I reload and probably shoot more rounds through my 329pd than 90% of owners and this write up reflects wear and tear that many owners will never see. This revolver sees a steady diet of real 44 mag loads.
Some of the issues I bring up are unique to this revolver due to it's light weight and won't be issues with steel revolvers.
This is not a revolver for those who think a 2.5gr Bullseye 38spl load is "shooting". This is a revolver for those who want 44 mag power in the lightest package. This is the ideal 44 mag carry revolver. It is easily mastered without much fanfare by those with a mind to do so. It is just as accurate as it's all-steel brethren.
It has been over 4 years now and since I don't get paid for my writing skills, the following is becoming a collection of bits and pieces - not a smooth flowing article. I hope this helps those considering a purchase and perhaps also those current owners who have questions.
The rest of this web page is collection of bits and pieces that I hope you will find helpful whether you are pondering a purchase or just looking for ideas.
Handguns, (at least the handguns you would actually want to carry), are pathetically under-powered. Nobody would get excited about the lowly 30-30 which is good for 1700ft/lbs at the muzzle. I don't think anyone would consider the 30-30 "overkill" for a Wolf, Black Bear, or Mountain Grizzly. Put in perspective, a 4" barrel 44 mag revolver typically delivers about 800ft/lbs at the muzzle. The 45acp, (A 185gr @1000fps), from my carry gun delivers about 400ft/lbs. The 44 mag is not so much "powerful" as it is convenient, putting that power within reach when you need it.
But "within reach" requires some honest evaluation. The majority of large bore magnum revolvers are too heavy to hang from the hip comfortably and therefore require a commitment to a more expensive holster system. And when hiking, any extra weight is suspect, especially a 3+lb chunk of expensive steel. The truth is that most guys buy a 6.5" barrel big bore revolver and then discover its' no fun to pack. The revolver then gets "carried" from the gun safe to the truck, truck to the range and back again.
The longer barrel gives a better sight radius and significantly higher velocities. The "snubbies" (1.5 to 3" barrel) are the easiest to holster/unholster, but not much powder can burn in those tiny barrels, thus giving the lowest velocities, potentially negating the caliber advantage over a .357Mag for example. The 4-5" barrel is the sweet spot.
The typical 4" 44 mag comes in an all steel package weighing empty at :
I'll confess right now that I am not a revolver fan. I sold my last revolver 25years ago, went forward to auto loaders and never looked back. But autos don't chamber 44 mag level cartridges in lightweight packages. My opinion of course, but the only reason to buy a revolver today is to get a cartridge otherwise not chambered in a semi-auto. Revolvers are more expensive to make and less (yes I said "less") reliable than autos.
The best of the auto-loader cartridges today is the wildcat 460 Rowland. A 460 Rowland modified 1911 Kimber classic
Ultimately I talked myself into an alloy framed 4" barrel 44 mag revolver. I bought the S&W 329pd, as I never hear anything good about Taurus quality and Customer Service.
The following pictures attempt to show the size and width differences between the two. It should be pretty clear that the 329pd is not as nice to conceal as the Kimber, so I wouldn't suggest the 329pd as a "do everything" revolver. It is an N-Frame, and although it is unbelievably lightweight, it is still like strapping a box of Wheaties to your hip. I think it best to view the 329pd as a field carry gun.
Data in bold are my favorite loads.
Missouri Bullet Company's 240gr 18bhn "Keith" (hardly like something Elmer ever made - but the name sells) not a bad bullet. Big on the ugly compared to other products I've used, but it goes where I point it and my revolver doesn't seem to mind them. A big plus is that they are very cheap and in stock. I've no complaints as these are target fodder and they seem to work.
My 45/45/10 tumble lube seems to get pretty slippery when hot (likely the carnauba wax melting) . Really what I learned from the bullet pulling is that neck tension is as important as the crimp. The heated lube greatly reduced the neck tension and even the FCD crimp couldn't hold the bullets still. Important to note that none of this would be an issue with a steel (i.e. heavy) revolver - just something to keep in mind.
I've noticed that I get a velocity increase with the Remington Nickel Plated brass. Typically 30-50 fps. It is of no concern - just interesting. It explains why my ES figures are a bit wider than I would like. I don't segregate brass normally, but did just once to see the effect.
Wolf large pistol magnum primers suck. They are not as hot as CCI350's and the batch I measured were 0.116" high, outside the SAAMI spec of 0.118" - 0.122" for primer pockets. So they are really like too short standard primers - bad combination in a revolver in my opinion. I regret buying them. But I've got a lot of them, and they will light Alliant 2400 just fine - just don't use them with any ball powder (yea they don't even work for 45acp with Silhouette).
Hard t o find load data for AA#9 and 2400 with a 270gr cast bullet. AA#9 seemed to work pretty well pushing a 270gr chunk of lead, and it should work well with non-magnum primers. 2400 didn't do too bad but I don't think I had the load dialed in. I basically had to guess and I chose to try both powders at the same weights. It appears that 2400 might need to go a few tenths hotter. I've got more work to do.
Ramshot Enforcer is my favorite. Excellent metering, fills the case, no flash, no blast shield erosion. It works really good pushing a Cast Performance 255gr plain base bullet and not bad shoving a 240gr Oregon Trail bevel base. It did a good job pushing a 270gr cast. It works best with a magnum primer.
Hodgdon LilGun is a good powder. Meters pretty good. Gives higher velocity than W296 with just a touch of dull orange flash. I haven't burned enough of it to determine throat erosion, but it does heat the gun up faster than the other powders. It is the best powder for maximum velocities.l
W296/H110 are old standbys, but they doesn't meter all that well, are somewhat flashy, and they erode the 329pd blast shield. But my revolver seems to like them with both cast and jacketed bullets.
I haven't done enough work to determine which of the 3 high-end powders (Enforcer, W296, LilGun) gives the best accuracy. I think of this sort of pistol as a short-range weapon of last resort - not a hunting handgun. So I'm happy if I can hit a spent shotgun shell at 30ft. I've been working on an accurate 270gr WFN load and Enforcer, AA#9 and 2400 are top contenders with a sight edge going to AA#9.
Mid-range powders. They pretty much all do about the same. I happen to have a lot of Silhouette, and it performs pretty good behind a cast bullet. AutoComp is pretty good too. My shooting style doesn't have a place for mid-range loads as I want either plinking (900fps) or performance (1200+fps) ammo. Seems like all the mid-range powders top out at less than 1100fps.
Fast powder - I love Hodgdon Clays for plinking loads. 6.5gr behind an Oregon Trail 240gr lswc is something I can shoot all day from this ultra-light revolver. I know this is over the max published in Hodgdon's reloading data center, but their max is a touch more than half max pressure, and I feel comfortable pushing it a little. I don't like Hodgdon TiteGroup as well, mainly because of metering and how it hides in the case. TiteGroup is hot enough, (high Nitro content?), to vaporize a cast bullet base and deposit the lead on the cylinder face. Definitely don't want to breathe that smoke if you want to maintain your IQ. Never had this happen with any other powder.
The point of impact doesn't shift much if my plinkers run at least 900fps and my full house loads don't run much over 1200fps. I don't think velocity is as much a factor as bullet weight.
CCI350 Magnum primers are all I'm going to use with Enforcer, LilGun or W296/H110. Although Winchester LP showed similar Extreme Spreads, velocities, and are the easiest to seat when priming, I had two WLP's crack and vent under what appears to be moderate pressure conditions (based on the primer appearance). Wolf LP primers work well with everything except the slow ball powders. Bit of safety trivia: A Wolf LP has just enough power to push 240gr Oregon Trail into the forcing cone and tie up the revolver. CCI350 is a different story.
The Lee Factory Crimp Die (FCD) is a must in my opinion to keep bullets from backing out. The 329pd is a great kinetic bullet puller. Don't bother shooting CCI Blazer aluminum-cased ammo as the bullets will pull out. The downside to a heavy crimp with the FCD is that the nickel-plated case-mouths crack sooner.
Starline Nickel plated brass is much prettier than plain brass. Might as well have nice looking cartridges. Also the NP brass is mostly a wipe and load - no tumbling. However I do feel the difference when full-length resizing. And they do crack at the case mouth faster.
Cast Performance .430" 255gr WFNPB is a very good cast bullet, although over priced IMO. No leading with the 20gr Enforcer load and just a start of muzzle-end streaking with the 21gr Enforcer load. I didn't notice anything worth mentioning at the forcing cone, so I'm going to assume that 1200fps is about the limit for this bullet, powder combination out of my pistol. Cast bullets are hole drillers. Cast Performance 255gr WFNPB is $28/100. Leadhead's 270gr WFN is $16.50/100. Oregon trail 240gr LSWC is $12/100 (I pick them up) and Missouri Bullet Company's 240gr Keith is $10.80/100 with shipping. Now if I just want to drill a .430" hole, the weight of the bullet will determine the hole depth. I would imagine that there is some increase in wound channel width with the wide meplat of the Cast Performance, but I'm not sure what that is worth to me.
Leadhead's 270gr WFN, with a .380" meplat is a pretty good bullet. The uber-wide meplat acts like a wadcutter and the bullet is a touch softer deforming just a little - which I like. The 270gr fodder is about as deep a hole driller as I'm going to go, and their performance on back to back Elk knuckles was very good.
Oregon Trail 240gr lswc bb is a good plinker, but there is flame cutting and lube stripping taking place when I try to push them past 850fps. The revolver throats are .429" and the bullets are .431". Resizing them to .430", relubing them with liquid Alox, and driving them hard with W296 is a working combination. I don't have a really good plinking recipe yet. I think I need a mid-range powder loaded to a velocity of 900fps - and it appears the OT bullets will have to be sized to .430" and tumble lubed with Alox. The bullets are very hard and they disintegrate when fired into back to back Elk knuckles @1200fps. They do penetrate the bone, but they are broken up by it and exit in pieces.
I've not tested the MBC 240gr Keith on anything, nor do I intend to. I bought them for target fodder and they do just fine at that. As they are 18bhn instead of Oregon Trail's 22+, I would suspect that they would outperform the OT product by not breaking up on bone. The MBC product is a bit ugly compared to others as the lube is scattered and the bullets are dimpled from being tumbled around. Doesn't matter though since I make them even uglier by tumble lubing them with a Lee liquid alox mixture.
The Hornady 240gr XTP is a good, cheap, jacketed hollow-point that opens up like it is supposed to every time I've tested it. A 240gr XTP JHP is going to penetrate a ways, open up and make a very big mess. I think the XTP is a good compromise for thin-skinned critters (Cougar & Wolf) and medium bear. I shot some through back to back Elk femur knuckles and the results were awesome. Really doesn't have much to do with real animal results, but a 240gr XTP @1200fps blew those very large bones to pieces and the bullet stayed together.
I don't know that I can drive the 300gr XTP fast enough to get much expansion. They consistently open up in dirt, but I don't know if they would open up in flesh. The worst they'll do is behave like hard cast. Seems a bit iffy at the speeds I can push them. I'm still gonna need more testing.
Funny, if you read the gun rags, the writers have gone totally to 300+ grain hardcast - which is really good business for casters using LBT-style molds (just look at the price they're asking). I'm glad that casters have found a way to make some money, but I'm not convinced that drilling a small hole through a critter is the fastest way to put it down. I kill Elk with my itty-bitty arrow, and it cuts a much bigger swath than you'll ever do with any width meplat. If I'm worried about armor-plated Grizzlies I'll carry my Guide Gun. My ideal bullet would penetrate and explode with the force to scatter the offending animal, simplifying carcass disposal. For that I would pay a premium.
Having burned some powder through my 329pd, I'm beginning to see that neither 240gr jacketed or 255gr lead are going to do much more than 1200fps. If I want less penetration and more velocity I need to go to lighter bullets. If I want the reverse then I need heavier bullets. Lately I've been leaning towards 270gr WFN. I know that certain ammo manufacturers can get another 100fps with the same bullet, and I commend them for extracting the maximum performance from a 4" barrel. But I'm sticking pretty closely to published data because I don't think a critter is going to notice the difference between 1200'ish and 1300'ish ammo.
Lubing with Alox. Easy to do. Easy to use too much, but no big deal. It will accumulate in both the seating and FC dies - with the bulk in the Factory Crimp die. Is it a big deal? No. I tumble lube then spread them out on a sheet of butcher wrap and let them dry for at least a day. I tried the 45/45/10 mix of Alox, Johnson's Paste Wax. I found that it was very hard to find JPW anymore. I've lubed up a couple thousand bullets and 45/45/10 does seem less sticky than pure LLA.
Recoil. Lots of people post on forums about the recoil and a few have actually fired the revolver . Recoil is subjective. I don't think the 329pd is bad, IF you do some things right. First, replace the stock grip with the Hogue M500 X-Frame (available only from S&W) or the Pachmayr Decelerator available everywhere (see section on grips). Second, consider how you grip the revolver. If you seat the web of your hand high on the back strap, like you would in the beaver tail of a 1911, your web is going to take the brunt of the recoil. If you place your web low on the backstrap, you can let the pistol rock back under recoil. However there is no magic, this is a very lightweight revolver and it is going to recoil much more than a 3.5lb Ruger. My hand and wrist feel abused after 50 rounds of carry ammo.
I can tell you that both a cheap Oregon Trail 240gr lswc and an expensive Cast Performance 255gr WFNPB drill the same size hole through a tree. I can also tell you that a 900fps OT doesn't penetrate the same tree that a 1200fps OT will. Both cast bullets will penetrate deeper than the Hornady 240gr XTP. However the Hornady at 1200+fps will fell a 4" tree with a couple shots whereas the cast bullets won't. What can I deduce from this? It is fun to shoot stuff.
You probably use a kinetic bullet puller to break down your mistakes. Well the 329 is capable of pulling bullets as well. This isn't dangerous like bullet setback, because if anything pulled bullets will exhibit lower pressure. But it is dangerous if you are counting on your revolver in a life or death situation as pulled bullets can lock up your weapon.
I recently loaded a bunch of ammo on a Dillon SDB. I thought I had the crimp set correctly. But my first cylinder full tied up the revolver as a bullet pulled almost completely out after 3 shots. These 270gr loads were running right at 1150fps - not exactly barn-burners.
Not the best photography, but look at the difference in the shape of the crimp between the left and right cartridges. There is substantially more brass involved in holding the crimp groove on the right. I have never had a bullet pull using the Lee FCD. Can I achieve adequate crimp on my Dillon? - of course. But I have to fiddle with it more, (trim all brass to exact length - something not critical with the FCD), and no matter what I do, it will never achieve the holding power of the Lee FCD.
This is the SDB roll crimp set up pretty tight. This was good for a 50fps slowdown.
Well what's my point with all these pictures? Bullet pull is a real issue with the S&W329pd and you'd be advised to check for it. You can see in my 20.0 2400 load data the difference pulling makes in Extreme Spread. And one more thing, the lube in the hot cartridges melted reducing neck tension to the point that even the mighty Lee FCD crimp couldn't hold them. This shows that neck tension is actually more important than crimp, which is important to those of you who might spray Hornady OneShot into the case. Again, check for bullet movement with your loads.
Not all factory ammo is adequately crimped either. For example, CCI Blazer aluminum cased fodder should be avoided. I don't shoot factory fodder, so the only thing I can tell you is check for movement.
The two bullets on the left are Hornady 300gr XTP. The two on the right are Leadhead 270gr WFN. They all were fired into the same dirt. Some thoughts:
I don't have huge amount of experience with brass from all the manufacturers, but here is what little I know:
Starline NP that cracked after 3 loading cycles.
I clean my brass in a vibratory tumbler using corn cobb media. I've found that pre-treating the media with a cap full of NuFinish Car cleaner/wax produces a little better looking brass. Be aware that "pretreating" means to add a capfull to the media and then run the tumbler for 1/2 hour. Do this before you add brass. I've also discovered that adding a couple tablespoons of denatured alcohol (yellow bottle Heet is methanol and would work - just be careful) to the media when you start a tumble will collect the dust to the sides of the bowl and away from your brass.
I bought 1k of Oregon Trail 240gr lswc, bevel base, sized .431". Maybe not the smartest move in hindsight. Unfortunately I have no local bullet casters - I'd much rather pay more for local than pay shipping. As noted in the load data section, I gave them a whirl with different powders/velocities and experienced heavy leading. So I purchased two Lee sizer kits(.430" and .429" - they're cheap). I picked the two most promising fast (with slow powder) and slow (with fast powder) loads and built up some sized .429" and .430" (but they were not re-lubed).
The 20gr Ramshot Enforcer load runs right at 1200fps on a warm day. I shot 6, inspected, cleaned the bore and repeat. The .429" leaded more than the .430", but neither leaded enough to keyhole after two cylinders of shooting. But accuracy sucked. I wasn't driving them hard enough to clog the grooves and keyhole, but they were messed up enough that my 25yd group looked like 000 buck practice.
Next up was the 6.5gr Hodgdon Clays load which runs a little over 900fps. Again, it appeared as though the .429" leaded more, but the difference wasn't that great. I shot 30 .429"-sized in a row, and the barrel "seasoned" and settled down. No keyholing. Although the point of impact shifted, accuracy was good enough for playing around (flipping shotgun hulls, etc.).
As a sanity check I ran some Cast Performance 255gr WFNPB and they gave good accuracy with minimal leading.
After whining on my favorite forums, I decided to take the .430"-sized 240gr Oregon Trail and re-lube them with Lee's liquid Alox. Pretty easy process, but also pretty easy to use too much. I totally guessed at this, but I found a winning combination with 23.5gr of W296. Almost no leading at all. I was very surprised and quite pleased. This bullet is moving at 1250fps, so its not a plinker. In general I found that resizing to .430" helps some, but lubing with Lee's liquid Alox helps the most. I tried a number of other powders with Alox lubed .430" fodder and quickly grew tired of the game. My best "plinking" load is somewhere around 6gr of Clays. "Best" needs a little definition. Part of "best" is lack of leading, because I really dislike brushing out a barrel. Another part of best is smoke and although Clays smokes more than TiteGroup, TiteGroup has a fair amount of vaporized lead in it - based on the deposits on the cylinder face. TiteGroup must have a pretty high Nitroglycerin content to melt the bullets. As long as the wind is favorable, there isn't much difference between a 6.5gr Clays or TiteGroup load.
Update: S&W replaced my barrel and cylinder. The new cylinder throats are pretty close to .4295" whereas the old cylinder throats were a smidge over .430" (my calipers are only +/-.001"). My point is that the new is tighter.
Another update: I bought 1k of Missouri Bullet Company's 240gr 18bhn "Keith"-style bullets. I didn't mess around this time and I immediately tumbled lubed these with a 45/45/10 mixture of Lee Liquid Alox/Johnson Paste Wax / mineral spirits. I find this mixture a bit easier to apply and it seems to dry faster and less sticky. 60 rounds of 1200+fps resulted in a tiny bit of leading that cleaned up with a quick pass of a bronze brush - success in my book.
My eyes and the stock V-notch rear sight don't get along. Maybe I'm just used to the patridge-style sights. I decided to try a trick rifle manufacturers do to make iron sights useful - a little white paint. I used some of my wife's finger nail polish with a toothpick for a brush. Now my eye seems to want to align front to rear much easier.
Well 1 and 2 aren't going to happen. 3 is a bother for a little chunk of metal. 4 brings out the tinkerer in me - so that's where I'm going to go.
A little measuring shows that there is only about 0.010" room to work in. But when I study the flame cut, it is always a very thing line, very precise. The following pictures show my JBWeld attempt.
Thin layer of JBWeld covering the flame cut area (new blast shield with almost no cut).
After about 20 shots of AA#9/MBC 240gr,
OK, so the JBWeld by itself didn't hold up very well. I learned something.
Here's a chunk of .005" feeler gauge held in place with JBWeld. Note: Can't go thicker than .005" without interfering with opening & closing cylinder. You can go thicker if you use a piece of metal big enough to only cover the groove in the blast shield. We'll see how this holds up.
Well that little chunk of metal came loose after 6 shots. Guess I should've known better by now.
I've tried this metal trick a couple times and I've yet to figure out a method of attachment that can handle 35K psi stresses.
The following pictures show the reason I sent the revolver back to S&W the 2nd time (at ~1000 rounds of W296/H110 & some LilGun). Pretty good example of the blast shield cracking and a good photo of forcing cone erosion. I suspect that this revolver had an issue to begin with, but I doesn't really matter as S&W took care of it.
S&W's Customer Service turned it around 8 days - that's pretty fast! They replaced the Blast Shield, Barrel and Cylinder. And they test fired it before returning. I can only assume that the barrel & cylinder replacement was due to the forcing cone wear. S&W Customer Service is first-class! Although I'd like to have a perfect firearm that never needed factory maintenance, it is very comforting to know that S&W stands behind their product and supports the owner.
The 329pd was purchased new in box. Lacking reloading supplies at the time, and being excited to go play with my new toy, I purchased a box of CCI Blazer 240gr JHP aluminum cased (~975fps). After 14 rounds the revolver developed light strikes.
The left is the CCI Blazer and the right is the casing shipped with the revolver for state crime lab registration. Notice that the right is a rather shallow, narrow strike.
The revolver also had some nicks and gouges, (horse play at the dealer?), and a somewhat "crunchy" D/A trigger pull.
I don't have this crane gouge on my new frame. I've seen this on other 329s, so there must've been a run of them that had a strange fit.
So off to S&W it went. I was not very happy that my brand new S&W had to go to the factory after 14 rounds.
The turn time was 9 days, which is very fast. They replaced the firing pin, (new one is larger diameter and protrudes a bit more), the hammer to greatly smooth up the D/A trigger (and the S/A is lighter/crisper too), and they touched up the gouges. Overall I was very pleased with S&W Customer Service. The revolver has run fine with 3 types of primers in both DA and SA modes.
I had two WLP primers split on the side. The following photos show the flame cutting of the firing pin channel liner, and one of the casings.
Pitting, (flame cutting), of the metal surrounding the firing pin channel. Two pits from two cracked primers.
Enlarged view of the actual crack. Note the general shape of the primer edges.
The following photo shows a couple of cases of multiple firing pin strikes.
I watched a high-speed video of an all-steel (i.e. heavy) revolver firing and you could clearly see the hammer bouncing and cylinder unlocking. I've never watched a video of the 329pd firing, but I can imagine that the lightweight only amplifies the conditions. The amount of unlocking and rotation depended on the recoil pulse and didn't occur with 270gr and 300gr fodder - only with 240gr XTP @1200fps. Not with 240gr Hard Cast @1250fps either.
Fortunately the rotation is towards the spent cartridges, so there is never any danger. You can see the torque-induced revolver rotation in my video comparing shooting the 45acp versus the 329pd.
I really like the design and construction of the AMS (Google ams holsters) Top Flap belt holster. I've hiked some with it and it hangs on to the revolver when crawling through the brush - good. Cordura Nylon over closed cell foam. About the best protection from the elements and banging around, with reasonable access speed. It doesn't cost much, and is ugly enough that I won't feel guilty about sewing on some extra hardware to make pack mounting easier. I've found that it mounts nicely to my hunting pack using the old military pouch keepers.
It should be obvious by now that the S&W329pd is ultra-lightweight and the resulting recoil when shooting full-house 44mag rounds is very sharp. Your choice for managing the pain this recoil can inflict is limited to shooting gloves or advanced grips. I have little experience with shooting gloves. The following covers what I've discovered about proper grips for this lightweight powerhouse.
The two S&W grips on the right are utter garbage and S&W should issue an apology. They're fine if you don't actually shoot the gun, or if you only shoot poofter loads.
Hogue on the left, Pachmayr on the right. Although there is slightly more cushion material over the high portion of the backstrap with the Pachmayr, the Hogue has a much larger contact radius to the web of your hand (ignore the screw laying the bottom of the Hogue - I forgot to take it out for the picture.)
The cost of shipping, parts, labor is covered by S&W. Only the cost of the FFL transfer was out of my pocket.
This is the ejector rod flexing and banging into the shroud under recoil.
This the wear on the extractor star that I think was the cause of a couple cylinder's timing being off just a smidge.
This is some frame wear due to the cylinder notch being mashed into the frame while under recoil.