Freedom Arms .500 Wyoming Express Perfect Packiní Pistol

 

by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

April 7, 2006

 

 

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(UPDATED April 11th, 2006)

Hunters, woodsmen, hikers, fishermen, and other woods-roaming types are always looking for the perfect packiní pistol. Oneís definition of perfection will vary somewhat with the terrain, activity, and geographic location, along with personal preference. A Tennessee fisherman might want to pack a pistol along for snake protection, and obviously doesnít need the same pistol as a salmon fisherman in Alaska who might share the stream with a few brown bears. While a packiní pistol does not necessarily need to be the primary arm of a hunter, it should be able to fill that role if the need arises. A hiker might want a handgun along  for protection from predators of the human and animal kind, unless of course they are the Volvo-driving, tree-hugging, sweater-tied-around-their-butt type of hiker who would prefer to try to pet the pretty mountain lion. A man working cattle needs a handgun with enough power to put down a mean bull, if the need arises. Anyway, there is certainly no definitive answer to the need to go armed while in the great outdoors. However, there are many fine handguns that can fill the need. As a rule, a packiní pistol must be relatively compact, lightweight enough to carry comfortably, and powerful enough  to handle any situation that might arise. While I can often be found wandering the woods with a good .22 Long Rifle chambered revolver or pistol on my hip, if I were in an area where bears, cougars, or felons might be apt to appear, I would certainly carry a more powerful weapon, which I do when in those areas.

In my daily emails from Gunblast readers, I often am asked for recommendations for a good handgun to carry while in areas in which a bear might be encountered. While most encounters with large bears can be avoided, it is always a good idea to go armed, just in case.  Bears have been killed with the twenty-two rimfire cartridges, but it is not recommend. Should you need protection from a wild animal, the need will most likely arise very quickly, so the weapon must be readily at hand. As outlined above, a packiní pistol must be handy. If you are on a stream bank, and the bear is between you and your weapon, you had better be a good swimmer. A packiní pistol must be at hand at all times, preferably in a good holster.

It has been about six months now since I first reviewed the new .500 Wyoming Express from Freedom Arms. As I stated in that article, I believe that this is the best of the fifty caliber revolver cartridges to date, considering its power-to-weight ratio. The .500 S&W certainly exceeds the power of the .500 Wyoming Express, but at the cost of a considerable increase in weight and bulk. I do not consider the .500 S&W revolver to be a packiní pistol, but instead a primary hunting revolver. The seven and one-half inch barreled revolver tested in the earlier article is an excellent weapon, but for a packiní pistol, I prefer a shorter barrel. For a primary hunting revolver, I prefer the seven and one-half inch tube, but for riding on the hip, a shorter barrel just packs better.  I have since obtained a Model 83 Freedom Arms revolver with a four and three-quarters inch barrel, and it indeed is much more packable for a daily carry gun in the woods or field.

This would be as good a place as any to state that I realize that there is a difference between a pistol and a revolver, but the term "packiní pistol" just sounds better than "packiní revolver", so I will continue to refer to both pistols and revolvers as such in this context, however incorrect that it may be.

The short-barreled Freedom Model 83 balances very well, with the balance point being exactly where the front of the trigger guard  contacts the grip frame, resulting in a relatively lively-feeling handgun that seems even lighter in weight than it is. The weight of the .500 WE with the 4 ĺ inch barrel is only two pounds and fourteen ounces. I compared this to other handguns in my safe. It weighs slightly less than  my five and one-half inch Ruger Bisley .45, and just six ounces more than the new small Ruger Vaquero. It is the same weight as my Dadís six inch .357 magnum GP100, and is handier and much more powerful. As you can see in the picture, Boge scratched up the grips on that .357 a bit. The .500 WE is definitely packable. It also packs plenty of power. Going from the seven and one-half inch Model 83 to the four and three-quarters inch gun gives up only about sixty feet-per-second (fps) velocity comparing the three factory Grizzly Cartridge Company loads tested in the two guns. That is a fair trade-off, and nothing hit with those big fifty caliber slugs can tell the difference of sixty fps. Grizzly has since introduced four more loadings for the .500 WE. They have added the excellent Belt Mountain Punch Bullet to their full-power loadings, and also are offering their 370, 400, and 440 grain Cast Performance bullets in reduced velocity loadings, listed at a nominal 950 fps from a six-inch barrel. The Grizzly loads tested in the short 4 ĺ inch barreled Freedom are listed in the chart below. Air temperature at the time of testing was around sixty-eight degrees, with the PACT chronograph sensors twelve feet from the muzzle. All velocities are listed in feet-per-second.

Load Velocity
Grizzly 440 Punch 1166
Grizzly 440 WFNGC 1195
Grizzly 400 Bonded Core 1244
Grizzly 370 WFNGC 1296
Grizzly 440 WFNGC (reduced) 970.1
Grizzly 400 WFNGC (reduced) 956
Grizzly 370 WFNGC (reduced) 973.8

These are the only factory loads for the .500 Wyoming Express of which I am aware. However, this is excellent ammunition, and the Grizzly loadings should cover just about any need for which the big 500 should be called upon to fill. In the chart above, WFNGC stands for the Wide Flat Nose Gas Check bullets from Cast Performance. The Grizzly Cartridge ammunition is some of the best that I have ever tested as to consistency and accuracy, with average deviation readings from their high velocity loads in the high single digits, and the reduced velocity loads with even lower deviation readings. These bullets are also available from Cast Performance for handloaders, and the 440 grain WFNGC is one of my favorites. For a good, all around general purpose load, I like the 440 WFNGC loaded to moderate velocity. I use 11.8 grains of Hodgdon Tite Group powder to push that bullet to 1156 fps average from the short-barreled Model 83. Recoil is manageable, and inflicts no pain upon the shooter.  I also like the Keith style bullets from Dry Creek and Mt. Baldy. For a lighter hollowpoint bullet for use on lighter game such as whitetail deer, the Barnes 275 grain X should be just about perfect from the .500 Wyoming Express. For pressure tested load data, I refer the reader to the Freedom Arms web site.

Another feature of the Model 83 reviewed here is the optional round butt on the grip frame. This makes a world of difference to me in the controllability of the weapon. It makes the Model 83 easier to hang onto, and eliminates the sharp edges of the grip. It is well worth the extra price, and I highly recommend this option for the heavy kickers.

This Freedom Arms Model 83 revolver, as expected and demonstrated by all Freedom Arms models, is one of the tightest production revolvers in the world. The fit and finish is impeccable. The black Micarta grip panels fit perfectly. The grip frame fits the cylinder frame perfectly. The trigger pull measures a crisp two pounds and fifteen ounces. Perfect. The adjustable sights on the Model 83 offer a very good sight picture, and it is also drilled and tapped for a scope mount. I tried to measure the barrel/cylinder gap on the Model 83, but I had no feeler gauge that would enter the gap. The .002 inch feeler would not enter. The gap is .001, or less. That is ten times tighter than the acceptable gap from some of our revolver manufacturers.  Lest you think that this might be too tight, through firing hundreds of rounds of factory and handloaded ammunition, with both cast and jacketed bullets, and without any cleaning, the Model 83 never tended to bind or gum up. The cases fall easily from the chambers, no matter how heavy the load. The test gun also proved capable of firing sub-one-inch groups at twenty-five yards with several different loads. Nobody builds a revolver like the folks in Freedom, Wyoming.  With an ideal balance of power to weight, along with its handy size, the .500 WE is a very packable handgun.

A packiní pistol needs a good holster to protect the weapon and keep it handy at all times, while offering all-day comfort. Freedom Arms sells some very good field holsters. I have a couple of their cross draw holsters that I use often.  However, for this revolver I wanted a holster that offered full protection for use in freezing weather and other rough conditions. A full-flap holster offers the best protection, but I have never been really fond of them, as the flap seems to always get in the way, particularly when trying to re-holster the weapon one-handed.  Pictured here you will see a new holster style offered by Rob Leahy of Simply Rugged Holsters. Rob hand builds his holsters in Alaska, one at a time, and the quality of his work is readily apparent. This new holster he calls the Flip Top, and it is an ingenious yet simple idea. The Flip Top protects like a full-flap holster, but the top, as the name implies, flips up out of the way for quick access to draw or re-holster the handgun. The operation of flipping the top out of the way is silent, and takes almost no time from the draw of the weapon.  It protects the finish of the handgun from scratches and from freezing rain or snow, insuring that the weapon will work when needed.  The Flip Top can be worn as either a cross draw, or as a strong side holster, as the situation warrants. It also comes supplied with a snap strap to replace the flip top if the owner so desires. It is one of the most practical field holsters that I have ever used. It has all of the advantages of a full-flap holster, without the disadvantages. It is as fast to access the gun as any holster with a strap, but offers better protection. What a concept! Rob builds these to fit most revolvers and a few autos, such as the 1911. He currently sells these for a very reasonable price of between eighty-five and one hundred bucks, depending upon the gun for which it is built.

While there can be no one single handgun that is the best for every purpose, I believe that the Model 83 chambered for the .500 Wyoming Express comes very close. It offers enough bone-breaking power to take any animal that walks. It is relatively light, very handy, and extremely accurate. It can be loaded down for whitetail deer, and loaded hot for thick-skinned, heavy-boned animals. My Dad told me a long time ago something that has stuck with me. He said; "Son, you never regret buying the best". The Freedom Arms is the best revolver in the world, and this particular one could very well be the Perfect Packiní Pistol.

Check out the  fine Freedom Arms revolvers online at:  www.freedomarms.com.

For factory loaded ammunition, go to:  www.grizzlycartridge.com.

For quality fifty caliber handgun bullets, go to  www.castperformance.com, www.mtbaldybullets.com, www.beltmountaion.com, and www.barnesbullets.com.

To order one of Rob Leahyís Simply Rugged Holsters, go to:  www.simplyrugged.com.

Jeff Quinn

 

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Freedom Arms Model 83 "Premier Grade" .500 Wyoming Express.

 

 

Freedom's short-barreled Model 83 is the perfect combination of compact size and real power.

 

 

This Freedom .500 Wyoming Express is the same weight as Dad's medium frame Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum (with ivory micarta grip inserts made and scrimshawed by Boge), is a bit more compact, and packs a much heavier punch.

 

 

Freedom Arms' fully-adjustable sights are precise, rugged, and easy to see. The revolver is also factory drilled and tapped for optional scope mount available from Freedom Arms.

 

 

Precision-engineered base pin is locked in place with a screw, enabling it to handle the recoil of the heaviest loads.

 

 

Optional "round-butt" grip frame really helps tame punishing recoil, and improves the Model 83's handling characteristics. Existing "square-butt" revolvers can be sent back to FA for round-butting at a reasonable price.

 

 

Available factory loads from Grizzly Cartridge Company include (left to right): 440-grain Belt Mountain Punch, 370-grain WFNGC, 400-grain Bonded Core, and 440-grain WFNGC.

 

 

Jeff's favorite bullets for the .500 WE are (left to right): Barnes 275-grain X, Dry Creek 400-grain Keith, Mt. Baldy 450-grain Keith, Cast Performance 440-grain WFNGC, and Belt Mountain 420-grain Punch.

 

 

Simply Rugged's "Flip Top" is an ingenious field holster.