Sometimes you just feel like a refrigerator during a power outage: in need of more power.

If you’ve spent a bit of time staring at the offerings of your gun cabinet of late and started to feel the desire for more oomph, you may have found yourself wondering…

Is this the winner…keep reading to find out?

“What is the most powerful handgun you can buy?”

If that’s where you’re at, you’re not interested in the peewees of the handgun world. You have to delve into the subject of the big boys.

And when it comes to the baddest of the bad, read on to find out who is the (not so clear) winner.

Table of Contents


How Do We Judge Power?

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the phrase “most powerful handgun,” I think of something similar to what The Joker had.

I mean, if it can stop Batman, that has to be powerful, right?

You, however, may automatically think about something that can travel through three consecutive grizzly bears.

The point is that people tend to have different ideas of what power is.

For our purposes here, I’m mainly looking at the pounds per square inch of pressure generated within the handgun. Yeah, we could focus on muzzle energy too, and we’ll tackle that, but we’re going to hold up the psi as our gold standard.

The Most Powerful Handgun Is…

Smith & Wesson Model 460 earns the title in this competition.

If we’re looking at the pounds per square inch produced within the weapon itself, the undisputed champ is the Smith & Wesson Model 460.

Smith and Wesson is more than happy to admit this as well. According to their own site, it has the highest muzzle velocity (around 2,000 fps) of any revolver on the planet.

When you squeeze the trigger of a Model 460, you’re looking at internal pressures of approximately 65,000 psi — that’s insane.

You’re typically looking at around 25,000 psi for most magnum revolver loads. There are higher ones out there, to be sure, but to make the leap up to over 60,000 psi is significant.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find any other handgun out there that comes even close (within less than 2000 psi) to generating the same pressures that it does.

A .460 XVR revolver in comparison to a .357 Magnum Model 66. (Photo: Smith and Wesson)

The .460 S&W Magnum usually averages around 2,200 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, depending on barrel length.


at Kygunco

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

History of the Smith & Wesson Model 460

In the early 2000s, Smith and Wesson was upset that they no longer held the title of producing the most powerful handgun in the world.

Left to right: .460 S&W Magnum, .454 Casull, .44 Magnum, .45ACP, .22LR (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Herb Belin, the Handgun Production Manager at S&W, reached out to Cor-Bon at the 2002 SHOT Show. The idea was that Belin wanted to know if it was possible to create something that could surpass the .480 Ruger and retake the throne.

Cor-Bon worked on some casings, sent them over to Belin, and then Belin had his guys use what is known as SolidWorks software to make a cylinder that could handle the new casing.

This allowed Smith and Wesson to skip the prototype phase and create a finished .500 S&W Magnum on the first try. Part of the end result was the computer’s creation of the very first X Frame cylinder in 2003.

Smith and Wesson wrestled the crown back from Ruger and has been wearing it ever since.

The .460 soon followed, and the cartridge owes much of its existence to its predecessor, the .500 S&W Magnum.

What About the Smith & Wesson Model 500?

When you first read the headline of this article, you may have thought that the Smith & Wesson 500 Magnum was the answer. And to a lot of people, this is it.

This bad boy is longer than the full-size riflescope mounted on top of it.

(We’ve got an awesome review, by the way.)

This gun can handle anything from 275 to 440-grain loads. The first 275-grain load ever created for this weapon had 1700 foot-pounds of muzzle energy and 1665 fps muzzle velocity. The 440-grain load had 2580 foot-pounds of muzzle energy and a 1,625 fps muzzle velocity.

As expected, that gives you a lot of power.  

Pressure-wise, the Smith & Wesson Model 500 comes in at around 60,000 psi.

If you’re short on time, here are the results from his ballistic gel test:

Gun Grain Bullet Type Distance Traveled in Gel
Model 460 300 Hollow point 27.5”
Model 460 360 Hard cast 64+”
Model 460 250 Extreme penetrator 36”
500 S&W Magnum 350 Hollow point 20.5”
500 S&W Magnum 440 Hard cast 64+”
500 S&W Magnum 350 Extreme penetrator 47.5”
500 S&W Magnum 500 Flat point 36”

at Kygunco

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Triple Action Thunder

This was actually my first suspicion of who the clear winner would be.

The Triple Action Thunder is something of a novelty gun created by a company that’s no longer in existence.

First released at SHOT Show 2004, this single-shot space gun fires the mighty .50 BMG round.

It almost gives off that Star Wars blaster vibe.

It featured an empty weight of 12 pounds, measured 16.9 inches overall, with a 13.2-inch barrel, muzzle brake, and “nitrogen recoil shock absorption system” to help keep your hands attached.

Sure, the infamous Israeli Desert Eagle fires a .50-caliber bullet, but that’s a specially designed .50-caliber round specifically for handguns.

The Triple Action Thunder shoots the same cartridge that has been used to make some of the longest-recorded sniper shots in history.

.50 BMG

But, alas, .50 BMG in a rifle typically produces a pressure right around 55,000 psi.

That would mean the Triple Action Thunder doesn’t make the cut here, though it’s still a rather impressive (if somewhat useless) pistol.

For, what I believe, are expected reasons, the Triple Action Thunder never really took off.

The company couldn’t find anybody willing to manufacture them and was subsequently forced to close its doors. Despite their business failures, however, they did succeed in creating a noticeable piece of gun history.

Final Thoughts

So TL;DR…The Smith & Wesson Model 500 takes the cake as the most powerful handgun on the market with the most PSI behind it.

S&W 500 All View
S&W Model 500

What are your thoughts on these power hand cannons? Let us know in the comments below. Still want more power? We’ve got you covered with our article on the Most Overpowered Guns and Cartridges!

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