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 not¬†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 is a combat veteran of OEF and has performed hundreds of ballistic tests for his YouTube channel, The Chopping Block ( 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 [email protected]