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The Model 460–Smith & Wesson’s Best Big-Game Gun

by Layne Simpson   |  September 23rd, 2010 3

When it comes down to the best idea ever in an S&W revolver designed purely for hunting big game, Layne’s vote goes to the Model 460.


During the innocent 1950s, firearms writers used up a lot of good ink warning readers about the potential hazards of shooting the then-new Smith & Wesson Model 29 in .44 Magnum. According to one scribe, it took only a few shots to remove all traces of hide from the palm of his tender hand. A photo included in a piece written by another expert showed a Model 29 wearing toy tractor wheels; it was his way of illustrating it as more artillery piece than hunting handgun. Then there was the oft-repeated tale about somebody walking into a pawnshop and finding a slightly used Model 29 and a box of ammo with only one round missing from the original 50. One can only imagine how those writers would have reacted had the .454 Casull or .460 S&W Magnum been introduced back then rather than the .44 Magnum.

I do not recall the exact year I bought my first Model 29, but it was in the very early 1960s. Never will I forget shooting that first round in my new blue-steel beauty. With all the horror stories I had read racing through my mind, I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth, yanked the trigger, and sent 240 grains of hot lead in the general direction of a paper target. Imagine my surprise when I opened my eyes to discover all body parts still intact.

Even before I was all the way through that first cylinder of cartridges, I had become convinced that much of what I had read about the .44 Mag. consisted of 10 percent hot air and 90 percent bull droppings. My built-in ouchometer rated the big cartridge as simply fun to shoot. That first Model 29, by the way, had a 6.5-inch barrel, and I later bought the 4-inch version that I still have.

The S&W 29 was and still is a wonderful handgun. I doubt if I will ever part with the one I bought more than four decades ago, but when it comes down to the best idea ever in an S&W revolver designed purely for hunting big game, my vote goes to the Model 460. It is the gun Flash Gordon carried when we were kids, the one with the switch on the side that allowed our hero to dial in the power required to disintegrate an invader from outer space.

The switch is missing from the S&W revolver, but various levels of power can be dialed in by selecting among three different cartridges. When paper is to be punched and tin cans absolutely must be ventilated, you simply gather up a supply of light-recoiling .45 Colt ammo and spend an entire Saturday afternoon having more fun than you thought possible. Then when deer, elk, or moose season rolls around, you slip five rounds of .454 Casull or .460 Magnum ammo into the cylinder and head for the hills. Truth of the matter is, the Model 460 is not a bad choice for use on deer when it is charged with CorBon .45 Colt +P ammo.

When shooting the first round of .460 Mag. ammo in a Performance Center Model 460, I did not close my eyes, grit my teeth, or yank on the trigger. I did none of those things simply because I had previously calculated the level of recoil generated by the cartridge in that gun and compared it with the recoil of my .44 Mag. and .454 Casull revolvers–all three loaded to maximum velocity with 300-grain bullets.

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Smith & Wesson Model 460

Model: 460
Purpose: Hunting, target, personal carry
Manufacturer: Smith & Wesson
2100 Roosevelt Ave.
Springfield, MA 01104
800-331-0852
www.smith-wesson.com
Action type: Double-action/single-action
Cylinder capacity: 5 rounds
Frame material: Stainless steel
Cylinder material: Stainless steel
Caliber: .460 S&W Magnum
Barrel length: 2.75, 5, 8.38, 10.5, 12 inches
Rifling: Six grooves; 1:100- 1:20 gain twist
Sights: Fully adjustable rear; red ramp front (5-inch barrel);
interchageable front (8.38- and 10.5-inch barrels); removable Patridge front (12-inch barrel)
Finish: Satin stainless
Safety: Internal self-engaging hammerblock
Trigger type: Double-action/ single-action
Grip material: Syntheic
Overall length: 11.25 inches (5-inch barrel); 18 inches (12-inch barrel)
Height: 6 1/4 inches
Width: 1 7/8 inches
Weight, empty: 62.5 ounces (5-inch barrel); 80 ounces (12-inch barrel)
MSRP: $1,280 (5-, 8.38-inch barrel);
$1,469 (2.75-inch barrel)
$1,541 (10-inch barrel)
$1,643 (12-inch barrel)


According to Layne, the S&W Performance Center Model 460 (top) is purely for hunting; the 5-inch Model 460 (bottom) is a better holster-carry gun for personal protection in bear country.

The Model 29 wears its factory open sights, while the other two are equipped with scopes–an old Bausch & Lomb 4X on the Casull and a new Nikon 2.5-8X on the Model 460. According to my trusty calculator, the Model 460 with its 12-inch barrel churns up 34.5 foot-pounds of recoil compared to 25.6 ft-lbs for the Model 29 and 32.5 ft-lbs for the Casull single-action. In other words, when those three guns are compared, the .460 Mag. cartridge generates 35 percent more recoil than the .44 Mag. but only six percent more than the .454 Casull.

Gun weight makes a big difference here. At 5.9 pounds, the 12-inch .460 is 3.1 pounds heavier than the .44 and a couple pounds heavier than the .454 revolver.

After wringing out the Performance Center Model 460, I turned my attention to a standard-production gun with a 5-inch barrel. Due to its weight of 3.75 pounds, full-power .460 Mag. loads in that gun quickly got my attention, but they were tolerable as long as I limited each range session to no more than 50 rounds or so. Its rubber grip increases the comfort factor over one made of a harder material, and the PAST shooting glove I used soaked up its share of recoil as well.

Shooter comfort with both guns is improved dramatically by shooting .454 Casull ammo. Recoil drops to 33.7 ft-lbs for the 5-inch gun and only 21.5 ft-lbs for the 12-incher. More to the point, when .454 Casull ammo is used, the 5-inch Model 460 with open sights generates about the same level of recoil as the 7.5-inch Casull revolver wearing a scope, and the 12-inch Performance Center gun generates less recoil than my 4-inch Model 29. A switch to .45 Colt ammo really transforms both guns into powder puffs, even when CorBon +P recipes are used.

The ability to digest off-the-shelf ammunition ranging in power and recoil from light enough to shoot all day long to heavy enough to handle any game animal in North

America is what makes the Model 460 one of the all-time great ideas in handguns. I say this not because the .460 Mag. cartridge outperforms the .454 Casull by leaps and bounds, because it doesn’t. When both are loaded to the same chamber pressures, the differences in the velocities they produce are not exactly earthshaking. Therefore, the gun and not the cartridge is what makes the idea so great simply because its cylinder is long enough to handle cartridges loaded with pointed bullets, and this includes the .454 Casull and the .460 Mag. Switching to more streamlined projectiles flattens the trajectories of both cartridges enough to allow a hunter to place a bullet into the vital area of a deer out to about 225 yards with absolutely no holdover.

And there is one other important thing as well: As handguns capable of handling the .454 Casull cartridge go, the S&W Model 460 tops them all in shooter comfort. If you have long wished for a revolver in .454 Casull that’s actually fun to shoot, your cake is on the table. The fact that it will also handle slightly more powerful .460 Mag. ammo is just another layer of icing on that cake.

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Velocity Comarison

Bullet Powder Velocity(fps)
(Type) (Grs.) 12-inch Barrel 5-inch Barrel* SD ES
.460 S&W MAGNUM
Barnes 200-gr. XPB H110 47.0 2418 1962 115 164
Nosler 260-gr. Partition HG W296 46.0 1881 1669 64 91
Barnes 275-gr. XPB Lil’Gun 46.0 1752 1674 44 63
Sierra 300-gr. JSP Trail Boss 11.0 657 589 27 54
Swift 300-gr. A-Frame H4227 40.0 1602 1484 55 78
Swift 300-gr. A-Frame Lil’Gun 44.0 1634 1538 51 73
CorBon 200-gr. XPB Factory load 2254 2135 17 25
Hornady 200 gr. SST Factory load 2168 1984 29 28
CorBon 275-gr. XPB Factory load 1726 1644 24 33
Federal 275-gr. Xpander Factory load 1678 1551 47 68
CorBon 300-gr. JSP Factory load 1628 1552 50 72
CorBon 325-gr. BC Factory load 1597 1472 12 22
CorBon 395-gr. Hard Cast Factory load 1578 1458 26 38
.454 CASULL
CorBon 265-gr. BC Factory load 1710 1628 28 52
CorBon 285-gr. BC Factory load 1662 1534 24 45
CorBon 300-gr. JSP Factory load 1539 1470 8 20
CorBon 320-gr. Penetrator Factory load 1562 1503 17 28
CorBon 360-gr. Penetrator Factory load 1484 1331 22 49
.454 COLT
CorBon 200-gr. JHP Factory load 995 751 21 46
CorBon 265-gr. BCHP +P Factory load 1308 1165 27 65
CorBon 300-gr. JSP +P Factory load 1264 1126 11 28
*Including compensator; actual barrel length is 4.06 inches.
Notes: Velocity is the average of five rounds measured 12 feet from the .460 Magnum guns’ muzzles. CorBon cases and Federal 215 primers were used in .460 Magnum handloads. All 460 Magnum powder charges are maximum for the guns used and should be reduced by 10 percent for starting loads.

  • http://conner1@cox.net michael conner

    can i really shoot 454 casull load in my 460 magnum xvr s&w?

    • Dave

      yep

      • gary

        i own both the 500 and the 460 to me the 460 with hornady 200 sst has abigger kick than the 500 pushing a 375 gr barnes xpt at 1700 aprx i have shot 440 gr's out of the 500 not bad wouldnt shoot them all day Just like the 200 gr sst 460 when i shoot i normally shoot 50 rounds per gun then go to my 44 performance center light hunter C like shooting a peelet gun after those 2 monsters

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