Nearly twenty years ago, Smith & Wesson introduced their huge new X-frame double-action revolver along with the 500 S&W cartridge. Hornady loaded the first 500 S&W ammunition, sending a 350 grain hollow-point XTP bullet at an advertised 1900 fps! We recently tested some 500 S&W ammunition handloaded with the 350 grain Berry’s plated flat nose bullet. I somehow decided to only put out two gel blocks, which the Berry’s 350 grain flew through. This time, I added a third and tried something with more expansion— Hornady factory ammunition topped with a Hornady 350 gr. XTP. Though the ammo has been discontinued, the bullet is still available!
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About Hornady 350 Grain XTP 500 S&W Ammunition
The impressive 350 grain XTP-Mag bullet is still offered to handloaders by Hornady, but this particular ammunition has been discontinued. Hornady currently offers two choices of 500 S&W ammunition: one with a 500 grain XTP-Mag and the other with a 300 grain FTX bullet.
350 grains is half of the 700 grain typical maximum bullet weight for the 500 S&W.
Designed for personal defense and medium-game hunting, XTP® Mag™ bullets provide the same controlled expansion, accuracy and dependability that have made XTP® bullets a favorite among target shooters and hunters alike. But XTP® Mag™ bullets are designed to take things a step further — withstanding the higher velocities and impacts of ultra-powerful, magnum handguns while delivering even deeper penetration than standard XTP® bullets.
About the 500 S&W Revolver
At first glance the 5-shot S&W 500 appears to be their famous N frame. It’s actually built on the larger and stronger X-frame. I bought one of the first-year revolvers and was thoroughly impressed — not just with the power and size of it, but also with the build quality and accuracy. This handgun has a 8 ⅜” length barrel and an integrated brake/compensator. Gavin Gear also bought one and has loaded it with a variety of projectiles including the mighty 700 grain cast bullet. He says the feel of the trigger is reminiscent of that of his 629.
Let’s talk recoil. Many who have shot magnum revolvers may already be thinking that the 44 magnum offers plenty of recoil, and that the 500 might be too much of a good thing. S&W knew that this cartridge could produce tremendous power and took steps to ameliorate the recoil. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Weight: Depending on the barrel configuration, this revolver weighs around 56 ounces. The weight alone reduces recoil.
- Muzzle compensator: This well-designed piece contributes significantly to recoil reduction.
- Grip: The grip fully encloses the rear portion of the steel frame and features the same material used in running shoes.
All of the above combine to reduce recoil to quite tolerable levels. Yes, the 500 S&W is a big, powerful cartridge and the revolver will recoil, but it’s something that can be managed by the shooter.
In 2003 the gunsmiths and engineers at Smith & Wesson wanted to deliver maximum power for serious handgun hunters. The power they sought required an entirely new frame, the massive “X-Frame™,” and was the basis for the new Model S&W500™, the most powerful production revolver in the world. This ushered in the era of the “big gun” and was only the beginning. For ultimate power and velocity there’s nothing even close to an X-Frame model handgun.
- Most powerful production revolver in the world today
- Massive .500 S&W Magnum cartridge 2600 ft/lb. muzzle energy
- A hunting handgun for any game animal walking
- Recoil tamed with effective muzzle compensator
- Internal Lock
- Ultimate defensive carry and dangerous game backup handgun
- Easily removable muzzle compensator for different recoil reduction effects and to accommodate different types of ammunition
- Comes with 2 compensators; 1 for lead bullet and 1 for jacketed bullet ammunition
- Muzzle energy capability in excess of 2000 ft/lb. in a 56 oz. package
- Includes two muzzle brakes. One for use with Jacketed Bullets and one for use with Lead Bullets.
On reviewing the Caldwell chronograph results, I was struck that four shots clustered into the 1626-1661 fps range, with only the first shot at 1746 fps. Our ES and SD numbers would have been considerably better had that first shot not registered so much higher. It will take more shooting with this ammunition to reveal if the velocity spread is normally tighter than what we observed.
Falling somewhat short of Hornady’s advertised velocity is easily explained. It’s likely that Hornady tested this ammunition from a longer barrel, and perhaps not from a revolver. The barrel-cylinder gap on revolvers bleeds off some of the hot gasses pushing the bullet down the bore. Still, a 350 grain handgun bullet at an average of 1600+ fps is impressive! It’s also important to remember to crimp the case with this level of power. The Hornady XTP-Mag is a cannelured bullet, which makes this easy.
In contrast, we had loaded the 350 grain Berry’s plated flat-nose bullet to 1354 fps.
Gel Test Results
The S&W 500 is intended as a powerful hunting revolver. I consider it suitable for modest range shots on big bear or for stalking elk in the timber. This XTP-Mag bullet from Hornady is designed to hit hard and expand dramatically. I believe the 12” temporary wound cavity is the greatest we’ve seen testing any cartridge in the Clear Ballistics Gel Blocks. The bullet penetrated 19.5” in the gel, opened to .514” and retained nearly 300 grains of weight.
Performance like this seems excellent for general big game hunting purposes. I also observed some small bullet shards in the first gel block
In contrast, the 350 grain Berry’s plated flat-nose bullet didn’t appear to have expanded at all but showed us impressive penetration. The 350 grain Betty’s bullet made it completely through 32” of gel! I’ll take the hit for not using three gel blocks when the Berry’s bullet was tested. Perhaps we can re-run that test and try to capture the bullet in a third block. I’d also like to try some heavier hard cast bullets in the gel.
Hornady’s 350 grain XTP-Mag is a rapidly expanding bullet designed to create a huge amount of damage while penetrating adequately for most big game. This makes it both a great hunting and defensive arm against bears.
Would you hunt bear or other big game with a 500 S&W or other handgun? At modest range, big bore revolvers have proven themselves capable of taking on big game. What type of bullet would you select?
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