to shoot grizzly bears or blow out engine blocks on a regular basis, a steady diet of magnums is ill-advised. Not on account of the recoil (similar to that of shooting .357 Magnums out of a Colt Lawman MKIII with a 2-inch barrel), but because of the stresses to the weapon. Put two boxes of Remington Winchester Magnums through the piece and the barrel will be too hot to touch. Four boxes, and it'll strip the blueing clean out of the cylinder breach.
The 29-B is a magnificent and accurate handgun, and well worth shooting. But if you like to shoot as much as I do, stick to the .44 Specials. The gun'll thank you for it.
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|Harry's classic hand-cannon revisited: Smith & Wesson 2005 Model 29-B with checkered Goncalo Alves grips||2005 S&W Model 29-B (business end)|
|"I know what you're thinkin'..."|
|2005 S&W Model 29-B (Quarter shown for scale)|
|Target #2 (.44 Spl./20 yds)|
|Target #1 (.44 Spl./20 yds)|
|Target #4 (.44 Mag. PTHP/20 yds)|
|Target #3 (.44 Spl./20 yds)|