Make no mistake, I really like .44 caliber handguns, and in particular, .44 Magnum handguns. I still remember getting my first .44 Magnum handgun, back in 1974. Like many guys, I loved the Dirty Harry movie series, with Clint Eastwood. So my first .44 Magnum was a S&W Model 29, with a 6.5″ Barrel. I can still recall the first cylinder of ammo I fired on the gun shops indoor range – my hand stung! Before reloading another 6 rounds, I noticed that the grips on the Model 29 had cracked – on both sides – from the recoil. Luckily, the gun shop stocked grips and I was back in business. I actually carried that S&W Model 29, in a shoulder holster, like Dirty harry Callahan did, when I was working as a Private Investigator, back in Chicago, Illinois.
Over the years, I’ve owned more than my share of S&W .44 Magnums in one guise or another. However, one that really caught my attention is the Model 329 Night Guard.
I was impressed with the Model 329 Night Guard for several reasons. One is that the gun is only 29.3 oz total weight, the other is, the barrel is only 2.5″ – we’re talking small and light-weight – for a handgun meant to handle the .44 Magnum round. I requested a sample from Paul Pluff at S&W, and in no time at all, it was in my hands. The darn Night Guard felt like it was gonna float out of my hands in was so lightweight – I kid you not. The Night Guard comes on the S&W “N” frame – this is a large framed gun, to be sure. It still holds 6-rounds of either .44 Magnum or .44 Special ammo, so you’re not giving up anything there in the way of fire power. The frame is made out of a Scandium alloy, and the cylinder is stainless steel – and the entire gun is finished in a nonsense matte black color. S&W intelligently added the XS night sight – that is tritium for night work – it’s a big sight and easy to pick-up in the Cylinder & Slide u-shaped rear sight. This set-up is extremely fast to pick-up, believe me.
Thick rubber grips come standard on the Night Guard, and when I touched off the first round, I sincerely appreciated the thick rubber grips. Ok, my Dirty Harry days are over – you won’t catch me carrying a full-sized all-steel .44 Magnum on a daily basis, while going about my routine. However, I think the S&W 329 Night Guard has a real niche in the scheme of things. If you live out in the boonies, or make it a habit of being out in the woods on a regular basis, or as a hunter, the Night Guard really shines. When loaded with .44 Magnum ammo, the Night Guard can handle just about anything you might run into – including elk, black bear and moose. I wouldn’t knowingly go looking for big Alaskan Kodiak bears, but I believe the Night Guard would sure discourage ‘em if they came after me.
If you live in the city, and your state allows concealed carry, I think the Night Guard deserves a close look. I don’t advocate carrying the Night Guard loaded with full-power .44 Magnum for self-defense. Full-powered .44 Magnum loads might over-penetrate a human body, and you might hit an innocent bystander or loved one if your round penetrates the human body. My long-time friend, and fellow gun writer, John Taffin, has forgotten more about .44 caliber handguns than I’ll ever know – he literally wrote the book on .44s and I trust anything he tells me when it comes to .44s. John strongly recommends carrying .44 Special rounds for self-defense, when carrying a .44 – and we’re talking about self-defense against a two-legged critter. And, full-powered .44 Special rounds are fully capable of taking small and medium-sized game as well. One of the nice things about a .44 Magnum is, you can load the rounds up or down, in power, according to your needs. Or, you can shop around and find just the right powered load in a factory round, that can handle just about anything you might run into.
Okay, so how did the Night Guard fair in my testing? Well, to be honest, I was more than a little apprehensive before I touched off that first round in the Night Guard. I had a variety of .44 Magnum ammo to test, including 240-gr JHP rounds from Black Hills Ammunition (www.black-hills.com) and 240-gr SP rounds from Winchester (www.winchester.com) and some .44 Special round from Buffalo Bore Ammunition (www.buffalobre.come) in the guise of their full-powered 180-gr JHP load. Black Hills Ammunition also provided some of their .44 Special 210-gr flat point lead “Cowboy loads” for testing. Now, John Taffin tells me that, you shouldn’t shoot anything more than around a 240-gr full-powered load through these lightweight Scandium framed guns, and when experts talk, I listen. I had some 300-gr JHP rounds from Black Hills, and a variety of +P and “heavy” .44 Magnum loads from Buffalo Bore, but as advised, I didn’t test any of these rounds in the Night Guard.
One thing you have to take care with, in light-weight framed big bore revolvers is, “bullet jump”. That happens under the recoil of these light revolvers – the bullet can possibly jump forward from the case and tie-up your revolver, and it’s not a quick or easy fix. If you reload your own ammo, and you want to shoot it in light-weight revolvers, you want to put a heavy crimp on the round, so the bullet stays in place under the heavy recoil. The target was set-up at 25-yards, which is about as far as you’re gonna want to shoot this snub-nose Night Guard. Once I touched off that first round, it got my attention, no doubt about it. One saving grace on the Night Guard are the extra-thick rubber grips, that really help absorb the recoil under full-powered .44 Magnum loads. I’m not (too) ashamed to say, that at 25-yards, all my shots didn’t hit the target. I caught myself flinching several times because I thought the recoil was actually going to be worst than it was. To be honest, the recoil wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be – but it did get my attention. After a couple cylinders full through the gun, I was hitting the target 6 times out of 6 times, and most groups where around 4-inches – give or take – if I did my part.
The Winchester white box .44 Magnum loads are a little lighter loaded than most .44 Magnum loads, and I don’t have a problem with that – they were the lightest recoiling .44 Magnum rounds tested. I fired the Buffalo Bore and Black Hills Ammunition .44 Special loads next. The Buffalo Bore .44 Special loads are full-powered loads, and they were a bit hotter than I thought they would be. The Black Hills .44 Special Cowboy loads were sedate, cruising along at about 700 feet per second – they were a real pleasure to shoot, and I could shoot them all day long. Then again, they aren’t meant to be a man stopper – they are cowboy action shooting competitions and just fun plinking. The S&W 329 Night Guard isn’t for everyone. I found the thick rubber grips were at the far end of my reach for double-action shooting. I don’t have overly large hands, just “average” sized. If the grips were any thicker, I wouldn’t have been able to fire the gun double-action – so if you have small hands, or if you’re a woman, I don’t think the rubber grips that come on the Night Guard will work. Then again, you can replace the grips with some thinner “Combat” wood grips – however, that will increase the felt recoil substantially. S&W sent me one of their leather belt slide holsters along with the Night Guard, and I packed the Night Guard on a regular basis for several weeks, and didn’t even know it was on my hip. I carry concealed on a daily basis, so I’m used to packing something on my hip. I loaded the Night Guard with the Buffalo Bore 180-gr JHP load for serious self-defense work against two-legged critters. However, if I were out hiking in the mountains – the gun would be loaded with either the Buffalo Bore, Black Hills or Winchester 240-gr loads for defense against 4-legged critters.
I would have no problem carrying the Night Guard with full-powered .44 Magnum loads, as a back-up to whatever rifle I might be carrying while out hunting big-game during hunting season. The Night Guard would make an excellent back-up gun to any sort of “battle rifle” as well. If you love the .44 Magnum like I do, then the Night Guard deserves a close look. I used to think, that if I were limited to owning only one handgun (heaven forbid!) then it would be some sort of .357 Magnum revolver. However, the older I get, the more I’d be likely grab a .44 Magnum revolver of some kind, and have it loaded with .44 Special loads for “social” work, and .44 Magnum loads for wilderness tasks.
The 329 Night Guard isn’t for everyone, it will take some dedicated practice to get your rounds on-target. And, I found myself quitting after firing a 50-rd box of ammo for the day. I would catch myself flinching as I approached the end of a box of ammo – that is, .44 Magnum ammo. And, if you have smallish hands, the grips that come with the gun simply aren’t gonna fit your hand properly. Make no mistake, the gun really does recoil with full-powered .44 Magnum loads, and if you are recoil sensitive, this gun isn’t for you – unless you load it with .44 Special rounds – that really helped tame the recoil. Retail price on the Night Guard is $1,049 – then again, quality doesn’t come cheap – and the Night Guard is high-quality in my book. If you’re looking for something a bit “different” for self-defense, survival or back-up to your big game rifle, then take a look at the 329 Night Guard. I just find it hard not to like a good ol’ .44 Magnum revolver for many types of “chores.”