Beauty of the beast: S&W .460 XVR

Coureurs de bois are a vanishing breed.

You never forget your first time. Because just like where you were when Kennedy was shot, and where you were and what you were doing on 9/11, everyone remembers his first time with a fond reminiscence and a poignant déjà vu.

My first time was classic. I was in a theater in Fayetteville, N.C. It was only about the second date with the girl. We were surrounded by an entire audience of rowdy Special Forces and Army paratroopers, and she had no idea such a life-changing event was going to occur, and be witnessed by so many lustful young men, filled with the juices of life.

There we were, sitting enthralled with the movie and the action, when the robber came running out of the bank, dove through the window of the getaway car, and it roared off into movie history.

Clint Eastwood, standing in the middle of the street blocking the escape path of the car, holding a half-eaten hot dog in his left hand, had reached under his tweed jacket and pulled a revolver so big it seemed to come out in slow motion, taking forever to come fully into view.

I’ll never forget the deep, collective sigh of the audience as the 6-inch barreled Model 29 .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson appeared in Dirty Harry’s hands, and he leveled it at the windshield of the car barreling down on him.

Each time he fired, the gun roared and the recoil caused the gun to jump noticeably in Harry’s hands. Bullet holes appeared in the windshield and the driver. The car swerved to take out a fire hydrant and roll over in a Niagara of water — one of moviedom’s most dramatic wreck scenes to this day, but the excitement was still building.

Harry walked out of the downpour up to the first robber he had shot coming out of the bank. The robber was now leaning against the building with his gun near his hand. This gave Harry the opportunity to go into a spiel that has entered the American lexicon — a classic speech that every true aficionado of the handgunner’s art can repeat verbatim at the drop of a revolver hammer, or the “snick” of a cylinder being turned.

“…But being as how this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off…”

So it doesn’t matter how many times you may have seen, or handled, or fired the latest “Most powerful handgun in the world.” It doesn’t even matter that the .44 Magnum is so far down the list of powerful guns that it now starts at your belt buckle, and extends up to your dominant eye, you still remember that first time you saw it, and you still retain a fondness for the old Model 29 and Dirty Harry and his canonizing .44 Magnum, which turned sinners into saints and bad guys into believers.

The .454 Casull was probably the first true production revolver cartridge to achieve a semblance of commercial success and eclipse the .44 Magnum. But it never came close to matching the sales of the .44 Magnum, mostly because the .44 seems to be at the very upper reaches of what most folks can handle comfortably in terms of recoil.

The Casull was the end-all/be-all for handgun hunting for a long time. A special-purpose gun, it has been used to take all manner of big game all across the globe by that elite group — handgun hunters.

But at some point the engineers who design the most successful revolver line in the world figured it was time to get back on top again in the arms race, and they developed the next step in their revolver frames with the new, heavier “X” frame and the .500 Smith & Wesson.

S&W had a display at the 2003 Southeastern Outdoor Press Association writers’ conference, and I had the chance to fire the .500 S&W. I reported on it then in this column, and stated I liked the gun. It had a fierce recoil and fiercer muzzle blast, but due to the weight of the massive “X” frame, and its scope, even a wisp of a young female staffer from the National Shooting Sports Foundation was able to shoot it numerous times, thrilling the crowd of male onlookers who enthusiastically cheered her every shot.

But that wasn’t sufficient for Smith & Wesson. I don’t remember the statistics on the .500 S&W now, but it seems that it rivaled and slightly outdid the .454 Casull, giving S&W the much-sought title of “Most-Powerful Handgun” once again.

But just in case anyone out there wanted to dispute that statement — just in case there were some die-hard Casull fans who refused to believe anything could really go any faster and be contained in a revolver cylinder and fired from a human hand — Smith & Wesson has gone and done it again.

Now standing proudly at the top of the heap, configured on the “X” frame as truly the “most powerful production revolver in the world,” is the all-new Smith & Wesson .460 XVR.

The letters stand for “Extreme Velocity Revolver.” Just how extreme is it?

A call to Hebert’s Guns in Prairieville resulted in the information that they had already sold several of these hand-cannons, had a couple on order and had the most commonly requested ammunition on hand — the 200-grain spire-pointed Hornady SST in .460 S&W Magnum.

The Hornady statistics were a real eye-popper. With a stated muzzle velocity of 2,200 feet per second, the bullet sighted 1.9 inches high at 50 yards would be 2.4 inches high at 100 yards, dead point of aim at 150 yards and 6.3 inches low at 200 yards.

Weighing in at 73 ounces with an 8.5-inch barrel (actually 7.5 inches — the compensator adds another inch), the gun has adjustable sights, Hogue rubber grips, a capacity for five rounds and the ability to fire .45 Long Colt, .454 Casull and the new .460 S&W Magnum all out of the same cylinder.

Make no mistake about it, this is a big gun — and a heavy one. When fully loaded with the almost 2-inch-long Hornady loads, it pushes 5 pounds in weight — and that’s a good thing. The weight dampens somewhat the felt recoil of pushing 200 grains of bullet down 8.5 inches of barrel.

I thought it would be fun and interesting to let some ladies shoot the one I had borrowed — compare Beauty and the Beast, if you will. I called Kim Smith and Shannon Powell, sisters, ladies, shooters and proprietors of the Baker Range, an indoor shooting facility in Baker.

Kim is all of 5’ 2”, and 105 pounds of pure attitude — she’ll try anything once. Since I am first and foremost a Southern gentleman, I fired the gun first to get a feel for it, and to let Kim and Shannon watch.

The nearly 5 pounds dampened the recoil tremendously. From what I could recall, the recoil was more definitive and sharper feeling than with the .500, but not uncomfortably so.

Kim took the revolver and hefted it across her chest. The gun dwarfed her the way the chain gun dwarfed Jesse Ventura in “Predator.”

Kim fired the gun twice. Giggling, she handed it to me for more experimentation. I fired it at varying distances, and found the gun grouped very tightly, under 2 inches, which was about as good as I could do with iron sights and a ferocious muzzle blast that ricocheted off the sidewalls of the shooting booths. Even with extra ear protection, the concussion in the confines of the range was noticeable.

I boxed it up, and took it home, out back on my range with my 18-year-old college freshman daughter and long-suffering gun model, Jessica.

“You want me to shoot THAT?”

Her expression bordered on incredulous.

“C’mon Jess, Ms. Kim shot it at the range, and you’re bigger than her. Try it out.”

She hefted the gun, pointed it downrange, aiming at the backstop, and pulled the trigger. At the recoil and the muzzle blast, which is reminiscent of walking behind a taxiing F-16, she turned and grinned.

“Wow!” was all she could get out.

“Now do it again,” I said. “That way, no one can say you wussied out after the first shot.”

So she did, thus proving if you can put up with the report of a lightning strike two feet in front of you, and a muzzle flash so bright and intimidating it is literally visible in daylight, even you and I can shoot this revolver effectively. It is fun, and it reaches waaaay out there, extending the range of those other wimpy handguns you’ve used.

A well-known gun writer with a national magazine has already taken a whitetail with this cartridge at 160 yards in a test hunt.

The .460 XVR revolver and the .460 S&W Magnum cartridge are a special purpose combination designed for the die-hard handgun hunter who wants the ultimate in a repeater handgun for up to, and including, dangerous game.

Besides the Hornady offering, Cor-Bon offers loads with 200-, 300- and 395-grain bullets, but it is the 200-grain bullets that most feel will be the load of choice. With the velocity and energy offered, this will be the size most hunters use for whitetail and other deer.

And with the knockdown power, velocity and a better ballistic curve than a .30-30 Winchester, it’s easy to see a lot of hunters will be putting the long guns down and taking up the challenge of hunting with a wheelgun now that S&W has re-invented “the most powerful handgun in the world.”

NOTE: Special thanks to Lawrence Theriot of Theriot’s Lawn Equipment in Marrero for being so kind to loan his brand-new .460 XVR to a gunwriter to test, before he ever even set eyes upon it. He plans to have it in the field this fall after whitetails.

Gordon Hutchinson’s best-selling novel, The Quest and the Quarry, a generational tale that parallels the lives of a line of trophy bucks with the youth of a farming family and their hunts for them, can be ordered at or by calling (800) 538-4355.