Five Of The Most Powerful Handguns In The World

It seems as though my past post on hunting dinosaurs is still causing some to consider the premise.  A quote from an email I received …

“So you have written about which rifles you would use to shoot dinosaurs.  What sidearms would you carry?”

Handguns fill many roles, but their main purpose is to provide a portable, go-anywhere self-defense tool.  Long guns will do better in just about every other job.

Still, it is prudent to consider what will happen if your long gun fails in some way.  Best to have a handgun holstered at your hip in case you really, really need it.

leather flap holster with magazine carrier

Since the premise is to go toe-to-toe with extremely dangerous game, it would be a good idea to invest in high powered handguns that pack a respectable punch.  But where is the line between “powerful” and merely ordinary?

The most common military and police caliber in the free world today is the 9mm Parabellum, and a standard pressure load with a standard weight bullet produces around 360 ft/lbs of muzzle energy.  A cartridge much admired in the United States amongst shooting sports enthusiasts is the .45 ACP, and it produces around 395 ft/lbs of muzzle energy.

And so we have a baseline for ordinary, which is a handgun producing a bit less than 400 ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle.  If we want to protect ourselves against large and dangerous game animals, we will have to do better than that.

(Please click on the handgun name for the Wikipedia page discussing that particular gun, and click on the ft/lbs numbers for ballistic information.)

Tokarev TT Pistol ( 511 ft/lbs)

worn tt-33 with holster

When the Communists took Russia over after WWI, they looked to modernizing the armed forces.  Revolvers, which had been the mainstay of most officer sidearms, were replaced by the Tokarev starting in 1930.  Millions were produced over the next 25 years, manufactured not only in Russia but also in just about every other country with a Communist government.  A large number of these firearms can be found on the surplus market for a surprisingly low price, with examples of perfectly functional guns going for less than $300 USD (£200).

This design has earned a reputation of extreme reliability and ruggedness, which sounds like just the thing if one is going to go running around in a sweltering jungle during a dinosaur hunt.  Most of the reliability comes from the bottleneck cartridge, a shape which is much less prone to jamming.

762x25 tokarev cartridges

The gun fires a small .30 caliber bullet at very high speed, which has advantages and drawbacks.

The advantage is that the bullet will have very good penetration, so the chances are good that the internal organs will be reached.  The disadvantage is that the hole punched into the hide of the dinosaur will be small, so it will take longer for the animal to pass out from blood loss.  Glass half full, or half empty?

Impressive though the performance of the Tokarev might be, there are better choices out there.  The main advantage is the low cost, so an eager safari hunter can still afford a powerful sidearm even after spending tens of thousands on a fancy big game rifle.

.357 Magnum (535 ft/lbs)

model 686 357 magnum revolver

An extremely versatile revolver cartridge, the .357 Magnum has a well deserved reputation as an effective self defense and hunting caliber.  Although entirely subjective, it is my personal favorite when it comes to an all around self defense choice.  This is because it seems to be right on the edge of what most shooters can handle so far as noise and muzzle flip is concerned.  A little more oomph, and the .357 Magnum would be just a teensy too intimidating for the majority of new shooters who are looking for a beefed up handgun.

Another advantage is that there is a very wide selection of factory loads to choose from.  The performance of the gun can be tweaked by choosing the right ammo for the job.  Hunting, self defense, improved accuracy, even armor piercing.  Carry a few speedloaders at your belt and load up for the situation.

The main drawback is that the cartridge is pretty much for wheelguns, a few notable exceptions aside.  This can cause some frustration for people who are fans of the increased firepower that autoloaders bring to the table.


.44 Magnum  (741 ft/lbs)

44 magnum colt anaconda

Marketed in the 1970’s as “The Most Powerful Handgun In The World!”, the .44 Magnum gained fame as being the favorite of a fictional police detective.


Size and power is what distinguished this caliber, and people drawn to that metric soon became dissatisfied with standard loads which only delivered 150% of the performance found in a .357 Magnum.  Specialty ammo from boutique manufacturers responded to the demand by offering ever larger bullets being pushed to ever faster speeds.  The pic below shows one such offering, a load which produces over 1600 ft/lbs of muzzle energy, and which can only be safely fired in selectively large and overbuilt models of this already large and overbuilt gun.

buffalo bore +p+ 44 magnum load

This means the .44 Magnum is certainly powerful enough to harvest any game found in North America, even if I would strongly recommend that one be very careful about shot placement if tackling a grizzly bear.  It would certainly be well suited for a dinosaur safari, providing that one carefully selects the model of gun and ammo which is used.

The biggest drawback to the .44 Magnum that I have found is that the noise, muzzle blast, and muzzle flip is rather sharp.  This can be intimidating to most, and it renders the gun unusable for those who are sensitive to really loud and energetically bouncing guns.  Before one decides on a .44 Magnum one should try as many models out as possible at the range, carefully monitoring their own reactions to see if they flinch excessively when the thing goes bang.

Even if you should be one of the lucky people who are generally immune to anxieties of noise and recoil, the power the caliber brings to the table means that a .44 Magnum is rather a slow shooter.  Follow up shots are not what I would call difficult, it just takes an extra second or two to get the sights back in line when compared to something with a bit less heft.  Better not miss when the velociraptor comes charging out of the bush.

velociraptor dog costume



.500 S&W Magnum  (2477 ft/lbs)

500 magnum

The .500 Magnum was introduced in 2003, the design concept being to produce a handgun that was as powerful as a standard big game hunting rifle.  The muzzle energy was more than 2400 ft/lbs, and it rang a bell.  Isn’t that about the same as a .303 Lee-Enfield rifle?  Why, yes it is!

I think you already know what I am going to say about this offering.  Really large, really heavy, really expensive.  But if you can afford an elephant gun, the money spent on handguns of this sort won’t break the budget.

Would I ever carry a .500 Magnum?  Only if I was hunting something really, really dangerous like dinosaurs or water buffalo.  If I was going after something that had such elaborate ambush instincts, then I would probably make sure I was equipped with the most effective firearms I could afford.

Honorable Mention : Howdah Pistol

19th century howdah pistol 1

19th century howdah pistol 2

The name refers to rifles and shotguns which were cut down to handgun size.  The idea was that they provided emergency self defense when attacked by particularly large and extremely dangerous game, such as tigers.  The name “howdah” refers to the platform strapped to the back of an elephant, which is where tiger hunts were conducted back in the day.

british officers in a howdah being attacked by tiger

It is presently illegal to cut long guns down to such short stature in America, but I seem to remember that the Jurassic Park movies all took place on an island outside of the continental United States.  Perhaps a loophole in the law could be found.

The reason why a ft/lbs number isn’t given with this entry is because that would depend on what gun is shortened to make the howdah pistol, and what kind of ammunition is loaded.  I would think that a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with deer slugs would be best for this sort of work, tearing really impressive holes in any aggressive carnivore dinos and providing plenty of stopping power.  The ballistic table below should give some food for thought.

shotgun slug ballistic table

Final Thoughts

I’ve discussed a few really impressive handguns in the essay above.  Note, if you will, that even the most powerful are weak and puny compared to the big game rifles that I recommend for putting down the extinct lizards which escape from fictional amusement parks.  This is because, as was also mentioned above, an average long gun will outperform even exceptional handguns just about every time.  The best advice I can give for such a thought experiment is for every individual to choose the largest and most powerful handgun that they find manageable, and pray that they never need one.

19 thoughts on “Five Of The Most Powerful Handguns In The World

  1. I bet the S&W .500 has one hell of a kick. Even though it’s a revolver I bet you can’t get shots off at any rate better than one per about 4 seconds or even worse.

    I think I’d prefer your .357 magnum with a pocket full of quickloads. Maybe not so powerful but it’s going to have a lot faster fire rate!

      • I agree with you 100% . The 500 Calibre would take away from rapid fire exchange however whatever you hit with that 500 Calibre would no doubt be dead “Lol”

        • The S&W 500 really isn’t that bad. Almost all are ported to help mitigate recoil and a rapid follow up shot is not that difficult if you put the practice in. Just look at Jerry Miculek, he can place all rounds accurately and dump the wheel super fast. Just takes practice and lots of money!!
          454 Cassull, 480 Ruger, 45/70 Ruger Blackhawk plus many more have a pretty nasty bite.

  2. Several years ago I purchased a Thompson chambered in .45-70 Govt. I had plans of going hunting for Russian Boar. That never happened…but with a 3X9 Burris Pistol Scope on it, I was capable of putting five shots into a two inch circle at 100 yards.
    For around four years, I shot it a lot and I loved it. But that gun and cartridge (300 grain Hollow Point) was about the upper limit of my desire to fire a heavy recoiling handgun. I am sure it would outperform any of the five, if you are okay with it being a single shot.

  3. The .454 Casul is in the similar range.

    One thing on the .500 S&W’s – the muzzle breaks are *key*. The early, plain models are the ones you see flying back over people’s heads. The newer ones, with the good breaks, are much easier to shoot. Having shot one I recommend that everyone take their first shot pulling it down as hard as possible into a rest. I did that despite assurances it wasn’t needed. They were right, but better safe than sorry. Felt a lot like shooting a 12ga. I’m a big guy and leaning into the gun it rocked me back each shot. But it was straight back, so it was easy to get back on target and not painful.

    • Knirir

      I remember seeing that Webley in the York Castle Museum decades ago. I was on a school trip and said something to the effect of “OMG look at the bore on that!”. My school chums gave me that look that is reserved for gun nuts (by those who just don’t get it). I have looked online in the York Museum website and cannot see it listed as an exhibit now. Par for the times I suppose.

      Also, that’s an excellent website you have guided us too – thanks.

      Always been into guns and always will.


      • Thanks, JonT.

        Are you in the UK? If so then there are still plenty of opportunities for shooting, particularly if you like antique guns.

        • Hi Knirirr

          Yes I am in the Uk. I used to shoot pistols, rifles and black powder revolvers before the ban. It’s just that the firearms we are now allowed to have don’t really float my boat that much.

          If you are enjoying using carbines, long guns and black powder then all power to you!!!

          Enjoy it while you can.


          • I am indeed enjoying those, and I have even managed to obtain a modern double-action nitro revolver by means of it being muzzle loading.
            There don’t seem to be any signs of further restrictions yet, but who knows what delights will be in store the next time some politicians decide to make an example of us.

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