Hand Cannon

Executive Summary:  If you're not interested in all the text, jump down to the photos, where the real action is.  Plus, if you're an executive, you don't want to waste your time with all those words, words, words.  It's fatiguing. 

Background:  While in California last year, we went shooting with Barry, and it was a lot of fun.  I also shot an hour of video during which I captured exactly one frame with a muzzle flash, which seems like an insignificant detail but is not.

The how:  In November, I finally bit the bullet (so to speak) and took the state mandated class to get a Class A firearms license; that is, the right to carry concealed weapons, purchase weapons with high capacity magazines, and otherwise make a general menace to society of myself.  The class was given by the guy who instructs most of the local police departments in firearms use, and I have to say, honestly, that the thing that will really stick with me is how each gun he handled seemed to become a natural extension of his body.  But other things were pretty memorable, like the time he looked the group of twenty or so people taking the class up and down and asked, "how many of you are planning on carrying a concealed weapon?"  A few people raised their hands (not me).  He looked them each in the eye and continued "well, there's something I want you to do when we're practice firing on the range.  Pretend that target you're shooting is a human being.  Someone with a wife and kids.  You're going to end all that, everything he ever was or is ever going to be.  You need to ask yourself, can you really take another person's life?  If the answers isn't a clear yes, then do everyone a favor, and don't carry concealed ."  There was a moment of silence as everyone absorbed that before Jim added "me, I decided a long time ago I could cap some asshole that desperately needs it anytime I have to."  I also thought it was entertaining when he made the statement that shooting is the only major sport that has never had a deadly injury... particularly because we did have someone injured when we did our time on the firing range.  How?  A woman tried firing .357 magnum rounds out of a new, extremely small, light weight revolver made out of composite materials.  The kickback broke her thumb.  And finally funny thing... they told us when we signed up that handling different kinds of pistols, and shooting some of them, was part of the class.  When I arrived at the gun store for the first class, fifty four pistols where out on the counter for handling.  I mentioned to the store owner that it was nice of him to allow everyone to handle the firearms as part of the class, to which he responded "oh, no, the store's gun's are locked up.  These are my personal handguns."  "You have fifty handguns?" I responded incredulously.  He shook his head negatively.  "No, I couldn't bring all of them, it would have taken too long."

The why: Now that I have my class A, the question is, what gun to buy?  I finally settled on the Smith and Wesson 460 XVR, arguably the most powerful production handgun in the world.  I only say "arguably" because some people would claim the Smith and Wesson 500 Magnum is the most powerful handgun in the world by virtue of the fact it has a half-inch diameter bullet instead of .45 inches.  But the 460 is actually engineered to take hotter loads and therefore, on average, has higher muzzle velocity than the 500.  In any case, the two guns are built on the same frame and are almost indistinguishable in size (big), look (big) and feel (big).  I picked the 460 because it can take other, less hideously powerful rounds as well and therefore is a little more flexible.  The question however, was... is this just too much gun?  Just to give you an idea, the old Dirty Harry movie with the .44 magnum... you know the line, "given this is the most powerful handgun in the world, and can blow your head clean off, you gotta ask yourself one question... do I feel lucky?"  Well, the rounds fired out of the 460 are a little short of three times more powerful than a .44 magnum.  That's a little more powerful that a Remington .308 round, the typical round of choice for large bore hunting rifles, sniper rifles, and belt feed machine guns.  With some of the expensive and custom teflon coated, steel jacketed, depleted uranium rounds, the 460 can punch through 420 mm of Chobham armor, and you know what that means...

Yes, you can take out a M1A1 Abrams Battle Tank with this puppy.

OK, that last bit is completely untrue.  But, the point is, it's a big handgun.  And for those people who are saying that this is about having the biggest handgun on the block, all I can say is you haven't been listening. 

It's about having the biggest damn handgun in the world.

But I wanted to try it.  It's too expensive to buy it and then decide it isn't fun to fire (and the ammo is literally an order of magnitude more expensive than something more standard like 9mm rounds), or to find out that every time you shoot it the barrel is going to come back and whack you in the head hard enough to cause a concussion.  Fortunately, there was a place I could rent the S&W 500, which was close enough to the 460 to be a reasonable test.

The where:  Manchester Firing Line Range is the kind of place that, had Bush managed to find one in Iraq, would have justified his claims of weapons of mass destruction. Will came with me, and after his selection of a dozen or so firearms he wanted to try was rejected, settled on a AR-15 rifle (the semi automatic version of the M-16) and a Sig .357 semi automatic pistol.  We needed them because (a) I wasn't going to let him fire the 500 and (b) we could fire 50 rounds of .357 ammo for the price of 5 rounds of 500 ammo. 

On the range, I shot the 500 first, and (as you can probably guess) the results were spectacular.  On the range at the time there were guys firing 12 gauge shotguns, 9mm MP-5 machine guns, one H&K .45 cal UMP machine gun (which is a brutal, noisy round for a automatic weapon), some kind of short-barreled high power assault rifle, M-16s, and a variety of hand guns.  After my first shot they all stopped and came down to see what I was firing. 

The attendant told me to load every other chamber.  I didn't get it until I actually fired the thing.  You are going to end up with the barrel pointing straight up after a shot.  If you where hugely macho and were trying to quick-fire multiple rounds, you'd put a rather large hole in the roof, and quite possibly low flying aircraft.  When we got off the range, several people came by to ask what it was like to "fire the hand cannon."

Finale:  Final conclusions:  The gun is impressive.  It's so freakin' big that "hand cannon" just doesn't do it justice... it completely dwarfs a .44 Mag like the S&W Model 29 (Dirty Harry).  The 8 3/8" barrel makes it extremely accurate.  It's a blast to fire literally and figuratively. 

The kickback is impressive, and unlike anything I've fired before, but it is manageable.  The gun is so heavy it's more like someone is giving you a huge shove than the shorter, sharper jab I'm use too.  I actually found the .357 Sig harsher to shoot, albeit, the backblast didn't make it feel like a close encounter with a hand grenade.

In the movie, just watch for the concussion to hit Will, who is standing behind me with the camera.  I think you'll see why everyone came a' running.

My final conclusion:  I gotta get me some of that.

The ten second movie:


Media Player

The Stills:


Ready... Aim...


FIRE!  The flash is actually the  gap between the cylinder and the barrel, not the muzzle.  Now you  know why the inability to capture a muzzle flash in CA is significant... you  can't miss it with the 500

Recoil is kicking the gun up

The shockwave hits Will like a fist... you have to see it in the video to appreciate it

Gun is coming back down... and I'm stepping back, 'cause I can't help it

Will with the AR-15

Another gratuitous muzzle flash shot

Three rounds... from left to right, the Smith and Wesson 500, the .223 cartridge typically fired from the US standard issue military rifle (the M-16), and the Sig .357 magnum round.  Which one do you think is the most powerful?

Will with the .357 Sig... and hey, there's a little muzzle flash!  Cool!

And another shot of will with the AR-15

My final lineup after the shoot:  the Walther P22 (.22 long rifle), the Glock 22 (.40 S&W), and the S&W 460 XVR (aka Hand Cannon). 

Oddly enough, it’s order of magnitude in ammo cost… the P22, $.02, the Glock, $.20, the hand cannon $2.00 per round.

The cool:  Well, pretty much everything.  The Walther is actually amazingly accurate and fun to shoot.  The hand cannon, with a “cowboy” .45 Long Colt round, was fun to shoot (but for a round that big, it’s amazing how little kick and noise it made…).  The Glock kicks like a mule, the 40 S&W is a pretty serious round.  We fired the hand cannon with the 460 S&W round (pictured in the picture) on the outdoor range, but just to say we had… it was so freakin’ cold my hands were numb.  Still, Will blasted away with it, and it was noisy and dirt sprayed everywhere.


And a couple of shots of the 460 XVR muzzle flash... also pretty damn impressive