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

    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


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    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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