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Most Powerful Handgun [You Can Still Buy]

Looking for more oomph in your gun case? We take a look at the most powerful handgun on the market that you can add to your collection now!

Sometimes you just feel like a refrigerator during a power outage: in need of more power.

If you’ve spent a bit of time staring at the offerings of your gun cabinet of late and started to feel the desire for more oomph, you may have found yourself wondering…

Magnum Research BFR in .500 Linebaugh
Is this the winner…keep reading to find out?

“What is the most powerful handgun you can buy?”

If that’s where you’re at, you’re not interested in the peewees of the handgun world. You have to delve into the subject of the big boys.

And when it comes to the baddest of the bad, read on to find out who is the (not so clear) winner.

Table of Contents


How Do We Judge Power?

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the phrase “most powerful handgun,” I think of something similar to what The Joker had.

I mean, if it can stop Batman, that has to be powerful, right?

You, however, may automatically think about something that can travel through three consecutive grizzly bears.

The point is that people tend to have different ideas of what power is.

For our purposes here, I’m mainly looking at the pounds per square inch of pressure generated within the handgun. Yeah, we could focus on muzzle energy too, and we’ll tackle that, but we’re going to hold up the psi as our gold standard.

The Most Powerful Handgun Is…

Smith & Wesson Model 460 earns the title in this competition.

If we’re looking at the pounds per square inch produced within the weapon itself, the undisputed champ is the Smith & Wesson Model 460.

Smith and Wesson is more than happy to admit this as well. According to their own site, it has the highest muzzle velocity (around 2,000 fps) of any revolver on the planet.

When you squeeze the trigger of a Model 460, you’re looking at internal pressures of approximately 65,000 psi — that’s insane.

You’re typically looking at around 25,000 psi for most magnum revolver loads. There are higher ones out there, to be sure, but to make the leap up to over 60,000 psi is significant.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find any other handgun out there that comes even close (within less than 2000 psi) to generating the same pressures that it does.

A .460 XVR revolver in comparison to a .357 Magnum Model 66. (Photo: Smith and Wesson)

The .460 S&W Magnum usually averages around 2,200 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, depending on barrel length.

at Kygunco

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

History of the Smith & Wesson Model 460

In the early 2000s, Smith and Wesson was upset that they no longer held the title of producing the most powerful handgun in the world.

Left to right: .460 S&W Magnum, .454 Casull, .44 Magnum, .45ACP, .22LR (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Herb Belin, the Handgun Production Manager at S&W, reached out to Cor-Bon at the 2002 SHOT Show. The idea was that Belin wanted to know if it was possible to create something that could surpass the .480 Ruger and retake the throne.

Cor-Bon worked on some casings, sent them over to Belin, and then Belin had his guys use what is known as SolidWorks software to make a cylinder that could handle the new casing.

This allowed Smith and Wesson to skip the prototype phase and create a finished .500 S&W Magnum on the first try. Part of the end result was the computer’s creation of the very first X Frame cylinder in 2003.

Smith and Wesson wrestled the crown back from Ruger and has been wearing it ever since.

The .460 soon followed, and the cartridge owes much of its existence to its predecessor, the .500 S&W Magnum.

What About the Smith & Wesson Model 500?

When you first read the headline of this article, you may have thought that the Smith & Wesson 500 Magnum was the answer. And to a lot of people, this is it.

This bad boy is longer than the full-size riflescope mounted on top of it.

(We’ve got an awesome review, by the way.)

This gun can handle anything from 275 to 440-grain loads. The first 275-grain load ever created for this weapon had 1700 foot-pounds of muzzle energy and 1665 fps muzzle velocity. The 440-grain load had 2580 foot-pounds of muzzle energy and a 1,625 fps muzzle velocity.

As expected, that gives you a lot of power.  

Pressure-wise, the Smith & Wesson Model 500 comes in at around 60,000 psi.

If you’re short on time, here are the results from his ballistic gel test:

GunGrainBullet TypeDistance Traveled in Gel
Model 460300Hollow point27.5”
Model 460360Hard cast64+”
Model 460250Extreme penetrator36”
500 S&W Magnum350Hollow point20.5”
500 S&W Magnum440Hard cast64+”
500 S&W Magnum350Extreme penetrator47.5”
500 S&W Magnum500Flat point36”
at Kygunco

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Triple Action Thunder

This was actually my first suspicion of who the clear winner would be.

The Triple Action Thunder is something of a novelty gun created by a company that’s no longer in existence.

First released at SHOT Show 2004, this single-shot space gun fires the mighty .50 BMG round.

It almost gives off that Star Wars blaster vibe.

It featured an empty weight of 12 pounds, measured 16.9 inches overall, with a 13.2-inch barrel, muzzle brake, and “nitrogen recoil shock absorption system” to help keep your hands attached.

Sure, the infamous Israeli Desert Eagle fires a .50-caliber bullet, but that’s a specially designed .50-caliber round specifically for handguns.

The Triple Action Thunder shoots the same cartridge that has been used to make some of the longest-recorded sniper shots in history.

.50 BMG

But, alas, .50 BMG in a rifle typically produces a pressure right around 55,000 psi.

That would mean the Triple Action Thunder doesn’t make the cut here, though it’s still a rather impressive (if somewhat useless) pistol.

For, what I believe, are expected reasons, the Triple Action Thunder never really took off.

The company couldn’t find anybody willing to manufacture them and was subsequently forced to close its doors. Despite their business failures, however, they did succeed in creating a noticeable piece of gun history.

Final Thoughts

So TL;DR…The Smith & Wesson Model 460 takes the cake as the most powerful handgun on the market with the most PSI behind it.

S&W 500 All View
S&W Model 500

What are your thoughts on these power hand cannons? Let us know in the comments below. Still want more power? We’ve got you covered with our article on the Most Overpowered Guns and Cartridges!

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18 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    If you want to look and act like a macho on the firing line, have at it. To hunt with it is another matter. I just hope the beholder has a backup guide to kill whatever the shooter is aiming at, cause he is not shooting at "soup cans" under controlled conditions at 15 yds.(the video doesn't give the distance the experiment was taped)
    It's not for the timid person, like the guy who goes and buys a corvette as an extension of his appendage to impress the girls into submission. (I have shot both calibers, powerful loads, but exhilarating!)
    If you can handle it, great. Personally, I LIKE the big bores.

    May 9, 2023 6:44 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    joe bonk

    Well,, I don't know any of my shooting fraternity who owns, let alone shoots a 50, has a 460, but I do own and have a 454 Casull that I do shoot...its a handful. I'm curious...what was the distance that was shot at the targets in the video? And how many times were they shot at to make the video convincing? Good theatrics....oohhhs and ahhhs. My personal observation, the recoil didn't look all that bad compared to my Casull. Yeah, the 50 and 460 is a leap forward in the badass psi department, and the ability to shoot different 45 caliber rounds in the 460 is great. In my youth, I made the move from 38 spls, to 357, to a 44 mag....wow! And now, a 454. Really, I don't think I need anything more powerful at the moment.(I'm 82). I have shot my 454 in pistol competition. Let me you, its a lot more than my younger shooter friends' won't shoot when the offer was made! Wimps!
    Not to disparage the video...hey, great performance. I can duplicate the same explosiveness with my DW44 mag....or my 357, or my 45 Colt, or my ????? Whatever.
    No hard feelings. IMHO.

    May 9, 2023 6:25 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Big Sarge

    You forgot Magnum Research’s 45-70 BFR. With full power loads it’s almost equivalent to a 460 Winchester magnum rifle cartridge.

    May 5, 2023 11:28 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    .44 Mag is the most that most of us can properly handle

    May 5, 2023 10:46 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Wolf Ryet

    If you check , you will find that .22 Long Rifle has higher chamber pressure than some common handgun rounds , but is not considered a serious defense caliber.

    May 4, 2023 10:33 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Chuck Cochran

    Oh to be young again (LOL). I owned a Model 29 for about 10 years. Finally sold it because it got too expensive to feed, even handloads were costing significantly more than .357. It was fun to shoot, but towards the end, the first tell tell twinge that something was going wrong in my shoulder joints began, and it started getting uncomfortable to shoot, so I sold it.
    It sounds like you had fun shooting these big boys. Surgery on the right shoulder worked, but it still can't take much heavy recoil. 3rd or 4th shot with the 12 ga or my .338 Win Mag, and I'm done. .357 mag gets to be uncomfortable around the 35 round mark. 9 and .40, no problem. Same with my 5.56 and .300 AAC.
    The Left shoulder surgery failed, so drilling with my weak side is limited. Even 9 starts to get uncomfortable by the 10 round mark, and downright painful at 20.
    Nice article Aden. You can shoot that bad boy and I'll dream about it.

    May 4, 2023 9:27 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Hope I don’t sound naive or misinformed but what about the FN 5.7. Has a smaller caliber bullet but some rifles can’t approach its muzzle velocity

    May 4, 2023 7:07 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Chuck Cochran

      I think the author was looking at chamber pressure and muzzle energy more than velocity for the article.

      May 4, 2023 9:29 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        Got it. Thank you

        May 5, 2023 12:15 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I love the big bore revolver. I have a few 454 Casulls and 44 Magnums. However if you want to nit pick i feel a 10mm with 15 rounds of the appropriate energy ammunition has more power loaded in the magazine than a 6 shooter. Jmho

    May 4, 2023 6:06 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Mike Shell

      Full power 10mm for the win.

      May 4, 2023 7:44 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        range rat

        I dunno..I have the SW M&P 10mm and the 460. The 10 is powerful but the 460 pretty much shakes the earth. But I used 325 grain in the 460 vs 205 in the 10mm

        May 4, 2023 9:25 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        Yes sir. 135gr for 2 legged and 180 for 4. Underwood for the win

        May 4, 2023 9:28 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Hill Person Johnny, appreciate your humor. Miss the Appalachian humor since I moved to Texas. Keep up the videos.

    May 3, 2023 10:42 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    From what I've read, the 460 will accept 454 and 45 colt cartridges. Cylinder pressures for .327 Federal magnum is 45k, the .357 is 35k with .44 at around 36k. Now the .327 loading recommended a small rifle primer for the higher pressure, I'm curious if the .460 needs rifle primers. On a side note it looks like SAAMI specs the 9mm+p @38,5 btw.

    May 3, 2023 5:01 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Sean R McKinley

    Um, your TLDR says the most powerful handgun is the S&W 500, but the whole article says it’s the S&W 460 (based on PSI).

    May 3, 2023 2:35 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Over the years I've owned and reloaded for 2 sw 44mags. Based on my experience and in watching other experienced shooters, a 44mag is at the upper end of what most shooters can handle. Not to say that a .460 or 500 sw wouldn't be a cool gun to own.

    May 3, 2023 2:11 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      range rat

      it is def a cool gun to own .. but it's a bit impractical .. I can shoot a full 50 cartridge box of my 10mm with only a little bit of tiredness toward the end (I'm over 60) but I def need a short rest after 1 full cylinder of fun

      May 7, 2023 6:40 pm
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