Review: Smith and Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum

Smith and Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum with Hogue wood grips

As a long-time user of Smith & Wesson revolvers, I am excited to see the things the company is doing these days. One of the most interesting handguns to come along in some time is the Model 69 .44 Magnum. This is a 5-shot .44 Magnum revolver built on the L frame chassis. It features square butt grips and a 4-inch barrel.

Smith and Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum left profile with black rubber grips
The Smith and Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum Model is a well-made revolver that fills a real need.

Smith & Wesson intended that the L frame would strengthen the durability of the revolvers compared to the K frame, and it seems to have worked well. Shoehorning a 5-shot .44 Magnum cylinder into a 6-shot .357 Magnum frame makes a light-packing revolver well suited to personal defense and outdoors protection. A Model 629 .44 Magnum revolver, as an example, weighs in at over 44 ounces—10 more ounces than the Model 69. No, this isn’t a revolver for long-range hunting or silhouette competition use, but rather it is a handy revolver that will save your life if need be. One hunting pursuit it is useful for is hunting boar in woods and brush or over dogs. Shots are short and the M69 is plenty accurate and powerful.

Smith & Wesson has gone one better for personal defense shooters with the Model 69 Combat Magnum. This version features a 2.75-inch barrel and round butt configuration. All modern Smith & Wesson revolvers are round-butt frames with either square- or round-butt stocks dependent on the application.

You may order either, depending on hand fit and recoil tolerance. The Model 69 .44 Magnum features a satin stainless-steel finish. The pistol is put together well with no tool marks. The cylinder fits neatly in the frame window. The sights include a fully-adjustable rear sight and the trademark red insert Smith & Wesson front sight. This red insert has been helping good guys get a bead on the bad guys as long as I can remember.

Smith and Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum with open cylinder and HK speedloader.
The author’s Model 69 is often carried with an HK speed loader.

Beginning with the loading rod of the Colt Walker .44, heavy recoil has taken its toll on handguns forward of the cylinder. Smith & Wesson eliminated the ejector rod’s forward lockup and moved secondary lock up to the frame. The crane and the cylinder lock-up are tight. Modern CNC machinery makes this lockup exact and it pays off in accuracy.

The fully-adjustable sights allow sighting the piece in properly for bullet weights of 165 to 300 grains. Some .44 Magnum revolvers have short cylinder that will not accommodate heavy cast bullet handloads. The M69 accepts these loads, although, whether you care to fire them is another matter. The grips are lightly abrasive and offer good hand fit for most hands. The trigger action is smooth and tractable. The single action option is there for deliberate shots.

The Model 69 will handle the full range of .44 Special ammunition. I believe that .44 Special fans buy a .44 Special for accuracy and mild recoil while .44 Magnum shooters purchase the Magnum for power and use .44 Special ammunition for practice and economy. In the case of the Model 69, I think that .44 Special loads are best suited for concealed carry, personal defense, and home defense. While the .44 Special standard loads are mild mannered and well suited to cowboy action and informal target use, there are formidable .44 Special loads that equal or exceed .45 ACP +P loads. They are useful for defense against all but the largest animals.

Smith and Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum with Model 442
The Smith and Wesson Model 69 compared to the .38 Special Model 442.

For this evaluation, I began with the Winchester 246-grain RNL loading at 740 fps. This is a mild load well suited to practice. I began drawing from a strong side holster. The Smith & Wesson is brilliantly fast from leather. The short barrel clears leather quickly and comes on target fast. Firing at man-sized targets at 7 yards, the groups were well-centered on target. Learning to fire the double action revolver many years ago, I learned to bring the trigger to the rear smoothly, roll with recoil, and allow the trigger to reset as I regained the sight picture.

Felt recoil was no more than a Smith & Wesson Model Ten .38 with target wadcutter ammunition. I moved to two good defense loads. The Hornady Critical Defense features a 165-grain tipped bullet. This load breaks about 900 fps and offers good control. Another choice at about 850 fps in the M69’s short barrel is the deeper penetrating Hornady 180-grain XTP.

Neither was difficult to handle and each provided good accuracy. At a long 25 yards from the bench rest, the Hornady 180-grain XTP produced a 5-shot 3-inch group. That is adequate for personal defense. The M69 offers a mild shooting alternative to the .357 Magnum as a personal defense revolver.

.44 Magnum Primary Role

Smith and Wesson Model 69 Combat Magnum with Hogue wood grips
The author added a set of Hogue grips. These grips considerably improved handling and made for a better fit and feel and overall accuracy. This was money well spent.

The primary role of the .44 Magnum is in animal defense against the big cats, feral dogs, and bears. These animals will sorely test mans’ supposed ascendancy in the animal kingdom. I loaded the M69 with the Hornady 240-grain .44 Magnum and fired a box of 20 rounds including 10 at the 7-yard line. Surprisingly, recoil was not as difficult to control as many larger revolvers. The grip design and a lack of sharp edges aided in this effort. Just the same this is a hard kicker and one that requires experience to control.

Firing for accuracy the recoil results in severe barrel flip in this light handgun. At 25 yards, the revolver fired several inches high. Accuracy was in the same league with the .44 Special loads. The Smith & Wesson M69 .44 Magnum is clearly a viable option for backpackers fishermen, and hunters who want a powerful, compact, and lightweight handgun for defense against dangerous animals. For home and street use, loaded with .44 Special loads, the M69 is controllable and useful. Smith & Wesson has given us an option that for many will be the ideal revolver.


After evaluating my needs and deciding to use the Model 69 as a field gun, I added a set of beautiful Hogue grips. These grips considerably improve handling and make for a better fit and feel and overall accuracy. This was money well spent.

Is the Smith & Wesson Model 69 .44 Magnum on your wish list? If not, why not? Tell us what you think in the comment section.


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Comments (15)

  1. I obtained a Model 69 shorty after introduction. It is a beautifully made revolver with no machining flaws that I can find. I replaced the front sight with a green fiber optic because my eyes seem to pick up that color a lot quicker than red sites. Loaded it with my favorite .44 handload consisting of a 250gr. Keith SWC over 18 grains of 2400 powder, aimed at a standard bullseye target at 21 feet, and all five rounds went into the black. No site adjustment needed! Recoil was very comfortable because that’s the way I load them. I’d rather have a hit with a slightly slower bullet than a miss with a really fast bullet that recoils so badly it makes me flinch. Now if Ruger would just put a .44 Mag (instead of the .44 Spl they already make) five shot cylinder into the GP-100 frame…

  2. Love this gun. Handloading and swapping to X-Frame grips made it a sweet shooter.
    When I pick it up from my FFL it had a list of problems. It went back to S&W before I ever fired it. In the end S&W made it right.
    The lock hole can be taken care of with the “Lock Delete” plug.
    Gun is very accurate and handles recoil well with the replacement grips.

  3. If you have never owned the older SWs, pre 1982 with pinned barrel and recessed cylinders, you will think these are great. I own a bunch of both, these are poorly finished, and I walked away when I went to buy one. Some of the new guns are fine, these just do not seem to be so. Kind of like the old Marlins and new Remlins, I also have a safe full of them. The new CNC machinery may be fine and everything in China is made on them, just saying, the models 66 and 69 that I have actually held in hand are more like the TAURUS AND ROSSI guns made today. Just my experience. I carried SWs in 38, 357, 9mm and 44 in law enforcement, 7 different revolvers. FWIW

  4. Good article. I’m a huge fan of the .44 Magnum, and carried an S&W model 29 as a cop. I am also a fan of Smith and Wesson but refuse to buy new ones with the “Hillary Hole”, also known as the “Internal Locking System.” It only took me 2 tries, with a 629 and a model 640, to realize that the system is not only hideous and unnecessary, but negatively affects the trigger.

    So I dumped both of those and turned to other manufacturers for my needs. I did deviate once and bought a model 640 Pro, which is made sans hole; it’s great. Otherwise, I buy older S&W, Colt or Dan Wesson.

    I do wish S&W would return to it’s old self. I would buy a model 69 in a heartbeat if that hole was missing!

    /end of rant

    1. Thanks for reading!
      As for Smith, some of the new ones are pretty darned good.

      However if you find a trade in Military and Police .38 you have as reliable as revolver as every made.

  5. I like these new models, the 69 L-frame and the 66, I have the 66 357 combat magnum and love it, the L-frame is much lighter and easier to carry, and is accurate for its barrel length so the 69 should be great to carry,, these guns are surprisingly well made, no sharp corners and are very smooth in operation, I like my 66 so much I’m now thinking of a 69, I live in the mountains/ forest, we have bear and mountain lion although they have not been aggressive , one can not take chances, so we stay armed at all time when outside, nice review, thanks for posting…

  6. That’s great! A compact revolver with real knock down power. I just wish they would do the same in a .41 magnum. It would be much more manageable and just as powerful.

  7. Quote: I believe that .44 Special fans buy a .44 Special for accuracy and mild recoil while .44 Magnum shooters purchase the Magnum for power and use .44 Special ammunition for practice and economy.

    Question: Have you ever used a full power .44 special in a small gun? If you take the CCI Blazer 200gr load and use it in a three inch Charter Bulldog you “only” get about 840-850fps, but it does not have “moderate recoil.”

    1. One warning.

      For anyone who goes with the three inch Charter get a set of Pachmayr grips for it. For a 44 the Bulldog is a tiny gun, and with nasty loads come nasty recoil, too.


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