Reloading for S&W 500 Magnum – Ouch or Ahhhhh
Category : Reloading
Reloading for S&W 500 Magnum
Since it’s introduction at the Shot Show in 2003, this Cor-bon/S&W chambering has pretty much followed a similar path to the way the 44 Magnum was handled in the 70’s, with the 1971, “Dirty Harry” movie. Back then, gun enthusiasts bought 44 Magnums, mostly S&W Model 29s, in big numbers. However, these gun owners soon realized that the heavy factory load recoil made shooting the gun very painful, as well as expensive. What was once, “The world’s most powerful handgun” was replaced at the 2003 Shot Show by this new, even bigger creation, the S&W 500 Magnum. It still holds the record as the current world’s most powerful revolver. S&W had to create a new size of their forged revolver frame, the “X Frame,” to handle the massive energy that this revolver creates. The .500” diameter bullet is the largest that the National Firearms Act (NFA) allows for guns. Anything bigger is considered a “destructive device,” and not likely to succeed in the retail market. While there are many who flocked to buy this new powerful entry in the revolver market, and then parted company with their all too powerful guns, there are quite a few enthusiasts who still love this cherished hand gun. Especially those who are reloaders. It’s by reloading that the 500 S&W Magnum can come into its own, and can be amazingly tamed.
There are currently a vast array of bullets in .500 diameter, created for the 500 S&W Magnum. The range of bullet weights run from 275 grains all the way up to the monstrous “T-Rex” cast bullet, at 700 grains. The 700 grain bullet is actually the largest (longest) bullet that you can fit into the cylinder of the S&W 500 Magnum. Anything bigger/longer would protrude out the front of the cylinder, and prohibit cylinder rotation. My favorite jacketed bullet is Hornady’s 350 grain XTP (P/N 50100) bullet. If you are going to take this gun along for protection against grizzly bears, the XTP will certainly stop one of these beasts. In the cast bullet realm, there are a number of manufacturers offering commercial cast versions of everything, up to and including the 700 grain T-Rex/Grand Canyon. However, I much prefer to cast my own bullets, since cost is a significant issue in this chambering. I currently have molds to create several types and sizes of hollow points, including one with a five sided hollow point feature. I call those “sheriff” bullets. MP-Molds makes a wonderful assortment of the 500 S&W Magnum molds. I have all of their 500 S&W Magnum molds, including the MP-Molds Grand Canyon mold to create the 700 grain bullets. It’s gas checked, and features hollow point inserts to make a variety of hollow point shapes, and by result, many weights. It is the largest/longest bullet that will fit in the cylinders of the S&W revolvers for this chambering.
The load data books have gotten better in recent years, and the manufacturers of powder and bullets are doing more testing for the load data for the 500 Magnum. My “Go-To” factory load powder for the 500 Magnum is Hodgdon’s “Lil Gun” powder. Originally developed for 410 shotgun shells, this modified ball powder flows through powder measures well, and seems very well suited for the large magnum cartridges, including the 500 magnum. The use of Lil Gun allows you to experience the full force and power of the 500 magnum. Be sure to keep within the safe limits by bullet weight. Caution: DO NOT underload this or any other powder more than 10% from the starting load for the given bullet weight. While at first glimpse you might think that it’s even safer….. In reality, it can be very dangerous. Heavier bullets require less of the same bullet than do lighter bullets. So, using a “half charge” of powder for a given bullet can cause your gun to experience a catastrophic failure. Research your load data very carefully. I like to use a combination of Hodgdon’s on-line load data, the Lyman load data book (currently, the 50th edition), and the Hornady and Speer load data books. I caution you to NOT use any discussion forum loads for this chambering. A simple mistake can cost you fingers, eyes, and gun parts. I don’t mean to scare you, but merely point out that this cartridge has little in the way of error margin.
My all time favorite powder for the 500 magnum is Hodgdon’s Trail Boss.
This powder is light and fluffy. Looks like small grey doughnuts. It’s a powder than can be universally used in any chambering, aand can fill the brass, right up to the base of the seated bullet, and never be over pressure. Hodgdon cautions: Do not crush the doughnuts. The result is a light recoil, with virtually any bullet, right up to and including the T-Rex 700 grain bullet. My 80 year old shooting buddy in Maine giggles like a school girl when shooting my 6 1/2″ S&W 500 magnum with large nasty bullets loaded behind TrailBoss powder. Even with his old wrists and hands, he can brag about shooting this monster of a gun accurately, for many shots after shots.
The 500 Magnum requires a ROLL style crimp. When loading either Trail Boss or Lil Gun powder, the heavy bullets can move within the case unless a firm roll crimp is applied. For that purpose, I strongly recommend the use of a Lee Factory Crimp Die (p/n 90931), or any similar die from Redding or RCBS. Crimping deeply into either the crimp ring on a cast bullet, or into the cannelure of a jacketed bullet will assure that under the worst recoil conditions, the bullet will stay exactly where you seated it. Before I started deeply rioll crimping, I had the unfortunate experience of having a T-Rex bullet come loose, move forward, and lock up the cylinder on my revolver. That’s a dangerous situation to recover from. Since deeply roll crimping with a factory crimp die, it’s never happened again.
500 Magnums are reloaded with Large Rifle primers. The pocket is designed for that diameter and depth of primer. Do NOT substitute pistol primers. Many load data books also specify Magnum Large Rifle Primers. In my own testing, I have found ignition of the cartridges, with either Lil Gun or TrailBoss to be reliable with standard Large Rifle Primers.
My S&W 500 magnum is one of my favorite revolvers to shoot. It always draws a crowd at the gun range, and many are eager to have a go at it. When allowing a new shooter to handle this gun, I only load one round in the cylinder. Even after coaching them through the stance, and the firm grip, and reminding them to allow the arm to rise up at the elbow, they often lose sight of the awesome power of the 500 Magnum, and suddenly lose grip on the gun. Reaching for a revolver that is escaping one’s hand has been cause for the trigger getting accidentally pulled a second time, often with disastrous results. So, one round in the chamber fixes that. I usually also allow them to shoot one of the TrailBoss loads, to their great delight.
Here’s a link for a well written article, on the subject of the S&W 500 magnum, from John Ross, a 500 S&W Magnum expert, and the author of a famous book, “Unintended Consequences“, which in novel format, chronicles the growth of the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Agency (ATF):
MP-Molds are available at: MP-Molds.com
My guidelines for using any of the large 500 S&W Magnum molds from MP-Molds: