GRAND RAPIDS, MI USA -(Ammoland.com)- I have often found myself in conversation, be it at the range or gun store, debating why more people don’t carry the .44 Magnum on a regular basis. It is a great cartridge and is legendary for its performance in the field and on the silver screen. Today we are taking a look at what very well may be the most practical .44 you can own: the Smith & Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum.
The Model 69 Combat Magnum is a rare thing in today’s world in that it is the answer to a number of frequently asked questions. Seldom do we get a gun delivered to us that displays useful features and matching function in a chambering that is extremely practical. While it is not a Performance Center gun, it measures up very closely.
In the course of my time -and many hundreds of rounds- with the Model 69, I experienced no failures to fire. With some of the heavy .44 Magnum loads, there was occasionally some sticky extraction. This is not the fault of the gun, but it is something to be aware of. I had no sticky extraction with anything in .44 Special.
While this review will focus on the gun for the most part, we must also look at the ideas and realities of the .44 Magnum chambering and what it means for a person looking to carry this fine gun.
What needs be known is that this is not a very comfortable gun to fire with most full-house .44 Magnum loads. The relatively light 34.4oz weight is not enough to absorb the recoil energy in the same way a larger gun can. I have a great deal of experience with the .44 Magnum cartridge and feel that it is not wasted in this gun, but the gun is wasted on the cartridge. Allow me to explain this thought.
The size and weight of the Model 69 does not make it impossible to fire 240-300gr bullets, but it does make it difficult to point-shoot or to make anything resembling a follow-up shot. These loads are not ludicrous in principle, but they are in practice when looking at this gun. I do no think that five rounds of 300gr JHP is a great idea for carry in the Model 69 as the excessive recoil and blast takes away any real advantage of this fine gun, and in turn it also squanders the power of the .44 Mag.
The idea that the gun is wasted on .44 Magnum is not to say that it is useless. There are a vast number of specialized rounds that make this revolver into a totally different animal than its appearance gives away. The first among these is a true .44 Magnum load from Black Hills: the 160gr HoneyBadger.
This load is a powerful, fast, and modern with its 160gr non-expanding, solid-copper bullet. The projectile has flanges on the tip that create violent tissue displacement without any mechanical action. This means that the bullet is able to penetrate multiple layers of fabric or other barriers without clogging or failing to deliver results. The damage it deals is a result of the actual spin of the bullet rather than a physical expansion of the projectile.
While I tested many different loads in the Model 69, the Black Hills 160gr load was by far the most comfortable and easy to fire while still being a full-house .44 Magnum. The recoil was stiff, but not unmanageable. This was the only .44 Magnum load I could shoot all day and not have a sore palm.
Where this gun is best, at least to me, is with .44 Special loads. It may seem odd that I would recommend something so obsolete as the .44 Special, but it is experiencing a rebirth of sorts these days as new technology is applied to it. The first of the new breed of .44 Special, and arguably the best for this gun, are from SIG SAUER and Black Hills. The .44 Special HoneyBadger is similar to its larger .44 Magnum brother, but boasts a light 125gr, non-expanding bullet.
The second is the new SIG SAUER 200gr V-Crown. This load is very interesting in that SIG took special time and effort to design a .44 Special load that can feed and fire in any gun, including lever and bolt actions. This load is long for caliber and features a semi-conical JHP bullet with a deep cavity. The longer loaded length as compared to other .44 Special loads means that it can hit rifling sooner and thus be somewhat more accurate, which proved true in my testing.
These innovations in .44 Special make it a serious choice for daily carry. When I found the time to stick the Model 69 in my belt, I had it loaded with either SIG 200gr .44 Specials or Black Hills 160gr HoneyBadgers. I felt that these two rounds offered the most for both in terms of JHP and solid bullets.
For accuracy and velocity testing, I fired the Model 69 over my Oehler 35P chronograph at a distance five feet from the muzzle. Velocity and accuracy are the result of three, five-shot groups at a range of 25 yards from the bench.
- SIG SAUER 240gr .44 Magnum V-Crown——————1094fps, 3.0”
- SIG SAUER 200gr .44 Special V-Crown——————–798fps, 2.0”
- Black Hills 160gr HoneyBadger .44 Magnum———–1355fps, 1.75”
- Black Hills 210gr .44 Special Cowboy———————700fps, 3.3”
- Black Hills 125gr HoneyBadger .44 Special————-1120fps, 2.5”
- Hornady 180gr XTP .44 Special—————————790fps, 3.5”
- Hornady 165gr Critical Defense .44 Special———–820fps, 3.5”
While I did fire some heavy .44 Magnum in the 300gr range, it was not a fun experience and one that I am not likely to repeat. There is just no advantage to firing something so powerful in a 34 ounce gun with a 2.75” barrel. Since you only have five shots to begin with, you need to make sure they count and putting such powerful ammo into it will not help your ability to defend yourself and in fact may hinder it.
Smith & Wesson did a great job in executing this revolver. Bringing the .44 Magnum into the same size and weight range as a standard 1911 is no easy feat, and to do it in an all-steel gun is nothing short of extraordinary. I think that this revolver is a modern classic in that it has all the necessary carry features you’d expect, including dehorned edges and a crisp double-action pull, and is chambered in a quintessential American cartridge.
For many people, this is the ultimate general use revolver. The ability to run the power spectrum from 300gr+ .44 Magnum to sneeze-like and cheap cast .44 Special is all that some people need to hear. The fact that it can do it all and still ride comfortably on the belt is a huge plus for fans of the .44 bore.
I think that this is a revolver that revolver fans have waited a long time for. There have been several attempts over the years to make a gun like this a reality, but it took Smith & Wesson to finally do it in a way that makes the most sense to the most people.
If you find yourself browsing the racks at your local gun store, be sure to check out this and other great revolvers from Smith & Wesson go to www.smith-wesson.com. Ammo used in this article can be seen at www.hornady.com, www.sigsauer.com, and www.black-hills.com.
About Josh Wayner
Josh Wayner has been writing in the gun industry for five years. He is an active competition shooter with 14 medals from Camp Perry. In addition to firearms-related work, Josh enjoys working with animals and researching conservation projects in his home state of Michigan