The American Mountain Gun

written and photographed by Mike Cumpston

edited by John Dunn

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The Smith and Wesson .44 Mountain Revolver Suits the American Ideal of the Armed Free Citizen. The Ideal is inter-woven in the foundations of Western culture. Herewith, a classic treatment of a uniquely American arm…. The Mountain Gun Variation of the Smith &Wesson Hand-Ejector Series appeared in the last decade of the 20th Century and was an immediate success among a broad cross section of the shooting public. In a population of gun savvy civilians, the concept of a lightweight handgun of great power and versatility is not a hard one to sell. The military and police have their handguns. Dedicated games-men have theirs. The magnum chambered Mountain Gun is uniquely suited to the needs of the un-affiliated armed citizen who might need to put game on the table or defend himself against man or beast. My early-issue example wears the slim under-lugged barrel of the post World War II Era and a rather austere brushed finish. The caliber marking, logo and emblem were applied through laser and heat etching.

Over time, as the revolver proved itself on the range and in the field, I came to believe that such an archetype of the double action revolver deserved more than a utilitarian treatment. I admired the scroll-work on one of the catalogue examples of the work of the Smith & Wesson Custom Engraving Shop. This was a model 64 done by house engraver Wayne D’Angelo. The side plate exhibited a bulino, picture quality engraving of a leopard. I set about looking for classical themes that might look good on the Mountain Gun and was taken by one of the works of Walter Crane. The 1888 painting, Diana and Endemion portrayed the Goddess of the Hunt in athletic trim complete with the characteristic silver bow and the pair of sight hounds. I looked into the legend. In the purest form the Greek and Roman mythos reveals Artemis / Diana as a perfect proxy for the freedom loving armed citizen. Armed but not militant, she became the guardian of running streams, wildlife and the borderlands. Freedom goes hand-in-hand with sacrifice and this member of the classical pantheon gave up many of the commonplace comforts in the pursuit of unfettered liberty and self-determination.

The project took form in May 2001 with a series of calls to Mr. D’Angelo of the S&W Custom Engraving shop. Negotiations proceeded to a finalized design and a down-payment for the projected work. Unknown to either of us, the Custom Engraving Shop was about to become a casualty of the Safe-T Hammer buy-out. Some months later I got a call from Pat Frates, customer representative who informed me that contracted work, a considerable amount of it, would be completed as per agreement. My Mountain Gun was being sent to John K. Pease, an independent engraver with close ties to Smith & Wesson.

I soon received a call from Mr. Pease who gave a tentative time frame for the work to be done and we again discussed the finer details of the requested design. Shortly, a call came from Wayne D’Angelo who has now set up shop under his own banner. He would be doing the side-plate bulino scene and we discussed the finer details of the Artemis/Diana theme. He told me that I would be pleased with Mr. Pease's rendering of the scrollwork. He was correct. The end result matches exactly the mental picture I had formed of the completed product. Throughout Ms. Frates, Mr. Pease and Mr. D’Angelo displayed the highest level of competence. Dealing with them was a pleasant experience.

Subsequently, the acquisition of the Smith And Wesson Company by American Owners has proven a great success. The company has rebounded financially and in-house custom engraving is again available. While I was preparing to share the details of this project, the Mountain Gun came to fulfill its role as a personal weapon. I had loaded it up with the 165 grain Corbon loads (see below) prior to driving to the photo-shop for some film. Returning a few minutes later, I saw that the anticipated return of my house burglars was in full swing. Car and driver were in my driveway with the driver alternating his attention between me and the back door. His two partners quickly exited the house where they had succeeded in setting off the newly installed burglar alarm. Ignoring my direction to “get down” they leaped into the car and departed at high speed. I had parked my jeep across the driveway and their escape brought them right by my position in the neighbor’s yard. The driver said, “don’t shoot Sir, Please don’t shoot us.” I covered them with the Mountain Gun until any potential threat was gone, meanwhile memorizing the license plate of their stolen car. I suspect that the muzzle of the .44 loomed large in their consciousness. Several months have now passed and the burglars have not returned.

The Mountain Gun is sighted in for the .44 Magnum Corbon Self Defense loading. The 165 Grain bullet leaves the 4” Barrel at slightly more than the advertised 1300 feet per second. Recoil is exceptionally mild giving good double action control. Bullet expansion in various media is profound and is characterized by considerable fragmentation of the core and jacket. Practice and recreation loads using the 205 grain Meister Cast flat point loaded to circa 775 feet per second hit to essentially the same sight setting. Practice loads using bullets in the 240-250 grain range strike considerably higher and require re-sighting. The Mountain Guns in general, loaded to .44 Special levels, are a complete pleasure to shoot.

Loaded with full standard weight factory loads, it is quite violent to the shooter. I find that most of my needs are met by the target loads, the CorBon defense load and field loads comprised of Keith Solid and Hollow point bullets loaded into the 1100 fps range over 10 grains of Unique. Four-inch barrel revolvers are extremely unforgiving of any error in sighting and trigger release. This revolver is a partial exception in that the excellence of the action and the ergonomic grips combine to make it significantly more shootable than the general run of N-frame short .44s. Satisfying 25-yard slow fire scores are to be expected with small game and varmint level accuracy the rule shooting two-handed. The Mountain Gun stands out as, a work of art, a recreational tool and an effective weapon. It is a worthy canvass for the Classic Theme brought forth by Msrs Pease and DiAngelo.

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