The S&W Model 69: A Goldilocks Gun

I’m not the first guy to review the Smith & Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum. If you’re reading this, I expect you’re looking for some subjective thoughts and to hear an opinion on whether you should buy one, not just facts about what it is. There is plenty of info available about the technical aspects of the Model 69 and, if you are considering buying one, you probably have a solid grasp of the quality of modern S&W revolvers. If you are looking for your first pistol, this isn’t the answer for you. Built on the L frame, it is the same size as K and L frame .357 magnum revolvers, but with a five shot cylinder. That makes this somewhat of a compromise gun. It is lighter than many other .44 magnum guns and that makes it easier to carry. The 4.25″ barrel is also a little shorter than is typical in this caliber, which reduces weight as well, but the shorter barrel also results in lower velocity. The smaller size means the cylinder only has room for five charge holes. Probably the most glaring point is that the lighter weight contributes to greater felt recoil.

The natural question is whether this set of compromises results in a gun that is perfect for a task or just a mess of problems. That’s an entirely subjective question, of course, but the core of that question is what the task is that you intend to use it for. In my case, I bought it as a trail gun for camping, hiking, and fishing on the Mogollon Rim. That is, I wanted a gun that carried a little easier than six inch barreled, six shot .44 revolvers and something with a little more power than .357 mag revolvers. I absolutely did notΒ want something as light as the scandium frame revolvers available in .44 mag. For myself and for my own needs, this revolver is the perfect balance of multiple factors. Does it recoil hard? Absolutely. But it isn’t unmanageable. The sight radius is just long enough to be friendly to accurate shooting and the trigger is decent. The double action pull is smooth as silk and the single action pull is light and fairly crisp, but it isn’t quite as good as the SA trigger on my wife’s pre-lock Model 13-2. While many folks don’t like finger grooves, the grip is just the right size and the modest grooves just the right shape to fit my grubby mitts. Is .44 mag the cartridge that I would choose if I knew a bear was going to attack me? Not a chance. If that were the case, I’d probably choose a .30 caliber rifle with a large magazine. But .44 mag is a cartridge that fits in a gun that I’m willing to actually carry. The gun that isn’t left in the glove box or in the safe at home. It doesn’t matter what caliber that gun is chambered in.

The Model 69 isn’t too hot or too cold, too soft or too hard. It is just right. For me.



Andrew

Andrew is a combat veteran of OEF and has performed hundreds of ballistic tests for his YouTube channel, The Chopping Block (https://www.youtube.com/user/chopinbloc). He is an avid firearm collector and competitor and lives with his family in Arizona. If you have any questions, you may email him at choppingblocktests@gmail.com


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  • ActionPhysicalMan

    I have a fantastic 5.25″ .357 that I bought last winter. Unfortunately it hasn’t stopped me from longing for a trail/packing gun in the form of 4″ 69 or even the 66. I don’t think I can ever be satisfied. Thanks for fanning my covetousness and lust in this matter.

    • Chop Block

      Lol. Any time man. Autos may be a lot more practical for most carry purposes, but I’ve never lusted after one the way I lust for some revolvers.
      #realgunshavecurves

      • Gary Kirk
        • Chop Block

          That’s like when you mention that you like curves and you’re thinking Marilyn Monroe and they show up looking like Amy Schumer.

          • ActionPhysicalMan

            I think you mean Amy Winehouse.

          • Chop Block

            Amy Winehouse wasn’t fat. Do you follow my threads on Arfcom? I feel like that was a subtle joke.

          • ActionPhysicalMan

            I realized the joke you were making but still thought Winehouse was better choice because she is dead like Monroe and she stood in that weird butt to the side pose a lot. The Curve is not a heavy gun anymore than Winehouse was a heavy woman. The Curve is also weird looking like Amy was.

          • Chop Block

            That is a remarkably insightful analysis.

          • ActionPhysicalMan

            I guess I would also say the Curve and Amy were both more ‘bent’ than curved:-)

          • ostiariusalpha

            I believe there were drugs involved for both also.

  • Edeco

    41 Mag and 6.5+” of hose please. Although I’d rather a GP100 chassis. Smith is more likely to do a lugless barrel which I’d prefer. Better grip options. Hard to say who’d do it at a lower price or better value… if Ruger used their primo hard-to-cut steel for the cylinder that would be neat.

    • Jared Vynn

      Ruger usually is lower priced than S&W with much greater durability (and weight). Ruger has a SRH with a 7.5″ barrel in 41 magnum, but it’s a heavy brute at 53 oz.

  • Sean

    This strikes me as another case of Smith and Wesson coming out with products weirdly close to Taurus’s. They already copied the Judge. This is very similar to the Taurus Tracker. Not necessarily a bad thing, but that’s two.

    • Jared Vynn

      It could also be competition for the Ruger gp100 in 44spl.

      • Anonymoose

        The GP100 .44 came out after the M69, and Smith & Wesson used to have the M696 and 296 L-frames in .44 Special way back when.

        • Jared Vynn

          You’re right, I think it’s all the recent articles on it that threw me. Distilling some vodka probably isn’t helping, never buying vodka from a store again.

  • dbriannelson

    The one I examined had a gap of 0.012″. Didn’t bother to chronograph it, as that’s big enough to significantly degrade performance. It’s my sister’s gun.

  • BBMW

    I’m sorry, I consider an five shot revolver as severely limited as a defensive weapon.. This is especially true if we’re talking about full size 4″ barrel revolver with a full 3 finger grip. Even if I’d consider a revolver as a defensive weapon in this size class (ignoring the entire revolver vs auto-pistol debate), I’d want at least six rounds, and, even better seven (a 3″ 686 being the prime choice in this class.)

    Yes, the five round cylinder will make the gun a little narrower. But if you want narrow, go to an autoloader. and get much more capacity, and the ability to reload in combat, as a bonus. (oops, forgot to ignore the whole autoloader thing.)

    • Chop Block

      So your recommendation for a light, comfortable trail gun for defense against large animals is a Desert Eagle. Seems practical.

      • Jared Vynn

        I’d just carry two or three single actions like the Ruger SBH and New York reload. 1 cross draw, 1 shoulder, and one at 3:00 and a bandoleer for good luck.

      • Flounder

        I LIKE YOUR STYLE! I once saw a guy carrying a desert eagle. It was quite something. He had an IWB holster for it too.

        But you forget to mention The model 329PD from smith and wesson. Which is almost identical to this. Except, beefier, and lighter, and nicer, and carries another round.

        The five shot is an interesting choice, especially in 44 mag, but i think this is just smith building out their budget line. I don’t believe anyone offers a seven shot in 44. And if it is capacity out of a revolver, there are 8 shot 357s and speedloaders out there. Again from smith. Which all leads me to think this is an entry level offering just to diversify their offerings.

        • Chop Block

          Yes, of course there are other options. I didn’t want a scandium revolver. So many folks want to go to extremes and it seems that few value balance.

          • Anonymoose

            Magnaporting can solve the issues with the 329, but then you’re dumping more money into it.

        • Anonymoose

          5-shot beats 6-shot in the strength department, and L-frames are plenty beefy in every other sense. You don’t have the cylinder stop notch cut into the chamber wall with a 5- or 7-shot, but even with this you’re not going to be shooting Buffalo Bore, Garrett, or Doubletap, etc. I think the reason Ruger made their new 5-shot GP100 in .44 Special instead of .44 Magnum is because they knew people would read “Ruger-only” and then blow themselves up. There is that new Desert Eagle L5 in .44 Magnum with an aluminum frame, but it weighs 5 oz more than a 4″ 629. You can only choose 2: lightweight, powerful, and manageable.

          • Vizzini

            I have a S&W 681 4″ .357 magnum in the same class and it’s very nice, but I’ve been spoiled since I got my LCR-X .38 3″ and a Crimson Trace lasergrip — so very light, and so very comfortable to shoot with .38 +P

          • FlaBoy

            Please, please, Ruger, please make a 4 inch LCR-x. I’ll buy ten of them, if you make it. (Maybe I can’t afford that, but I would definitely purchase one or two.) Or even a 5 inch LCR-x. Already have an LCR stubbie, a 3 inch LCR-x, could then add the 4 inch and the 5 inch. Then I’d have a light carry camp gun & farm gun for every occasion, south of Grizzly country.

          • John Moore

            Or… please please Ruger make a mid size 5 shot 45 ACP LCR. My wallet will fly open!

          • Stuki Moi

            The low velocity Garret is the bees knees for this gun in bear country.

    • Flounder

      It sounds like you want an 8 shot 357… Like the 327 TRR8. although that is the This is a 44 mag. Does anyone even make a 7 shot 44 mag?

      • Anonymoose

        Nope. There’s this German company (https://www.janzrevolver.com) that makes a modular revolver that could go from .454 Casull to .22LR, and I always wondered why they didn’t do a modular thing with their .500 frame that could do 7shots of .44 or maybe 9 shots of .357. It might be doable on an X-frame, but at that point they may as well bring back the .445 Supermag.

  • Christopher Wallace

    good write up

  • ostiariusalpha

    Disappointed that guy that always blubbers about bead blasted finishes and Charter Arms hasn’t shown up to comment yet. πŸ˜’

  • John

    Could have carried a .44 lever action rifle. More capacity, more velocity, less recoil, slings over your chest or back so you forget about it.

    • Cal S.

      Kind of awkward to carry concealed, don’t you think? Especially by federal law?

      • Chop Block

        Why would federal law have anything to do with it?

      • Jared Vynn

        Mare’s leg “pistol” and a duster and you could conceal it.

        • Cal S.

          That’s true, but if we’re talking about larger capacity, near miss.

    • Jared Vynn

      That’s what I do sometimes on my land.

  • feetpiece _

    Still waiting for TFB to grow a pair and review the 329PD and the Alaskan Backpacker.

    • Chop Block

      Send me either and I’ll review it.

      • feetpiece _

        If I weren’t in AK I would. I hated mine when I could shoot it πŸ˜†

      • Anonymoose

        Better you than me. lol

        • Chop Block

          Lol.

    • Rusty S.

      I reviewed the 329PD two years ago, feel free to check out the long-term review.

  • ShooterPatBob

    .41 magnum is a good powerful cartridge, and can hold 6 rounds where a .44 holds five, I believe. There’s not a lot of new production handguns available, sadly.

    • Anonymoose

      There are no 6-shot .41 Magnums below the N-frame. Some L-frames and even K-frames have been customized into 5-shot .41s though.

      • Stuki Moi

        That’s the .41s achilles: No more capacity, in any platform, than a .44. Hence unlikely to ever climb out of it’s niche status.

        If Smith could find a way to cram 6 of them into an L frame, and perhaps 7 in an N, they’d sell a truckload, as the cartridge’s ballistics are perfect for most people in more packable trail guns.

        But without the capacity advantage, it’s easier to just buy .44 specials, or lightloaded mags.

  • Bill

    With decent .44 Special loads I wouldn’t hesitate to carry it for defensive purposes.

    • Chop Block

      Unfortunately, there may not be much in the way of “decent” .44 special. I’ll be doing some testing for TFB TV to find out.

      • Mark Horning

        The Gold Dot is decent. Especially out of that 4″ barrel.

      • gunsandrockets

        I would like to see a test of the Blazer 240 grain semi-jacketed hollow point .44 magnum ammunition.

        From one youtuber report I saw, that ammo is light for a .44 magnum but hotter than factory .44 Special. It might be just the right balance for the Model 69 for SD purposes.

      • Mad_Gorilla

        Some of the boutique ammo outfits have .44 Spl that is loaded up to its real potential, but it ain’t cheap. I load a 240 gr. RNFP from Desperado Cowboy Bullets over 9.0 gr. of N32C (Tin Star) in mag brass. That gives an honest chronographed speed of 1000 fps, roughly the same as Skeeter Skelton’s old duty load.

    • TheHoneyBadger

      I have a Model 696 in .44 Special. I believe that is about as far as the L-frame should be pushed.

      • Mad_Gorilla

        S&W discontinued the 696 because of issues with barrels cracking in the forcing cone area. The 69 corrected those problems. It has also been tested thoroughly with mag loads. I agree that .44 Spl is a better SD carry load, but not in factory form. If you load the equivalent of the old Skeeter Skelton load in mag brass, now you’ve got something. (240-250 gr. SWC, 7.5 Unique or equivalent, 950-1000 fps from a 4″ bbl.)

  • TJbrena

    When is S&W gonna stop jerking us around and use the X-Frame to give us 10-shot .357s or 7-8-shot .44s? I mean really, all that space they used for elephant-killer cartridges like .500 S&W can’t be used to give us high-capacity magnums? Just imagine how much .327 Federal you could fit in an X-Frame!

    • Chop Block

      Or like 87 .22lr rounds.

      • Anonymoose

        Do it with 3 barrels superposed and an aluminum frame and I’m in!

      • DangerousClown

        The 617 is already boring enough.

  • Tym O’Byrne

    Rather run either of my .45 Blackhawks to be honest. I get six trys with either and neither are underpowered no matter what loads i use. Same weight. Your results may vary.

  • Raginzerker

    Awe the 44 magnum, a big round for guys with small peckers

    • Chop Block

      I’m sorry you’ve found yourself disappointed in the size of the equipment that your lovers are packing, but I’m a little confused as to why you decided to share that information.

      • BigR

        Raginzerker carries a BB pistol!! It’s made for little peckers like him!!

      • Raginzerker

        I’m a little confused as to why you’d want a 44 for anything other than hunting and backpacking

    • Alex @Sea

      Say that to Clint’s face and get ready to ….smile?

      • Raginzerker

        He doesn’t even like the 44 mag all that much, said he prefers the specials

    • Stuki Moi

      Since you’re the expert, what is the size of a Grizzly’s equipment?

      • Raginzerker

        Lol triggered? I’m talking about ccw dumbass

  • Mark Horning

    As a fellow Arizonan I would agree about that being a great trail gun for up on the rim, except for one thing.

    I refuse to buy a Smith with the Hillary Hole.

    • BigR

      I’m with you Mark! That Hillary Hole is what keeps me from ever doing business with S&W!

  • Jim_Macklin

    The Model 69 is a trail gun for bear country. It is easier to carry that a Model 29, If you’re hiking in downtown Atlanta or even the Florida Everglades, an LCR 357 if revolvers are your choice.
    But a 9mm if your likely need is defense against 2 legged predators with a Ruger LC9s or a GLOCK 43 makes sense.
    If elephants are your worry, a S&W 500 or maybe a 460 if you just can’t handle your camera and a 375 or 458 rifle.
    A revolver like a Model 68 or a Ruger Blackhawk handles a powerful cartridge and weighs less than a self-loader of equal power.

  • TheHoneyBadger

    As S&W eventually learned that the K-frame was inadequate for the pressures of the .357 Magnum over the long term, they will eventually learn that the L-frame is inadequate for the pressures of the .44 Magnum. There is also information starting to filter in that putting the .357 Magnum in the little J-frame is beating the hell out of guns.

  • hikerguy

    It seems to me, that after you looked at all the factors, and then decided with what you could live with and didn’t want, you made a rational decision. And again, if the magnum loads are a little too much at times you have the option of ,44 specials.
    I have not been to your part of the world since the 90s, and want to come to Arizona again someday. Have fun hiking the Rim.

  • BigR

    I own several Smiths’ and they are excellent revolvers, but they’re all pre-clinton. I’ll never buy anything Smith & Wesson manufactures again until they take that keyhole off of their guns. But, that’s just me!!!! It pisses me off that S&W bent over for that SOB!!! I’ll never forgive S&W!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can you hear me S&W? Eat me!!!

  • Gary Laffoon

    I bought the model 69 in the 2.75 inch barrel. It a great gun for concealed carry. I may never actually carry .44 magnums in the gun. I like .44 spl for defense work anyway. And, it is lighter than the Ruger GP100 .44 spl.

  • dmyck

    I was going to buy a model 69 but the barrel looks to be sleeved, I don’t know why they did that. Bought a 629 instead

  • Colonel K
  • Mad_Gorilla

    I own the Model 69, and use it regularly for carry, so I have some experience with it. I originally went looking for the 696, an L frame in .44 Spl. I found that they had discontinued that and replaced it with the Model 69, made a bunch of improvements mechanically, and it was available. I have never fired a magnum load from it, and likely never will. I load my own with 240 gr. RNFP at 1000 fps, and that’s chronographed velocity, not a guess. Just about perfect for carry use, superbly accurate, moderate recoil. I don’t consider 5 shots a detriment, I just drop a speed loader in my pocket. The average gun fight is 2-3 rounds, so if ten isn’t enough, I should’ve brought an AR in the first place. In any case, I highly recommend the Model 69, particularly if you want a large bore pistol you can carry easily all day, and that you don’t need to run mag loads in to get the job done.