The Smith & Wesson .460 XVR: When .44 Magnum Isn’t Big Enough

The Smith & Wesson .460 XVR: When .44 Magnum Isn’t Big Enough

There’s an old joke that goes something like this: “A man is asked why he carries a forty-five. His response is that it’s because there isn’t a forty six.” But there actually is, thanks to Smith & Wesson.

Let’s clear something up right now: nobody, and certainly nobody in the swamps of Louisiana, needs a revolver chambered in the massive .460 S&W Magnum. It’s a bit like arguing that one needs a Ferrari to go get groceries in. Of course, getting groceries in a Ferrari is a hell of a lot more fun than in a Hyundai, but trying to construct any rational justification for this gun is just silly. The .44 Magnum has enough stopping power to take down Big Five game, and I suspect that no rational human being has ever shot something with a .44 Magnum and wished for even more stopping power.

But we don’t content ourselves with economy cars, and we don’t content ourselves with the status quo of large handgun calibers either. Enter the .460 Smith & Wesson Magnum cartridge, and the equally oversized Smith & Wesson .460 XVR revolver.

Like many magnum cartridges, the .460 S&W Magnum is actually a lengthened version of a much older cartridge—in this case, the .45 Colt. This venerable cartridge has been around since 1872, when it was filled with about 40 grains of black powder that would push a 250 grain slab of lead at an impressive 1000 feet per second. The M1909 military load of the .45 Colt round used smokeless powder to push the same 250 grain bullet at almost 750 feet per second. For many decades this was sufficient for martial and recreational sporting needs, until a Utah-born gunsmith named Dick Casull started to tinker with the cartridge in the 1950’s. Dick was one of the great “wildcatters”—people who modify existing cartridges or develop entirely new ones. Most wildcat cartridges don’t make it out of the experimental phase, but Dick’s .45 Colt experiments resulted in the more powerful .454 Casull cartridge. It made its debut in 1959, but it took almost forty years for SAAMI to accept the cartridge into its catalog of standards. In 1997 the Ruger Super Redhawk was released with a .454 Casull chambering, and it thus became the king of revolver cartridges.

As is the case with .357 Magnum and .38 Special, a gun chambered in .454 Casull could safely chamber and fire a .45 Colt round.

This was apparently unacceptable for Smith & Wesson. In 2005 they lengthened the .454 Casull cartridge case (which was already a lengthened .45 Colt cartridge case), and thus created the .460 Smith & Wesson Magnum cartridge. The new cartridge’s specification made the .45 Colt look positively pedestrian; bullet velocities for the .45 Colt lived in the 750 feet per second range, while the same bullet loaded in a .460 S&W Magnum cartridge could exceed 2000 feet per second. This round from Buffalo Bore Ammunition emerges from the barrel at 2400 feet per second. That’s over 1600 mph, if you’re still thinking about Ferraris.

The mightly .460 Smith & Wesson Magnum compared to the .22 Long Rifle.

The gun that goes along with this cartridge is equally massive. Since the Smith & Wesson .460 XVR only chambers five rounds, it feels a bit like a Chief’s Special that was fed a regular diet of steroids and growth hormones. There’s no denying that this gun is huge.

Taking the side plate off of the .460 XVR reveals innards that are very much like every other double action Smith & Wesson revolvers. The 8 3/8″ barrel gives the cannon-sized powder charge lots of time to burn, and the huge rubber grip gives your mitts plenty to hang onto.

One interesting aspect of this particular revolver are its interchangeable compensators. Two came with the gun, and there’s a mythical third one that I had to do a lot of scrounging around to find. In short: the compensators help channel some of the .460 XVR’s fire in a more productive direction, which (in theory) helps the shooter manage the recoil better. The compensators look great and are certainly fun to play with, but I’m not convinced that they do anything other than give the .460 XVR’s owner something to swap out. It’s worth remembering that the .460 XVR falls well outside of the realm of “practical,” so why not have interchangeable compensators?

I suspect there are a lot of .460 XVR revolvers in gun safes that have had ten or fifteen rounds shot through them. On a normal range trip I can easily burn through two or three hundred rounds of 9mm or .45 ACP, but five rounds of the .460 S&W Magnum was plenty for me. That much gunpowder can’t push that much lead without a similarly violent equal and opposite reaction.

But here’s the catch: the .460 XVR revolver may be one of the best revolvers for shooting .45 Colt out of. The gun’s massive heft does a great job of absorbing the .45 Colt’s kick. I would equate it to a .38 Special wadcutter round being shot out of a Smith & Wesson K frame, which most target shooters would agree is one of the finest target shooting combinations on the planet.

Of course, the .460 XVR revolver makes it that good because it weighs a ton. A carry gun this is not; the empty .460 XVR revolver clocks in at over 4.5 pounds, while the welterweight Smith & Wesson Model 29 in .44 Magnum is a lithe 3 pounds.

So the range report? If you just want to make the loudest BOOM at the range, then by all means bring along the .460 SVR revolver. It’s huge, it’s loud and it’s a crowd-pleaser (as it should be, when ammo runs for roughly 80¢ per round). If you actually want to do some target work, pick up a box of .45 Long Colt instead. Everyone will still delight at the gun’s cannon-sized barrel, and you won’t be burning a hole through your wallet quite as quickly.