Back in 1971, Clint Eastwood took on a new role—one that assured his transition from westerns to more contemporary settings—and as San Francisco police detective “Dirty” Harry Callahan he uttered the famous passage, “This is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”
However, Callahan wasn’t actually correct, because a year earlier, the .44 Remington Magnum was actually eclipsed in size and power by the .454 Casull round. In the years since many there have been even more powerful handguns—or should we say hand cannons—to come onto the market.
Thompson Center Contender Pistol
Introduced in 1967, the .45-70 is also technically a bit more powerful than Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum but the confusion could be in that it is also available in .223 Remington, .410 Shotgun and .45 Colt. Also, as a competition and hunting weapon The Thompson Center Contender isn’t something a police detective would carry even if it had the stopping power to bring down any street punks.
Ruger Super Blackhawk
Visually the Ruger Super Blackhawk looks like the type of sidearm that Eastwood might have carried in one of his later westerns—even if this hand cannon only made its debut in this century. It is a six-shot, single-action revolver variant of the classic Ruger Blackhawk but with all the hitting power that comes with the .480 Ruger, the largest-diameter production revolver cartridge at the time of its release.
Desert Eagle 50
This gun, which looks like a Colt 1911 on steroids, has become iconic thanks to its frequent appearances in movies and video games. The handgun is also notable for its gas-operated reloading mechanism, which is similar to one found in semi-automatic rifles. The gas-operated action actually assists in the efficient reloading of the larger rounds.
Weighing in at about 4.5 pounds, it is a massive weapon—and about the biggest downside is that even its oversized frame can only hold seven to nine rounds, but each of those .50 caliber shots is likely to make the point very loud and clear.
Smith & Wesson Model 500
If Dirty Harry were to be made today, Detective Callahan might be staring down a punk with the Smith & Wesson Model 500, the gun that has earned its reputation for being the most powerful handgun on the planet in recent times. While even the Model 500 won’t make Harry’s Model 29 .44 Remington Magnum seem “small,” the Smith & Wesson is simply massive, measuring fifteen inches in length and weighing in at 4.5 pounds. However, shorter barrels are available for those who believe a hand cannon like this one are ideal for concealed carry.
Pfeifer-Zeliska .600 Nitro Express Revolver
It doesn’t get much bigger than the .600 Nitro Express cartridge, which was designed in 1903 by the upscale firearms manufacturer/retailer Holland & Holland during the peak of the big game hunting era. Austrian-based custom gun maker Pfeifer Waffen was commissioned by a Swiss client (Zeliska) to make a thirteen-pound revolver specifically for the round. Obviously, such a handgun wouldn’t be legal in the United States, but apparently Swiss law allows for ownership of such oversized novelty weapons.
The resulting Pfeifer-Zeliska .600 Nitro Express Revolver takes the large caliber to the extreme—or almost. For those who want a slightly reduced package, Pfeifer Waffen has manufactured similar handguns in other calibers, including .458 Winchester Magnum.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.