By Dave Henderson
-- The first sign of their presence is several sets of ears moving through the tall understory of the piney north Florida woodlot. The white-tailed does are casually browsing their way past me through the loblolly and longleaf pine stand, back toward their morning bedding area in the swamp behind me.
They show no concern with their backtrail, telling me that none of the still-randy local bucks are harassing the little does in this, the late stages of the rut. But that’s of little importance since this is anything but a trophy hunt. It is, rather, a herd-trimming exercise. And the target-rich environment of Hard Labor Creek Plantation provides a superb venue for testing the big handgun and load I’ve carried to the stand on this balmy mid-February morning.
At 65 yards, the first doe presents a quartering target. The scope’s LED dot finds her shoulder, and she crumples immediately at the report of the big gun. Recovering quickly from the recoil, I swing the illuminated dot to the shoulder of a second momentarily confused animal while I cock the hammer again. She, too, rolls in her tracks.
The effect of a .50-caliber 440-grain hard-cast bullet traveling more than 1,600 feet per second impacting a 70-pound doe is definitely one of overkill, like using a sledgehammer where a fly swatter would suffice. But the Smith & Wesson Model 500 lives up to its label as the biggest and baddest of its kind.
Given the considerable heft, deafening report, substantial recoil and the fact that the 500 can dispense more than twice the muzzle energy of the heaviest .44 Magnum loading, this isn’t a handgun you’ll tote to an indoor plate shoot or afternoon of can plinking. It’s also too big and bad for service use or a place on your bedside nightstand.
The Smith & Wesson 500 is a hunting gun. Period.
Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry Callahan character introduced the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum to unlucky perps as the “most powerful handgun in the world” in the early 1970s. Its title was eventually usurped several times, by wheelguns with names like Casull, Linebaugh, .50 AE and .480 Ruger - but never by the leaps and bounds margin achieved by Smith & Wesson’s newest hand cannon.
Dirty Harry, meet Really Filthy Harry. The S&W 500 X-Frame five-shot .50-caliber revolver reclaims the title as the world’s biggest, baddest, most powerful factory-produced double-action revolver.
Finally accepted back into the industry’s good graces following the exile that resulted from the previous ownership being extorted into a damaging position by the Clinton Admin-istration, Smith & Wesson has made up for lost time by virtually turning the revolver world upside down over the last four years. In that span, the venerable handgun maker developed the smallest and lightest magnum revolvers in the world, the AirLite Ti and AirLite Sc series of titanium cylinder-aluminum alloy frames.
This year, the Springfield, Mass., manufacturer took the industry totally in the other direction with the 500.
My opportunity to experience the 500 firsthand came right after it was introduced to the world at the 2003 Shooting, Hunting and Outdoors Trades (SHOT) Show in Orlando, Fla., last February. Following the show, several of us made the five-hour drive north to the Florida Panhandle community of Shirley and the Hard Labor Creek Plantation with a stainless early-production Model 500 in hand. Our intent was to take advantage of one of the latest-running whitetail seasons in the country.
500 S&W Ammo
At Hard Labor Creek, we shot two of the three current loadings of the 500 S&W cartridge, developed by Cor-Bon Ammunition.
All loaded in Jamison International cases, the initial cartridges are a 275-grain Barnes Hex bullet, a 400-grain Hawk SP and the 1-ounce Hard Cast that we used on the hunt. More will certainly be introduced in the future.
With a muzzle velocity of 1,665 feet per second and starting energy of 1,668 foot-pounds, the excellent-expanding Barnes bullet engenders decidedly less recoil than the two larger loads. Like shooting .38 wadcutters out of a .357 Magnum, the 275-grain 500 S&W loads are advisable for any extended shooting.
Even this, the lightest of the 500 S&W loadings, produces more than twice the energy of the standard 240-grain .44 Magnum.
The 500 S&W’s 400-grain Hawk SP version gets started at 1,675 fps and brings 2,500 foot-pounds to bear at the muzzle. The even-heavier Hard Cast load is only 50 fps slower and packs 80 more foot-pounds.
The current Cor-Bon loads are the only big-bore revolver rounds other than the .454 Casull that top 1,600 fps. The 500 S&W’s two heavy loads are the only ones with muzzle energy of more than a ton (Casull is next at 1,830 foot-pounds).
I found the big banger to be very accurate in a spirited session at host Ted Everett’s range at Hard Labor Creek. And topped with a Smith & Wesson illuminated dot scope, the 500 was an impressive and efficient launching pad for the 275-grain Barnes Hex and 440-grain Cast Performance Cor-Bon loads that later convincingly overmatched the aforementioned white-tailed does at 65 and 80 yards.
At no point during the range session or on the hunting stand did I feel the need or the desire to digress from single-action operation of the 500. I was convinced that it would take a far better hand to effect double-action fire with the big gun. That hand proved to be retired Oklahoma City detective, champion pistol shot and long time S&W devotee Bill Booth. My tall, lean hunting partner demonstrated double-action fire with the seemingly angry 72.5-ounce weapon and handled it surprisingly well.
It was firing single-action, how-ever, that he was able to coax near-cloverleaf 50-yard groups and 3-inch 100-yard groups out of the big banger.
The gun is a handful, to be sure, but it’s remarkably manageable. Admit-tedly, it comes back at you in a big way when you touch one off. But the 4.5-pound mass, well-designed frame, 10.5-inch barrel with compensator (which doubles as a barrel nut) and well-padded Hogue rubberized grip distributes the understandably savage recoil well. Recoil is more like a push - okay, maybe a shove - than a kick. An additional ball-detent lock-up on the yoke provides more than necessary security for the massive cylinder.
It would certainly be a stretch to describe the 500’s recoil as “comfortable,” particularly with the full-ounce cast bullet loads. It was, in fact, the only handgun in my experience that made shooting the Model 629 .44 Magnum seem pleasurable by comparison. That being said, however, I found the 500 S&W to be no less manageable than a .454 Casull or its ilk - especially if it’s being fired at game.
Priced at considerably less than $1,000, the 500 S&W is available in a limited production run this year. It is, quite simply, another landmark pistol. But that’s hardly a surprise from the historic pistolmaker that previously gave us the original S&W .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum and .41 Magnum.
--Reprinted from the April 2003 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine