BIG BORE POWER, LIGHTWEIGHT PACKAGE--THE 329PD
BY JOHN TAFFIN
When Smith & Wesson chambered the specially heat-treated 1950 Target .44 Specials to .44 Magnum in 1954 they soon found the 39-ounce weight was just not enough for the recoil afforded by the new .44 Magnum cartridge. By lengthening the cylinder to more fully fill in the frame window and changing the barrel from the slim profile to a bull barrel, weight was increased to 48 ounces and the first Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum revolver was ready for production.
Ruger’s first .44 Magnum experiments were carried out using re-chambered and re-barreled .357 Blackhawks which were basically the same frame and size as the Colt Single Action Army. Recoil had to be very heavy in these little sixguns, and with further testing when a cylinder blew, Ruger increased both size and weight to come up with the first Ruger .44 Magnum Blackhawks in 1956. Felt recoil was also extremely heavy in this revolver and just three years later Ruger came forth with the Super Blackhawk, an all steel revolver with the alloy grip frame of the .44 Blackhawk being replaced by a larger, steel grip frame which increased both weight, and for most shooters, controllability.
As new .44 Magnums emerged in the 1970s and 1980s from both Ruger with the Redhawk and Dan Wesson with their Model 44, frame sizes and weight were both increased over the Smith & Wesson Model 29. In fact, the Dan Wesson with its 8” Heavy Barrel configuration just barely made the four-pound weight limit imposed by Long Range Silhouetting rules. Personally, the Dan Wesson Model 44 with its excellent wood grips and heavy weight was the first .44 Magnum I could say was comfortable to shoot. Ruger did not stop with the Redhawk and increased the weight of a .44 Magnum revolver with the introduction of the Super Redhawk. It is easy to look back and see the trend to heavier and heavier, and thus more comfortable shooting, .44 Magnums.
When the .357 Magnum from Smith & Wesson arrived in 1935 there were all kinds of warnings about its tremendous recoil. However, over the years .357 Magnums started to become smaller and lighter and thus easier to carry. Twenty years after the first .357 Magnum, Smith & Wesson introduced the Combat Magnum weighing about eight ounces less than the original. Anyone who has carried and compared the N-Frame .357 Magnum/Model 27 and the K-Frame Combat Magnum/Model 19 will testify to the fact the latter is so much easier to carry all day. Then experiments began with lighter weight metals in the 1990s and Smith & Wesson actually started producing steel J-Frame .357s. Then with the dawning of the new century gave us a 19-ounce, seven-shot Model 386 Mountain Lite and 12-ounce .357s in the form of the 340Sc and 360Sc scandium/titanium five-shot, J-Frame, pocket pistols. A new sixgun age had definitely arrived. The .357 Model 340 is the first truly powerful pocket pistol I have found that could be carried all day without being noticed as to weight and bulk. Smith & Wesson was really onto something; dare they go any further?
The 39-ounce Model 1950 Target sixgun recoils heavily with the Keith .44 Special Loads, those re-chambered to .44 Magnum by Smith & Wesson were surely most uncomfortable to shoot, and when the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum arrived in the 4” version it was definitely placed in the Heavy Recoil Category when used with full house loads. Since .44 Magnums have become heavier and bulkier over the last three decades would it be wise for Smith & Wesson to actually buck this trend? Wise or not they did it.
In 2003, Smith & Wesson introduced the ultimate .44 Magnum Packin’ Pistol with the emphasis on packing. Smith & Wesson went really radical with the 329PD, a 4” .44 Magnum with a scandium frame, titanium cylinder, matte black finish, Hi-Viz front sight, steel barrel with a lightweight shroud, and a total weight of 26 ounces. That is just about one pound less than the original 4” .44 Magnum. Recoil? With .44 Specials and 180 gr. .44 Magnums not bad at all; try it with full house 240-250 grain loads and things change dramatically. It kicks, and kicks hard. Having always felt the 4” Model 29 with full house loads was one of the worst kicking sixguns extant, I admit the 329PD is all that much worse. However no one needs to complain about the recoil. This sixgun was built with the emphasis on portability. It can be carried in as close to total comfort as we're going to get with a 4” .44 Magnum sixgun.
The first Smith & Wesson .44 Magnums were absolute works of art as to fit, finish, and overall total aesthetics; they were and are definitely suitable for engraving and stocking with ivory grips or exotic woods. On the other hand, the Model 329PD is not even close to being a work of art but it is definitely a superb working tool. With its black matte finish and gray cylinder, beauty is not even in the eye of the beholder. It definitely follows function and not form, and the function for which it is designed is to be a powerful handgun that is always carried and ready for serious business whether it is normally what we think of as self defense or for protection against four legged critters. There are certainly more powerful sixguns available and there are also much smaller revolvers which carry even easier; however no other sixgun packs so much power in such a portable package. Even one as I who definitely appreciates real beauty in a sixgun has to say this is one of the best things Smith & Wesson has ever accomplished. Then just to prove they were not perfect they issued the first 329PDs with small wood grips than did their best to accentuate recoil. The last I heard guns were coming through with two sets of grips, the original wood and a more recoil friendly rubber.
There is no doubt in my mind that this is a Practical Packin’ Pistol, certainly one of most practical pistols ever offered by any manufacturer. Of course, it kicks. Hard! In fact the old saying kicks-like-a-mule has now been replaced by kicks like a 329PD. Hamilton Bowen dubs it the Lightweight Wonder for the few, the proud, the crazy. There have been many who do not understand the purpose of this lightweight .44 Magnum, Bowen does, who have complained loudly even accusing Smith & Wesson of near insanity. They obviously do not understand. The 329PD is not a sixgun made for shooting long strings of heavy .44 Magnums; in fact I would question the sanity of anyone who treated it thusly. Elmer Keith said he shot his first .44 Magnum 600 times the first year; this 21st century technology generated .44 Magnum may never see that many full house loads in a year. However, for those who like to shoot a lot, it does make a dandy .44 Special.
The 329PD is made for the hiker, camper, outdoorsman, indoorsman, anyone who has the need for a sixgun with the power of the .44 Magnum while carrying as comfortably and as lightweight as possible. Yes, recoil is heavy, and as mentioned, especially with full house loads using bullets weighing 240 grains or more; however, if this sixgun is ever needed in a tight spot I can just about guarantee the recoil will not even be noticeable. Even so, this .44 Magnum can be made more controllable and much easier to shoot with Mag-na-port’s custom touches.
My 329PD was sent off to M-N-P and instead of the standard Mag-na-porting, the 329PD received dual trapezoidal ports on both sides of the front sight, the trigger was smoothed and rounded removing all sharp edges, both hammer and trigger were jeweled and polished, the action was totally tuned including smoothing the internal parts, timing, removing all creep, and lightening the trigger pull. The action now feels as good as any ever found on the original Smith & Wesson .44 Magnums. M-N-P also replaced the Hi-Viz front sight with one of their C-More green blades. At least now the 329PD has a touch of beauty with the jeweled hammer and trigger and the green front sight. Nothing short of adding a couple of pounds of weight will make the 329PD feel like a .38 Special, however it is much more comfortable to handle now feeling more like shooting 900 fps .44 Specials in a standard weight 4” double action sixgun. I know of no revolvers needing Mag-na-port’s touch more than the scandium/titanium Magnums.
Since the .44 Magnum Model 329PD is made for ease of carry I have also mated it up with one of Rick Palmer’s COM holsters, this time a straight drop belt holster. The 329 PD is carried comfortably and securely in a holster adding only two ounces of carrying weight. The total combination rides high and out of the way and is easily concealed under a vest or jacket. COM holsters are available in flat black, creamy white, or for those who are not offended by naked sixguns, clear see-through plastic.
What does one choose for grips on an efficient every day working tool like this .44? I tried several including Skeeter Skelton pattern grips in round butt to square butt form, however since this sixgun falls into the category of the best possible working tool I decided to go one step further. It now wears the newest Crimson Trace Lasergrips, which instead of being high impact plastic, are the rubberized version designed with the handgun hunter in mind. Just as with the matte black finish of the Model 329PD there is no beauty in them, however they are very comfortable and fit my hand perfectly. For those who may not be familiar with Crimson Trace, with these grips, when the hand automatically presses a switch in the finger grooved front strap, a red dot shows up on the intended target. This dot originates from a very small unit behind and below the cylinder and above the trigger finger. Just point and shoot. That not only makes it an excellent self defense gun but also one that would work very well in up close hunting situations such as when pursuing wild hogs.
This combination of lightweight, portable power, and Crimson Trace grips may very well be the ultimate when it comes to an outdoorsman’s sixgun. This is also a sixgun I can loan to any one of the grandsons at any time and they do not have to worry about scratching the fine finish or cracking a special pair of ivory grips. It is what we in the family call a "Beater Gun", which is nothing more than a sixgun for hard duty use and one which will not whimper when the going gets tough.
Unless one is working in big bear country, .44 Specials may be the way to normally go especially since we have some fairly potent .44 Special factory loads now available. Buffalo Bore has two hard cast bulleted loads available, a 255 KT and a 255 LBT-WFN clocking out of the 329PD at 965 fps and 945 fps respectively. For a jacketed bullet load there is the Buffalo Bore 185 JHP at 1,221 fps and Cor-Bon’s 185 JHP at 1,184 fps. Cor-Bon has just introduced a .44 Special load with a 200 grain DPX bullet at 950 fps. The DPX is an all copper bullet with a huge hollow point cavity. Switching to .44 Magnum factory loads we find Black Hills 240 JHP at 1,195 fps and Speer’s 270 Gold Dot at 1,164
Favorite cast bulleted loads for the 329PD in .44 Special persuasion include the Lyman #431244GC over 18.5 grains H4227 for 1,120 fps and the RCBS #44-250KT, 17.0 grains #2400, 1,125 fps. Switching to .44 Magnum brass and the Lyman #429421 Keith bullet we find the Keith load, 22.0 grains #2400 at a heavy recoiling 1,331 fps, while dropping back to 18.5 grains still gives 1,241 fps, and my favored 10.0 grains of Unique still manages 1,118 fps from the short-barreled 329PD.
My mind, heart, soul, and spirit prefer beautifully finished sixguns with custom grips, preferably ivory or at least fancy grained wood, carried in a floral carved holster with a matching belt. However, this is the same combination I would hesitate to carry all day under rough conditions in all kinds of weather; and therein is the real beauty of the 329PD. It will never be a Texas Barbecue sixgun but would always be definitely at home in the mountains or forests. It is made for survival not suppers.
23-1) The Crimson Trace Laser gripped Model 329PD carries securely and
easily in a COM holster.
23-2) The COM Tactical holster adds less than two ounces to the total carrying weight.
23-3) The Crimson Trace Lasergrips add no bulk and are very comfortable;
the slight bump at the top of the grip is the emanating point for the red dot laser.
23-4) M-N-P double trapezoidal slots on both sides of the barrel/shroud help tame
felt recoil while the green sight is easier to see when not using the laser sight.
23-5) Mag-Na-Port tuned the action and polished the hammer and trigger on this
23-6) Notice the lack of sharp edges on the trigger polished by Mag-Na-Port.
23-7) Cor-Bon’s new .44 Special load with a 200 grain DPX bullet at 950 fps
should be an excellent choice for self defense use in the Model 329PD.
23-8) 50 years separate this beautiful pre-29 from this beautifully practical 329PD.
23-9) The 329PD is also an excellent choice for any outdoor activity where
weight is a factor.
23-10) What in the world was Smith & Wesson thinking when they brought
out a 26-ounce .44 Magnum? They were thinking right!
23-11 & 23-12) The 329PD was originally tested using BearHug grips stolen
from another Smith & Wesson round butt.
23-13) A few turns of the elevation and windage screws will synchronize
point of aim and point of impact.