Big Bore Revolvers

Yesterday’s Classics Are As Modern As Today

The S&W Performance Center Model 629 Competitor Model with 6" weighted
barrel in .44 Mag. (with Leupold scope) can cross over into handgun hunting nicely.

It’s fascinating to watch trends in the firearm culture. On a recent trip to the range I found several younger shooters — most everyone is younger than me — wringing out a bunch of guns. Polymer-framed pistols, conceal and carry pieces and black rifles screaming “tactical” with multiple rails and gizmos were slinging lead. When I pulled out a few revolvers there was an obvious “Huh? What?” series of looks on their faces. While semi-autos and all things tactical may be the rage, big bore revolvers are not yet buried in firearms history. By any means, the trusted wheelgun still ranks high among handgun hunters and for field use, not to mention personal defense, target shooting and just plain plinking fun.

Besides … there’s something unique, intriguing, even special, about large caliber sixguns.

Maybe its best if we first consider what constitutes a “big bore.” For many it probably begins with at least .41 caliber, and it’s a good starting point. This category obviously includes bigger cartridges such as the .44 Special, .44 Mag., .45 Colt, .454 Casull, .460 S&W Mag., .50 Wyoming Express, .500 S&W Mag. and others in this boomer category. Revolvers chambered for these big bore cartridges are capable of launching sizeable chucks of lead, and are capable of remarkable performance in the field.

I often get asked what can you actually “do” with a big bore revolver? A better question might be, “What can’t they do?” Back in the day many silhouette shooters toppled steel rams with .44 Magnums. Whacking steel targets is still fun today with the large caliber revolvers. Punching big holes in paper may not be as entertaining but some folks simply enjoy seeing tight groups.

Handgun hunting is where big bore revolvers really shine, and they provide a potent, effective tool to get that job done. Hiking in the woods, fishing streams where bear may also be fishing, or sitting on a deer stand waiting for a nice buck to stroll past, the big bore revolver has a secure place in our arsenal. While they may not be the first choice, large caliber sixguns can also be used for home defense or extreme cases of social disturbance — if necessary.

The S&W Performance Center’s Model 629 Hunter in .44 Mag.
ramps up the game when it comes to hunting handguns.

S&W 629

During this range session I was preparing for an upcoming black bear hunt, practicing with an S&W Performance Center Model 629 Hunter. This is one of four revolvers I took to the range in the mist of all the modern tactical technology. Having somewhat of an emotional attachment for the original Model 29, this super-enhanced .44 Mag. was a delight to shoot. Included with the .44 Magnum Hunter was a UTG Tactical red/green dot sight, a real benefit for old guys like me. A red or green, 4 MOA dot can be activated by a knob located on the top of the optic. This handgun supports a 7.5″ barrel with an internally threaded stainless muzzle brake.

Both frame and cylinder are made of stainless steel. Don’t you just love the looks of steel! The majority of the gun comes in a very distinguished black tone on the frame and much of the barrel. A polished stainless can be found on the muzzle brake, hammer, trigger, cylinder, cylinder latch and slabs on each side of the barrel. The two-tone finish is eye-pleasing, providing a subtle contrast.

The barrel comes with practical features such as the dovetailed front sight with bright red vertical overlay and black adjustable rear sight allowing for quick target acquisition. One feature I appreciate is the integral Picatinny rail. The UTG Tactical optic was painless to mount and could be situated on the Picatinny rail at different places for individual preferences.

Overall fit and finish was exactly what you would expect from the Performance Center. This premium revolver has been enhanced with noticeable refinements and detailed finishing, almost ideal for the ultimate hunting handgun. S&W has so many other fine revolvers I couldn’t possibly cover in this space, including their .460 and .500 Mag. And just for the record, there were no bears harmed or injured during the evaluation of the Model 629 Hunter — I never saw a bear!

A Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter in .44 Mag. with 4X Leupold, along
with a bit of custom work by Mag-Na-Port.

Mark’s Ruger Super Redhawk in .44 Mag. with UltraDot optic (customized by Mag-Na-Port and SSK Industries),
or any other big bore revolver plays bestwith a diet of high quality, high performance hunting ammo.

Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter (left) and a Ruger Super Redhawk (right) with UltraDot sight.
Two fine big bore revolvers capable of doing similar jobs in the field.

A Mag-Na-Port embellished 10.5" Ruger Super Blackhawk. This sort of custom work enhances
trigger pull, reliability and opens the door to different sights and other options.


During this range session the Ruger Super Blackhawk as enhanced by Ken Kelly of Mag-Na-Port came out to play. Ruger is also well-known for their rugged, dependable sixguns. For many years I’ve been fond of both Super Blackhawk and Super Redhawks. After shooting hundreds upon thousands of rounds through several Rugers in both models, I have never encountered a problem. That’s pretty impressive. Regardless if you prefer the plow-handle grip or the Bisley configuration of the single-action, or lean toward the feel of double-action, Ruger has got the bases covered. Different barrel lengths and a variety of big bore calibers can be found in a most reliable handgun.

In 1981 I took a mountain lion in the Middle Fork of Idaho’s Salmon River with a Ruger Super Blackhawk. That was back when I could see well enough for iron sights, and the 10.5″ .44 Mag. dispatched the large predator with ease. Since that time many wild boar and whitetail have been accounted for with Ruger revolvers. The time-proven Super Blackhawk and double-action Super Redhawk are available in .44 Mag., .480 Ruger and .454 Casull — three dandy cartridges for big game. If you’re a handloader, you can also tailor your loads from mild to whatever you’re man enough to handle, too.

The BFR .44 Mag. with 5" barrel is a virtually perfect back-up gun when outside in big bear country.

BFR’s 10" .460 S&W Mag. with 4X Leupold could handle virtually
any handgun hunt anywhere on the planet.

Magnum Research

The third sixgun of the day came out in the form of Magnum Research’s BFR — Biggest Finest Revolver. This is yet another example of a super strong, well-built single-action sixgun. The BFR is an intentionally large, heavy revolver capable of handling robust recoil. The additional weight is your friend with top-end loads. Not long ago on an axis deer hunt in Texas, the 10″ .460 S&W Mag. model I used tipped the scales at 4.7 pounds before mounting a Leupold scope. I can honestly tell you the weight came in mighty handy with full-house loads.

BFR chambers large caliber cartridges ideally suited for big game, including, believe it or not, .450 Marlin and .45-70. Their barrels are hand lapped and precision crowned. The soft-brushed finish is eye-pleasing and weather resistant too. This particular range day I was shooting a 5″ .44 Magnum version.

Recently, Magnum Research has upgraded their BFR series of revolvers by redesigning the hammer spur. It now stands taller and narrower than previous models. It was raised to enhance cocking. New, one-piece soft rubber grips have been redesigned with a taper specifically made for single-action shooting. This revised ergonomic design is a tad longer than the original two-piece grips. The Hogue rubber grip is comfortable and not abrasive to the hand under heavy .44 Mag. loads. Another refinement included on beefy BFR revolvers is the new logo. Doesn’t affect shooting whatsoever but it looks cool.

This Freedom Arms Model 83 in .44 Mag. with Bushnell Elite 2-6x scope
has accompanied Mark on hunts around the world with never a bobble.

Shooting from a rest means surer shots with these big, heavy revolvers. This is Mark with a Freedom
Arms Model 83 off Bog-Pod rest. Mark carries a rest with him in the field on most hunts.

Freedom Arms Model 97 in .45 Colt — an ideal packing pistol!

Freedom Arms

The final revolver I pulled out of the case on that range day was a Freedom Arms Model 83 with a 7.5″ barrel. Many sixgunners will tell you Freedom Arms manufactures the finest single-action available and I couldn’t disagree with a clear conscience. Tight tolerances are apparent, along with strict attention to fit and finish. Cocking the hammer sounds like the mechanism when opening a mechanical bank vault. The darn thing is accurate too! Mine wears a Bushnell Elite 2-6X scope in FA’s Lovell one-piece mount and rings.

The standard impregnated hardwood grips were replaced by micarta which contrasts nicely with the stainless appearance. These 5-shot revolvers are available in the .500 Wyoming Express, .475 Linebaugh, .454 Casull, .44 Mag. and .41 Mag., all in the Model 83 line-up. This top-shelf handgun has taken game all over the planet. Not long ago I found myself in a remote, harsh environment of the Central Africa Republic. I was pursuing some unique, challenging game in a hot, dusty, unfriendly climate. The choice of firearm in circumstances like these is crucial — and I chose the Model 83 with a 10″ tube in .44 Mag., and never looked back.

Freedom Arms offers their Model 97, which is a bit more petite than the Model 83, in big bore calibers such as .45 Colt, .44 Special and .41 Mag. This model lends itself to being an ideal packing pistol. It too is extremely accurate. It would be difficult to find a better carry gun for hiking in remote backcountry, and a long barrel .41 Mag. makes a dandy hunting rig.

Carrying FA Model 83 in Barranti Northwest Hunter rig. Chest carry is about the perfect way to tote
a big bore revolver in the field. It helps to keep the not-inconsiderable weight centered.

Your Choices?

Depending on your personal needs and desires, big bore sixguns can satisfy diversified purposes. You don’t have to load these cartridges to the maximum, either. Heck, my everyday loads are mild, providing a lot of shooting enjoyment. Shooting a big bore handgun is more than invigorating, it’s not just about the muzzle blast and recoil, although that can be fun at times!

Despite current popularity trends in plastic and aluminum, big bore revolvers are not an anachronism. They are ingrained in America’s firearm culture and will be around for your grandchildren’s grandchildren to enjoy. If you haven’t already done so, add a new and rewarding dimension to your shooting pursuits with big bore handguns. Enjoying this historically significant, timeless, slower — and highly reliable — way of shooting is just plain fun, too!

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