500 Linebaugh Maximum

45 Colt, 480 Ruger, 500 Max, 525 gr. WFN
45 Colt with 335 gr. WFN,
480 Ruger with 460 gr. WFN
500 Maximum with 525 gr. WFN,
and a .511" 525 gr. WFN.

Sometime in the spring of 2002, I saw an ad for John Linebaugh's Second Annual Sixgun Seminar. Since we were already planning a trip to Cody, it didn't take long to send him a check. I didn't know what to expect, but I knew it would be a chance to handle and shoot some of those guns I'd been dreaming about for years, and more importantly to meet some of the finest people around. I had just recently started participating in the Sixgunner.com discussion board and John Taffin's Campfire, and was looking forward to a chance to put faces with names.

That weekend was great. I met some great folks, handled some fine guns, and fulfilled a dream I'd had since reading Ross Seyfried's first article on the subject at 10 years old -- I got to handle and shoot a 500 Linebaugh. By the time it was over, it was a foregone conclusion: I was going to have a 500 of my own.

I don't really recall how I came to the decision to build the 500 Long as opposed to the 1.4" version, but some good-natured ribbing from Dad might have played a role. I knew I didn't have any need for the Maximum case, but of course I didn't need a 500 at all -- that's a word I try not to use when discussing guns. This might be a good place to point out that two tenths of an inch extra length, with a 435 gr. WFN seated to the cannelure, ammounts to a whopping 43% increase in useable case capacity. The more I thought about it, I was able to convince myself the 500 Long did have a couple of things going for it. First, it would allow me to match the proven performance of the standard 500 Linebaugh with a short barrel (I wanted an everyday packing pistol,) and at even lower pressures. It seems to me that many 500 Linebaugh shooters push their guns harder than John ever intended, and I wanted to be able to match their performance without stressing the gun in the least. The 1.6" case should also have the case capacity to experiment with some really heavy bullets. And I have to admit, the fact that it is simply the most power you can fit in a 3 lb., packable gun had some appeal. When I learned that David Clements, providing the customer took care of fitting the Bisley parts, charged about the same for the Linebaugh Long conversions as for the standard conversions, the decision was made. I started perusing the auction sites for a reasonably priced Ruger 357 Maximum.

A couple of weeks later, we were eating dinner with my parents, and I mentioned that I had found a 357 Max I was going to bid on. I didn't pay it any mind at the time, but shortly thereafter, Dad disappeared from the table. Not two minutes later, the phone rang. It was my brother calling for me, and the conversation went something like this:

"I hear you're bidding on a gun."

"I'm thinking about it," I said, somewhat confused since I didn't know Dad had just called him.

"Don't."

"Don't?"

"No, I was saving it for your birthday, but I already bought one for you, it should be here this week. Remember those posts at sixgunner from a guy named Kevin looking for a 357 max? That was me."

I did remember. "Kevin" had posted he was looking for a 357 Max. Some kindly gentleman from Arizona -- I'm sorry I don't remember who -- mentioned his local shop had one at a very reasonable price. I even remember mentioning to my brother at the time that if Kevin didn't take that gun, I might just have to give that shop a call.

Later that week, the 357 Max arrived -- in excellent (apparently unfired) condition. In that intervening few days, I had purchased a new Bisley Vaquero, and it didn't take long to swap out the parts. Fortunately, the Bisley parts were a pretty good fit, and Clements was able to take care of the minor mismatches.

Bisley Maximum
Ruger Maximum with Bisley gripframe, hammer, and trigger installed
Super Vaquero
Ruger Vaquero with Super blackhawk gripframe, hammer, and trigger installed

I sold the resultant "Super Vaquero" within the week. I think I could have gotten all of my money back had I been a little more patient, but as it was, the Bisley parts conversion cost me a grand total of $40.

After discussing the details of the project with Mr. Clements, I carefully packaged up the gun and sent it off, preparing for the long wait.

Over the intervening months, I slowly began to accumulate components. I bought 100 cases from Ben Forkin and 100 Starline 50 Alaskan cases to trim to length myself. The cases from Forkin were ready to load, formed from 348 Winchester brass. These cases are inside neck-reamed, but Forkin removes very little metal -- just enough to make the neck thickness a little more uniform. I trimmed the 50 Alaskan brass to length using a tool from Forster that mounts on the table of your drill press. The cutter that comes with this kit isn't quite big enough for the 500, but a little digging through the toolbox produced a 9/16" end mill that would accept the appropriate pilot. Once everything was lined up and adjusted, it made quick work of the Starline cases. If you have a trimming task that requires removal of a significant amount of brass, and access to a drill press with a solid, repeatable stop, I highly recommend this trimmer. The Starline cases don't need neck-reaming, though the heaviest bullets do bulge the cases slightly. [Since I originally wrote this, Kelly Brost and Hornady have teamed up to produce excellent, properly headstamped brass at a very reasonable cost.]

I traded a Contender grip to Kelly Brost of Cast Performance Bullets for a box of his 525 gr. WFN's (I should point out that Kelly does not recommend these for use in either the standard 500 Linebaugh or the 1.6" case) and bought some of his 435's as well. My lovely wife, knowing I like to play with really heavy slugs ordered some of Beartooth Bullets' 590 gr. LFN's as well. I plan on casting most of my bullets for this gun, and ordered a custom 500 gr. LFN-GC mold, but with time running out before the 2003 Linebaugh seminar, I ordered 1000 of the 420 gr. Hunters' Supply 500 Linebaugh bullet.

Loading data for the 500 Long is sparse, but John Taffin did a nice write-up with lots of load data, and Ross Seyfried wrote an article that, while not containing any specific loads, had some good information. H4227 and AA1680 were the first powders on my list, and I plan to try some surplus powders like WC680 and H116 sometime in the future. After talking to John Linebaugh, I want to give Reloder 7 a try as well. [Recent developments have somewhat dampened my enthusiasm for that experiment.] All of the initial load development was done with WLR primers simply because that's what I had on hand.

The RCBS dies were ordered through Graf's in October, and finally arrived in January. Look up the price of a set of "Group K" special order dies sometime, and you will understand my displeasure when I discovered that the expander plug could not be screwed far enough into the die body to come anywhere close to flaring the case mouth. To be fair, RCBS offered to fix the die if I would return it, but after waiting 3 months for them to arrive in the first place, I didn't want to take a chance of being without dies when the gun arrived. I decided to fix the problem myself, one way or another. A quick check of my existing dies, and I discovered that my 480 Ruger expander die had the same inside diameter as the 500 Max die, but was nearly half an inch shorter. I screwed the 500 Max expander plug into the 480 expander die body, and I was back in business. I informed RCBS of my discovery, and they quickly shipped me a new 480 expander die at no charge. I later found the correct tap, and threaded the original expander die body about half an inch deeper. I had some concerns about the resizing die as well; I didn't think it was resizing the reformed 348 cases enough, as I could almost start a bullet into the case mouth without flaring the neck. I feared there wouldn't be enough bullet pull to prevent the heavy slugs from jumping crimp with full-power loads. There would be no way to know for sure until I had the gun in hand, so I did my best to put it out of my mind.

When the gun finally arrived, it was absolutely gorgeous. I had debated long and hard about the barrel length, but after handling the finished product, I think my choice of a 5" tube with full-length ejector rod housing was the right one. It has Clements' trade-mark post-style front sight with two gold bars. [I have since ordered a serrated blade without the gold bars. As much as I like them for long range plinking, the smooth face picks up a lot of glare.] The color-case hardened frame, hammer and trigger by Turnbull were as nice as any I've seen. The brilliant, deep blues mix beautifully with the muted browns and grays. A pair of fancy walnut grips by Scott Kolar complete the package. Even more important than the gun's appearance are the exceptionally tight tolerances. With a little oil on the ratchet and cylinder nose, endplay is virtually non-existent, and I could not fit a .002" feeler gauge through the barrel/cylinder gap. The cylinder takes up nearly the entire length of the window with the nose protruding only 30 thousandths from the cylinder face and the cylinder diameter is only 10 thousandths smaller than the window opening.


The 500 Long is not noticeably larger than a stock Blackhawk and weighs just 48 ounces.
Close-up of rt. grip panel
Scott Kolar of SK Custom Grips fitted a beautiful set of walnut panels.

I had a handful of loads with the Cast Performance 435 ready to go, and it didn't take long to get shooting. I started out with a few mild loads: 10 grains of W231 and 13 grains of Unique for velocities around 800 and 900 fps respectively. Everything seemed to work as intended, so I stepped up to 36 grains of H4227. This was John Taffins starting load for bullets in this weight range, and he had reported velocities around 1335 fps from the 6 or 6.5" Linebaugh-built gun he had tested. As expected, my 5" barrel was about 50 fps slower at 1285 fps. This is a good load, and would be approaching full-power in the 1.4" 500. I pulled one shot high out of that first group, but the other four went into right at 1.1" unsupported at 25 yards. Now that I had a good load, it was time to see just what this gun could do.


First five-shot group with a full-power load
A variety of loads
From left to right: 454 Casull, 335 gr. WFN; 500 Longs with Hunter's Supply 420,
Cast Performance 435 WFN, Mt. Baldy 485 Keith, and Mountain Molds 495 LFN.

The next morning, I switched to the 420 grain Hunters' Supply bullet since I had a large quantity, and shot a few over the same 36 grain charge. Velocities were practically identical to the 435 gr. bullet, and I started working my way up from there. At 40 grains of H4227, velocity was just over 1450 fps, and cases still slid effortlessly out of the chambers. 25 full-power loads in one day was too much, and I took it easy for the next few days, limiting myself to loads in the 800-1000 fps range. 13 grains of Unique will push this bullet right around 900 fps. My wife, mom and mother-in-law have all enjoyed shooting that load. Surprisingly, a similar charge of Herco -- which is one of my favorites for mid-range 45 Colts -- gave very erratic velocities. For a slight step up in power, 20 grains of Blue Dot drives this bullet 1040 fps and has turned out to be one of my most accurate loads.

I mentioned earlier my concerns about the resizing die; it is looser than I would like, but with a very heavy crimp it seems to work. In one test, I measured a cartridge before slipping it into the fifth chamber. After firing the first four rounds, all generating something in the vicinity of 70 ft-lbs of recoil, I ejected the fifth round and measured again -- it had lengthened by .003" Lighten up the crimp even a little, and bullets start slipping out the nose of the cylinder, even at less than full-power loads.

By this time, my custom mold had arrived, and the lubed, gas-checked bullets weighed 495 gr. This time using AA1680, I started working my way up. At 43 grains, velocity was over 1300 fps. Cases still extracted easily, but that seemed like a prudent place to stop. [With newer lots of powder, this load is too hot.] Recoil at that point is brisk, to say the least -- more than with the 420 gr. bullets at 1500. For a change of pace, that bullet unsized and tumble-lubed (sans gas check) seated deep over 6 gr. of W231 gave extremely consistent velocities and deserves some further investigation. My favorite load with this bullet uses 18 grains of Blue Dot for 1000 fps. These bullets are close enough in design to the Cast Performance 525's that I haven't yet worked with them.

By the end of the first week, I had fired over 250 rounds through the gun, with more than a third of those at or above top end loads in the 1.4" 500. That is one feat that I have no desire to repeat. I learned my lesson . . . for six whole days. Then it was time to see what the gun could do with really heavy bullets. The 590 LFN's are rifle bullets with a nose-to-crimp length of .525". Seated to the cannelure, the bullets protruded beyond the end of the cylinder. I took 10 cases and trimmed them to 1.535" for an overall cartridge length of 2.06" leaving about 20 thousandths clearance at the front of the cylinder. Even the starting loads at around 1000 fps generated a significant amount of recoil. At 1200 fps it was obvious you were holding on to a tremendous amount of power. This load has a TKO rating just over 50, and has repeatedly gone through 50" of wet newsprint in penetration tests.

Shortly before leaving for Cody I took delivery of one more bullet. It is Mt. Baldy's 485 gr. Keith. Owner Frank Ehrenford initially offered the NEI Keith bullet which, depending on alloy, weighs closer to 435 gr. While the NEI design is a good bullet, Frank wasn't completely satisfied with its performance at long range. After lots of experimenting, Frank and a group of dedicated long-range sixgunners came up with his current design. [Frank has now fine-tuned the alloy to bring the weight down to 470-475 grains.] Loading data for this bullet and my 500 gr. LFN is virtually identical. They take up exactly the same amount of case capacity, and the gas check on the 500 seems to offset the extra weight. Loaded over 13 grains of Unique for 900 fps, it is pleasant to shoot, and makes a great long-range plinking load. Stepping it up a notch, 36 grains of AA1680 gave about 1025 fps. [A newer lot of powder added nearly 100 fps to that load.] For loads in that range, I prefer 18 grains of Blue Dot. It burns much cleaner, and is very accurate, once producing a 25-yard group of well under 1.5" from my brother's 500 Long. For more serious work, 40 grains of AA1680 is a good mid-range load. Velocities are right around 1175 fps and very consistent. This load penetrated about 40" in wet newsprint. At 44 grains, velocity is 1340 fps. These bullets expand considerably at this speed and penetration is correspondingly less. Recoil is also decidedly unpleasant.

Speaking of recoil, I experienced something with this gun I have never seen before. With the heaviest loads, some approaching 80 ft-lbs of recoil, the cylinder would sometimes be rotated slightly out of line after firing. At first, I thought that the bolt spring was too weak and the gun was recoiling away from the bolt, allowing the cylinder to unlock. This may have been part of the problem, but further investigation revealed a number of fired cases with two firing pin indentations -- a deep one in the center, and a lighter one at the edge of the primer. The hammer was bouncing under recoil. A stiffer hammer spring was installed, and the problem has all but disappeared. If I was in a situation where I needed absolute reliability with maximum loads, I would shim the spring for a little extra margin of safety.

Truth be told, the load I shoot more than any other consists of the Hunters Supply bullet over 20 grains of Blue dot for 1040 fps. Recoil is relatively mild, accuracy is good, and there are very few situations where anything more would be needed.

More photos and load data coming soon . . .

Target shot with 420 LFN at 1040 fps
1.75" 5-shot group shot with the Hunters Supply 420
grain bullet over 20 grains of Blue Dot at 1040 fps. Holster by Von Ringler.

Bullet Case Powder/Charge Velocity Notes

Hunter's Supply
420 gr. Flat Nose

1.995" OAL
Winchester 231
W-W 7.7 gr. 700 fps 7.7 grains is the charge my smallest Lee dipper threw.
Starline 10.0 gr. 781 fps
Starline 12.0 gr. 865 fps

Alliant Herco
W-W 12.0 gr. 888 fps Very inconsistent velocities.

Alliant Unique
Starline 13.0 gr. 908 fps My wife, mother, and mother-in-law all enjoy shooting this load immensely.

Accurate 1680
Starline 36.0 gr. 982 fps

Alliant Blue Dot
W-W 20.0 gr. 1040 fps Mild recoil, excllent accuracy

Hodgdon 4227
W-W 36.0 gr. 1285 fps
Starline 36.0 gr. 1287 fps
W-W 37.0 gr. 1320 fps
Starline 37.0 gr. 1313 fps
W-W 38.0 gr. 1404 fps
W-W 39.0 gr. 1437 fps
W-W 40.0 gr. 1457 fps
W-W 41.0 gr. 1506 fps

Cast Performance
435 gr. WFN

1.945" OAL
Hodgdon 4227
Starline 36.0 gr. 1271 fps Starting load
W-W 36.0 gr. 1285 fps Very accurate
W-W 40.5 gr. 1460 fps
W-W 41.0 gr. 1480 fps

Mt. Baldy
485 gr. Keith

2.005" OAL
Accurate 1680
Starline 34.0 gr. 992 fps Starting load
W-W 40.0 gr. 1175 fps Exceptionally consistent velocities
W-W 41.0 gr. 1220 fps
W-W 42.0 gr. 1260 fps
W-W 43.0 gr. 1300 fps
W-W 44.0 gr. 1340 fps This turned out to be an unusually slow lot of powder. As always, start low and work up.

Alliant Unique
Starline 13.0 gr. 905 fps

Alliant Blue Dot
Starline 18.0 gr. 1024 fps
Starline 19.0 gr. 1080 fps
W-W 19.0 gr. 1056 fps
Hornady 19.0 gr. 1071 fps

Hodgdon 4227
W-W 27.0 gr. 1055 fps

IMR 4227
W-W 27.0 gr. 1035 fps

Mountain Molds
495 gr. LFN-GC

1.995" OAL
Accurate 1680
Starline 32.0 gr. 932 fps
Starline 34.0 gr. 941 fps
W-W 36.0 gr. 1024 fps
W-W 38.0 gr. 1105 fps
W-W 40.0 gr. 1158 fps
W-W 42.0 gr. 1276 fps
W-W 43.0 gr. 1316 fps Cast from wheel weights and air-cooled, these show some expansion at this velocity. Again, this was a slow lot of powder.

Alliant Blue Dot
W-W 18.0 gr. 1000 fps
Hornady 18.0 gr. 993 fps
Hornady 19.0 gr. 1055 fps

Winchester 231
W-W 6.0 gr. 450 fps These bullets are unsized and tumble-lubed with no gas check. Crimped over front driving band for approx. 1.8" OAL.

Beartooth Bullets
590 gr. LFN

2.060" OAL
Hodgdon 4227
Starline 27.0 gr. 1036 fps These bullets have a nose-to-crimp length of .525" requiring cases to be shortened slightly to fit the cylinder. Case length was 1.535" for an OAL of 2.060" (leaving about 20 thousandths clearance at the front of the cylinder.)
Starline 28.0 gr. 1080 fps
Starline 29.0 gr. 1090 fps
Starline 30.0 gr. 1122 fps
Starline 31.0 gr. 1155 fps
Starline 32.0 gr. 1202 fps

All loads assembled with WLR primers. Instrumental velocities taken at approximately 10 feet. More recent testing indicates this particular lot of AA1680 was slow. Newer lots have been as much as 100 fps faster with correspondingly higher pressure.


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