October 2006

Biggest-Bore Shootout: S&W’s

For those people who want the largest pistol on the block ó and perhaps in town ó the .500 S&W Magnum is your caliber.According to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) regulations, rifle and handgun bores are limited to one-half inch, unless the firearm is registered as a destructive device and a Federal $200 tax is paid and all other requirements are met. Translation: Donít plan on seeing .550 or .600 magnum revolvers in the near future. Some other manufacturer could make a longer cartridge, but the overall length on the .500 S&W magnum is already over 2 inches long, and it accommodates bullet weights from light 275-grain hollow points to heavy 400-grain platinum-coated bullets. Such bullets require big launching pads, and we recently acquired two guns that fit the bill, in shorter barrel lengths suitable to uses other than hunting. We acquired Taurus and Smith & Wesson 4-inch-barrel double action revolvers, namely the Taurus Raging Bull .500 Magnum No. 500MSS4, $934; and the Smith & Wesson .500 S&W Magnum No. 163504, $1256. These revolvers generated a lot of interest among shooters. The two most common questions we heard at the range were "Can I have a shot?" and "What do you use that revolver for?" We were more than happy to let a variety of shooters, ranging from teenagers to senior citizens, try out these guns, and we noted their impressions. However, we couldnít talk any women into shooting these monsters. Also, very few shooters wanted to take a second shot.

Our favorite answer to the second question was to say weíd use the guns for "concealed-carry self-defense," then we would all laugh. Of course we donít recommend these guns for concealed carry because of their large size and deep penetrating power. As witness to their punch, we handloaded the lightest bullet (Barnes X 275-grain XPB) with the lightest powder charge recommended (11.0 grains of Hodgdon Titegroup) and fired it into 1-gallon containers of water. Our load produced a velocity of 1,000 fps (400 fps less than Cor-Bon) and a muzzle energy of 600 foot-pounds (half the power of Cor-Bonís 1200 foot-pounds). This was the most comfortable and easily controlled load of all the ones we tested. The most recoil-sensitive shooters had no problem shooting this load.

All that in consideration, we recovered the bullet from inside the sixth jug, which equates to 33 inches of penetration, far exceeding our recommendation of 12 inches. The recovered bullet did not expand or lose any weight. Some people feel that this gun would be suited for bear defense, and based on what we experienced, that seems about right.

If you think the .500 S&W Magnum is simply a larger version of the .44 Magnum round you would be mistaken. The cartridge overall length (COL) of the .44 Magnum is 1.6 inches, whereas the COL of the .500 S&W Magnum is 2.085 inches. The muzzle energy is substantially different. Winchesterís most potent load for the .44 Magnum is a 250-grain platinum-tip hollowpoint (#816160, $20.49 for 20 rounds) which has a listed velocity of 1250 fps and muzzle energy of 867 foot-pounds. Winchesterís .500 S&W Magnum 400-grain platinum-tip hollow point (#361538, $40.49 for 20 rounds) has a listed velocity of 1800 fps and muzzle energy of 2877 foot-pounds ó more than three times the energy of the .44 Magnum! The listed velocities were based on revolvers with 8-inch barrels. Our recorded velocities were approximately 300 to 400 fps less with 4-inch barrels.

Hereís what we learned:

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