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The Smith & Wesson M29 / M629

Review text and images by Mark "Blondie" Ormerod.

What we know today as the "most powerful handgun in the world" originated in 1908 when Smith & Wesson launched their .44 S&W; Special Cartridge and with it the first of their "N" frame series in the form of the New Century Hand Ejector. In short, the .44 S&W; Special Cartridge was a larger calibre load that was simply too powerful for their "K" frame revolvers.

By the 1920's the design had generated a number of spinoffs - such as the Model 1917 in .45 rimless (employed by the US Military), the Model 20/22 and Model 27 in .38 High Velocity and .357 magnum. There's a wealth of information on these available elsewhere so I'll restrict this short history to concentrating on the .44 Magnum that we're interested in. Interestingly enough, the Model 27 started the naming convention of prefixing a "6" to the model number to indicate a stainless steel iteration.

It wasn't until the 1950's that S&W; and Remington combined to deliver what for the next few decades would become the most powerful handgun cartridge available - until it was superceded by the Ruger Redhawk and the .454 Casul. We are of course speaking of the .44 Remington Magnum. Developed and marketed as a large calibre hunting platform, the resulting handgun was the S&W; .44 Magnum Revolver - later changed to the infamous M29 designation. By the 1980's the Model 29 although widely found was no longer in production - suceeded by the stainless steel Model 629 (you see what they did there ?). A number of "custom" variations were and continue to be released, including their in house "Performance Centre" models. According to S&W; ....

"The Performance Center produces limited run, unique design and special feature firearms. By combining old world hand craftsmanship and modern computer technology, they push the envelope of handgun design and engineering."

In reality, we're looking at Model 29's with extended flash hiders, muzzle blocks and / or compensators, scope mounts and a myriad of weird and wonderful barrels.

S&W;'s marketing department have designated the 4 inch barrel version of the model 29 as the "Mountain Gun" - I'm assuming in an attempt to brand the easier to carry shorter revolver as an "outdoorsman's" sidearm. Seeing that a 240 grain load, for example, develops some 1200 fps - more than enough to take out a Grizzly in the heat of a charge - they may well have a point! Recently the Model 29 itself has been re-released under the "mountain gun" banner - returning to the traditional blued finish and wood hand grips - a step back away from the hard wearing practicality of the 629's cold steel frame and rubber grips.

Tanaka - Custom M629 Mountain Gun

Tanaka have come to be known as the "Western Arms" of revolvers - whilst I'm sure that originally this label was a reflection of the quality and the power of their pieces - in recent times it has also come to reflect their "Western Arms" type practice of releasing what seems like a plethora of variations on a theme. Their M29 range is no exception - and the list of models is almost endless - from barrel lengths, to finishes and "Perfomance Center" customs - there's a variant to suit every taste.

I've previously owned the 6.5" Midnight Blue Model 29 (as you'd expect being a Dirty Harry obsessive) and a fellow team member currently employs the Perfomance Centre V-Comp as his personal hand cannon of choice. Since moving the M29 on (in a nutshell I wanted a shell loader and the Midnight Blue finish was just too easy wearing) I've been hankering after another one - with a particular desire for a metal M629 - which thanks to the availability of the Zeke metal frames on Den Trinity - was finally within reach.

Before we move onto looking at my particular piece its worth mentioning features common to all the M29's I have encountered. First off is the fixed hop and adjustable power. A fixed hop offers a distinct advantage - that of consistancy - and when matched with the ablity to "tune" your power by adjusting the hammer spring screw at the base of the frame - this means you can get the power and hop ratio spot on for your chosen weight of ammo.

One thing to mention is that the power adjustment isn't exactly going to help you to "tune" this piece down to a site or CQB limit - you're talking a difference between 400 - 450 fps basically. So in other words, switch your gas if you want to drop the power considerably.

Out of the box the 29 series across the board deliver around 450fps with Propane or equivalent. One down side common amongst all the M29's (although yet to manifest itself on the V-Comp, so far, to be fair) is a tendancy for the inner barrel to work loose - leading both to it having a tendancy to rotate (and hop to the side) and become inconsistent. Plenty of workarounds can be found for this - from padding the outer barrel to purchasing (seemingly rare) aftermarket inner barrels. Depending on your model grips are either good - with some of the Performance Centre models coming with either Hogue or Ajax full wood grips - or poor cheap plastic fakes (in the case of the M29 & M29 "classic"). These cheap "fakes" also tend to show a tendancy to shed their S&W; medallions. Please note that as Tanaka license their S&W; trade's my use of the term "fake" is purely a remark on the grip quality ...

Real steel N Frame square butt grips are a perfect match - I'd plump either for US real steel aftermarket dealers or ebay (!). Whilst they can be sourced from HK and Japan, they in turn source their's direct from the US dealers and charge you a considerable markup for the privalege.

Loading is a simple enough affair - and the PEGASUS system is widely documented elsewhere. Simply load the 6 rounds into the 6 holes - then line up a "hole" with the opening into the internal BB reservoir in the chamber and push in 9 more. Its an easy enough process to carry out by hand once you're used to it and can be done in the field under skirmish conditions, should you have a steady enough hand. Gas is loaded via a hole in the rear of the chamber utilising the gas valve extender provided with all Tanaka's. There's also a small o ring which is supposed to be used to eliminate gas venting (and subsequent frostbite of your hand) during this process but I've found it to be about as useful as the speedloader they provide. A single charge (of Green or equivalent) is good for 40 - 50 shots. There are limited after market parts for the range - essentially hard to find metal frames for the original M29 models and inner barrels of varying lengths. A high performance valve set it available - but bear in mind it was designed to boost HFC134a power only. Use with higher graded gas leads to venting.

Like its real steel equivalent the M29 is a double action revolver - meaning that it is possible to both pull the trigger to cycle the next round and cock the hammer or to "precock" the gun like a traditional single action piece.

The trigger pull single action is simply lovely - silky smooth and extremely light. Double action the pull is a lot greater - although no where near as horrible as, for example, a NBB pistol such as the Marushin Automag and still smooth - it is strong enough to affect your aim slightly. In single action however, once your power and hop settings are perfected - you have a powerful and very accurate piece of kit. On the standard models the chamber action is pleasant enough - although it will not free spin (for example, like the heavyweight 8mm Marushin revolvers).

To the M629 Mountain Gun then. My personal taste for sidearms is for revolvers - I love the feel and action of them and they really appeal. I prefer a thinking game of airsoft rather than speedball and I get a lot of satisfaction from an aimed precision shot. Plus of course, what could be more challenging than going up against GBB's or AEG's with a precision piece of kit - limited in rate of fire and most obviously ammo ? (This is the part where Victor and ToGGoT will, of course, start blathering on about Moose Gun's - but we'll carry on regardless and ignore them).

I already had a target piece on my belt thanks to the Redhawk - however as a building entry or CQB piece it was limited mainly due to its sheer size. Its also very much a high powered slow aim and snipe piece. Another M29 6.5" was out of the question - lovely but too long and the smaller frame models - such as the Detective Special were too low powered and inaccurate. I knew what I wanted - a 4 inch M29 - and after doing some research - I set my sights on the M629 Mountain Gun - a four inch stainless steel M29 with Hogue rubber grips.

The awkward part of this decision however being that no Tanaka simply don't make one - the only available M29 in 4 inch is of the Midnight Blue classic M29 variety - so it would mean purchasing a silver framed 8 inch 629 and applying the Zeke 4 inch steel frame. With the parts in stock at Den I sold on my custom Infinity - the irony of trading a metal GBB for a metal NBB revolver wasn't lost on me - to free up some funds and lo and behold - a 4 inch M629 was up for sale - with the added bonus of a TN Inner Barrel.

I prefer to let the pictures do the talking - but suffice to say the metal M629 is a weighty but very well balanced piece - with all the power you would expect from a Tanaka. Full trades are all present on the frame and as you would expect its a huge leap over an ABS equivalent. On the right side is the S&W; Medallion. Further forward is correctly - "MADE IN U.S.A MARCAS REGISTRADAS SMITH & WESSON SPRINGFIELD MASS.". One the barrel is the famous "44 MAGNUM". Flipping the piece over we find on the barrel - "SMITH AND WESSON".

As you would expect with a Tanaka its a perfect replica of its real steel equivalent - so will take aftermaket grips and accessories such as scope mountings, should that be your bag and will fit holsters designed for its barel length and frame. Practical, powerful and wonderfully solid and heavy - the M629 Mountain Gun is another Tanaka classic.