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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?


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.


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.



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.


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
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.


Benelli’s Lupo – This time in 308 Win A wolf in Italian clothing

03/21/2021 The Benelli Company The Benelli family formed a motorcycle manufacturing business in 1911. In 1940, a Benelli family interest in hunting led to the manufacture of shotguns. By 1967, the firearm business had progressed sufficiently to warrant the formation of Benelli Armi SpA. Urbino, Italy based Benelli Armi SpA was acquired by Beretta Holding…

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Ruger’s New Max-9 Compact, controllable, reliable, high capacity


Ruger Max-9
Manufactured Ruger – Prescott, AZ
Model 3500
Grip Frame Fiber Filled Nylon
Internal Chassis
Hard Anodized Aluminum
Slide/Hardware Black Oxide – Alloy Steel
Type Action Single Strike/Striker
Caliber 9mm
Capacity* 12+1
Trigger Pull 5 Lbs. 2 Oz.
3.20″ Alloy Steel
Rifling 1:10″ RH
Front Sight
Tritium Fiber Optic
Rear Sight
Black – Drift Adjustable
Optic Ready
Overall Length 6.00″
Overall Height 4.52″
Width 0.95″
Weight 18.2 Oz.
Manual Safety*
CA, MA Approved
MSRP $499
 * Model 3501 – 2 10 rd mags, manual safety
   Model 3503 – 1 12 rd + 1 10 rd mag, w/o manual safety.

The Max-9 Model 3500 is one of a trinary product introduction from Ruger. Models differ in magazine capacity supplied and in the absence or presence of a manual safety. The Max-9 is a compact model, falling within a dimensional envelop similar to Ruger’s compact LC9/EC9s products.

The subject Max-9 Model 3500 is supplied with one twelve round magazine, one ten round magazine and it has a manual safety.

The model 3501 is supplied with two ten round magazines and has a manual safety.

The model 3503 is supplied with one twelve round magazine, one ten round magazine and has no manual safety. All other features and function are common to all three model designations.


Ruger defines the Max-9 as a compact, single strike, striker fired, magazine fed, auto loading, recoil operated pistol. A tilting barrel design, it is fired from a locked breech condition.

Notable in the scheme of things, the Max-9’s striker is tensioned by the movement of the pistol’s slide. The trigger pull does not assist in cocking the striker, which gives the Max-9 a short, light trigger pull. Removal of the Max-9’s magazine does not prevent firing a chambered round.

Optic Ready

Above, the Tritium fiber optic front sight, drift adjustable rear sight and, just forward of the rear sight, the optics plate cover. The height of the sights permits co-witnessing with a micro red dot sight installed.

Removing the two screws that secure the optics panel with the supplied Torx wrench shows the direct mount surface for a micro red dot sight. Sights are located with two screws and two dowel pins directly to the slide’s surface. Ruger selected the JPoint – Shield mount standard, which provides a wide selection of quality sights.

Micro red dot sights are used with both eyes open, they are virtually parallax free and they do not require rear-front-target sight aliment.  They do add a little size to a pistol, but not much, and there are many holster selections that accommodate them. In the case of a short barrel auto loader, a red dot sight can definitely extend effective range and boost speed of target acquisition under pressing conditions.

Micro Red Dot sights have found their way onto most of my firearms; rifle, shotgun and handgun. Unfortunately, my collection of micro red dot sights are Docter / Noblex mount standard and a compatible sight was not available before deadline. A Ruger photo illustrates the reflex sight configuration. Ruger always represents its products with exceptional photography… to the extent of humbling my own. As a minimum, the following red dot reflex sights are compatible with the Max-9:

Shield Holosun Swampfox Crimson Trace Sightmark HEX SIG Jpoint
SMS2 RMS RMS2 RMSw SMS SMSc RMSc 507K 407K Sentinel 1500 Series Mini Shot A-Spec M3 Wasp Romeo -0 MRD


The Ruger Max-9 is approved for use with all U.S. industry standard factory ammunition including hollow point with brass or aluminum cases. The Max-9 is also approved for +P ammunition with the suggestion of moderate use to avoid accelerated wear and tear. Within this span of approval there are over two hundred types of ammunition available from a collective of thirty two brands.

Pictured L-R: IMI Systems 115 grain JHP, Remington 115 grain JHP +P, Remington Ultimate Defense 124 grain BJHP, Remington UMC 124 grain FMJ. SAAMI standard ammunition has a MAP assignment of 35,000 psi, SAAMI +P has a MAP assignment of 38,500 psi.

The difference in performance between standard pressure and +P, with a common denominator of a 4″ industry test barrel and universal receiver, ranges from no gain, or lesser rating to 100 to 150 fps gain best case, within a bullet weight range of  115 grain to 147 grains. Mostly, bullet choice is more important than a standard or +P labeled difference.

Ruger does not approve the use of non-standard +P+ ammunition. +P+ ammunition is loaded to pressure levels determined at each producing companies discretion, which means +P+ is no standard at all. Firearm manufacturers design to SAAMI / CIP standard, making the design sufficiently robust to handle spec pressure with specified margin of safety. This assures not only safety for the shooter, but also a long service life and reliable function.

+P+ ammunition generally exceeds SAAMI / CIP maximum pressure specifications, as well as firearm manufacturers design specifications, by an amount known only to the ammunition producer. In doing so, the ammunition cuts into the intended safety margin, shortens firearm service life and reliability. I can think of no firearm manufacturer that approves this product for use with +P+ and for good reason.

Context, contours and optical illusions

My compact carry pistol is an early preset hammer Ruger LC380 with a 9mm conversion kit. It is the same size as the current Ruger EC9s. Shooting the Max-9, I appreciated what I thought were the benefits of its increased size, heft and longer sight radius. The Max-9 was easier to control, it was more hand filling, there was minimal muzzle rise, and it was easier to get sights on target. It came as quite a surprise that, while they are quite different pistols inside and out, they are all essentially the same size.

With 7 round mag in the LC9 and 10 round mag in the Max-9, ignoring the finger extension on the LC9, they are the same height. The Max-9’s slide in only 0.050″ wider, however, the grip frame below the slide is 0.015″ more narrow. The LC9 series slide is more contoured, where as the Max-9’s slide is more angular, both good approaches to weight and form reduction. As a result, the LC9 weighs only 1.2 oz. less than the Max-9.

Pictured below, the 10 and 12 round nickel-Teflon coated magazines included with the Max-9. The 12 round mag provides grip pinky support, as does the 10 round magazine with the finger extension follower in place. The included flat follower can be installed on the 10 round mag to minimize pistol form. All of these configurations are identical to the LC9’s height when similarly configured.

The LC9 has a narrow single stack magazine 3.670″ x 0.477″ that holds 7 rounds. The Max-9 has staggered round magazines that hold either 10 or 12 round dependent upon magazine selection.They are the same length as the LC9 magazine, but 0.790″ wide. However, both the LC9 and Max-9 have the same grip width at the widest part of the back strap.

The difference is that the LC9’s backstrap width diminishes as it approaches the grip bottom and it tapers sharply from backstrap to frontstrap, 0.960″ to 0.800″. The Max-9 stays approximately the same, backstrap to front, at 0.960″. The Max-9 does not feel oversized, but rather it presents a form that is easier to grip, which gives the Max-9 an improved shooting personality.

I shoot the my LC9 enough to be proficient, but not with exceptional enthusiasm for extended range sessions. The Max-9 can be shot a great deal for proficiency training, as well as for recreational enjoyment, without hesitation.

Controls… a need to over-explain

The sights are a good combination. The face of the rear sight is matte black, which offers clear contrast to the green HiViz Tritium/fiber optic front sight. The Tritium light source provides 24/7 illumination, even in a darkened environment and the fiber optic element also gathers ambient light. The Tritium mount is closed at the front end so that its light is not visible from the front. Tritium decays over time, but 12 years is approximately half life, meaning useful illumination for that period of time.

The chamber ports permit a cursory loaded chamber check from top or side. Of course, an actual empty chamber check requires an open slide look into the chamber with the magazine removed. Yes, that is a giant extractor poking out of the slide behind the ejection port. No messing around with making sure empties get out of the way of a fresh round. The ejection port is open at the top to remove any restriction to ejecting brass or cartridge.

The subject model has a manual safety and, as an old 1911 guy, it is a feature I appreciate. This one pivots up at the front and can be thumbed on or off in a manner God and John Browning intended. For folks faced with multiple ninja attackers, who don’t have time to front pistol spin – back pistol spin, dive and roll, AND switch a safety off, there is a manual safety delete option labeled the Pro model. Yes, Ruger did an excellent job with the safety and accommodating customers whose training or environment require a safety or no manual safety.

Inner Sanctum

Disassembly is straight forward; pull the magazine, clear the pistol, push out the takedown pin, and move the slide forward and off the frame rails. The barrel and guide rod assembly lift out. The takedown pin is a light slip fit, so no tools are needed for removal. The pin is securely retained by the takedown pin cover when the pistol is in service.

The guide rod is a captive assembly; rod, small diameter round stock spring inside of a tubular sleeve, flat stock spring wrapped around the sleeve to form a progressive spring rate assembly. The hammer forged barrel is ramped, important in a 9mm, and cammed to control lock and unlock timing.


I did not measure slide resistance, but the Ruger Max-9 seems easier to rack than the LC9. Could just be the change in the aft serration pattern, straight line to chevron. Similar serrations have also been added to the front surface of the slide. Thumb reach to manual safety, mag and slide release and finger reach to trigger are all comfortable and about the same as a larger 9mm pistol.

The Ruger Max-9’s form makes for a comfortable, high grip. The grip provides solid support at the web and palm of the hand. An extended trigger finger aligns mid trigger. The balance and heft of the short barrel and a magazine full of ammo make for a steady sight picture.

Live fire

Brand Type Grains
IMI Systems JHP 115 1150 1114
Remington HTP +P JHP 115 1145 1084
Remington UMC FMJ 124 1100 983
Remington UD Compact JHP 124 1100 1016


The Ruger Max-9 was shot at 10 yards, using playing cards as targets and with the pistol’s metallic sights. All of the ammunition indicated put 5 shots inside of a 1.5″ x 2.5″ inner border from a two hands on a sandbag rest, and inside the 2.5″ x 3.5″ card from a two hand hold.

Where does a Ruger Max-9 fit in?

In comparison to the Ruger EC9, the Max-9 is just a much upgraded product with: 70% increase in capacity, premium sight system, optic accommodation, and improved handling and accuracy. Where budget constraints are the priority, the EC9 can certainly get the job done. For a bit more, the Max-9 can provide solid personal security and serve as a recreational shooter.

In comparison to the Springfield Armory Hellcat, I think the Hellcat tries too hard to carry large pistol features over to a short barrel firearm, with capacity seemingly the biggest feature.  Unfortunately, while 42 states permits high capacity magazines, eight states do not. Where the Max-9 offers a 10 round magazine for state compliance, the small Hellcat minimum magazine is 11 rounds. Where the Ruger high capacity magazine is 12 rounds, the Hellcat holds only 1 more round.

The Ruger has a 0.200″ longer barrel with the same overall length. The Springfield Armory Hellcat is made in Croatia, the Ruger Max-9 is made in the U.S.A. in Arizona. The Springfield Armory Hellcat has a $569 MSRP. The Ruger Max-9 has a $499 MSRP.

The SIG P365 compact offers a 0.2″ shorter barrel for a slightly shorter than the Ruger Max-9. SIG touts the 10 round standard capacity of the P365 as innovatively high… as compared to Ruger’s 12 round capacity.They have added an extended 12 round magazine as an after sale $49.99 option.

The SIG is not optic ready and it does not have a sight system comparable to the Tritium fiber optic system supplied with the Ruger. The SIG’s 10 round P365 MSRP is $699 + $49.99 for a 12 round magazine. The Ruger Max-9 has a $499 MSRP and it is come with both a 10 round and 12 round magazine.

Ruger put a lot of thought into the Max-9. Not only is this apparent in price, features and size, but also in regard to evolutionary improvement over Ruger’s own similar size pistols. The refined shooting personality alone is enough for me.

Ruger’s AR-556 MPR Part I No, I am not underpaid. I am self-actualized

02/28/2021 What follows is not a “Pry from my cold dead hands” commentary. In fact, it is a commentary on the same common sense and self reliance approach that puts spare tires in the trunks of cars and sets aside a supply of food, water and a first aid kit in anticipation of severe weather……

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SilencerCo’s Hybrid 46 & Omega 36M A two silencer solution to just about everything

02/14/2021 Invisible tools Funny. I am always trying to think of things to write about that readers might find useful, often overlooking what is right in front of me. No, not my keyboard, monitor and cup of coffee, but rather what I often see, but do not consciously acknowledge. Yes, like TV news, critiques of…

Real Guns is a membership supported publication. Membership offers access to: all current and archived articles, handload data, ballistic calculators, and the Real Guns Image Gallery. Membership is available for $29.95 for twelve months.

Please either Sign inorJoin Real Guns.