My first .44 was a used Taurus 431 (or was it 441? it was blued, 3", 5 shot). Got it for about $250, it worked great, actually somewhat carry-able, lots more fun to shoot than a K-frame with "real" Mag loads, and Blazer JHPs were $12.96/box of 50. Yes, this was a while ago.
The more time I spent on the S&W forum, the more I wanted a 696. Eventually got a used no-dash, and paid top dollar for it (at the time, I think that was ~$600). It about my third or fourth revolver (been a while) and was a beautiful piece of work. Putting the two side by side, it was easy to see why the S&W cost +2x what the Taurus did. At 25", that 696 once put five rounds, double-action, into a clover-leaf. The gun did it all...I just held onto it.
I still have the target. I know that many can do that with their eyes closed, and some can do that at 25 yards...but at that stage of my shooting, that was a crowning achievement. I am not sure that I have ever matched that feat shooting a revolver double-action.
I carried the 696 from time to time, but I always felt like I was using the Mona Lisa to patch a hole in the roof.
Sometime thereafter, I found a used 396 (the Scandium version of the 696). it was substantially lighter and easier carrying, and the prior owner had used some sort of solvent to (unintentionally) remove a large-thumb-print-sized part of the silver coating. Looked like Hell, again I got it at a reasonable price, sent it in to S&W requesting a quote for a re-finish. When I had not received a phone update a week later, I called. It was already on its way back to me, no charge, complete re-finish, good as new. Wow.
Very, very impressed with S&W's Customer service, and it remains to this day the only occasion I have had to use it. Sure gave me yet another good reason to be an S&W fan...
While much easier to carry (weight-wise), the 396 was not nearly as pleasant to shoot as the 696. I never shot it all that well, and somewhere along the line I got my hands on a Kimber Ultra Carry II. that was smaller and lighter than the 696, and held three more rounds of an equivalent round (.45acp). Combined with rising ammo prices (I was not handloading back then) I made a decision, down-sized and standardized my pistols to 9mm and .45, my revolvers to .357 Mag.
The 396 went to a fellow board member, and he still has it, and actually posts pics of it now and then...whenever he does, I feel a twinge.
The 696 went to an S&W board member, and I miss it too.
The Taurus went to a good friend next state over, and he still has it. When I visit him, he lets me carry it, and we are both happy.
At a certain point, after I got into handloading, I discovered .45 LC. But that's another story for another day.
Thanks for the walk down memory lane.