April 1999

New .475 Linebaugh: Handgun Power To Burn

We take the most powerful production round ever chambered for a repeating handgun on a test driveóand find that itís a handful.

Few cartridge designers ever see their names in a cartridge headstamp. For example, Elmer Keith never had his name on a factory-produced cartridge, not even on his most famous design, the .44 Magnum. Sure, there are a few experimenters whose names are still alive, such as Newton, Ross, Weatherby, and of course Ned Roberts. Also, some proprietary English cartridges—Rigby, Holland, Westley Richards, Purdey—bear their inventors’ names, but like Remington or Winchester, they primarily designate company affiliation. As well, many wildcat cartridges are named after individuals, but very few legitimate ones. It remains a quirk of the firearms industry that a cartridge designer’s name usually passes into obscurity—but not so in the case of John Linebaugh.

Linebaugh’s name is about to become synonymous with power, now that Freedom Arms has chambered the eponymous .475 Linebaugh in a production revolver, making it the most powerful repeating handgun ever offered as an over-the-counter firearm. Designated the Model 757, the new Freedom five-shot revolver chambers the .475 Linebaugh, a round that simply crushes other wheelgun offerings in terms of energy.

Click here to view how the .475 Linebaugh rates against other cartridges in terms of velocity, energy and oomph


But, we wondered, can that power be controlled and channeled so that it becomes a useful round in a handgun, or is the .475 Linebaugh a Frankenstein-like freak of nature—powerful, but ultimately uncontrollable? We decided to find out.

When we tested the .475 Linebaugh, we first wondered how several well-known cartridges compared with it? The five-shot Freedom .475 Linebaugh revolvers throw a 420-grain bullet at 1,350 fps. In contrast, the .44 Magnum throws a 250-grainer at about 1,250 fps. The .44 Mag achieves around 800 foot-pounds of muzzle energy; the .475 Linebaugh, just over 1,700 foot-pounds. Stated another way, the Linebaugh has more energy at 300 yards than the .44 Magnum at the muzzle. Also, the sectional density of the .475 Linebaugh is 0.27; that of the .44 Mag/250 is 0.19. This numeric indicator of penetration capability doesn’t make the potential of the .475 quite as clear as this evidence: The .475 has penetrated the skulls of living elephants on numerous occasions. Don’t try that with a .44 Magnum and your favorite Keith load.

Next, the .475 Wildey Magnum came to mind. Charles Bronson used one to good effect in the movie Death Wish III. This is a semiauto design that uses cut-off .284 brass that can be handloaded with either 250- or 300-grain bullets to impressive velocities. The 300-grain bullet gets over 1,600 fps, and paper energy is around 1,700 ft-lbs, the realm of the Linebaugh. Downsides: The .475 Wildey Magnum guns are large and bulky, and the ammo is not commercially loaded. It’s strictly a handloading proposition. Cost of the gun is about the same as the Freedom. The Wildey compares well with the power and performance of the Linebaugh, but the latter beats it easily for bullet weight and, of course, for ease of carry and for versatility. The revolver can handle the lightest or heaviest loads with no alterations, and the semiautomatic can’t do that.

The .429 Super Bower is another powerful round. Specifically, the .429 Super Bower can propel a 365-grain, 0.429-inch-diameter bullet at 1,990 fps. Muzzle energy is in excess of 3,200 foot-pounds, and it works very well for the heaviest game on this continent. A more generally useful load, however, gives a 275-grain ICBM spitzer bullet a speed of 2,070 fps. This bullet has a ballistic coefficient of 0.385, which gives it a retained velocity at 200 yards of 1,650 fps and an energy at that range of 1,675 foot-pounds. Muzzle figures are 2,070 fps and 2,600 foot-pounds, at a chamber pressure of only 39,000 psi. Also, the Super Bower pushes a 350-grain bullet to around 2,000 fps, which produces more than 3,000 foot-pounds of paper energy, much more than the .475 Linebaugh. However, it requires a single-shot handgun, not a repeater. Also, while either the .429 Super Bower or the .475 Linebaugh would be enough cartridge for anything you’d care to hunt, the Super Bower, even with a weight of 3.7 pounds, is extremely uncomfortable to shoot with full loads, we found. Also, the big Bower is a .43 caliber, and the .475 Linebaugh is a .48, and many shooters prefer the heaviest bullets of the largest diameter for the biggest game. Most would also prefer to have a handgun for which they can buy ammunition instead of having one for which they must make ammo, and here the .475 beats not only the .429 but also the more powerful .500 Linebaugh.

Other rounds that we thought might be in the Linebaugh’s power ballpark are the .50 AE, the .454 Casull, and the .500 Linebaugh (see table). The .500 Linebaugh beats the .475 for bullet weight, but the .475 wins for velocity. These two calibers are very close in power to each other. The .50 AE is a step below the power of the .475 Linebaugh. In factory loads, the .50 AE slings a 325-grain bullet at around 1,400 fps, compared with the .475’s 420-grain at 1,350 fps. That’s 100 grains more bullet at nearly the same speed. If you compare muzzle energies, the .50 AE gets 1,400 foot-pounds versus 1,700 fps for the .475 Linebaugh.

Switching to the Casull, another factory-produced round, the difference is much larger in real-life numbers. The Casull can get (with very high pressure) a velocity approaching 1,600 fps out of a 300-grain bullet. That puts muzzle energy right up there with the Linebaugh. If we measure power by the dubious means of muzzle energy, the Casull is in the race. However, heavy and/or dangerous game requires heavy bullets that can smash big bones, not the realm of light bullets at high velocity.

If we define truly powerful repeating production-handgun calibers as those which can utilize factory-loaded bullets 300 grains or heavier at velocities in excess of 1,200 fps, we have the .454 Casull, the .50 AE and the heavily loaded .45 Long Colt to compare with the .475 Linebaugh. (The .475 Wildey is not blessed with production ammo.) The .454 Casull can’t handle bullets over 300 grains without deep-seating them, and for that purpose the .45 Long Colt actually beats it, and that brass length permits crimping in the right place, too. This doesn’t put the Casull out of the race, but be advised its working pressure is that of a centerfire rifle, and the muzzle blast is horrific. If you want lots of velocity to get your horsepower, the .454 is a good way to go, and you can also shoot any .45 Long Colt loads in the gun. The .454 Casull will do lots of good things for you. Don’t mistake its power for that of the .475, however. They’re not the same at all.

How about heavy .45 Long Colt loads? Buffalo Bore’s hottest .45 load gives a 325-grain lead bullet 1,325 fps. (Custom revolvers built by John Linebaugh in .45 Long Colt can exceed that velocity, but we’ll use the Buffalo Bore load for comparison.) This “HVY” loading, as Buffalo Bore labels it, can be fired in relatively inexpensive guns like the Ruger Bisley Vaquero, and in a few other brands. That means you don’t have to buy a costly .454 Casull to get lots of handgun power. This load develops 1,250 foot-pounds of energy, or about 1.5 times that of a .44 Magnum. That’s way below the .475’s 1,700 foot-pounds of energy, but it’s probably adequate for all North American hunting short of Kodiak bears at close range. As we’ve said, if you want to find out if the .475 Linebaugh is for you, try some of the Buffalo Bore .45 HVY loads in a Ruger Bisley .45 Long Colt and see if you can handle the recoil. If not, don’t bother with the .475 because you’ll either be selling it soon or shooting it with light loads all the time.

Gun Tests Recommends
Based on our testing of the .475 Linebaugh/Freedom Arms 757, we believe there is precious little need for the power of a .475 Linebaugh for most hunting needs, unless you plan to hunt the largest and/or most dangerous game on earth, in which case the sky’s the limit. The above-mentioned .45 HVY loads will probably do as good a job on any North American game, short of big bear or moose or huge elk, as anyone could expect from a handgun.

However, this won’t keep people from buying the .475 any more than 55-mph speed limits kept people from buying cars capable of 150 mph. Freedom Arms’s Randy Smith said the company already has a slew of orders in from Alaska, where an easily-packed handgun with all that power makes a great deal of sense.

People all over the world like to own the biggest and best of everything, handguns no exception, and that’s nothing new to John Linebaugh. He has been in business many years catering to those who want such handguns. We think many shooters will buy the new Freedom Linebaugh, fire a shot or two, and then put the gun away and simply bask in the luxury of knowing they’ve got the most powerful revolver in the world. Of course, they will pay for the privilege, spending between $1,400 and $1,820 for the Freedom five-shooter. If you want to own the biggest, most powerful production handgun to come along in this century, then roll up your pennies and order the 757. If not, we appreciate that the .475 Linebaugh isn’t for everybody—but now you know the Linebaugh headstamp means power.