Ever since the film Dirty Harry captured the hearts of gun aficionados everywhere, with Clint Eastwood proclaiming that his .44 magnum was the “most powerful handgun in the world”, big revolvers have been thoroughly in vogue. In actuality, revolvers have been popular a lot longer than that – nearly a century before Dirty Harry Callahan drew his Smith and Wesson Model 29, gunslingers, soldiers, mercenaries and outlaws were shooting lead at each other… with a revolver.
Perhaps John Moses Browning, after inventing the 1911 .45 automatic pistol, thought that his new creation would spell the end of revolvers, yet even a century after that event, revolvers are still going strong. There are some great reasons why revolvers were – and continue to be – extremely popular, even today:
- Revolvers are simple, and anyone can be taught to operate one with just a few minutes of training.
- Revolvers are reliable and seldom encounter any operational problems. Contrast this with automatics that can have stovepipes, misfeeds, and a whole host of other issues.
- Revolvers are available in some of the most powerful handgun calibers on the planet.
It’s the last point that we’re excited about; ultra powerful revolver loads that would shatter most automatics were they chambered in those calibers. And to shoot those powerful loads, you need a big revolver, and big revolvers are just, well – cool. Since the mid 1980s when most federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies went almost exclusively to automatics (yes, there are still a few holdouts), revolvers have continued to evolve, with many new designs emerging (and even some new calibers coming to light), one of them being the gargantuan .500 Smith and Wesson Magnum.
The .500 S&W is a cartridge that makes even the vaunted .44 magnum look diminutive; it can propel 440 grain loads at over 1500 feet per second, producing over 3000 foot pounds of energy – about the same performance as a shotgun slug. Suffice to say, the .500 Smith and Wesson Magnum is now the most powerful (production) handgun cartridge in the world, Mr. Callahan. In fact, it is so powerful that Smith and Wesson had to build an entirely new revolver around it – the Model 500. An entirely new model that’s more robust, larger, and heavier than the N frame Model 629 that the .44 magnum is based on, the Model 500 is a massive brute that sports barrel lengths of 4” (ouch), 8 ¾” (more like it) and 10.5” (makes most battleships green with envy).
Some amazing firepower indeed!
So what exactly is the case that we’re making for a big revolver? Well first off, they have a fun factor that’s simply unequalled with automatics; whether it’s a .357 magnum, a .44 magnum, a .454 Casull, or even the mighty Model 500, big revolvers are not only a blast (pun intended), they tend to attract lots of spectators. They are instant conversation starters (and potentially conversation stoppers in the right situations), and their values seldom, if ever, decrease due to their perennial novelty factor. Keep in mind that it’s a proven fact that many firearms are purchased just because people like the way they look; if this wasn’t the case, Desert Eagle wouldn’t have sold a single pistol. People buy them because they look cool and they shoot…..well, they look cool, anyways.
Seriously, though, from a tactical perspective, what advantage can a big revolver give us that an automatic can’t? How about:
- Accuracy: Don’t think for a minute that a revolver like the Model 500 with a 10.5” barrel isn’t deadly accurate; the sight radius on that pistol is as long as a football field and the barrel length ensures you’ll hit what you’re aiming at. For comparison’s sake, consider that the Model 500 has a barrel that’s over twice as long as that on a Beretta 92FS, and longer barrels make more accurate shooters.
- Stopping Power: Revolver pundits will decry the fact that a big magnum load makes follow up shots difficult; there’s too much muzzle flip and recoil to get a second shot on target quickly. And guess what – they’re mostly right – with one proviso; it’s likely that if you hit your intended target the first time, a follow up shot won’t be required. Consider that a Model 500 is rated as powerful enough to stop any big game in North America. That means grizzlies, moose, bison, and elk, all of which are approximately the size of your average car. A human doesn’t stand a chance. Who needs follow up shots when the first one vaporizes on contact?
- Simplicity: Line up the sights, pull the trigger. It couldn’t be easier than that. Revolvers are stupid simple.
Sure, some of our reasoning is a little tongue in cheek, but seriously, if you’ve never shot a large frame revolver, go rent one next time you hit the range. The grin you get after firing and handling it will be about like the grin you had when you held your very first rifle or pistol. They’re reliable, fun, powerful, and easy to shoot.
Just make sure and maintain a firm grip at all times…