So you want to know what two desert hermits do when they get together for an afternoon? Really? Well, I’ll tell you…
They compare pistols.
I’ve been carrying my Taurus Tracker for four years less one month. And by carrying, I mean it really honestly is my one true EDC gun*.
And I’m going to open the ball by saying right up front that from almost the very beginning, this particular pistol has had major issues. Light strikes in double action showed up right away, but after a few hundred rounds of mostly mild ammo it developed serious timing problems – to the point where for most of its life with me I’ve treated it as essentially a single action pistol.
After I moved to the boonies, a few scary incidents gradually convinced me that I needed to get over my dependence on cheap crappy autoloaders and get myself a cheap crappy revolver that could throw great big heavy semiwadcutters or really cavernous hollowpoints. In 2011 I traded some tractor work for the first one, an old Taurus 431 .44 Special snubby.
I carried that worn-out piece of shit for years, and it taught me a lot. It had … really major issues … but whatever its faults it did sell me on the concept I’ve stuck with ever since: If you’re more concerned about hostile varmints of the 4-legged or no-legged variety than about getting into gunfights, big bore revolver is the way to go. I just didn’t have the money to do it right – or, at the time, any money at all. Whatever the complaints you’re about to read about the Tracker, understand that at no time have I considered it anything but an impressive upgrade over the 431.
The trigger is better. The sights are infinitely better. The muzzle brake works. It’s a Magnum which, when you live in a place where ammo availability is a problem, makes it easier to feed with commercial ammo. The Tracker came to me virtually new in box, and right away I loved it – but as I said a couple of weeks later, “…that’s more an indictment of the 431 than a paean to the Tracker.”
I have to say right here, in full honesty, that Ian warned me. His reaction, when he first saw the Tracker, was … not even dismissive. More like condemnatory. But hey! If you think of it as a single action trail gun that’s going to be carried much and shot little, it’s … better than the 431.
The Taurus Tracker is a relatively light, slim revolver of only 5-shot capacity, obviously meant to be just like a S&W L-frame, although the .44 Tracker predates the S&W .44 Model 69 by at least ten years.
Recently, thanks to that get-together and pistol comparison, I had an opportunity to compare elements of both those technically-identical revolvers. And having shot my friend’s Model 69, I’m not going to suggest that the two are comparable in anything but concept and stats. Weight, length, width and ammo capacity are almost perfectly identical on both guns. They easily use the same holster. In quality, there is no comparison.
Here’s a couple of details, which I believe illustrates what you’re buying with each…
Both pistols have fully adjustable rear sights and ramp front sights with orange inserts…
Build quality in a machine, I’ve always strongly believed, can best be demonstrated in the parts that don’t show. Guess which of these grips is on the Taurus…
I’ve said that the trigger quality on the Tracker is superior to that of the 431. True. But the trigger on the Model 69, a bog-standard non-custom S&W without a lot of break-in time, is spectacularly better than either. The single action trigger break is too light compared to what I’m used to.
The Model 69’s barrel is 4.25″. The Tracker’s barrel is advertised as 4″ but is really 3″ with a muzzle brake…
…and at first I considered that to be a big advantage for the Tracker. Say what you will about all its little cost-cutting cheats, I can work a line of gongs with the Tracker faster and better than I can with my friend’s Model 69. They’re both light pistols firing heavy bullets, and the muzzle brake works. But…
That comes at an unexpected price. As months went by and I carried the Tracker every day, I found myself more and more reluctant to take shots I didn’t absolutely have to take. The Taurus is abusively, damagingly loud. You need a really good reason to fire it without earpro. A pistol is a defensive weapon; you carry it in the boonies instead of a rifle because you can holster it, and because emergencies don’t call ahead for a reservation. Sure, I carry earplugs in my pocket. But if you have time to put in earplugs before firing, it couldn’t have been much of an emergency. It’s massively louder than the 431 with the same ammo, with a longer barrel. I have virtually fallen out of the habit of taking those casual trail shots that, in my mind, comprise real practice.
One time not long after I acquired the Tracker I was practicing on the makeshift metallic target in my yard – and got an angry phone call from neighbors who said I was spooking their horses a mile away. Granted that (I believe) they’re a little sensitive about people shooting guns, I need the goodwill of those neighbors. And they’d never complained before. Which leads me to conclude that while the muzzle brake has its good point, it turns out to be a net negative.
Of course, the Tracker has one big advantage over the Model 69, from which most of those disadvantages arise: It’s less than half the price. And (assuming most don’t have the big timing problem my particular gun does) it does work fine for its intended purpose, to be a trail gun that’s carried much and fired little. It doesn’t do any of the things we look for in a pistol as well as the Model 69 does – but I wouldn’t say it does any of them less than half as well. It puts bullets on target very nicely.
I conceded on my first formal Tracker review that the Tracker is an inexpensive pistol and it shows. I stand by everything I said in that review, as amended with the ETA that this one developed timing problems early on. Taurus does have an excellent reputation for handling service issues – and apparently it should, given how much experience it’s gained in that department. I could get it fixed. I don’t, because I don’t know an FFL I could ship it through. So I live with it, and it’s tolerable.
I carry mine every single normal day. Would I upgrade to a better pistol if opportunity arose? Oh, hell yes. Who wouldn’t? But if you need an occasional big-bore trail gun for vacation hiking or whatever and don’t want to spend upwards of $800 for the privilege, it’s still worth checking out.
*with the exception of the space of about a year in 2016/2017 when I tore a rotator cuff and carried a Makarov because it’s the only thing I could draw and hold out straight.