Belt Artillery: Smith & Wesson 460 XVR

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The .44 Magnum on the bottom used to be the most powerful handgun in the world. That hasn’t been the case for a long time, and the .460 above it is a serious contender.
The .44 Magnum on the bottom used to be the most powerful handgun in the world. That hasn’t been the case for a long time, and the .460 above it is a serious contender.

A veritable hand-held howitzer, the Smith & Wesson Model 460 XVR X-framed revolver is summed up in two words: More. Power.

The title, “Most Powerful Handgun Cartridge in the World,” was fought over for some time, but it finally got settled: S&W owns it, regardless of which cartridge you favor. Yeah, there are some with a bigger bore, but there’s a case to be made for the .460 S&W Magnum.

The Smith & Wesson 460 XVR is one big example of belt artillery. Starting with the company’s X frame—the one it developed for the .500 S&W magnum—the S&W engineers took the .454 Casull case and lengthened it. They also upped the chamber pressure to the highest of any cartridge out there (at the time, anyway)—65,000 psi.

The result was a cartridge that could deliver a .45-caliber, 200-grain bullet at 2,300 fps. There are century-old, classic and well-respected deer hunting cartridges that can’t deliver a 200-grain bullet at 2,300 fps.

The grips are a Hogue Monogrip—rubber with the S&W logo in them—to try and take some of the sting out of recoil.
The grips are a Hogue Monogrip—rubber with the S&W logo in them—to try and take some of the sting out of recoil.

The all-stainless 460 XVR was unveiled in 2005, and it was the talk of the shooting industry.

Revolver Details

It’s a solid-frame, double-action revolver with a swing-out cylinder. It holds five rounds, and you can fire everything from powder-puff cowboy action ammo up to the most audacious .460 S&W Magnums you can stand. The case is an extended .454 Casull, but the Casull is an extended .45 Colt; and the .45 Colt can also use the .45 Schofield.

The result? A four-cartridge revolver. I just have to shake my head at the thought. I might be a bit hesitant to shoot .45 Schofields in the XVR, simply because the bullet might get lost on the trip from its case to the front of the cylinder. The distance is that great.

You can be modest, powerful or overwhelming. A .45 Colt—loaded to “warm” for the Colt but “mild” for the .460—with a Hornady 200 FTX and a Cor-Bon Hunter 395-grain, hardcast whomper.
You can be modest, powerful or overwhelming. A .45 Colt—loaded to “warm” for the Colt but “mild” for the .460—with a Hornady 200 FTX and a Cor-Bon Hunter 395-grain, hardcast whomper.

The Model .460 has been made in a number of variants, with barrel lengths from 2.75 inches up to 14 inches. I‘ve handled the super-snubbie, but I’ve never fired one. I saw it at one of the industry gatherings (I’d like to say I was too busy to shoot it, but I made sure I was too busy to shoot it, because, well, that barrel was just too short).


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Mine, which came to me as loot from a competition, is the XVR with the 8 3/8-inch barrel that also has a muzzle brake installed. S&W was clever enough to design and install a muzzle brake that’s easy to install or remove, and it does an effective job of dampening recoil … of which the .460 can generate copious amounts.


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The barrel has a gain twist. That is, it starts out with a slow twist, and the twist rate increases as the bore continues forward. It begins slowly, with a twist rate equal to one turn in 100 inches, and ends with a twist rate of one in 20 inches. This is to prevent bullet distortion. You don’t want a 200-grain bullet at 2,300 fps slamming into the rifling and then required to immediately begin turning at a 1:20 twist rate. The gain twist starts slow but accelerates.

Five shots. Need more? You should have practiced!
Five shots. Need more? You should have practiced!

The sights are a fixed front blade (removable so you can change it to what you like) and an adjustable rear. You can also remove the rear sight. You’ll also find holes drilled and tapped for a scope base, should you wish to scope your .460. The factory setup comes with two front sights and a pair of muzzle brakes. (Mine didn’t come to me from the factory and has just one of each. Such is life.)

On the back end, the XVR comes with a Hogue Monogrip rubber grip installed—and thank goodness for that! Shooting even just the .454 Casull loads with wood grips would bring tears to your eyes. I shudder to think of what the full-house .460 loads would be like.

How It Operates

Operation is just like that of every other double-action revolver: Press the cylinder latch forward and hinge the cylinder out to the left, Stuff a cartridge in each chamber and close it. To fire, either thumb back the hammer to full cock and press the trigger, or just press the trigger back in double action. A loud (or very loud) noise will ensue, along with lots of recoil.

If you expect to rudely shove a bowling pin 15 feet to the rear, you’d better be bringing some serious horsepower to the task. The .460 S&W Magnum, in a .460 XVR, can do that.
If you expect to rudely shove a bowling pin 15 feet to the rear, you’d better be bringing some serious horsepower to the task. The .460 S&W Magnum, in a .460 XVR, can do that.

Repeat as necessary. After five shots, open, eject the empties, repeat.

Mag-Na-Porting Option

As mentioned, my .460 is a prize gun, and before it came to me, a previous owner had the wit to have it Mag-Na-Ported. The Mag-Na-Port process involves a system known as EDM (electrical discharge machining).

It works like this: Connect a metal object (it has to conduct electricity) to an electrical circuit. Place an electrode close to the metal object and pump a very large charge into the system. Once the electrode is close enough—or the charge is high enough—a spark will jump the gap. The spark erodes the metal, but the gap it can jump is very small. So the burned hole will faithfully reproduce the shape of the electrode. There’s no heat, no stress; just electricity.

The top strap is drilled and tapped for a scope mount—a useful addition to a hunting handgun.
The top strap is drilled and tapped for a scope mount—a useful addition to a hunting handgun.

The slots on the barrel are cut to permit jets of gas to escape and act as nozzles, directing the gas and dampening recoil. I’ve had a bunch of guns treated to the Mag-Na-Port process and have been very happy over the decades.

How It Performs

Shooting the XVR is an … adventure. The otherwise impressive .454 Casull is tamed through the sheer mass of the .460. The XVR tips the scales at 4½ pounds. Even without the muzzle brake or the ports, it would be controllable. The stiffest .45 Colt ammo generates plinking-level recoil out of the XVR.

But …

S&W wants there to be no mistake, and you need to be reminded what model this is. So, the .460 XVR gets its own logo too!
S&W wants there to be no mistake, and you need to be reminded what model this is. So, the .460 XVR gets its own logo too!

Load up the .460 S&W Magnum ammo, and the whole world changes. You now find yourself in a situation not unlike that of a new driver who’s found him/herself behind the wheel of something with an impressive power-to-weight ratio. It’s all you can do to just hang on.

The province of the .460 is hunting. It was designed to be the flattest-shooting big-game hunting handgun cartridge to be had. And it is. With a scope, you can legitimately (assuming you’ve practiced—and have the skill, I must add) hunt deer to 200 yards. In states where handgun hunting is a separate season or region, a stand with a clear view would allow you to cover quite a field of deer-loving vegetation. The .460 performs like a rifle, even though it’s clearly a handgun.

This performance does not come cheap. First, there’s the recoil. Yes, I’ve already mentioned it, but it bears repeating. Don’t kid yourself: Just because you can manage some part of an afternoon shooting a .44 Magnum, don’t think you’ll handle a .460 just as easily. It’s literally twice the cartridge the .44 is. Work up to the full-power ammo, or you’ll find you’ve worked yourself into a flinch.

Two Cost Considerations

Next, there’s the price of the 460 XVR. Currently listed at $1,369, don’t expect to see much, if any, discount on one. You might not even be able to see one in the counter at most gun shops. The .460’s not likely to be a stocking item, although you might see a low-mileage one—used, in the counter—from a previous owner … who didn’t work up easy in recoil.

The front of the frame has a plunger to clock into the crane when closed, thus adding more precision, as well as locking to the cylinder.
The front of the frame has a plunger to clock into the crane when closed, thus adding more precision, as well as locking to the cylinder.

Last is the ammunition. Performance at this level costs.

Currently, ammunition can be had from Hornady, Cor-Bon and Federal—.460 ammo, that is. You can also use .454 Casull and .45 Colt, which are both more common. The choices range from the Hornady FTX LeverEvolution—the company’s soft polymer-tipped, 200-grain bullet at 2,200 fps—Federal Fusion (260 grains), Federal loaded with Barnes 275-grain bullets, to Cor-Bon, which offers several weights—up to its 395-grain, hardcast, flat-nose bullet at a listed 1,525 fps.

The least expensive of these loads will set you back $1.50 per shot. The most expensive will be $2.50 per loud noise. As a result, it’s not at all unusual for .460 owners to also be reloaders. The beauty of that is you can tailor your loads to your needs, as well as to your comfort level.

Mine comes out a couple of times a year for practice and competition. And when it does, everything else stays at home … because after you’ve shot a .460, what else is there to do?

460 XVR Specs
Type: Double-action revolver
Caliber: .460 S&W Magnum
Capacity: 5 rounds
Barrel: 8 3/8 in.
Length: 15 in.
Weight: 72 oz.
Trigger: 3.5 lb. SA; 9 lb. DA
Finish: Stainless steel
Grips: Hogue rubber
MSRP: $ 1,369

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


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