I was pleasantly surprised to see the massive S&W .500 Magnum revolver make an appearance as the first firearm challenge on the Season 3 debut of Top Shot on the History channel. Big caliber aficionados and recoil hounds like myself have long had a soft spot in our hearts for any model firearm that can claim to be “the most powerful production revolver in the world,” even if it’s no longer Dirty Harry’s iconic .44 Magnum.
Contestants on Top Shot last night faced off in what would turn out to be the team selection challenge with three targets to be hit with a massive S&W 500 slinging bullets weighing somewhere between 300 and 500 grains at more than 1,500 feet per second out of an 8.38 inch barrel. Colby tossed out the comment that this revolver is capable of taking any animal that walks this earth… a claim that echoes Smith & Wesson’s own advertising copy, and although I’m not sure I’d try it out on large or dangerous African game, it is certainly capable of taking any North American game animal. That, after all, is what most readers of this blog are concerned with (but if you happen to be on safari in Africa with this handgun and want to give it a go, be sure to email us and let us know how that worked out for you).
Belching a massive 350 grain projectile at almost 2000 feet per second, the S&W 500 generates a stunning 3,050 lb-ft of energy at the muzzle. By comparison, a 180 grain .308 caliber bullet fired at 2,600 feet per second has a muzzle velocity of only 2,800 lb-ft. At distances under 200 yards, the .500 is more than capable of taking deer, elk, moose, or even bear with a properly placed solid hard-cast bullet.
From the factory, the 500 comes equipped with a rear adjustable sight and fiber-optic front sight, which makes aiming easier in the low light conditions around sunrise and sunset when game animals are most active. It holds 5 rounds, which is (or should be) plenty for most hunters, but as we saw on Top Shot last night, it’s still possible to need to top off the gun. With 3 targets at increasing distances, a 50% or greater miss rate required a number of the shooters to reload.
The difficulty here isn’t that the gun is inaccurate or that the targets on the show were necessarily difficult to hit. Quite the contrary, this revolver is extremely accurate and able to reliably hit targets out past 400 yards. The problem is that it takes an unusual amount of strength and control to keep the 8″ barrel of the massive X-frame gun on target. At over 4.5 pounds unloaded, this revolver is no lightweight handgun. Fully loaded and topped off with a scope, it can easily tip the scales at more than 5 pounds. Add in the fact that most of that weight is hanging far out from the fulcrum of the shooter’s grip and it’s easy to see why the shots are difficult to keep on target when shooting off-hand. That being the case, ethical hunters and outdoorsmen would do well to use shooting sticks, stands, or trees to stabilize this big hand-cannon, or shoot from more stable positions such as sitting, kneeling, or prone.
Despite the large caliber of the Smith & Wesson .500, it’s not particularly difficult to shoot. Recoil, while significant, is easily managed. The soft hand-filling grips and an effective muzzle-brake combined with the weight of the frame and barrel make it, if not comfortable, at the very least not punishing when the big half-inch magnum load is touched off.
Still, it’s big, heavy, and LOUD. Inevitably, when shooting a handgun such as this at the range, somebody will come up and politely ask to see what it is you’re shooting.
Unless you’re at an indoor range. Then they will usually shout, “HEY! You wanna give us fair warning before setting that gorram hand cannon off in here?!”
Which is often followed up with “What the heck do you use that thing for anyway?”
The only answer to which is “Dragons.”
“Dragons? Are you crazy? There aren’t any dragons around here!”
But of course. They’re smart, those dragons. That’s why they haven’t been seen in North America for a while. They heard I had a .500 Magnum and took off for lands where the virgins are more plentiful and the most powerful production revolver in the world hasn’t been invented yet.