Shooting a .600 Nitro Express Hand Cannon
While I was working for the NRA Museums and manning the booth at the November 2014 Wanenmacher's Tulsa Arms Show, a friend of the museum, Jackie S., came up to our table with two pistol cases and a twinkle in his eye. I wasn’t prepared for what was inside.
The cases held a pair of custom-made Thompson Center Encore pistols with 10” cannon-style barrels. Looking at the caliber designations on each, I was both amused and unnerved when I saw “.577 Hand Cannon” and “.600 Hand Cannon.” Right then and there, I knew that I had to experience them for myself.
The guns returned with us from Oklahoma and went on exhibit in the museum in April 2015. For almost two years, I eyeballed the .600 in the case, longing for the opportunity to take it to the range.
Fast-forward to March 2017 when NRATV’s Cam & Company wanted to do an “At the Range” video shoot at the NRA Range with unusual museum guns. Instantly, I knew this was my opportunity to touch off a round (or two) from that gun.
Wanting to know more about the history behind these modern-day hand cannons, I reached out to Match Grade Machine, the Utah-based company that made the barrels.
Match Grade Machine makes barrels in 24 different chambers, from .17 caliber varieties on the low end up to .50 caliber on the high end. Jackie’s request for barrels in .577 and .600 calibers were definitely special orders. Representatives from MGM put me in touch with an employee named Dylan, who actually worked with Jackie to make this project a reality.
When I asked him how these barrels came to be, Dylan told me that Jackie “always had an eye for the big bore stuff.” Jackie sent Dylan photos of old cannons for reference and he set to work designing the barrels. They made two pairs: one set that was 10” in length (which we have at the Museum) and one set that was 16.5” in length for Jackie’s personal use. Each pair took a full day on a lathe to make.
They machine the entire product in-house out of solid aircraft-grade steel, using a Fadal VMC 15 machining center. Workers then use manual lathes to ensure absolute precision in their barrels.
Looking at photos of the gun, you’ll notice that it has no sights. There are two reasons for this: for starters, there’s no way to accurately aim a gun that powerful. Second, Dylan didn’t want to mill away any exterior part of the barrel for sight channels because that would make it weaker in those spots.
After shooting the gun twice, I can confirm that it does indeed live up to the name, “Hand Cannon.”
The experience is one I won’t soon forget; and thanks to the video, I won’t ever have to!
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