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Max Prasac

Handgun Hunting: 11 Best Hunting Revolver Options (2023)

Updated 10/17/2023

Handgun Hunting Hunting Revolvers lead

You don't want to choose the wrong tool for your next handgun hunting adventure, and you won't with these top-notch hunting revolver options.

What Are The Best Hunting Revolvers:

For those reading my byline for the very first time, allow me to introduce myself. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool handgun hunter—actually, more narrowly, a revolver hunter—who really enjoys getting up close and personal with the game being pursued. I’m also a bit of a big-bore junky who’s somewhat impervious to heavy recoil. My wife explains this as a numbness between my ears … and she might be right.

When given this assignment, I balked at narrowing my collection of hunting revolvers down to 10 favorites. It took some real soul-searching and deliberation to slice these 10 out of the pile and really justify my choices.

You’ll notice that in some cases, I’ve included multiple revolvers of the same caliber, but the differences between/among the platforms is considerable enough to include them. I‘ve listed them here, and with each selection comes my rationalization for including said choice (I don’t let emotion cloud my judgment on this topic).

That said, here it goes in ascending order.

11. The Starter Pistol: Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum

Handgun Hunting Hunting Revolvers Ruger GP100

I know this one isn’t technically (or literally, for that matter) a big-bore revolver, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include what I consider to be a first-class starter pistol for game in the whitetail-sized range. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and this is a really fine way to go, particularly with a 6-inch barrel.

The double-action GP is built on a medium-sized stainless or carbon-steel frame that’s easy and light enough to carry but heavy enough to absorb recoil—a real consideration when introducing the neophyte to hunting revolvers (let’s not scare them off before they get hooked). I run this one with open sights, because I consciously limit the ranges I hunt when pressing a .357 Magnum into action.

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I’ve always considered the .357 Magnum as butting up to the marginal line, but placement is everything, no matter what your hunting implement is; and, loaded correctly, the .357 Magnum provides enough “oomph” (that is a technical term!) for any deer-sized animal. This is inevitably the revolver I start beginners on. My only suggestion is that the shooter (and anyone accompanying the shooter) wear hearing protection, because the .357 enjoys a well-earned reputation for ear-splitting noise.

10. Mild to Wild: BFR .44 Magnum

Magnum Research 44 Mag

Your options aren’t limited when seeking a .44 Magnum for hunting. This choice, Magnum Research’s BFR, is perhaps the most versatile. Simply put, every BFR revolver is equipped with an oversized five-shot cylinder. In the case of the .44 Magnum, there’s a lot of meat between the chambers, allowing for illegal levels of overboard fun if you so desire.

While I’m not suggesting over-pressure loads, this revolver will digest top-end, bona fide magnum loads that will shake lesser revolvers loose without noticing. This particular BFR is built on the short frame and has an all-stainless steel (17-4PH) construction. The five-shot cylinder is unfluted and counterbored and features a freewheeling pawl (for easy loading and unloading).

I had this one equipped with a short (4 5/8-inch) barrel and have topped it with an Ultradot L/T reflexive red-dot sight. It’s also fitted with Magnum Research’s excellent Bisley grip frame—a must when recoil levels start to soar. Don’t let the short barrel fool you into thinking this one spends more time riding in a holster as backup. I regularly use this one as a primary while hunting—such is its accuracy; and it’s really fast to press into action and good for quick follow-up shooting.

I consider the .44 Magnum a threshold cartridge, in that the recoil is heavy enough to keep a large portion of the population from laying hands upon one, but I also feel it’s a bare minimum when animals start tipping the scales in the four-figure range.

9. The Best of the X-Frames: Smith & Wesson Model S&W 500

Handgun Hunting Hunting Revolvers Smith Wesson 500

This is one of the aforementioned emotional choices. Yet, there’s no denying its lethal functionality. Of all of the available oversized X-frames from Smith & Wesson, in my humble opinion, this one sticks out as the best-looking and the best-handling hunting revolver.

The combination of the 6½-inch barrel and the half-underlug makes this one pleasing to the eye. It handles well and actually carries well too. The barrel is ported to aid in controlling muzzle flip, but all .500 S&W Magnums loaded to spec are afflicted with muzzle flip.

Even when loaded to proper .500 Smith levels, this one doesn’t abuse the shooter…much. If you really want a double-action .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum, I recommend this configuration.

8. Wheelgun Perfection: Ruger Turnbull Bisley .45 Colt (Lipsey’s)

 Ruger Turnbull Bisley

This revolver really talks to me. It helps that Doug Turnbull performed his magic on the exterior with his legendary color case-hardening. Even so, everything about this revolver is right—from the unfluted cylinder to the rosewood Bisley grips and the 5½-inch barrel to the caliber (an old favorite: the .45 Colt). Because it’s a full-sized, single-action Ruger, you can dabble in the “Ruger-only” .45 Colt zone that hovers in the 30,000 psi range.

This is one of the few hunting revolvers in the group that’s not equipped with an optic, because I feel it will just upset the look. To me, this is the perfect configuration for a Ruger single-action revolver. While this was part of an exclusive small run of revolvers from Lipsey’s, Ruger tends to repeat these dealer-exclusive runs—particularly if they prove popular. The .45 Colt on this level is serious big-game medicine.

7. The Genius of Dick Casull: Freedom Arms Model 83 .454 Casull

Handgun Hunting Hunting Revolvers Freedom Arms

This one’s a no-brainer. This is Dick Casull’s revolver design, chambered in the high-pressure wonder cartridge bearing his name: the .454 Casull. If ever the term, “premium,” applied to an out-of-the-box revolver, the FA83 is the one. This field-grade model is equipped with a 6-inch barrel and a counterbored five-shot cylinder.

Much as with Colt’s legendary Single Action Army, the FA’s hammer must be put into half-cock position for you to spin the cylinder for loading and unloading. Almost always “boringly” accurate, the FA83 is tank-like in its ability to absorb the abuse a .454 Casull can surely dish out. While the grip frame is very good for controlling the sizable recoil, it’s a significant step up and over the .44 Magnum.

When it comes to the .454 Casull, the sky’s the limit, as far as big-game capability is concerned. It has comfortably taken virtually every game animal known to man—with aplomb.

6. The Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World: BFR .500 S&W Magnum

Magnum Resarch 500 SW

I believe that single-action revolvers are better configured for handling cartridges that develop an abundance of pressure, recoil and power. The .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum is, by a margin, at the top of the power-production heap.

This one’s built on the stretched-frame BFR platform, and while a bit ungainly looking, it handles and balances extremely well when equipped with a 7½-inch barrel. A cartridge such as the .500 S&W necessitates a large, well-built revolver to safely handle it, and the BFR is no exception. The extra bulk is your friend when top-end loads are being used, and the Bisley grip frame helps mitigate abusive recoil.

Despite its proportions, I’ve found this one (with a bit of practice) easy to shoot offhand. In handgun terms: This one has an abundance of horsepower—a necessity when your game’s weight is measured in tons. If pachyderm is in your sights, this is your huckleberry.

5. Ergonomic Perfection: Smith & Wesson Model 29 Classic

Handgun Hunting Hunting Revolvers Smith Wesson Model 29

This is both a nostalgic and a practical choice for me. I’ve had a number of Model 29s and 629s (stainless steel versions) throughout the course of my adult life, and I will likely always own at least one. Not only does it look right, its proportions are perfect, it feels good in the hand, and it’s generally accurate.

In addition, the factory trigger is among the best. I must reiterate here that it look great. Ergonomically, this is one of the hardest revolvers to beat—period. I wanted a currently produced revolver, which precluded buying one on the used market. So, I turned to the actual manufacturer and ordered one of its throwback “Classic” models with a 4-inch barrel.

In order to preserve my Model 29s/629s, I don’t load any of them too hot. But with midrange loads, the 29 makes for a great deer gun.

4. Speed King: BFR Precision Center .460 S&W Magnum

Magnum Reserch BFR 560

This is the most versatile revolver/cartridge combination on my list. It’s the one revolver that can literally take on any handgun hunting role you can cook up. Folks often cite the ability to shoot .45 Colt and .454 Casull from the .460 as contributing to the gun’s versatility, but I don’t really see it that way.

While it’s possible to shoot these other rounds through your .460, the real justification for having a .460 is, well, having a .460. It has the ballistic potential to actually shoot flat (in revolver terms, that’s a bit of a misnomer), and it will unequivocally put the smack-down on whatever you shoot it with—as long as you use the right bullets. The high-velocity impact capability of the .460 absolutely necessitates tough bullets.

I went a step further with mine by ordering it from Magnum Research’s Precision Center exactly the way I wanted it: with black Micarta Bisley grips, a 7½-inch barrel, silky-smooth trigger and—the most obvious difference from a standard catalog gun—a black-nitride finish. Whether you’re hunting deer at 200 yards or closing in on a grizzly at 50 yards, this is the do-it-all hunting revolver combination—accurate and lethal.

3. Optic Options: Ruger Super Redhawk .480 Ruger

Handgun Hunting Hunting Revolvers Ruger Redhawk

This revolver is either loved or hated by the community, with seemingly very little middle ground. For the life of me, I don’t understand. The love-it/hate-it styling is pure function, and that, in and of itself, is very attractive.

Despite looking larger than the Redhawk, it shares many dimensions with its Redhawk sibling. The most notable differences are the frame extension to the front of the cylinder and the grip frame that’s pilfered from the GP100. The aesthetically questionable frame extension is where the beauty actually lies. Ruger felt the frame made for a better optic-mounting point than the barrel, so it developed a slick system of scallops in the frame and the corresponding scope rings, making the mount tough, stable and easy to work with.

But the real beauty is that if you utilize the factory mounts and rings, you don’t have to touch your iron sights. If your scope or red-dot goes belly up in the field, loosening two screws gets you back in the game. Pure function. My own relationship with the Super Redhawk began a couple of decades ago, and I have owned a number of them.

Chambered in .480 Ruger, this one’s my favorite. It’s the perfect combination of power, accuracy and user-friendliness, and it’s configured for real field use. This is the revolver I used to kill one very large water buffalo in Argentina. ¡Muy bueno!

2. Buffalo Gun: BFR .500 JRH

Magnum Research 500 JHR

This was an emotional, as well as functional, choice for me. Built on BFR’s short-framed revolver platform, this one’s equipped with a 5½-inch barrel. My buffalo gun (I call it that because I used it on a Cape buffalo in South Africa last year) is chambered in .500 JRH—the brainchild of gunsmith/builder/designer Jack Huntington.

In essence, it’s a shortened .500 S&W (from a 1.6- to a 1.4-inch case), utilizing the same bullet diameter as the parent case. This is a revolver that kills at both ends, delivers outstanding accuracy and terminal potency, and I’m able to point and hit moving targets with it without really trying.

If there’s a hunting revolver in my battery that I’m “one with,” this is it. So, if heavy lifting is on the itinerary and you don’t want to suffer the effects of carrying a really large revolver, this is the one.

1. The New Kid: S&W Model 350


Only announced in August of 2022, the Smith & Wesson Model 350 is still very new at the time of this writing, so not much is known beyond what was provided by the company. The primary draw of this gun, if you couldn't guess from its name, is its .350 Legend chambering. The straight-walled cartridge was introduced in 2019, primarily for deer hunters in states that prohibit the use of bottle-necked cartridges. Since then, it has grown substantially in popularity, but until now it was primarily used in rifles. Now with Smith & Wesson's release of the Model 350, handgun hunters have the opportunity to use .350 Legend as well.

The revolver is built on S&W's large X-Frame, and it's a seven-shot DA/SA that's fed using moon clips. It has a 7.5-inch barrel, a satin stainless steel finish and comes with a Hogue rubber grip. Time will tell just how popular this pistol will truly be, but it's at least an interesting addition to Smith's catalog.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Large-Bore Revolver Grips: Enhancing Comfort And Controllability

Custom grips, while somewhat expensive, go a long way toward making even the most raucous loads “pleasant.” The grips on the stainless steel revolvers above are by Rowen Custom Grips, while the set on the blued Bisley are by JRH Advanced Gunsmithing. All were made specifically for the author’s shooting hand.
Custom grips, while somewhat expensive, go a long way toward making even the most raucous loads “pleasant.” The grips on the stainless steel revolvers above are by Rowen Custom Grips, while the set on the blued Bisley are by JRH Advanced Gunsmithing. All were made specifically for the author’s shooting hand.

Revolver grips, it isn't the most scintillating topic. But some consideration in this area goes a long way in taming a large-bore beast.

The grip your heavy-kicking revolver is equipped with matters. Whether it’s a double- or single-action, the handle you hang onto will make your revolver pleasant to shoot—and thereby controllable … or not.

Grip shape determines how the revolver will recoil. Double-actions tend to recoil straight back into the hand. The recoil dynamic of double-action revolvers differs significantly from that of single-actions. The single-actions have a propensity for flipping the muzzle upward.

There are distinctly different types of single-action revolver grips, but as a basic design and type (they’re all variations on the same theme), let’s refer to them as “plow handles.” These grip designs tend to point very naturally but, by design, they’ll pivot upward in your hand. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this grip type; however, when recoil climbs, they become increasingly more difficult to control.

Ruger addressed this “shortcoming” with its interpretation of the Bisley grip frame that was made famous by Colt. It’s a more vertical profile, and frankly, it recoils much more like a double-action, in that it goes back more than a plow handle design. People love them or hate them, but the general consensus is that the Ruger Bisley is a better choice for control and quick follow-up shots under heavy recoil.

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However, it can be better when not equipped with narrow, one-size-fits-all factory grips. The chief complaint about the Ruger Bisley is that the middle knuckle of the shooting hand makes painful contact with the trigger guard.

Freedom Arms revolvers are equipped with a grip frame the author finds very recoil-friendly, even with factory grips. In essence, it’s a cross between a plow handle and a Ruger Bisley.

Revolver Recoil 1

Magnum Research’s BFR single-action revolvers come equipped with a plow handle-style grip. While a rubber grip of the company’s own design is available, it doesn’t work well for the author’s hands. However, Magnum Research recently added its own iteration of the Bisley grip that sort of resembles a banana in profile. That said, the Magnum Research Bisley is, hands down, the best grip for big recoil. It substantially improves control and comfort.

Custom Revolver Grips

There’s a way to make your favorite grip frame a whole lot better: Add aftermarket or custom grips. The key is the fit to your hand. There are many aftermarket grip manufacturers that should be explored because they might have a good product for you.

Hogue makes a particularly good “Tamer” grip for the Ruger Super Redhawk. The better option (for single-actions) is a custom set of grips made for your hand dimensions. Yes, they can be costly, but the final product will be vastly superior than anything mass-produced. When the grip is right, your shooting experience will be greatly improved.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

How To Manage Big-Bore Revolver Recoil

Revolver Recoil 5

They're called hand cannons for a reason. Learn how to tame big-bore revolver recoil.

This is a topic that just won’t go away, particularly because of the rising popularity of handgun hunting in big-bore revolver shooting, as well as figuring out the best way to handle the heavy recoil associated with the more-powerful handgun cartridges.

Let me put this upfront: Shooting a handgun accurately is much more difficult than is a rifle. Shooting a handgun with outsized recoil is even more difficult and very challenging … to put it mildly. What isn’t difficult is developing a debilitating flinch from shooting these heavy recoil-generating hog-legs. You won’t have the luxury of using your body to stabilize the firearm by bracing the buttstock firmly into your shoulder. But this is obvious.

There are a number of contributing factors to revolver recoil:

  • Weight of the revolver
  • Grip type/shape
  • Bullet weight
  • Bullet velocity

Platform Options

Many manufacturers offer double- and single-action big-bore revolvers. Smith & Wesson, Taurus and Ruger all produce double-action revolvers from .44 Magnum on up. On the single-action front, Ruger, Magnum Research (BFR) and Freedom Arms all offer big-bore revolvers. While there are others, these manufacturers produce the widest variety, hands down.

Popular with the defensive-shooting group is placing both feet in line, with the pistol held straight out. This isn’t a stable position for heavy-recoiling revolvers.
Popular with the defensive-shooting group is placing both feet in line, with the pistol held straight out. This isn’t a stable position for heavy-recoiling revolvers.

There are obviously variances in grip shape among all these differing platforms. However, some generalizations are possible. For example, double-action revolvers tend to recoil back into your hand, whereas single-actions will raise the muzzle and pivot upward.

Cartridges to Contemplate

When folks think of hard-kicking revolvers, they automatically think .44 Magnum—the “grandfather” of modern magnum revolver cartridges. From the recoil standpoint, I’ve always considered the .44 Rem. Mag. a threshold cartridge that’s clearly over the limit for many. No doubt, when loaded to specs, the .44 Rem. Mag. will remind you it’s there with every stroke of the trigger.

Moving up to the various .45s (including .45 Colt +P-type loads), the real standout is the .454 Casull, the high-pressure wonder cartridge of the late, great Dick Casull. The 65,000 psi pressure limit ensures snappy (read: violent) recoil impulse, particularly when combined with 300-plus-grain bullets. It goes up from there with the .460 Smith & Wesson Magnum, although its saving grace is the size of the platform its big case necessitates, adding recoil-absorbing weight.

Going further up to the various .475s and .500s just brings more recoil. However, some of the revolvers chambered in the bigger cartridges have weight that aids in taming recoil. The big .50s (such as the .500 JRH, .500 Wyoming Express, .500 Linebaugh and .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum) loaded warmly generate sizable kick that’s definitely not for the neophyte.

Get Into Position

I want to focus on shooting offhand, because this is largely what you’ll do when going to the range. This is also the most productive practice you can conduct before heading to the field.

The author’s grip is a bit unorthodox: He crosses his supporting thumb over, behind his shooting hand’s thumb, locking the hands in place. The revolver will never break your grip if it’s held in this manner—a necessity when fast follow-up shots are needed.
The author’s grip is a bit unorthodox: He crosses his supporting thumb over, behind his shooting hand’s thumb, locking the hands in place. The revolver will never break your grip if it’s held in this manner—a necessity when fast follow-up shots are needed.

The two reigning offhand shooting stances are the Isosceles and the Weaver stances.

Isosceles Stance: The Isosceles puts both of your feet on line (actually, the latest trend is to drop the strong-side foot back a bit—but not as severely as with the Weaver stance) while you face flat toward the target with both arms parallel and straight out or slightly bent. Equal pressure is applied to the gun in a 360-degree fashion. It’s great for defensive shooting but not so good with a heavy revolver that generates a lot of recoil. When someone is standing flat in front of you, pushing that person off balance is rather easy. Recoil can also push you off balance if you’re standing with your feet on line.

Weaver Stance: The shooter using the Weaver stance pulls the revolver with the weak hand and pushes it with the strong hand. I use a modified Weaver with my weak side forward and my supporting elbow nearly tucked to my side. The Weaver, at least for me, is more logical and comfortable, and the kickback of a recoiling revolver can’t push you off balance. I boxed for a couple of decades, and a fighting stance—leading with the weak side—is natural for me, and it’s a position I automatically assume.

I use and practice a variety of field positions and also shoot off the bench. However, I limit my time on the bench to sighting-in and testing various loads for accuracy. Bench shooting places a lot of stress on the shooter, as well as the equipment, and should be limited accordingly.

Know How to Hold ’Em

Popular today with shooting semi-auto pistols is laying the shooting thumb along the side of the pistol, with the supporting-hand thumb underneath and alongside. Again, this is a great grip for semi-autos that don’t generate a lot of recoil, but it’s not so good when shooting a revolver that kicks. This also keeps the supporting-hand thumb from getting whacked by the slide as it moves rearward and cycles the pistol (a problem clearly not associated with revolvers).

Bench shooting is hard on both man and machine—it and should be a limited part of the shooter’s repertoire.
Bench shooting is hard on both man and machine—it and should be a limited part of the shooter’s repertoire.

My grip is rather unorthodox (see the photo on the facing page). My supporting hand plays a very significant role in controlling the movement (or lack thereof) of the revolver. My left hand helps support the revolver’s weight, but I also wrap the thumb behind my shooting hand’s thumb. This keeps both hands on the revolver through the recoil; otherwise, the revolver will break your grip.

This is all in the name of control and fast follow-up. If the revolver gets away from you, it can crease your skull. It’s happened to me while shooting an absurdly powerful revolver that was chambered in .50 Alaskan. It was able to push a 525-grain bullet out past 1,600 fps, and it was “contained” by a revolver weighing fewer than 4 pounds.

Additionally, in the name of consistency (not to mention speed), my supporting hand’s thumb does the cocking. As a result, I won’t disrupt my grip.

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Grip Tension

I have a tendency to use a considerable amount of grip tension. I don’t let the revolver ride or fly up under recoil. I use enough grip strength to keep muzzle flip to a minimum, thereby enabling fast follow-up shooting.

The author uses a modified Weaver that’s essentially a fighting stance. It’s hard to get knocked off balance when standing this way—no matter how heavy the revolver’s recoil.
The author uses a modified Weaver that’s essentially a fighting stance. It’s hard to get knocked off balance when standing this way—no matter how heavy the revolver’s recoil.

Everything I do is in the context of hunting. I’m not one to admire my own handiwork; rather, the point is to get another bullet downrange and into the animal if possible. I don’t grip the revolver so hard that I’m shaking, but enough so that no matter the rest I’m using, or if I’m shooting offhand, my point of impact remains the same. This is my key to consistency.

I often hear folks complain about sore wrists from shooting the big boomers. Clearly, they’re allowing their wrists to articulate through the recoil impulse. My wrists never hurt, because I don’t allow them to bend while I’m shooting. Instead, I allow my elbows to articulate—but not a lot, because I’m concerned about getting back on target as quickly as possible. This will also lessen the perceived abuse meted out by heavy recoil.

Recoil Mitigation

There are many ways recoil can be lessened (or “tamed”). The most obvious option is downloading. But, in the context of this article—and greatly defeating the purpose of this article—we won’t be discussing “neutering” your big-bore revolver as an option.

Here are a few ways to lessen recoil that work alone or in total.

Muzzle brake/porting. A good, well-designed muzzle brake will do wonders for reducing recoil, but it comes with a cost: a significant increase in noise. Keep in mind that the higher-pressure rounds such as the .454 Casull, along with the .460 and .500 Smith & Wesson Magnums, already produce ear-splitting noise and should never be shot without hearing protection.

Custom grips, while somewhat expensive, go a long way toward making even the most raucous loads “pleasant.” The grips on the stainless steel revolvers above are by Rowen Custom Grips, while the set on the blued Bisley are by JRH Advanced Gunsmithing. All were made specifically for the author’s shooting hand.
Custom grips, while somewhat expensive, go a long way toward making even the most raucous loads “pleasant.” The grips on the stainless steel revolvers above are by Rowen Custom Grips, while the set on the blued Bisley are by JRH Advanced Gunsmithing. All were made specifically for the author’s shooting hand.

A brake makes it even worse. Porting, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. It works to reduce muzzle flip, but it doesn’t dissipate recoil—it redirects it. It does, however, make it easier to make fast follow-up shots.

Grips: A grip that fills your hand will go a long way toward making your chosen gun and load more controllable and pleasant to shoot. Whether it’s an aftermarket, mass-produced unit that happens to fit you or a high-dollar, custom set made specifically for your hand, I can’t overemphasize how important a good-fitting grip is.

Gloves: Shooting gloves are a good idea. Anything that reduces felt pain will definitely make you want to shoot—and shoot better. I use two sets/types, depending on what I’m doing. I have a set of dedicated shooting gloves by Pro Aim for when heavy bench-testing sessions are on my agenda. When hunting, I use a pair of shooting gloves by Sitka Gear. They cushion the hand and provide an unrivaled grip on the revolver.

A Sense of Accomplishment

As far as your own limitations are concerned, you need to be honest with yourself. There’s no shame in a low tolerance for recoil. Big-bore revolvers can be very difficult to shoot, because you generally have between 3 and 4 pounds to contain a minor earthquake with each trigger pull. Confidence and competence will go a long way toward filling your freezer with game meat. Confidence follows competence, and consistent competence is the offspring of effective practice.

Revolver Recoil 2

Shooting a big-bore revolver doesn’t need to be a life-altering experience. There are ways to mitigate the recoil and optimize the revolver to assist with this monumental challenge.

Shooting technique is paramount, but my method might not work for you, and I would recommend experimenting in a controlled environment to figure out what does work best for you. Limiting round count per session will also help you get accustomed to outsized recoil and hopefully keep you from developing a flinch.

Also, if you’ve decided to step up to a big-bore revolver for whatever reason, it would be beneficial to try as many different types of platforms as possible. Seek out a range at which guns are rented. Alternatively, get to know your fellow shooters at your local range, because someone will surely let you try their big-bore revolver.

Do some research up front before even stepping into this realm. It might seem like a daunting task, but once you gain control, your sense of accomplishment will be palpable.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Ruger Bisley: Battle Of .45 Colt And .44 Mag Custom Builds

Bisley 6

The “opposite but equal” custom Ruger Bisley build: a .44 Rem. Mag and a .45 Colt. Which one of these beautiful brutes comes out on top?

This double custom revolver build started over an ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) Internet argument between the efficacy of one cartridge—the .44 Remington Magnum—over the modern iteration of the old warhorse, the .45 Colt.

Colt fans are quick to point out the storied history of this gunslinger special and its legendary stopping power, while .44 Mag fans are nearly as fast on the draw reminding us that the .44 Magnum is the standard by which all-powerful revolver cartridges are compared, having taken virtually every big-game animal to ever walk, crawl or hobble across the land.

Both stances are true.

The centerpiece of these builds is the oversized six-shot cylinder, seen here next to a stock <a class=Gun Digest Book of Hunting Revolvers. It was an ambitious plan, with many moving parts that ultimately fell just short of completion. Nevertheless, a truncated version ended up in the book—despite my best efforts!

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Head to Head: Ruger Bisley #1

Revolver #1, the stainless Ruger Bisley, actually started life as a .45 Colt that morphed into the revolver you see here. A Williams Shooters Supply dealer exclusive, we took a good thing and made it better; much better.

A Williams Shooters Supply Ruger Bisley Blackhawk was sacrificed for this custom project. It’s a stainless steel .45 Colt Blackhawk with a Bisley grip frame and 5½-inch barrel. It’s a great revolver in a great configuration, but my colleagues and I were able to make it even better.
A Williams Shooters Supply Ruger Bisley Blackhawk was sacrificed for this custom project. It’s a stainless steel .45 Colt Blackhawk with a Bisley grip frame and 5½-inch barrel. It’s a great revolver in a great configuration, but my colleagues and I were able to make it even better.

Jack Huntington was commissioned to extensively modify the revolver. The action was blocked (this reinforces the strength of the action and prevents premature wear), and the trigger was massaged to a crisp, 2-pound pull. A 5½-inch PacNor barrel with a 1:18 twist rate and barrel band was added, as well as an oversized, line-bored, six-shot cylinder (after the frame window was opened up to accommodate the large cylinder) that was heat-treated and machined from 17-4PH stainless steel.

Why not a five-shot cylinder, as is the norm in these custom builds, allowing for really warm reloads? It’s simple: There’s enough margin of safety in these big cylinders to run higher pressure loads without having to lose a round in the process. I made the decision not to turn my .45 Colt into a .454 Casull, because I have a number of .454s that can handle loads of that level. That’s not to say this revolver won’t handle higher pressures—because it most certainly will.

The base pin is by Belt Mountain. A custom front sight base holds a replaceable Freedom Arms sight blade, and a Bowen Target adjustable rear sight replaces the stock Ruger piece. The custom Bastogne walnut grips (made for my mitts) were fitted to the reshaped Bisley grip frame to round out the package. It carries well, looks great … and shoots exceedingly well.

Head to Head: Ruger Bisley #2

Revolver #2 started life as a 7½-inch, blued steel Ruger Bisley in .44 Magnum. It, too, was treated to a 5½-inch, 1:18 twist aftermarket barrel—a Krieger in this case—with a barrel band. This revolver received the same type of custom front sight base as the stainless version: the aforementioned Freedom Arms sight blade. As with its stainless counterpart, rear sight chores are aptly handled by an adjustable Target sight by Bowen Classic Arms.

The resultant revolver now sports an aftermarket 5½-inch banded barrel, a six-shot oversized cylinder and custom walnut grips. It remains a .45 Colt.
The resultant revolver now sports an aftermarket 5½-inch banded barrel, a six-shot oversized cylinder and custom walnut grips. It remains a .45 Colt.

The frame window was opened up to receive an oversized, counterbored, six-shot cylinder, held in place with a Belt Mountain oversized base pin. The action was massaged to a creep-less 2 pounds, and the Bisley grip frame was lightly reshaped (Jack removes some material that puts the shooter’s middle finger farther away from the trigger guard) and fitted with a gorgeous set of Claro walnut grips. These were made to fit my right hand.

This revolver also shoots lights-out like its stainless “brother.”

The Deciding Factor: Preference

So, which one is better? In a word: neither. It’s a matter of preference.

The end result of Jack Huntington’s makeover is this beautiful Ruger custom. It sports a 5½-inch banded barrel, six-shot oversized cylinder (remaining a .44 Mag.) and custom Claro walnut grips made by Huntington himself.
The end result of Jack Huntington’s makeover is this beautiful Ruger custom. It sports a 5½-inch banded barrel, six-shot oversized cylinder (remaining a .44 Mag.) and custom Claro walnut grips made by Huntington himself.

They both offer the same level of appeal. Some folks simply like stainless over blued steel (or vice versa). I’ve used both calibers on big game, and while they’re similar in terminal goodness, I give the slight edge to the bigger and older .45 Colt. Keep in mind that we’re not talking about your great-, great-, great-, great-grandfather’s .45 Colt, but the modern, 30,000-plus PSI iteration.

Will this debate ever be settled? It’s doubtful. In fact, what fun would that be?

Until we figure out a way to definitively assign undeniable measurements of value or virtue, the argument will rage on. Opinions are based on subjectivity; therefore, repeatability is daunting, at best.

I know that I’ll continue to own and utilize both calibers in the game fields.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Book of Hunting Revolvers available at GunDigestStore.com.

Is The .44 Magnum A Wise Choice For Concealed Carry?

This .44 Magnum revolver is meant for up-close-and-personal work. The author shot the target on the left at 7 yards in offhand double-action mode and the right-hand target in single-action mode. It’s surprisingly easy to shoot, and the trigger pull is outstanding.
This Smith & Wesson Model 29 Lew Horton is meant for up-close-and-personal work. It’s surprisingly easy to shoot, and the trigger pull is outstanding.

You heard that right … an on-person defensive .44 Magnum. Crazy as it might sound, there are good reasons to carry a compact hand cannon.

Why The .44 Magnum Is A Solid Concealed Carry Choice:

  • Nearly double the bullet weight compared to the .357 Mag, thus potentially delivers more energy on target.
  • With an exceptionally large diameter, creates a larger and more devastating wound canal.
  • The larger diameter bullet doesn't preclude marksmanship but does allow a bit more margin of error.
  • Recoil can prove an issue, though is mitigated through practice and ammo selection.
  • Guns chambered for the .44 Magnum are generally renowned for their reliability.

Let me say this up front: Concealed-carry guns are personal choices that should be based on what works for the individual—not on popular opinion, gun writer declarations or anonymous voices on Internet sites.

This choice is strictly mine, and mine alone and is one I recommend only for those recoil-insensitive individuals among us. I can only provide you with my reasons (or rationalizations for the cynical among us) for my choice. There; that’s my disclaimer.

When Gun Digest Editor Luke Hartle contacted me to ask what I carry on a daily basis, I have to say that he was actually expecting something along these lines. My carry piece and I have a long history together that dates back to college and the first earnings I made as a prizefighter. It’s a Smith & Wesson Model 29 Lew Horton. You read that correctly—a Model 29, meaning that it’s a .44 Magnum.

For those unfamiliar with the 29, it’s a six-shot, double-action, N-frame revolver in blued steel that’s arguably one of the most aesthetically pleasing revolvers ever made. The Lew Horton edition featured a 3-inch barrel and a rounded grip frame. This one was likely “hatched” in 1985 and is one of 5,000 produced between 1984 and ’85. It’s heavy (relatively speaking), but it should be, because it’s supporting a rather raucous (relatively speaking) cartridge.

It’s also really smooth—Smith & Wesson smooth—despite the much maligned production during the hit-or-miss Bangor Punta days of Smith & Wesson. The action is like velvet; the double-action pull is like passing a hot knife through room-temperature butter; and the single-action pull is light and crisp, with no creep. It breaks at 2.5 pounds.

But why, on Earth, would anyone choose to carry a .44 Magnum on purpose? Good question. I’ll try my damnedest to answer it.

The ‘Stopper’

Early on (for those who remember the days of police officers carrying revolvers), in the hands of law enforcement officers, the .357 Magnum earned a reputation as a stopper—stoked with 125-grain hollow-points with a full head of steam.

What constitutes “stopping” a perpetrator? In this context, it clearly means incapacitation, thereby eliminating the threat. The .357 was loaded hot; it was fast-stepping and violently expanding. The statistics of the day clearly reflected what was most in use at the time, and the .357 was heavily represented. The .44 Magnum never really made its mark (despite “Dirty Harry” Callahan’s best efforts), because the reality was such that no one really carried a .44 Magnum—or rarely did so—so the .44 Magnum is underrepresented in the statistics of one-shot stops.

One feature that sets apart the Lew Horton edition from other production Model 29s is its 3-inch barrel (seen here compared to a 4-inch Model 29).
One feature that sets apart the Lew Horton edition from other production Model 29s is its 3-inch barrel (seen here compared to a 4-inch Model 29).

My reason for choosing the .44 Mag is because it’s built on the same concept as the .357 (high velocity and violently expanding), but the .44 Mag takes it further by nearly doubling the bullet weight (in standard configuration) and significantly increasing the bullet diameter.

Recoil: It Kicks

Now, let’s talk recoil, because I suspect this will be the biggest criticism the scrutinizers will put forth loudly. Yes, it kicks. It’s a .44 Magnum, loaded with what I like to call “proper” .44 Magnum loads, so the kicking part is to be expected. This is where familiarity rears its head. I have owned this revolver for more than 30 years and have put a lot of rounds downrange with it. Also, if you know anything about me, you’ll see that I have more than an unhealthy obsession with large-caliber revolvers and, in fact, I hunt large game (sometimes really large game) with revolvers at every opportunity. Frankly, in my twisted, little paradigm, the .44 Mag is pretty much an entry-level cartridge. I also have a bit of numbness between my ears that enables me to shoot reasonably heavy-recoiling revolvers with little ill effect (at least that’s my wife’s explanation).

Make Your Day With The .44 Magnum:

The factory grips actually work quite well with my hands and, despite my lousy up-close vision, the factory Smith & Wesson white outline rear and red insert front sight combination is more than adequate for my visual shortcomings. However, this piece was meant for up-close-and-personal work; in that capacity, it works exceedingly well. Muzzle blast is noticeably more present due to the short barrel. Again, that’s the price to pay for such a configuration.

Accuracy is Smith & Wesson good. As I mentioned previously, the Bangor Punta ownership days were hit or miss from a quality-of-production standpoint, but this one’s clearly one of the good ones. I don’t know whether it’s the additional attention to detail provided by Lew Horton’s involvement or that this particular example was “produced on a Wednesday,” but it will shoot a wide array of factory fodder with more-than-acceptable accuracy; and, in the case of some loads, it will deliver exceptional accuracy.

Caliber Size Does Matter

In this day and age of high-capacity plastic wonder pistols, it seems archaic to carry a six-shot revolver. Some newer revolvers even feature eight-shot capacity! With the popularity of some of the “lesser” cartridges (such as the 9mm) comes a level of investment and development in maximizing the potential of these defensive cartridges. Taking nothing away from the effectiveness or usefulness of the large-capacity configurations—or the fact that nearly anyone with even minimal grip strength can shoot them (and shoot them well)—they’ll never have the terminal effectiveness of a properly loaded .44 Magnum. You can take that to the bank.

With all else being equal, size matters. A large caliber doesn’t preclude shot placement, but it will give you a bit of a margin of error and will also produce significantly more damage—again, assuming that all else is equal, such as bullet type/construction and velocity.

Another external distinguishing feature is the rounded butt with finger groove grips that are surprisingly comfortable for the author.
Another external distinguishing feature is the rounded butt with finger groove grips that are surprisingly comfortable for the author.

Do you want to know what my answer to high capacity is? Marksmanship. It’s better to hit with one shot that’s well-placed than to spray your target in hopes of a significant hit. There’s also a false sense of security that 15 rounds might impart to the shooter. I’m not arguing that having more rounds can be an asset; I’m merely saying that perhaps knowing you have fewer rounds forces you to take more care when obtaining your sight picture and sight alignment.

Uncompromising Reliability

That said, there’s a level of reliability inherent to the design that no auto-pistol can ever hope to achieve. Yes, I know there are plenty of great semi-autos out there that are extremely reliable, but the simplicity of the revolver design ensures uncompromising reliability.

However, some designs simply point better than others, and the Model 29 just works for me (this is a scientific measure), and I’ve had more than three decades to become really intimate with this particular revolver.
A concealed-carry .44 Magnum? Sure. Why not?

The article originally appeared in the 2020 Concealed Carry issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

The Surprisingly Affordable Factory Custom Magnum Research BFR

Magnum Research BFR 7

No reason to settle for off the shelf. Your perfect Magnum Research BFR is one click away. Better yet, it won't break the bank.

Custom revolvers have been a staple of my handgun life, a clear obsession and, well, an expensive habit.

I justify the practice of commissioning revolvers being built by gunsmiths (who charge more by the hour than plumbers) by convincing myself that I want the revolver the way I want it, plain and simple. It’s clearly a form of rationalization, but I’m okay with it … my wife, not so much.

What if I told you there’s another way of getting what amounts to a full-blown custom without the steep price tag and lengthy waits associated with a custom single-action revolver build? Would it pique your interest?

The author’s favorite production grip frame by far is Magnum Research’s interpretation of the Bisley grip. His was fitted with black Micarta—one of the most durable grip materials available to mortal man.
The author’s favorite production grip frame by far is Magnum Research’s interpretation of the Bisley grip. His was fitted with black Micarta—one of the most durable grip materials available to mortal man.

It should. It shifted my focus entirely.

The custom revolver world is an underground subset of hardcore revolver geeks who live and breathe custom-tailored, single-action revolvers from such legendary builders as John Linebaugh, Hamilton Bowen, Jack Huntington, Jim Stroh, Dave Clements, John Gallagher and Alan Harton, to name a few. With these coveted names come long waiting lists, high price tags—and artwork in blued steel and walnut.

Form Follows Function

I’m a handgun hunter, and I make no bones about it. Even those pretty custom revolvers of mine get carried in the field and dragged through the mud and inclement weather. That’s why I have them. If they can’t tolerate field conditions, however they are defined, they don’t deserve space in my safe. So, form follows function for me.

The long-framed BFR is equipped with an oversized, counterbored, five-shot cylinder. Originally designed to encapsulate the .45/70 Government, the extra-long cylinder features enough free bore to ramp speeds up to impressive levels.
The long-framed BFR is equipped with an oversized, counterbored, five-shot cylinder. Originally designed to encapsulate the .45/70 Government, the extra-long cylinder features enough free bore to ramp speeds up to impressive levels.

Enter Magnum Research and the BFR—the “Biggest, Finest Revolver.”

Gun Down More Handgun Hunting Info:

Established in 1999, Magnum Research entered the revolver-building business with the introduction of the BFR, chambered in the old warhorse .45-70 Government. Magnum Research has since redesigned its revolvers; and today, the company produces both long- and short-framed revolvers in a range of calibers to suit just about everyone’s needs. There is no wider assortment of hunting calibers and configurations offered under one roof than that of Magnum Research. There is literally something for everyone and every game animal to walk this earth.

A subsidiary of Kahr Arms, Magnum Research of Minneapolis, Minnesota, offers a whole line of long-framed and short-framed stainless steel, single-action revolvers in both standard caliber/configurations and a plethora of custom Precision Center offerings.

MR Precision Center: Build Your Own

The big news out of Magnum Research’s Precision Center is the Custom BFR website (CustomBFRrevolver.com). This is where the consumer can build his or her very own custom-configured BFR revolver from a host of options from standard catalog calibers, as well as a number of Precision Center-only calibers. This also includes barrel length, barrel type (round or octagonal), fluted or unfluted cylinders, and a number of cool finishes—such as color case hardening and the new-for-this-year black nitride finish.

Magnum Research outfits all its revolvers (custom and production) with LPA’s excellent, fully adjustable rear sight. This feature is moot, because the author equipped his BFR with an optic mounted via the supplied sight base.
Magnum Research outfits all its revolvers (custom and production) with LPA’s excellent, fully adjustable rear sight. This feature is moot, because the author equipped his BFR with an optic mounted via the supplied sight base.

Everything is headed up by production and BFR supervisor and master gun builder Brett Pikula, who takes excessive pride in turning out truly fine revolvers for the discriminating consumer. Granted, some of the more eclectic custom features requiring specialized machine work aren’t available from the Precision Center; there is a long enough list of options to make your revolver uniquely yours. Many more options do exist, so we recommend you head over to the website and look for yourself. I am sure you will be able to find something there that will appeal to you.

The Precision Center is busy taking custom customer orders for unique BFR revolvers on a daily basis, and the current wait time is right around four months.

Outfitting the Long-Framed BFR

When the Custom BFR website was launched, I saw my opportunity to outfit a long-framed BFR the way I wanted it.

The new website is a snap to negotiate (CustomBFRrevolver.com). Seen here is the options list from which you build out your custom BFR.
The new website is a snap to negotiate (CustomBFRrevolver.com). Seen here is the options list from which you build out your custom BFR.

Using the site is a piece of cake. Simply go down the list of options, choose them with a click, and watch the revolver come together. Even someone as computer illiterate as I am had no trouble negotiating the new website. The beauty of it is that not long after submitting my order, I received a call from my FFL! It’s that simple. This site is so easy to use, I fear it’s going to cost me a lot of money in the very near future.

This revolver is to be my do-everything wonder revolver. For that reason, I felt the .460 Smith & Wesson Magnum personifies the term, “Jack of all trades.” I was reluctant to embrace this cartridge when it was first released to the public, because it was saddled with less-than-ideal bullets for big game, with an emphasis on velocity and longer ranges. I was not impressed.

Then, a good friend and hunting partner purchased a BFR in .460 S&W and proceeded to knock down virtually all game—ranging from smallish Texas whitetail up through Cape buffalo and a whole lot in between—with one load. I took notice. When I shot it, the abuse level, when loaded to maximum big-game-wreaking levels, was negligible, to say the very least. Hmm … maybe there’s something to this.

Just like every other piece of this revolver, the fit and function of the loading port gate is precise and easy to manipulate.
Just like every other piece of this revolver, the fit and function of the loading port gate is precise and easy to manipulate.

Let me note that many justify the purchase of a .460 (of either variant) by citing the flexibility of being able to shoot .45 Colt, .454 Casull and .460 Smith & Wesson through the same firearm without ill effects. It sounds great on paper, but I will say that in my experience, the shorter .45-caliber cartridges tend not to deliver accuracy to their inherent potential. That same free bore that is so useful to the .460 and its long case (1.8 inches) seems to work to the detriment of the shorter-cased .45s. It’s just too long a jump for the bullet. I’m not saying you won’t get acceptable accuracy from shooting cowboy-action-level .45 Colt loads through your BFR or Smith & Wesson; and I didn’t order this large chunk of steel to shoot powder puff loads through it with okay accuracy. These revolvers are capable of amazing accuracy, and they deliver an impressive payload at rather high speeds.

More Details

So, my new custom BFR would be a .460 built on MR’s stretch-framed revolver. I’ve spent time with the 10-inch variant of the stretch-frame, and the balance was poor for anything outside of a situation where a solid rest is available. Any revolver I take to the field absolutely must be able to be shot while standing on my “hind” legs. However, with the 7½-inch barrel, shootability increases exponentially, and it can be shot comfortably offhand. I specified a 7½-inch barrel.

MR’s excellent Bisley grip frame got the nod, because there was nothing commercially available that is better for controlling recoil and mitigating its negative effects. It looks odd—sort of like a banana in shape—but it flat-out works.

Back from getting the black nitride finish applied, the custom .460 BFR is ready to reassemble.
Back from getting the black nitride finish applied, the custom .460 BFR is ready to reassemble.

Like all BFRs, this one was equipped with an oversized, counterbored, unfluted, five-shot cylinder. Keep in mind that the length of the cylinder was originally designed to encapsulate the massive (by revolver standards) .45/70 Government. While it seems that a shorter cylinder would be beneficial, the longer free bore of the too-long cylinder seems to work in the .460’s favor, delivering consistently higher velocities than the equivalent X-frame by Smith & Wesson, even when equipped with a longer barrel.

Also like all BFRs, this one has a free-wheeling pawl, making loading and unloading a stress-free exercise: The cylinder will rotate in either direction when the loading gate is open. A locking base pin keeps the cylinder supported in the frame.

The excellent LPA adjustable rear sight was mounted on my custom BFR; it was of no consequence, because I would be taking advantage of the .460 Smith & Wesson Magnum’s long-range prowess by mounting an optic.

‘Darth Vader’ … Plus

As you’ve been able to surmise from the photos, I chose an all-black theme with black nitride covering all of the revolver’s metal, rounded out with black Micarta grips. Think “Darth Vader”—but with a whole lot more attitude and a much louder bark. This thing is downright evil-looking. Black nitride is one tough finish that is nearly impervious to scratching and mishandling. It will make for a great field revolver in virtually all weather conditions.

Mag Research Range

I intend to drag this piece around the world on a variety of big-game hunts.

It’s a big revolver, but with its 7½-inch barrel, it is surprisingly balanced. I would equip it with a red-dot and scope with Leupold quick-detach rings on the supplied optic base and then switch between them, depending on the hunt and the terrain. The trigger breaks at a creep-less 3 pounds and is as good as any custom I have handled/shot from the top dogs of the custom-revolver-building world.

Testing the BFR

I gathered myriad factory ammunition from Hornady, Buffalo Bore, Federal Premium, Swift and Underwood to test through this beast.

Brett Pikula personally fits, assembles and builds these custom offerings.
Brett Pikula personally fits, assembles and builds these custom offerings.

Let me say that you will not go unnoticed at your local range. This thing is loud, necessitating doubling up on hearing protection in an attempt to hang on to what hearing I have left (my hearing isn’t nearly as bad as I let on. Don’t tell my wife). The high SAAMI-specified maximum pressure is 65,000 psi, so, like its older sibling, the .454 Casull, it creates a very loud report.

The big BFR delivered laser-like accuracy from nearly every load I ran through it (see the accuracy table at the top of this page). It is rather remarkable—a testament to the quality of the loads that are produced for this high-speed .45-caliber cartridge.

Recoil, as I mentioned previously, wasn’t all that bad. Okay; maybe I’m not the most sensitive fella on the recoil front. However, I can say with certainty that compared to some of my other staples, it really isn’t all that bad. The weight of the BFR absorbs much of the abuse, making it, dare I say, rather pleasant to shoot—except, of course, for the ear-splitting noise levels.

The finished product, reassembled and ready to test-fire, will then get boxed and shipped to the anxious person who ordered it. Turn-around time is quick.
The finished product, reassembled and ready to test-fire, will then get boxed and shipped to the anxious person who ordered it. Turn-around time is quick.

My relationship with my .460 BFR is still in its infancy, but I really like what I have seen thus far. The finish should prove to be tough in the field. The efficacy of the round has already been proven, and the accuracy is undoubtedly promising.

Everything I wanted was obtained via a simple click on the online order form—and I didn’t have to wait years to make noise on my range. So, what’s next? Well, I’ll keep you posted!

For more information on Custom BFRs, please visit magnumresearch.com/

The article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Buffalo Bore Ammo: Strictly Big Bore, Strictly Business

Buffalo Bore Ammo 1

Deadly serious shooting requires deadly serious ammunition. Buffalo Bore fits the bill perfectly, dusting its competition in every possible way.

How Buffalo Bore Ammunition Goes A Step Beyond:

  • Company legitimized the .475 and .500 Linebaughs with first factory loads.
  • Best known for big-bore calibers, ammo maker catalog starts at .223 Rem and goes up from there.
  • Hardcast lead bullets are the manufactures bread and butter, but they offer a full array of monometal bullets.
  • Extensively tested, the ammo often times they help shooter home in on the correct load for their gun.

Tim Sundles of Salmon, Idaho, is the proprietor of Buffalo Bore Ammunition. An enthusiastic hunter and real outdoorsman, Tim has the distinction of bringing the fabulous .475 and .500 Linebaughs to legitimacy with the very first factory ammunition ever offered and turned a hobby into his life pursuit, as well as a thriving business based on high-quality products.

It didn’t start out that way, because he was a contractor in northern California before making the move to the ammunition manufacturing industry. Tim credits Ross Seyfried with the patience and willingness to impart to him the finer points in load development, both in theory and practical application. And when he starts getting impatient, Tim is quick to remember the graciousness of Seyfried.

Pre-Buffalo Bore Background

Tim started out in 1983 with the release of the FA 83 in .454 Casull. He immediately bought six of them and began experimenting with a variety of loads.

Prior to the release of the FA 83, Tim had been playing with heavy .44 Magnum and .45 Colt loads. He got to know John Linebaugh and was introduced to the .500 Linebaugh. In those days, brass and bullets were hard to come by, but Tim commissioned John to build him a number of .475 and .500 Linebaugh revolvers. Tim performed a lot of load development for these cartridges, and John kept sending his customers to Tim to load ammunition for them.

The handwriting was on the wall: One day, John asked Tim to go into the business of manufacturing specialty ammunition—particularly for John’s signature cartridges, the .475 and .500 Linebaughs. Tim contacted Starline to make brass and, in 1997, he opened the doors of Buffalo Bore Ammunition.


Tim started out by making .475 and .500 Linebaugh ammunition, but soon, he added the popular .44 Magnum, .45 Colt and .454 Casull. Eventually, he contacted Bob Baker of Freedom Arms and pestered him to build a revolver in .475 Linebaugh. By the time Freedom Arms offered the Model 83 in .475, Buffalo Bore had ammo on its shelves, ready to supply the masses of “masochists.”

A Herd of Ammo Choices

Tim also quickly moved into the realm of the rifle and offers variety with each caliber category in the form of various bullet choices. These meet every need—from punching paper, shooting steel and hunting everything from woodchucks to elephant (and everything else in between that walks, crawls or slithers).

The Buffalo Bore lineup includes calibers from .223 Rem. all the way up to .50 Alaskan, but the brand is best known for building top-notch big-bore hunting ammo.
The Buffalo Bore lineup includes calibers from .223 Rem. all the way up to .50 Alaskan, but the brand is best known for building top-notch big-bore hunting ammo.

The impressive Buffalo Bore lineup starts at .223 and covers some less-likely calibers, such as .348 Winchester and .35 Whelen, all the way up to .50 Alaskan. Tim even has you lead-free California types covered with a wide range of Barnes monometal loads.

A forward thinker, Tim offers a number of differing lines of ammunition for various purposes. He went a step further than most ammo manufacturers by creating ammunition lines to help consumers home in on the correct load for his/her application.

Taking the guesswork out of your choice is a welcome attribute for purpose-built ammunition, such as the aforementioned “lead-free” line of California legal hunting ammunition that features copper Barnes bullets.

Tim also set about creating pistol loads that could turn the average personal-defense pistol into a credible bear-defense weapon.

“So many people have one pistol for street carry or home defense. We wanted them to have a viable outdoor load when they go camping, hiking or fishing,” Tim explained.

Well aware of the positive attributes offered by flat-nosed, hardcast bullets in bigger calibers on large game, he created a line of ammunition dubbed “Outdoorsman” in 9mm, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, 10mm and .45 ACP. These feature a heavy-for-caliber, hardcast, flat-nosed bullet for uncompromising straight-line penetration.

The newest line of ammunition from Buffalo Bore is the Dangerous Game (DG) line, which focuses on big-game revolver calibers. Featuring Lehigh Defense-sourced copper flat-nosed, solid bullets, The DG line guarantees unequaled penetrative potential and is impervious to heavy bones. The .45/70 Government is included in this impressive lineup.

Buffalo Bore Ammo 5
Buffalo Bore ammunition is never far from the conversation when hunters discuss dangerous game, where a hunting bullet can very quickly become the last line of defense.

Tim was candid when we spoke: “If your main concern is price, we’re not your company, but if performance is your greatest concern, look no further than Buffalo Bore.” Indeed, Mr. Sundles.

Today, Buffalo Bore offers quality ammunition in roughly 70 or so calibers and more than 250 different loads.

The Dangerous-Game Line of Handgun Ammunition

For hunters seeking the ultimate terminal performance on game, the choices are many. For those thrill-seekers wishing to pit their mettle against dangerous game, the choices are more narrowly represented, with prices to typically match their exclusivity. And the field narrows to a sliver for the handgun hunter seeking the ultimate test against animals that are labeled “dangerous” out of a propensity to inflict damage upon those brave (or mentally challenged) enough to throw their hat into this dicey ring, where the battle isn’t concluded by a draw but by the drawing of a last breath.

JRH Wild Bovine Testing

With that in mind, a group of handgun hunters (yours truly included) began gathering at Action Outdoor Adventures, a hunting preserve in Hondo, Texas, with the sole purpose of testing handgun loads, calibers and bullets on wild bovine flesh.

I have tested bullet performance in a number of “accepted” media, knowing full well that nothing makes up for real flesh and blood (and don’t forget bone) when testing the terminal effectiveness of a given load.

Taking it a step further: Testing bullet performance in live, 1,000-pound-plus wild bovines, with their correspondingly heavy frames and musculature (and often bad attitudes, as I have found out on numerous occasions), is the finest and most definitive testing available. Of course, this comes with a price that is significantly higher than, well, wet newsprint testing (but it’s all in the name of science).

This modest first gathering, officially dubbed the “JRH Holiday Bovine Bash” (in honor of the man who first cooked it up—master gunsmith and handgun hunter Jack Huntington), has evolved into a week-long, hard-core test that results in mountains of usable data on terminal bullet performance out of revolvers.

The “Love Child” Bullet

With that in mind, I approached Tim Sundles roughly two years ago about creating a line of dangerous-game ammunition utilizing a monolithic solid bullet. In our extensive (and expensive) bovine flesh-testing, we have found that the preferred hardcast bullet has limitations based on material capability: It cannot be overdriven, because the nose shape will be compromised and, in some cases, bone impact will do the same, thus impeding straight-line penetration and damage.

Got a large-frame wheelgun that requires a very special diet? The Buffalo Bore menu has lots of options.
Got a large-frame wheelgun that requires a very special diet? The Buffalo Bore menu has lots of options.

The solution is a bullet of the same type (with respect to nose profile) that is made from a material impervious to high-impact velocities. At the time of my proposition, there were scant few options available on the monolithic solid front that were not cost prohibitive.

Once I got wind of Lehigh Defense’s flat-nosed, copper handgun bullets—which were priced at a reasonable level, considering the precision quality of the products—I revisited this tiring conversation with Tim.

He responded in the positive, and the connection was made between Buffalo Bore and Lehigh Defense. In a matter of months, the resulting “love child” consists of nine different calibers: .44 Magnum, .45 Colt +P, .454 Casull, .460 S&W Magnum, .480 Ruger, .475 Linebaugh, .500 JRH, .500 S&W Magnum and the ubiquitous .45/70 Government, giving lever-action fans a direct path to Africa’s Big 5.

These bullets cost a little more but are a pittance, compared to the misfortune of watching a five-figure trophy fee disappear into the brush, never to be seen again—all because you wanted to save a few pennies on bargain-basement bullets.

There are many areas in which you can save a few dollars here and there, but your ammunition isn’t one of them. Spare yourself the headache and heartache.

For more information on Buffalo Bore, please visit buffalobore.com.

The article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Magnum Research Debuts The .500 Linebaugh BFR.

Magnum Reserch BFR 500 Linebaugh 2

The .500 Linebaugh out of the shadows of obscurity into the light of recognition with the Magnum Research BFR.

How Magnum Research Dishes Up A .500 Linebaugh:

  • It's built on Magnum Research’s short-frame and is constructed entirely of 17-4PH stainless steel.
  • The oversized, five-shot cylinder is counter-bored and unfluted.
  • A free-wheeling pawl enables the cylinder to rotate in either direction with the loading gate open.
  • It's equipped with transfer bar systems, allowing for safe carry with a live round under the hammer.
  • The revolver sport Magnum Research's interpretation of the Bisley grip frame.

Show up at the range with a .50-caliber handgun, and folks don’t fail to notice. It elicits whispers about compensating for alleged inadequacies and some comments about your mental state. Others secretly hope you bury the front sight in your forehead.

That said, you will not fail to draw attention every time you touch off the behemoth and it thunders the way only a large displacement cartridge can.

But aside from drawing sometimes unwanted attention, what are these big revolvers good for? Big-game hunting, plainly and simply. Well, at least that’s what I use them for!

Magnum Reserch BFR 500 Linebaugh 3
Like all BFRs, this one is equipped with a fully adjustable rear sight by LPA.

There are a number of .50-caliber handguns readily available commercially that are chambered in .50 AE, .500 JRH, .500 Wyoming Express and the “horsepower king”—the .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum.

However, the .500 Linebaugh has the deepest roots of all. Despite only recently making its commercial debut, having been relegated only to custom builds in more than three decades of existence, we have Magnum Research, manufacturer of the BFR—the “Biggest, Finest Revolver”—to thank for giving .50-caliber aficionados yet another choice.

A Brief History Lesson

Magnum Research’s latest foray into the .50-caliber wars was announced at this year’s SHOT show. However, the .500 Linebaugh was unleashed on the general public in August 1986 by Ross Seyfried. Let’s just say the .500 Linebaugh is “fashionably late.”

Magnum Reserch BFR 500 Linebaugh 7
The new “Bisley” grip frame by Magnum Research is, of course, its interpretation of the famous Bisley by Colt. That said, it is, by far, the author’s favorite grip frame for controlling heavy recoil. The author’s came decked out with attractive ivory polymer grips.

In the mid-1980s, John Linebaugh, a then little-known gun builder out of Cody, Wyoming, created this cartridge in his lab like a mad scientist—using a cut-down .348 case as the “parental unit.” An earlier iteration existed, but the progenitors of that .50-caliber—Bill Topping and Neil Wheeler (out of Salt Lake City, Utah)—were unable to gain any traction, and their creation was stillborn.

So, John Linebaugh used the large-rimmed .348 Winchester, cutting it down to 1.4 inches and blowing the case out to a .510 bore. It was never quite loaded to potential in the early days and was overshadowed by its over-achieving little brother: the .475 Linebaugh, which was another one of Linebaugh’s creations.

For more than three decades, the .500 Linebaugh has been a custom proposition only, typically built on massaged Ruger full-sized, single-action revolvers that cost a premium to construct … until Magnum Research boldly went where no other gun manufacturer has gone before.

Magnum Research BFR

Like all BFRs, this one, built on Magnum Research’s short-frame, is constructed entirely of 17-4PH stainless steel and is all American made. The massive, oversized, five-shot cylinder is counter-bored and unfluted.

Magnum Reserch BFR 500 Linebaugh 1
The author shot three different loads from Buffalo Bore Ammunition for accuracy (see the accuracy results table on page 43): a low-velocity, 435-grain hardcast load, a fast, 350-grain jacketed hollow-point load and a heavy, 525-grain, flat-nosed, hardcast load. Buffalo Bore has the distinction of being the first ammunition manufacturer to offer commercially loaded ammo for this obscure caliber.

About counter-boring: This is a nice detail that actually serves a precautionary function. Under normal conditions, the cartridge head supports the loading gate and keeps it from tipping forward. If the loading gate encounters an empty hole, it is unsupported and can thereby tip forward a considerable amount. If this happens enough times, a number of failures will result, such as breaking of the loading gate stem and pushing the loading gate spring forward into the thin web of the frame—potentially tearing it (which is permanent damage).

However, counter-boring puts a permanent support in position relative to the loading gate that is not dependent upon loaded cartridge case heads for support. This is particularly important when heavy recoil levels are the norm (not so much with lighter calibers).

The .500 Linebaugh requires a large cylinder to encapsulate it, particularly because of its really big rim. The cylinder rides in the frame on a locking base pin. The free-wheeling pawl is a great feature that enables the cylinder to rotate in either direction with the loading gate open. BFRs are also equipped with transfer bar systems, allowing for safe carry with a live round under the hammer—an important feature when out in the field.

A match-grade barrel is attached to the frame and is adorned with a tall front sight. An LPA adjustable rear sight rounds out the sighting system. But, for the optically challenged, the BFR comes pre-drilled and tapped for a scope base that’s included with the revolver, making it a snap to mount an optic.

Magnum Reserch BFR 500 Linebaugh 5
BFRs feature locking base pins to prevent the pin from backing out under recoil.

Let’s also talk grip frames, because they matter. For years, my only complaint about the BFR was the availability of only one type of grip frame—a plow handle or traditional single-action-type grip. While this is fine for light-recoil-producing cartridges, it’s less than ideal when recoil picks up to the level of Ouch—that hurts!

Magnum Research addressed this issue with the introduction of its own interpretation of the Bisley grip frame, which was originally introduced by Colt way back when. It’s a bit strange-looking (it resembles a banana), but this is where the similarity to that particular fruit ends. This is the best grip frame commercially available for controlling heavy recoil—bar none. This grip frame flat out works! It’s available with ivory polymer or black Micarta grips that are hand fitted. Mine came equipped with attractive ivory polymer. The trigger broke cleanly at 2½ pounds … just the way I like it.

Hard-Punching Performance

I shot this revolver as is quite a bit before I equipped it with an optic that has long been my go-to for hunting duty: an Ultradot 30 red-dot sight.

Magnum Reserch BFR 500 Linebaugh 6
The good folks at Magnum Research thought of just about everything and took the optic mounting issue out of the equation by pre-drilling and tapping the top strap for a scope mount and including a base (with fasteners) with your revolver.

I visited the FTW Ranch in Barksdale, Texas, with my .500 Linebaugh BFR in hand. I sighted in with Buffalo Bore’s 350-grain JHP load in order to run the FTW Ranch’s SAAM (Sportsman’s All-Weather All-Terrain Marksmanship) Safari Training course. You read that right—I was going to run a safari training course with a short-barreled revolver. I had a blast, and the training staff at FTW was delighted with the effectiveness of the short gun on its much-vaunted course.

I was also able to do a little hunting on its 12,000-acre ranch, where I took a beautiful fallow deer with one 350-grain Buffalo Bore jacketed hollow-point. One and done.

When it was time to test the BFR for accuracy, I swapped the red-dot for a fixed 2x Leupold scope, mounted with Leupold quick-detach rings on the factory base. I obtained three different loads from Buffalo Bore Ammunition; it’s the first company to ever offer ammunition for the .500 Linebaugh. The three loads consisted of a light-recoiling 435-grain hardcast, flat-nosed load rated at 950 fps; a 350-grain jacketed hollow-point (JHP) load rated at a lofty 1,550 fps; and a heavyweight, 525-grain hardcast load at a modest 1,125 fps. From an accuracy standpoint, the BFR did not disappoint (see the accuracy results table above).

As I’ve already mentioned, for me, .50-caliber handguns are in their element when hunting big game. That fallow deer fell easily to the big BFR, which will be heading to the game fields again soon. Some will argue “overkill,” but I will submit that there are no degrees of “dead.” Better “overkill” than “barely adequate” in my humble opinion.

Magnum Reserch BFR 500 Linebaugh 4
The author took this fallow deer at the FTW Ranch in Barksdale, Texas, with one shot from the prototype BFR .500 Linebaugh loaded with Buffalo Bore’s 350-grain jacketed hollow-point load.

I have used a number of .50-caliber handguns on all manner of game, including the .500 Linebaugh on a custom platform on black bear and moose, so I am very familiar with its terminal effectiveness.

That said, if it’s loaded correctly, I wouldn’t hesitate to use this caliber on virtually any big-game animal that walks the face of the Earth. There is more versatility in these big .50s than one might realize. There is enough case capacity for lighter-jacketed expanding bullets to be pushed to fairly high velocities (by revolver standards), making them ideal for deer-sized game. By default, a .510 diameter will make a large hole in flesh; so, loaded with monolithic solids or Kodiak Punch bullets, it will bring the .500 Linebaugh into the realm of pachyderm.

A .500 Linebaugh BFR might be a great addition to your battery, even if you don’t handgun hunt. However, keep in mind that there are some drawbacks to such powerful chamberings—in particular, the heavy recoil associated with .50-cals, unless you download them to more sedate levels. They kick pretty hard and are able to produce flinches in even the most experienced shooters if they don’t approach familiarization with some modicum of caution. Limiting time on the bench and the number of rounds fired per session are good ways to get familiar—and, dare I say, comfortable—with your new BFR.

So, there you have it. It took 33 years, but here it is, in the flesh—er, stainless steel. Magnum Research brought the .500 Linebaugh out of the shadows of obscurity into the light of recognition, where we hope shooters and hunters, alike, discover its charms and attributes. It’s a little late to the party, but it’s looking good!

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the June 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Is A .50-Caliber Handgun Actually Good For Anything?

No-compromise calibers, .50-caliber handguns offer serious big and dangerous game medicine.

What are the .50-caliber handgun options:

Fifty-caliber handguns are intriguing. They’re imposing, a bit intimidating — they kick like hell — and they sling large chunks of lead. But, even though all of the above sounds, well … interesting, what are they really good for?

50-caliber handguns 7

If you’re mainly a paper puncher, there are more fun, less punishing and way more practical choices to be made. Now that we’ve established what they’re not good for, let’s get to the real purpose of the half-inchers. In my humble opinion, big and dangerous game hunting is where the .50-cals truly shine. Let that sink in for a moment.

I have found throughout my hunting adventures with a wheelgun that many greet my primary hunting weapon choice with skepticism, and sometimes outright hostility and righteous indignation. They typically cite a litany of reasons not to use a handgun — from range limitations all the way up to horsepower deficiencies — often spouting minimum muzzle energy requirements with an air of misplaced superiority.

If you have convinced yourself at this point that I am full of bovine excrement, by all means step off right here. But if you’re open-minded or merely curious to see where I’m going (or just want to witness a train wreck), have a seat.

Don’t Slander Physics

Let me briefly address the most prevalent assertion by the doubters about muzzle energy: Just about every centerfire rifle cartridge shot out of a long-barreled firearm can boast better paper ballistics than a revolver. The velocities are higher, trajectories flatter and muzzle energies embarrassingly greater. It doesn’t require a doctorate in physics to see why, but big-bore revolvers don’t rely upon velocity and rapidly expanding bullets (to make up for a lack of diameter) to kill game.

Smith & Wesson’s foray into the .50-caliber realm came with the introduction of their oversized X-frame, which was a necessity to encapsulate the big .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum, the king of the hill.
Smith & Wesson’s foray into the .50-caliber realm came with the introduction of their oversized X-frame, which was a necessity to encapsulate the big .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum, the king of the hill.

Big-bore revolver cartridges feature a large diameter and a relatively heavy bullet to get the deed done. Muzzle energy, in and of itself as a measure of lethality, is a poor indicator of effectiveness on terminal ballistics.

But are the .50s really better than their smaller brethren? I have written in these very pages that the .44 Magnum, when loaded properly, has and will take virtually any and every game animal it’s tasked with hunting and is the gold standard by which all big revolver cartridges are measured. In fact, my exact words were this:

“So when do you actually need something bigger? The answer isn’t so cut and dried, but I’ll say it: never, actually. Before you proclaim me a blasphemer, let me qualify my statement with this declaration: The .44 Remington Magnum, properly loaded (this caveat applies to any and every cartridge), can, will and has unequivocally taken virtually every game animal that walks the face of this planet. Here’s where I weasel my way out. However, in my experience, there are better choices for really large game, and they begin at .45 and go up from there. There, I said it. In summary, will the .44 Mag work on really big game? Yes. Are there better choices? Yes again.”

More Big-Bore Revolver Articles:

I’ve used the .44 Magnum to great effect and have been witness to its effectiveness on large animals. The success of the .44 Mag. has been well documented since its inception, and with today’s much higher-quality bullets, the .44 Mag. has never looked better.

The .50 calibers from left to right: .44 Magnum (for comparison), .50 AE, .500 JRH, .500 S&W Magnum, .500 Linebaugh and the .500 Maximum.
The .50 calibers from left to right: .44 Magnum (for comparison), .50 AE, .500 JRH, .500 S&W Magnum, .500 Linebaugh and the .500 Maximum.

However, it absolutely does not impart the same damage or effect on big animals (let’s define that here as 1,000 pounds and up) as the big-50s. No way, no how. The .50-cals give the shooter an edge in margin of error, but this should not give one a false sense of security as you still — and maybe more importantly — need to do your part as far as shot placement is concerned. I mention it as being more important in that the .50-caliber handguns are typically much harder to master and more difficult to shoot accurately.

Let’s take a look at the current crop of available .50-caliber handgun rounds.

The .50 Action Express

  • Bullet Diameter: 0.500 inch
  • Case Length: 1.285 inches
  • Overall Length: 1.594 inches

I’ve only included this one because it was pretty much the first commercial offering in a production handgun, starting with the Freedom Arms Model 83 and later Magnum Research, despite the fact that it was designed for use in a semi-auto pistol. It features a heavily rebated rim, and due to the physical limitations of the auto pistol platform, the round has a relatively short loaded length, necessitating the use of light bullets. This is the only one on the list I wouldn’t waste my time with.

The .50 Wyoming Express

  • Bullet Diameter: 0.500 inch
  • Case Length: 1.37 inches
  • Overall Length: 1.765 inches
  • Maximum Pressure: 38,000 psi

This proprietary offering from Freedom Arms is the virtual ballistic twin to the .500 JRH, but instead of a traditional rim of a revolver cartridge, Freedom Arms opted to use a belt for head spacing. Commercial ammunition is available from the Grizzly Cartridge Company, and the end result is a packable .50-caliber revolver with power to spare.

The .50 JRH

  • Bullet Diameter: 0.500 inch
  • Case Length: 1.4 inches
  • Overall Length: 1.80 inches
  • Maximum Pressure: 45,000 psi
Big recoil is the norm with the big .50s. Here, the author test-fires a .500 JRH BFR off the bench.
Big recoil is the norm with the big .50s. Here, the author test-fires a .500 JRH BFR off the bench.

The .500 JRH is the brainchild of renowned gunmaker, Jack Huntington. He set out to design a full-power, no compromise .50-caliber cartridge that would fit in the confines of a revolver, in particular the Freedom Arms Model 83, as a workable alternative to the .500 Linebaugh, which features too large a case and rim to fit the rather compact Model 83, with a maximum case length of 1.4 inches. He turned a dummy round in his lathe in 1993, and the .500 JRH became a commercially loaded reality in 2005, when Starline turned the brass and Buffalo Bore produced the first commercial loads for it. While brass is available from Buffalo Bore Ammunition (Starline actually produces the brass), .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum brass can easily be cut down for use. Magnum Research offers the .500 JRH as a regular catalog item.

The .500 S&W Magnum

  • Bullet Diameter: 0.500 inch
  • Case Length: 1.625 inches
  • Overall Length: 2.30 inches
  • Maximum Pressure: 61,931 psi

The biggest of Smith & Wesson’s Magnum cartridges, the .500 S&W Magnum, was the company’s successful attempt at recapturing the crown of most powerful production revolver cartridge. Not only did Smith & Wesson seek to create the biggest cartridge in .50 caliber, it pulled out all stops by also making it amongst the highest of pressure producers. Smith & Wesson didn’t just want to take the top position back, they wanted to put as much distance as possible between the .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum and its nearest competitor.

Unlike its parent cartridge, the .500 Maximum, the .500 S&W features a maximum pressure of nearly 62,000 psi, putting it in the company of a small number of revolver cartridges loaded to rifle-like pressures. Loaded to spec, it’s capable of impressive velocities — even with heavy bullets. With the introduction of Smith & Wesson’s .500 came a renewed interest in handgun hunting.

But, this is definitely not a cartridge for the uninitiated. Even when loaded in a heavy revolver like the X-frame, or even BFR’s iteration, the .500 S&W produces significant recoil. You cannot launch bullets this heavy, at these speeds and burning this much powder, without producing sizeable recoil. This round evokes the term “extreme.”

The .500 Linebaugh

  • Bullet Diameter: 0.511 inch
  • Case Length: 1.4 inches
  • Overall Length: 1.80 inches
  • Maximum Pressure: 40,000 psi
Magnum Research has recently announced the availability of the first ever commercially produced revolvers in .500 Linebaugh. The author tested this first prototype extensively and was very happy with the accuracy and terminal performance.
Magnum Research has recently announced the availability of the first ever commercially produced revolvers in .500 Linebaugh. The author tested this first prototype extensively and was very happy with the accuracy
and terminal performance.

Attention was first drawn to the .500 Linebaugh in the August 1986, through an article appropriately titled, “The .500 Magnum: The Outer Limits of Handgun Power.” Though not offered in a production revolver until recently (Magnum Research just introduced this caliber in their already impressive lineup of revolvers), the .500 Linebaugh still boasts a strong following.
Loaded to its full potential, the .500 Linebaugh is a true big-game hammer. Based originally on the .348 Winchester case and cut down to a nominal 1.4 inches, the .500 Linebaugh features a .510-inch bore diameter. Maximum pressures should be kept in the 33,000 to 36,000 psi range, though it will go safely higher. The beauty of the .500 Linebaugh is that it doesn’t need to be pushed hard to work well on large game (with the caveat, of course, that it’s loaded correctly and with a good bullet).

The .500 Maximum

  • Bullet Diameter: 0.511 inch
  • Case Length: 1.6 inches
  • Overall Length: 2.015 inches
  • Maximum Pressure: 50,000 psi

Also referred to as the “.500 Linebaugh Long,” this wildcat is typically built on Ruger .357 Maximum frames housing custom five-shot cylinders. Recoil at the upper end of the loading spectrum can best be described as “very unpleasant” to “life altering,” particularly when loaded to the 50,000 psi range. The .500 Maximum is capable of throwing 525-grain bullets at a blistering 1,500 fps, and some reports indicate even more velocity is possible. While it’s not recommended to feed your Maximum a steady diet of similar loads, it is fully capable of delivering this level of performance.

This cartridge is an exercise in excess. Dedicated and properly head-stamped brass is available occasionally on the used brass market (Hornady actually made a run of this brass), but the perfect parent case is the commercially available .50 Alaskan, which can be easily cut down to 1.6 inches.

In the end, the .500 Maximum is the poster child for “More’s Law” being applied to the already potent .500 Linebaugh. Is the added velocity potential and resultant abuse on the shooter necessary? No, but we don’t always (or even usually) apply the concept of necessity to our hobby. What fun would that be? However, I will state with certainty that the .500 Maximum, loaded correctly, is a fight stopper.

Pure, Handheld Power

Recoil is severe in many cases, but most rifle hunters, even vastly experienced big-bore rifle hunters, will tell you the .458 Lott isn’t so fun to shoot, either. The big .50s require a true dedication to the craft to master, a perishable skill that needs constant upkeep. However, once mastered and loaded properly for the game being pursued, their terminal effectiveness is admirable. I have cleanly taken a number of large bovines with revolvers, including water buffalo and Cape buffalo, and the big .50s deliver as long as the shooter does his/her part.

This Cape buffalo fell to the author’s .500 JRH BFR in South Africa. The Kodiak Punch bullets again proved very effective, cleanly taking the large bovine.
This Cape buffalo fell to the author’s .500 JRH BFR in South Africa. The Kodiak Punch bullets again proved very effective, cleanly taking the large bovine.

Some may think it unfair to characterize the big .50s as being brutal with top-end loads, but I feel that sugar-coating the recoil reality is doing a disservice to those who may want to foray into the realm of the .50-caliber handgun. After all, they do kill on both ends. Of course, like all calibers, they can be loaded down to “comfortable” levels, but to fully exploit the attributes offered by the half-inchers, I personally don’t run them too moderately.

Once you choose you .50 and work up a good, effective load, you’ll see that it offers serious medicine for big and dangerous game. The .500s are the no-compromise calibers of the revolver world, and by default, they make a big hole.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the August 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: Magnum Research BFR .444 Marlin

Constantly evolving, now available is the Magnum Research BFR .444 Marlin. It's a heavy hitter with a classy-looking bisley grip.

What to know about the new Magnum Research BFR:

  • Magnum Research's latest iteration of its BFR is chambered in the potent .444 Marlin.
  • The BFR has an excellent trigger, which breaks around 3 pounds.
  • BFRs come drilled and tapped for optics mounting.
  • The gun comes equipped with an excellent, Bisley-style grip.
  • It's available at pretty good price: $1,184.

I noted some years back that the long-framed BFR (Big Framed Revolver) possessed “comic book proportions.” Some folks took exception to my remark as being somewhat derogatory, no matter how I meant my comment to be interpreted. It looks like the revolver was grabbed by the barrel and by the grip and stretched to accommodate a host of long-cased rifle cartridges. Hence the previous comment.

What I didn’t tell you then, but I’m compelled to tell you now, is that the long-framed BFR, irrespective of chambering, is a well thought-out, well-executed and exceedingly accurate precision hunting revolver that balances surprisingly well.

There have been some subtle yet significant refinements over the years, and this latest version is the best one ever. Previous iterations utilized a number of Ruger-sourced internal parts, but those days are behind Magnum Research as they are now producing all BFR parts locally. The trigger guard has been lowered and moved forward approximately 1/8 inch to allow for more room for a gloved trigger finger, and the increase in space between the shooter’s middle knuckle and the trigger guard during recoil makes for a much friendlier shooting experience.

You might also notice the new hammer profile, allowing easier gloved manipulation and decreasing the chances of your glove getting pinched between the hammer spur and the frame. Note that these are Minnesota cold weather concessions! The steady evolution of the BFR indicates that the Magnum Research management is actually listening to the consumer.

Magnum Research BFR -444-Marlin-5A Mission For The .444 Marlin

When it comes to hunting revolvers, my preferences have always leaned toward compact size and pack-ability (that’s a technical term). For me, this has always been a big part of the allure of handgun hunting. While I’ve dabbled occasionally deliberately in the long-framed BFRs in the past, I recently went to the Dark Side and ordered up a long-framed BFR in .444 Marlin, a cartridge that’s not nearly as popular now as it was years ago. But this was no ordinary test I was conducting. No, I wanted a revolver for plains game hunting in South Africa, where my shots would likely be at longer range, benefitting from a flatter shooting cartridge in a platform that could better take advantage of the .444’s attributes.

I specified a 10-inch barrel to get the most of the high-velocity potential of the .444 Marlin, along with Magnum Research’s new Bisley grip frame, a recent addition in response to all of the requests for a Bisley-type grip. I also specified black Micarta grips to hang on to, a tough yet attractive grip material that’s perfect for the less-than-ideal conditions one often encounters in the field, as they are impervious to inclement weather, blood, chemicals, etc.

Magnum Research BFR 444 Marlin-3A Bisley By Any Other Name

A note about Magnum’s Bisley: I have heard grumblings from some on the Internet that the BFR Bisley is not a true Bisley as far as the design is concerned. I would remind critics that the more well-known Bisley by Ruger is also an interpretation of the design that originated with Colt as a target-style grip named after a range in England. They’re both interpretations of the original design and a better execution in this author’s opinion.

As with Ruger’s version, Magnum’s Bisley was designed to better control and mitigate the effects of heavy recoil. Unlike Ruger’s Bisley, however, Magnum Research has provided ample room between the shooter’s knuckles and the trigger guard, all but removing the threat of busted knuckles and the potential for developing a flinch as a result. In separate testing, I offered my abusive .500 JRH BFR to a couple of novice shooters to try, and they were impressed with the ease with which they handled the heavy recoil due to the Bisley’s superior design. Yes, it’s that good.

Magnum Research BFR -444-Marlin-4Custom Care

The revolver came from Magnum Research’s custom shop, the Precision Center, and arrived with the fit and finish I have come to expect from them, but the most pleasant surprise was the creep-less, glass-rod-like break of the Precision Center-tuned trigger. When tested, it broke at precisely 3 pounds. The man who does the action tuning for Magnum Research deserves a full commendation for such a smooth and pleasure-inducing action, and it’s by far the best trigger I have ever received from a revolver manufacturer. I cannot overstate the importance of a good trigger to build confidence and competent shooting.

The entire revolver is constructed from tough 17-4PH stainless-steel and, like all BFRs, comes with a five-shot counter-bored cylinder — a nice detail that allows for a partially loaded cylinder to be safely shot without fear of frame/loading gate damage from unsupported case heads. Another nice feature is the freewheeling pawl, which allows for easier loading and unloading, as the cylinder will rotate in either direction when the loading gate is open. This is an invaluable feature, particularly in the field where sometimes you need to top your revolver off in a hurry.

Magnum Research BFR -444-Marlin-6Optics-Ready Options

Because my intent was to perhaps shoot at ranges previously treated by me as outside of my comfort zone, I planned on equipping my new BFR with a scope of some sort. A fixed four-power Leupold handgun scope got the nod, mounted on the Magnum Research-provided scope base. BFRs all come drilled and tapped for optics if the owner so chooses. The excellent Weaver-style base comes with the three necessary mounting screws and is a snap to affix. Attaching the scope to the base are a pair of Leupold quick release rings.

Despite my optical enhancements, the BFR comes with an excellent adjustable rear sight sourced from LPA that is a vast improvement over the old Ruger piece and provides a sharp sight picture. I chose a four-power scope to give me significant magnification without exaggerating my wobbles more than necessary! Though, truth be told, it took me some time to get really comfortable shooting with the glass installed.

A Cartridge Of The Kings

If you are unfamiliar with the .444 Marlin, this is a cartridge that was designed by the powers that be at Marlin for use in lever-action rifles. In essence, the .444 Marlin is a .44 Magnum on steroids. The case is straight-walled and was lengthened nearly a full inch over the relatively diminutive .44 Mag. case and is rimmed like the .44 Mag.

While the maximum allowable pressure ceiling for the .444 Marlin (44,000 CUP) is considerably higher than that of the .44 Magnum (36,000 PSI), the .444 features a WHOLE lot more case capacity. Combine the two and you have the recipe for pretty impressive velocities. Like the .44 Mag., the .444 uses a .429-inch diameter bullet. A consideration with regards to bullet selection is that the velocities the .444 is able to generate require a much tougher bullet than the .44 Mag. It’s a fact of life.

Magnum Research BFR -444-Marlin-2Next on the agenda was gathering the limited number of factory loads available in this relatively eclectic cartridge. Due to the .444 Marlin’s limited popularity, I was only able to source a few different loads. However, I wouldn’t be discouraged or dissuaded from getting a BFR in .444 Marlin, as the few loads we were able to get our hands on did not leave us feeling like we needed something more.

Hornady offers LEVERevolution 265-grain FTX loads, and I sourced two different loads from Buffalo Bore Ammunition, a 335-grain hardcast load and a 270-grain JFP load. Keep in mind that Hornady does not recommend its .444 Marlin ammunition be used in a revolver because the thicker rifle primer cup might compromise ignition. That being said, I never experienced anything but reliable ignition with any of the above listed loads.

To fully exploit the capabilities of Magnum’s .444 Marlin BFR, one needs to handload. There are a number of powders available that are well suited to the relatively short barrel and cylinder gap such as IMR 4198 and Reloder 7. Monometal bullets, such as those from Barnes, Cutting Edge Bullets and Lehigh Defense, are well suited for this application and can withstand high impact velocities.

Magnum Research BFR -444-Marlin-7Amazing Accuracy

My first trips to the range netted great accuracy. Once I got the scope on paper, I pushed the targets out to 25 yards, then 50, and lastly, at a later date, 100 yards (see accuracy table). As long as I did my part, the BFR delivered. Because this revolver was slated to be my plains game firearm, I was pleased with the accuracy displayed and also surprised by the lack of recoil, particularly compared to the .45/70 BFRs I have shot rather extensively. The kick is there; it’s just not objectionable.

So what’s next? Practice, practice and some more practice. Also, I’m planning on stretching the .444 BFR out to 200 yards and even beyond. For a no-compromise, high-quality primary hunting revolver, look no further than Magnum Research’s latest BFR. This is a really tough combination to beat, offering performance and reliability at a pretty affordable price-point. Price is listed at $1,184.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the January 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Hunting: The Hard-Hitting .45-Caliber Revolver Cartridges

The .45s are a very versatile group of cartridges, ranging from the .45 Colt on the bottom end up to the high-velocity champ, the .460 S&W Magnum, at the top end. My personal favorite is the smallest and lowest pressure producer, the .45 Colt. Lower pressure leads to lower recoil and lower noise levels. I don’t place a premium on velocity potential, but there is no denying that increasing velocity increases the range of effectiveness, if you want to reach out a bit farther than typical handgun hunting distances.

What are the hard-hitting .45s?

Kim Ralston took this Maine black bear at 45 yards using Freedom Arms Model 97 .45 colt with 5.5-inch barrel. It’s topped with a 4 MOA JPoint sight and shoots a Hornady 250 XTP over 20.5 grains of 2400. Photo by K. Ralston
Kim Ralston took this Maine black bear at 45 yards using a Freedom Arms Model 97 .45 Colt with 5.5-inch barrel. It’s topped with a 4 MOA JPoint sight and shoots a Hornady 250 XTP over 20.5 grains of 2400. Photo by K. Ralston

.45 Colt

This segment really is the story of two cartridges. Born in 1873, this old black-powder cartridge never seems to get its just due. Think of the .45 Colt as the Rodney Dangerfield of big-bore handgun rounds (a reference older readers will get!). Rarely is it loaded to potential from the factory because of the vast number of older revolvers in circulation that are incapable of handling the higher pressure, modern smokeless loads that would most likely reduce them to shrapnel. Basically, full-power loads in those old guns are lawsuits waiting to happen. So, due to liability issues, the .45 Colt is rarely ever viewed in the same vein as the .44 Magnum.

No slouch even in black-powder form, the .45 Colt in modern times really takes on a different persona. Load it to its full potential, and it will give the much-vaunted .454 Casull a run for its money and leave the .44 Magnum sucking wind in its rear-view mirror. But before you roll out the hate mail, keep in mind that I own at least a half-dozen .44 Mags of all shapes and sizes. It’s just that I am a bigger fan of the modern .45 Colt. If there ever was a do-it-all cartridge, the .45 Colt would be at the top of the heap.

Gun scribe Ross Seyfried is also a big fan of the .45 Colt and chose one to use against Cape buffalo in the mid-1980s. Seyfried evidently had a great deal of confidence in the capabilities of the round — when loaded to potential — and his own ability on the trigger. In an article in Handloader magazine, while discussing the merits of the .44 Magnum, Seyfried said, “In the midst of this I began working in Africa. It was a handgunner’s paradise. Plenty of deer- and elk-like critters could be stalked within honest handgun range. Many could be taken with the .44 Magnum, but I always felt like I was asking a boy to do a man’s job.” Almost losing a trophy kudu shot with his trusty .44 Magnum further exposed that round as an underachiever of sorts on really huge game, and Seyfried’s confidence in the .44 Magnum fell.

.45 Colt Cartridge

About this time, a gentleman by the name of John Linebaugh began pestering Seyfried with letters and phone calls touting the .45 Colt as a significant step up and over the legendary .44. The two finally met, and Linebaugh offered Seyfried the chance to shoot his .45 Colt over the chronograph. Ross declined, stepping back an adequete distance and taking cover, as he truly expected the revolver to come apart like a grenade in Linebaugh’s hands. But, the chrono’ told the true story — six times in a row, the 310-grain bullets traveling at 1,500 fps. Remarkable!

The biggest shock came when Seyfried, expecting to pound the surely mangled cartridge cases out of their chambers, was able to lift them out with minimal effort. Linebaugh was definitely on to something, and Seyfried immediately commissioned him to build one of these super .45 Colts. As for my love affair with the cartridge, what’s good enough for Ross Seyfried is certainly good enough for me.

One need not load the .45 Colt to Casull levels to enjoy a leg up in effectiveness. Loaded to much lower pressure levels, the .45 Colt will not leave you needing more.

.454 Casull

Lynn Thompson, a masterful handgun hunter, killed this Cape buffalo with his Freedom Arms Model 83 in .454 Casull. Photo by L. Thompson
Lynn Thompson, a masterful handgun hunter, killed this Cape buffalo with his Freedom Arms Model 83 in .454 Casull. Photo by L. Thompson

In the early 1950s, while Elmer Keith was hot-rodding the .44 Special, Dick Casull turned his attention to the .45 Colt and building special five-shot cylinders on Colt Single Action Army revolvers. In those days, with limited gunpowder options, one had to get creative in order to achieve high velocities. Casull was able to get a full 2,000 fps out of a 230-grain (one designed for use in the .45 ACP round) bullet by loading two grains of Unique, 25 grains of H2400 and three grains of Bullseye. At the time, highly compacted triplex loads were the only path to achieving the pressures necessary to reach the velocities he sought.

Manufacturers of .454 Casull ammunition have remained true to the original design parameters, offering some very high-velocity loads. However, with modern powders, the .454 is loaded to lower levels than the SAAMI maximum spec, as they are able to achieve the desired velocities without touching the maximum pressure ceiling. The pressures are still high, relatively speaking, but lower than the max allotted levels. The Casull also shines with heavy-for-caliber bullets, though care must be taken when loading them at high velocities, for such recipes have a propensity for testing the integrity of the crimp.

In 1983, the Freedom Arms Model 83 was introduced in Dick Casull’s souped-up .45-caliber cartridge. Never before had such a high-pressure revolver round been produced nor a gun that could live under the abuse generated by it. Other manufacturers, such as Ruger and Taurus, followed suit years later with their own super-strong revolvers chambered in .454 Casull, as this round required a revolver of much stronger construction than any made for the .44 Magnum.

This was not only because of the higher pressures, but also because Dick Casull specified a longer case to prevent the accidental use of .454 Casull ammunition in .45 Colt revolvers of inadequate strength. Additionally, Casull specified a small rifle primer pocket to strengthen the head of the case by virtue of leaving more material in this area.

.454 Casull Cartridge next to a .45 Colt

I think of the .454 Casull as the .378 Weatherby of the revolver world, as neither is really pleasant to shoot when loaded to spec. The .454 Casull generates horrendous recoil and has caused its fair share of injuries. Most .454 Casull ammunition manufacturers load the cartridge short of its full velocity and pressure (SAAMI specification) potential. However, paper ballistics sell, and even loaded down a bit, the .454 can still boast potent numbers. There is no other commercially available handgun cartridge that has a maximum SAAMI pressure specification as high as the .454 Casull, though the .460 and .500 S&W Magnums come close.

At the end of the day, the .454 Casull is a very flexible cartridge, which was Dick Casull’s vision from inception. What he wanted and what was ultimately delivered was a cartridge and revolver combination that can be loaded from mild to extremely wild, as the shooter’s desires and needs dictate. I think Dick Casull succeeded impressively.

.460 Smith & Wesson Magnum

Guide Don Martin with Ernest Holloway and the grizzly bear that charged them.
Guide Don Martin with Ernest Holloway and the grizzly bear that charged them.

Smith & Wesson’s long-range wonder cartridge was introduced in 2005, housed in the company’s X-frame platform. Boasting a case length of a full 1.8 inches, the .460 is basically a stretched .454 Casull. This new cartridge was designed in the same vein as the .454 — high pressure, high velocity, long range. The .460 S&W Magnum has the distinction of being the highest-velocity production revolver cartridge in existence, with some factory loads able to exceed 2,300 fps.

With an overall cartridge length of 2.30 inches, the .460 XVR will also safely chamber and fire .454 Casull and .45 Colt ammo. However, I have not been able to extract acceptable accuracy shooting various loads of .45 Colt or .454 Casull through my test XVR.

.460 S&W Mag. cartridge next to .45 Colt

Not a terribly efficient round, the .460 excels with both light and heavy bullets, but it will not outshine the .454 Casull by much when mid-weight bullets are loaded. Similar pressures can be achieved, and, by increasing the payload, the results aren’t dramatic. That said, in most factory loads, the .460 pushes a lightweight bullet at high speeds, just as intended. In this iteration, it does well on thin-skinned game, but light, frangible bullets at high velocity are a recipe for disaster on truly large animals. Fortunately, the .460 is very effective loaded with heavy bullets as well.

The price you pay for choosing the .460 S&W Magnum is the size of the revolver necessary to hold the oversized cartridge. Then again, every decision you make comes with a price.

.45-70 Government
I know I’m going against the fabric of this by including a rifle round in the lineup. Having said that, this is another cartridge worth mentioning, as it is popular in the one production revolver produced in this old workhorse of a caliber. That revolver is Magnum Research’s BFR — Big Frame Revolver. This super-sized offering is big on size and power with surprisingly moderate recoil.

.45-70 Govt. cartridge next to .45 Colt

In its nomenclature, “.45” denoted the caliber and “70” the number of grains of black powder. This old warrior is still hanging around, more viable and youthful than ever. Introduced in 1873 at the U.S. Army’s Springfield Armory, the .45-70 in modern form is quite the performer, one able to mimic the .454 Casull in a handgun, but at much lower chamber pressures. We are talking about modern smokeless powder loads here, not the .45-70 in black-powder form. Granted, it takes a lot of revolver to house the big .45-70 round, but the bulk of the BFR serves to tame the cartridge quite a bit over a lighter revolver loaded to similar levels as the .454 Casull. The nominal bullet diameter is .458 inches, and the case length 2.10 inches.

I took delivery of a BFR in .45-70 with a 7.5-inch barrel. The long-framed revolver has surprisingly good balance, despite its exaggerated proportions. The trigger was good and broke cleanly at about 3.5 pounds. All BFRs have a free-wheeling pawl, and the fit and finish is very good.

This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Book of Hunting Revolvers.

Hot-Rodding the .45 Colt

Here it is in all of its buffalo killing glory, the Linebaugh-built .45 Colt Seville belonging to Ross Seyfried. Photo by R. Seyfried
Here it is in all of its buffalo killing glory, the Linebaugh-built .45 Colt Seville belonging to Ross Seyfried. Photo by R. Seyfried

Through the efforts of John Linebaugh, Dick Casull and Ross Seyfried, the .45 Colt took the leap from the Old West to modern-day big-game hunting.

Head afield with Gun Digest Book of Hunting Revolvers.

The discussion of hunting revolvers wouldn’t be complete without a look back at John Linebaugh’s work building “Super .45s” on Seville revolvers (U.S. Sporting Arms) in the early ’80s. Hot-rodding the .45 Colt cartridge was nothing new, but it wasn’t widespread either. Dick Casull had been doing just that since the 1950s.

The .45 Colt wasn’t really looked at as a contender, particularly with all of the old Single Action Army models that were in the hands of shooters. Instead, it was viewed more as a has-been that had seen its glory days a long time ago.

Linebaugh and Casull were visionaries in that they could see the potential the old Colt had to offer, if housed in an adequate revolver where the .45 could stretch its legs a bit. Casull’s exploits are legendary, but Linebaugh’s work with the .45 cannot be ignored and deserves to be examined.

Let me step off to the side of this conversation for a moment and introduce another player in this tale, a man by the name of Ross Seyfried.

If anyone has led an unusual and interesting life — including ranching, writing, guiding in the States and Africa, and trail blazing — that would be Seyfried. We have cited a number of his seminal works before, and for a good reason.

If he wrote about it, it was thoroughly vetted and tested, and you could take his conclusions to the bank. Without his contributions to handgunning, the likes of John Linebaugh may never have been known, which would have been tragic to say the very least.

The .45 Colt (center) still stack up well against to younger big-bore behemoths, the .44 Rem. Mag. (left) and .454 Casull (right).
The .45 Colt (center) still stacks up well against younger, big-bore behemoths, the .44 Rem. Mag. (left) and .454 Casull (right).

Growing up on a ranch in eastern Colorado, Seyfried got his first revolver, a Smith & Wesson Model 19 in .357 Magnum, when he was only a freshman in high school. He tried every commercial load available, including those with the highest velocity and lightest bullets, and reports that they didn’t live up to his expectations.

An avid reader of Elmer Keith, the young Seyfried sat down with a pen and paper and wrote Keith of his test results. Keith promptly replied back that the .357 was useless and that Seyfried should acquire a .44 Magnum, and that is exactly what he did. Seyfried even carried a 4-inch Model 29 in Africa, loaded with the requisite 250-grain Keith loads and found it left him wanting more, having used it on many wounded game animals.

Then, John Linebaugh entered his life, and the game changed. Linebaugh convinced Seyfried of an alternative, a perfect revolver for hunting big game that was a sizable step up, over and beyond the vaunted .44 Magnum.

An incredulous and skeptical Seyfried invited Linebaugh to his ranch to give him a demonstration from a good, safe distance away. Not only was he impressed with this display of power, but he was also determined to find out for himself how this rejuvenated .45 Colt would perform in Africa, a wonderful “laboratory” for testing his new pet caliber. The results spoke for themselves and culminated in Seyfried killing a Cape buffalo with a .45 Colt — with no big double rifle backing him up.

Renewed interest in the .45 Colt led to other big-bore advancements, such as the .454 Casull. This particular one is an John Linebaugh custom Seville in .454 Casull with a six-shot oversized cylinder.
Renewed interest in the .45 Colt led to other big-bore advancements, such as the .454 Casull. This particular one is a John Linebaugh custom Seville in .454 Casull with a six-shot oversized cylinder.

As a gunwriter with Guns & Ammo magazine, he had a platform on which to float new ideas to a wary and skeptical audience. But unlike many, Seyfried walked the walk and was in a position to talk about it.

Seyfried stoked the fires of our imaginations with tales of slaying the wild beasts of Africa with only a revolver, introducing us mere mortals to such exotic and unknown calibers like the .475 and .500 Linebaughs, and the mythically powerful Maximums. He showed us that not only could the biggest and most ferocious animals be conquered with revolvers, but that their effectiveness was no fluke, with repeatable results. Seyfried didn’t just talk about it, he went out and backed his theories with quantifiable and tangible results from the field.

His contributions to big-bore revolver development, shooting and hunting cannot be understated. He was a seriously competitive shooter, having won the 1981 World Practical Pistol Championships. A licensed professional hunter in Tanzania and Zambia, he spoke from a place of authority. Until recently, he served as a guide and outfitter in Oregon.

Seyfried reports that he has come full circle and that after many rodeos with some truly big and nasty calibers, he is back to the .45 Colt. He claims to have crossed that line of old age and practicality.

We spoke at length, and in a candid and unguarded moment, he mentioned that his greatest regret in life was “not being able to hand Elmer Keith a five-shot .45 Colt. Not only would he have loved it, he was a man who would have been able to use it for all it was worth.”

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Book of Hunting Revolvers.

Big-Game Medicine: The .475 Revolver Cartridges

475 revolver cartridges mainThere are three notable cartridges in the .475-inch diameter category — the .480 Ruger, .475 Linebaugh and the .475 Maximum or Linebaugh Long. The progenitor of all three of these cartridges is the .475 Linebaugh, which spawned both the shorter .480 Ruger and the longer .475 Maximum. John Linebaugh is responsible for bringing his namesake .475 into this world by cutting the .45-70 Government down to 1.4 inches and necking the case to .476 inches. This caliber category is serious big-game medicine and represents a significant step up in terminal effectiveness from the various .45-calibers.

.480 Ruger
475 revolver Cartridges - 480 RugerThe .480 Ruger is, essentially, a shortened .475 Linebaugh. The first loads offered to the public did not show the true potential of the cartridge, featuring relatively light-for-caliber bullets at moderate velocities. It was also overshadowed by the aggressive marketing of the .500 S&W Magnum and later the .460 S&W Magnum. To that end, it never really stood a chance, as it could not boast being the biggest or the fastest. What Sturm, Ruger & Company did create, though, is a relatively mild recoiling and effective round that, in my opinion, is one of the better all-around choices for the big-game handgun hunter.

Released in conjunction with the Super Redhawk chambered in this caliber, the revolver was a good platform from which to debut the new round bearing the Ruger name on its head stamp. Recoil, while expectedly stout, still pales next to the .454 Casull loaded to spec, even though the .480 boasts a larger diameter. The .480 can be loaded close to the levels of the .475 Linebaugh but cannot achieve the higher velocities. Don’t let that fool you into thinking the .480 Ruger isn’t a serious cartridge. There is no game animal walking this planet that the .480 Ruger cannot comfortably take when loaded appropriately for the task at hand. Loaded to SAAMI specification pressure of just under 48,000 psi, only 2,000 psi separates the .480 Ruger from the .475 Linebaugh.

475 revolver cartridges - 480 ruger
The .480 Ruger took down this water buffalo in Argentina.

I like this round. Even when loaded with heavy bullets — 400 grains and beyond — the impulse is mild and creates more of a push than a sharp jab. Start pushing similarly weighted bullets up over 1,300 fps, though, and this is where the party starts. Plus, all factory revolver offerings in .480 Ruger are of sufficient bulk to tame even the hottest .480 loads. As a milder version of the .475 Linebaugh, what’s not to like? This is a great choice if you want big-bore knockdown power without debilitating recoil, all in a very controllable package.

I have a long relationship and history with the .480 Ruger that began in 2001 with the release of the new cartridge in the Ruger Super Redhawk. I was intrigued with the new chambering in the big, gray revolver and had to have it when I first laid eyes on it. With factory loads, that revolver proved very accurate. I took a number of Florida wild hogs with it and, thinking I needed more horsepower, eventually had it fitted with a five-shot cylinder in .475 Linebaugh. In that configuration I took a lot of big game. I tested a couple more .480 Super Redhawks over the years and was among the first to test the new Super Blackhawk in .480 Ruger, putting nearly 5,000 rounds downrange in testing. Long live the .480 Ruger!

475 revolver cartridges - 475 Linebaugh.475 Linebaugh
A personal favorite of mine, the .475 Linebaugh was unleashed on an unsuspecting handgun world in 1988 by John Linebaugh. The original parent case of the then-wildcat was the .45-70 Government cut down to 1.4 inches with a .476-caliber bullet. This cartridge is truly serious and has taken the largest and most dangerous game that Africa and the rest of the world has to offer, cementing its position in the realm of big-game hunting cartridges.

In its first iteration, it pushed a 400- to 420-grain bullet to speeds up to 1,400 fps. The recoil is stout by anyone’s standards. This is not a cartridge for the uninitiated, as it kicks on both ends.

Ross Seyfried first wrote about the .475 Linebaugh in the pages of the May 1988 issue of Guns & Ammo magazine. The article was appropriately dubbed, “.475 Monster Magnum … The ‘Outer-Limit’ Handgun.” If that article hadn’t gotten your blood pumping, he followed it up with an essay called “.475 Revolver Down Under” in the December 1989 issue of the same publication. In this article, Seyfried succinctly stated, “The .475 revolver cartridge was designed to be the ultimate big-game round for use in handguns. It represents a monumental step up from the .44s and a considerable increase in horsepower over any of the .45-caliber cartridges. This combination of long, heavy bullets and moderately high velocity makes even the highly touted .454 Casull seem small and ineffective.”

475 revolver cartridges - 475 Linebaugh bear
A .475 Linebaugh dropped this bruin in Alaska.

Seyfried then proceeded to knock down all kinds of big game in Australia with a John Linebaugh-built Ruger Bisley .475, including feral goats, pigs, donkeys, wild cattle and even an Indian water buffalo. Seyfried’s first shot on the water buffalo resulted in two broken front shoulders. The effectiveness of the cartridge on big game cannot be argued. The .475 Linebaugh represents a standard by which all big-game revolver hunting cartridges are measured.

Brass is readily available for handloading from two sources, Hornady and Starline. Loaded ammunition is available from a number of sources, including Hornady, Buffalo Bore and Grizzly Cartridge Company.

.475 Maximum or Linebaugh Long
475 revolver Cartridges - 475 Linebaugh MaximumThe January 1991 issue of Guns & Ammo magazine introduced big-bore handgun nuts to the .475 Maximum, and its bigger brother, the .500 Maximum. Ross Seyfried was once again responsible for the exposure, having thoroughly tested the cartridge in a John Linebaugh-built revolver. Also known as the .475 Linebaugh Long, this round is merely a .475 Linebaugh lengthened 0.2 inches to 1.6 inches. The extra length ensured the new round was able to achieve velocities somewhere around 150 fps more than its shorter counterpart while maintaining similar pressures.

The .475 Maximum never really caught on, as the discomfort it created when shooting never outweighed the performance gains that could be realized. Seyfried’s penetration testing revealed that little more is gained by running higher velocities, and that those higher velocities may actually compromise the bullet’s integrity. That said, if loaded to .475 Linebaugh (the 1.4-inch case) velocity levels, the resulting lower pressures make for a more reliable cartridge in extreme heat — a definite plus when hunting Africa or other hot climes.

Despite all of the above, another .357 Maximum I procured a couple of years ago is being converted to .475 Maximum as this book goes to print. Is the extra horsepower a necessity? Nope, but when does need ever play into custom revolver builds?

A note for reloaders. Brass at one time was produced by Hornady for the .475 Maximum, but this is a used market item now. This is a custom revolver proposition only that requires a longer frame like that of Ruger’s only limited-edition .357 Maximum of the early 1980s.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Book of Hunting Revolvers.

Hunting Revolvers: Are Red-Dot Sights the Answer?

Gun Digest Book of Hunting Revolvers.

Gun Digest Book of Hunting Revolvers opens the door to this fun and challenging form of hunting.

The dot on the better scopes can be adjusted for brightness to compensate for changing light conditions in the field or out on the range. It is probably the best solution for low-light hunting situations, making target engagement easy to attain in a hurry. Some red-dot type sights also feature an adjustable dot size, enabling you to adjust diameter up or down to better serve the conditions. In low light, where black crosshairs may be hard to see, the red dot can be adjusted to shine brightly.

There are essentially two types of red-dot sights: a tube type that resembles a riflescope and is adjusted and mounted in the same manner, and the holographic sight that projects a red dot on a small screen. The holographic-type is quite compact and may not necessarily add any bulk to your hunting rig. However, it may not be the best choice in inclement weather as it can be difficult to keep the screen clean for an unobstructed view of your target. Holographic types also tend not to be as rugged, as much more of the mechanism is exposed and not enclosed in a tube — something else to consider.

The relatively new Ultradot 6 features four dot sizes and two reticle patterns. Photo by Author
The relatively new Ultradot 6 features four dot sizes and two reticle patterns.

However, there are some very good units available, such as the Trijicon RMR. In general, red-dot sights are light in weight and don’t change the balance of your gun in any significant way. Be sure to speak to the manufacturer prior to spending your money. Make certain the red dot you choose is up to the task of withstanding the recoil of your handgun (a recurring theme here!).

In any case, a good warranty goes a long way in customer confidence. Ultradot produces a whole line of economical and rugged red dot-type sights that come with a lifetime warranty. I am a big fan of Ultradot’s products for a number of reasons, but mainly for the reliability of their products.

The author took this wild hog in North Carolina with an Ultradot 30 equipped BFR in .500 JRH. Photo by Author
The author took this wild hog in North Carolina with an Ultradot 30 equipped BFR in .500 JRH.

I have had an Ultradot 30 (this is a 30mm tube diameter, hence the designation) on a number of my heavy recoiling revolvers and can report that it has exceeded my expectations by a dozen miles. Thousands of full-tilt .475 Linebaugh rounds (420s at 1,350 fps) and a full complement of heavy load development for my .500 JRH BFR have tested the very integrity of that Ultradot. The poor unit even resided on my ultra-abusive lightweight Ruger Super Redhawk in .500 Linebaugh. The only failure I have experienced was a set of rings that broke from the vicious recoil generated by the .475. But the Ultradot 30 never missed a beat. To add insult to injury, I even mounted that sight on my 8-pound .416 Remington Magnum Mauser (yup, I do own a rifle) for load testing.

I have not been kind to my Ultradot. But like a loyal dog, it keeps coming back, tail always wagging. The only drawback with any red-dot sight is that battery failure can leave you high and dry at the worst moment. Remember to always carry a spare battery and the tools necessary to change it in the field. From supported and unsupported shooting positions, the red dot shines.

Editor's Note: This article is from Gun Digest Book of Hunting Revolvers.

Choosing the Right Hunting Revolver

Before you head afield there is an important question that must be answered: Exactly which hunting revolver is right for you?
Gun Digest Book of Hunting Revolvers opens the door to this fun and changing form of hunting.

Finding a hunting revolver that suits you well is critical. Comfort goes a long way to building confidence. Should you choose a single- or double-action? .357 Mag. or .44 Mag? .454 Casull? Long barrel? Short barrel? Scope? Open sights? What configuration will fulfill your needs?

There are a number of questions you need to answer honestly to zero in on what will best serve your big-game hunting aspirations. If at all possible, you should try a number of different potential hunting revolvers. Recoil characteristics vary greatly between the different types and makes, and let’s face the facts, large-caliber revolvers deliver sizable recoil.

Double-action revolvers tend to concentrate recoil force straight back into the web of your hand, while single-actions tend to twist upward, sparing the shooter some of the unpleasantness. The two configurations are worlds apart in how they transfer recoil to the shooter.

I could go into the various single-action grip-frame profiles, but we don’t have room for that here. My personal favorite is Ruger’s take on the Bisley grip frame, as it is optimal for control in my hands because it has more of a double-action-like recoil dynamic. Freedom Arms’ Model 83 grip is another that I really like.

I would again recommend testing out a few of the different makes, models and calibers before you make this decision. If you don’t know anyone with a variety of revolvers to try, I would suggest joining any number of websites that are dedicated to revolvers and handgun hunting. You may find someone local who is willing to let you shoot some of their guns.

Everyone has different preferences, so there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to picking a platform. For me, single-action revolvers point more intuitively than double actions. They are almost an extension of the hand. Gunslingers of the Old West were undoubtedly well aware of this handling characteristic, relying on point-shooting for survival. On the other hand, we are not gunslingers but handgun hunters, and the double action may offer some advantages when quick follow-up shots are needed to dispatch a departing animal.

One of the best pieces of advice in finding the right hunting revolver is to test out as many as you can to discover what fits you.

This is as good as any time to briefly discuss calibers. While the .357 Magnum is not my first choice, it can be effective. Remember that shot placement is key, and a half-inch hole won’t make up for lousy marksmanship. Loaded with a quality bullet, I wouldn’t hesitate to use the .357 Mag. on deer. However, I still prefer erring on the larger side with regard to calibers. The .41 Magnum is a good starting point and compromise, though factory ammunition is somewhat scarce. The champion of all big-revolver rounds from an ammunition availability standpoint is the ubiquitous .44 Magnum. No other caliber can boast the sheer variety and quantity of available ammunition, and it is fully up to the task of taking any and every game animal that has ever walked the face of this earth.

One of my personal favorites is the .45 Colt — yeah, that old black-powder cartridge from the late 1800s. It can be loaded considerably hotter than its original configuration (limited to 14,000 psi). I’m not suggesting turning your .45 Colt into a .454 Casull, but revolvers like Ruger’s Blackhawk in .45 Colt are considerably stronger than a Colt Single Action Army or the many facsimiles available on the market and are able to safely handle considerably hotter loads than the 14,000-psi maximum imposed upon the smaller and more fragile revolvers. Adhere to published load data, and do not exceed the maximums recommended by the manufacturer, as there is no need to turn your favorite hunting revolver into a hand grenade.

There are quite a few big calibers that are fairly brutal to shoot, and I don’t recommend them to the neophyte. There are some, such as the .480 Ruger, that offer a fine compromise between power and recoil. However, you can load the big calibers down to “soft” levels and they still offer a sizable advantage over their smaller siblings. They don’t need to be pushed hard to be terminally effective. Keep this in mind when you are deciding on a caliber for a hunting revolver.

You need to be honest with yourself as far as your limitations. There is no shame in a low tolerance for recoil. These big-bore revolvers can be very difficult to shoot, as you generally have only 3 pounds to contain the considerable recoil generated by some cartridges. Take pride in being able to shoot your chosen hunting revolver well and effectively. Let someone else’s ego dictate their caliber choices. Confidence and competence will go a long way to filling the freezer with game meat. Confidence follows competence, and consistent competence is the offspring of practice.

Editor's Note: This article is from Gun Digest Book of Hunting Revolvers.

Super Singles: Ruger Super Blackhawk Revolvers

ruger_super_blackhawks-1Ruger's new Super Blackhawk revolvers in .480 Ruger and .454 Casull are excellent options for handgun hunters and fans of big-bore revolvers.

Early this year, Ruger asked me to perform some testing on both of its new Super Blackhawk models, all under the veil of secrecy of a strict embargo. I put nearly 1,000 rounds through the .454 Casull model and almost 5,000 rounds through the .480 Ruger model.

Fans of the single-action Super Blackhawk have long been waiting for one chambered in .480 Ruger.

Appropriately dubbed an “endurance test,” I wasn’t sure whose endurance we were testing, the gun’s or mine. I had no support crew or relief shooters. It was just the revolvers, the bench, piles of ammunition and me. I am happy to report that I survived, and my hands are still somewhat intact.
I can’t figure out what’s wrong with me. I have an inability to say “no” when asked to test firearms I find irresistible—irrespective of the parameters of the test. When Ruger engineers first approached me, I was told I was on a short list to test the .454 Casull and .480 Ruger Super Blackhawk single-action revolvers. They said something about being recoil-proof and a glutton for punishment in explaining why I had been chosen for this honor. My wife neatly sums up these “qualities” with one word: numb.

“No problem,” I said, and “Thanks, I think. I love a challenge.”

In February, a call from my FFL indicated that the first installment had arrived along with a couple hundred rounds of .454 Casull of various brands and bullet weights. I tested that revolver to the tune of nearly 1,000 rounds in a short period of time.

Shortly thereafter, a .480 Ruger Super Blackhawk arrived, and this time, my FFL told me I should bring my truck to haul all of the ammo out of his entryway.

Ever since Sturm, Ruger & Company released the .480 Ruger in the love-it-or-hate-it Super Redhawk back in 2001, revolver aficionados have been browbeating Ruger to release this cartridge in their popular single-action revolver lineup. The combination of Super Blackhawk and .480 Ruger is debated incessantly on gun websites, yet Ruger’s reticence to actually make this happen has frustrated many handgun hunters who have long wanted to see this marriage come to fruition.

Basically a shortened .475 Linebaugh, the .480 Ruger is a serious big-game hunting round that, even when loaded to spec, isn’t too abusive to the one pulling the trigger. Ruger has finally relented by offering not only its .480 Ruger in the Super Blackhawk line, but also the raucous .454 Casull. Ruger has offered the Super Redhawk in .454 Casull since the late ’90s.

Handgun hunters everywhere now have reason to rejoice as two of their favorite calibers can be had in the revolver they love in an affordable package. Available as a Lipsey’s distributor exclusive, I cannot imagine supplies will last long.

The gun’s cylinder is carved from 465 Carpenter steel for durability.

Here’s what you need to know. The new revolvers are based on the old revolvers. Ruger used the standard Super Blackhawk frame in stainless steel (415 stainless steel). The barrel is 6½ inches in both models (at least initially) and made from 15-5 stainless steel, with a 1:24 and 1:18 twist for the .454 Casull and .480 Ruger, respectively. The barrel is straight, without a taper and features a front sight base that is silver soldered on with a pinned in sight blade, and a standard Ruger adjustable sight is utilized in the rear.

The cylinder is carved from 465 Carpenter steel, the super-strong, hard-to-machine material that first made an appearance in the late 90s in the .454 Casull Super Redhawk (and later in the .480 Ruger version). The cylinder is a five-shot configuration, with counter-boring to encapsulate the case heads. Dimensionally, the cylinder is like that of the .44 Magnum Super Blackhawk, save for a tiny bit more length to the rear to compensate for the recessed case heads.

The new Super Blackhawks feature a slightly longer, five-shot cylinder with counter-boring.

The new revolvers are fitted with an extra-long ejector rod housing that made its first appearance on the limited run of stretch frame .357 Maximum revolvers of the early 1980s. A Bisley grip frame is the only one offered and the only one Ruger deemed acceptable for these applications. A locking base pin guards against the base pin walking out under recoil, a nice touch.

I tested both models thoroughly with factory fodder. Both pre-production models suffered from teething pains that we have been assured have been sorted out, but are to be expected from test guns. Chronic screw loosening (grip frame in particular) plagued the .454, but a drop or two of thread lock fixed that issue. The ejector rod housings on both loosened regularly, and both launched their front sights, ironically on the 480th round out of the .480 model. The .480 also had its barrel unscrew itself, but Ruger promptly fixed it and had it back in my sore hands to resume testing.

These new revolvers are equipped with an extra-long ejector rod housing.

Recoil means something different to every shooter. While I am no stranger to recoil, these relatively lightweight powerhouses pack a wallop on both ends. Not the worst you may encounter, but a considerable step up from the venerable .44 Magnum. The .454 Casull Super Blackhawk kicks noticeably harder than its .480 Ruger counterpart. This is no doubt due to the higher pressure levels .454 Casull ammunition is loaded to, and while the .480 delivers a heavy push, the .454 has a snappy and much sharper recoil impulse.

Both revolvers delivered outstanding accuracy, the only limits being my eyesight with open iron sights. To remedy this, I equipped both models with red dot-type sights of radically different designs. I own a number of more expensive revolvers that cannot compete with the accuracy these two new Rugers displayed.

GD-NewSBH-3We got the opportunity to test the new .454 Bisley on porcine flesh at Hog Heaven Outfitters of Johnston County, North Carolina. I got lucky on the first morning when a 214-pound boar made the mistake of showing up. The shot was broadside at about 20 yards and required only one Garrett 365-grain .45 Colt +P Hammerhead to seal the deal. My testing was now complete.

In summary, Ruger and Lipsey’s have finally given us what we want. What was once a custom-only and cost-prohibitive proposition is now only a phone call—and also less than $1,000—away from being yours. We all have reason to rejoice. Evidently, Ruger is listening.



This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.