Smith & Wesson M500 Silver 8 3/8" - Tanaka

Back in the 1970's Dirty Harry toted 'the most powerful handgun in the world', the S&W Model 29 .44 Magnum.

It was certainly a beast, with imposing bulk and masses of power, but things move on and by the 1990s S&W's 44 Magnum was no longer king of the hill, with the .454 Casull and even the .50AE automatic round producing greater power.

However, with the arrival of the 21st Century, Smith & Wesson struck back...

Their response was the .50 S&W round and the Smith & Wesson 500 revolver to fire it from, firing a huge half inch bullet at 1600+ fps!

The most powerful handgun EVER!

Tanaka, kings of the airsoft revolver world and makers of numerous S&W revolvers in airsoft form, released the mighty 500 - Can an airsoft pistol do justice to the 'most powerful handgun in the 21st century world'?

In the Box

The box art is typical of Tanaka, with a photograph of the gun on a dark background.

Under the lid is the huge gun, a small bag of .2g BBs, a small key, a 'speed loader' and the usual collection of Japanese manuals and a target.

Standard Tanaka fare

The 500 is unusual amongst Tanaka revolvers in that there is no gas nozzle/adaptor to allow you to extend the fill nozzle on a gas can to reach the cylinder mounted gas nozzle. This is because the 500's cylinder is so large in diameter that a gas can's nozzle can align directly with the cylinder simply swung out.

First Impressions

BIG. There is no other word for it.

The gun is truly huge, dwarfing the M29 and even the mighty Desert Eagle.

Some statistics - Length 15", Cylinder length 2.25", real steel weight 2kg...

However, you do not get the sense of how big it is just from these photographs because everything is to scale. The frame has to be massive, because the cylinder (only holding 5 rounds and there are 5 fake rounds in there) is so vast.

The Rubber Hogue like grips, however, look a little odd, because S&W (and Tanaka, by copying it) made them in the same dimensions as the K frame revolvers, like the model 19 .357 magnum, a whole frame size smaller than the old .44.

The 500 is designed for hunting - Tanaka's silver gun is a great looking replica.

Tanaka released a black version of the gun first, but I waited for the silver one as S&W only make the 500 in stainless steel.

The general finish is excellent, with none of the faint brush marks I saw on my 8" model 29's barrel. I do not think flawless would be too strong for the finish on my example, at least.

Huge frame and cylinder, managable grips and long barrel all excellently replicated.

Despite, or maybe because of, the gun's huge dimensions, it actually feels much too light. It is a little over a kilo, but the barrel, especially, feels featherweight, which upsets the balance a bit.

Next to the SIG P226, the 500's sheer hugeness is obvious.

Closer Look

Where to start? Well, let's start up at the muzzle and work back.

At the front of the gun is a detachable compensator, with vents in the top, which serve no functional purpose on the airsoft gun, but are supposed to tame some of the vicious recoil on the real thing.

Massive bore and compensator.

On the main part of the barrel, just behind the compensator, is the foresight. This is interchangeable, on real and Tanaka versions, simply by pushing it up and back. A few owners have reported losing these sights on skirmishes, so beware. The standard sight features an unpainted blade, but S&W's website features a variety of options, including fibre optics. There is a slight imperfection in the finish on the sight mount's left side on my gun, either a slight moulding imperfection or some foreign matter in the paint.

Barrel markings - LeftBarrel markings - right

The barrel itself, aside from being big, is fairly plain. The left side (looking forward) is marked "500 S&W MAGNUM", whilst the right reads simply "SMITH & WESSON". There is a full length underlug, which would be described as 'Classic' style on an older style S&W revolver. The extractor rod on the cylinder fits in a recess on the left side of the underlug and looks pathetically spindly, although it is not noticeably smaller than that of a Model 29.

Extractor rod looks tiny.

Crane swings massive cylinder well clear of the frame.

The crane (the bit that the cylinder swings out on) is plain and solid looking and feeling and, on my example, moves smoothly in and out.

Five fake .50 cartridges are fitted. Note gas fill and unfinished rear cylinder face.

The cylinder itself is all metal and is polished rather than painted, which means it is not a perfect match to the frame, although, looking at photographs on the web, the real thing seems to have a different finish between the frame/barrel and cylinder, too.

There are 5 fake, fixed, shells in the cylinder, but the 'face' of the cylinder, where you would push the shells on the real thing is, as ever, the one unfinished looking part of the gun, with unpainted zinc like metal showing between the shells.

Quality finish of Tanaka's stainless silver on frame and cylinder clear in this photograph.

The 500, along with a number of recent (to 2005) Tanaka revolvers, features a new adjustable hop-up design and a cylinder/inner barrel alignment mechanism that ensures a more consistent and reliable chambering of the gun and less wasted gas at the barrel/cylinder interface, about the only place where the Tanaka system is able to lose gas.

As ever with Tanaka revolvers utilising the PEGASUS system, one of the shells has a hole in to allow gas to be loaded into reservoir inside the cylinder. The 500 is unique, in my experience at least, in that it does not require an adaptor to let a gas can reach the fill valve. The huge diameter of the cylinder meaning the valve is far enough from the frame to fill directly with a standard can of Abbey 134a or Ultra or the AI Propane adaptor.

Safety and frame markings - Note also hammer lock above cylinder relase

The safety/cylinder release is interesting in that, like Marushin's Raging Bull, it replicates the security feature required of modern revolvers. In the 500's case, there is a small lock under the swivelling cylinder release, which can prevent the gun firing without the key.

Hammer Spur is heavily chequered.

The hammer features extensive chequering on the spur, but moves, on my example, smoothly. Cerebus, on Arnies, however, reported cylinder binding on his 500 from the outset. Interestingly, the 500 does not feature a firing pin built into the hammer, which all the other S&W revolvers I have seen do.

Trigger reach is surprisingly comfortable.

For such a large gun, the trigger/grip relationship is very comfortable. As mentioned earlier, S&W chose to give the X frame grips the exact same dimensions as a K/L frame, reckoned by many to be one of the most comfortable revolvers around. The pull is reasonable in single or double action and I never feel the reach is uncomfortable to the trigger.

Hogue grips are either real or great replicas.

The grips are either real Hogues or very good replicas and bear the S&W logo near the top, on each side. Just above the grips, on the right side is a 500 logo and there is a S&W logo in the same place on the left side.

Sights are plain, but easily supplanted.

The gun's sights are very simple with an adjustable, for windage and elevation rear leaf (outlined in white), which looks very like a 29's and that plain black blade up front.

As well as the interchangeable foresight, the 500's frame is correctly drilled for a real steel scope mount, probably the obvious choice for this monster in real steel form and something that would look mighty on the Tanaka airsoft replica (as well as providing some welcome added weight).

Shooting Impressions

Out of the box, the balance of the Tanaka 500 is all wrong. On the real thing, the barrel will be heavier, shifting more of the centre of gravity to the muzzle.

Removing the outer barrel is remarkably easy and I found that 1/2" steel rod can be fitted into the hollow underlug. I fitted a piece weighing around 100g and it has made the gun feel much more convincingly balanced, even though it is still only around half the weight of the real gun.

Even so, the whole 500 experience is surreal - The gun is so big that it almost feels like a cartoon characterisation of a revolver.

However, the actual performance of the 500 in airsoft form is very good.

Click on image for bigger version in separate window.

Carrying out my standard 5m/6 round, off hand test, I achieved a best 5 grouping of 30mm (1.2 inches), the best by a revolver by some margin.

All the shots were also central to the aimpoint, although slightly low, something easily compensated for, as the 500 has an adjustable hop-up.

I also had cause to test the gun at longer range (around 20m) and found that it could consistently hit a 30CMx30CM box at that range, which my M29 was not able to do, sending .25g BBs skyward at around 10-15m.

Power, as expected of a Tanaka revolver with a decent length barrel, is at the high end of gas gun performance.

Over 10 shots, the S&W 500 averaged 308 fps (using 134a gas and Excel .2g BBs) indoors (at 21C).

Shot      FPS
1 307.5
2 307.1
3 312.2
4 309.2
5 300.3
6 301.5
7 308.0
8 313.1
9 310.3
10 315.7

As you can see the power, if anything, was increasing towards the end of the string, probably due to the large cylinder warming up, but the gun (on 134a, at least) is usable at UK skirmish sites.

However, it is fair to say that my model 29s have produced more power.

Trigger pull was 1300g (47 Oz), which is a medium weight pull for a NBB and similar to most other Tanaka revolvers I have tested.


Overall, the Tanaka 500 is another great Tanaka revolver, only let down by the lack of weight (an odd thing to say about an airsoft gun heavier than a kilo!) in proportion to its size.

Performance is good, accuracy being especially impressive, even at longer ranges, and the replication and general quality of finish is exactly what you would expect of Tanaka; excellent.

Tanaka's 500 is a great replica of the real S&W, except for weight.

However, for some, the gun will feel unduly light and this will put off a lot of people, I suspect, but if you want the best performing airsoft revolver around, you are going to have to give the Tanaka S&W 500 serious consideration.

UPDATE December 2005 :

I was in the US a couple of weeks ago and visited a gun shop, with a huge range of guns. What struck me was just how realistic the Tanaka S&W 500 is. The real 500s lying in the display cabinets were visually indistinguishable from the 500 in these photos (Tanaka markings excepted, obviously). If you want a realistic looking revolver, you won't do better than the Tanaka S&W 500.

Weight : 1050g

Realism : ****
Quality : ****
Power : ****
Accuracy : ****

Gunblast's review of the Model 500

S&W's 500 range

Popular Mechanics article on the Model 500

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