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The Perfect Sidearm: .44 Magnum S&W Model 69, A Full Review by CLAY MARTIN

At this time of year, many of us are taking to the field for hunting. Unfortunately, hungry predators are also gearing up for winter, which always leads us to a discussion of bear and mountain lion guns.
Archery hunting is fun and all, but a bow is not what anyone wants to be holding when we find ourselves between a Momma and her cubs.
The problem with most guns of caliber big enough to stop a bear is that they are heavy and unwieldy.  Smith and Wesson, always innovating in revolver design, has stepped in to fix that with the Combat Magnum Model 69.

S&W — A Perfect Sidearm For Bears?

The first of the Combat Magnum line goes all the way back to Bill Jordan, legendary gunfighter of the Border Patrol. Jordan, with extensive experience not only as an Agent but as a Marine in WW II and Korea, convinced Smith and Wesson to adopt K Frame revolvers for .357 Magnum.
Until that time, they were only built on the heavier N-Frame. New metallurgy and improved design finally resulted in the first Combat Magnum being introduced in 1955. Finally, in 2015, the Combat Magnum line was extended to include the new model 69 in .44 Magnum.


  • Model 69 Combat Magnum
  • Cartridge: .44 Magnum
  • Capacity: 5 rds.
  • Barrel length: 2.75 in.
  • Overall Length: 7.8 in.
  • Single/Double Action
  • Synthetic Grip
  • Barrel & Frame: Steel
  • Full-length extractor rod
  • 2 Piece Barrel
  • MSRP: $849

.44 Magnum L Frame

The new Combat Magnums in both calibers are built on the L Frame, slightly larger than the K, but smaller than the N.
What do you give up, moving a .44 Mag down to this frame size? A little bit of capacity, and a chunk of weight. The model 69 has a capacity of 5, which given the caliber should be plenty. If you can’t stop a charging bear with 2 or 3 rounds, the odds of you getting 4-6 off are about zero.
The weight difference between the 69 and full-size Model 696 with a similar barrel length is 4 ounces. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is a tenth the total weight of the gun. And the model 69 in that comparison has a further ¼ inch of barrel.
The slightly slimmer frame of the 69 is noticeable when you pick it up, but it has a nice weight and balance. The grip is rubber, which you are going to appreciate when you start cooking off full power rounds.
The fit and finish are what we expect from Smith and Wesson, which is to say they are outstanding. The finish is a brushed stainless steel, with a blued trigger, hammer, and cylinder release.

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The hammer has a very aggressive texture, which I grew to like switching back and forth from single action to double action. The single action trigger pull is nice and crisp, also expected from its heritage.
The front sight is a blade with an orange insert, which picks up quickly on snapshots. The rear sight is all black, and adjustable for windage and elevation.
One change from previous revolvers, this one features a ball detent lockup. The weakest point of a revolver has always been the yoke that supports the cylinder, and the ball detent system spreads the force of firing over a greater surface area.

Range Time

Heading out to the range, I was curious how the Model 69 would handle. I’m not recoil sensitive, but insanely powerful handguns are definitely not my thing. In fact, at the Smith and Wesson factory, I politely handed the snubbie 500 back after two rounds. I like enough umph in my handguns, but if the pain is part of the recoil cycle, I’ll have something else thank you.
Fortunately for me, Freedom Munitions was providing the ammunition this week. Not only did I get some full power 240 grain, but also the new Leadville 200s. The Leadville is downloaded to a sane 1,000 feet per second (fps), the cast lead projectile is great for shooting steel. I would go so far as to say, the Leadville in the Model 69 was a joy to shoot.

Go behind the scenes with Freedom Munitions.

The full power loads were a little much, but if you are accustomed to full bore 44, probably not much of an issue. This is one of the great strengths of revolvers, they eat whatever you feed them. It is nice to have a low recoil training round, and an ass kicker for field use. If you ever do need your Model 69 in a life and death encounter, I am sure you won’t notice the recoil at all.
All in all, the Combat Magnum Model 69 is a great addition to the Smith and Wesson revolver family. If you need a backcountry gun, or a very serious CCW one, the Model 69 has you covered.
For more information about Smith & Wesson revolvers, click here.

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