A few boutique brands are in the business of making semi-automatic magnum pistols, providing the wallop of a magnum revolver but with a bit more capacity. In basically every instance, that comes with a price tag that hits almost as hard.
There are some exceptions, of course. Semi-auto rounds such as .38 Super, .357 SIG and 10mm all touch, meet or exceed .357 Magnum levels of performance and the really hot loads of 10mm are on the heels of .41 Magnum. Then you have .45 Super and .460 Rowland, which are quite expensive to shoot but don’t require outlandish modifications.
For the longest time, the only game in town when it came to serious portable power were the magnum revolvers. Smith & Wesson’s N-frame or Ruger Blackhawk were more or less your lot. However, people wanted more capacity even then, and a few upstarts came up with semi-automatic pistols for use with magnum cartridges.
Most of the time, the gun would chamber a proprietary or wildcat round that required either deep pockets…or reloading equipment and deep pockets.
The first example was the AutoMag, first released in 1973. The AutoMag – made by the creatively titled AutoMag corporation – was designed for the .44 AMP or Auto Mag Pistol. It’s basically .44 Magnum in a shorter case. The AutoMag got famous for being featured in “Sudden Impact,” the fourth “Dirty Harry” film. Unfortunately, the company felt a little too lucky and took about a $1,000 loss on every gun sold. A new version of AutoMag began operations in 2017, and now charge a price that could keep them afloat…about $4,000.
The Wildey Magnum pistol emerged in the early 80s, gaining fame thanks to “Death Wish IV.” The Wildey was offered in a number of proprietary cartridges (9mm, .41, .44 and .44 Wildey Magnum) the .44 AMP and .45 Winchester Magnum, which uses the same .452-inch projectile as .45 ACP but has a longer, thicker case. The barrel was even swappable, which was a nice feature. The Wildeys actually had a pretty good run, having only been out of production between 2011 and 2016 since their inception in 1980.
Then there was the AMT AutoMag pistols, made by Arcadia Machine and Tool. AMT was a company founded by Harry Salinas, the same man behind the AutoMag. Their AutoMag guns were available in .45 Winchester Magnum or .50 AE. They managed to ship a few but production lagged and eventually AMT folded.
The LAR Grizzly had a bit longer run, coming out in the early 80s and hanging on until the end of the 1990s. The Grizzly was a beefed-up 1911 pistol, chambered for .45 Winchester Magnum, .44 Magnum, .50 AE and a few others besides. Some 15,000 were made, but the the company went belly-up around the time of the Dot Com bubble burst.
The 1911 platform was also the basis of the Guncrafter Industries and Coonan Inc. pistols. Guncrafter Industries offers some of their custom 1911 pistols in .50 GI, a round of their own devising. Coonan Inc., of course, altered the 1911 frame to accommodate the .357 Magnum round.
Of course, there is also the most popular gun of the type: the Magnum Research Desert Eagle. The idea for the “Deagle” is a semi-auto that can handle the stress of magnum rounds, hold more rounds, but also recoil more softly. This is done with a rotating gas bolt rather than a recoil-operated system that most semi-auto pistols use. It worked too, and the gun being cast in hundreds of movies helped make it iconic.
However, every single one of these guns is plagued by something or other. The two that seem to have the best reputation are the Desert Eagle and the Coonan .357 pistols, though Wildey pistols are said to be very reliable if you get a good one. Desert Eagles, however, are known to be finicky. Additionally, ammunition is either hard to come by or wickedly expensive for many of the esoteric calibers.
Do the peccadilloes outweigh the benefits?
That’s arguable. If faced with, say, a charging grizzly bear, having more rounds is a better thing than having fewer. Granted, just as with a gunfight with humans, the odds are you won’t have time for more than a few shots.
On paper, a regular magnum revolver is a better buy. The point of entry is lower since you can get a .44 Maggie for less than $700 new (granted, that’s from Taurus) and even less for a used model of same; .357 Magnums can be had for less than that. Then again, the sort of person who can contemplate an LAR Grizzly, Wildey Magnum or Desert Eagle usually doesn’t care as much about cost as a person trying to decide between a GLOCK or an M&P.
But what do you think? Have experience with any of these guns? Think you’re better off with a magnum revolver? Sound off in the comments!