Legendary Wyoming Big-Bore Handgun Pioneer John Linebaugh Dead At 67

John Linebaugh became a pioneer in the shooting and hunting community with his legendary .500- and .475 caliber handguns -- some of the most powerful in the world. He died earlier this week at the age of 67.

Jake Nichols

March 24, 20234 min read

John Linebaugh 3 24 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

John Linebaugh, a legendary gunsmith from Cody, Wyoming, famous for producing custom big-bore handguns, died Sunday surrounded by family and doing what he loved: building six-guns. 

He was 67.

If a stack of Guns & Ammo magazines is within reach, you know who Linebaugh is. For those who don’t, this firearms innovator was a big deal in the industry. 

Six-Gun Scientist

Linebaugh was a pioneer in the shooting and hunting community. 

An absolute revolver scientist, he not only revolutionized pistol hunting, he blazed a trail of invention where there was none before. 

His legendary .500- and .475-caliber handguns are some of the most powerful in the world. Literally, they’re pocket-sized Sharps made to take down any big game animal on the planet, including the cape buffalo and African elephant. 

Linebaugh travelled in likeminded gunpowder circles kibitzing with the likes of Wyoming’s Dick Casull, who moved to the Cowboy State a year after Linebaugh. The hip cannon .454 Casull is still manufactured at the Freedom Arms plant in Freedom, Wyoming. 

Linebaugh also was an avid follower in the footsteps of rancher and firearms enthusiast Elmer Keith (1899-1984). 

What these shootists all shared was a belief in old-school six-gunning, which Linebaugh defined as “powerful, practical and packable.”

Linebaugh was often quoted as saying things like, “I for one do not like big guns, just big bullets.”

Frustrated by the “lack of horsepower” of a conventional .44 magnum, Linebaugh set out to prove less is more when it comes to muzzle velocity and bang. 

 “My big bores run best at 1,200 to 1,300 feet per second. After that, you’re just gaining recoil and noise,” Linebaugh told Gun Digest in a February 2013 interview. 

The average hunting rifle throws lead at double or triple that speed. 

In The Beginning

Linebaugh first began exploring his bigger bullet construct in the early 1980s, soon after his arrival to Wyoming in 1976 from his birthplace of Pickering, Missouri. 

Cody was the  last choice of places he wanted to live – the 21-year-old Linebaugh thought it too touristy – but that is where he ran out of money and gas on his way West. He had a job pouring concrete for Speed Spiegelberg the very next day and never left, eventually moving 30 miles north to Clark. 

Self-taught, Linebaugh began gunsmithing by modifying a Colt .45 to get it shooting 250-grain bullets at 1,700 feet per second, an increase of about 350 feet per second over its counterparts. He ramped up pressures, torque and RPM. He did it mostly by squeezing heavy loads into very tight chamber specs. 

With no name cachet or financial backing, corporate ammunition and firearms companies thought Linebaugh a maverick and a loose cannon. They said he was going to get someone killed.

But when his .500 Linebaugh made the cover of Guns & Ammo magazine in 1986, he had orders pouring in from all over the country. 

Linebaugh was officially on the way to becoming a modern era wheel gun wizard.

Laid To Rest

It would probably be fitting to put the legend to rest with his trusty .500 Linebaugh with a 4.25-inch barrel. It was his EDC (every day carry) personal choice, and he was rarely photographed without it. 

Above all, Linebaugh believed in “packin’ pistols” – handguns that could be comfortably carried all day in a hip holster and then slipped under a bedroll at night.

A public visitation will be held at Ballard Funeral Home in Cody from 4-6 p.m. Saturday with a private family visitation from 6-7. 

Graveside services will be held at the Bennett Buttes Cemetery in Clark at 10:30 a.m. Sunday with Pastor Levi Robinson. A reception will then be held at the Clark Pioneer Recreation Center.

No word yet on whether Linebaugh’s annual Big Bore Shoot will go on this summer. However, it is scheduled for June 14-17 at the Heart Mountain Gun Club in Powell, Wyoming. Admission is $40 for all four days. 

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Jake Nichols

Features Reporter