Second to None: Reloading and Shooting 500 S&W Magnum

There are a few things I’d put into the “you have to try this” category, and 500 S&W Magnum is definitely one of them. Unleashing 2600 ft-lb of energy, you’d think this handgun would be totally unmanageable, but it isn’t. With an integrated muzzle brake and compensator, the S&W500 revolver is very extreme to shoot, but is manageable. If you want the most powerful handgun in the world, this is the revolver for you! But what if you want to enjoy shooting this fine revolver without the need to brace yourself for every shot? In this article, I’ll cover the basics of reloading 500 S&W magnum and will show both full power loads, and what I would call “pleasant” loads. So let’s get into it!

500 S&W Magnum: Setting the Standard

500 S&W Magnum is what I would call a “last page gun”. Need load data? Go to the very end of the handgun loading section, and you’ll find it! It’s the largest diameter bullet for common handgun applications, and the most powerful, so you’ll always find it at the very end. But why build such a powerful handgun? Isn’t it overkill? Well, here in North America there is need for such a handgun- and I can think of no better application for the 500 S&W Magnum than full-size Alaskan bears (Grizzly/Brown bears, not so much for Black Bears). This cartridge and handgun is also ideal for hunting large (extremely large) game in any country in the world. And finally, it’s a lot of fun!

In the above picture we see an illustration of the magnitude of the 500 S&W Magnum in this “police lineup” of common handgun cartridges. From left to right we have:

Cartridge Energy
.22 Long Rifle 150 flt-lb
9mm Parabellum 400 ft-lb
45 ACP 400 ft-lb
40 S&W 450 ft-lb
10mm Auto 700 ft-lb
44 Magnum 1200 ft-lb
500 S&W Magnum (light) 550 ft-lb
500 S&W Magnum (full-power) 2000 – 2600 ft-lb

Needless to say, the 500 S&W Magnum packs an amazing punch- pushing 500 grains of lead down range at supersonic speed. It’s an amazing feeling that you can’t quantify with words- you have to experience it in person to appreciate the “experience”. Released in 2003, this cartridge is still the most powerful for handgun applications, and it’s hard to comprehend wanting for more!

Smith and Wesson Model S&W500 8 3/8″ Revolver

The revolver I’m using for this content series is the Smith and Wesson model S&W 500 with 8 3/8″ barrel. I’ve owned revolvers from a few different manufacturers, but really appreciate Smith and Wesson because of their quality, great triggers (I’m picky about triggers), and the no-nonsense classic styling. I also appreciate that Smith and Wesson revolvers hold their value *very* well. So I was very excited to open the “carry on luggage” box this revolver comes in and feel the familiar high-quality trigger albeit in a much larger package.

Here’s some highlights outlined in the above picture:

  1. Frame: Smith and Wesson X-Frame (largest from Smith and Wesson)
  2. Grip: Recoil absorbing rubber
  3. Trigger: Single/Double action, 5 lb single action pull (measured)
  4. Cylinder: Fluted, 5-shots
  5. Barrel: 8 3/8″, full underlug
  6. Muzzle brake (removable), integrated compensator
  7. HIVIZ front sight (quick change, interchangeable)

At 4.3 lb, this revolver is massive, and that’s a good thing when you’re dealing with up to 2600 ft-lb energy in a single shot. Fit and finish on my S&W500 is just what you’d expect from Smith and Wesson- extremely high quality. In my experience, the small premium you’ll pay for a high quality firearm like this one is *well worth it* in the end. You don’t want to shoot magnum loads in a questionable firearm- confidence and safety is paramount- especially if your life depends on it.

Loading the 500 S&W Magnum

If you step up to the 500 S&W Magnum- having the ability to load and reload your own ammunition is very important. Reloading this ammunition will give you the ability to “dial in” your loads for your application, and you can also save significant money compared with factory ammunition. Hopefully that leads to more shooting with better results! There’s a lot to talk about related to 500 S&W Magnum reloading, more than we can cover in this article. So we’ll focus on a couple loads: one light, and one closer to full-power. In future articles I’ll expand on both reloading topics, and potentially even enhancements to this revolver (optics comes to mind, and holsters for that matter). Let’s take a look at components and equipment!

In the above picture, from the revolver and moving clockwise we have:

  1. S&W 500 8 3/8″ revolver
  2. Hodgdon CFE-BLK powder (for full power load)
  3. Starline new 500 S&W Magnum brass
  4. Federal Large Rifle primers
  5. Hornady 500 grain XTP bullets
  6. Hornady 350 grain XTP Mag bullets
  7. Hodgdon CFE Pistol powder

*A quick note about Starline brass: as mentioned in the video, I have standardized on Starline for new pistol brass for the last 10 years, and am excited to have them onboard as a partner! So look for Starline brass deals and savings shortly!

These components worked really well together for this first set of loads I worked with for the 500 S&W Magnum.

My equipment setup worked just as well, utilizing the following:

…and here’s the die station utilization on the Hornady Lock-N-Load AP:

  1. Empty (normally the sizer die, but not needed since using new brass)
  2. Expander
  3. Powder measure
  4. Empty (powder check visual)
  5. Seat/crimp

This is a setup you can really crank out ammunition quickly with! And this was the first project I’ve completed at the new Ultimate Reloader Mountain Studio (more on that later). Can you imagine being able to load a single cartridge, test it, then make adjustments, then test it again – all in a radius of 50′? (and for me, the ability to film all of this action on-site). Truly an amazing setup, and I’m excited to use this new facility for more Ultimate Reloader stories! Back to 500 S&W Magnum…

One of the important aspects of reloading ammunition is testing your loads with a chronograph. I use Magnetospeed chronographs, and I had no problem mounting the MagnetoSpeed V3 to the S&W 500 for testing.

I’ll cover this testing in more detail in future articles, but for now, I’ll say it was very important to have velocity data as I worked up my own load without data (do so at your own risk, and with plenty of cross-referencing and help from others). By reading velocities, examining primers, and looking at extreme spread (as well as Standard Deviation, or “SD), you can tell a lot about how your ammunition is performing.

Here’s the load data I used for the 350 grain “light load”: (lower than published load data for conventional bullets in this weight range, USE AT YOUR OWN RISK)

Use load data at your own risk. Ultimate Reloader is not responsible for errors in load data on this website. Always cross-reference load data with manufacturer’s published data.

And here’s the load data I used for the 500 grain “full power” load: (90%, where full power would be compressed)

Use load data at your own risk. Ultimate Reloader is not responsible for errors in load data on this website. Always cross-reference load data with manufacturer’s published data.

I’m just getting started here, but am very happy with these results! The 500 grain load packs a huge punch while leaving some headroom (not a compressed load, not running at full pressure). I may work my way up to the max load to see how performance changes. Since 500 S&W Magnum is basically a rifle cartridge in many ways, it’s not surprising a rifle powder like CFE-BLK would give great results. For the light load, I just about hit the nail on the head with the first try. I was “interpolating” this load based on a load from Hodgdon’s load data center that specified Titegroup (a faster powder than CFE Pistol). I wanted to hit about 800-850 fps for this light load, and I ended up at 850 fps. If anything I may continue to reduce the load down to 800 fps for the ultimate load for sighting in, introducing new shooters to the 500 S&W revolver, and more. This is the great thing about reloading- the process of discovery, and the ability to get “just what you want”.

I’m really enjoying reloading and shooting the 500 S&W Magnum- and have lots more planned for this series. Is there something specific you’d like to see? Please let me know by leaving a comment!


17 thoughts on “Second to None: Reloading and Shooting 500 S&W Magnum”

  1. Hello,
    I used to shoot 44 magnums and when the 500 came out,I told myself I have to get me one because I love big bore guns.How does the recoil compare to the 44 magnum?

    1. It really all depends on the ammo 🙂 Really, it can be super-intense, or just like 44 magnum if you reload your own ammunition.

  2. Do you have any load data for the S&W .460 Magnum? Do you (will you) have any data later on?
    Thanks, Don

  3. I have used the 350g hornady xtp with 40g if win 296. Thats a flame thrower. Do you have any experience with berrys plated 350g bullets for the s&w500?

    1. I shoot the berrys 350 gr bullet over 40 grains of IMR4227. I have the 4″ barrel model and its very acurate and heavy on the recoil

  4. I am hoping to make a light, fun shooting load with the CFE Pistol and 440 cast bullets I make myself. This powder seems perfect, but there is still no data. Any recommendations?

  5. I have a 500 JRH (basically a 500 S&W case shortened to 1.4″) and have found that Trail Boss gives me a nice ~800FPS load. shooting both 450gr and 475gr cast bullets. Maybe something to try as well. Great Article.

  6. I was able to cram 45 grains of cfe blk in my cases with the 500 grain Hornady bullet with meplat deformation. It was a hard seat. I know Hornady calls for 48.0 as being max, but I couldn’t fit it in there. Why doesn’t Hornady make a seater stem that rests on the copper jacket instead of the lower portion of that soft meplat? This is an amazingly accurate bullet.

  7. What are the measurements of the expander? Im going to a machine shop
    so I need to tell the. I have a bunch of specials to load.

  8. The reloading book I have calls for Large Rifle Magnum primers. However, I was going to make some reduced loads using Trail Boss and Unique. Can I/ should I continue to use LRM primers? I ask because I see that you used large rifle and I have seen people use large pistol as well.

  9. I would really appreciate some load development done for the 500 magnum utilizing the Barnes 375g Bullet. It has great ballistics and penetration, and won’t damage as much meat as smaller bullets.

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