By Paul Rackley, GunBroker.com Editor
When you reach a certain age, you look back and remember how things have changed. While I’m not old enough to have seen Harry Callahan make the claim on the Big Screen (I’m going to date myself by saying I saw it on VHS), I do remember when Dirty Harry’s statement was basically true. In the world of production handguns, the Smith & Wesson Model 29 in .44 Mag. used to be “the most powerful handgun in the world.”
Sure, there were some wildcat rounds that surpassed the .44, but it wasn’t until 1997 that a major gun company produced a more powerful handgun. The .454 Casull stayed on top for about six years when a short battle for most powerful handgun ensued among firearm manufacturers. This skirmish resulted in some new chamberings in some really beefed up handguns. The .44 Mag. is no longer the big boy of the block. And while there are still some wildcat cartridges that beat everything listed below, these are the most powerful production handguns available. I have personally felt the kick of all but one of these monsters, each of which can be found on GunBroker.com.
Dick Casull developed the .454 Casull in 1957 as a wildcat cartridge, though few heard of it until a couple of years later. Basically, he lengthened a .45 Colt case to produce a round that comes out of a barrel at 1,900 fps with approximately 2,000 foot-pounds of energy. Several companies have manufactured revolvers for this round, including Taurus with the Raging Hunter. Now, even with steel construction and a 6-inch, ported barrel, this gun is a beast. In fact, I have fired every large-caliber handgun I could get my hands on, and absolutely consider the .454 Casull to be the most vicious with recoil. This is regardless of manufacturer or model. The .454 Casull hits the hand like a wrecking ball. However, despite my hand always hurting after a range session with this revolver, my face is also smiling. Those looking for something that can take anything in the world should consider this gun, if they can handle the pain. One nice addition is that guns chambered in .454 can also fire the much easier to handle .45 Colt loads.
Ruger developed the .480 Ruger in conjunction with Hornady. The basic idea was to create a load that was more powerful than the .44 Mag., but without the recoil of the .454 Casull. The idea worked and in 2003 Ruger introduced the Super Redhawk in .480 Ruger. This round produces 1,311 foot-pounds of energy to send a 410-grain bullet out of the barrel at 1,200 fps. This is quite a lot of power, but the felt recoil in the hand isn’t as bad as others on the list, at least in my opinion. It is a lot of gun, but it is only about 10 percent more powerful than the .44 Mag. So, the recoil, in theory, should only be a little bit more. I disagree, but anyone who can handle the Dirty Harry shouldn’t have too many problems. Especially since Ruger includes a Hogue Tamer Monogrip on this well-balanced revolver.
When Smith & Wesson realized it no longer held the “big boy” title, the company started looking for a way bring the title back home. The result ended up being a round with a bullet that measures a half inch in diameter. The .500 Smith & Wesson pushes a 440-grain bullet to 1,325 fps, generating 1,710 foot-pounds of energy at the barrel. In fact, this gun required Smith & Wesson develop a new frame, designated the X Frame. It is absolutely one of the most powerful handguns in the world, and the recoil is comparable. However, I’ve never seen a .500 S&W that didn’t come with a compensated barrel. It also comes with a synthetic grip that helps absorb some of the recoil. Now this gun is powerful, and many can’t handle it for more than a couple of shots. However, I like the .500 S&W. This revolver lets you know you have something big that can take down anything it hits. My only issue is the noise. I would hate to have to fire this gun without hearing protection. And absolutely wouldn’t unless some man-eater was charging me with hate in its heart.
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While the bullet diameter is a little smaller than the .500, most shooters consider the .460 S&W to be the most powerful handgun in the world. This handgun sends a 225-grain bullet to 2,132 fps and produces an astonishing 2,274 foot-pounds of energy. Out of longer barrels, speed and energy can go even higher. Regardless of barrel length, this gun provides power with a capital P. Now one advantage of this revolver is that in addition to .460 S&W, shooters can also fire both .454 Casull and .45 Colt ammunition. This makes the gun much more adaptable to needs of shooters, sort of a big, bigger and biggest situation. And while the .460 is absolutely more powerful, I’ve always felt that it produces less felt recoil than the .454 Casull out of the same gun. The .460 S&W might be the big boy on the block, but Dick Casull built the meanest monster.
The Biggest Finest Revolver might not be the most powerful handgun on the market, but there is some power in this gun. It also has some recoil. In fact, the U.S. military developed the .45-70 in the late 1800s as a rifle round. So, basically, Magnum Research put a rifle round in a handgun. In fact, the BFR comes in a variety of rifle and handgun chamberings, such as .44 Mag., .444 Marlin, .350 Legend and more. Now this is the gun I have never fired. Moreover, I have never even fired a .45-70, just never had the opportunity. I would assume, though, that this gun brings some recoil, along with the power. It could probably take down anything in North America at short to medium range.
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