The .500 Wyoming Express from Freedom Arms


by Jeff Quinn

Photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

November 7th, 2005




A few months back, I was having a conversation with Bob Baker, President of Freedom Arms, when he told me of their development of a proprietary fifty caliber cartridge designed specifically to fit their Model 83 revolver. He told me details of the project with the request that I keep it all in secret until the gun was ready for production, and I have respected his wishes.  I had the privilege of shooting a pre-production revolver in early June of this year, but it was still a "no go" on letting the word out. He didn’t want customers chomping at the bit to purchase a new gun that was not yet ready.  Many gun companies announce a new firearm with much fanfare, only to be several months, or even years, before the project actually goes into production. Not so with Freedom Arms. Bob wanted to be sure that he could fill orders for revolvers, dies, and cartridge cases before announcing the new cartridge, which they have dubbed the .500 Wyoming Express.

The .500 Wyoming Express is the result of Freedom Arms wanting to pack the most power that they could into their Model 83 revolver. Building a bigger gun to house an existing fifty caliber revolver cartridge would have compromised the "packability" of the Model 83. The Model 83 is a tough, strong, and reliable five-shot revolver that is still light enough and portable enough for all-day carry in the field. Freedom Arms had previously chambered for the .50 Action Express cartridge, but the .500 Wyoming Express is much better suited to revolver use, and packs a lot bigger punch.

The .500 Wyoming Express has a belted cartridge case, much like many magnum rifle cartridges. Using a belted case allowed Freedom Arms to fit the fifty caliber into the Model 83 without having to deal with a cartridge rim that was too large for the revolver, or a rim that was too small to easily manufacture. The belted case seems to be a great idea. The .50 AE could not handle the heavier bullets, due to having an insufficient crimp, headspacing on the case mouth. The .500 WE can be heavily roll-crimped to handle heavier bullets.  The .500 WE case uses large rifle primers. The maximum case length is 1.370 inches, and the maximum overall cartridge length is 1.765 inches.  The .500 WE uses a true .500 caliber bullet diameter, many of which are readily available to handloaders.

Before delving farther into the cartridge, a bit about the Model 83 revolver is in order. The put it rather bluntly, the Model 83 Premier Grade Freedom Arms revolver is the finest example of a single action revolver available. You can spend twice as much money on a custom conversion single action, and still not have a revolver that is as precisely fitted, as finely finished, and as inherently accurate as a Model 83. The Model 83 is a five-shot design that is relatively compact, and weighs in at around three pounds, depending upon the barrel length and bore diameter chosen. The sample .500 WE with a seven and one-half inch barrel weighed in at three pounds, one and one-half ounces.  This is about the same size and weight as a Ruger Super Blackhawk of equal barrel length, but the .500 WE packs a lot more power. The trigger pull on the sample Model 83 releases crisply at three pounds and five ounces. As expected, the fit and finish on the revolver was nothing short of perfect. The entire revolver, except for the sights and grip panels, is constructed of stainless steel, and is finished to a semi-matte beautifully brushed finish. The sights are fully adjustable, and offer a very good sight picture.  The hammer spur is low enough for easy thumb-cocking, but high enough to prevent it biting the hand under heavy recoil. The laminated wood grip panels are a dark cherry red color, and are precisely fitted to the grip frame.  No other handgun is built with the precision and tight tolerances of the Freedom Arms revolvers. The timing is perfect, and the barrel/cylinder gap is tighter than .002 of an inch.  If you have never handled a Freedom revolver, it is hard to describe the feel of the action. Comparing the Freedom with common revolvers is like comparing a Rolls Royce engine to a Briggs & Stratton.

Back to the new .500 Wyoming Express cartridge.  Comparisons are inevitable, so let’s get them out of the way now.  The .500 WE’s competitors are the .500 Linebaugh, the .500 S&W Magnum, and to a degree the .50 Beowulf, with the Linebaugh being the closest to the .500 WE.  With comparable bullet weights, the .500 Wyoming Express beats the .500 Linebaugh cartridge by around 100 to 200 feet-per-second (fps).  The heaviest commercial .500 Linebaugh load is from Buffalo Bore Ammunition, and pushes a 435 grain bullet to a muzzle velocity of 1300 fps. The .500 Wyoming Express will push a 440 grain bullet to 1450 fps, according to pressure tested data using Hodgdon Lil’Gun powder. This is significant, as both cartridges are chambered in revolvers of about the same size and weight. The .500 S&W Magnum has more power than either the Linebaugh or the Wyoming Express, but it is chambered in a revolver that is much larger, and weighs almost twice as much as either a .500 Linebaugh built on a converted Ruger or the Freedom Model 83. The .50 Beowulf is also a longer cartridge, and is chambered in the BFR revolver, which is also larger and heavier, and suffers the same crimp problem as does the .50 AE. The Beowulf is an excellent cartridge chambered in an AR-15, but is not the best choice in a revolver. Freedom Arms has been several years in development of the .500 Wyoming Express, and may well have produced the best fifty caliber revolver cartridge to date, achieving the optimum balance of power to weight of any of the fifties currently available. The .500 Wyoming Express is capable of taking any game that walks the Earth, if the hunter is up to the task. The recoil of full power loads from the Model 83 .500 WE can be best described as brisk. Another good word would be "painful"., but that is somewhat misleading. Firing a few rounds of the heaviest loads is not too bad at all, but the cumulative effect of a long test session can take its toll. I found moderate loads, which are really the most useful, to be quite pleasant to shoot, especially for a big-bore revolver. Developing hot loads using heavy bullets quickly became a chore, and I found myself dreading pulling the trigger on the faster loads using bullets of 400 grains and heavier. Again, firing a few was no problem, but long shooting sessions of the heavy stuff hindered my ability to accurately place my shots.  I found that three pound trigger getting harder to pull with each shot.  My favorite loads tested were those that moved a 400 to 450 grain bullet out the muzzle at around 1000 fps, or a bit less. These loads are capable of cleanly taking most game., and are much easier on the shooter.

Cartridge overall length precludes the use of some fifty caliber bullets. The distance from the crimp groove to the bullet nose regulates the overall length.  I did however use some long-nosed 400 grain Keith bullets from Dry Creek Bullets that had a too-long length if crimped in the crimp groove. These bullets I crimped over the front shoulder, and they proved to be very consistent and accurate in the Model 83. These bullets were used to shoot the seven-eighths of an inch group pictured, but accuracy was very good with all loads tested. All bullets reviewed here were of a correct design to fit the Freedom Model 83 perfectly. I only had one occasion of bullets jumping their crimp and tying up the revolver. That was when I was pushing the excellent 420 grain Belt Mountain Punch bullet in excess of 1300 fps. Using a heavier crimp solved the problem. The tremendous penetration ability of the Belt Mountain Punch bullet was tested independently by Paco Kelly and myself from a .45/70, and the fifty caliber Punch bullet should also prove to exhibit excellent penetration. It has a tiny hollowpoint to make it legal for hunting where solids are not permitted, but the tiny hole does not promote bullet expansion or distortion. It should prove to be perfect from the .500 WE where maximum penetration is of greatest importance.

Load data for the .500 Wyoming Express is available online at the Freedom Arms website. This data has been pressure tested at Hodgdon Powder Company, and covers very thoroughly bullets from 350 to 440 grains, which is the optimum bullet weight range for the cartridge. I tried several of the bullets and loads listed and they proved to be very reliable as to velocities obtained from the sample seven and one-half inch gun.  In addition to the Hornady XTP hollowpoint and Cast Performance LBT-style bullets tested by Hodgdon and Freedom Arms, I wanted to try some other fine bullets as well. The bullets tried in the .500 WE were the 420 grain Belt Mountain Punch, the Dry Creek 400 Keith, the Mt. Baldy 450 Keith gas check, and the Cast Performance 370, 400, 440, and 525 grain LBT type bullets, all with gas checks.  While I tried many load combinations in addition to those available on the Freedom Arms’ website, some of the better ones are listed below. None of the following data has been pressure tested, and I am not recommending these loads to anyone. However, they did prove to be accurate, consistent, and reliable in the gun tested.  All loads used Federal Gold Medal Match Large Rifle primers, and all bullets (except the Dry Creek Keith bullets) were seated to the crimp groove, and then heavily roll-crimped in a separate die. For a single stage press, a number 41 RCBS shell holder is correct. I loaded all ammo tested on my Dillon 550B using a letter "B" shell plate, which worked perfectly. All ammo functioned flawlessly, with easy ejection from the chambers, and no excessive pressure signs noted, which was somewhat surprising with the velocity achieved with the 525 grain bullets. Again, this is not recommended data, just a brief synopsis of my experience. All testing was done with an air temperature of between seventy and seventy-nine degrees, low humidity, and about 640 feet elevation. All velocity reading were taken at ten feet from the muzzle, and are listed in feet-per-second. The results were as indicated:

Bullet  Powder Charge Weight Velocity (fps) Extreme Spread Average Deviation
Mt. Baldy 450 Keith Trail Boss 10 grains 768 20.1 5.9
Mt. Baldy 450 Keith Trail Boss 11 grains 882.3 18.2 5.3
Mt. Baldy 450 Keith Trail Boss 11.9 grains 898.1 24.2 7.6
Mt. Baldy 450 Keith Lil’Gun 25.7 grains 1327 24.2 6.1
Belt Mtn. 420 Punch Lil’Gun 27.2 grains 1369 31.5 10.2
Cast Performance 525 Lil’Gun 25.1 grains 1347 NA NA
Dry Creek 400 Keith Titegroup 10.5 grains 1066 18.6 4.7

These are a few of the more interesting loads tested, in addition to the ones replicated from the Freedom Arms data. Of particular interest is the 525 grain Cast Performance bullet. I had thought that it would prove to be too heavy for the .500 WE case, but the velocity achieved with Lil’Gun is amazing. I stopped at the load listed, as the cases were just beginning to show sticky extraction, and are most likely over pressure, even though no other signs of high pressure were noted. If you decide to try this bullet, approach the load from well below, and proceed with caution. And yes, recoil is severe, but controllable, with this load.  This bullet should also prove very useful throttled back to about 950 fps, and much more pleasant to shoot. Case life seems to be very good so far. I have experienced no case failures, and all still chamber and extract easily. 

I really like this Freedom Arms .500 Wyoming Express. I might like it even better with a shorter barrel, as this is most likely the closest thing to the ultimate big-bore, packable, everyday revolver for those who need a lot of power in a portable package.  The new .500 WE is available with several barrel length and sight options, as well as other factory options to enhance and personalize your new Freedom Arms revolver. For those who own a Freedom Arms chambered for the .50 Action Express, Freedom Arms with fit a new .500 WE cylinder to your gun for the price of the cylinder and shipping. The .500 WE is most likely the best of all the half-inch revolver cartridges, achieving the finest balance of power to size and weight available. It is built with precision craftsmanship, and built by some fine folks in Freedom, Wyoming.  I also really like their holsters, and use one of their cross draw models regularly. As this is written, revolvers, loading dies, and cartridge cases are available from Freedom Arms.

Check out the entire line of Freedom Arms products online at:

To order bullets from Cast Performance, Belt Mountain, or Mt. Baldy, click on: ,, and

To order the Dry Creek Keith-type bullets, email Lynn Halstead at:

Jeff Quinn

NOTE: All load data posted on this web site are for educational purposes only. Neither the author nor assume any responsibility for the use or misuse of this data. The data indicated were arrived at using specialized equipment under conditions not necessarily comparable to those encountered by the potential user of this data.  Always use data from respected loading manuals and begin working up loads at least 10% below the loads indicated in the source manual.

Got something to say about this article? Want to agree (or disagree) with it? Click the following link to go to the GUNBlast Feedback Page.

Click pictures for a larger version.


Freedom Arms' Model 83 in the new .500 Wyoming Express.



Freedom Arms' quality is legendary, and the Model 83 in .500 Wyoming Express carries on the tradition.



Comparison of modern .50-caliber revolver cartridges (left to right): .500 Linebaugh, .500 Wyoming Express, .500 S&W, .50 Beowulf.



Jeff and Boge found the .500 WE to be controllable with the heaviest loads, and downright pleasant to shoot with moderate loads.



Handloaders can take advantage of a good variety of bullets and loads for the .500 WE, making it a great choice for anything from plinking to the largest game.



RCBS loading dies are available from Freedom Arms.



Bullets tested in the .500 WE include (left to right): Belt Mountain 420-grain Punch Bullet; Dry Creek 400-grain Keith; Mt. Baldy 450-grain Keith; and Cast Performance 370-grain, 400-grain, 440-grain, and 525-grain gas-check bullets.



Belt Mountain's Punch Bullets feature a non-expanding hollow point for hunters who live in jurisdictions that require use of hollow points, but desire the ultimate in penetration.



Range testing proved the Freedom Arms .500 Wyoming Express to be a powerful and accurate gun & cartridge.



Author uses a Freedom Arms cross-draw holster regularly, and considers it a great combination of practicality and comfort.



Freedom Arms also offers a great shoulder holster for their revolvers (left). At right is the FA cross-draw holster. Either is a fine choice for practical hunting use.