My not-entirely-thrilled-with-guns wife recently decided that hiking would be fun. When she casually remarked that it might be prudent to bring along some form of protection, quid pro quo was go. So, what to carry? In my neck of the woods, most of what we’d be likely to run into would be making tracks in the other direction when they hear us coming. But we are talking about Black Bear county. Rabid animals can’t be discounted either. And some predators are two-legged . . .
My current collection includes handguns chambered in 9mm, .38 Special, .40 S&W, .357 Sig, and .45., .22 and .380. Not. Enough. Gun. I wanted a handgun that could give a bear paws for thought even if I wasn’t super accurate. Another consideration: contact shots from automatics tend to foul up the slide reset and can leave you with a gun that requires a tap and rack to clear—not something you want to do when you’re using your weak hand to fend off/feed a bear.
My research led me an obvious conclusion: bear spray. And the biggest gun I could handle. Up to this point, I had only shot a .44 Magnum once. At the end of a trip Alaska, a guide set up some cans. I’d been pretty decent with the gun. The passage of twenty years suggested that machismo may have accounted for the self-serving self-assessment. So it was off to the local range to try out a .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson 629 with 6″ barrel.
The 629 is no 642; the N-framed behemoth weighs more than three cans of beans (48.3 ounces). Holding the handgun in the firing position may make your arm sore, but it’s got a sight for sore eyes. Smith equipped their mondo-revolver with a large fixed front sight blade painted bright orange. The adjustable solid black rear sight has a thin white outline around the three borders. The orange and white combo makes it easy to pick up a sight picture.
With some trepidation, I cocked the hammer and touched off the first shot. For fans of ballistic sturm and drang, the 629’s noise and muzzle flash do not disappoint. On the positive side, you can use the fireball to determine if you’re dropping the barrel at the last minute. On the negative side, the detonation obliterates night vision. Here’s hoping I don’t come across a bear roaming in the gloaming.
The 629’s recoil wasn’t as bad as I feared. As always, proper stance and grip go a long way towards mitigating the inevitable shock, awe and yes pain of a large explosion detonating in your hand. The handgun’s heft doesn’t hurt. Much. The big Smith’s composite grip also evokes the law of diminishing gun returns. FWIW, the 629 is a more comfortable shooter than my S&W 624 featherweight shooting .38 Specials.
There are flea species that are heavier than the 629’s trigger pull in single action mode. It’s so light that lusting teens need not apply, lest heavy breathing occur near the go-pedal. On more than one occasion, the 629 went off—I mean, I pulled the trigger—before I was expecting it. Accuracy is assured. Assurance not so much. Which is why Inspector Harry Callahan shot his Model 29 in double action.
Here in the real world, the 629’s double action pull is longer than a speeding locomotive and harder than leaping a tall building in a single bound. My trigger weight scale tops out at 12 lbs. I’m guessing that the Smith & Wesson 629’s DA trigger requires something in the neighborhood of 15 lbs. That’s a tough neighborhood. Fortunately, the pull is smooth with no noticeable stacking. While a bit longer than I’m used, the trigger reset is perfectly predictable.
I picked my gun up last week and managed a couple of hours of range time this past Saturday. My revolver felt even better than the rental gun; I quickly emptied a box of 240 grain FMJs. As I wouldn’t be carrying FMJ in the field, I also loaded up with six rounds of my field ammo choice.
Corbon Hunter launches a 260 grain hollow point at 1,450 fps with a muzzle energy of 1214 ft/lbs. The official term used to describe the effect: yowza. While I definitely felt the difference in terms of recoil, it shot very well. I managed to land five of six bullets into a 1″ x 2″ square at 25 yards.
Since I plan to carry this hand cannon in the field while hiking, I wanted a holster that would allow me to use either strong side or cross draw depending on what other gear I happened to be hauling. After a little research, the Galco Outdoorsman DAO128 fit the bill nicely with a belt loop that allowed either carry option.
If there’s a knock on the 629, it’s ammo cost. Twenty rounds of the aforementioned Corbon runs $34.74. Practice ammo runs around $30 a box, or nearly three times what I pay to shoot my 9 mm.
That said, revolver reloading rocks; empty cases are easily collected. As a reloader, you also have the option to load both lighter ammo for practice or introducing a new shooter to “the [once and not even then really] most powerful handgun in the world.” Then you can load up with Hornady 300 grain round for your perforating pleasure.
The Smith & Wesson 629 is not a handgun for a beginning shooter. But it’s a great gun for ending a bear. If you can bear the recoil, you can place shots with ursine-discouraging directness. In theory. In practice, you need a lot of practice. And courage. And luck. And an understanding wife.
Overall Length 11.63 in
Trigger Type DA/SA
Trigger Weight 15 lbs DA/ 3 lbs 12 oz SA
Barrel Length 6.0 in
Weight 48.3 ozs
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
Accuracy: * * * * *
The long sight radius certainly helps here. No problem for even an amateur like myself nailing five out of six shots into a 1″ x 2″ square. Easily the most accurate handgun I own.
Ergonomics (carry): * * * *
With a six inch barrel, this is not going to be a concealed carry weapon. At nearly 3 lbs, it’s a lot of gun to tote. On the other hand, the .44 Magnum is one hard kicking cartridge so the weight is a major plus.
Ergonomics (firing): * * * * 1/2
The trigger pull in DA mode is a bit long, but certainly manageable. The SA pull isn’t quite hair trigger, but I’d suggest women with long manes tie up their locks. The 629’s composite grips make for a solid hold and the long barrel helps tame muzzle flip.
Reliability: * * * * *
This is a tried and true platform that’s been on the market for ages, so no concerns there. Don’t forget to clean it.
Customization: * * *
There isn’t a whole lot you could, would or should do to customize this Smith. Alternative sights are your best option.
Overall Rating: * * * * *
Deeply desirable destructive device.