Gun Test: Smith and Wesson Model 69 .44 Magnum
As a long time user of Smith and Wesson revolvers, I am excited to see the things the company is doing these days. One of the most interesting handguns to come along in some time is the Model 69 .44 Magnum. This is a 5-shot .44 Magnum revolver built on the L frame chassis. It features a square butt grip and four-inch barrel.
By Wilburn Roberts
The L frame was intended to strengthen the durability of the revolvers for magnum use, compared to the K frame, and seems to have worked well. Shoe horning a five-shot .44 Magnum cylinder into a six-shot .357 Magnum frame makes for a light-packing revolver well suited to personal defense and outdoors protection. The Model 629 .44 Magnum revolver, as an example, weighs in at over 44 ounces—10 more ounces than the Model 69. No, this isn’t a revolver for long-range hunting or silhouette competition use. Instead, it is a handy revolver that will save your life if need be. That being said, one hunting pursuit Model 629 may be useful for is hunting boar in woods and brush or over dogs. Shots are short and the M69 is plenty accurate and powerful.
Smith and Wesson has gone one better for personal defense shooters with the Model 69 Combat Magnum. This version features a 2.75-inch barrel and round butt configuration. All modern Smith and Wesson revolvers are round butt frames but with square or round butt stocks depending on the application. You may order either depending on hand fit and recoil tolerance.
The Model 69 .44 Magnum features a satin stainless steel finish. The pistol is well put together with no tool marks. The cylinder fits neatly in the frame window. The sights include a fully-adjustable rear sight and the trademark red insert Smith and Wesson front sight. This red insert has been helping good guys get a bead on the bad guys as long as I can remember.
Beginning with the loading rod of the Colt Walker .44, heavy recoil has taken its toll on handguns forward of the cylinder. Smith and Wesson eliminated the ejector rod’s forward lockup and moved secondary lock up to the frame. The crane and the cylinder lock up tight. Modern CNC machinery makes this lockup exact and it pays off in accuracy.
The fully-adjustable sights allow sighting the piece in properly for bullet weights of 165 to 300 grains. Some .44 Magnum revolvers have a short cylinder that will not accommodate heavy cast bullet handloads. The M69 accepts these loads. whether you care to fire them is another matter. The grips are lightly abrasive and offer good hand fit for most hands. The trigger action is smooth and tractable. The single action option is available for deliberate shots.
The Model 69 will handle the full range of .44 Special ammunition. I believe that .44 Special fans buy a .44 Special for accuracy and mild recoil, while .44 Magnum shooters purchase the magnum for power and use .44 Special ammunition for practice and economy. In the case of the Model 69, I think .44 Special loads are best suited for concealed carry, personal defense, and home defense.
While the .44 Special standard loads are mild mannered and well suited to cowboy action and informal target use, there are formidable .44 Special loads that equal or exceed .45 ACP +P loads. They are useful for defense against all but the largest bears. For this evaluation, I began with the Fiocchi Ammunition .44 Special 200-grain JHP. At 800 fps or so this is a mild load well suited to practice.
I began drawing from a Lobo Gun Leather strong-side pancake holster. The Smith and Wesson is brilliantly fast from leather. The short barrel clears leather quickly and comes on target fast. Firing at man-sized targets at 7 yards, the groups were centered. Learning to fire the double action revolver many years ago, I learned to bring the trigger to the rear smoothly, roll with recoil, and allow the trigger to reset as I regained the sight picture.
Felt recoil was no more than a Smith and Wesson Model 10 .38 with target wadcutter ammunition. Groups were well centered on the target. I moved to two good defense loads. The Hornady Critical Defense features a 165-grain tipped bullet. This load breaks about 900 fps and offers good control. Another choice at about 850 fps in the M69’s short barrel is the deeper penetrating Hornady 180-grain XTP. Neither was difficult to handle and each provided good accuracy.
At a long 25 yards from the benchrest, the Hornady 180-grain XTP produced a five-shot 3-inch group. That is adequate for personal defense. (With more practice, I have fired a few smaller groups.) The M69 offers a mild shooting alternative to the .357 Magnum as a personal defense revolver.
The primary role of the .44 Magnum is in animal defense against the big cats, feral dogs, and bears. These animals will sorely test mans’ supposed ascendancy in the animal kingdom. I loaded the M69 with the Hornady 240-grain .44 Magnum and fired a box of 20 rounds including 10 at the 7-yard line. Surprisingly, recoil was not as difficult to control as many larger revolvers. The grip design, and a lack of sharp edges, aided in this effort. Just the same this is a hard kicker and one that requires experience to control.
Firing for accuracy, the recoil results in severe barrel flip in this light handgun. At 25 yards, the revolver fired several inches high and would need to be re-sighted compared to .44 Special loads. At close range, it didn’t really matter, and that is what the revolver is for. Animals have to get pretty close for tooth and nail attacks!
Accuracy was in the same league as the .44 Special loads. The Smith and Wesson M69 .44 Magnum is clearly a viable option for backpackers, fishermen, and hunters that want a powerful, compact, and lightweight handgun for defense against dangerous animals. For home and street use, loaded with .44 Special loads, the M69 is controllable and useful. Smith and Wesson has given us an option that for many will be the ideal revolver.
After using the Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum as issued, I decided to fit a set of Hogue wooden grips. These grips are very nice, set the revolver off well, and are more comfortable to use than the factory grips. They bring the .44 Magnum to a high level of control.
I carried the Smith and Wesson Model 69 in a Lobo Gun Leather pancake style holster. The holster rides high and offers a fast draw. Stitching and finish were faultless. This is good kit all of the way around.
Have you fired a Model 69? What was your impression? Does the Model 69 or Model 69 Combat Magnum top your list? Share your answers in the comment section?
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