Gun Review: S&W 329PD Lightweight .44 Long-Term Review

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Whether or not to carry a large frame handgun can be a big decision for hunters, hikers, and backpackers in areas where you may have a dispute with other critters as to who is at the top of the food chain.  Some may not like carrying the extra weight.  If you want to go with .44 magnum power, usually the gun will be heavy.  I had a S&W 629, and didn’t enjoy carrying it afield much.  It was 2.59 lbs, which made for easy shooting, but not so easy carrying.  I was excited to hear about the 329PD, which due to having a scandium alloy frame and titanium alloy cylinder weighs over a pound less, at 1.56lbs!  I put about 2500 rounds through my 629 by the time I got my 329PD 3 years ago, but I had to relearn shooting a short, light .44 due to the drastic weight difference and increase in felt recoil.

The 329PD comes with two sets of grips. One is a set of beautiful cocobolo (“I just like the way it sounds”-James McGill) wooden grips with finger grooves. These “look” the best on the gun. The other is a set of black rubber grips. While .44 special loads are no big deal with the wood grips on, the only way to describe the recoil of a full power .44 magnum with them on is “ferocious”.  It is second only in unpleasantness to my 340PD lightweight J frame .357.  I am no stranger to shooting big-bore revolvers, but the 4″ .460 or .500 are less of a handful than this gun.  When using the wood grips, the gun cut me below the web of my hand.  Even when switching to the rubber grips that came with the gun, it still would impart a very sharp pain to my firing hand due to the exposed metal at the back of the grip.  I decided it would be best to use neither supplied grip, but thankfully, one can install x-frame (.500, .460) grips on an n-frame gun!  X-frame grips cover the back of the grip frame completely, and provide a larger gripping surface.  Since I have large hands, this did not impede my use of the trigger.  Firing with the x-frame grip was a much more pleasant experience, and they’ve stayed on the gun since I first installed them.

standard grip on the left, x-frame grip on the right

standard grip on the left, x-frame grip on the right

wood grip overlayed on the x-frame grip to show the increase in gripping area

wood grip overlayed on the x-frame grip to show the increase in gripping area

Trigger pull in single-action mode averaged out at 5lb, 6oz.  The trigger breaks cleanly and crisply every time.  Double action proved too heavy for my Lyman to measure (roughly north of 12 lbs) but has negligible stacking.  It is not, however, as smooth as my model 629 or 29.  I’ve found similar differences in the 340PD vs the 640.  The 329PD ejects cases easily, and did not exhibit recoil/heat locking issues like some other  lightweight revolvers.  I have had zero malfunctions of any kind, and have put roughly 1000 rounds through the gun.  The adjustable v-notch rear sights and hi-viz front sight are a great combination for daytime use.  When I was carrying it at night or very early in the morning I started to consider installing a tritium XS big-dot for better low-light visibility. With the proper grips on, recoil with the right load is manageable enough to dump all 6 rounds into a small paper plate at 15 yards, rapid fire.

Load selection took awhile.  My primary practice rounds have been American Eagle’s 250 grain SWC loads, which usually group around 2 inches.  For field use, I was looking for something that would perform accurately and have enough power to prevent a grizzly from trying to make a meal out of me.  Unfortunately, Buffalo Bore and Cor-Bon warn against using their heavier loads in the S&W 329PD or Taurus 444.  This is due to the risk of over-stressing the frame, and bullet jump, which is when a round can unseat from the case under recoil and jam your cylinder.  Not a good thing to happen when you are facing down a charging grizzly.  I have heard excellent things about Buffalo Bore’s 255 grain Kieth gas checked rounds, developed specifically for the 329PD, but was unable to get them for some time.  I tried a few loads and settled on the Razorback XT 225 grain load from Winchester.  The reason for this was, instead of minute of pie-plate accuracy, I could get .6in groups at 15 yards with it!  It does produce only 750 ft-lbs of energy at 15 yards, which is a trade-off, but it is still more powerful than a +P .45 ACP load by quite a bit.  I also sometimes use “slower” .300 grain cast-core loads, but I cannot shoot them anywhere near as accurately as the 255 grains.  I tested the 329PD with some .44 special loads, but they did not perform as accurately, though had less felt recoil.  My best group was 2.2 inches at 15 yards with Hornady 165 grain .44 special.  Due to the wide variance in bullet grain weight, point of impact needs to be adjusted for varied loads.

best group with the razorbacks

best group with the razorbacks

my best group with .44 specials

best group with .44 specials

I have recently used the 329PD on a trip to Alaska.  It was excellent in the field.  The light weight never was an annoyance, and it rode well in a super-versatile Bianchi UM84R universal military holster.  This holster has 2 modes of attachment.  It can accommodate a 1.5 in. belt looped through the back.  It can also attach to belts or straps 2.5 in. wide using a dual metal spring clip in the back that stays rock solid with no rattle when in place.  This allowed me to easily transition the holster from my belt to the hip strap of my pack frame depending on whether or not I ditched my pack. I was exposed to precipitation and wind at an average speed of 30mph every day, with rain, mist, and fog coming off of the Bering sea.  The 329PD did not exhibit any signs of rust after the trip.

4" .44's with a galco DAO holster and Bianchi UM84R Holster. Note dual spring clip on the right.

629 and 329PD with a galco DAO holster and Bianchi UM84R Holster. Note dual spring clip on the right.

Regular cleaning and disassembly for the 329PD is pretty standard fare for a revolver.  Use of a lead removal cloth, however, will potentially damage the matte finish.  Powder burns are very difficult to get off of the cylinder, but I don’t mind the look of them.  This is, after all, a working gun and not a safe queen.  Despite hard use, the finish has not worn or scratched significantly despite many hikes/outdoor adventures over a 3 year period.

The 329PD’s power, light weight, reliability and accuracy have all come together to make it the gun I choose when venturing outdoors in grizzly country.  I am 100% happy with my purchase.  I would not hunt with it as a primary hunting handgun, but use it for backup/defensive use.  It’s nice to have such power available when fishing, hiking, hunting, or even trail running, and not notice it until you need to use it.

Pros:

  • Versatility of rounds, can use snake shot as well
  • Good adjustable factory sights
  • Light weight
  • No malfunctions so far
  • Wear/weather resilient finish

Cons:

  • Painful to shoot with either supplied grip, needs x-frame grips.
  • Risk of “crimp jump” if one is not careful with load selection
  • Trigger is not as smooth as in stainless guns

Thanks to Aaron Hughston of Tamarack Sports for technical assistance



Rusty S.

Having always had a passion for firearms, Rusty S. has had experience in gunsmithing, firearms retail, hunting, competitive shooting, range construction, as an IDPA certified range safety officer and a certified instructor. He has received military, law enforcement, and private training in the use of firearms. He is fortunate enough to have access to class 3 weaponry as well.


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  • iksnilol

    That can’t be good for the wrists.

    Ouch is all I can think.

    • Rusty S.

      This gun, and other big bore handguns, don’t really bother my wrist as much as it was causing sharp pain in the metacarpal area of my thumb, in the meaty part of my palm. I once suffered a stress fracture there from too many rounds with a .454 Casull.

      • Sam Pensive

        maybe a padded glove with open finger shot would solve the impact and cut issues on this handgun… an old country guide told me it’s not what you carry so much as what you shoot at what’s chasing you.

  • Don Ward

    The fad of ultra-light weight firearms has gotta stop.

  • John

    I’m amazed they 1) didn’t trim and fit the wooden grips to the exact shape of the frame for a more comfortable fit, and 2) that they’re not already selling fully-enclosed rubber grips for revolvers.

    • Rusty S.

      As you can see below, the wood grips do fit the shape of the frame in the traditional N-Frame way, with the backstrap exposed. I layed them over the larger x-frame grip to show the difference in size of the grips, that is all. And yes, an improvement would be to have the additional rubber grips included with the gun have coverage of the backstrap, I agree.

  • TDog

    I’m going to design and produce a two-ounce .50 BMG pistol just so I can brag about it being the lightest large-bore handgun in the world. So what if firing it will break all the small bones in your hand and some of the big ones in your wrist and forearm? It’s LIGHT!

    • CrankyFool

      Shhh! Heizer’s listening!

      • iksnilol

        Good God, just imagine that. A 50 BMG with a 5 cm barrel… Loaded with blanks.

        O_O

        • Beeblebrox

          It’s called a thunder mug.

    • ThomasD

      Anything that light would not remain in your hand long enough to break those bones. Maybe detach a finger or two, then crush your orbital bones on impact.

      Given that a .50 BMG projectile weighs about 1.5 ounces the real question might be: Are you projecting a bullet out from the gun, or everything else back off of the bullet?

      • TDog

        I forgot to mention the super duper tactical grip – three-inch nails protruding from the handle at ninety-degree angles. “Extreme Tactical Aggressive Grip.”

  • sauerquint

    “ginger grooves” – second paragraph, second line.

    • Rusty S.

      Thanks for catching that! Darn my sausage fingers…I’ll correct it presently

    • Donny J

      I dated a girl like that once.

  • ghost

    One shot better do it, or best I can hope for is the bear will stop and chew on the revolver.

  • Aren’t most S&W internal lock failures a result of heavy recoil in lightweight models?

    • Rusty S.

      Yes, that seemed to be the most prevalent non-user error related cause for a while. I have not experienced such a failure myself with either of my lightweights, so I can’t speak from personal experience.

  • Giolli Joker

    Any gas cutting on the cylinder face?

    • Rusty S.

      none observable to to naked eye after 1000+ rounds, no.

    • Bill

      If it’s like my 325 PD, there is shield at the top front of the cylinder “window” in the frame to prevent erosion at that point. I’ve never had any issues with the cylinder proper.

      • Giolli Joker

        I know about the frame protection, I’ve seen (online) nasty effects on cylinder, but it was .357 with light, fast bullets:

        http://www. all4shooters. com/en/home/technics/2012-articles/Titanium-cylinders/

        (link broken down to avoid delay in reply)

  • ThomasD

    Sue wish S&W would make a .45 Colt version…

    255 grains of hard cast lead at around 1000 fps is an excellent all purpose load.

    • Rusty S.

      The Buffalo Bore load I mentioned will achieve that goal quite nicely, and is optimized for the 329PD:
      Lower Recoil .44 Magnum Ammo – 255 gr. Keith – G.C. (1,350 fps/M.E. 1,032 ft.lbs.)

    • Bill

      I don’t know if it’s still in production: the 625 Mountain Gun. Love mine in .45 Colt, but it doesn’t have the Scandium frame and isn’t as light.

      • Rusty S.

        Sadly, no longer in production. You can find NIB ones on gunbroker, though, including pre-lock versions. A current-production model which comes the closest would be the Ruger Redhawk model 5027. Similar size, but the weight is more close to the 629, at 2.8 lbs.

  • Bill

    The Ahrends stocks that came on my 325 PD lasted for one cylinder of .45 ACP before being replaced with Pachmyer Decelerators. It went from unpleasant to just masochistic.

    It’s sort of a goofy gun in that an ultralight N Frame gives you a huge but light gun. Putting a 5 round cylinder in an ultralight L or K frame makes more sense from an efficiency standpoint. Smith may be doing that now; I can’t keep up with their model intros.

  • Don

    I don’t know about you but when I go hunting or backpacking my backup pistols weight is a nonissue, it sits comfortably in a holster. I carry my S&W 460 magnum and I don’t even realize it is there. I don’t get this whole whinning about the weight of a firearm that sits in a holster?? When it comes down to being in a situation out in the woods when you have to pull out your firearm and use it against say a bear or other dangerous animal, well Im going with a heavy big bore firearm that I know will have a faster follow up shot with less muzzle flip. Suck it up buttercup and get a properly fitting holster and quit whinning 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • doug

    the grips in the photo above look like walnut. the grips down lower look like goncolo alves.

  • NormB

    44 S&W Magnum. Like .22 LR for men. 😉
    I bought one of these when S&W had a special for active duty/retired military.
    Also own two pre-model 29 44 magnums from 1957. They’re “easier” to shoot, for sure, but nowhere near as “fun.”

  • maodeedee

    The laws of physics cannot be suspended or repealed.

    Most people have no understanding whatsoever of what it really takes to STOP an angry bear. not Kill, but Stop. It takes a hard-cast or jacketed blunt-nose projectile accurately directed into the brain cavity, All the projectile needs to do is penetrate the skull and then have enough energy to impart enough shock to destroy the brain and a 357 mag with heavy flatnose bullets will do the job with power to spare and will not flatten out and glance off the skull like a hollowpoint

    Body shots with 3 inch 12 guage slugs or 375 or 458 magnums work maybe 80 percent of the time for instant stops. But there are not many handguns that will do that. The 44 mag with the right ammo will penetrate the skull and shut down the central nervous system but if you don’t have the accuracy you’ll miss the target.

    A featherweight 44 magnum is insanely difficult to control especially on repeat shots. Someone would be WAY better off with a 7 or 8 shot 357 mag L or N frame that will be more accurate and controllable and with 7 or 8 shots you have more chances to hit the target.

    My choice is a Glock 20SF with a custom 5 inch barrel in a Blackhawk Sherpa holster loaded with buffalo bore 230 grain +P+ hardcast Flatnose bullets. I practice with this gun a lot and I’m good with it. I have a steel pendulum that I practice hitting moving targets. It’s not the hardware that matters most. it’s the software that you program in your brain; training.