Of all the firearms I have owned over the years, a .44 Magnum wasn’t one of them. Even at the height of the “Dirty Harry” craze, I never got around to buying one. That was until a couple of years ago. I walked into a local shop at lunch and walked out with a Smith & Wesson Model 629 Mountain Gun. Honestly, I hadn’t planned on it, but the deal was good and I had cash in my pocket. I took the 629 Mountain Gun to the range a couple of times and then it was relegated to the back of my gun safe. Sure, it was an OK pistol, but it lacked sex appeal. Thankfully, that all changed after sending the pistol to Cylinder & Slide for a makeover.

Some 25 years ago, I attended the last U.S. Secret Service pistol match at the Service’s Beltsville, Maryland, facility. That’s when I first met Bill Laughridge, the founder of Cylinder & Slide and pistolsmith extraordinaire. What followed was a lifelong friendship that has resulted in both of us being guests, or rather family, in each other’s homes.

When Bill visits my home, it is not uncommon for my son and several of my friends to sit around the kitchen table to learn about the nuances and history of the Model 1911 platform. If we ask politely, he will even work on a gun or two and complain about my rudimentary tools! My son and I have very fond memories of “Uncle Bill’s” visits and always look forward to his next trip.

Of course, Bill “made his bones” by becoming one of the best 1911 gunsmiths in the world. His customer list spans from royalty and military personnel to farmers and cops who have an appreciation for John Moses Browning’s masterpiece. Cylinder & Slide also does some of the best Browning Hi-Power work in the country. Until his recent semi-retirement, Bill even found time to travel around the country and teach a 1911 gunsmith course where students would build their own guns under his tutelage. I hope that one day, before Bill completely hangs it up, I can attend one of his courses.

Wheelgun Work

Cylinder & Slide also specializes in wheelguns and, while not known by many, the company was a Colt and Smith & Wesson warranty station for many years. In fact, during Colt’s heyday, Bill was, and still is, probably one of the best gunsmiths in the county to work on a sick Python. Bill also designed a line of Cylinder & Slide revolver parts, with several being very unique. For example, several years ago, Bill designed a fixed rear sight to replace the adjustable unit on Smith & Wesson revolvers. The Cylinder & Slide Extreme Duty is highly visible and durable, and it can be added to a topstrap without any machining. When Smith & Wesson introduced the now-defunct Nightguard series, the company selected the C&S Extreme Duty rear sight for the guns.

So when I decided to have my Model 629 Mountain Gun slicked up, I placed a call to Uncle Bill. If my memory serves me correctly, I caught him right after he had climbed off his tractor at his Nebraska farm. Did I mention he is semi-retired? Whenever I send a pistol to C&S for custom work, I pretty much give the company free rein to show off what it does best. This was the case with the Mountain Gun. Bill and I went over the basic list of offerings and then added a few enhancements.

The work order on the Model 629 Mountain Gun listed 18 specific custom modifications that the C&S shop performed. The trigger was radiused and polished, and an overtravel stop was installed. A basic action job included replacing the springs and polishing the internal components. The cylinder was the focus of several custom procedures. Each chamber was polished, and the front of the cylinder was chamfered. Each chamber was also numbered, and the chamber mouths were chamfered for easier loading.

For a more positive lockup, two ball detents were installed in the trigger yoke. The shop also checked the cylinder timing, the yoke for end shake and the headspacing. The yoke was also reamed to eliminate drag. The throat of the barrel was recut and polished, and the muzzle received an 11-degree crown.

I specifically requested an Extreme Duty rear sight, which was paired with a pinned Patridge front sight blade with a gold bead. The entire pistol was bead-blasted to provide a soft matte finish. However, I could not resist adding a little bling to the project and had the cylinder flutes and the screws polished. Bill also sent the hammer and trigger to Robar and had them treated with NP3. I owe a big thank you to Freddie Blish for expediting the work order!

There were two other items that I had done when C&S returned the pistol. First, I called Ken Kelly at Mag-Na-Port and asked if he could expedite porting the barrel. Ken, ever the gentleman, returned the pistol to me in record time. The final accessory was a set of custom grip panels. I wanted to retain the classic S&W appearance but have grips made of a fancy-grade wood. After doing some research, I decided on a set of Culina custom walnut grip panels in the traditional target shape with the S&W medallion.

Magnum Thunder

My range time with the 629 Mountain Gun was pure fun. It had been some time since I had evaluated a big-bore revolver, and I had almost forgotten my love for wheelguns. I reached out to the great folks at Hornady and asked for two .44 Magnum loads and one .44 Special load. The two magnum loads were 225- and 240-grain XTPs that averaged 1,364 and 1,254 fps, respectively. Both were stout, but they weren’t uncontrollable.

Having shot the Model 629 Mountain Gun prior to sending it to Mag-Na-Port, I can attest to the effectiveness of the ports. I would subjectively estimate that the ports reduce the recoil and muzzle rise by 30 percent or so. The 180-grain, .44 Special XTP load was a sheer joy to shoot, and it reminded me of shooting 148-grain wadcutters out of a K-Frame. The accuracy tests were conducted off-hand from 25 yards. As expected, the Mountain Gun was exceptionally accurate, with group averages in the 1.25-inch range.

Carrying a 41.5-ounce handgun for an extended period of time can be a challenge. This is especially true when hunting in cold weather when garments are layered and heavy coats are needed. I contacted Woody Dixon at Gunfighters, Inc., in Pershastin, Washington, who sent me a Kenai chest holster to evaluate. The Kenai is a modern rendition of the old military tanker holsters. The rig is molded from heavy Kydex and provides positive retention along with maximum durability and service life. The Y-harness goes over the non-support shoulder, with a retention strap that wraps around the chest. The straps allow the harness to stretch, making it very comfortable, while the elasticity eliminates any shifting or play.

The end result is a classic custom wheelgun that is suitable for an elk hunt in the backwoods of Montana or a BBQ in southern Texas. I may have an opportunity to hunt hogs this coming year, if the hunt happens, the C&S Mountain Gun will be my handgun of choice. I would probably replace the Culina grips for the Hogue Monogrip that came with the pistol for the hunt. Just can’t see dragging beautiful wood through the swamp.

When I got the 629 Mountain Gun back, it spent a few nights at my bedside gun. Having spent much of my life carrying revolvers, it felt good to have a big-bore wheelgun at my side. Even with the popularity of full-capacity polymer wonders, the big-bore wheelgun still has a place. I must admit that the good folks at Cylinder & Slide know how to dress up a revolver. If you happen to have one of those “antique” guns the old-timers talk about and want to make it special, give Bill Laughridge and Cylinder & Slide a call. Thanks Bill!

C&S S&W Model 629 Mountain Gun Specs

Caliber: .44 Magnum
Barrel: 4 inches
OA Length: 9.63 inches
Weight: 41.5 ounces (empty)
Grips: Culina walnut
Sights: Gold bead front, Extreme Duty rear
Action: DA/SA
Finish: Stainless
Capacity: 6

C&S S&W Model 629 Mountain Gun Performance

Load Velocity Accuracy
Hornady 225 XTP (.44 Magnum) 1,364 1.20
Hornady 240 XTP (.44 Magnum) 1,254 1.25
Hornady 180 XTP (.44 Special) 909 1.10

*Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity measured in fps by chronograph and accuracy measured in inches for best five-shot groups at 25 yards.

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This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of “Combat Handguns.” To subscribe, visit

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