Let me be clear, this is NOT about a pepper spray that you might carry for protection against bears. Bear Spray, is the name my chosen gunsmith, JRH Advanced Gunsmithing decided to use for this project. The initials JRH, stand for Jack R Huntington. After much deliberation about what I wanted in a custom large-caliber revolver, I had to choose a gunsmith to take the ideas in my head and bring them to fruition and Jack was my choice.
At the time I already owned a full custom Ruger revolver in 500 Linebaugh Maximum, but I bought it already made. So it was someone else’s ideas that I just sort of agreed with. What I wanted was something that was all my own ideas. I also owned a short-barreled Ruger Vaquero in 45 Colt that was a joy to carry during ranch chores and guiding feral pig hunters. It had proven itself as comfortable to carry and provided enough sight radius to make 75-yard shots easily feasible, this would be my starting point.
I had joined a forum that was dedicated to single action revolvers, SINGLEACTIONS.COM, and looked at a lot of custom revolvers that others had commissioned. I also listened to who did the work and whether the new owners were happy with the finished product. Names like Bowen, Linebaugh, Clements, Stroh, Huntington, Harton, Gallagher, and others. Some of the wait times for work were in the year’s timeframe, I didn’t have the patience for that. Huntington claimed 6-8 months’ wait time and his cost for the work was very reasonable. I provided a Ruger Vaquero in 45 Colt that I bought cheap due to some amateur gunsmithing attempt. As well as a Bisley grip frame, ejector rod housing, and hammer/trigger parts. What I was looking for was a bigger brother to my short-barreled SS 45 Colt Bisley/Vaquero.
This gun would be a 4” barreled 500 Linebaugh. It would sport an octagon barrel and a fiber optic front sight, the rear sight trough would be modified by me prior to sending the gun to JRH. I have always struggled to get a good solid sight picture from the rounded rear end of the Colt SAA or Ruger Vaquero style. The Ruger 45 Colt that I was using as a guide had been modified with the addition of an XS Sights dovetail rear sight that was originally designed for use on a shotgun rib. I was not concerned about the dovetail weakening the top strap of the gun in 45 Colt, but for a 500 Linebaugh…well? So I went a different route, one that wouldn’t require removing any more metal than absolutely necessary.
I also wanted the Vaquero to be converted to a Bisley grip since it helps with heavy recoiling guns, the Bisley grip would then be round butted slightly. My last idea was that it should be weather resistant and tough, so I thought having it Black Nitrided by H&M Nitriding would take care of that. Everything else I left in the hands of JRH Gunsmithing.
While I waited my 6-8 months, I acquired cases, bullets, and reloading dies. I also contacted Thad Rybka and Bullard leather for holsters, my favorite has become the Thad Rybka. It is a strong side version of his cross draw holster. It makes carrying the little 500L, like nothing is there. I cannot believe the comfort that is afforded with this holster.
Also as I waited I loaded ammo, originally I was looking for two loads, an everyday load and a serious load. I was thinking a 400gr. bullet at 1000fps for the everyday load, and a 450gr. bullet at 1200fps for the serious load. What I would find out later was that the two loads would not land close enough to each other to be used together. I discovered from shooting my 500L Maximum, that a 450/465gr. bullet at 1000fps was very accurate and would provide enough oomph to handle 98% of what I wanted to hunt. This gun wasn’t intended to be a hunting gun though, it was designed to be a “carry a lot and shoot a little” gun. Its purpose was the same as a gun you would carry for your own personal defense any day of the week. Only it would be used during hunts or other outdoor excursions where you might need a large caliber bullet to end a dispute or save a life.
It was early November 2017, when I got a call from Jack saying it was time to send him the balance owed. I sent the payment and anxiously waited for my package to arrive. On the 17th, I opened up my package and was instantly pleased with what I saw. There were a couple of changes from what I originally had asked for, but we had discussed them over the phone, so I was expecting it. The gun was entirely flat black, except for the red fiber optic front sight, everything including the grips are black. It looked very business-like, no flash, no glitz, or shiny parts,…it looked awesome. One acquaintance described it looking like a riled-up mule with its ears laid back, just waiting for a reason to go off.
Bear Spray as the builder refers to it, has proven to be accurate beyond my expectations. After realizing that using two loads was not feasible, I decided to try picking one bullet weight. I really wanted 1200fps, but also wanted to use a 450gr. or heavier bullet. I couldn’t do both, the 450gr. bullets would not reach 1100fps from the short 4” barrel. They were however very accurate, a 12×12 inch steel plate was able to be hit at 100 yards every time if I was able to maintain a good solid hold and trigger squeeze despite knowing that fury was about to recoil in my hands. 100 yards is way beyond any expectation I had for this gun, the groups it provides at 50yds. average 4 inches. Even though it was never intended to be a hunting gun, I have no issues hunting with it out to 75 yards. My projectile of choice has become 400gr. bullets, I am able to push them to 1200fps and Cutting Edge Bullets(CEB) makes an all copper solid at that weight. This allows me tremendous penetration without deformation. The 400gr. bullets are still able to be fired quickly and accurately from the holster if I’m faced with a point and shoot scenario. If I want a bit of expansion I can use a cast 400gr. bullet or Hawk bullets will make me a thin jacketed expanding bullet of that weight. So it doesn’t matter if I need Bear Spray for bears, or wolves, or two-legged predators – it is up to the task.
It’s going on 3 years since I took possession of my little 500L. It’s been carried on my hip for two elk hunts where I walked 8 to 16 miles a day. As well as two mule deer hunts, up and down the foothills of the Buffalo Wyoming area. I carried it last year while waterfowl hunting in Montana north of Missoula, there had been Grizzly Bear reports in the area as well as a documented attack on an upland bird hunter, a few years ago. It carried unobtrusively under my field coat, in the Thad Rybka holster as we walked from pond to pond.
I’ve made some minor alterations to its original configuration, the square sides of the grips have been rounded on the end a bit and the front sight changed to an all-white polycarbonate blade. Other than this it is as I received it, except for a couple of hundred rounds through it to get familiar with it.
Bear Spray was recently called into action during an Aoudad hunt when the factory rear sight of my main hunting handgun failed on me and I had to draw my back up and use it to take the shot. A 415gr. FP from the little 500L at 55yds. brought my first handgun Aoudad to the ground.
If you’re thinking about carrying a handgun for general purpose use or defense when you’re afield and want something special, give JRH Advanced Gunsmithing a call. Jack can talk with you over the phone and discuss options. He does very good work on both single actions and double actions, as well as offering nonstandard caliber options. He can make your 44 magnum or 45 Colt stronger if that’s all you want or put you in a big bore, like .475, .500, or .510. I’ve already contacted him for another project.
In reading up information for bear attacks and how to avoid them, as well as recommendations by park officials from parks known for bear encounters, and wildlife biologists from all over North America, all the advocates and manufacturers of pepper spray, claim that it is not guaranteed to work 100% of the time on bears, even if properly deployed. Well, I feel very confident that my Bear Spray will work 100% of the time if properly deployed. It will also be effective for any other danger or predator I happen to encounter. Even if it doesn’t need to be deployed, it is most comforting going to sleep in the great outdoors, knowing that it is there.