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Bad, Badder, Baddest
The .44 Magnum was once considered the ‘most powerful handgun in the world.’ How quaint. Today’s monster mags leave it in the dust.

Once upon a time, Clint Eastwood’s Detective Sergeant Harry Callahan character pointed his S&W; Model 29 at a recalcitrant felon and remarked, "This being a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world..." Well, it wasn’t--even in 1971, when "Dirty Harry" first hit the theaters. And it certainly isn’t now.

In fact, when it comes to real handgun power these days, the .44 Magnum isn’t even on the chart. Today, the threshold for true major-power magnum handguns has moved far beyond the .44 to calibers .45, .475 and .50.

Of course, the surge in biggest-bore magnum revolver popularity during recent decades does owe a great deal to Harry Callahan, both for sparking an enduring interest by shooters in owning and shooting "most powerful" handguns--and for prompting manufacturers to develop cartridges and revolvers that could rightly claim that title.


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And while the genesis of all these more recent powerhouses can be traced to their developers’ search for cartridges and guns that would be effective as big game guns and bear-stoppers, the majority of sales have gone to shooters who simply seek the satisfaction of owning, shooting and mastering the most powerful handheld firearms available.

So if you’re interested in joining those ranks, here’s a quick survey of today’s biggest-bore handfuls, in order of caliber.

.454 CASULL
At the "bottom" of the current big-bore revolvers now eclipsing the .44 Magnum is the .454 Casull, developed by experimenter Dick Casull during the 1950s. Casull began experimenting with high-pressure .45 Colt handloads in the Colt Single Action Army but quickly realized that the thin chamber walls were inadequate. He developed a much stronger five-shot cylinder and specially heat-treated frames and was able to drive a 255-grain bullet to 1,550 fps from a 7.5-inch barrel.

Realizing an even larger frame would be necessary to reach greater power, in 1957 he crafted a prototype single-action revolver that could chamber a .45 Colt-dimension case that used a Small Rifle primer and was strengthened and lengthened to 1.383 inches. It could drive 235-grain bullet over 2,000 fps or a 300-grain bullet to more than 1,700 fps.

Casull eventually partner in 1979 with Wayne Baker of Freedom Arms in Wyoming, and the FA Model 83 single-action revolver chambered in .454 Casull began shipping to dealers in 1983. Today, single-action .454 Casull revolvers are being produced by a variety of other makers such as Magnum Research Inc., and double-action .454 Casull revolvers are offered by Ruger and Taurus USA.

For many years, the .454 Casull reigned supreme as the most powerful commercially produced handgun round on the market. Revolvers so-chambered have been used by hunters to take the largest game in the world and are widely favored by outdoorsmen as a companion defense against animal attack.

.460 S&W; MAGNUM
Introduced in 2005, the .460 Smith & Wesson Magnum was the second chambering to be offered for S&W;’s extra-large X-frame revolver series. Like the .454 Casull, it is an even-more-lengthened and strengthened extension of the original .45 Colt case (.460 revolvers can chamber and fire both these other rounds) and operated at centerfire rifle-level cartridge pressure.

It sends a conventional 200-grain handgun bullet out the muzzle of a 7.5-inch revolver at more than twice the speed of sound, provides a maximum point blank range of 250 yards for deer hunting and develops nearly 1.5 tons of muzzle energy in its heaviest commercial loadings.


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