The John  Ross S&W Performance Center 5Ē .500 Magnum

 

by Leroy Thompson

photography by Leroy Thompson

July 28th, 2007

 

 

 

The Smith & Wesson .500 Magnum revolver has been around now for over four years, and  I have to admit  that until last weekend I hadnít fired one.  I was a little intrigued when the .500 was introduced by the fact that Smith & Wesson would once again be producing the ďWorldís Most Powerful Revolver.Ē  I like big bore revolvers so I thought it was somewhat neat, but I live here in St. Louis where the bears are in the zoo or maybe in Chicago unless they play the Rams here in town. I know that some farmers or ranchers carry big bore revolvers in case they have to kill a bull, but here in the city,  those are the tall guys that play basketball in Chicago.  I donít really have any need for a .500 Magnum revolver.  Of course, I donít really have a need for lots of guns I own!  But since I donít hunt big game with a handgun, run a trap line in Alaska, or raise fighting bulls on the Mexican border, I just didnít have a reason to get interested in the .500 Magnum.

However, when John Ross began formulating his ideas for his special limited run Performance Center .500 Magnum I got interested.  John and I shoot together maybe once or twice a year, but he always brings along big blasters and shoots them well at longer ranges.  I also know that he is considered the ďGo-To-GuyĒ on the internet with questions about shooting and loading the S&W .500 Magnum.  John has had quite a few of the guns and has developed lots of loads for them.  Heís certainly shot them more than most.  I also listened when we ended up together to his thoughts on the .500 Magnum.  I was interested to learn, for example, that the .500 shoots flatter and more accurately than the Model 29.  I actually have always been a .41 Magnum shooter because I like the fact the round shoots flatter than the .44 Magnum so I was impressed the .500 shot flat. 

Most people who bought a .500 S&W revolver during the first couple of years probably fired it a couple of times, but John kept firing them, buying them, and tinkering with them.  In the process, he came to some conclusions about what would be the optimum S&W .500 Magnum for someone who really planned on using the revolver.  Once he had organized his thoughts and made a couple of prototypes, he contacted the Smith & Wesson Performance Center to see if they would build 500 guns to his specs.  They said they could; they have; and I picked mine up a couple of weeks ago.  A combination of things convinced me to purchase one of these guns.  First, I appreciated how much thought John had put into the gun.  I also like the look of the gun.  With its 5 inch barrel and half lug it is sort of like my 5Ē half lug 686 on steroids.  I also did some rationalization: Iím a gun writer who does a lot of handgun articles; hence, I should have a .500 S&W revolver. 

I will tell you now that I am very happy with my John Ross PC .500, but Iíll go into more detail on that later.  First, let me take a brief look at the revolverís special features and Johnís rationale for those features.

The barrel is 5 inches long with a half lug/ejector shroud.  This combo makes for excellent balance yet still offers good ballistic performance.       The barrel has a twist of 1 in 10  to stabilize longer, heavier bullets at long range.  To get a tight cylinder gap, the John Ross Performance Center revolver uses an external muzzle nut which allows a cylinder gap of only .0035-.0045 inches to be achieved.  The gain is about 100 feet per second.  This muzzle nut replaces the compensator, which John feels actually makes the .500 more unpleasant to shoot due to blast, though recoil/muzzle flip does go up somewhat.  A Millet dovetail front sight was chosen as one that could be switched out by a gunsmith to allow for a different load but which would stay in place despite heavy recoil.      Originally. John wanted a black Melonite finish for the Ross PC .500 but it was not a good choice for a cylinder which will have to consistently stand up 60,000 psi.  Due to the production process Smith & Wesson uses on the frames, it was determined that Melonite was not a good choice there either.  As a result, there will be 250 of the revolvers in satin stainless and 250 in black oxide with a satin stainless cylinder.  Note that Smith & Wesson requires a minimum order of 500 guns for a special production run such as this one.  The grips are the Hogue Sorbothane ones standard on factory .500 Magnums and do a good job of soaking up recoil.  John felt that these were a good choice since many shooters will install the custom grips of their choice in any case. 

Those are the basic special features of the John Ross Performance Center .500 Magnum.  Since the revolvers are in a special serial number range running JRC0XXX for the all stainless guns and JRA0XXX for the guns with black frames, one can have some choice of serial number.    Some are already spoken for; for example, I took JRC00XX with the last digits of my year of birth.  

My revolver came in as part of the first batch John received from the Performance Center so, actually, other than Johnís own gun, mine was the first one delivered.  Since I was relatively unfamiliar with the .500 Magnum, when I took my revolver out of the Performance Center soft case, my first reaction was--itís big!  But even with the 2.3 inch cylinder, the John Ross Performance Center revolver looks symmetrical.  The X-frame is hefty, but the gun does remind me of a scaled up version of my 5Ē 686 which I mentioned earlier.  I was also surprised at how well it balances despite weighing 57 ounces.  I gather this is still about a pound less than standard .500 Magnums.  Generally, I am not a fan of rubber grips on revolvers; however, since I had not shot a .500 Magnum before, I figured Iíd appreciate their cushioning effect.

Cor-Bon became involved early in the development process for the .500 Magnum round and since I have always found Cor-Bon ammo accurate, powerful, and reliable, I ordered some of each bullet weight Cor-Bon loads in both .500 Special and .500 Magnum.  For anyone not familiar with these two loads, let me point out that the .500 Special loadings may be viewed as equivalent to .38 special rounds for the .357 Magnum or .44 Special rounds for the .44 Magnum.  They use shorter cases and are less powerful. ďLess powerfulĒ is a relative term here, though, since a 350 grain Cor-Bon .500 Special has an advertised muzzle velocity of 1350 fps and muzzle energy of 1417 ft lbs.  Basically, the .500 Special is equivalent to a high end .44 Magnum load.  The 350 grain Cor-Bon .500 Magnum produces a muzzle velocity of 1600 fps and a Muzzle Energy of 1990 ft lbs.  Cor Bon offers other weights including a 500 grain .500 Magnum load and a 275 grain DPX load.  For these initial tests, I decided to use the two 350 grain loads and the 275 grain DPX.  I figured Iíd work up to the 500 grain Magnum load next shooting session! 

A friend of mine whose John Ross PC .500 revolver has not come in yet asked me if he could take mine to the indoor range to whet his appetite for his revolver.  Since he normally shoots tighter 25 yard groups than I do I agreed as I felt that would let me see how well the guns shot.  Using the 275 grain DPX .500 Magnum load, he put three shots into about 3 inches.  With the 350 grain Cor-Bon .500 Special load, his best 25 yard group was more like 3.5 inches.  I felt both groups were good for a first firing session with a new and rather daunting gun.  I should note, too, that muzzle flip was substantial enough when my friend fired .500 Magnum loads from a hand held rest, he cut a notch in his head with the rear sight!

I got my first chance to shoot the John Ross revolver this past weekend.     I started off with 24 rounds of .500 Special to get used to the gun.  My best 5-shot off hand group (a full cylinder on the .500) at 25 yards was over 5 inches, but I was more interested in getting used to the gun.  Recoil wasnít really as bad as I expected.  I would say it was no more than that with my S&W 329 and full house .44 Magnum loads.  Muzzle flip was noticeable but not as bad as shooting my S&W 360PD with 125 grain JHPs.  I fired one cylinder specifically on plates at ranges between 25 and 35 yards to see how fast I could recover from recoil and muzzle flip and found that the Ross .500ís excellent balance helped a lot.  A friend of mine who was shooting with me tried the revolver on double action for five rounds and found the trigger pull rather heavy.  I find with revolvers that have a lot of recoil I notice it more when my hand/arm tighten up for the double action pull.  This is probably just a subjective thing, but I chose not to try DA this first session.  John had decided not to have the Performance Center do a trigger job on the Ross .500s so pull is good but not great.  I wish he would have gone for the trigger job, but it would have increased wait time for the guns and price. 

It was with some trepidation that I go ready to fire my first .500 magnum rounds.  I was using the 350 grain Cor-Bon .500 Magnum loads as I wanted to compare recoil and muzzle flip to the .500 Special with the same weight bullets.  Having learned from my friendís example, I did not try firing it from a rest but fired off hand.  Recoil was cushioned quite well by the rubber grips, but muzzle flip was enough that it came somewhere between 60 and 90 degrees from horizontal.  John Ross is a big guy and he shoots hot handloads a lot with his .500 Magnums and doesnít feel muzzle flip is an issue.  I will say that I weigh over 200 lbs and was at one time a competitive weightlifter who could military press 300 lbs and bench press 350 lbs.  My point is I have strong arms and I specifically got a good strong hold on the gun so it didnít dent my head.  With either .500 Special or .500 Magnum loads, you will know you have shot a powerful revolver.     I did not, however, find the experience unpleasant.  I think John was bang on with the idea that the blast from the muzzle brake is actually more noticeable than recoil.     

Along with the revolver and Cor-Bon ammo, I also brought along to test the prototype holster for the John Ross PC .500 Magnum which Ken Null had fabricated.  Cleverly designed so that it can be worn as a strongside hip holster or a crossdraw, the holster shows all of Ken Nullís usual craftsmanship and is designed to allow the Ross .500 to be easily carried in the field.

Iíve never been one to fire hundreds of rounds of .44 Magnum at a session and I will not be one to fire more than a couple of dozen rounds of .500 Magnum at a session, but I did enjoy myself and will shoot the 500 grain .500 loads on my next outing.  I like my John Ross Performance Center .500 Magnum a lot.  It will probably remain my only .500 Magnum, though when the black-with-stainless cylinder revolver comes in with the same serial number as my satin stainless one, I think I will have to fight temptation.  I will also have to raise some money.  Dealer price on the John Ross Performance Center .500 Magnum is $1395 plus shipping.      Along with the revolver, one gets a booklet written by John that  traces the history of big bore revolver development, his experiments with the .500 Magnum, and the  evolution of the concept for this revolver.  I read this booklet from cover to cover and was fascinated the entire time.  This is a case where I think the gun is definitely worth the price.  The Ross PC .500 Magnum was developed as a shooterís revolver, but I think the fact it has the special features and is a limited production item will also make it a collectorís item.     

To order, contact John Ross at www.john-ross.net or call him at (314) 308-8261.  I would recommend that if you want one of these revolvers, especially with a special serial number, that you call or e-mail quickly.     This is the first article to appear on the guns so you will have a head start, but I really donít think they will last long.

Other Contact Information

Cor-Bon Ammunition - www.corbon.com

Ken Null Holsters - www.klnullholsters.com

 

Leroy Thompson

 

UPDATE August 10th, 2007

John Ross adds the following note:

Leroy wished I'd had trigger jobs done at the factory.  These guns have the lightest SA trigger that the company is willing to deliver.  The Performance Center will not build a .500 with as light a trigger as they will put on a .357.  They don't want the gun to get away from a shooter that isn't ready for it to fire.

John Ross

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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

When the .500 Magnum was developed, Tom Kelly of Smith & Wesson shot this bear as part of the field testing.  The bear now greets visitors to Smith & Wesson

 

 

A craftsman in the Performance Center works on a .500 Magnum revolver, though not one of the John Ross guns.

 

 

Assembling a .500 Magnum revolver in the Performance Center; note that unlike the Ross revolvers this one uses the muzzle brake.

 

 

The forging from which the .500 Magnum revolver frames are fabricated.

 

 

Muzzle flip is noticeable with .500 Special loads, but not unpleasant.

 

 

With .500 Magnum 350 grain Cor-Bon loads, muzzle flip is more noticeable but Thompsonís head was still not in danger!

 

 

The John Ross PC .500 ready for the field with Cor-Bon .500 Magnum loads and Ken Nullís holster.

 

 

Note the sleek lines of the Ross .500 due to the half lug and 5 inch barrel.

 

 

Thompson drawing the Ross .500 Magnum from the Ken Null holster in cross draw position.  If carrying a pack, this carry method would allow ease of access to the gun.

 

 

The big .500 holes in the barrel and cylinder are impressive.

 

 

25-yard group with 275 grain Cor-Bon DPX .500 Magnum loads.

 

 

The Ross .500 Magnum with a full cylinder of .500 Magnum loads.

 

 

Note the muzzle nut instead of muzzle brake on the Ross Performance Center .500 Magnum.

 

 

Shooters gain about 100 fps due to the tighter cylinder gap on the Ross revolvers.

 

 

Cor-Bon .500 Special round to left and .500 Magnum round to right.

 

 

The Millet dovetail front sight may changed by a gunsmith to suit a specific load.

 

 

The .500 magnumís hefty cylinder is designed to handle hot handloads as well as factory loads.