Well, folks, we have five more bad handguns to share. (I suppose you could call this our “Buyer Beware” series.)
With the most recent installment covering the worst guns in .38 Special, we’re going to stick with a revolver caliber this time as well.
Avert your eyes, Dirty Harry and Captain Ivan Danko. That’s right, this time we’re going to talk about the 5 Worst .44 Magnum handguns.
Smith & Wesson Model 329PD
This one makes the list for its uncomfortable shooting and handling characteristics, even by hard-kicking Magnum standards. Its scandium alloy frame is to blame, combined with a titanium cylinder that results in a mere 25.2 ounce empty weight.
To quote two different shooters on the RugerForum.Net website: “I could shoot a [Smith] 629 all day. OTOH, the worst 44mag is the S&W Model 329PD; the gun is over a pound lighter than the 629 and is simply painful to shoot,” and, “I can personally vouche [sic] for that, the titanium, scandium 44 lightweight is a hand punisher. It will make you say uncle.”
Now, on to a revolver that was plagued by poor manufacturing and quality control. On The High Road firearms forum, in a 2013 discussion thread titled “Worst Revolver You Ever Bought,” one poster bluntly opines, “Dan Wesson .44 Magnum. Steaming pile of poo with horrible fit and finish. Maybe one of the last ones before they went out of business before CZ bought them a few years later.”
My old high school and college buddy Kevin Freeman — man oh man, did we ever have some great firearms discussions in our 10th grade volleyball class back in the day — was much less scatological but equally unflattering in his recounting of what it was like to own a Dan Wesson .44: “The double action trigger feels like it binds up, resulting in heavy pull and soft strikes. The single pole grip mount destroys wood grips by putting too much leverage on the front of the grips, resulting in cracking. It is a fine-looking gun with many useful improvements over other manufacturers but overall great ideas with poor implementation.”
We need at least one semiauto pistol on this list, right?
Okay, as some of you may recall, the .44 DE I test-fired at the Los Angeles Gun Club on Labor Day weekend 2022 was horribly unreliable: “My shooting buddy and I were lucky if we could coax even three rounds out of this fancy-pants pistol between jams, failures to go into battery, double-feeds, and worst of all, two extraction failures that so thoroughly locked up the gun, it took a Herculean amount of force to work the slide and clear the spent cartridge case. The on-duty range safety officer informed us that these were common problems for all three of their Desert Eagle rental guns.”
It might be easy enough to chalk it up to a problem of used & abused rental guns, but quite a few fellow shooters have reported issues of their own. In particular, my high school buddy “Misfit” has had Desert Eagle experiences similar to mine — unreliable in .44 Mag, yet functional in .357 Magnum and .50 AE. Go figure.
And of course, it always works fine in the movies.
One good skewering of a semiautomatic .44 Magnum pop culture icon deserves another! The AutoMag made quite the splash in 1983’s Sudden Impact, the fourth and penultimate film in the Dirty Harry film franchise. But it’s worth noting that in the final Dirty Harry film, 1988’s The Dead Pool, Inspector Callahan has conveniently forgotten about the AutoMag and gone back to his trusty S&W Model 29 revolver. And then there was Mack Bolan from the action-adventure novel series The Executioner, who eventually replaced his .44 AutoMag with, well, the previous gun on this listing, the Desert Eagle!
Some might nitpick this choice as it doesn’t use the exact .44 S&W Magnum revolver cartridges as all the other guns of this list, but rather the .44 AMP (Auto Mag Pistol) rimless cartridge. That aside, it was the first autopistol cartridge & combo designed to match the original .44 Mag round’s ballistics. This sounded great in theory, but in practice, the gun was beset with a whole slew of problems, from mechanical reliability issues and production costs, to financial mismanagement and distribution issues with subcontractors.
As AutoMag aficionado J.D. Jones — longtime gun writer for American Handgunner Magazine and founder of SSK Industries — told me via Facebook Messenger, ““I used them a lot. Almost all problems were ammunition related. Usually too fast a burning powder used.”
(Not So) Honorable Mention: Taurus M44
This is another of those Dickensian “It was the best of guns, it was the worst of guns” entries. The Taurus M44 was the first revolver in any caliber than I ever owned, purchased in the summer of 2000 when I was a 25-year-old Airman 1st Class/E-3 stationed at Minot AFB, North Dakota. In the 11 years that I owned the gun, it was a tremendous amount of fun to shoot, especially with the MagTech 180-grain jacketed softpoints.
Alas, the gun had two problems over that span: Light firing spring strikes in double-action mode, which led to failures to fire roughly one-third of the time, and a kaput hammer spring. Thankfully, both problems were rectified in a timely manner thanks to Taurus’s Lifetime Warranty, but still, those issues made me feel a tad bit leery.
Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.
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