The great gunfighter, and Father of the Smith and Wesson Model 19, Bill Jordan, wrote in his book, “No Second Place Winner,” that if given his choice, he would always pick his Model 19 as his weapon-of-choice for nearly any task.  He was of the belief that if you had a Model 19, and you were legendary with it, like he was, you could procure any other equipment you would need…  Interesting thought.  Like the old saying goes, “Always fear the one-gun-man (He probably knows how to use it)”.

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.


Those nickel plated cases of the Speer Gold Dot.  The Gold Dot is nearly considered a universal in the self-defense world.  It works well on most human attackers, in virtually every caliber it is available in.  (Did you know that Speer even offers a Gold Dot loading in the old .30 Carbine?)  These are the Ahrend’s Retro Combat K/L round to Square Butt conversion grips.  They look and feel great, but they beat the webbing of the hand up with heavy loads.

This is the Hogue, rubber mono-grip, but in the, “K/L round to square butt conversion,” style grip, sans finger grooves.  It is a comfortable grip, but a bit sticky for concealment purposes.  If you are going to carry this puppy concealed, I would dumb the grip texture down a hair, to make it less adherent to the cover garment.

Close up of the ball bearing lock at the crane, which confers more strength to the operating mechanism, which helps lengthen the service life of this medium/large, LARGE bore revolving pistol.

The sights, trigger, cylinder release and lock are all contrasting black, MIM parts.  This accounts for the, “tinny,” sound when dry-practicing with this gun.

The topstrap here isn’t thin.  After firing several hundred rounds over the course of a weekend, no undue wear was noted in the area of the forcing cone, or the topstrap.  Other, lighter build .44 Magnums have suffered from flame-cutting issues into the topstrap of the revolvers.  Granted, this is early on in the life of the gun, but it’s still going strong today.


I’m a fan of the, “Roper,” type grips on revolvers, for general use and concealment.  Yes, they DO tend to beat up the user a bit more than their rubber counterparts, but they wear admirably, and they feel good in the hand.  They also conceal well since they don’t grab the cover garment that conceals them.

The aforementioned Redhawk, which looks like an absolute pig beast compared to the sveldt lines of the Model 69.  I worked a BK grip adapter into this gun, and later found an old K frame Tyler adapter on Ebay to put onto this gun, to reduce the amount of skin I’d lose off of my middle finger on my firing hand when touching off the heavy duty CADILLAC STOPPERS that this gun was designed to handle.  Big fun, and I hope that I don’t have arthritis in the future from all of that, “fun.”

9 thoughts on “Lions, tigers and bears…oh S**T

  1. Been hiking in the GW National Forest and other places on the east coast for 35 years. I see a bear every year or so but they are quickly headed in the opposite direction. Having done my personal risk assessment, I’ve concluded that my biggest threat is two legged predators. I’ve downsized from a Glock 20, 10mm in my younger years to a Glock 27 40cal as I’ve grown older. I’ve always have a GSD for a companion who warns me if any person comes near. No one has every lifted a finger after seeing 85 llbs of black and tan fur kid beside me. However, if she is not a sufficient deterrent, it’s time to reach for Mr. Glock.

    Enjoy the great outdoors of TN.

  2. I’ve been hiking in the National Forest of VA for 35 years and have taken a few short vacations where I hiked the National Forests of TN. In my younger years, I carried a Glock 20, 10mm, then downsized to a Glock 29, and finally to a Glock 27, 40 Cal. While I’ve seen a several bears over the years, they were showing me their backside as quickly as they could turn around. None were dangerously close. I did once see a sow with two cubs but from 40 or so yards and the wind was coming toward my GSD and I or we would have never seen them. After this much experience in the forest, I’ve concluded that the greatest risk to me are the two legged predators. Given the presence of my devoted and alert black and tan companions, I was always warned if another person came near. None have every threatened me in any way. But, I’ve said that if one or in some years, two, GSDs do not deter a scumbag, it’s time to reach for Mr. Glock. Enjoy your time in the great outdoors!

  3. Like you I didn’t think much of the Smith 69 until I handled one. Mine shoots extremely well and it has become my favorite 44. I went with the Hogue K/L round butt grip and it works well for me. Keep us posted in your journey with this innovative, easy packing, 44. Enjoy your write ups!

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