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Most Overpowered Guns and Cartridges

If there is one thing we all agree on in the gun world it’s that crazy, overpowered guns and cartridges are an absolute blast ‒ both literally and figuratively.  

This is true for every gun owner and firearms enthusiast I know.  We all enjoy seeing that new crazy overpowered caliber and gun.  But this doesn’t mean we all enjoy shooting them.  

Revolver fail
Not Even a Little

Often the primal joy of seeing a massive hand cannon or a rifle as tall as a person is nothing more than appreciation ‒ an appreciation for the craftsmanship, the engineering and, of course, the ridiculousness.  Ridiculousness can be and often is the most appreciated factor.  

It’s wonderful looking at a firearm and knowing that some mad genius sat down and decided that ‘Go big or go home’ wasn’t just a saying but a design philosophy.  

That’s why today we are going to look at some of the most overpowered guns and their cartridges.  I’m limiting this to direct fire guns only.  You won’t see the Mark 19 full auto grenade launcher or 60mm mortar here.  

Instead, I want to show you some overpowered firearms that regular Joes like you and I can purchase and enjoy.  

The NFA Gun Route

The National Firearms Act of 1934  heavily regulates certain classes of arms, commonly called NFA guns.  One class of NFA guns is destructive devices.  Destructive devices, or DDs, include grenades, grenade launchers, and rifles with a bore over .5 inches.  

Now under federal law these firearms are generally legal to possess, but many states have their own laws regarding them.  All that aside, I had to show you this first gun because it’s just too cool not to include.  

Meet the Anzio Ironworks 20mm Rifle.  

at Anzio Ironworks

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

This 6 foot 8 inch beast absolutely dwarfs 50 caliber rifles, and the 20mm Vulcan round it fires is typically seen in the barrels of a M61 minigun mounted on fighter jets.  

M61 Minigun
Like This One

This 20mm rifle has a range in excess of 3000 yards and the projectile weighs a stunning 1,600 grains coming at at 3300 feet per second.  That’s almost a quarter of a pound, which hits at approximately 38,000 foot pounds of kinetic energy. 

The barrels are match grade with a 1 MOA capability, letting you send that round almost two miles.

20mm Round
20mm Round

This massive rifle even has a truck mount available, if that’s your thing.

If that isn’t the definition of overpowered I don’t know what is.  Like most good things there isn’t necessarily a ‘need’ for this gun, but man I’m glad someone made it exist.  According to the wise world of the internet this is the first rifle to be produced over a 50 cal for public consumption in over 80 years.  

That kind of power doesn’t come cheap, though.  There are a few variants of this rifle, but the cheapest single shot models go for $9,800.  Toss in your tax stamp and you’re in for a minimum of 10 grand.

The Non-NFA Option

But what if you want to avoid the hassle of the NFA and don’t want to spend 10 bucks a pop on 20mm training rounds?  For you we have the Barrett 50 caliber rifle in my favorite configuration: the semi automatic magazine fed M82A1.  

at Cabela's

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

This semi automatic, magazine fed 50 BMG rifle was the first of its kind, and currently serves as an anti-material (aka anti-everything) rifle in the United States military.  

I had the chance to shoot one a bit with my company’s sniper platoon and was pleasantly surprised at how little recoil there is.  It’s been a few years, but I’d say it best compares to a 12 gauge.

Barret 50 Cal. in Action

Regardless, you really feel the power of this gun as it creates a cover of dust around you.  I think Archer puts it best:  

Plus some basic plinking ammo is less than $4 per round.

The Barrett is an exceptional rifle that’s accurate, fun, and incredibly freakin’ powerful.  

One last note; to get the most out of one of these you need to really to invest in a high quality scope.  Anything less than fantastic will be rendered useless in a shot or too.  

Shoulder Fired Options

Those first two guns are technically shoulder fired, but they require a rest and bipod to actually use.  That’s no biggie though, since you probably aren’t taking either of them hunting.  Unless you’re hunting mountains.  

Now we’re going to look at rifles that can be more easily aimed and fired from the shoulder.  “Easily” being relative, of course.  You really gotta hate yourself to try to shoot one of the three calibers that well be discussing — the 500, 600, and 700 Nitro Express — from the shoulder. 

at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Nitro Express cartridges originally came from Holland and Holland, a company known for making high end big game hunting rifles, and that is exactly what these are.  They are designed to drop elephants, hippos, rhinos, etc.  

.700 Nitro Express Comparison
This guy will drop just about any animal you come across.

The 600 and 700 NE are actually larger than .5 of an inch so you might think there would be NFA factors to deal with, right?  Actually these rounds are exempt from the NFA due to their sporting use.  The fact that they don’t pose nearly as much of a risk to the shooter probably doesn’t hurt either.  

You’ll probably still want one of these, though.

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Hand Cannon

Is there really even a question regarding the most powerful handgun?  I don’t think anyone will be shocked by the inclusion of the next gun on our list, the Smith and Wesson 500. 

(Note: we’re only talking about guns that use actual handgun caliber ammo here, not rifle rounds forced into handguns.)

The S&W 500 is one of the most popular and powerful cartridges available.  It’s purpose is technically hunting and defense against predators like bears, but I suspect that most people just use it for fun and to show off a bit.  

The S&W 500 fires a 300 (or more) grain round at 1,500 feet per second.  This delivers you a ridiculous amount of penetration, especially with the right ammo, which will retain its weight and power.  

at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

This gun can is actually way more powerful than it needs to be for hunting, but that’s exactly the point.  It’s an overpowered gun with an insane cartridge for a handgun.  And it has certainly paid off.  The S&W 500 has proven to be popular, with tons of accessories and holsters available — even speedloaders!  I don’t know why I’d ever be shooting this gun fast enough to need a speed loader, but to each his own!  

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing


To be totally honest, I really dislike the term “overpowered.”  Big, powerful guns and cartridges are just too much fun to act like that power is a bad thing.  

Sure, the size and power of these guns means they aren’t always fun to shoot for everyone, but I think we can all agree that it’s always exciting to see them in action.  

After all, how can you not look at a 20mm anti-material rifle and just think, “Man if Mount Rushmore ever becomes a zombie I’m ready to deal with it?”  To me, that’s a beautiful thing.

Now tell us about your experiences!  What’s the most powerful gun you’ve shouldered?  Which ones are on your bucket list? Let us know in the comments!  

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4 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Ryan Hu

    Go big or go home, maybe that’s why the Germans made the Maus

    May 4, 2020 7:54 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Rudy Lampi

    I have shot a 458 Magnum rifle, 55 cal. boys rifle & a 20mm Lathi antitank rifle. The 458 had the worst recoil

    February 11, 2018 10:31 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jim M.

    I gotta say, this is my favorite article so far! I found myself grinning all the way through. WELL DONE, and thanks, I needed that! I think my most memorable "recoil" moment, was shooting my Remington 887 with my teenage son. I loaded 3 1/2" magnums! He didn't know! GOOD TIMES!

    November 1, 2017 5:05 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Eric Hung

      Thanks Jim!!!

      November 7, 2017 5:20 pm