Ah, Mother Nature! Exploring the great outdoors is one of America’s proudest pastimes. There’s nothing like discovering the freedom of the backcountry after spending 40 hours in a cubicle. And it all started back in 1872 when Congress established Yellowstone as the first U.S. national park. Since then, more and more land has been dedicated to national parks. As a result, most of us can enjoy our own little slice of heaven in the great outdoors. But you might want to take protection, like the Smith & Wesson Model 629.
Choosing the Smith & Wesson Model 629 for the Woods
The problem with being out in nature is the threat of what you’re sharing the land with—primarily wild animals. You may spend countless days in the field, not encountering a single other creature. However, there is always a chance that you’ll find yourself caught between a mama bear and her cubs while you are woefully ill-equipped for such a situation.
Carrying a firearm in the field is highly recommended for just such emergencies. Hunters aren’t the only people who would be well served with a sidearm. While archery hunters can benefit, so can the likes of hikers, fishermen, photographers, and campers.
While Glocks in 10mm are gaining popularity as woods-carry guns, they still haven’t surpassed the old, reliable revolver. The Glocks have the edge in weight and capacity. But their cartridge doesn’t pack as big of a wallop as the venerable .44 Magnum.
The .44 Magnum was designed in the 1950s and has been an ever-present cartridge in the field since. Its multiple bullet weights and types make it a versatile cartridge. The S&W Model 29 has been around since the early days of the .44 Magnum.
I upgraded a Model 629—which is the stainless-steel version of the 29—from a good woods-carry gun to a great one. And it only takes a few simple modifications to make the transformation.
Since we’re talking about carrying in the woods, let’s start with how we’re actually going to pack the 629. If you’re out in the field, you’ll generally be carrying some sort of pack on your back with supplies. It’s hard to get very far in the wilderness without basic rations and equipment.
The technology in packs has improved by leaps and bounds over the years. Many packs utilize a built-in belt system, and while that’s great for your back, it does present a problem when you want to also carry a pistol.
If the handgun is in a traditional holster on your hip, it’ll be inaccessible due to the interference of the pack’s built-in belt. While you may be tempted to tuck your pistol inside your pack, I would strongly encourage you to consider the speed handicap that it presents.
When a bear is charging you and closing in fast, do you think you’ll be able to get to your pack, open it, draw your firearm, establish a sight picture, and fire a round before it’s too late?
So, if belt holsters and carrying inside the pack are out, what are you left with? The chest holster, of course! GunfightersINC has a trick Kydex holster that uses straps and buckles to get your rig on and off quickly. The Kenai Chest Holster has three quick-detach clips. But undoing one lets you quickly slip your arm through the main loop and wrap the strap around your body. With a simple click, your sidearm is now within easy reach.
The weight is evenly distributed, allowing you to carry a heavier firearm without feeling its effects. The drawstroke is slightly different when the gun is strapped to your chest. I had to be conscious not to sweep my weak-side arm during the draw. With practice, it becomes quicker and more natural.
Maybe your pack has a belt system with which you can use a more traditional holster. Maybe you’re lucky and have someone in your party carrying your supplies into the woods. For the times when a belt holster isn’t an impediment, I use a Kydex holster from RKBA Holsters.
This holster forms to the 629 nicely. The belt loops are adjustable, so you can have it ride high or low on the belt. I prefer the gun to ride high on the hip. The RKBA holster brings the 629 in close to the body, which helps avoid snagging on brush while hiking.
I’m more comfortable drawing and firing from a traditional belt holster. This is a plus when you may rely on muscle memory to get a task done.
Get A Grip
When your pistol is riding confidently in your chosen holster and the time comes to draw and fire, what does your hand first make contact with? When you actually fire a round, what absorbs the mighty recoil of the .44 Mag? If your 629 is stock like mine, then the answer to those two questions would be a Hogue Monogrip.
The Hogue grip provides a soft rubber surface to interact with your hands. However, the metal backstrap of the 629 does peek through a slot in the rear of the Hogue’s grip. I found the Monogrip to be adequate, except for one problem. The previous owner of my pistol broke the plastic backing on the side panel. This caused the grip to not lay flat to the side plate, which drove me nuts. I took this opportunity to replace the grip again.
I tried my luck with a Pachmayr Diamond Pro grip. It doesn’t use a screw from the bottom as the Hogue did. In fact, to make the switch, you must remove the metal cross-pin and bracket that the Hogue utilized. Simply slip the Pachmayr over the frame like a tightly fitting glove and then secure it with one screw.
The Diamond Pro grips seem less gooey and tackier than the Hogues they replaced. One side benefit I didn’t plan for is that the Diamond Pros are a bit more compact and make you feel as if your grip is closer to the bore axis.
Aim & Fire
The 629 is now being carried and gripped comfortably. When you raise it to eye level to take that critical shot, you should have a front sight that works for you. I personally couldn’t see the factory red insert ramped sight.
Thankfully, on the 629, the front sight is very easy to swap. Simply pushing it rearward and tilting it up and out is all that’s required. I normally prefer fiber-optic sights on my pistols, but I’ve experienced draws from the holster that were greeted with a metal sight with no fiber rod to be seen anywhere—the fiber rods can break with impact.
So, I chose an old-school sight: the gold bead. The gold bead reflects any available light, and my eyes can pick it up much better than the factory sight. Brownells provided the front sight, and if you don’t agree with my choice of gold bead, they also sell fiber-optic and tritium versions.
I chose to leave the factory adjustable rear sight intact. If you are so inclined, you can swap the rear sight for a red-dot optic mount. I don’t think it’s ideal for a defensive firearm, but I can see the benefits for a hunting revolver.
Adjusting the Trigger on the Model 629
The last step of the firing process begins when your finger makes contact with the trigger shoe, and the press starts. Using my TriggerScan machine, the factory double-action pull resulted in a pull weight just shy of 10 pounds. The single-action pull netted me a 3.6-pound weight.
However, I wanted a lighter pull that I could accomplish without going to the gunsmith. One Brownells browsing session later, I had Brownells’ Pro-Spring kit and a cylinder-and-slide extended-length firing pin on their way.
After some research online, I catered to my fear of buggering up my 629 and also decided to buy two tools at the same time. I picked up a Brownells rebound slide-spring tool, which is the perfect tool to compress and remove the rebound spring with no fuss.
Watching tutorials with people trying to use ballpoint pens and all sorts of oddball contraptions made me glad I acquired the right tool for the job. I also got the Brownells four-in-one combo screwdriver kit for S&W revolvers. It includes four flat-head screwdriver tips that fit all the screws properly.
Installing the spring kit and firing pin was a simple task, and it lowered my double-action pull to 7.1 pounds. I don’t know how to explain it, but the TriggerScan reported that the single-action pull weight actually increased to 4.9 pounds. In practice, I can’t perceive this increase at all. The trigger does feel much lighter and smoother while shooting, though!
To help decide what ammo to carry in the field, I sourced a few different loads and settled in behind the chronograph for some hard-data gathering. I would feel comfortable carrying any of the ammunition I tested in the field. I can confidently say that after a full day of testing .44 Magnum ammo, I really appreciated the Pachmayr Diamond Pro grips!
The Model 629 is a versatile revolver, and I’m glad I own it. I’d feel comfortable bringing it to bear—pun intended—against any situation in the field. It’s equally suited for both defensive and hunting uses, and I found working on a revolver to be a breath of fresh air outside of my normal routine working on polymer pistols.
Now that the 629 has evolved from good to great, I don’t foresee it ever leaving my collection.
This article was originally published in the Personal Defense World February/March 2022 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions at OutdoorGroupStore.com. Or call 1-800-284-5668, or email email@example.com.