Well, do ya punk? Sorry, but big ol’ revolvers just affect me like that. And while Clint Eastwood was technically correct when he said the .44 Magnum was “the most powerful handgun in the world” in 1971, the new TII Armory .500 Bushwhacker almost makes it look quaint while laying claim to the same title.
What is the .500 Bushwhacker?
The .500 Bushwhacker is the biggest, baddest handgun cartridge in the world right now. TII Armory’s James Tow says it’s powerful enough to ethically take any game animal on the planet, including all the African Big 5. Assuming, of course, that you’re brave enough to get within handgun range of those animals.
But you can’t fire the .500 Bushwhacker from just any handgun. James and Keith Tow designed the cartridge specifically for the Magnum Research Long Cylinder Big Frame Revolver (BFR), which James describes as “the largest and strongest single-action revolver in production today.” Even then, the 10.5-inch barreled BFR required a muzzle brake to handle the new cartridge.
Magnum Research chambers the Long Cylinder BFR in .30-30 Winchester, .444 Marlin, .450 Marlin, .45 Long Colt/.410/.45-70 Gov’t, .460 Smith & Wesson, and .500 Smith & Wesson. The latter cartridge only takes up part of the cylinder’s length.
James and Keith say “The .500 Bushwhacker concept is simple: retain the head size and operating pressure of the .500 S&W but extend the round to fully utilize the cylinder of the BFR. The end result is a round dimensionally reminiscent of the .50 caliber buffalo cartridges of the 19th century yet possessing certain important advantages in a handgun platform. The name “Bushwhacker” itself is a reference to the rugged guerilla fighters of the American Civil War such as Jesse James, William Quantrill, and ‘Bloody Bill’ Anderson. These men were anything but civil, but then again, neither is the cartridge.”
James initially used the .375 Ruger as a parent case since it is essentially a longer, rimless, bottlenecked .500 S&W. He altered it to fit his new brainchild, but eventually contracted with Bertram Brass USA and Bertram Bullet Company of Australia to make dedicated .500 Bushwhacker cases.
James writes that the new cartridge’s performance “greatly exceeded our expectations” from the 10.5-inch barrel:
- 400 Grain Lehigh Copper Solid Bullet: 2,315 feet per second
- 410 Grain Bengal WFNGC Bullet: 2,411 feet per second
- 520 Grain Bengal WFNGC Bullet: 2,083 feet per second
- 620 Grain Bengal WFNGC Bullet: 1,895 feet per second
Their 7.5-inch barreled revolver only loses about 50 feet per second from those numbers. James notes that cartridges of this class are very efficient. They don’t require the longer rifle barrels with which they are typically paired.
The .500 Bushwhacker’s power compares favorably with the .450 and .470 Nitro Express rifle cartridges which can and do bag big game up to and including elephants.
The .500 Bushwhacker is a lengthened .500 Smith & Wesson. There’s nothing fancy about it. And converting a BFR to .500 Bushwhacker means you can still shoot standard .500 S&W rounds, along with .500 JRH and .500 Special.
James points out that this capability allows a broad range of ammunition choices, whether to reduce cost, tailor the gun to a specific need, ethically introduce new shooters to big revolvers, or just to decrease the recoil.
Shooting the shorter .500 S&W in a .500 Bushwhacker BFR only costs about 50 feet per second in performance and accuracy is still good. Tests indicate that +L .500 S&W rounds fired from the .500 Bushwhacker BFR are more powerful than if fired from their 8.375-inch Smith & Wesson X-Frame revolver:
- 520 Grain +L: 1,790 feet per second as opposed to 1,580 feet per second.
- 450 Grain +L: 1,910 feet per second as opposed to 1,700 feet per second
- 410 Grain +L: 1,840 feet per second as opposed to 1,600 feet per second
.500 Bushwhacker Recoil Management
James and Keith knew a muzzle brake was required. As they say, “A 4.5 lb. handgun producing 5,300 ft. lbs. of energy—twice the power of top-end loads in the S&W .500—would simply not be safe without one.”
They found that a steel brake was unsuitable since its added weight significantly reduced muzzle rise. That’s not good in big bore revolvers since it’s better to dissipate recoil through muzzle flip than to drive it straight back into the shooter’s hand. They eventually decided on the titanium Ti Pro Heavy brake. Its strength and lighter weight proved ideal for the .500 Bushwhacker concept.
The brake obviously increases muzzle blast. But, as James says, if that’s a problem for you, maybe stick to less powerful handgun options. “Removing the brake from a .500 Bushwhacker and attempting to use the firearm in that condition would be life-altering in approximately the same sense as it is to detonate a suicide vest,” he adds.
James and Keith found the braked .500 Bushwhacker BFR far more pleasant to shoot than the unbraked .500 S&W versions. “They certainly remain lively,” they say, but no more so than your average .454 Casull.
They also swapped out the grip frame for a Ronnie Wells “Potato Judge” frame that improved recoil manageability. TII is looking at the new generation Wells grip frames. Understand, however, that this is literally the most powerful handgun in the world right now. James recommends a padded shooting glove.
Not for the Faint of Heart
The new .500 Bushwhacker BFR is undeniably cool. It’s just an awesome-looking revolver shooting a badass round. That said, it’s clearly not for everyone. But…if you’re one of those intrepid big-bore handgunners looking for the next greatest thing, this might just make your day.
What do you think? Does the .500 Bushwhacker sound sublime or suicidal? Hit us up in the comments. Happy shooting, y’all.