The Do-All Death-Ray

SDM's Custom .44 Magnum

It’s no secret I like .44 caliber handguns for work and play. At the top of the list is the Smith & Wesson Model 29s followed by Model 21s, new and old, as well as the older Smith & Wesson Hand Ejectors. My wallet — and placement in time — allows me better access to the Model 29. Over the years, the 29 has gone through about ten design changes, with me still favoring the 29, 29-1, 29- 2 series guns. These guns, in the current jargon of the time, are referred to as P&R guns, which is the abbreviation for guns having pinned barrels and recessed charge holes.

I note no particular advantage of these P&R guns over a Model 29-3, for instance. The 29-3 is the first of the 29 series to be manufactured deleting the P&R design I simply like the older ones more.

You can see the front barrel nut and smooth trigger.

Old Friends/New Guns

It’s been my pleasure over the years to get to know Dewayne Irwin and Cody Henslee, foremost as friends, and then students. These two Texans own and operate “Cheaper Than Dirt, Inc.” It’s one of the leading mail order/storefront gun and ammunition facilities in the nation, located in Fort Worth, Texas. As our friendship grew, the two Texicans became aware of my attachment to older Smith & Wesson handguns and they have always kept an eye out for guns of this flavor coming and going though their store.

In this pursuit the keen-eyed duo ran across a heavily used and somewhat abused 29-3 6″ nickel Model 29. Figuring I probably wouldn’t want it they paused before contacting me about the beater, and were probably somewhat surprised when I took it off their hands. I must admit here they gave me a smoking deal on the gun. I also admit I had a thought in mind for the old clunker when I sent them the check.

Scope-less, the gun has an authority that few would argue with.


When the 29-3 arrived it was in fact pretty rough, having end-shake front to rear on the cylinder as well as some timing issues. The nickel finish had been attacked by rust but fortunately not deep enough to cause pitting though the factory finish. The case-hardened trigger and hammer were the factory original parts, target variety and were covered with more dirt than wear. Like most things made in 1985 it was used, 21 years old and loose around the edges so to speak; but underneath it had potential.

I had an idea to make a general-purpose handgun out of it but with more emphasis on the hunting side of things. I wanted it to measure up to the often more exotic S&W Performance Center products. In my simple way of thinking, I wanted the handgun to cross over a possible spectrum of uses from self-defense, to killing steel plates, but
mostly geared toward handgun hunting should that chance come up.

I will state here that I am aware of the SAW 500 and the .460 handguns as well as the many custom big bore gun makers the likes of Bowen, Reeder, Freedom Arms and so on. I also acknowledge that all the big guns aside, I wanted a .44 Magnum because I planned on shooting the gun over a period of years to come — should I live to an older age.

The original rusty, beater Mod. 29.

The SDM Wizard

Roy Huntington, friend and editor, editor and friend, put me in contact with Scott D. Mulkerin, owner of SDM Fabricating located in Medina, Ohio. Scott is a member of the esteemed American Pistolsmiths Guild and is well known in the shooting industry as an expert at making custom handguns — both revolvers and auto pistols. He does his magic with gold bead and fiber optic front sights as well as rear sights for all uses too.

I contacted Scott and explained what I was looking for and he expressed an interest in looking at the project. After shipping the clunker 29 to him and several phone calls — with me mostly listening to a guy who knows what he is talking about — we rolled the ball on the handgun in question. It’s important to note I simply gave Scott ideas and the concept of what I was after, and Scott did all the work from there on. Scott was off the lease so to speak, and free to run with the handgun in whatever direction he wanted. And run he did!

Scott’s machine work is simply stunning and shows great attention to detail.

The Death Ray

Yeah, I know, politically incorrect, but by now you should know I am not often concerned with being P.C., so Death Ray Gun it is, and it shoots as straight as a rail.

In Scott’s words, “I wanted to do an integral cantilever mount. I have not done one of those before so I was starting at the bottom. I modeled it in 3D in my CAD program and made all preliminary changes and styling there. Pixels are easier to machine than metal. I had all my working dimensions before I ever picked up the stock for the shroud. I decided that three vents in the rib would look better, and I changed the angle cuts on the front end. The modified S&W rear sight and the corresponding pocket in the shroud were done ‘on the fly’ at the machine and bench. All machining was done on conventional machines not CNC.”

Scott created the design on his computer and the end result speaks for itself.

The Specs

The Death Ray is built around my old clunker 29-3’s carbon steel frame, with the carbon steel cylinder being
replaced with a new stainless steel S&W 629 cylinder. The barrel, courtesy of Brownells, is a 5″ Shilen chrome moly 1:20 twist cut with eight lands and grooves.

The very cool SDM shroud is made from 6061 T6 aluminum and is topped with integral Weaver rail. Inserted in the rail is a modified S&W rear sight and a Classic & DX interchangeable makes up the front sight system. The trigger and hammer are both narrowed, with the trigger being cut smooth and the hammer spur cut to .250″ width, then shortened and tapered rearward.

The DA comes in a 9.5 pounds, while the single action is set at 3.5. Extra-nice touches are dual crane lock balls — handy when firing extra-heavy loads — and the flat bead blasted Gun-Kote epoxy finish. It makes the whole gun pretty much bomb-proof to weather, a nice touch on a hunting handgun.

The SDM project handgun tips the scales at about 45 ounces in the overall weight department.

The raw stock.

Range Ray Gun

At the range I fired at 50 yards off of a bench rest. The Death Ray Gun was loaded with Corbon .44 Magnum DPX
225 grain ammunition and shot pretty steady 6″groups. I used my eyes and iron sights and I believe the hits that were outside the grouping were me and not the gun/ammo combination.

I added a Leupold FX II fixed 4X handgun scope and while still shooting off the bench, the gun consistently turned in 3″ to 4″ groups. Maybe leaning more toward 3″ than 4″. The scope definitely adds something to the
ability to hit consistently.

I also tried an Aimpoint four M.O.A. dot, which worked good at moderate ranges, and really shines at close ranges for something that might be moving, like feral hogs. For hunting, I think I would opt for the Leupold 4X, aware that it narrows the field of view but increases the potential for better bullet placement at moderate to extended ranges. I tried several types of .44 magnum ammunition, with the Corbon DPX zipping down range at 1,300+ fps, out-shooting the other types tested for accuracy.

Sighting in with full house .44 mags is a task that one might get “pegged-out” fun-wise pretty quickly. That said, I used a set of old Pachmayr rubber stocks that helped take some of the sting out, shooting 50 to a 100 rounds at a setting. I noticed no scope movement in the rings, which is I think a strong possibility when firing this mini-monster quite a bit. I’ve had scope movement while shooting the S&W .500 and .460s.

A Hunting We Go

I had a chance to take the SDM hunting in December, but either had no chance, or desire, to shoot what was available. I’m sure the Death Ray will do just fine when we go again the next time, which will be another story.

Being keen on .44s the SDM gun was a special project done by a special guy. The gun shoots great and if you find yourself in need of your own version of a Death Ray Gun, Scott Mulkerin of SDM may be just the guy you are looking for. He was for me.

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