How Powerful Is .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum?

Short Answer: Very.

Every single source I’ve come across, from Wikipedia to Cartridges of the World, basically says the same thing. This cartridge introduced in 2003 as the most powerful handgun cartridge designed for hunting large and dangerous game. To the best of my knowledge, it still is the most powerful production handgun cartridge to date.

Let’s compare the .500 S&W Magnum to some other fairly popular handgun cartridges to paint a clearer picture:

CartridgeBullet WeightVelocityEnergy
.380 ACP80-100 grains900-1200 fps162-294 ft-lbs
.38 Special95-200 grains710-1175 fps132-548 ft-lbs
.40 S&W135-200 grains907-1324 fps363-500 ft-lbs
.45 ACP185-230 grains770-1140 fps244-534 ft-lbs
9mm80-147 grains975-1560 fps294-465 ft-lbs
.500 S&W Magnum275-500 grains1425-2137 fps2254-2805 ft-lbs

While I’ve used data from commonly found factory loads, the data implies that, generally speaking, the .500 S&W Magnum sends larger projectiles down range faster and with more energy than the most common handgun cartridges by a significant margin.

That comparison might seem unfair since the .500 S&W Magnum was put against common handgun cartridges. A fairer comparison might be to put it up against other magnum pistol cartridges. Ok. Let’s do that.

CartridgeBullet WeightVelocityEnergy
.327 Federal Magnum85-115 grains1300-1536 fps370-510 ft-lbs
.357 Magnum110-180 grains1090-1500 fps400-644 ft-lbs
.41 Remington Magnum170-210 grains965-1420 fps434-788 ft-lbs
.44 Remington Magnum180-255 grains1000-1610 fps533-1042 ft-lbs
.460 S&W Magnum220-250 grains2198-2243 fps2149-2574 ft-lbs
.500 S&W Magnum275-500 grains1425-2137 fps2254-2805 ft-lbs

Again while I gathered data from commonly found factory loads, this data also implies that the .500 S&W Magnum sends larger projectiles down range faster and with more energy than other magnum cartridges. The difference in velocity and energy is quite significant between the .500 S&W Magnum and the other magnum cartridges with the exception of the .460 S&W Magnum. The .460 appears to nip at the heels of the .500, but the .500 is still leads.

Looking at the energy ranges, one could infer that shooting a .500 S&W Magnum would be the equivalent of simultaneously firing:

  • about 6 rounds of 9mm,
  • about 5 rounds of .45 ACP,
  • about 4 rounds of .357 Magnum,
  • or about 2 rounds of .44 Magnum.

Even though the sum of energy of simultaneous fire of other cartridges is approximately equivalent to the energy of the .500, the numbers only tell part of the story. The other part of the story is told by what recoil the shooter perceives. The individual handgun used to fire the cartridges plays a big role in mitigating the recoil impulse. So there is that.

All I can say is the numbers speak for themselves. There is a lot of energy waiting to be released in the .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum. A lot. My experience confirms it. It’s a very powerful round. To my knowledge, the most powerful production handgun cartridge to date.

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