S&W 629 .44 Magnum "Snubbie"


Being built on the S&W N-Frame, the snubbie .44 Magnum is compact in overall length but
not really small or light. Recoil is manageable even with full-power Magnum loads.

In the late 1800’s the British revolver maker Webley developed a revolver small enough to be carried in a coat pocket. It had a 21/2″ barrel, a compact grip frame and was chambered for .44 or .45 caliber cartridges of the era. It fired heavy soft-lead bullets at relatively modest velocities of 600 – 700 fps. Webley registered the trademark “Bulldog” for the new model and it proved to be very popular. Both the concept and the name have been widely copied in other countries and by other makers.

Smith & Wesson doesn’t use the term for the short-barreled model 629 from the Performance Center. Calling it a “Bulldog” doesn’t quite capture the essence. Yes, it has a short barrel, round grip frame and is perfectly capable of firing heavy lead bullets at moderate velocities. But it’s also capable of firing full-power .44 Magnum loads. Using the bulldog analogy, this would be a dog capable of gulping down regular bulldogs in a single bite. By any name it’s an imposing and impressive revolver.

With Black Hills .44 Special Cowboy Action loads the revolver is a joy to shoot.

A Bruiser

The revolver is built on the S&W “N” frame, with a 2 5/8″ slab-sided barrel and 6-shot, unfluted cylinder. Empty weight is just under 40 ounces, about the same as a full size, steel-framed 1911. The first impression one gets on examining the revolver is the outstanding quality control. Machining of the steel components, parts fit, metal polishing, fit of grips to the frame, etc. are all beautifully done.

Excellent quality control is also evident in operation. Timing is very good, with the locking bolt dropping into the cylinder notch well before the hammer is all the way back, whether in DA or SA mode. Even after dry and live firing there was only a faint trace of a turn line on the cylinder.

The double-action pull measures between 11 and 12 pounds, smooth and even throughout the pull. Single-action pull was likewise typical S&W, breaking cleanly at about 21/2 pounds with virtually imperceptible trigger movement.

The ramp front sight won’t catch on clothes or holster, and the red ramp is highly visible, easy to pick up for fast shooting even though the sight radius is short. For precision shooting, from long habit, I’m at my best with a vertical, black, serrated post front sight and plain square notch rear sight. My best 25-yard groups with the test gun were in the 3″ range and though it hurts to admit it I don’t think I was quite shooting up to the revolver’s accuracy potential.

Even so, I can shoot the compact revolver more than accurately enough for any realistic need. The .44 Magnum chambering makes this a very versatile handgun. Of course reloaders can load to any power level desired, but between the many .44 Special and .44 Magnum loads offered, factory ammunition is available to meet most any need.

Black Hills Ammunition has a number of light recoiling, accurate and pleasant-to-shoot loads for various cartridges in its “Cowboy Action” series. I think these fun plinking loads are often overlooked by non-competitive shooters. The .44 Special load is a 210-gr. flatpoint lead bullet rated at 700 fps. Through the short barrel they averaged 640 fps, with mild recoil and excellent accuracy.

At the other end of the spectrum, full power .44 Magnum loads with 240-gr. bullets averaged around 1,100 fps from the short barrel. Recoil was quite manageable, really not much different from a 4″ or 6″ barreled model 29. At 40 ounces the revolver isn’t a lightweight, and the lower velocity results in less recoil as well. Muzzle blast was impressive though, so doubling up with both earplugs and muffs is a good idea.

Compact and tough, the S&W .44 Magnum model 629 snubbie puts a lot of power in a small package.

Personal Defense

For concealed carry/personal defense, a couple of .44 Special Buffalo Bore loads are a nice balance of power, recoil recovery and rate of fire. The 200-gr. Barnes lead-free bullets with big hollowpoint averaged 970 fps. The 200-gr. full wadcutter hard cast lead bullet in their “Anti-Personnel” loads clocked at 930 fps.

Concealed carry is going to require big pockets and/or loose floppy clothes. Despite the overall compact length and nicely shaped grip frame, the large-diameter cylinder and 40+-ounce weight loaded make it a bit tough to conceal. In practical terms it would be a good choice for someone working or playing in wilderness country. Tucked away in a corner of a backpack along with three or four assorted boxes of cartridges, it would be a useful food-provider in an emergency. The light cowboy action loads would take rabbits or grouse with minimal meat damage, and full-power Magnum loads would take deer or caribou at any range you can reliably hit a vital zone.

Besides, who says we always have to be practical? If the big bore, snubbie revolver concept appeals to you, this is probably the best example ever made.

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