Not to scale -- overall length is 10 1/4 inches - roughly twice this big
If you want a .50 caliber sidearm, this 4-inch-barreled (actually 3" barrel + 1" compensator) version of the S&W 500 might be your best bet at the moment. And, it's balance is better than the 8 3/8-inch barreled version, which is about 5 inches longer. The street price is $999, just under the $1K ceiling. Ammo runs between $1.50 and $2.50 a pop, which makes practice and plinking -- if you can stand firing more than 5-10 rounds at one outing, as it's not exactly a pleasurable experience, other than the "Jazz" adrenalin kick it produces, as A-Team's "Hannibal" might say) rather expensive, but reloading can signficantly reduce that cost. It weighs about 4 lbs. loaded.
What's it good for?
It's not a practical concealed carry weapon, unless you're 6-6, weigh 300 lbs, and live in a cold region where you don't look funny wearing a coat or vest. (Wearing a vest or your shirt-tails out in warm climates is a dead giveaway that you're packing heat, if you don't dress in ludicrously baggy clothes like the younger generation.) But, it's darn near perfect for home and car-based defense. While a sight or scope can be mounted on the 4" model, the 18" version with 10 1/4-inch barrel is better for hunting, since higher velocities and longer effective range will be acheived.
Had S&W not been motivated to regain its position as the producer of the "world's most powerful handgun," it might have made a somewhat shorter cartridge which would have made the pistol a bit more pleasant to fire. But, it's not that bad with the integrated recoil compensator. And, once a shotshell round is available (haven't seen one yet), one can load the first 2-3 chambers with shotshells, hoping they'll be sufficient to deter an aggressor before he gets so close you have to drop him. The .500 S&W should propel even more pellets than a .45 Colt firing a .410 shotshell (which one can buy in a Magnum Research BFR now -- see earlier ACE post).
What are our .50 cal. handgun options?
Magnum Research has built a prototype .50 Beowulf BFR pistol, but has not yet seen fit to offer it for sale. BFRs are a bit on the large side, but the price is right around $1K. The .50 Beowulf is about the size of a .500 S&W, but is loaded to lower pressures. Since it's a proprietary cartridge by a small manufacturer, its future is less secure.
Guncrafter Industries offers a M1911 type pistol chambered for its proprietary .50 G.I. cartridge, which is about the same length as a .45 ACP. It's a beautiful pistol distinguishable from a .45 ACP by the bigger hole in the barrel, but it sells for a pricy $2900. The short cartridge enables a standard handle size and mild recoil. But, other manufacturers have yet to adopt it.
Linebaugh Custom Sixguns offers revolvers based on the .500 Linebaugh (built on a Ruger Bisley frame, with cartridges wildcatted from Winchester 45/70 and 348 brass - actually a .510 diameter, like the BMG) and (as if that wasn't enough) the .500 Linebaugh "long-Maximum," with a 1.6" long cartridge case. The prices start at $1700 and $2900, respectively, and there's a 14+ month backlog. Buffalo Bore Ammunition sells cartridges.
There might be one or two others. (I'll bet Daniel can name at least one.)
Why would anyone need or want a .50 cal. handgun?
Because a large-caliber bullet is fundamentally more potent at handgun range, all else being equal.
John Taylor proposed a "knock-down" formula:
Caliber x Bullet weight x velocity divided by 7000
Apply that formula to your favorite smaller-caliber pistol round (no matter how fast) and the .50 calibers, and see which has the larger number. High-speed, low-caliber bullets are more likely to drill a hole right through a target, rather than take it down. With smaller caliber bullets, expansion is much more critical.
There's also a psychological reason which might even preclude the necessity for the use of lethal force. When one looks at the business end of a firearm like the S&W 500, with its 1/2-inch diameter barrel and four bullets exposed in the cylinder, one is sufficiently impressed to cease and desist criminal behavior, unless one is just crazy or drugged out of his mind, in which case he may need to be immobilized ASAP, not just pricked with 32 caliber or 9mm pinholes.
HERE is what the blast from an 8" barreled 500 S&W looks like at night. The blast from a 4" barrel would be even more awesome. Who in his right mind would move toward that? (That's even better than my S&W 629-1 bulldog .44 Mag firing "dirty" powder reloads, and it is even LOUDER!)
Anti-gunners say only those who must have the most powerful handfun, for bragging rights or to compensate for other shortcomings, buy these handguns out on the edge (or even bigger caliber ones). I only know that's not my motivation.
What more could one want?
There are few cartridges one can dream up which don't have virtual equivalents in production or have been previously tried, but I'd think a high-pressure true .50 cartridge case with a length about halfway between the .50 GI and the .500 S&W would be an excellent compromise for use both for home/car defense and short-range brush hunting. If it had a rebated rim, one could have a sidearm and a semi-auto rifle in the same caliber.
Right now, a BFR chambered for .45 Colt, which can fire .410 shotshells, is at the top of my handgun wish list. But, it's a bigger, heavier gun. If somebody would develop a .50 shotshell, one could load the first 2-3 chambers with that, as a non-lethal deterent before an aggressor gets too close. (Only a crazed person would continue coming after seeing the flames and hearing the noise.)
A .500 S&W revolver or a short-barreled .50 Beowulf rifle?
That's a tough call.
The long-barreled .50 Beowulf semi-auto rifle might deliver more knock-down power out to longer ranges (I've not yet cranked out the numbers), and it does have more capacity and the possiblity of quick-loading extra magazines. If you need to take on a gang single-handedly, it's probably a better choice.
For being prepared to deal with 2-3 organized robbers at an ATM in a bad part of town at night (near which you've parked), while not risking an encounter with blue suited guys; the .500 S&W is the better choice. It's also the better choice for keeping in the drawer in your nightstand. And, the diference in short-range knock-down power is practically negligible.
For hunting or just having fun shooting out in the woods, get the 18" model with the 10 1/4 inch barrel and carrying strap and mount an appropriate scope on it. (I'm tempted to get that instead, given it's greater versatility. When driving up to an ATM, one could simply through the strap over one's shoulder, and it's legal to carry (except for excluded places in GA) with a permit. It delivers a hell of a lot more firepower, for the first five rounds, than an M4. All it needs, IMHO, is an underlug front grip (not a pistol grip -- just a rubber-type material around the lower edge of the lug, far enough away from the compensator so one's knuckles don't get cooked. [Yes, I realize that would violate some laws.] OK, while I'm wishing, how about a lightweight, quick-release stock, which one could carry on a belt loop? An underlug rail (for a light or laser) would be nice as well.
This is a heavy gun at 82oz. unloaded, and it's definitely barrel heavy, which would make it hard to hold on target. (The 8' barrel would be better in that regard.) Perhaps a wrap of the sling around the left hand would help. This year's price is around $1250, which is quite reasonable.
Not to scale -- actually 18 inches long -- about 3X this big
A big gun requires a big holster, and one can be ordered for this one (for $300):