Friday, June 9, 2017
Comparing two compact .44 Magnum revolvers
Readers may remember that in October 2015, I tested two Taurus .44 Magnum revolvers. One was the full-size, six-shot Model 44 with a 6½" barrel, Taurus' equivalent of the Smith & Wesson N-frame Model 29. The other was the smaller, five-shot Model 44Tracker4B, with a 4" barrel, as shown below.
The smaller gun had a few problems, but after some attention from a gunsmith, it proved satisfactory, despite being more difficult to control than its bigger brother (due to its smaller size and lighter weight, both of which provided less heft to soak up the recoil). I swapped out its factory 'Gripper' grip, shown above, for a Hogue aftermarket unit, which I found made recoil more controllable than the original.
Since then I've experimented with several different models of the Taurus Tracker; a 6½" .44 Magnum model, a 4" .45 ACP revolver, and the same cartridge in a 6½" barrel version. All have been fun to shoot, particularly the longer-barreled editions. The extra weight up forward tames recoil very nicely. I wish Taurus hadn't withdrawn the 6½" Tracker .44 Magnum from sale - I prefer it to the shorter-barreled version.
I've also had the opportunity to play with a Smith & Wesson Model 69 (shown below), their L-frame revolver with a 5-round .44 Magnum cylinder, introduced (I presume) in response to the sales success of the Taurus Tracker chambered for that cartridge.
It's almost the same dimensions as the 4" Tracker, except that its barrel is 4.2" long, in order to conform to Canadian minimum length regulations. It doesn't have a ported muzzle, so muzzle flip is higher than on the Taurus; but on the other hand, the overall fit and finish of the S&W is noticeably better than that of its cheaper Brazilian counterpart. (That's not surprising, of course: you get what you pay for, and the S&W is 25%-30% more costly than its competitor.) Overall, I like the Model 69 very much. I'll probably send it to Mag-na-Port in due course, and have them port the barrel, reducing muzzle flip and hence felt recoil. When using a compact yet powerful handgun like this, I think that's a worthwhile improvement.
How do the two compare? Well, if you're on a tight budget, I find the Taurus Tracker to be a perfectly acceptable handgun. One does run the risk that some examples might need attention from a gunsmith to get them into peak condition, as my first example did; but Taurus has a lifetime warranty on their firearms, and will put right any defects if you give them time. If that concerns you, then by all means pay the higher price for the Smith & Wesson Model 69 - but remember, even S&W has had recalls due to product flaws, just as Ruger has recently announced for its latest Mark IV pistols. All firearms manufacturers have quality control or other problems from time to time. It goes with the territory, unfortunately.
If money is no object, then I think the Model 69 is clearly a more refined, better-finished firearm. I do find it heavier in recoil than the Tracker, because it doesn't have a ported barrel; and I'd want to remedy that before relying on it as a defense against dangerous game, because I want to be able to control the gun accurately in rapid fire. That would be an added expense, but one that I think is justifiable, given the likely use of the gun.
I don't plan to get rid of my .44 Magnum Trackers, and will retain my Model 69 as well. Loaded with hot Buffalo Bore .44 Special rounds, any of them will do very nicely for home defense; and filled with Federal's 300gr. CastCore loads (which will fit into their relatively short cylinders, where longer, specialty loads such as Garrett Hammerheads won't), any of them should be capable of dealing with large animals if necessary.