This Performance Center Tweaking Of
The Company’s Signature N-Frame Makes
For A No-Nonsense Big-Game Tool
By Mark Hampton
As I wandered about the last SHOT Show, my path crossed the Smith & Wesson booth several times. Of course I had to stop and check out all the offerings. But a particular revolver kept catching my eye—almost as if it were calling my name. I asked Tony Miele, S&W Performance Center head, about this unique-looking Model 629. Tony took the time to elaborate on its numerous attributes. Many PC offerings evolve from original designs, then receive additional embellishments such as a custom-tuning and fitting. This was such a revolver. When Tony finished, I knew the enhanced Model 629 was coming home with me.
A spring bear hunt in Idaho would be a good excuse to give this model a workout. After all, it was slated to be the ultimate hunting handgun. The last time I hunted Idaho was way back in 1981. I’d taken a mountain lion in the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with a .44 Mag. This time my friend Wade Derby of Cross Hair Consulting organized the hunt with an outfitter who specializes in running black bear with hounds but also offers hunting over bait as well. Either way, a .44 Magnum will handle any black bear encounter.
Over the years I’ve taken several black bears but a lot of water has made its way under the bridge since. I was long overdue for another bear hunt. And spring was more than enough justification to get out in Idaho’s backcountry—and see what this M629 Magnum Hunter is all about.
Without an optic, the Model 629 Magnum Hunter (above) is considerably sleeker.
And those sights are quick to acquire and fully adjustable. The gun (below)
obviously likes Black Hills 240-grain JHPs, as this 6-shot 25-yard group shows.
When the revolver arrived it came inside a nice black padded case with the S&W Performance Center logo embroidered in gold. Also included with the .44 Magnum Hunter was a UTG Tactical red/green dot sight. It features a 4-MOA dot. The 38mm optic weighed a touch over 9 ounces. This big N-Frame itself tipped the scales at 57.5 ounces, not counting the optic.
This handgun supports a 7.5-inch barrel (1:20 twist) plus an internally threaded muzzlebrake. Frame, cylinder and brake are made of stainless steel. The gun sports a very distinguished black tone on the frame and much of the barrel. The brake, hammer, trigger, cylinder, cylinder latch and the barrel’s slab sides are polished stainless. The 2-tone effect is eye-pleasing, providing a subtle contrast.
A matte engraved “Performance Center” on the right barrel flat and “.44 Magnum Hunter” on the left lend an air of distinction without being gaudy. The dovetailed front sight features a bright red vertical overlay to work with the black adjustable rear sight. For those wanting to use iron sights exclusively, the contrast makes the irons quick to align. One feature I appreciated was the integral Picatinny rail—a little over 4 inches long, allowing ample room for mounting various optics.
The UTG Tactical optic was painless to mount and could be situated on the rail at different places for individual preferences. The user-friendly red/green dot sight has nearly unlimited eye relief. Windage and elevation adjustment knobs along with the illumination adjustment are located on the sight’s housing. Flip-open lens caps and a battery are included.
The smooth, chrome trigger comes with an overtravel stop consisting of a pin located in the back of the trigger—another nice feature from the Performance Center. Deep checkering on the chrome hammer spur provides positive, non-slip single-action cocking. With pronounced fingergrooves, the Hogue grip provides a very comfortable feel and will be welcome when heavy loads are on the menu. The serrated stainless cylinder latch is easy to open.
The fluted, stainless cylinder is not counter-bored but with closer inspection, a keen eye will detect a slight chamfer at the top of each chamber. The model (629-7) and serial number are engraved on the frame under the yoke.
Thanks to Lyman’s electronic digital trigger pull gauge (which eliminates a lot of guesswork), I found the Magnum Hunter’s single-action trigger broke at an average 5.45 pounds. The break was clean and crisp, but to be honest I was a little disappointed and expected a lighter single-action pull. The double-action pull was smooth and broke at 11.8 pounds. You definitely could tell this revolver had undergone action tuning.
The 38mm UTG Tactical red/green dot (above) mounts painlessly on the
Model 629 Magnum Hunter’s integral rail (below).
Overall the fit and finish was exactly what you’d expect from the Performance Center. The cylinder locked up tight with no wobble. This is a premium revolver which has been enhanced with noticeable refinements and detailed finishing—just what you’d want in an “ultimate hunting handgun.”
The .44 Magnum is my favorite revolver cartridge for big game. For the non-handloader, an array of factory ammunition is at your disposal. For this black bear hunt I tested a variety of 240-grain loads from Winchester, Federal, Fusion, Hornady, CorBon, HPR, DoubleTap, Buffalo Bore and Black Hills. Also tested were handloads consisting of Hornady’s 240-grain XTP, Sierra’s 240-grain JHC and Nosler’s 240-grain JHP—all propelled by H110 in Starline brass with CCI primers. Handloading the .44 Mag provides a ton of flexibility from casual plinking to high-octane performance. With the help of Redding’s T-7 Turret Reloading Press and Redding’s carbide die set, a lot of enjoyment can be had from assembling your own favorite loads. Quickly, too.
By the time I finished shooting all the ammo at hand, several things had become apparent. One, the Magnum Hunter is accurate. Most of my initial testing was conducted from 25 yards and it was pretty common to find 6-shot groups inside 1.5 inches. Considering the optic has a 4-MOA dot covering an inch at this distance (plus a single-action trigger pull over 5 pounds), I was pleased. But I sure wouldn’t want the dot any larger for hunting purposes and would prefer something in the neighborhood of 2- or 2.5-MOA. Aesthetically speaking, the UTG optic with its 38mm tube diameter works well but stands out like the proverbial sore thumb.
Secondly, the custom muzzlebrake is effective. After a lengthy range session, I was not fatigued in the least. This brake helps dissipate muzzle rise and felt recoil to the point factory rounds were comfortable to shoot for extended periods. Sighting-in was effortless with only minor adjustments required. The green dot stood out well for my eyes but I’m sure the red one would be useful under certain lighting and background conditions. There are five levels of dot intensity to accommodate varying situations.
The Magnum Hunter kept producing consistently tight groups with Black Hills’ 240-grain JHP so I took a box and ran them out to 50 yards. While I didn’t really anticipate shooting a bear any further, I was more than pleased with the groups—well inside minute-of-bear. At this point I had run an ample amount of lead through the revolver and felt ready to look for a bruin. The accuracy from this revolver gave me all the confidence necessary.
There are some misguided individuals—generally from the anti-hunting segment—who argue hunting over bait or with hounds is unsportsmanlike. Neither method gives the quarry a fair chance. In reality, this uneducated opinion is largely a result of emotionalism and a far cry from the truth.
I was hunting in an area with a healthy bear population—I saw trail camera pictures for 5 days with many different bear photos. We hunted 5 mornings with the hounds and even though a couple of good races ensued, no bear was treed. And keeping up with the hounds is quite a workout! Then we spent 5 nights hunting over bait and never saw a bear—so much for either method being a slam-dunk. So I came home empty-handed and enjoyed dinning on some delicious “tag soup.”
Spending four hours every evening in a blind gives you plenty of time to look through optics. I am convinced if a bear would have appeared, the green/red dot sight would have worked well. But we do have other options and before deer season rolls around, I plan on mounting a 4X Leupold handgun scope on the Model 629 Magnum Hunter.
There’s no doubt this revolver will handle whitetail encounters out to 100 yards or so—and the accuracy potential will be enhanced with the scope. Surely the deer won’t be as lucky as those Idaho bears. When my luck takes a turn for the better, I’m betting the Model 629 Magnum Hunter will shine in many hunting situations.
It’s a keeper.
Black HillS Ammunition
P.O. Box 3090
Rapid City, SD 57709
Crosshair Consulting, Wade Derby
P.O. Box 864
Oakley, CA 94561
P.O. Box 653
Emmett, ID 83617
Model 629 Magnum Hunter
Maker: Smith & Wesson
2100 Roosevelt Ave.
Springfield, MA 01104
Action type: Single/Double Action
Caliber: .44 Magnum
Capacity: 6 rounds
Barrel length: 7.5 inches
Overall length: 14 inches
Weight: 57.5 ounces
Sights: Adjustable sights with Red/Green dot sight
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