The day had been a rather quiet Fourth of July, ending by my relaxing at home, when the phone rang. It was a young man calling from Cody, Wyoming to tell me about custom .45 Colt sixguns he was building and to relay the fact that he wanted to send me a test gun. His claims were, at least at that time, unbelievable to me. A .45 Colt that would shoot 250 grain bullets at 1700 feet per second! Come on, now.

The caller was custom gunsmith John Linebaugh and he claimed 50% to 90% increase in muzzle energy over a .44 magnum in barrels of seven and one-half inches or longer, that is, 1500 to 2000 ft. lbs of energy. That was quite a claim John made to me in 1983 and everything he said turned out to be true.

I had been a fan (fanatic?) of the .45 Colt for a long time, having purchased one of the first Second Generation Colt Single Actions as a teenager back in 1957, but 250 grain bullets at 1700 feet per second in a .45 Colt? The same old .45 Colt that writers had been calling weak brass for years?

John Linebaugh did send me one of his custom .45's built on an El Dorado frame with a custom ten and one-half inch barrel and a custom oversize cylinder. The cylinder was made oversize by utilizing all of the frame window possible and also made as long as possible with no excess gap between the front of the cylinder and the frame. That particular gun and loads were written up in the JAN/FEB 1985 issue of American Handgunner, in fact it was the first article I did for AH. When I made my first trip to the range with the Linebaugh .45 Colt I went prepared. Prepared, that is, with a nylon mallet and proper sized wooden dowels to pound fired cases out of the cylinder. Perhaps I should have had more faith in Linebaugh but at the time I did not know him . Since then he has become a good friend and also proven to be a top gunsmith, and a man that can be believed when it comes to big bore single actions.

In those first testings of a Linebaugh custom revolver, I used .45 Winchester-Western brass that was heavily loaded five times. Bullets of 260 grains, both cast and jacketed, were driven over 1700 feet per second; 310 grain bullets to 1565 feet per second; 325 grain bullets to 1600 feet per second; and 385 grain bullets to 1300 feet per second. At no time did I experience stuck cases nor did any of the WW .45 Colt brass split. In fact that brass is still regularly being reloaded and has not been seperated from other .45 Colt brass used with standard loadings.

That experience made me a believer in John Linebaugh and his custom guns. John explained that one of the reasons he was able to get such dramatic results is the fact that he maintains close tolerances. Factory .45 Colt loads expand .004" in both Colt Single Actions and Ruger Blackhawks of recent manufacture in .45 Colt chambering. John's custom .45's , even with heavy loads, expand only .001" in diameter above the base of the cartridge. The pressure is contained by the tight cylinder and consequently brass lasts a long time.

John Linebaugh is a traditionalist when it comes to sixguns, or in the case of many of his conversions, fiveguns. He believes in packin' pistols. Guns that can be carried comfortably all day in a hip holster and then slipped under a bedroll or pillow at night. A handgun that is always available, always ready. A feature that made the Colt Single Action Army such a popular sixgun.

Linebaugh is about as likely to scope a handgun, or use a nylon holster as he is to vote liberal or take the name of Elmer Keith in vain. Simply put, John is a 19th Century man building guns with 20th Century technology. Yep, he uses a Progressive reloader but to load big- bullet, time-proven loads.

Linebaugh's philosophy of handguns is found in the following quote: "We are a custom sixgun shop dedicated to the old school sixgunner. We follow the theories of Elmer Keith and John (Pondora) Taylor. Their's was one of big bullets, so is ours. Bullet weight and caliber are constants in external ballistics; velocity is a constantly diminishing variable.I believe high velocity to be a superb killer if placed with exact precision, and if it reaches the inside of the animal. But without exact placement, it lacks the penetrating qualities and thus it wastes its energy in flesh wounds. The big bullet does not have these shortcomings. It will penetrate fully from any angle, thus letting the hunter take shots with confidence that he would otherwise pass up with a `little gun'. I for one do not like big guns, just big bullets. With this in mind we offer models and ideas to the old school sixgunner. Remember, old school to us is powerful, practical, and packable."

That then is exactly what John Linebaugh strives for in every handgun he builds. Three things: Power. The.45 Colt is the smallest gun Linebaugh builds. Practical. These guns are designed with the hunter of big game in mind. Packable. Every sixgun John offers packs easily in a hip holster.

At the present time, Linebaugh Custom Guns offers five levels of handguns. First are the Colt Single Action and New Frontier Models. These guns as they come from the factory have notoriously oversized chambers and give continued, albeit false, credence to the myth of weak .45 Colt brass. Linebaugh installs Colt .45 cylinders that have been re- chambered tightly from .357 Magnum or .44 Special chamberings. By installing properly chambered cylinders and with close tolerances maintained throughout the sixgun, a Linebaugh .45 Single Action Colt or New Frontier with a seven and one-half inch barrel is capable of 1300 feet per second with 225 grain jacketed hollow points, 1250 feet per second with 260 grain cast Keith bullets, and 1150 feet per second with 300 grain cast bullets.

That is a lot of practical power from such a relatively small sixgun, a sixgun that was originally built to handle 255 grain bullets with black powder loads of 850 feet per second. I sent John a Second Generation .357 New Frontier along with an extra .357 Magnum cylinder and a four and three-quarter inch .45 NF barrel a few years back. I got back a .45 New Frontier with a tight cylinder that shoots one hole groups at 25 yards and I still have the original barrel and cylinder should I ever want to change back to the original chambering. As accurate and packable as this little sixgun is, changing back is not very likely.

Moving up the line we come to what Linebaugh calls his SMALL .45. This is built up by starting with a Ruger of .357, .41, or .44 caliber. The cylinder is re-chambered to .45 Colt, the gun is tightened up, and a special slow twist Douglas barrel installed. With the `small' .45 Colt, the sixgunner can expect 260 grain cast bullets to achieve 1400 feet per second, and 310 Keith cast bullets will go 1300 feet per second. I have a `small' Linebaugh .45 Colt built up on an Abilene that was a .44 Magnum. With its .45 Colt chambering and five and one-half inch barrel it is definitely powerful, practical, and packable.

Now we start to come into Linebaugh's really big sixguns with the third conversion offered, the BIG .45 COLT. This sixgun is built on a Ruger Single Action and rather than re-chambering the Ruger cylinder, the frame is fitted with an oversized cylinder, slow twist Douglas barrel, and the gun is rebuilt throughout, tightening and minimizing tolerances in the process. With this .45 Colt conversion, sixgunners can expect 1700 feet per second with 260 grain Keith bullets, and 1500 feet per second with 310 Keith bullets.

Now we enter the real power level of Linebaugh's Custom Guns, the big bore five-shooters. Linebaugh builds these on the Ruger Bisley Single Action which is a very strong sixgun to begin with and offers a grip that is the most comfortable for the big loads. When the Bisley was introduced, comments such as "If the grip was so good why did Colt drop it?" and "The Bisley grip is the answer to a problem that doesn't exist!" were heard.

I disagree completely. First the Bisley grip as offered by Ruger is not the same as that found on the Colt Bisley. It is much closer to the old Number Five Single Action Grip that Elmer Keith promoted after it was designed by gunsmiths Harold Croft and J.D. O'Meara in the 1920's. Secondly, for some of us there is a definite problem with heavy loads and standard single action grip frames. For me, the Super Blackhawk is especially punishing with heavy loads and catches my knuckle, and bangs my palm as well as the top of my trigger finger.

Detractors to the contrary, I will offer my personal opinion that the Ruger Bisley grip is the finest ever put on a factory single action. The grip is nearly perfect. The trigger is not. The trigger is thin and curved and the tip of it catches the bottom of my trigger finger and will cut it open under prolonged firing and after 200 rounds through one of Linebaugh's big fiveguns in two shooting sessions, the bottom of my trigger finger had a pronounced swelling. The answer would seem to be a straighter, possibly wider trigger.

Linebaugh did not choose the Bisley as the basis for his big-bores for its trigger, but for its recoil handling grip frame and its inherent strength. As an extra added bonus, the Ruger is one fine lookin' sixgun to start with. Linebaugh calls the Bisley grip frame "superior for accuracy and comfort". After nearly thirty-five years of shooting single actions in virtually every big bore caliber imagineable, I agree with him whole-heartedly. It is simply the finest factory single action grip ever offered.

I rarely ever quote muzzle energy figures as I put very little stock in them. They are skewed against relatively slow moving heavy- weight bullets and for lightweight bulleted, fast stepping loads. Linebaugh uses a different formula for figuring "true sixgun power and punch" as he puts it, namely Pondoro Taylor's Knock Out Formula. Caliber times Bullet Weight times Velocity divided by 7000 equals Knock Out. Muzzle energy figures do not take caliber into account, and for Linebaugh, caliber is everything. That is why he does not stop his sixgun work with the .45 Colt.

Looking at Knock Out we see the following. The standard .44 Magnum loading of 240 grain bullet at 1400 feet per second is rated 21 KO. Linebaugh's .45 Colt loads of 260 grain bullet at 1700 feet per second and 310 grain bullet at 1500 feet per second are rated 28.5 and 30 Knock Out respectively. Loading the .44 Magnum with a 300 grain bullet to 1400 feet per second gives a 26.6 KO, still behind the old .45 Colt.

Linebaugh's first step into the really big bores was a giant leap from the `small" .45 caliber all the way up to .50 caliber with his .500 Linebaugh. The .50 caliber revolver is not original with John Linebaugh. He tells me that Neil Wheeler and Bill Topping came up with the .50WT Super quite some time ago and Elmer Keith shot their gun and cartridge. What Linebaugh has done is to take the .50 caliber and run with it .

The .500 Linebaugh is based on the .348 Winchester case trimmed to 1.400". At .50 caliber, the .500 Linebaugh is the outer limits of caliber size in a packable pistol. To get the .500 into a packin'-sized gun, it is necessary to discard the standard-sized Ruger Bisley cylinder and go with an over-sized five-shot cylinder for two reasons: 1) six .50 caliber holes will not fit in a standard sized cylinder and allow enough metal between chambers for safety, and 2) five shots allows the bolt cut to be placed between, rather than under cylinder chambers. Many .45 caliber sixguns can be found with bolt cuts that are literally paper thin.

The .500 Linebaugh thrives on 400 to 440 grain bullets and large doses of slow burning pistol powders. Both a heavy crimp and a strong neck tension on the bullet are necessary to get the powders in the .500 ignited and burning properly. Magnum pistol primers also are a great help here, spelled mandatory.

Knock Out with the .500? A 400 grain bullet at 1300 feet per second gives a KO rating of 38 and a 440 grain bullet at 1250 comes in with a KO of 40 or right at twice the KO of a standard .44 Magnum loading. These are big guns, make no mistake about it. Big in power, not size. A .500 Linebaugh in a five and one-half inch Bisley weighs only 47 ounces.

While Linebaugh starts with the Bisley as the basis for his conversions, the finished product, upon close examination, is radically changed. The unfluted, oversize cylinder is full length, the barrel is now much heavier, and the geometry has been changed to make this sixgun into a fivegun. Open the loading gate and the new cylinder spins freely like the beautifully crafted part that it is. Literally no end play and the barrel/cylinder gap is set at .003" or less. Neither of the Linebaugh test guns used for this article would accept a .002" gap tool. The complete gun is reblued and marked .500 LINEBAUGH on the barrel.

The .500 Linebaugh is for reloaders only as no factory ammunition, at least as this is written is available. When I was given the assignment of covering the Linebaugh Custom Revolvers everything seemed to fall into place almost miraculously. A local sportsman, Shawn Daniel, was in the process of having John Linebaugh build him matching revolvers in .475 Linebaugh and .500 Linebaugh. A call to John Linebaugh soon resulted in the welcome news that both guns would be ready and could be sent to Ichiro Nagata, our staff photographer and be back to me for testing in plenty of time to meet my deadline. It did, however, take tremendous cooperation on the part of John, Shawn, and Ichi to make everything come together.

Knowing that I would be covering the Linebaugh revolvers, three other men whose assistance would be invaluable were contacted immediately. Those men are Jay Postman of RCBS, Veral Smith of Lead Bullet Technology (LBT), and Brec Nelson of NEI. All three men saw to it that I had the necessary loading dies, lube/sizing dies, and bullet molds for the project. Custom reloading dies for both the .475 and .500 are available only from the RCBS Custom Shop, 605 Oro Dam Blvd., Dept Ah, Oroville, California 95965. They do some of their best work on these dies and I had no trouble assembling .500 Linebaugh loads whatsoever.

Bullets are also a custom proposition spelled c-a-s-t with excellent moulds available from both LBT and NEI. In loading the .500 I used LBT's #512.400LFN and #512.440LFN, LFN standing for long flat nose. These are both plain-based bullets with three grease grooves and one crimping groove. NEI's #420.511, a 440+ grain Keith style bullet with two grease grooves and one crimping groove was also used in loading the .500 Linebaugh. Both LBT and NEI offer top quality aluminum mould blocks with numerous designs available in all calibers.

All bullets for the .500 were sized to .512" using an RCBS sizing die and bullets were lubed with Thompson's Bullet Lube and crimped heavily. At no time did any bullets jump their crimp.

Shooting the .500 is stimulating to say the least. I have fired the big .500 many times over the past few years but this is my first time at really seriously testing it both as to accuracy and muzzle velocity. After two days of firing 100 rounds each, I had some soreness in my shooting arm from wrist to elbow. The Bisley grip lessens the felt recoil in the hand, but the shock extends into the arm. Both days the temperature was 35 degrees which did not help matters in the least.

The first 100 rounds of 400 and 440 grain bullets out of the .500 Linebaugh were off the bench and did the most damage. It was very difficult to concentrate on all five shots knowing what was coming. The fifth shot in each string was especially punishing on the wrist. This position, however, protected my trigger finger from the Bisley trigger. Switching to a standing braced position for the next 100 rounds, gave less felt recoil in the arm, but on the 75th shot, the trigger cut a deep gash in the bottom of my trigger finger.

Recoil is a subjective matter and recoil is normally felt more between the ears than in the hands and arms and in all fairness to the .500 it must be stated that with loads of 400 grain bullets up to 1200 feet per second and 440 grain bullets to 1100 feet per second, the felt recoil is no worse, perhaps even less than standard .44 Magnum loads. Or so it seems to this sixgunner, having very strong arms and hands. Go above these levels and the .500 is in a class all by itself. Of course, 200 rounds of .500 Linebaughs in two days is not something that anyone would normally do except in a testing situation.

Accuracy with the big .500, especially when viewed under the testing conditions, borders on the fantastic. Shooting a big gun like this, in cold weather, and from a standing braced position, is not the best way to wring top accuracy from any handgun. Nevertheless, most handloads shot through the .500 resulted in five-shot, twenty-five yard groups of two inches or less, with some getting down very close to one- inch. This from a revolver that recoils stoutly to say the least.

The accompanying loads should be regarded as maximum in the .500 Linebaugh. Velocities will be higher in warmer weather especially with WW 296. More complete loading data on the .500 will be given in a future Taffin Tests. Linebaugh's maximum recommendations for the .500 with a seven and one-half inch barrel are 31.0 grains of H110/WW296 under 400 grain bullets for 1320 feet per second and 29.0 grains of the same with a 440 grain bullet for 1270 feet per second. I did not achieve these results with the 400 grain bullet in a five and one-half inch barrel in cold weather, but the big 440 grain bullets coupled with less powder capacity saw the powder work at its peak and give over 1250 feet per second velocity.









LBT #512.400 LFN

28.0 GR. #2400



(404 GRAINS)

31.0 GR. WW296


1 5/8"

LTB #512.440 LFN

26.0 GR. #2400


1 1/2"

(445 GRAINS)

29.0 GR. WW296


2 1/4"

30.0 GR. H4227


1 3/4"



1 3/4"

NEI #420.511

25.0 GR. #2400


1 5/8"

(444 GRAINS)

29.0 GR. WW296


2 1/2"

28.0 GR. H4227


1 5/8"

Linebaugh's Custom .500 is a masterpiece of workmanship and design. It is not a target pistol by any means, but gives real rifle type power carried on the belt and it is designed for one thing--hunting the biggest of game. What a great close range elk-moose-big bear gun this is!

This is not a gun for beginners, but for seasoned sixgunners who have worked their way up with much experience with heavy loaded .45 Colt and/or .44 Magnum and/or .454 Casull. It will not hurt you when used normally; 200 rounds in two days is not normal by any means. I went on to shoot another 100 rounds later in the week coupled with 300 rounds with John's other big bore five-gun with no lasting (hopefully) ill effects. If you like such big bore sixguns as the .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, .454 Casull, you will love the Linebaugh .500. Just go into it with your eyes wide open.

The .500 Linebaugh has proven to be an excellent hunting revolver for thin-skinned game, but it lacks something. Would it be possible to combine the muzzle velocity and penetration of the .44 Magnum and .454 Casull with the bullet weight of the .500 Linebaugh? This was Linebaugh's next step and the result is the other big bore five-gun, the .475 Linebaugh.

The .475 is not a step backwards from the .500 by any means. Optimum bullet weight for the .475 seems to be in the 350-400 grain weight category, while the .500 is at its best with 400-440 grain bullets. Using bullets of the same weight, namely 400 grains, the .475 picks up 100-150 feet per second over the .500. And since the diameter of the .475 is 7% less than the .500, .476" compared to .512", penetration is better. Cross sectional area wise, the .475 is 14 % less than the .500, again giving better penetration with the same weight bullet. This makes the .475 the better choice for really big, tough game.

The .475 is made by trimming .45-70 brass to 1.400" and reloading with RCBS Custom .475 dies. Calling upon my local gunsmith, I had him trim Winchester Western .45-70 brass to the proper length, ran the trimmed brass through the RCBS full-length sizer die and expander die in sequence, seated bullets over large doses of selected powders ignited by CCI #350 primers and I was in business. The brass used had been loaded numerous times in various .45-70's and now has gone through three loadings in the .475 Linebaugh.

Everything that I have said about the .500 also applies to the .475. Workmanship is superb. And when it comes to shooting, both of these are heavy recoiling revolvers, but after 600 rounds through them in five testing sessions, I have no great after effects. This is probably more rounds than would normally be fired through these fine hunting guns in a year. I would say that anyone that can handle a .44 Magnum well, especially the relatively lightweight Model 29 Smith and Wesson and/or Ruger Super Blackhawk, should be able to handle a .475 or .500 Linebaugh Bisley with a little practice and working up starting with below full-bore loads. One caution. Do not try to assemble light loads with WW296 nor H110. Use #2400, Blue Dot or H4227 for lighter loads and HS-6 or WW231 for "practice" loads in the 800 to 900 foot per second range.

Let's look at Knock-Out values for the .475 with Linebaugh's recommended top loads. These, both chronographed with a seven and one- half inch barrel and using H110 powder, are a 350 grain bullet at 1570 fps, and a 385 grain bullet at 1480 feet per second. These figure out to KO values of 37 and 39 respectively. Remember, a standard .44 Magnum has a KO value of 21. My top loads, with two inches less barrel coupled with cold weather, were 350 grain bullet @ 1534 fps for KO of 36.5, 380 grain bullet @ 1408 fps for 36 KO, 395 grain bullet @ 1394 for 37 KO, and the 405 grain bullet @ 1427 fps for a Knock Out value of 39. Believe me, a 405 grain bullet at 1400+ feet per second from a forty-nine ounce revolver provides high KO at both ends of the muzzle!

I was particularly impressed with the accuracy of these really big bore revolvers. Even though both the .475 and .500 were fired with full horsepower loads in cold weather, all loads gave five-shot groups at 25 yards that surprised me to say the least. Fifty-four different loads were tried in the .475 and thirty-six loads in the .500. Most groups were two inches or less, this from a braced standing position utilizing the spare tire on my Broncho as a "rest". As stated earlier, bench resting was just too punishing for this much firing. About half the groups fired were in the one-inch neighborhood.

Bullets used in the .475 were three LBT designs cast from their excellent double cavity moulds, #467.370LFN (350 grain), #476.420LFN (395 grain), and #476.440LFN (405 grain); and NEI's beautiful flat-nosed 380 grain .475 bullet, #390.477. All .475 bullets were sized to .476" using an RCBS sizing die and at the same time they were lubed with Thompson's bullet lube.

Casting these big bullets requires a lot of alloy. The Lyman Mag 20 Melting Pot empties quickly when running two double cavity moulds in tandem with 400+ grain bullets dropping from each. With bullets this large, extra cooling time is needed for each mould also.

The accompanying chart gives some reloading information for the .475. As with the .500, more complete reloading information and loading data, including less than full-bore loads, will be given in a future edition of Taffin Tests.


FIREARM: BISLEY 5 1/2" BRASS: .45/70 TRIMMED TO 1.400"








NEI #390.477

28.0 GR. H4227


1 5/8"

(380 GRAIN)

27.0 GR. #2400


1 3/4"



1 3/4"

31.0 GR. WW296


1 5/8"

LBT #476.370LFN

28.0 GR. H4227



(350 GRAIN)

28.5 GR. #2400





2 1/4"

33.0 GR. WW296



LBT #476.420LFN

27.0 GR. H4227


1 3/4"

(395 GRAIN)

25.5 GR. #2400


1 1/4"



1 1/4"

29.0 GR. WW296


1 3/4"

LBT #476.440LFN

25.0 GR. H4227


1 7/8"

(405 GRAIN)

24.0 GR. #2400


2 1/4"




29.0 GR. WW296


1 3/4"

Both the .475 and .500 revolvers were test-fired from start to finish with no cleaning until all testing was finished. Leading was minimal using bullets cast of three parts pure lead to four parts type metal, and each gun could have gone hundreds of rounds more if the base pin and center hole in the cylinder were both cleaned from time to time. Linebaugh maintains less than .003" barrel/cylinder gap and no binding occurred at any time during the firing of hundreds of rounds through each gun.

Niether the .475 nor the .500 are target revolvers by any means, nor are they the first choice for silhouetting or self-defense. What they are are small packages offering big power for outdoorsman, guides, and handgun hunters. Powerful. Practical. Packable.

I had to give the matched pair of custom five and one-half inch barreled .475 and .500 Linebaughs back to Shawn Daniel after my testing time. However, this is not the end; loving big bore revolvers as I do, I must have my own .475 and .500. First the .475, then the .500,for the simple reason that brass for the .475 is so easy to make. The .500, if one does not use .500 Linebaugh brass, must be made by trimming .348 Winchester brass to length and then inside neck reaming; .475 brass made from Winchester-Western .45-70 brass does not need to be reamed. Just trim and load.