Big-Bore Punch From A Short-Barreled L-Frame
By John Taffin
In November 1955, Smith & Wesson presented Bill Jordan with the first .357 Combat Magnum. This 6-shot medium-frame revolver weighed 1/2 pound less than the original .357. This was a very significant development, however, one month later it was overshadowed by the introduction of the first .44 Magnum. Both of these classics are now gone, however, they have been blended together in the 5-shot L-Frame Combat Magnum chambered in .44 Magnum.
The first L-Frames were the Model 586 and 686 chambered in .357 Magnum. There were some who complained about the original .357 Combat Magnum not being able to digest a significant amount of full-house .357 loads, so the L-Frame was beefed up in the forcing cone area and fitted with a full under-lug barrel while keeping the Combat Magnum K-size grip frame. S&W also offered other L-Frames, most notably 5-shot .44 Specials including the Model 696 and the Mountain Light Model 396. Then in 2014 the company expanded on the 5-shot .44 Special theme with their first 5-shot .44 Magnum—the Model 69.
Now S&W has taken the .44 Magnum Combat Magnum a step further by introducing the same model with a 2-3/4-inch barrel. Everything else is virtually the same as found on the longer-barreled version. Weight is now at 34.4 ounces resulting in a sixgun which is closer to being a Perfect Packin’ Pocket Pistol. This makes it somewhat easier to carry and conceal, however, the shorter barrel and slightly lighter weight—at least in my hands—accentuates the felt recoil quite a bit.
The Model 69 has S&W’s excellent adjustable sights. Buffalo Bore offers a 255-grain hardcast .44 Magnum
SWC load which clocks out at 1,215 fps from the short-barreled Combat Magnum.
The Model 69 is the first to bear the barrel marking of “Combat Magnum.” The barrel is a
2-piece affair consisting of the barrel proper and a shroud.
Admittedly, the vast majority of my sixgunnin’ heart belongs to the old classics—notably those beautifully bright blue-finished magnums from the mid-20th Century. However, I have to admit this newest iteration of the L-Frame is exceptionally attractive. It’s a glass-beaded stainless 5-shot DA sixgun with an overall length of 4.2 inches. Sights are typical S&W adjustables—white outline rear matched up with a red ramp front. To add a touch of distinction, the frame screws, hammer, trigger and cylinder release—as well as the sights—are matte black, contrasting nicely with the matte stainless steel of the rest of this excellent big-bore revolver.
The front of the cylinder is chamfered for easy holstering and the muzzle has a deep concave crown that protects the rifling. The right side of the barrel is marked in two lines with “44 Magnum” and “Combat Magnum.” The pebble-grained rubber grips are the wraparound fingergroove style. The single-action trigger pull on my test gun was 4-1/4 pounds, while the DA pull measured 14.
The cylinder locks at the front of the frame with a modernized version of the old Triple-Lock setup instead of locking at the front of the ejector rod. This is accomplished with a ball-detent at the juncture of the frame and yoke. Since this is a 5-shot .44 Magnum, the locking bolt notches on the cylinder are in between chambers so there’s no weak spot under each one.
Thus far I have test-fired the short-barreled Combat Magnum with both .44 Special and .44 Magnum factory loads and handloads, including both jacketed and cast bullets. Since this is mainly a self-defense revolver, all of my testing to this point has been at a normally accepted self-defense distance of 7 yards or 21 feet. It shoots so accurately with every load tested I have no doubt it will certainly perform well at longer distances.
The Combat Magnum did exceptionally well with 200- or 210-grain jacketed bullets (below).
Two of John’s most used .44 Magnum loads (above) produced 1-hole groups.
I used nine .44 Special loads (5 factory, 4 handloads) and eleven .44 Magnum loads (7 factory, 4 handloads), for a total of 20 different loads. The “worst” .44 Special load grouped in 1-1/8 inches while the tightest shooting Specials measured 3/4 inch.
With the .44 Magnums the results were even better. This surprised me—especially considering how much concentration it now takes for me to shoot full-house .44 Magnum loads in such a relatively lightweight sixgun. This time the worst load measured an inch, while the best put 4 shots into 1/2 inch, followed by three loads measuring 5/8 inch and three other loads measuring 3/4. This is astounding, again, at least in my hands, from such a short-barreled, heavy recoiling pistol.
It was especially gratifying to find two of my favorite .44 Magnum loads both grouped into 5/8. These were the Black Hills 240-grain JHP (which has been a favorite hunting load for several decades now) and the other my everyday load of the Lyman 431244 Thompson gas-checked hardcast bullet over 19.0 grains of 4227 right at 920 fps. I appreciate having the option of more powerful loads if needed, however, this relatively easy-shooting number will handle most of my sixgun chores these days.
I still miss the old classics with their hand-fitted, forged steel parts, pinned barrels, and cylinders recessed for case heads. The amazing thing to me is any time I’ve tested any one of the 21st century sixguns against the old classics, the new version always wins both in durability and accuracy. This latest Combat Magnum is certainly no exception. It’s a fine revolver and I like it.
Model 69 Combat Magnum
Maker: Smith & Wesson
2100 Roosevelt Ave.
Springfield MA 01104
Type: Double-action revolver
Caliber: .44 Magnum
Barrel length: 2-3/4 inches
Overall length: 7.8 inches
Weight: 34.4 ounces
Finish: Stainless steel
Sights: White outline adjustable rear, red ramp front
Grips: Fingergroove, pebbled rubber