The Hobby Gunsmith

Gun Test -

We Shoot the Smith & Wesson 500 Magnum


It was about thirty years ago that we watched Clint Eastwood walk onto the screen of the movie Dirty Harry.  Although Eastwood was the star of the movie, the Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver upstaged him in every scene.  Eastwood's regular reference to the gun being the most powerful handgun in the world caused a lot of people to purchase them.

   I was one of the people who wanted one of these very powerful handguns, but the sudden increase in popularity drove the price out of reach for most of me and I would not own a .44 magnum until deciding to purchase a Ruger Blackhawk that would eventually be used in cowboy action shooting.

   Several other companies, including Ruger, attempted to steal Smith & Wesson's thunder by bringing out the .454 Casull, the 480 Ruger, or the Desert Eagle .50. 

   After several years of watching other companies taking their position as the top dog in the making of powerful handguns, Smith & Wesson returns to rule the kingdom with the new 500 Magnum revolver, the most powerful handgun ever made.

The profile of the 500 Magnum along with five empty cases.  They are large.

   The Smith & Wesson 500 Magnum is still difficult to obtain, but we at The Hobby Gunsmith managed to pick one up for the article.  Ours was equipped with an 8 3/8 inch barrel and weighs in at 72.5 ounces.

The 500 Magnum holds only five bullets, which should be enough.  One shot should drop any walking animal in North America.

   The gun is deceptively large and seems to have an undersize grip frame.  A few measurements revealed the grip frame to be about the same one as the older .44 Magnum, but it appears small when compared to the much larger size of the X-frame.  All 500 Magnum revolvers are made of Stainless Steel, and ours was the Satin Stainless finish.

The S&W 500 Magnum has an additional crane latch hidden here to offset the forces of recoil.

   Picking up the gun reveals the very nose heavy feel caused by the very heavy stainless barrel.  The balance changes slightly after loading five .50 caliber cartridges into the cylinder.  The additional heft of the cartridges tends to shift the balance a little to the rear.

Note the heavy barrel that pushes the balance point forward.  Loading the gun tends to bring the balance back a little.

   The weight of the barrel is appreciated when the gun is fired, because it helps to reduce muzzle flip.  Other methods of reducing recoil problems include the use of a Hoque SorbathaneŽ Recoil Absorbing Grip and the three port compensator that sits forward of the black front sight blade.

The three-port compensator located above the barrel just to the front of the front sight.

   We picked up a box of Hornady 350 Grain XTP/MAG ammunition for the 500 Magnum.  Twenty rounds of this ammunition cost $39.95, so this is not an inexpensive gun to shoot at the range.  The box lists the muzzle velocity to be 1,900 fps at the muzzle, 1,656 at fifty yards, and 1,439 fps at 100 yards.  This round does tend to hold its energy while in flight.

The barrel is well marked so there will be no mistaking it as a very powerful gun.

   We photographed one of the Hornady bullets flanked by what we believe were a pair of antique 50-70 blackpowder rounds that were provided by one of the local range employees.  This dramatically shows the size of this new cartridge compared to nineteenth century rifle rounds.  One of the antique bullets had an original brass case while the other was an original copper case.

The .50 Magnum Hornady cartridge is flanked by a pair of antique rifle cartridges.

    It was off to the range on a warm and breezy afternoon.  We set the targets up at fifteen yards and prepared for the first shot.  We did not know what to expect with this firearm.  I had looked at the load compared to the .44 magnum so I knew something big was about to happen.  The question in my mind was to wonder if the gun would fly out of my hand and embarrass me.  It was time to find out.

   I grasped the gun as hard as I could, aimed at the target, and gently pulled back the hammer to cock it. Maintaining a very tight grip, I gently squeezed the trigger until it crisply and cleanly broke and the hammer fell. 

  The recoil was harsh, but not as bad as I expected.  There is no doubt that you are firing a very powerful  handgun as it pushes back hard and fast.  Hard enough that I could feel the steel grip frame through the recoil absorbing rubber grip, but the gun did not fly out of my hand or otherwise embarrass me.

The 500 Magnum the instant the shot is fired.  Recoil was strong, but manageable.

   I fired about five shots and allowed another person at the range give it a test.  We then set up a target and fired five shots for accuracy.  The gun was able to place a vertical pattern of four shots with a spread of about two inches at fifteen yards.  I am sure the gun is capable of much better performance, but I am not.  I threw the fifth round down to the six o'clock position and concluded the pattern was being caused by my reaction to the recoil.

The target showing the vertical group in the upper left and the one that got away in the six o'clock position.

   Recoil flinch was evident in the shots we tried to put on the target, but was more evident as I tried to shoot a .22 revolver and found myself anticipating the shots and throwing holes all over the target.  It took about fifty .22 shots before I was able to work the anticipation flinch out of my shooting.

   This gun will get a lot of time on the range as I consider it to be excellent for practicing.  We will begin loading the gun down to closer to around 1,200 feet per second in order to mitigate the development of a flinch.  Even Eastwood's Dirty Harry character later admitted he shot .44 specials through his gun to have plenty of power while maintaining control.  Reloading materials and tools are readily available for this new cartridge.