John Linebaugh turned the big bore revolver world upside down in 1986 when he introduced his .500 Linebaugh five-shot revolver and the .500 Linebaugh cartridge. At a time when handgun and ammunition makers were loading brass to the max, trying to see just how fast and far they could push a bullet, Linebaugh went old school. He built a revolver around the concept that a large bullet pushed at considerably less than “magnum” velocities would actually be a better hunting round, with less recoil and therefore better accuracy, with equal or better penetration. Now 57, Linebaugh shows no signs of slowing down. Working from his home-based shop outside of Cody, Wyoming, he runs a one-man operation making various handguns for hunters, collectors and all-around handgun shooters. Recently, he finished big bore revolver Number 1,000.
So what sparked your interest in big-bore handguns and creating your own?
I moved to Wyoming in 1976. In the early 1980s, they legalized handgun hunting for big game. We couldn’t get the .454 Casull—it wasn’t in production yet—but I knew about it and the cartridge. So I started building my own guns on Dick Casull’s round. We used Abilene and Seville .45 Colt frames and some Rugers. I think we built 20 to 30 of those. We made our own .454 ammunition, too. From there, I began tinkering with bigger caliber bullets, an effort that eventually became the .500 Linebaugh.
But why create a new handgun at all? The .44 Remington Magnum had been around since the 1950’s. Why not just use that?
The .44 Magnum is like a small V-8. What’s wrong with it? Nothing. It’s a small block Chevy. Going up and down the road, it’s fine. But you put a trailer on it? It can’t do it.
Can’t do what?
From the shooting and testing I did, I found the .45 Colt, even though it has a lot less velocity, would outperform the .44 Magnum. Now, you plug the numbers in from the ballistics tables and mathematical models, and it all comes out in favor of the .44 Mag. But we just couldn’t get it to work on the range or in the field. The problem is, the faster you push a bullet, the faster it decelerates. It builds up a block of air in front of the bullet. Ultimately, less speed creates less resistance, creates more penetration. So with the .45 Colt and the .500 Linebaugh, you have about 25 percent less chamber pressure than the .44 Mag., less recoil and more control. All the testing I’ve done also found deeper penetration than the .44, too. My big bores run best at 1,200 to 1,300 feet per second. After that, you’re just gaining recoil and noise.