I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Since there is such an expanse of preserved nature there, many other folks and I out that way enjoy hiking in the hills and mountains of Washington State. A few times a year, in the areas where I lived, people would spot a mountain cat of some type. These animals would wander into town, with a voracious appetite. Or, a pack of medium sized, but wily coyotes would terrorize an area, and devour house cats, or maul/kill dogs. At the time, I didn’t have the finances to purchase anything specifically well suited for killing large predators, so I generally used my duty gun, a Smith 681, in a shoulder holster, loaded with the heaviest .357 Magnum loads I could find. And, as was the custom in the area, I kept a Remington 870 loaded with slugs in the truck. I’d keep it handy at the campsite and when out on the trails, since the repellent effect of Brenneke rifled slugs on most anything that breathes, is well known.
Now, after living in Tennessee for 11 years, I’ve learned the South has it’s own brand of predatory critters. Namely black bears and feral hogs. Who’d have thought that a giant pig could be hazardous! So, when I decided that I would explore the woodlands of Tennessee, I figured that a non-long gun solution (since there are tourists out here that freak at the sight of a long gun) was needed. Thus, I procured a Ruger Redhawk in .44 Magnum, with a 5.5″ barrel. The heavy frame of the Redhawk makes the heavy .44 Magnum loads tolerable, at least for a few dozen rounds. The OEM grips are a slightly enlarged version of the Ruger Security Six series, and they are reminiscent of the stocks on an old single action revolver. They tend to, “eat,” at the middle finger of the firing hand, and that makes shooting get uncomfortable after a bit. Sure, you can wear a glove or put duct tape on your hand, but I generally don’t do that. I tried out a number of after-market grip solutions for the Redhawk, but I never found anything that I really liked that well. The Pachmayr product was ill fitting, the Hogue grip was HUGE, and I didn’t really fiddle with anything else after two disappointments in a row. So, I thought that there had to be a better, more ergonomic, and portable solution out there.
Enter the Smith & Wesson Model 69. Built on the venerable, “L frame,” and preceded in history by the Model 586/686 and 581/681 and their various variants, the L frame was a Police and Security favorite from the time it was introduced on the market in 1980. Throughout the years, various gunsmiths experimented with the L frame, producing hybrid guns in 9mm, and even reboring some guns to work with the .44 Magnum’s rare cousin, the .41 Magnum. Later, Smith & Wesson introduced a .44 Special version of the L-frame, that looked like a beefed up version of the Smith Bodyguard. So, in 2014, Smith decided it was time to dust off the old L frame, and make a highly portable, easy to shoot, 4.25″ barreled, 5 shot L frame, and call it the, “Combat Magnum.” I saw one at my local gun shop, and slapped down my debit card immediately. Yes, it sounded kind of tinny when I dry-pressed it, and yes, the barrel isn’t monolithic…it’s a tube screwed into a steel sleeve, and yes it had that ridiculous lock on it, but I didn’t care. I also bought two boxes of .44 Magnum (240 grain hollow points) and set out onto the range to make some noise.
The revolving pistol worked as advertised. It shot to the sights with the heavy .44 Magnums (and I found out later, also with 200 grain .44 Special Gold Dots). The recoil was about the same as any other .44 Magnum I had fired, and not uncomfortable. The factory OEM stocks were comfortable, but not perfect. They could be squeezed to the point that they would spread at the backstrap. Not a deal breaker, but not perfect. The stocks also didn’t have much cushion on the backstrap, so I could definitely feel the, “oomph,” of the recoil transmit to my hand. After 100 rounds, I was ready for a break and some dinner.
Although I don’t find myself anymore in the situation where I have to use, “one gun,” to do most anything, I run these thought experiments for the benefit of others, and for the simple reason that someday, I might become a total nomad dentist, and set out on adventure, a la Indiana Jones, in which case, I may have just one gun to rely on for protection from both man and beast, and also for food harvesting capability, on medium to large game, throughout North America. The Smith 69 could work for that. Just like it’s older cousin, the J frame, the Model 69 is limited by its meager five shot ammo capacity. However, unlike the J frame, the Model 69 can handle some of the heaviest, fastest, most effective game ammo made. Buffalo Bore produces .44 Magnum ammo in anti-personnel, and game hunting ammunition. Several of the hunting rounds have penetration depths that are measured in feet. Guaranteed to perforate and shoot through most unarmored human targets, but effective against the thick hide, muscle and bone of many dangerous animals. The excellent Speer 200 grain Gold Dot Hollowpoint is available in a mild .44 Special loading, and delivers penetration and tissue destruction on par with other large caliber Gold Dot loadings. The recoil is mild and very workable for self-defense purposes, where fast follow up shots are often required. So, by only changing the ammunition in the gun, the performance capabilities of the .44 Magnum can be fully appreciated and utilized for a variety of tasks.