In the 1971 movie "Dirty Harry," actor Clint Eastwood introduced the world to the double-action Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44-cal. Magnum revolver--"the most powerful handgun in the world."
It was a crown S&W wore proudly, albeit briefly.
The rising popularity of handgun hunting for big game (spurred largely by the .44 Magnum itself) prompted the introduction of newer and significantly more powerful revolver cartridges. Many powerful enough that they had to be chambered in single-action handguns because existing double-action designs could not contain the recoil forces and pressures they produced.
Since S&W does not make single-action revolvers, and no double-action frame at its disposal could handle the new loads, S&W was effectively dethroned.
At the 2003 Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show, the manufacturer regained its crown. And, most significantly, it did it by introducing a new massive double-action revolver that is chambered for an equally new .50-cal. cartridge.
The S&W X-frame Model 500 is a brawny handgun designed to master the most rigorous hunting fields in the world. It is not a revolver one would, or likely could, tuck into a waistband. In fact, to call it massive is an understatement.
With its 8-3/8-in. barrel, the overall length of the Model 500 is 15 in. and the empty weight is 4.5 pounds. The cylinder alone is almost 2 in. in diameter and approaches 2.25 in. in length. Thumb the cylinder open and five charge holes await. Each is 1/2 in. in diameter, and the .50-cal. cartridges they hold are almost 2 in. long. Load five of them and the total weight of the handgun climbs to 5 pounds.
You don't just casually pick up a Model 500. You have to lift it.
Fire even one of those big cartridges and you'll appreciate why the weight and mass are there.
When the .44 Magnum laid claim to being the most powerful handgun in the world, its standard load produced about 900 ft.-lb. of muzzle energy. Several new loads have since eclipsed that, but the handgun most commonly used by big game hunters is the .454 Casull, which will generate about 1900 ft.-lb.
The 500 S&W Magnum will produce almost 2600 ft.-lb. with its heaviest load, and more powerful loads may well be on the way.
If Dirty Harry felt that the .44 Magnum would make his day, the new 500 S&W Magnum would certainly make his decade. It is the largest double-action revolver available, and there is no production revolver in the world--single or double action--capable of matching, or even approaching, the level of power it produces.
Harnessing that power in a double-action revolver, however, required some departures from traditional desig FULL STORY