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Handgun Reviews

The .500 Wyoming Express

by Brian Pearce   |  September 24th, 2010 1

A powerful .50-caliber single action from Freedom Arms

Freedom Arms has announced a new cartridge known as the .500 Wyoming Express for the Model 83 revolver. Designed with the handgun hunter in mind, the .500 WE offers enough power to hunt any game on earth. The revolver for which it is chambered is tough as a tank, accurate, handsome and of hip-carrying size.


For those unfamiliar with Freedom Arms, here is a bit of handgun history. During the early 1950s a young experimenter named Dick Casull was working for P.O. Ackley, a high-profile gunsmith and wildcatter of the day. Casull wanted more power from a sixgun and began experimenting with the Colt Single Action Army chambered in .45 Colt.

He soon recognized that the thin chamber walls were the breaking point and developed a five-shot cylinder that was considerably stronger. After careful heat-treating of the frames for a Rockwell hardness of between 40 and 45, he was able to drive a 255-grain bullet to 1,550 fps from a 7 1/2-inch barrel. Even though the case was a standard .45 Colt, this was the early version of the .454 Casull and was before the introduction of the .44 Magnum.


SPECIFICATIONS
FREEDOM ARMS MODEL 83 PREMIER GRADE
MANUFACTURER: Freedom Arms
CALIBERS: .500 Wyoming Express
BARREL LENGTH: 4 ¾, 6 or 7 ½ inches
WEIGHT: 51 ounces (7 ½ barrel)
CAPACITY: 5 (suggested to carry with 4 rounds only)
RIFILING: Six lands, six grooves
ACTIO TYPE: Single action
GRIPS: Impregnated hardwood or black micarta
FINISH: Stainless steel, brushed satin
FRONT SIGHT: Black blade, optional brass bead front
REAR SIGHT: Square notch rear. Screw adjustable for windage and elevation
SAFETY: Hammer mounted, sliding safety bar
PRICE: $1,639

Realizing that he would need a larger frame to obtain greater power, in 1957 Casull started with a block of 4140 steel, then began crafting a prototype revolver. It was a beauty, fitted with a massive five-shot cylinder, fixed sights and fancy one-piece walnut grips. It was also chambered to accept a lengthened .45 Colt case of around 1.383 inches (the same as the .38 Special had been lengthened to create the .357 Magnum) and is essentially the same cartridge that we know today as the .454 Casull. It was capable of driving a 235-grain bullet over 2,000 fps or a 300 grain to more than 1,700.

Considerable time passed before Casull would actually get his big single-action revolver into production. After Casull partnered with Wayne Baker of Freedom Arms in 1979, the Model 83 revolver chambered in .454 Casull began shipping to gun dealers in 1983.

It was simply stunning, with materials and quality that had never previously been seen. For example, it was crafted from 17-4 PH stainless steel that was heat-treated with state-of-the-art methods. This, combined with an unusually stiff frame and a five-shot cylinder, resulted in a brutally strong revolver that was capable of handling the same pressures commonly found in modern bolt-action rifles. Destruction tests have revealed its strength to be nothing short of remarkable.

The Model 83 was also line-bored, meaning that each chamber is bored in the center of the frame receiver, assuring that it is perfectly in line with the center of the bore. The factory also gave much attention to chamber and throat tolerances, keeping them to a minimum to ensure that bullets would not tilt before engaging the rifling. The cylinder lockup and end shake were sometimes undetectable–in other words, there was practically no movement, just enough to allow the cylinder to turn.


The .500 WE headstamp as offered by Freedom Arms and loaded by Grizzly.

The barrel forcing cone was cut to a tight three degrees. All of the above features resulted in super-accurate revolvers right out of the box, with most grouping into two inches at 100 yards. Many are known to hold MOA with select loads. The grip frame was carefully designed to allow most shooters, even those with large hands, to grasp it firmly with the lower three fingers. The shape of the backstrap also helps control felt recoil.

Over the last 23 years Freedom Arms has regularly added new cartridges to the Model 83 that have ranged all the way from the .22 Long Rifle to the .50 Action Express. The new .500 Wyoming Express offers versatility, accuracy and serious horsepower. This cartridge was designed by the folks at Freedom Arms specifically for the Model 83 revolver and was many years in development.


The Freedom Arms Mod
el 83 has been chambered in a variety of cartridges including (from top), .454 Casull with 7 1/2-inch barrel, .454 with 4 3/4-inch barrel, .475 Linebaugh with six-inch octagon barrel and .500 WE with 7 1/2-inch barrel.

The .500 WE is not based on another existing case and is new. Rather than featuring a rim, as typically found on other revolver cartridges, it has a belt. This was done to tackle two challenges. First, the ratchet system (or pattern) of the Freedom Arms cylinder is rather compact, and a case with a rim larger than .540 to .545 inch simply won’t fit–the rims would overlap. (This is the reason cartridges such as the .500 Linebaugh cannot work in the Freedom Arms revolver.)

The .500 WE belt serves to control headspace, which allows a heavy roll crimp to be applied. The .500 WE generates enough recoil to require cartridges, in either factory loads or handloads, to have a heavy roll crimp to prevent bullets from jumping or “walking” out the end of the chamber (or cylinder) during recoil, thus tying up the gun. Bullet diameter is .500 inch, the same as those used in the .500 S&W Magnum.


Cartridge comparisons, left to right: .44 Magnum, .454 Casull and .500 Wyoming Express.

As of this writing, the .500 Wyoming Express is a proprietary cartridge loaded exclusively by Grizzly Cartridge Company (www.grizzlycartridge.com, 503/556-3006). Factory loads containing cast bullets include a 370-grain WFNGC at 1,300 fps, a 400-grain at 1,250 fps and a 440-grain WFNGC at 1,200. These bullet weights are also available with muzzle velocities of 950 fps for a midrange or light load that is still highly effective but produces substantially less recoil.


The .500 WE features a belt, rather than a rim, to control headspace.

Grizzly also offers a 400-grain bonded-core flatpoint bullet driven to 1,250 fps and a 420-grain Belt Mountain “Punch” solid driven to the same velocity. This writer has tested this last bullet in a variety of mediums, and it offers remarkable penetration, even when heavy bone is encountered. Grizzly Cartridge used a Model 83 with a six-inch barrel to determine the above velocities. As can be seen in the accompanying chart, the test gun achieved somewhat greater velocities.

Standard barrel lengths for the Model 83 are 4 3/4, 6 and 7 1/2 inches; however, the factory Custom Shop offers special lengths and octagon configurations at additional cost. The sample gun was fitted with a 7 1/2-inch round barrel and was a Premier Grade, which carries a lifetime warranty and comes standard with hand-polished finish and hardwood laminated stocks.


Safety and the Freedom Arms Model 83
There has been some misunderstanding of the Freedom Arms manual hammer safety. First, Freedom Arms does not suggest carrying the Model 83 fully loaded with five cartridges in the chambers. To quote the instruction manual, “Never handle your Freedom Arms revolver with a live cartridge in the cylinder with a live cartridge in line with the barrel and firing pin until you are fully prepared to shoot at the target. In the field never carry the revolver with a live cartridge in the chamber which is in line with the barrel and firing pin.”

Instead, the gun should be loaded with four cartridges only and an empty chamber placed under the hammer. Additionally, Freedom Arms advises shooters to always engage the manual hammer safety, even if the chamber under the hammer is empty. This is accomplished by pulling the hammer back about 3/8 inch (just before the half-cock position), at which point the trigger will “click” slightly, then lower the hammer. If the safety is engaged properly, the face of the hammer will rest approximately 1/10th inch off the frame. The cylinder will turn clockwise just slightly, and I prefer to rotate it back until it locks into place.

The Freedom Arms revolver is safe, as long as the user understands its operation and employs common-sense safety practices.

In the Freedom Arms tradition, fit and finish are excellent, while cylinder timing and lockup are superb. There is no detectable cylinder end shake, and the sideplay is virtually non-existent. Being a traditional handgun hunter, plain black adjustable sights were requested. For those choosing to install a scope, there is no need for modification to the revolver, as the rear sight is simply removed from the frame and the base installed in existing screw holes. The front sight is removable via a small screw in the front of the base, which allows easy changing of the front-sight blade to a different color, a gold bead express or different height as needed. The trigger pull broke without creep at three pounds, three ounces.

With the revolver weighing just over three pounds, a 440-grain bullet driven to 1,250 fps results in significant recoil. This is not a gun for the recoil sensitive and is best left to experienced bigbore revolver shooters, unless reduced or light loads are used. Uncle Mike’s leather shooting gloves were used on the long sessions, which really helped take the edge off felt recoil.


The author fired more than 600 rounds in the Model 83 and found it to function flawlessly.

After initial sight-in, accuracy testing was accomplished at 25 yards. As long as I could do my part (no flinching!), groups often went under one inch with most factory loads as well as several handloads containing both cast and jacketed bullets. With factory ammunition the best four-shot groups came from the 440-grain cast driven to 1,267 fps that went .85 inch center to center. In handloads the 350-grain Hornady XTP/MAG driven with 32 grains of Hodgdon H110 powder at 1,531 fps clustered four shots into .70 inch.

Throughout the many shooting sessions, firing more than 600 rounds, the Freedom Arms .500 WE functioned flawlessly and there were no problems related to the cartridge design.

Handloading the .500 Wyoming Express
Before sitting down at the loading bench, there are a few things handloaders should be aware of to assure safety and success. As previously stated, the .500 WE utilizes the same bullets used for the .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum that measure .500 inch; however, the nose length ca
nnot exceed .395 inch, and overall cartridge length cannot exceed 1.765 inches. Maximum case length is 1.370 inches, while trim-to length is 1.365 inches.


The front-sight blade is easily interchanged by removing a small Hex screw.

In developing the accompanying data using the Sierra 400-grain JSP, the overall length exceeded the above maximum, so cases were trimmed to 1.355 inches and bullets were seated to the upper edge of the cannelure and a heavy crimp applied. Loaded in this fashion, the Sierra bullet worked without a hitch.


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.500 WYOMING EXPRESS FACTORY AMMO PERFORMANCE
LOAD ADVERTISED VELOCITY (fps) ACTUAL VELOCITY (fps) COMMENTS
370-gr. WFNGC 1,300 1,402 Extreme spread, 9 fps
400-gr. WFNGC 1,250 1,244 -
440-gr. WFNGC 1,200 1,267 Most accurate factory load
370-gr. WFNGC (midrange) 950 976 Lowest recoil load
400-gr. WFNGC (midrange) 950 977 -
440-gr. WFNGC (midrange) 950 965 Excellent reduced load
400-gr. Bonded Core FP 1,250 1,261 -
420-gr. Belt Mtn Solid 1,250 1,278 Large/Dangerous game
.500 WYOMING EXPRESS HANDLOAD PERFORMANCE
BULLET POWDER/GRAINS VELOCITY (fps) COMMENTS
350-gr. Hornady XTP/Mag Unique/11.0 947 -
350-gr. Hornady XTP/Mag Lil’ Gun/29.0 1,348 -
250-gr. Hornady XTP/Mag H110/32.0 1,531 Top accuracy
400-gr. Sierra JSP Lil’ Gun/31.0 1,123 -
400-gr. Sierra JSP H110/34.0 1,446 -
370-gr. Cast Perfect WFNGC Unique/10.0 889 Lowest recoil load
370-gr. Cast Perfect WFNGC TiteGroup/12.0 1,140 -
370-gr. Cast Perfect WFNGC Lil’ Gun/31.0 1,443 -
370-gr. Cast Perfect WFNGC H110/35.0 1,588 -
440-gr. Cast Perfect WFNGC Unique.10.0 890 -
440-gr. Cast Perfect WFNGC 2400/24.0 1,271 -
440-gr. Cast Perfect WFNGC Lil’ Gun/28.0 1,435 -
440-gr. Cast Perfect WFNGC H110/27.0 1,223 -
440-gr. Cast Perfect WFNGC H110/29.5 1,380 MAXIMUM
CASE: Jamison; BULLET DIAMETER: .500 inch; MAXIMUM CASE LENGTH: 1.370 inches; TRIM-TO LENGTH: 1.365 inches; MAXIMUM CARTRIDGE LENGTH: 1.765 inches; PRIMER: Large Rifle (Winchester Lr); FIREARM: Freedom Arms Model 83; BARREL LENGTH: 7 1/2 inches; DISTANCE: 25 yards
WARNING: The loads shown here are safe only in the guns for which they were developed. Neither the author nor Primedia assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use or misuse of this data. Shooting reloads may void any warranty on your firearm.

The overall case length has a tendency to shorten, as much as .020 inch, with multiple reloadings. Freedom Arms states that cases are strong and life expectancy is long. However, after many heavy loads the belt tends to expand about .004 inch and then will not allow proper chambering, at which time cases should be discarded.

Cases should be full-length re-sized; however, to prevent damage to the belt, the sizer die should not contact the belt. The case should only be sized to within .100 inch of the belt.

Being that it is a proprietary cartridge, there are no established pressure standards. The Grizzly Cartridge Company loads are held to around 35,000 psi, and frankly, there is no real need to exceed this level. For those wanting greater velocity, the gun and case are safe with loads that generate up to 48,000 psi. So loaded, the cartridge can drive a 440-grain bullet over 1,400 fps and will likely satisfy the most recoil-hungry shooter. In short, this is a very lively load, especially if firing 50 to 100 rounds in a single shooting session.


Various loads were fired from a sandbag for accuracy, and several delivered groups under one inch at 25 yards.

Primer pockets are designed to accept large rifle primers, and all the accompanying data was developed with CCI No. 200 Large Rifle primers (non-magnum).

Bullets should be seated to the correct overall depth (crimp groove or cannelure) without crimping, then as a separate operation the crimp applied. If not, the case can dig into the bullet before it is fully seated, buckling it and effectively ruining the cartridge.

The .500 WE will prove capable of taking any game animal on earth and is housed in a practical, proven revolver. It is impressive with full-power loads, yet pleasant and fun with 370- or 440-grain bullets driven to around 900 fps. If you have ever slept on the open ground and watched grizzlies from your sleeping bag, the comfort of a .50-caliber revolver strapped to your body and readily accessible will then be understood.

  • richard

    great article awsome caliber in the equally awsome freedom arms revolver competition for the 500 s&w magnum but in a lighter more compact revolver load no.3 handloads lists a 250 grain bullet at 1,531 fps velocity is this a mistake or misprint or was it really 250 instead of 350 grains?

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