The .500 Magnum Smith & Wesson is, at the moment, the most powerful handgun in the world. If there is ever a more powerful handgun, I do not want to meet it. Well, I do, but I'd be a little afraid. The .500 Magnum is not a gun that anyone in his right mind would call "practical." Smith & Wesson built this thing because a) they could and b) gun nuts love this stuff and c) there are people out there who are actually crazy enough to want to hunt Cape Buffalo with a handgun. It's pretty much the firearms equivalent of a 1967 Cadillac El Dorado Convertible, hot pink, with whaleskin hubcaps and all-leather cow interior and big brown baby seal eyes for headlights that gets one mile to the gallon.
That's a picture of yours truly holding the .500 Magnum revolver. Aside from the fact that I am a deuced handsome cuss, you will discern another key bit of information: that's a really, really, really big gun. It is bigger than my head. It is damn near bigger than my forearm. We're talking about a hunk of steel that weighs about four and a half pounds before you load it. As a carry gun? Forget it. It's about as concealable as a broadsword.
Also, the gun costs more than a thousand dollars, and ammunition will run you about three bucks a shot.
Here's the scary part: it is so worth it.
Given its size, the .500 Magnum is surprisingly easy to hold -- S&W put standard grips on it, which is a blessing. Its large mass is also a blessing; that cuts down on recoil, so the gun doesn't spring back and hit you in the forehead. Make no mistake, though: it's stompy. Julie only had five shots left; her brothers each fired one, and she gave me the other three. (NICE lady.)
This is what it's like to fire the .500 Magnum: the gun slams into your hand, HARD, and the muzzle recoils up to around fifty or sixty degrees. The blast shakes your arms, and the force stuns you a little. It's a small physical shock. Then you start breathing again, and for some esoteric reason the air in your lungs escapes with a "Whoo!" followed by silly laughter.
Then you put the gun down, because damn.
Popular Mechanics's reviewer said that "the rearward thrust absorbed by the shooting hand began to become uncomfortable after 10 to 15 rounds." He's manlier than I am: the first shot didn't cause any lingering discomfort, but I fired my last two shots in close succession, and my right hand and arm still tingled the next day. (Julie said that she'd been shooting with a beefy co-worker, and he'd put the .500 Magnum down after three shots. I can't blame him.)
If any of you are gun-geeky enough to care, the ammo was 440gr HC Cast Performance, with a velocity of 1625fps and a kinetic energy of 2580ft/lbs. Which is a lengthy, detailed way to say, "Ow." For the less gun-savvy, this picture will give you an idea of the scale: from left to right, that's a .22 Long Rifle cartridge, a .38 Special cartridge, and a .500 S&W Magnum cartridge.
I don't think I could shoot the .500 S&W Magnum all day, even taking lengthy breaks between shots. I don't care: I want one anyway.
The most amusing part of shooting the .500 Magnum? When you move on to shoot the smaller .44 Magnum, and find yourself thinking, "Gee, I don't know what the fuss is about -- this caliber's really quite comfortable, and very controllable..."
The .500 Magnum is not modest. It's an outrageous weapon, excessive in pretty much every way, and it looks like something Yosemite Sam would carry. It's not for everybody. It isn't even for me on a regular basis.
But if you ever get a chance to fire one, don't pass it up. It's an experience.