On a bright, sunny day eons ago, all the jungle’s alpha predators gathered in a circle in a small, grassy park regaling each other with their accomplishments. Since predators exist in packs run by the females of whatever species, these furry females were recounting their most recent and greatest accomplishments. After much bragging and discussion, the conversation turned to their families.
The dominant Cape hunting dog started the vying for top bragging rights by remarking about her recent delivery of pups, which numbered 12 healthy youngsters, soon to grow to be the scourge of the countryside. The jackal, not to be outdone, chimed in with her delivery of eight pups. Hearing this, the hyena stood up, her back hairs bristling and growled that her delivery of six large pups was significantly more impressive than those others.
At that remark, the cheetah stood and claimed her three kits could outrun anyone the competition came up with. Lying casually with her body extended on a high branch far above the group, a skulking leopardess claimed her cubs were best, that she had scored top kudos by adding a pair of prime predators to the mix, cubs that would one day be deadlier, smarter and sneakier than the offspring of any of the other predators.
In the center of the grassy circle lay a large lioness. Staying silent until everyone had finished their boasting and bragging, she stretched her 400 pounds of steely sinew and muscle, flexed her razor-sharp 3-inch claws and yawned, displaying an impressive set of 4-inch canines and gleaming teeth. Slowly rising to her feet and towering over the others, she looked at each of them as she smiled, licked her whiskers and said that a month prior she had delivered a cub. Stretching out to her full length and looking at each predator dead in the eyes in turn, she flicked her tail and softly said as she walked away, “But that one cub is a lion!”
And so it goes in real life. As a general rule, heavyweights rule. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking physical size, bank accounts, political clout or, in regard to firearms in serious scenarios, calibers. Heavyweights pack more punch and that, when it is needed, is important. Hold that thought, please.
That brings us to the subject of this week’s treatise. There are those among the shooting/hunting fraternity to whom handguns, especially revolvers, are a mere afterthought. However, there exists among that fraternity a cadre of individuals to whom handguns, and principally revolvers, are their main focus. They are, if you will, those more ardently devoted to a purer form of hunting than the majority of firearms hunters, excepting perhaps traditional muzzleloader users. In the end, it may be as simple as saying it’s all about one-upmanship.
This attitude of one-upsmanship is why Smith and Wesson decided to produce a handgun created solely to make that company the manufacturer of the most powerful commercially produced handgun: the .500 S&W magnum. Never mind that said caliber was likely inspired by Cody Country’s own John Linebaughs big .50 caliber custom revolvers. If one is hand enough to handle it, John’s original produced revolvers deliver all the thump and thunder of the big S&W from a package half the size and weight of the big S&W.
Still, if you think the line is drawn there, think again. If we go back into the late 1800s, we encounter some truly impressive pieces of personal armament. These creations are large enough to terrify the federal regulators and anything with a caliber measuring over 1/2 inch in diameter is condemned as a destructive device and, as such, subject to a myriad of fees and regulations.
The .58 calibers and the .62 calibers, up to .75 caliber, were popular military bore sizes back in the days of steel men, wooden ships and black powder. Hunters, like Sir Samual Baker for an example, had shoulder-held cannons of 4 or even 2 bore that shot explosive projectiles weighing a half-pound to collect ivory.
Back during this early colonial period, the epitome of British elitism was tiger hunting. Rich Brits sat in little straw houses, called howdahs, strapped on the backs of elephants while their pachyderms stomped tigers out of the brush. These hardy adventurers carried single-shot and double-barreled pistols chambered for the humongous black powder rifle rounds, like the .577 Snider. It was ostensibly to scrape enraged tigers crawling up the trunk of their elephant off the mahout, or native elephant operator.
Then, some bright Brit came up with the idea of chambering a revolver for a similar immense cartridge. A bit shorter and a bit less powder, but a big stopping round just the same. This at a time when Victorian convention declared that a proper gentleman went armed with a Webley or Adams or Trantor that tossed its comparatively lightweight bullets at a modest 500 to 600 FPS, ineffective at best.
Army officers in the British Empire were stationed across the world, which was, in many cases, populated by citizens of various ethnicities who were reluctant participants in Britain’s alleged imperial glory. In many cases, these locals fought back.
Enter the .577 caliber revolver. A revolver loaded with a .577 diameter, 400-grain bullet held by a brass cartridge case over a heavy charge of black powder. Good for around 725 fps, if memory serves, and by all accounts, an effective man stopper. The revolver itself was a behemoth, weighing in at more than five pounds and holding five cartridges or so. It reminds one of a revolver shooting 12-gauge shotgun slugs.
Apparently there were several manufacturers who produced these hand cannons, like Webley and Trantor and perhaps even Pryse in England. Certainly, there were others in Europe capable of such monstrosities to help fill the market – the tiny nation of Montenegro comes to mind. But try to get one built today in this country, even as an experiment, and you’ll doubtless run afoul of the ATF and its regulations. According to my sources, they treat these things the same as a 155mm howitzer. In that, like so many other things in life, if you have the money or the political influence, you can have one. Otherwise, it’s a big no-no.
That said, the closest I can come to that big boy is the .475 Linebaugh in a Ruger Bisley. There are bigger chamberings, compliments of the Linebaughs, but my ability to handle controlled fire accurately ends at the .475. I make it a habit to carry a .475 Linebaugh or a .454 Casull, depending on circumstances, when I go playing out back in the pucker brush these days.
For a half a century, I packed the smaller Rugers, say in .44 magnum or .45 colt and loaded with warm loads for everything, but these years an effective retreat speed eludes me and tree climbing is a lost ability. If I’m truly expecting a rude conversation with one of our big shaggys, I’ll also pack a shotgun with hardened slugs or a large caliber, lever action rifle.
In regard to the .577 back 150 years ago, not many of them were made nor are many still around. They’d probably be hard to find ammo for even if you found one. But to have one handy when you needed it? Talk about birthing a lion.