Conference highlights new gun products

A whole new trend is changing the way many anglers fish reds in South Louisiana.

I love trade shows in the outdoor industry. Anytime you get to go to a big display of manufacturers’ offerings to hunting, fishing, boating and camping folks, it’s like Christmas for us big guys.

Last August was no exception. Traveling to Fayetteville, N.C., for the annual Southeast Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) conference, we attended the yearly “Breakout,” which is a mini trade show, staged by the various corporate sponsors of the organization.

The breakout is always held at a local range facility where all the newest guns can be tested by the writers, and huge tents grace the grounds, overfilled and overflowing with mouth-watering camping, hunting and fishing gear, and a nice selection of boats and outboard motors.

If a body of water is nearby, the outdoor writers get treated to demos of the latest in the marine industry — motors, boats, depth finders, you name it. Ranger, Stratos and Javelin, Tracker, Yamaha and Mercury all have presentations and equipment present.

Naturally, I gravitate to the range. Here, the corporate sponsors like Smith & Wesson, Remington, Thompson Center Arms, Markesbery Muzzleloaders, Ithaca and Browning all have displays, guns and ammo to shoot. Bushnell always has a strong presence, showing optics and rangefinders for the hunters.

There was too much being demonstrated to describe in one short column, so I’ll mention some of the highlights — the new and unusual … and (I’ll admit) what impressed me at the instant.

One of the biggest hits at the range was Smith & Wesson’s newest offering in hand cannons, the gerstangenboomer Model 500 S&W Magnum.

Apparently Smith & Wesson got tired of all the arguments about who had the “…most powerful handgun in the world…” (quoting a movie character we all remember well), and decided to settle it by producing what is now the most powerful production revolver in the world, and “the most powerful production revolver cartridge ever developed,” according to their catalogs and news releases.

Yes, I shot it. A bunch of times, as a matter of fact. I kept coming back to it, as did a few of the other handgunners in the writers group.

The five-shot stainless revolver is the strongest ever built by S&W and, with its 8 3/8-inch barrel and new “X” designated frame size, weighs in at a hefty 72.5 ounces. As Smith & Wesson’s copy starkly states: “It’s big.”

Powerful, too. A chart for comparison reference shows the muzzle energy of popular magnum cartridges and their comparative sizes. The .500 S&W dwarfs even the huge .454 Casull — formerly the record-holder for most powerful production cartridge.

Starting with the .357 Magnum with 500 ft/lbs of energy, the chart goes up in ascending order with the .44 Magnum with 900 ft/lbs of energy, the .480 Ruger with 1315 ft/lbs, the .454 Casull with 1900 ft/lbs and finally the .500 S&W with an incredible 2600 ft/lbs of muzzle energy.

My ballistic charts show a 150-grain .30-30 carrying a muzzle energy of 1902 ft/lbs and a 150-grain .30-06 getting 2820 ft/lbs of muzzle energy, if you wanted a comparison.

While huge, the gun is well-balanced and far more manageable with recoil than the early infamous .44 Magnums of various manufacture that tended to end up over the top of one’s head at the end of the recoil strike when shooting “warm” loads.

In fact, a slight young woman, one of the representatives of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) with a penchant for handguns, rivaled me in time spent shooting this new piece, and handled it well, giggling at its backwards force every time she pulled the trigger.

And that was what seemed most noticeable about the recoil — with its built-in recoil compensator on the end of the barrel, its proprietary Hogue Sorbathane wrap-around grips that absolutely soaked up the recoil, and its aforementioned weight, the gun was not unpleasant to shoot. In fact, the “kick” was sort of a “kick.”

I weigh in around 190, and I shoot a lot of handguns. I was wearing cowboy boots, and with a stiff-armed isosceles stance every time I pulled the trigger, I rocked back on the heels of my boots, a fascinating sensation enhanced as I rolled back onto the balls of my feet, and the gun dropped back to a level plane, seeing the bullet strike exactly where aimed at some small reflective targets downrange.

The newest offering from S&W comes with a strong, new ball-detent frame-to-yoke cylinder lock, solid ejector rod, classic Micrometer-click adjustable rear sight, interchangeable front blades, and a drilled and tapped frame for easy optics installation.

I gotta tell you, I liked it. I liked it a lot.

I have yet to figure out just what I would do with it, other than impress everyone at the local range, but when did we ever need a reason to own another gun?

And if you are ever planning on making that long-awaited safari after dangerous game on this continent, or any other, as the man says, “Boy, have I got a gun for you…”

Now that I told you what I liked from S&W, I’ll tell you what I didn’t like.

I proved the old adage about the guy who kept beating his hand with a hammer because it felt so good when he stopped. I shot the brand-new S&W Model 329PD.

If anyone ever offers to let you shoot theirs, smile, thank them, and turn and walk away. First off, you don’t want to be associating with someone that owns and shoots one of these. He is either a masochist, into incredible pain, or a person of superhuman hand strength, and you will be crippled for life if he offers to shake your hand in a friendly gesture.

This new design is a handsome, large-frame .44 Magnum with a scandium frame and titanium cylinder. Scandium is the incredible new wonder metal, a new alloy of aluminum. The engineers call it “pixie dust.” A pinch of it in aluminum, and the alloy resembles aluminum in weight and rivals or betters steel in strength.

A story from several years ago relates how some S&W engineers staged a range demonstration for the corporations’ executives. If memory serves, they had a .38 Special revolver outfitted with a scandium cylinder, and a barrel blank — a barrel with no hole — just a flat spot to meet the nose of the bullet as it came out of the cylinder. The engineers pulled the trigger five times as the executives flinched mightily, turning their heads at what they were sure would prove to be a mini-explosion.

The engineers then broke open the revolver to show the expended rounds, with the bullets still in the chambers with the now empty cases. And the cylinder was absolutely undamaged in any way.

This is the material of the frame. The cylinder is titanium — a powerful, lightweight material that S&W is now incorporating into more and more of their handguns.

This new offering weighs in at an incredible 27 ounces — hardly a good paperweight. I picked it up off the display table, and was instantly impressed at its light weight.

Aha!, thinks I. A .44 Magnum Airweight referencing S&W’s ubiquitous alloy-framed lightweight .38 Special and .357 magnum revolvers.

For a while, I was impressed. The gun is cosmetically attractive and well-balanced. I love a 4-inch barrel, considering it the best compromise between carry and long barrels for accuracy and balance.

Then, I shot it.

I have to tell you, this is entirely too light to be shooting .44 Magnums of any power range. As best as I can describe the sensation of shooting this gun, imagine raising your hand in front of yourself with thumb and forefinger spread, and allowing someone to smack you with great vigor on the web of your thumb with a broomstick.

I didn’t drop the gun each time I shot it, but I did shift it to my off hand to allow myself to shake my shooting hand in a vain attempt to relieve the incredible pain, causing near fatal laughing attacks among the gathered onlookers, most of whom had an idea of what to expect from a 1 ½-pound handgun with 900 pounds of muzzle energy.

And stupidly, I let myself be joked into shooting it three more times, just to be sure I could really describe the agony I felt to you. I shot it once, then twice, then walked away as the assemblage laughed heartily at the expression on my face. Later, I came back, and let someone talk me into trying it again — sometimes I think I need assertiveness counseling in how to say no, and mean it.

But after two more shots, I could tell anyone “No,” and mean it completely.

Smith & Wesson describes this revolver as an easy-to-carry, lightweight revolver with a 4-inch barrel, chambered in .44 Magnum. And it is easy to carry. As long as you can just carry it, admire it, and let your friends shoot it.

I truthfully can see a justification for such a handgun. If I were hunting big bear country, I would have one on my hip all day, every day, and never pay it any mind. Riding in a vehicle, or on the back of a horse, it could easily be forgotten until a need for it arrived. And the first time I had to shoot it to save my life, I doubt if the recoil would even be noticed.

Any other time, however, and I question the shooter’s sanity, or am most impressed with his ability to withstand pain. I remember my cousin, Mike Guedon, shooting a 6-inch Model 29 S&W with hot .44 Magnum loads when we were younger, and hunting armadillos at night with heavy handguns and Q-Beams. His was the heaviest recoil of all, and he loved it. He took to wearing a padded glove to keep his hand from being bruised after a night of shooting. I figure he’d probably love the 329PD.

And I guess, one could practice and play with light loads or .44 Specials. I didn’t try the gun with .44 Specials. And I better stop writing about it, or I’m going to convince myself I liked it, too. And could easily justify its ownership more than the .500 S&W Magnum.

Another new product that impressed me was the Warne Quick-Detach mounting system for attaching optical sights to handguns. While I normally do not like scopes on handguns, Warne has apparently solved one of the aggravating problems by designing quick-detach rings that allow you to unlock the rings from the special base mount on the top of the frame, remove the scope or red dot system, and use the iron sights that have now been mounted on the mount itself. The rings and scope can then be reattached, and return the sighting to original point of impact.

The rings actually contain small boxed-end wrenches in the bottom of each one that are used to tighten or loosen the clamps on the mounting base.

The ingenious new base, designed to fit S&W K-, L- and N-frame revolvers drilled and tapped at the factory, actually allows you to move the factory iron sight to the mount, replacing the sights that were originally on the top strap of the revolver.

The mounting frame now becomes the accessory top strap, and offers you the dual benefits of iron sights and optic sights, returning to perfect zero any time you decide to attach them to the revolver. Now I’ve found a way to have optic sights occasionally and accurately — exactly how often and how I want them!

Next month, we’ll introduce you to some innovations in protective eyewear — shooting glasses optically perfect and rated in impact resistance to safety eyewear standards. And we’ll tell you about some of the other new hunting accessories displayed and demonstrated at the SEOPA conference.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply