I think the .500 Smith & Wesson magnum is one of the all time best cartridges developed since the .44 Remington Magnum. Not only is it the most powerful production pistol cartridge but it is also very versatile when reloaded. It has taken Africa’s Big Five; Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, Lion and Rhino. It is also a fantastic stopper on Brown Bear and Grizzly and also Polar Bear. The .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum is super versatile when reloaded. At the light end, you can shoot a 300 grain bullet at 800 fps or at the top end a 700 grain cast bullet at 1,300 fps.
The .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum is a semi rimmed case designed to load and extract from revolvers and lever action rifles. The bore diameter is .500 unlike the 500 Linebaugh which is .510. The smaller bore size prevents issues with the National Firearms Act and the Destructive Device stipulation. The maximum working pressure for this cartridge is 60,000 psi but most factory ammunition is loaded to 50,000 psi for safety and easy extraction.
The Smith & Wesson 500 revolver has a cylinder that was tested with a 20% overload or 72,000 psi however the cylinder was engineered to withstand a 50% overload which would be 90,000 psi. This is quite the beefy cylinder and plenty strong. I had heard the the Freedom Arms Casull sixgun can withstand the same type of overloads. These are the strongest handguns made today.
Cor-bon manufactures some of the best factory ammo. They load the 325 grain bullet at 1,800 fps, 400 grain bullet at 1,625 fps and the 440 grain cast at 1,625 fps. The 440 grain cast bullet will take any animal on this Earth. Winchester loads a 400 grain jacketed bullet at 1,675. They also have a reduced load with a 350 grain bullet at 1,400 fps. There are many manufacturers loading the 500 Smith & Wesson with bullets ranging from 275 grains to 700 grains. There are reduced loads that are fun to shoot and max loads for dangerous game.
700 grain cast bullet compared to a 50 AE (left) and 44 Mag (right)
If you handload then you will have a ball with the .500 Smith & Wesson. There are hundreds of loads and thousands of different bullets from solid brass to hard cast lead and everything in between. Bullet weights range from 275 grains to 700 grains. Lil Gun is most likely one of the best powders for the heavier cast bullets while Trail Boss is the “King” of reduced loads. I love Trail Boss powder. It makes any caliber fun to shoot including the .600 Nitro Express.
There is a Trail Boss load for the 500 grain bullet that delivers 643 fps. Talk about a fun load to target practice with.
I have handloaded the .500 Smith & Wesson for many years. I shot it in my Thompson Center Encore pistol and rifle. The max loads in the pistol are not fun but in the rifle they were a whole lot of fun. I gained about 300 fps when firing the 500 Smith in a rifle. The 500 Smith & Wesson in a rifle turns into a 450/400 Nitro. You can launch 400 grain bullets at 2,000 fps from a 24 inch barrel. It comes very close to the ballistics of the 50 Alaskan also, 500 grain at 1,900 fps.
The .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum is very easy to reload and is a very efficient cartridge. It holds only about 45 grains of powder but develops tremendous power with moderate pressure. The huge amount of loading data makes the 500 Smith an all around favorite for the reloader and hunter.
I wish manufacturers would develop rifles for the 500 Smith & Wesson Magnum like a single shot falling block or a heavy lever action or bolt action similar to the Remington 77/44 rifle. The Ruger #1 Tropical would be really nice too.
Right now the best setup for a 500 Smith & Wesson rifle is the Thompson Center Encore. Get a custom bull barrel and a thumbhole stock. It’s accurate and handles very well. Enough power for anything that walks.