Big-bore handguns aren’t for the faint of heart or the weak of wrist. The guns push the limits of what can be fired away from the shoulder. And they have become the objects of affection for hunters and target shooters alike. What is a big-bore? Well, it is a relative term. Max Prasac, author of Big-Bore Revolvers draws the line at the .41 Magnum. For this montage we're going a bit bigger — .44 Magnum and up. So enjoy your stroll through the wonderful world of big-bore handguns and take a gander at 10 of these hand cannons in action.
Editor's note: The heavy lifting concerning the history and specifications of these big-bore cartridges was done by Frank C. Barnes and Richard Mann in Cartridges of the World.
The .454 Casull, originally called the .454 Magnum Revolver, was developed by Dick Casull and Jack Fulmer in 1957. In essence, it is a larger .45 Colt and was designed primarily for hunting. As noted in Cartridges of the World, “Anyone who contemplates hunting dangerous game with a handgun should seriously consider the .454 Casull…” It also does a number on soda pop.
Fireworks should be expected when the likes of Marlin and Hornady team up. That was exactly what happened in 2000, when the firearms and ammunition manufacturers partnered to create the first new chambering from Marlin since 1964. The round was meant to hunt dangerous game out of a leaver-action rifle; that is until Magnum Research got a hold of the cartridge and chambered it in a Big Frame Revolver.
A creation of John Linebaugh of Maryville Missouri, the .475 is considered one of the world’s most powerful revolver cartridges. It's based off the .45-70 Government case cut off at 1.5 inches and is loaded with bullets weighting 320 to 440 grains. It was primarily designed to take medium to large game and as predator defense.
.50 Action Express
Developed in 1988 by Evan Whildin of Action Arms, the .50 Action Express was part of a program to upgrade semi-auto pistol performance through cartridge design. With 1,414 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, the .50 AE is one of the most powerful pistol cartridges in the world – a fact Desert Eagle fans well know. New shooters beware, this baby tends to produce a little muzzle flip.
A creation of Louisiana native Johnny Rowland, the .460 Rowland was developed as a handgun hunting cartridge for the 1911 pistol that would offer .44 Magnum levels of power. Most pistols chambered for the round are built with a compensator to combat the intense recoil. Note the wound cavity produced by this round… devastating.
Introduced in 2003, the .500 Smith and Wesson became the first commercial .50-caliber revolver. It is the most powerful factory cartridge in history. It’s main purposes are big-game hunting and inflaming arthritic wrists.
The .45-70 Government is one of the oldest rounds on the list, adopted by the U.S. Military in 1873. The cartridge served for 19 years and went into obscurity by the early 1930s. The .45-70 has seen a comeback in recent years, a number of manufacturers cambering rifles for the round, along with Magnum Research producing revolver to fire the beast.
Another golden oldie, the .50-caliber Sharps was introduced in 1872. The .50-90 was a latter iteration of the cartridge and came about from the demand for more potent game loads – primarily by buffalo hunters. When Western writers refer to the “Big 50” this is the round they’re talking about.
The .480 is a compromise: It is meant to split the difference between the .44 Remington Magnum and the .454 Casull. Derived from the .45-70 Government case, the round delivers two-thirds of a ton of muzzle energy and has a primary purpose of big-game hunting.
.44 Remington Magnum
A round inspired by Elmer Keith and made famous by Dirty Harry – no list of big-bore handguns is complete without the .44 Remington Magnum. For many years it was the world’s most powerful handgun cartridge and has been used for everything from home defense to taking bull elk. Let’s conclude by having Jerry Miculek make one sing like only he knows how.
Did those big bore handgun clips get your adrenalin pumping? Then you're certain to love these resources: Cartridges of the World and Big-Bore Revolvers. Both references touch upon some of the most powerful handguns and ammunition through history and will thrill you for hours with their in-depth research and eye-catching photographs. The books are perfect if you are an old hand at shooting high-powered handguns or are thinking about adding a hand cannon to your collection. These and other great resources are available at GunDigestStore.com.