Welcome to TFB’s Wheelgun Wednesday, where we delve into all things revolvers. This week, we’ll take a look at the rare Smith & Wesson 629 Master Hunter, which was designed as an optics-only model from the factory in 1997 to 1999. Our friend, Cédric Armurier happened across a nice example of the 629 Master Hunter when a customer requested some work done on one. Cédric provided the photos you see here, and Smith & Wesson assisted with some background details about the Master Hunter model.
Wheelgun Wednesday @ TFB
rare S&W 629 MASTER HUNTER
The Model 629-4 Master Hunter from Smith & Wesson was an interesting build from the outset and departed from the standard take on revolvers. The heavy, 7.5-inch barrel was contoured with polished slab sides and was ported near the muzzle. The barrel was left uncut for a front sight and was smoothly rounded off above the slabbed sides. Rather than including any traditional iron sights, the S&W 629 Master Hunter came supplied with an optics rail above the top strap with the expectation that the shooter would equip it with a long eye relief scope or a red dot optic, so perhaps this was the first factory optics-ready revolver after all. Master Hunter models also featured an unfluted cylinder.
According to Smith & Wesson’s records, there were only 278 Master Hunter models produced, and all but one were under the catalog number 170087, while the exception was listed under 670087. Of the one exception (MHS0275), the S&W historian said that it had made a trip to the Performance Center for “some extra fun.” Some of you may recall that Cédric is a gunsmith in France, so despite the 629 Master Hunter model already being a rare bird, they will apparently be a little rarer to find in the U.S. given that the 278 of them were distributed globally. The Master Hunter example that walked into Cédric’s shop was in the 180s range of serial numbers.
I happened to find evidence of number 278 being sold on GunsInternational.com, which had been reportedly sent back to the Performance Center for traditional sights, but it also features a barrel with a milled scope rail and came equipped with a red dot scope. The barrel profile seen at the above link seemed to have caught on in later revolver designs, such as the newer Magnum Hunter which is currently available on Smith & Wesson’s website. Observe the barrel’s lines and it’s clear that the Magnum Hunter’s styling came from its predecessor, the Master Hunter.
Despite being equipped with a long eye relief scope, the Master Hunter brought into Cédric’s shop had a work order to have traditional iron sights installed. Regardless of what we might think about altering such a rare revolver, it’s what the customer wanted. To be fair to the customer, he wasn’t asking for radical changes, and only desired features added to nearly every other revolver ever made, including at least two other Master Hunters that came out of the Performance Center. In 2020, the Rock Island Auction Company sold an unaltered 629 Master Hunter for $1495, which was at the top end of the estimated price at the time. I was a bit surprised at the realized price given the Master Hunter’s rarity, however, it is such a niche design that wheelgunners just didn’t buy in. Thus, current models such as the more versatile Magnum Hunter can be had for roughly the same price.
Cédric worked his magic and cut a dovetail for a front sight and contoured the new Performance Center front sight post. From the factory, the Master Hunters were still cut with a normal rear sight groove channel, which made it easy to fit an LPA aftermarket rear sight. Cédric provided photos with two options of LPA rear sights, an optics-ready version that incorporates an adjustable rear sight notch, and a smooth, non-optics version. Given the original intent of the Master Hunter’s design, installing the optics-ready rear sight makes the most sense in this author’s opinion, but the customer decided on the smooth LPA profile.
Despite what I think about permantently altering the original design, or which sight the owner could have or should have gone with, I can’t deny that the end result still looks amazing. I always love Cédric’s work. Thanks to him for sharing this piece of history and to Corey at Smith & Wesson for providing some details surrounding the rare Master Hunter revolver!
Do you own a S&W 629 Master Hunter, or know someone who does? What optic is it outfitted with? Have you ever seen a Master Hunter in the wild? What do you think of the example shown here?
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