Pure excess has never felt so right.
Oh, HELL yes.
I would like to believe that in most respects, I am a mature and rational adult male. I hold down a job, pay my bills, take care of my family and vote Republican. I dress and groom conservatively, drive safely and don’t play my music too loud.
But, this…THIS is another matter entirely. Never in my life have I seen a gun that just screamed at me, “you must have me!” And…who was I to argue? One look, and I was hooked. I needed one. At least one. Macho superiority at my shooting club would be mine forever, or at least until my arm gave out.
(Lest this intro seem too frivolous, let me assure you that this gun, and my subsequent thoughts on it, are all business. The 460 is a superior piece of work, and a more than viable hunting firearm. But…that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun too, right?)
First a bit of historical perspective. With apologies to Dirty Harry, the title of “most powerful handgun” during the 2nd half of the 20th century goes not to the .44 magnum, but to the .454 Casull. The .454 blended .45 Colt bullet sizes with .44 magnum velocities and was probably the first handgun cartridge truly viable for hunting really big game like elk and moose without demanding pinpoint accuracy. As its velocity was above the .44’s, it was also a flatter shooter.
In 2003, the nation’s two biggest handgun makers, Smith & Wesson and Ruger, both introduced a bigger better deal. Ruger came out with the .480 Ruger, a very capable cartridge that briefly held top dog status until Smith one-upped them with the S&W .500. While the .500 won the “wow” contest, and is admired by many, it is widely regarded as just a bit too much to handle, even for (most) experienced shooters. Recoil is fierce, noise is deafening and nobody seems to want to shoot one more than once or twice. A Smith executive later admitted to me that this cartridge and gun were mostly about bragging rights to the biggest, baddest wheelgun in the world.
This image, borrowed from Wikipedia, shows the .460 (at the far left) next to several other handgun cartridges. Next to the .460 is the .454 Casull; it’s easy to see how much more case capacity (and therefore power) the .460 has.
Two years later, Smith produced the .460 in an effort to offer a slightly “saner” alternative to the .500. The .460 case is a lengthened version of the .454, actually a bit longer (but slimmer) than the .500. Ballistics are almost startling: the .460 can drive a 300-grain bullet over 2000 fps. (The old-timers in the crowd will recognize this as .45-70 Marlin territory.) Recoil and muzzle blast, however, are noticeably tamer than in the .500. This cartridge is a true performer and can tackle most anything you’d ever want to hunt, but only when shot from a gun capable of managing its amazing power.
The XVR Hunter
The power of the .460 cartridge necessitated the use of the extra-large X-frame originally designed for the .500. For those who haven’t seen an X-frame in person, just imagine a stainless N-frame on steroids. Everything but the grip is super-sized, to better accommodate the tremendous beating that the .460 cartridge surely must inflict on a gun.
The 460 is available in a variety of barrel lengths, including the 12″ Hunter model shown at the top. The 460 XVR Hunter pushes the working definition of a handgun: it weighs 80 ounces – that’s right, five pounds – and is 18″ long. Factor in a full (five-round) cylinder of ammunition, a scope and a bipod, and you’ve got something almost as heavy as a traditional hunting rifle. The material is stainless steel, and the finish is a handsome, low-glare satin.
This is a stock photo from Smith & Wesson, but looks very much like the author’s gun. Use of a scope is very helpful in using the full potential of the gun, and the bipod (or some other stabilization device) helps keep groups “hunting respectable.”
The XVR Hunter comes from Smith’s Performance Center, and comes with several niceties, including a forged hammer and trigger, Hogue grip (believe me, you’ll need it), and Picatinny rails across the top of the frame and the bottom of the barrel. It also features sling studs (yes, a sling on a handgun; starting to get the picture here?). Holsters are available through Smith if you don’t wish to sling the 460, but I don’t know whether they’ll accommodate the optics.
It should also be noted that the 460 guns from Smith will also shoot .45 Colt and .454 Casull cartridges. This is interesting, but of limited versatility, as your choice of cartridge will profoundly affect your vertical zero point. This is because the bullets from the three different cartridges move at considerably different speed, causing the muzzle to rise to differing degrees while the bullet travels through it. You pretty much need to choose one cartridge, zero your sights or scope in for it, and be done with it.
How Does It Shoot?
Like my other guns from Smith’s Performance Center, the action on the Hunter is excellent. The double-action trigger pull is smooth and consistent, and in single-action, the break is crisp and light.
I topped my 460 Hunter with a Leupold VX-3 2.5-8x32mm handgun scope, and put a Harris bipod on the front. With my first box of factory ammunition, I was able to shoot 3″ groups at 100 yards. Of course, when hunting with a handgun, even a huge one, stability is key. I would probably insist on taking shooting sticks with me into the field when hunting with the 460. With this caveat, however, I’d feel good about a shot of up to 200 yards, which is damned impressive for a handgun.
Now, a word about recoil: yes, it’s there. In spades. When you’re pushing a 300-grain bullet in front of about 40 grains of powder, you’re going to feel something. But…I wouldn’t describe it as “punishing” or harsh. After shooting a box at the range, I go home with no soreness in my hands or arms. I’ve shot considerably less-pleasant handguns. While the 460 Hunter will never be confused for a plinking piece, it’s quite manageable for experienced shooters and doesn’t seem to inflict any harm on the user.
Smith & Wesson have a winner on their hands here. The .460 cartridge gives you the power to pursue truly big game, and the 460 XVR Hunter tames that power in a gun any shooter would be proud of. And…the “wow” factor at your gun club aren’t to be overlooked, either.