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Ruger American® Ranch Rifle – 350 Legend You don't have to own a ranch to... own one

05/17/2021 – Conjuring a spring snow storm in Maine is fairly easy, especially if employing the most successful techniques. The tractor, set up for mowing, was pulled out of the shed where it spent the winter months. The driveway snow markers were removed until next winter. The first spring barbecue was scheduled based on a forecast of clear skies and temperatures in the high 50s.

So there I was, standing on the porch, grilling burgers, looking out at the dark gray sky, snow covered lawn and staying close to the grill to stave off the 14°F weather. Wife and company standing inside the house watching me through snugly closed French doors. On the plus side, killer burgers.

It has been nine years since Ruger announced the American rifle product line, seven since the Ranch version was added. The Ranch, originally offered in 223 Remington and 300 Blackout, has grown into fourteen configurations, differing in stocks, magazine capacity and caliber.

Chambered currently in: 5.56 NATO, 6.5 Grendel, 300 Blackout, 350 Legend, and 450 Bushmaster, the Ranch covers a lot of ground in both both security and hunting applications.

 

Ruger American Rifle Ranch – Standard

Company Ruger
Model Designation 26981
Point of Manufacture Newport, NH, USA
Type of Action Bolt Action 3 Lug 70º Lift
Caliber 350 Legend
Magazine Capacity 5
Magazine Type AR Style
Barrel Length 16.38″
Rifling Twist Rate 1:16″ RH 5 Groove
Muzzle Threads 1/2″-28 x 0.4″
Barreled Action Alloy Steel – Blued
Stock Type Flat Dark Earth Synthetic
Length of Pull 13.75″
Drop at comb 5/8″
Drop at heel 3/4″
Metallic Sights
None
Scope Mounting Receiver Top Rail
Trigger Pull 3 To 5 Lbs
Weight of Firearm 6.1 Lbs
Overall Length 36.00″
Safety Tang
MSRP $549

 

The calibers offered do have a common denominator. With the exception of the original 5.56 NATO, they are all cartridges developed to add more power and reach to the AR-15 platform. In a number of states, use of any of these cartridges is enough to qualify the AR-15 as legal for deer hunting, where it might not have been as a 5.56 NATO.

Why not just buy an AR-15? Why do manufacturers produce bolt action, lever action, single shot, semi automatic, and pump action rifles? Preferences are typically based on both objective and subjective factors.

My action type preference for these types of cartridges is the bolt action. The strength of a bolt action, in comparison to a fixed gas metered auto loader, is more forgiving of top handloads firearm and I can load subsonic without the mechanical clackity-clack of an AR action cycling. Additionally, for me, it is easier to get to a lightweight, accurate firearm than I can with the AR platform.

In the beginning…

The first time Real Guns® conducted a project with a cartridge originating with the AR platform and a lightweight bolt action hunting rifle was in 2009, before the good folks at Ruger were manufacturing such a firearm. The result was a mini-Mauser with quick change barrels, chambered for the 30 Remington AR and the 7mm-30RG, the latter a 7mm wildcat based on the 30 Remington AR case, developed as part of the project.

A mini Mauser action was used with 21″ match grade barrels, lathe turned to an ultralight profile. The finished rifle weighs just at 6 lbs with scope installed. Without the distractions of aggressive handload derived explosions or shrapnel, the 7mm-30 RG chronographed 2850 fps with 120 grain flat based bullets and just about 2750 with a 140 grain bullets. Switching the gun over to 30 Remington AR, 125 grain bullets clocked 2830 fps and 150 grain bullets at just about 2700 fps.

In some ways the project was very successful, but not so much in other ways. The rifle remains accurate and resulting ballistics are more than adequate for deer size game. Unfortunately, the 30 Remington AR is all but obsolete and I don’t trust Remington’s new ammunition manufacturer, Federal, to continue on with the cartridge or brass. Making brass with undersized rims from the 284 Winchester or 450 Bushmaster is a less than exciting proposition.

The Ruger Ranch – A rifle that works AND has ammo

I have a lazy boy tendency of wanting to skip over firearm detail when I have previously written about in, which is the case with the Ruger Ranch Rifle and several cartridges… including the 350 Legend. However, that would be skipping over what makes the Ruger and 350 Legend combination such a terrific integration and you would only be left with my blah-blah… blah.

Salient features, in no particular order

 

The Ranch rifle’s hinged trigger release that passes through the face of the trigger, blocks trigger movement until it is depressed with a finger on the trigger. It is a nice way to prevent an accidental discharge from a dropped or roughly handled firearm. The AR Type magazine inserts and releases like an AR, but the feed lips are modified to accommodate the 350 Legend cartridge. The rail is removable and not integrated as part of the receiver.

The feed system on the Ruger American Rifle Ranch is modular, which allows the rifle to be adapted to a variety of cartridges and feed systems. In the case of the 350 Legend, the magazine well houses the magazine release and retention system. Bedding blocks pass through the stock to provide a close fit for the action screws and extend to the top side as bedding blocks that keep the stock and action tightly interlocked.

The Ruger Power bedding system utilizes the stability of the rifle’s synthetic stock to prevent rotational and longitudinal movement between the barreled action and stock. It is a solid approach toward achieving shot to shot point of impact consistency and exceptional accuracy. Must be good as Ruger makes a commitment to sub one MOA accuracy for this configuration. Trigger pull weight is adjustable in a range of three to five pounds, adjustment is made with the stock removed.

The American Rifle’s three lug bolt with recessed bolt face accomplishes several things: bolt lift it a low 70° for reduced bolt throw and increased scope clearance, provides additional support around a cartridge casehead and assures clean extraction and ejection. The full bolt body provides smoother travel and additional strength. The dual cocking cams split cocking load between two bearing surfaces reducing cocking effort.

The benefits of a Picatinny rail

I looked at the storage shelf lined with bins filled with scope bases and rings on the shelf. Contained within is a set for any type of sight, on any type of firearm, with the exception of whatever is the active project… an easy $3 million to $4 million worth of scrap iron and aluminum. So, these days, I am appreciative of Picatinny rails where universal rings can be used for scope mounting. However, rails on a bolt action rifle tend to require lower mounting rings or the scope will mount to high.

In the past, I always used Warne steel rings. This time around, finding permanent mount Warne steel rings priced at $50 a set and aluminum as high as $100 a set, I went with a set of Monstrum Precision Picatinny scope rings. $15 set on Amazon, they are well made from aluminum, hard anodized black and same price in 1″ or 30mm and in any height.

A very nice feature of the ring are the rail interlocks that key into any Picatinny spec rail and do a great job of securing any size scope. How well are they made? Not saying this is always the case, but I mounted a Leupold scope to the Ruger with these rings, inserted a bore sighter and the cross hairs were centered on the grid. Yes, I realize we live in a capitalistic society where the company and market set the price… which is why I set the price of rings I am willing to buy at $15. If these companies that are running up prices while Americans suffer economically can prosper, the more power to them, but not my money.

The 350 Legend Cartridge

The 350 Legend shares a rim diameter with the 223 Remington, however, where the 223 Remington’s rim and casehead diameter are essentially the same, the 350 Legend’s casehead is 0.012″ larger than its rim, which makes the rim slightly rebated. The 350 Legend case is 0.050″ shorter than the 223 Remington and 0.014″ larger in diameter just forward of the extractor groove. The 223 Remington is not considered a parent cartridge to the 350 Legend by Winchester, the developer of the cartridge.

Ruger’s approach to the 350 Legend is straightforward. The Small Arms and Ammunition Manufactures Institute, SAAMI, established the test barrel length used for rating factory ammunition velocity as 16″ and initial factory ammunition as 145 grain bullet @ 2,250 fps. Ruger’s Ranch rifle has a 16.38″ barrel and clocks 2,293 fps muzzle velocity, which generates 1,693 ft.lbs of muzzle energy with 145 grain factory ammunition. Why is the test barrel length so short? Speculation – It is a good match for powder capacity and the cartridge will probably see this type of barrel length in modern sporting rifle applications, so the 16″ barrel is more representative of real world expectations and applications.

How well does the cartridge / rifle combination work?

Three types of ammo were on hand this time around. If this ammo shortage doesn’t end soon I believe I wall be learning how to handload with baking soda, vinegar, tree bark and acorns under new SAAMI specs. Anyway, pictured L-R Winchester Target 145 grain FMJ, Hornady American Whitetail 170 grain SP and Winchester Super X 180 grain Power Point.

Cartridge Bullet
Grains
Rated
FPS
Recorded
FPS
100 Yard
3 Shot
Group “
Win Target 145 2350 2291 0.8
Hornady 170 2200 2290 0.9
Win Super X 180 2100 2118 0.7

While performance at a firearm’s muzzle is a standard, down range performance is probably of greater consequence. An example below for the Hornady ammo. From the Real Guns® ballistic calculator set to calculate best zero with a maximum ride of 3″ above line of sight.

 

Hornady American Whitetail
Near-Zero – Yards 20 Mid Range – Yards 103
Far-Zero – Yards 179 Max Ordinate – “ +3.0
Point Blank – Yards 190
Best Zero : Range 0 – 300 yards
Yards 0 50 100 150 200 250 300
Velocity – fps 2290 2103 1926 1758 1600 1457 1329
Energy – ft.-lbs. 1979 1669 1400 1166 966 801 666
Momentum – lbs-sec 56 51 47 43 39 35 32
Path – in. -1.50 1.73 2.98 1.89 -2.03 -9.35 -20.77
Drift – in. 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Time Of Flight – sec. 0.00 0.07 0.14 0.22 0.31 0.41 0.52

I realize it is very fashionable to buy for 1,000 yard shooting circumstances but, unless shooting through trees has become popular, there may be a better use of time than planning for that eventuality in woodland hunting.

Overall…

I would say that the Ruger Ranch has replaced the lever action rifle in moderate range hunting in America, but someone would ask why Ruger purchased Marlin. So I will day it is a matter of choices. At the risk of drawing the ire of AR owners, a group that like to denigrate and ridicule anyone who doesn’t share their choice, I would say the Ruger Ranch utilizes cartridges developed for the AR-15, better than the AR-15.

The Ruger is lighter, stronger and out of the box more accurate, with a price tag of $549 MSRP. Less at retailers everywhere. Thanks to the Ruger’s threaded muzzle, a silencer plops right on, ready to do supersonic and subsonic duty.

Winchester’s Model 70 Super Grade The .30- Good for all North American Hunting -06 Springfield

The tractor’s battery needs to be charged so we can get it out of the shed. The green house needs to be assembled over the garden. The Travertine in the upstairs shower needs to be scrubbed and resealed. Which is why, on this Saturday, my wife and I decided to make fifteen bean chili… and to relax and free our minds while we contemplate the myriad of compound, complex projects before us.

The name sounds heart attack inducing, but times have changed along with ingredients, and it has become low fat, low sodium and carbohydrate neutralizing high fiber. Even calories are low… in reasonable portions. Might be a good idea to post the recipe at some point in time. So while the slow cooker is working on the chili…

The evolutionary Winchester Model 70

It is always tempting to use the term “venerable” when describing the Winchester Model 70; commanding respect through age, character, and attainments. However, that would suggest the standard Model 70 was placed into production in 1936 and has ever since remained unchanged. Quite the opposite.

The Model 70, both wood and metal, have changed in dimension, function and aesthetics ever since the mid 1950s. In support of those progressive changes, materials and manufacturing processes have also been revised. As a result, the Model 70 has stretched into many configurations, each optimized for a category of application.

At the time of this writing, there were seventeen configurations of the Model 70 with differing: synthetic and wood stocks, stainless or alloy steel barreled actions, different barrel lengths and profiles. Within the collection of versions, there are twenty cartridge selections. The Winchester Model 70 product line fits every application from competitive shooting to hunting the smallest and largest quarry.

 

Winchester Model 70 Super Grade
Manufacturer Winchester
Item # 535203228
Type Bolt Action – Long
Caliber 30-06 Springfield
Mag Capacity 5
Barrel Length 24″
Rifling 1:10″
Weight 8.0 Lbs 4 Oz
Overall Length 44 3/4″
Stock Satin Walnut Grade IV/V
Hardware  High Gloss Blued Steel
Length of Pull 13 3/4″
Drop at comb 1/2″
Drop at heel 1/2″
Sights Clean
Scope Drilled and Tapped
Trigger Pull 3 Lbs. 2 Oz.
Safety Swing 3 position
MSRP $1,489.99

 

Current Model 70s are manufactured at the Browning, Viana, Portugal facility. They all feature spot glass bedded, a floating barrel, better materials, better finish, more precise parts and assemblies, and greater accurates than its many predecessors. Evolution is a wonderful thing.

A Winchester Model 70 Super Grade in 30-06 Springfield was selected as the subject firearm because of model designation’s longevity in production, utility and reliability.

The Model 70 Super Grade fits well within general applications, with “general applications” in my world defined as recreational target shooting and medium to big game hunting within North American geographic regions and environments.

Some detail highlights

The modern Winchester Model 70 is built around an action that is forged from steel billet and then CNC machined to final form and dimensions. The receiver is flat bottomed with an integral recoil lug to properly locate the action to two glass bedded locations on the rifle’s stock.

The trigger is the Winchester M.O.A. design, a three lever, high mechanical advantage trigger system that features: zero take up, zero creep, zero overtravel, and an adjustable pull of 3 to 5 pounds.

The Model 70 jeweled bolt is a controlled round feed design; a cartridge case rim slips under the large claw extractor as it is stripped from the magazine and guided into the rifle’s chamber. The same extractor covers a quarter of the cartridge’s rim as it is being withdrawn from the chamber. The ejector is a blade type, so force of ejection and distance of ejection is controlled by the shooter.

The three position safety swings horizontally on the same plane as the bore. Each position is positively located with sprung ball detent engagement; full forward “Fire”, middle position “Safe – Bolt can be cycled”, full back “Safe – Bolt locked in battery position.

The Model 70 Super Grade has both a steel hinged floorplate and one piece trigger guard. Release is outside the guard where it is easy to reach, but not easy to hit under recoil. I like hinged floorplates, maybe because I grew up with them. At the end of the day, should there be a rare occurrence of not getting a shot, the floorplate comes down and ammo is dumped, then the bolt is cycled once to pull the chambered round or check for empty.

Finally! A cartridge older than me…

The 30-06 Springfield cartridge has been around since 1906, or 1903 in a slightly different configuration, remaining active in general military assignment through mid Vietnam war era. Not a bad run.The 30-06 Springfield cartridge found its way into four bolt action rifles, two semi auto rifles, four automatic rifles, and twelve machine guns.

A cartridge popular with people who served in the military during WW I, WW II, the Korean War, and the early stages of the war in Vietnam, many vets carried the association over into civilian life. In the 1950 and early 1960s, surplus Springfield and Enfield were being sold at discount stores for $10, along with lots of FMJ surplus ammunition. Rifles went hunting as they were, or cut down and lightened or highly customized. The first sporting rifle chambered for the 30-06 Springfield was the lever action Winchester Model 1895 and then it made a leading appearance in bolt action, lever action, semi-auto, and single shot firearms.

Pictured L_R: 308 Winchester, 30-06 Springfield, 300 Winchester Magnum. If actual performance in a civilian setting were the determining factor in cartridge popularity, there would have been no 308 Winchester or any of its short action progeny. Hunters don’t carry enough ammo to benefit from a cartridge weightreduction, they don’t care about minuscule differences in recoil, or scant ounces of receiver steel removed, or the bolt throw difference between a short and long action. And who prefers a 308 Winchester cartridge that is billed as “Almost as good as the 30-06 Springfield”, when the real deal is readily available?

What does that mean in real numbers?

308 Winchester 165 Grain Hornady Superformance
Near-Zero – Yards 25 Mid Range – Yards
135
Far-Zero – Yards
238 Max Ordinate – Inches
+3.0
Point Blank – Yards
254
Best Zero : Range 0 – 300 yards
Yards 0 50 100 150 200 250 300
Velocity – fps 2840 2735 2633 2533 2435 2340 2247
Energy – ft.-lbs. 2955 2741 2540 2350 2173 2006 1849
Momentum – lbs-sec 67 64 62 60 57 55 53
Path – in. -1.50 1.17 2.68 2.94 1.84 -0.73 -4.88
Drift – in. 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Time Of Flight – sec. 0.00 0.05 0.11 0.17 0.23 0.29 0.36

 

30-06 Springfield 165 Grain Hornady Superformance
Near-Zero – Yards 26 Mid Range – Yards 140
Far-Zero – Yards 248 Max Ordinate – Inches
+3.0
Point Blank – Yards 264
Best Zero : Range 0 – 300 yards
Yards 0 50 100 150 200 250 300
Velocity – fps 2960 2853 2748 2645 2545 2447 2351
Energy – ft.-lbs. 3209 2981 2766 2563 2372 2193 2025
Momentum – lbs-sec 70 67 65 62 60 58 55
Path – in. -1.50 1.09 2.61 2.97 2.10 -0.12 -3.79
Drift – in. 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Time Of Flight – sec. 0.00 0.05 0.11 0.16 0.22 0.28 0.34

 

300 Win Mag 165 Grain Hornady Superformance
Near-Zero – Yards 29 Mid Range – Yards 154
Far-Zero – Yards 271 Max Ordinate – Inches +3.0
Point Blank – Yards 289
Best Zero : Range 0 – 300 yards
Yards 0 50 100 150 200 250 300
Velocity – fps 3260 3145 3034 2925 2818 2714 2612
Energy – ft.-lbs. 3893 3623 3371 3134 2909 2698 2500
Momentum – lbs-sec 77 74 72 69 66 64 62
Path – in. -1.50 0.90 2.41 2.98 2.54 1.00 -1.72
Drift – in. 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Time Of Flight – sec. 0.00 0.05 0.10 0.15 0.20 0.25 0.31

 

The 30-06 Springfield cartridge has a significant edge over the 308 Winchester, but without the magnum recoil and muzzle blast personality of the 300 Winchester Magnum. The tables were limited to 300 yards as a range that reflects the maximum for 95% of the hunters in the U.S.. Can the 30-06 Springfield reach farther? Sure, the 30-06 Springfield has won scores of 1,000 yard competitions, with the aid of rifles and shooters, including multiple wins at Wimbledon.

Live fire with factory ammo

Ammunition Bullet
Grains
Rated
FPS 24″ BBL
Recorded
FPS 24″ BBL
100 Yard
3 Shot Group”
Remington Core-Lokt 125 3140 3182 1.1
Remington Core-Lokt 150 2910 3020 0.7
Remington Core-Lokt 180 2700 2817 1.0

 Handloads

I shoot very little factory ammo; the prices keep climbing, factories aren’t producing for retailers and the government can’t find enough ways of interfering with supply. My preference is to have the type of components that work for me and to keep costs down so I can shoot without encroaching on household budgets for frivolous things like food, clothing and shelter.

In this case, all of the bullets listed have proven effective for me in concert with the 30-06 Springfield cartridge. The Hornady SST 125 grain works well on smaller deer and large varmints… coyote. The Sierra Game King 165 grain is good for deer, black bear and hogs. The Nosler Partition 180 grain is good for elk and Maine moose. The 200 grain Speer Hot-Cor is good for anything larger.

A variety of powders were selected, mostly for best accuracy and to show the cartridges flexibility. Superformance powder does work well with the 30-06 Springfield. CCI large rifle magnum primers were used in all loads. No charges were compressed, no problems with feeding from the Model 70’s magazine or clearing rifling leade. Brass was all once fired Winchester brand, cleaned and trimmed.

Hornady full length sizer die and seater were selected. A Lee factory crimp die applied light collet crimps, cannelure or not.

Warning: Bullet selections are specific, and loads are not valid with substitutions of different bullets of the same weight. Variations in bullet length will alter net case capacity,  pressure and velocity. Primer selection is specific and primer types are not interchangeable. These are maximum loads in my firearms and may be excessive in others. All loads should be reduced by 5% as a starting point for development where cartridges have greater than 40 grains in capacity and 10% for cartridges with less than 40 grain capacity following safe handloading practices as represented in established mainstream reloading manuals. Presentation of these loads does not constitute a solicitation for their use, nor a recommendation.

Cartridge – 30-06 Springfield 60KPSI MAP
Firearm Winchester Model 70
Barrel Length 24.00″
Min – Max Case Length 2.494″ +0.000″/-0.020″
Min – Max COL 2.940″ – 3.340″
Primer CCI 250
Bullet Diameter 0.3090″ +0.000″/-0.0030″
Reloading Dies Hornady+Lee
Bullet Type Bullet
Weight

Grains
Net H2O
Grains
Capacity
COL” Powder Type Powder
Charge

Grains
Muzzle
Velocity

fps
Muzzle
Energy

ft/lbs
3 Shot
100 YD
Group”
Hornady SST 125 62.4 3.220 IMR 4064 56.5 3424 3255 0.9
Hornady SST 125 62.4 3.220 IMR 4895 57.5 3351 3118 1.0
Sierra GameKing 165 62.3 3.330 Alliant Re 16 58.5 3092 3502 0.8
Sierra GameKing 165 62.3 3.330 Superformance 61.0 3000 3298 0.6
Nosler Partition Spitzer 180 59.8 3.310 Alliant Re 16 56.0 2887 3332 1.0
Nosler Partition 180 59.8 3.310 Superformance 59.5 2845 3236 1.1
Speer Hot-Cor SP 200 59.4 3.295 Alliant 4000MR 55.0 2716 3277 0.7
Speer Hot-Cor SP 200 59.4 3.295 Alliant Re 17 51.0 2657 3136 0.8

No problems were encountered. All round feds and fired, no unusual report, but definitely not starting points in charges. Recoil was moderate, relatively speaking, somewhere between the 308 Win and 300 Win Mag or WSM. Honestly, I can’t tell the difference in recoil between the 308 Win and 30-06 Springfield. I thought accuracy was terrific, especially in the real world rather than in the virtual world of social media where every person and every rifle shoots 1/4 MOA groups.

Yes, the Nosler Partition did bump over the 1″ mark. Thank you for noticing. I played with charges in 1/10 grain increments, backing off a full 2 grains without better results in both cases. Perhaps a powder change would help, but I have never been able to get Partitions to shoot super accurate. Their saving grace is that they are a stopper on game.

Overall impressions of the Winchester Model 70

I enjoyed the project. The weather was very cold when it began, but the wood stock had a warmth in handling I would not associate with synthetic stocks. The stock geometry is good. Very comfortable shooting, even from the someone-help-me-get-up positions.

The rifle is very solid, cycling the bolt is very smooth and ejection distance whatever I wanted it to be, based on force applied when opening the bolt. Important to handloaders and range shooting. Price isn’t bad, looks are good. A traditional bolt action rifle I am very glad to see in production.

Epicurean Epilogue – Evolving 15 Bean Chili

 

Ingredients:

1lb 4oz bag HamBeens 15 Bean Soup mix
1.5 lbs 85/15 ground sirloin
1 large white onion
1 pound Shiitake mushrooms
8 slices Smithfield thick cut Cherrywood smoked bacon
6 cups low sodium beef broth
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 cups of chunky salsa (heat rating as preferred)
1 15 ounce container plain tomato sauce
4.5 ounces of canned green chili
Grated Monterey or cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons Xanthan Gum

Instructions… such as they are….

Rinse beans, no soaking required, and dump into a 6 quart slow cooker.
Brown bacon in a skillet, remove and cut into 1″ squares and dump into cooker. Don’t clean skillet.
Dice and saute onions in skillet, dump into cooker. Don’t clean skillet.
Brown ground sirloin in skillet. Drain, dump in cooker. Don’t clean skillet.
Brown mushrooms in skillet. Drain and set aside. Now you can clean the skillet.
Pour beef broth into cooker, add as required to fully cover other ingredients.
Set cooker to high and timer to 7 hours, or cook until beans are tender. Add broth if necessary.
At 6 hours, if beans are tender, add chili powder, salsa, tomato sauce, green chilies, and mushrooms.
Stir vigorously. Cook for one more hour.
If chili needs thickening, mix 2 teaspoons of Xanthan Gum to one cup of chili liquid, whisk until thick, stir into chili and let thicken.
Ladle into a bowl, top with a sprinkle of cheese and the chili is good to go.

Can the terms “AirLite” and “44 Mag” Really Coexist? Lightweight handguns... a personal journey... from my personal journal... really

04/25/2021 Is there utility in a lightweight revolver? Lightweight revolvers do not stress holsters or tug at belts and clothing, which makes them easier to conceal and more comfortable to carry. Lightweight revolvers stay out of the way while working, camping, fishing, hunting, or carrying other gear, so people tend to carry them, rather than leave them at home. Subsequently, they are there for personal defense when needed.

Lightweight revolvers require practice for proficiency, but lightweight revolvers may not make for a pleasant day at the range. A lightweight feature may also be partnered with ease of concealment features that can bring significant ballistic and handling compromises.

Short barrels greatly diminish muzzle velocity and increase report, muzzle blast and muzzle rise. Small grips reduce hand purchase, reduce control and exaggerate the effects of recoil and muzzle climb. Such firearms are often intended for defense at close distances and have only rudimentary fixed sights.

A revolver carried into the woods, for me, is considered emergency gear or survival gear. As such, one is always with me, to be used in to secure food or defend as necessary. As incidences of this type are rare, a revolver in this application spends its life in a holster, or punching holes in targets to build proficiency.

My current revolver is a six shot, double action, 4″ barrel 357 Magnum. It is very accurate, very reliable and it is shot often. However, it weighs 40 oz, and that 2 1/2 lbs drags on a gun belt as the day wears on and its presence is always felt.

The Model 329 Personal Defense AirLite Sc 44 Mag

The Model 329 PD was introduced by Smith & Wesson in February 2003 as a personal defense firearm. Based on the large N frame, the 329 PD distinguishes itself from the S&W Model 29 and other Model 29 derivatives with a Scandium/ aluminum alloy frame, titanium cylinder and stainless steel barrel. While 3″ barrel versions have been produced by the S&W Performance Center, the introduction model had a 4″ barrel, as does the subject revolver. In a less blather, more numerical representation…

Model Indices S&W Model 329 PD S&W Model 29-10 Classic
Company Smith & Wesson
Manufactured Springfield, MA
SKU 163414 150254
Type Action SA/DA
Caliber 44 Remington Magnum
Capacity 6
Barrel Length 4.13″ 4.0″
Barrel Material Stainless Steel Blued Alloy Steel
Frame Material Round Butt, Scandium Alloy, Black Blued Alloy Steel
Cylinder Material Titanium Alloy – Natural Square Butt, Blued Alloy Steel
Grips Wood + Synthetic Walnut
Front Sight Hi-Viz Red Fiber Optic Ramped Red
Rear Sight Adjustable V Notch Adjustable Square Notch Outlined
Weight 25.2 Oz. 43.8 Oz.
Overall Length 9.5″ 9.3″
Overall Height 6.0″
Cylinder Width 1.71″
Hammer Key Lock Yes
MSRP $1,179 $1,031

Weight, in context, is tough to represent through written word… or through modern dance for that matter, as each person has their own points of reference. The Model 329 PD weighs one and one half pounds: 42% less than a Classic Model 29 4″, 37% less than a 4″ barrel L Frame 357 Mag revolver or 5″ barrel 1911 service pistol, and two and one half ounces less than a lightweight, poly frame, 4.25″ barrel S&W M&P9 M2.0.

Still not connecting? How about one half the weight of a shutter worn thirteen year old digital camera, with a thirty year old lens and a fifty year old UV filter? Sorry, I’m just distracted by this finicky old piece of electromechanical wreckage that is being so uncooperative today. One day, it will meet its demise at the end of a firearm review. I do not know where to go from here on the topic of weight, so let us move on, shall we?

Balance

While the Model 329 PD is very light for this caliber and size of revolver, it has good balance. The stainless steel barrel counterbalances the lightweight frame and cylinder, resulting a very steady hold and associated sight picture.

Sights

The Smith & Wesson 329 PD sights are very good; range of adjustment, increment of adjustment and they stay put where set. It took a bit to get used to the V notch rear sight but, once sorted, it was fast on target and precise in shot placement. For folks with different preferences, there are many different drop in Smith & Wesson and aftermarket sight component sights or sets, including front/rear fiber optic at reasonable prices.

Size

 

Yes, the S&W Model 329 PD is an N Frame, a Model 29 made light, but it carries and feels like a more compact L Frame revolver than a Model 29. The cylinder diameter is 1.7″, but the rest of the revolver is slab sided and compact.

Hang on tight

The Model 329 PD is supplied with both a round butt wood grip and a square butt synthetic grip. Each gives the revolver a different shooting personality. Both grips are hand filling, which makes the the combination of light revolver – big cartridge quite controllable.

The round butt grip tends to let the revolver roll upward on discharge, redirecting recoil away from the wrist. The square butt grip tends to keep the muzzle down and dampens recoil effectively. I would guess the round butt grip is better for concealment and it adds a little fancy to the Model 329 PD’s appearance.

The soft synthetic grip’s increased width, hand filling contour and extended length provides a larger hand contact area. This form dissipates recoil, provides enhanced control and, perhaps, adds a useful bit of finger reach to the trigger for a more stable grip.

Speaking of shooting…I have to laugh at some of the drama posted to social media regarding the Model 329 PD’s recoil, where each comment in a thread adds one more increment of exaggeration until it gets to, “I pulled the trigger and the 329 PD spun my arm completely around… several times”, followed by, “Same here and my other arm was spinning too!!..!”

No one should be surprised that a 44 mag revolver, any 44 mag revolver, has… enthusiastic recoil. In the world of big bore revolvers, the lightweight Model 329 PD would not rank as being prohibitive or even exceptional, but “stout” might be a realistic adjective to apply. I am not a big guy, but I managed to shoot a decent amount of rounds remaining more impressed with the revolvers performance than being preoccupied with its recoil.

Adaptable

For the initial range outing, not knowing what to expect in terms of rumored wrath of God recoil, I installed the soft supplied grip, slipped on my shooting gloves, strapped on my crash helmet, and made my way to the shooting bench. Music blared, the crowd of spectators parted to either side as I advanced, my ear muffs, ear plugs and shooting glasses on the shooting bench, awaiting my arrival. Yeah… not really.

Folks who shoot a 357 Magnum have the option of also shooting 38 Special ammo for long sessions of target practice. Aficionados of the 44 Magnum have the lower power ammunition  alternative of the soft shooting 44 Special, which broadens the revolver’s useful applications. The SAAMI MAP pressure for the 44 Magnum is 36,000 psi and 15,500 psi for the 44 Special.

As a trail gun, or for taking larger game, the S&W Model 329 PD can be loaded with 44 Magnum ammunition for capability significantly beyond a 357 Magnum. For hunting smaller game and for general self defense, 44 Special ammunition can be loaded and the Model 329 PD becomes a much softer shooting revolver.

Because the 44 Special case is 0.125″ shorter than the 44 Magnum, some handloaders prefer to soft load the 44 Magnum to protect chamber surfaces that would be exposed if shooting the shorter case ammunition. More theoretical as Smith & Wesson does not approve the use of handloads in their firearms that have not been pressure tested to SAAMI standards. A caveat typical of the firearms industry.

Factory ammunition

 

Brand Type Weight
Grains
Rated
FPS
Recorded
FPS
Hornady Critical Defense FTX 44 Special 165 900 978
Federal Champion SWC HP 44 Special 200 900 828
Federal Power Shok JHP 44 Magnum 180 1460 1383
Federal Fusion JSP 44 Magnum 240 1290 1150

 

Chronograph readings? To resurrect a cliche I was glad to see retire, it is what it is and this is. Keep in mind that ratings are typically established using the SAAMI standard barrel length for the individual cartridge and revolver ammunition is typically tested with a vented barrel to simulate the presence of a cylinder gap.

Test barrels are 5.763″ for the 44 Magnum and 5.638 for the 44 Special, which includes the respective cartridge chamber. The active barrel length beyond the chamber, for both cartridges, is 4.00″ which is the same as the subject Model 329 PD. The variance between rated and actual are typical for the brands in similar firearms.

But could I hit anything with the S&W Model 329 PD?

 

 

From the bench, mechanically rested, 50′: TL 1.5″ Hornady 44 Special, TR 1.1″ Federal 44 Special, BL 1.1″ Fed 180 grain 44 Mag, BR 1.0″ Fed 240 grain 44 Mag.  Human shooting, two hand hold at the same distance; three hits on an 8″ target… mechanical accuracy potential, versus random human behind the wheel. Yes, I could do better with my 40 oz 357 Mag, but then I have been shooting that revolver for a very long time, and a better big bore handgunner could have done much better with the Model 329 PD.

Where does that leave us?

The Smith & Wesson Model 329 PD has all of the attributes that would be useful for someone camping, hunting, fishing, or living and working in rural and remote areas. It could provide personal protection and it could put food on the table. Selection over another firearm of the same caliber would be based on the quality of the Smith & Wesson product and its very light weight which makes it an easy carry.

Is recoil pronounced? Sure. If a person feels maxed out with a the 357 Mag, all steel revolver, the Model 329 PD would not be a good choice, but then neither would most 44 Magnum revolvers. However, a person who is comfortable with big bore, performance cartridges… 44 Magnum, pumped up 45 Colt, 454 Casull, 475 Linebaugh, etc, the Model 329 PD would be a reasonable choice.Even so, in many instances, the Model 329 PD could provide adequate service loaded with 44 Special ammo, which would certainly mitigate recoil for more mundane applications.

Alternatives to the Model 329 PD? Smith & Wesson manufactures five 44 magnum product types, available on small and large frame, lightweight and standard weight, and in thirteen different barrel lengths so it is pretty easy to match shooter and shooter application with an appropriate configuration.

What would I change? Well, since you asked, and I only have to imagine and not actually to do anything. The changes would be aesthetic only, and mostly suited to an old guy who likes a conservative look in firearms. I would DLC black finish the titanium cylinder and stainless steel barrel, and match anodize the Scandium frame. I would eliminate the electron diagram for Scandium and change any white markings to laser etch black background color. Yes, a Johnny Cash Edition.

 

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