Known to action moviegoers as the “most powerful handgun in the world” that would take your head right off your shoulders, the Smith and Wesson .44 caliber magnum revolver is indeed a powerful handgun. I’ve only owned one in my career, but when I carried it I felt as though I was the mightiest warrior walking the face of the planet, afraid of neither man nor beast.
The time was the late 1970’s and I was nineteen years old. I was armed with this hand cannon and I had the authority to use it. That my friends is a scary thought, even to me. Now days you must be twenty one, undergo a battery of both mental and physical evaluations and successfully complete an approved police academy of at least 1600 classroom hours. Back when I started you were sworn in, handed a badge and a gun and told to go get the bad guys. Barney Fife was on TV and I had that role model and 80 hours of reserve officer training to work with.
Sometime in the next twelve months I had to complete a basic 240 hour police academy with a passing grade of 70% to get my peace officer license from the great State of Texas. Anyway back to the Model #29. This particular gun came from a very highly respected and wise old Sergeant named Lindsey Carlton of the League City Police department. He was in my opinion a top notch cop and a good friend to me. This was back in the time of the “wonder nine” pistols. These were high capacity auto loading pistols that were becoming very popular in law enforcement circles and I had already bought myself one. It was a 9mm blued version and I think it had a 15 round magazine. As usual I didn’t really think through my purchase and soon found that the back strap of the weapon that has the most contact with your sweaty palm had started to show signs of rust.
Sgt. Carlton was a big fellow and he had an affinity for large bore revolvers, however he also wanted my S & W model #59, so we worked out a trade. For some reason during our phone conversation about the deal he mistakenly believed that my model #59 was the hard chromed version. I am absolutely sure I didn’t lie to the man, because I respected him way too much for that and that wasn’t something that I could have hidden anyway. Well I trekked over to his house, (a palatial mansion for the day on a cops salary I thought), and we went about the dickering process. I un-wrapped the model #59 from the original brown waxed paper that protected it from rust, in the blue and silver trimmed Smith and Wesson box that had accompanied it from the factory of its birth. A normally jovial type person, I was surprised when I saw Lindsey’s face take on a sour look. He said, “I thought you told me that this was a Nickel plated model?” I stammered and stuttered and vehemently denied that I’d said it was nickel plated during our phone conservation, because I honestly think I told him what it was.
We dickered back and forth like an experienced horse trader and a wanna be cowboy there for a while as Lindsey scrutinized the Model #59 and I went over the Model #29. It had a short barrel of about 4″ and was quite heavy. What first caught my attention was the finish on the hand cannon. It wasn’t new by any stretch of the imagination and had been refinished. Now days it would be called a matte chrome finish or Colt fans would call it a Colt Guard finish. The #29 had the standard factory wooden stocks and a white outline rear sight and the blaze ramp style front sight that I’d already decided I liked in my short law enforcement tenure. Well it took a full glass of sweet tea, one blued Smith and Wesson Model #59 still in the original box and 75.00 hard earned extra job dollars (that my new Boss wasn’t aware I had squirreled away), but I had my model #29 and was on my way.
I went home and showed the new prize to the quite pregnant Boss and she wasn’t all that impressed. I don’t really think she had ever seen a “Dirty Harry” movie at that time, so she had no idea of the cool factor I had just achieved. Well when you get a new gun, you have to buy ammo for it so we loaded up in the family car, a 3/4 ton Chevy single cab pick-up truck that I had owned when we married. The Boss was multi-talented and could drive the manual transmission hay hauler with no problems, but as unborn #1 child grew that all changed, but that’s another story. Off to Marburger’s Sporting Goods we went, where I “badged” the clerk and he didn’t check my age. I bought a fifty round box of 240 grain Remington .44 magnum hollow point cannon ammo. Ok, now what’s any self respecting new gun owner with a box of fresh ammo first priority? To go shoot the damn thing and see how it works.
Back then we were newly married and the Boss was game for most anything, so we drove back to one of the most remote areas in Seabrook on Port road. There was nothing out there but pasture, so I wasn’t afraid of damaging anything. We drove out and parked along side of the road and with the Boss waiting in the truck acting as the lookout, I test fired the .44 by shooting into a bar ditch. I warned the Boss to hold her ears because I assumed it would be loud and I wasn’t disappointed. I touched off a round and a blue and yellow flame bellowed out of that weapon for what the Boss assured me was about 18″. Remember I hadn’t had any formal training on handguns at this point, so I didn’t know about sound deadening ear plugs or ear muffs that you’re supposed to wear when you shoot. I was raised in the country, you just went shooting. For the next round I kind of used my shoulder to protect one ear and stuck my left index finger in the other ear and I made the mistake of shooting the mighty Model #29 with one hand.
I was not too long out of high school where my favorite class was recess. During recess all I was required to do was lift weights and get ready for the next football season, so I got away with firing the nard kicking short barrel hand cannon once. I assure you, I never fired it one handed again though. It was for sure a two fisted handgun, especially with magnum loads. Well now that I was armed with what I called “Thor’s Hammer”, I feared no man or critter. Feeling that I had the power of the mighty Greek God “Thor” and the blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ at my beck and call, I was good to go. So being the “I gotta have the latest and best kinda of cop” that I am, I set about acquiring all of the latest accruements for my new handgun. Back then we all wore either plain black leather or basketweave designed Sam Browns (gun belt), so this called for a trip to Houston to the F-15 police supply on Washington Avenue.
I bought a high rise lined thumb break plain black leather holster and a loop type ammo holder. (That’s a device that held 12 rounds of ammo on your gun belt and allowed you quick access for reloading.) I was now loaded for bear. I carried this gun for many months until the time came that I had to use it. Don’t panic I didn’t kill anybody; I was forced to shoot a raccoon. By forced, I mean that I had gotten a direct order to shoot this raccoon from the Chief of Police. I was aware of the penetrating power of the .44 magnum round. We were in an urban setting, but a citizen called the Chief and said that he had a problem with raccoons in his attic. So being the night officer I was sent over to shoot this raccoon.
Here’s what happened.
The homeowner and I were standing in the yard on the side of his house in an overgrown field. He pointed up to his attic and said “that’s where they will come out when I use a mop handle to make noise and drive them out”. I explained that I would not shoot towards his house, but if he would scare the raccoons out of the attic I’d take the shot if I got the chance. Well sure enough a big ole boar raccoon came out of the attic and jumped across onto a tree limb out near where I was standing. The homeowner returned and I asked him to hold my flashlight on the raccoon so I could shoot it. Well this wasn’t such a good idea because I realized without the flashlight, I couldn’t see the sights on the big Smith and Wesson. By this time I had watched enough T. J. Hooker episodes on television that I managed to hold the flashlight in my left hand and the revolver in my right, using the opposing force hold to brace my gun. I thumbed cocked the big cannon into the single action mode and took careful aim.
Flames and smoke belched out of the muzzle and I could see that I had hit the big old raccoon in the stomach area because that portion of his body was no longer there. I had heard old men tell me that there was no critter as tough as a old boar raccoon, but I couldn’t believe what I saw next. The ole raccoon simply climbed down out of the tree, sneered at us, calmly walked over and climbed over a six foot chain link fence, then disappeared into the woods. People have asked me why I didn’t shoot again, but remember we were in an urban district and shooting horizontally would almost guarantee hitting someone’s house, so I chose to be careful despite what the Chief had told me. By the way that was the last raccoon call I made there, so apparently the ole boy was mortally wounded.
I kept my pet hand cannon till I moved to a larger department that mandated revolvers no larger than a .357 magnum, but I sure missed “Thor’s Hammer”. It was my first Model 29 and due to my retirement and advanced arthritis, it’s probably my last. Till next time grip it with both hands, aim true, and join the NRA to protect your gun rights. If you like this column you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org because the Boss likes it when I get fan mail.