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GUNS Magazine August 2010 - Page 82
a HalF-century WitH sixGuns: The Really Big Bores. he year was 1935. In the midst of the 6th year of the Great T Depression Smith & Wesson introduced the world’s most powerful handgun: the .357 Magnum. It sprang from experiments by Phil Sharpe in conjunction with Col. Doug Wesson of Smith & Wesson in the early 1930s. On a hunting trip together they shot Sharpe’s heavy .38 Special loads through several Smith & Wesson .38/44 Outdoorsman sixguns. Sharpe admits to modifying Keith’s 358429 SWC bullet to come up with the Sharpe bullet weighing approximately 150 grains and having 40 percent less bearing surface, enabling it to operate at higher speeds with less pressure. This was the bullet used in the original .357 Magnum loads, which eclipsed 1,500 fps in an 8-3/4"-barreled Smith & Wesson sixgun. In those pre-model number days, it was simply called the .357 Magnum. Col. Wesson publicized “The World’s Most Powerful Revolver” by taking antelope, elk and grizzly bear with it. To put the .357 Magnum o f the 1930s in the proper perspective, we have to realize the .45 Colt and .45 ACP with muzzle velocities around 850 fps were the most powerful big-bore handguns available, and the .44 Special was still factory loaded at around 750 fps. With the .357 Magnum the zenith of sixgun power had been achieved. Sharpe warned against handloaders trying to duplicate factory loads. We had reached the top, and there was simply no way we could ever have a more powerful sixgun. That idea lasted for about two decades. Of course, all during this time, those who handloaded the .44 Special felt they had the real most powerful sixgun. The .357 Magnum used a bullet of approximately 158 grains with a muzzle velocity of approximately 1,500 fps. In late 1955 the .44 Magnum arrived using a 240-grain bullet at the same muzzle velocity. Surely we had now reached the ultimate apex of sixgun power? The NRA’s Major Hatcher likened shooting the .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson to being hit in the palm of the hand with a baseball bat. I was 17 when I shot the .44 Magnum S&W for the first time, and I was totally intimidated by it as well as Ruger’s .44 Magnum. It would be a long time with a lot of learning before I felt I could say I had conquered the big .44. Along the way I learned this time we had really reached the top. It would be impossible to physically handle anything more powerful even if it could be built. In the early 1980s, I met three men who would change my mind about sixgun power, and in fact would have a tremendous effect on sixgunning. Those three men were John Linebaugh, Dick continued on page 81 The Top? It is a long, long, long way down the road of sixgun power from the Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum in the center to the .500 and .460 S&W Magnums. 82 WWW.GUNSMAGAZINE.COM • AUGUST 2010