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January 23, 2024

Most Powerful Gun Models

By Joe Engesser

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Actor and comedian Tim Allen continues to preach about the benefits of adding “more power” to nearly every situation. Gun makers throughout history have echoed Allen’s sentiment in their efforts to provide the most powerful guns for hunting, combat, and fun on the range.

Two of the most powerful guns for sale this February at Rock Island Auction Company, including an SSK Industries .950 JDJ bolt action rifle (top) and a McMillan Bros. 14.5 JDJ bolt action rifle (bottom.)

Determining what is the strongest gun in the world in each firearms category is no easy question, but as the number one firearms auction house in the industry, Rock Island Auction Company is well-equipped to compare some of the rarest heavy-hitters available. RIAC regularly offers some of the most powerful guns designed for hunting and shooting that can be owned and enjoyed by the average collector.

A Smith & Wesson Model 29-2, "the most powerful handgun in the world" according to Clint Eastwood in 1971’s ‘Dirty Harry.’

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Most Powerful Rifles

For big game hunting, the most powerful rifle models are needed to bag some of the world’s largest beasts. The Winchester Model 70 offered sportsmen a sturdy bolt action platform that would eventually be adapted for every powerful cartridge apart from the largest double rifle calibers. Thanks to strong factory chamberings and custom-modified Model 70s pushing the limits even further, this powerful gun model remains a popular option when taking on Africa's “Big Five” today.

A Winchester Model 70 Custom Express bolt action rifle in .416 Remington Magnum, a reliable variant of one of hunting’s most powerful rifle platforms.

.50 caliber is the largest cartridge an American civilian can own without an NFA exemption. Aside from large bore African double rifles that are exempted for sporting purposes, the Barrett M82 in .50 BMG is one of the most powerful gun models that can be enjoyed by the average firearms fan. If you're looking for hard-hitting range action and an unforgettable shooting experience, a quality .50 BMG rifle can’t be beat.

Brandon Herrera fires the M82A2 .50 BMG rifle, a bullpup variant of one of the world’s most powerful rifle families.

As mentioned above, the double rifle platform is the strongest gun in the world fielded for hunting African game. When facing a changing Cape Buffalo, rhino, or an enranged bull elephant, stopping power is a matter of life or death. The Nitro Express series of cartridges was introduced to equip large bore hunters, ranging from the popular .470 Nitro Express to the more recent .700 NE. Of course, the king of the double rifle platform and the most powerful gun of its genre was and still is the mighty 4 bore.

The most powerful guns for hunting African game are unquestionably the double rifle platform. This incredible game scene engraved Holland & Holland .500/450 Nitro Express sidelock double rifle is available this May.

Modern ammunition makers like Peter Hofer continue to push the boundaries of sporting rifle ammunition. The Austrian gunmaker recently developed a 4 bore Magnum double rifle, a candidate for the most powerful gun ever developed in the double rifle market and designed to fire a 1-inch-diameter 2,000-grain bullet at a staggering 2,624 feet per second. Monstrous figures, no doubt, but one offering from SKS Industries was created that eclipses even Hofer’s powerhouse.

L to R: .30-06, .700 Nitro Express, .950 JDJ, and 4-bore rounds. JD Jones’ .950 JDJ cartridge is generally described as the largest sporting rifle cartridge ever produced for arguably the strongest gun in the world for sporting purposes.

Most Powerful Guns from J. D. Jones

Gunmaker, cartridge designer, and SSK Industries founder J. D. Jones forged a name for himself with quality hunting arms and ammunition. He also created some of the most powerful rifle models ever designed for civilian shooting, including the 14.5 JDJ and the .950 JDJ.

A huge McMillan Bros. 14.5 JDJ bolt action rifle with reloading accessories.

The 14.5 JDJ cartridge is based on the standard .50 BMG with the neck opened to accept the SSK 1,173 grain solid brass 14.5mm bullet. Needless to say, a round this large required SSK Industries to obtain an NFA exemption. This devastating custom cartridge makes the McMillian Bros. 14.5 JDJ bolt action rifle a worthy inclusion on our list of most powerful gun candidates, but its larger sibling, the .950 JDJ "Fat Mac," dwarfs all competition.

One of the most powerful guns the average collector can own, an SSK Industries .950 JDJ bolt action rifle, only one of only three produced.

The biggest gun in the SKS Industries family and a strong contender for the most powerful rifle outside of antitank military guns, the .950 JDJ Fat Mac chambers a 20x110mm Vulcan Cannon cartridge that’s been cut down to 70mm case length and necked up to 24mm (.95 caliber.) The JDJ fires a 3,600 grain bullet at 2,200 fps for a whopping 38,685 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. For comparison, that’s well over three times the muzzle energy of even the strongest .50 BMG loads.

The strongest gun in the world for sports shooting? This massive SSK Industries .950 JDJ bolt action rifle made a huge impression at RIAC's February auction.

Most Powerful Handgun Models

Some of the most powerful handgun models of the black powder era included the Colt Walker and the Howdah pistol. While the big bore Howdah pistol was designed to ward off lions, tigers, and other dangerous game, the Walker was an oversized cavalry sidearm. The Colt Walker would retain the title of most powerful revolver until 1934 and the birth of the Magnum Era.

The Colt Walker, the biggest revolver of its age. This historic B Company No. 102 U.S. Colt Model 1847 Walker, marked for Mexican General and Governor of Coahuila Andres Viesca, is available this May.

In the 1930s, wildcatters like Elmer Keith spurred a renaissance in ammunition development and pushed for stronger revolvers that could chamber their experimental cartridge loads. Col. D.B. Wesson, Vice-President of Smith & Wesson, answered the call with the .357 Magnum. Widely advertised as “The Most Powerful Pistol Made” upon its release, the .357 Magnum revolver was praised by law enforcement agencies and handgun hunters alike for its higher muzzle velocity and penetrative power.

The .357, the first in a new wave of powerful handguns from Smith & Wesson.

“The Magnum Era” continued in the 1950s with the .44 Magnum cartridge. Smith & Wesson’s large N-frame revolver, chambered in the most powerful handgun round to date, went into production in 1955. Hyped as the world’s biggest revolver, what would eventually become known as the Model 29 saw overwhelming success, and its reputation further skyrocketed in 1971 thanks to Clint Eastwood’s ‘Dirty Harry.’ Numerous gun makers would eventually release their own .44 Magnum revolvers, including Colt’s mighty Anaconda, the most powerful handgun in Colt's "Snake Gun" series.

The .44 Magnum Anaconda revolver is the most powerful gun in Colt’s Snake Gun family.

Revolvers from Ruger, Colt, Taurus, Korth, and other noted manufacturers were designed to take advantage of the potent .44 Magnum cartridge. One of the most unique handguns to chamber the .44 Magnum was the Italian Model 6 Unica. Among the scarce few true semiautomatic revolvers, the Model 6 Unica was engineered to reduce recoil by firing off of the revolver’s lower chamber instead of the top, where the force of recoil was better aligned with the shooter’s hand. This greater control worked well with some of the powerful cartridges appearing in the commercial market, including Dick Casull’s famous .454.

A Mateba Unica 6 Auto Revolver in .44 Magnum, one of the more unique entries on our most powerful handgun list.

Most Powerful Handguns Today

The most powerful gun models in the handgun family evolved to chamber an ever-expanding line of monster cartridges being introduced in the decades following the .44 Magnum. In terms of commercial semiautomatic pistols, the strongest gun in the world title includes contenders like the Wildey Survivor and the mighty Desert Eagle.

One of the most powerful handguns on the market, the Magnum Research Desert Eagle is offered in heavy hitters like the .44 Magnum and the .50 AE.

Revolvers have seen even more of a cartridge arms race in recent years than their semiautomatic cousins. Today’s most powerful handgun models are designed to chamber titans like the .454 Casull, .480 Ruger, .475 Linebaugh, .500 JRH, and .500 Linebaugh. Some firearms fans dub the .500 S&W Magnum and the Model 500 X-Frame series the most powerful revolver pairing, and the platform certainly makes a case for itself.

When you want biggest gun in the room, its hard to beat the S&W 500. Smith & Wesson's powerful handguns have been featured in recent Hollywood action films.

Appearing on the commercial market in the early 2000s, both the .460 S&W and .500 S&W are true titans in their field. For production arms, the most powerful gun in the single action revolver family might just be the Magnum Research BFR, which can be chambered in either of the aforementioned rounds, as well as the 45-70. In terms of the most powerful gun model for factory double action revolvers, when measured by sheer muzzle velocity, Smith & Wesson has an answer, boasting that their Model 460XVR possesses "the highest muzzle velocity of any production revolver on earth."

The most powerful gun of its class, according to Smith & Wesson.

Most Powerful Shotguns

The 10 gauge shotty is the most powerful gun platform legally allowed for waterfowling in the United States today. While the 10 gauge is somewhat of a rarity in the current sporting market, that wasn’t always the case. Before smokeless powder hit the scene near the end of the 19th century, the 10 gauge side-by-side offered hunters, storekeepers, lawmen, and security personnel a means to pack a big punch, as illustrated by the 1887 manufactured Parker Brothers hammer shotgun pictured below.

The 10 gauge side-by-side, one of the biggest gun models available to fowlers past and present.

When it came to fowling, even more powerful guns were available for the wealthy elites of the 19th century. These behemoths were far from common, however. For example, from 1867 until the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, Parker Brothers only manufactured 246 shotguns in 8 gauge. 4 gauge shotguns were even more scarce, and today these specially ordered powerhouses are some of the rarest sporting arms in the collecting field.

An example of the most powerful gun platform for fowling outside of the boat mounted punt gun, this scarce cased engraved Holland & Holland single barrel 4-bore percussion duck gun from The Norman Blank Collection was originally made for the Chisholm of Chisholm, c. 1876-1883. Available this May.

Before the U.S. government banned the use of anything larger than 10 gauge for hunting migratory birds in 1918, the mammoth punt gun was the most powerful gun platform available to market hunters seeking to bag dozens of waterfowl in a single shot. Manufactured in 4 gauge, 2 gauge, and even a colossal 1 gauge variant, the most powerful punt guns were more similar to small artillery than hunting arms.

English sports writer John Henry Walsh noted one London maker offered punt guns that were 1 1/2 inches in bore diameter, weighed 120 pounds, and carried up to 2 1/2 pounds of shot. An illegal punt gun seized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services in 1920 was recorded as measuring nearly 11 feet long and weighing a staggering 250 pounds, certainly one of the biggest gun models for hunting purposes, past or present.

A candidate for strongest gun in the world in the sporting field. (Top) A massive 2 bore punt gun compared to a 4 bore punt gun. (Bottom left) The colossal 9 1/4 inch steel shell used with a Holland & Holland 2 bore screw breech punt gun rivals the size of a 37×257 mm. R (37mm Bofors) anti-tank round.

Most Powerful Guns for Sale

The lead-belching behemoths featured here present the chance to own some of the most specialized guns in arms development and are an opportunity for the determined shooter to enjoy a truly unique range experience. For fans of the biggest revolvers, the most powerful rifles, and the strongest shotguns, Rock Island Auction Company is calling your name.

The SSK Industries .950 JDJ Fat Mac “Gun Number One” (left) and a McMillan Bros. 14.5 JDJ rifle (right.).

For collectors, shooters, and firearm fans of every stripe, Rock Island Auction Company's Feb. 16-18 Sporting and Collector Firearms Auction features some of the rarest of the big and small from across the centuries. From the smallest palm pistols to the incredible firepower of the .950 JDJ, RIAC’s selection is unparalleled.

A custom Barrett M82A1 semi-automatic rifle with a class III/NFA silencer. Available this May.

Subscribe to the Rock Island Auction newsletter for more gun blogs and gun videos covering more heavy hitters in arms development, including the Gatling gun, the Mitrailleuse volley gun, the Nordenfelt, the Hotchkiss revolving cannon, the SPAS-12, Ithaca Auto & Burglar, the M60, the M240, the BAR, and more.

Looking for powerful guns? The .950 JDJ returns to Rock Island Auction Company this February!

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