Gary Reeder's Ultimate .500

A Gun Too Far, At Least For Some
; .

If the old adage, “bigger is better,” is true, how far can it go? The answer may be near. I think the late great Elmer Keith originated the art of handgun hunting. At least my first exposure to what a handgun was capable of at extended ranges was reading Elmer’s accounts in gun magazines back in the 1950s.

Elmer had much to do with planting the seed that would make a life-long handgun enthusiast out of me, and I’ve owned and tested hundreds of handguns from .22s to the big ones. These have included the .454s, .475s, .480s, .50 AEs, .45-70s and even a custom stretch-frame single action in .450 Marlin (the .45-70s all equipped with muzzle brakes, as was the .450 Marlin). And while I rank some of these as charter members of the “wrist rocket” fraternity, they were all out-rocketed by the subject at hand.

This is the .500 S&W Magnum cartridge using a case originally developed for the project by Jamison International, Inc., of Sturgis, S.D., and loaded by COR-BON/Dakota Ammunition to produce over 2,300 foot pounds of energy.

Shortly after I first heard the rumor about the then new .500 S&W Magnum cartridge a year ago, my friend, custom pistol-smith Gary Reeder told me he was building a revolver chambered for it. This was not a double action swing-out cylinder model such as S&W was going to introduce, but a single action revolver using Gary’s own mid-length stainless steel stretch frame.

Patterned after the Ruger Super Blackhawk frame, the 5-shot cylinder of Reeder’s mid-length frame is 2.2-inches long in order to accommodate cartridges such as the .454 Casull and longer. Gary builds custom big-bore revolvers on this and standard length frames using 5-shot cylinders made from 17-4PH aircraft grade stainless steel. The prototype .500 S&W Magnum caliber gun he was working on would be constructed using a Ruger Bisley grip frame.

Reeder and I share the opinion that the Ruger Bisley grip frame is about the best design available for controlling heavy recoil, and I own three custom Ruger Bisleys. Far superior to the original Colt Bisley grip in my opinion, the Ruger Bisley design distributes recoil over a wider area while putting the hand as high as possible on the gun. In the case of the .500 S&W Magnum cartridge, it would need every advantage it could get.

Gary shipped me the new pistol (Prototype No. Three) before the SHOT Show, but had no quantity of ammunition to shoot in it. In fact, after getting the chamber dimensions, Reeder had a reamer custom made to specifications and did his testing using a handful of .500 S&W Magnum brass he reloaded over and over. At the time, Gary didn’t have a single round of factory .500 S&W Magnum ammunition. Getting that would be my job.

At the SHOT Show I told Peter Pi, President of COR-BON Bullet Company, about the gun and that I was in need of .500 S&W Magnum ammunition with which to test it. Peter was 100-percent behind my project, but said there would be a delay, as every round of .500 S&W Magnum the company was loading was going directly to S&W for testing. COR-BON has partnered with S&W on this project, and is the exclusive producer of the .500 S&W Magnum ammunition. When I returned home, I photographed the gun and sat back to wait for the ammunition.


The Ultimate .500

Called the Gary Reeder Ultimate .500, the gun was indeed a sight to behold. Equipped with a Match grade, .50-caliber barrel 8.5-inches in length, this big wheelgun uses the Ruger Maximum length ejector, and a heavy duty cylinder pin that locks into the underside of the barrel. Made without flutes, the big cylinder is engraved on one side with an African bull elephant, and on the opposite side a North American bull elk. A tasteful touch of floral engraving adorned both sides of the frame with “.500 S&W Magnum” engraved on the frame’s left side. The middle left side of the barrel reads “Gary Reeder Ultimate .500”.

Perfectly fitted to the Ruger Bisley grip frame is a set of what at first I was certain were buffalo horn grips, but are in fact black micarta. These are nicely rounded on the bottom corners as is the butt. Oh, yes, and these grips were smooth. All grip frame screws were hardened Allen head, and the gun used Gary Reeder’s “Set-Back” Bisley style trigger that remains to the rear like the original Colt. The gun’s finish was a fine beaded matte stainless steel.

While I continued to wait for the ammunition, I spoke with a couple of friends who had traveled to Smith & Wesson to preview the new .500 S&W Magnum revolver. One of them had declined not to shoot the big revolver at all, and the other, Roy Huntington, Editor of American Handgunner, had that unmistakable tone in his voice when he talked about firing it. A retired police officer, Roy is also a very accomplished pistol shooter, so when I heard that tone, I read between the lines.


Katz Safari Kit impressed Johnston as being a lot of capability in
a compact package. Below: The Reeder .500 Ultimate is finely finished
and handsome too, with etched scrolls and game scenes.

.500 S&W loads tested included (left to right) a 275-grain Barnes
X-Bullet at 1,665 fps, a 400-grain JSP at 1,675 fps and a 440-grain
hard cast flat point at 1,625 fps.

Katz Safari Kit

When I mentioned the Ultimate .500 to Keith Derkatz, of Katz Knives, he shipped me his brand new Safari Kit in case I had the opportunity to hunt with the gun. A compact, lightweight game dressing kit, the Safari is totally modular and of the highest quality. Just two leather belt sheaths accommodate the basic knife plus five accessory blades and saws along with an axe and an adapter plate, all using the same handle. Made of XT-80 stainless steel, the kit will last a lifetime.

When the COR-BON .500 S&W Magnum ammunition arrived, it came in three bullet styles. These were the Barnes-X 275-grain hollowpoint at 1,665 fps and 1,688 foot pounds, the 400-grain JSP at 1,675 fps and 2,500 foot pounds, and a 440-grain Flat Point Lead (FPL) Hard Cast Performance bullet at 1,625 fps and 2,580 foot pounds. This last bullet was made especially for the cartridge by Cast Performance Bullets, Inc., of Riverton, Wyo. Bullets weighing 400 grains and 440 grains at over 1,600 fps are above .45-70 performance from a rifle, and I couldn’t help but observe the Reeder Ultimate .500 has no muzzle brake… Hmm.


Baptism Of Fire

Knowing I was in for a big whack, I started with the “light” COR-BON load, the 275-grain Barnes X bullet. After five rounds, I never again fired the gun without some kind of a glove. Although recoil with the big wheelgun wasn’t horrible with the 275-grain loads, it not only rotated upward to vertical, but also came back with the trigger guard slamming into the top of my middle finger. The trigger was set at two pounds, and while that didn’t bother me, two problems became obvious. No muzzle brake and smooth grips.

As I was about to leave for a prairie dog hunt in Kansas, I packed up the Ultimate .500 with plenty of ammo, and headed across the border to Bird City northeast of Goodland. When we stopped at a prairie dog town on the first day, I took out the .500. Although the other shooters all admired it, none of them wanted to shoot it, so I put on a pair of leather gloves and fired five shots using a two hand hold at one of the little pests about 90 yards distant.

Although he sat on his mound the entire time, I didn’t hit him, and five shots were enough for me, so I put the gun away, my finger hurting once again.

The next time I fired the Ultimate .500 was during our club’s annual shooting fair, and to my surprise, I had at least a dozen guys who wanted to try it out. For all but three of these men, one shot was enough. However, the experience wasn’t as horrific as it could have been, as I had found some-what of a solution for the problem of those smooth black micarta grips, and that was to wear rubber surgical type gloves.

While the thin rubber gloves did prevent the gun from rotating in the hand, it now took the hand, wrist, and arm with it. Here the 275-grain loads were relatively manage-able, but every time I fired one of the 400-grainers I thought the gun’s muzzle was going to hit me in the forehead, and the 440-grain loads were measurably worse. What’s more, after every five rounds or so, the grip frame screws had to be re-tightened.


Where’s Elmer When You Need Him?

After volunteering to shoot the gun to get photographs of it in recoil, our club president, Mike Knight, fired five rounds of 440-grain .500 S&W Magnum. An avid competitive shooter, hunter and big game outfitter, Mike is no stranger to big guns, and he never winced during the ordeal, but when he removed the glove to inspect his middle finger it was already turning purple.

Most of those who fired the Gary Reeder Ultimate .500 that day hit what they aimed at out to about 50 yards. These targets consisted mostly of small rocks in the dirt impact bank. The big gun hit for me too, including shooting one round of each bullet weight at an old “pepper popper” at about 20 yards to see what the bullets would do to 3/8-inch cold rolled steel plate.

Here the 275-grain Barnes X bullet flattened out leaving only a slight dimple. However, the 400-grain JSP left a 3/16-inch deep crater, and the 440-grain cast lead flat-point left a crater more than 1/4 inch deep and a large bulge on the rear of the popper. By this time, my middle finger was bright red. We all agreed that the gun kills in front and wounds to the rear, and put it away.

Groups? When I recovered, I got up my nerve to shoot the Ultimate .500 for accuracy, this time with a heavy rubber glove with the index finger portion cut off for my trigger finger. At 25 yards, all three loads produced 5-shot groups of from 2 1⁄2- to 4-inches hand-held from the bench, but since the groups opened up as the bullet weight increased, I’ve no doubt that I’m partially to blame. I’m also sure the gun would do better from a machine rest.

The Gary Reeder Ultimate .500 would also do better with a muzzle brake and a set of rubber grips, but no one yet makes such grips for the Ruger Bisley frame, and I don’t know why. This is just what these big guns need for a lot of shooting.

Reeder’s Ultimate .500 is a true master-piece, as are all Gary’s custom guns. And some day I’d like to test another Ultimate .500 with a muzzle brake — strap it on my belt with my Katz Safari Kit — and go shoot something really big.


Caliber: .500 S&W Magnum
Muzzle Velocity: 1,650 fps
Barrel Length: 81⁄4″ (tested)
Overall Length: 141⁄4″
Weight: 50 ounces
Capacity: 5 rounds
Safety: Ruger transfer bar
Sights: Gold bead front with Ruger fully adjustable rear
Grips: Black Micarta (tested)
Finish: Matte stainless steel

Subscribe To GUNS Magazine

Get More Revolver Content Every Week!

Sign up for the Wheelgun Wednesday newsletter here: