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Flat-shooting trail gun: Casull 3800.

It is most mysterious how the human mind works. With all the thousands upon thousands of images it receives day after day, year after year, how does it choose those relatively few that are to be saved, while the vast majority are deleted?

In one of the earliest issues of GUNS Magazine, there was an article about a Canadian, one Francis Wharton, who was called the "Backwoods Wizard." Wharton lived Out in the middle of the Canadian wilds and did a lot of what most of us would consider kitchen-table gunsmithing to satisfy his needs.

He had some really weird looking firearm modifications, but the one that stands out in my mind was a Colt .38 Super on which he had welded two flat pieces of steel -- one on each side of the slide -- supposedly to provide more strength to handle his high power reloads.

I don't know that this accomplished its intended goal, but it did do two things: it added extra weight to reduce recoil, and more importantly, for me at least, it planted ".38 Super seeds" in my mind.

Someday I would have to have a flat-shooting, high-power, .38 Super. At that time of my life what little money I had was used for single-action sixguns, so the semi-automatic .38 was automatically filed in the folder in the back of my mind.

Another Seed Is Planted

About five years later, I picked up several books by Jeff Cooper. Cooper, who was not yet the reigning 1911 guru, spoke in loving terms of the 1911 in .45 ACP. He also put forth the notion that the 1911 in .38 Super was just about perfection for what he called a Trail Gun.

This was a pistol not strictly for hunting, but to be carried for self-defense in the wilds against two- and four-legged creatures. A second image was placed in my mind's .38 Super file.

Then came the infamous GCA '68 (Gun Control Act of 1968), which required the filling out of special federal BATF forms before a firearm could be purchased. I decided to buy one more handgun "without paper", and as luck, or fate would have it, the first handgun I spotted was a Colt Commander in .38 Super. My quest was over, or so I thought.

A Dream Not Realized

That .38 was literally the handgun with which one could not hit the broadside of a barn when shooting from the inside. Okay, it wasn't quite that bad; however, 12-inch groups with my handloads were the norm. I couldn't live with that, so it was either peddle it or fix it.

The former would require passing on a poor-shooting firearm to someone else -- which to me is both dishonest and unethical. The only choice left was to fix it, but how? The obvious answer was to turn it over to an expert, and I called upon Bill Wilson. Wilson fitted one of his barrels, and groups with the same handloads shrank from 12 inches down to 2 inches.

The problem with those Colt barrels was that of head spacing. Unlike most semi-automatic cartridges, the .38 Super is not rimless but in fact has a very small rim. It is large enough that .38 Super cartridges can be shot in some .357 Magnum revolvers, however, it's not large enough to provide reliable, accurate head spacing in a semi-automatic chamber.

Wilson's barrel headspaced on the case mouth and the problem was solved. I might add that Colt finally addressed this problem, and later .38 Supers from Colt should be fine.

The Colt Commander was fitted with an adjustable rear sight from MMC, and I now had a good shooting .38 Super. It was not quite a full-sized 1911, and that image still remained in the back of my mind and would someday be brought to reality.

Another Super .38

Someday came two years ago. After attending a Springfield Armory seminar, I ordered the Mil-Spec in .38 Super. I would finally have a full-sized 1911 .38, and if it showed promise, I would have it tuned and fitted with new sights. The Mil-Spec turned Out to be such a good shooter as it came from the factory, there was nothing to "tune."

Not only does it shoot well, it also shoots to point of aim with factory or standard .38 Super handloads. The sights are easy to see, or at least are as easy to see as any iron sights will be with my long experienced eyes. I have done nothing to this second .38 Super except shoot it and enjoy it.

I now owned two fine-shooting Super .38s, but somehow, my itch for a high-power .38 Super remained. Would it ever come to life? We all experience strange twists and turns in life and one was about to happen to me that would bring a truly high-power .38 to my hands.

Meat For The Masses

Every year I participate in the Handgun Hunters Chapter (of SCI) annual Handgun Hunters Against Hunger Hunt on the YO Ranch in Texas. Each year, 50 handgunners harvest their choice of numerous animals with all meat going to benefit the less fortunate through the Salvation Army. Each hunter pays his/her own expenses, and also the trophy fees to be able to give away the meat. The total donation is usually somewhere over 100,000 pounds. That is a great deal of high-quality, well-cared-for meat.

This year my contribution was a buffalo, an American bison. I took him with Buffalo Bore's hard cast 410-grain .480 Ruger cartridge that clocked 1,100 fps from a 4 3/4 inch Freedom Arms Model 83 .475 Linebaugh with the .480 cylinder in place. At 35 yards, the bullet penetrated completely. I had a beautiful head to be mounted, and the Salvation Army would receive the meat from the 1,200pound bull. However, this was the beginning -- not the end--of the story.

Enter The CA-3800

During one of our lunch breaks, a representative from Casull Arms was there with samples of the Model CA-3800 for us to shoot. I fired both a standard, long-slide CA-3 800 as well as a compensated model. Metal targets were set up at 25, 50 and 100 yards for testing. I found it easy to hit all three targets with the same sight setting. This CA-3800 was a great shooting pistol and I wanted one.

At our Saturday-night banquet, donated prizes from the industry are always handed out for those who provide the largest portion of meat. My 1,200 pounds was a lot of meat, but I had no illusions of winning one of the three firearms that were donated as I had taken only one animal. I knew others had taken several large animals. One of the three firearms happened to be a Model CA-3800.

The first place winner had his choice of any of the three firearms. He did not pick the CA-3800. The second-place name was called, and although apparently tempted, he also did not take the Casull.

Now I was ready to kick myself for not shooting another animal, since I knew someone else had taken both a buffalo and a red stag doe. I was stunned when my name was called as the third place winner. I even asked them to recheck the figures, as it seemed unlikely I could have won.

Happy Outcome

As it turned out, my bull was large enough to outweigh both the other buffalo and the doe, and I now had my "choice" of firearms. The Casull CA-3800 was the only gun left, which made absolutely no difference to me, as it would have been my first choice. At last, it seemed I was destined to have a high-powered .38 autoloader.

The Model CA-3800 is from Casull Arms, and as the name suggests was designed by Dick Casull. A little background material is apropos here. When Utah gunsmith Dick Casull was in his early twenties, he became interested in heat-treating and metallurgy. He eventually developed a method to heat treat single-action frames to 40 Rockwell without warping them in the process.

That was 1954, and using a Colt Single Action .45 with a special five-shot cylinder, he was able to achieve velocities of 1,550 fps with 250-graln bullets. This was two years before the arrival of the .44 Magnum, which despite the accolades, fired slightly lighter bullets at lower velocities than Casull's experimental Colt.

Obsessed With Power

Casull had harnessed the power, but with little margin of safety. Casull insisted upon ultimate power in a portable package, and along with this power the technology to make the guns completely safe. By 1957, in pursuit of his goal of power plus safety, Casull decided to build his own single action frame. He was also now at the point that he could engineer parts as needed. Using 4140 steel for the frame, and 4150 steel for the cylinder, the first ".45 Magnum" was created. The .45 Casull had progressed from modified Colt SAAs to a custom built, five-shot single action.

Fertile Mind

Dick Casull did not start designing and building guns with what would ultimately develop into the .454 Casull. In fact his first gun, made from a car axle, was turned out at the age of 11 -- it's still in his possession and still shoots. While in high school, Casull designed and built a sleek .22 Single Action he hopes to offer someday through Casull Arms.

Casull holds a couple-dozen major patents, and is, in fact, a complete gun designer covering everything from mini-revolvers to machine guns to magnum handguns.

In 1979, after a number of false starts, Casull and Wayne Baker came together and the result was Freedom Arms. It had been a long hard process over the span of 30 years, but finally in 1983, the first factory-built .454 Casull was delivered. Casull is no longer connected with Freedom Arms, except for the fact his house and horse corral overlook the factory.

A Time For New Beginnings

For several years now, Dick has been out on his own, forming Casull Arms. His first product was a mini-gun, a small five-shot, double action only, pocket .22 with a folding trigger. Known as the CA-2000, this little palm-sized revolver is machined from 17-4 stainless steel and features an external safety and ivory micarta grips.

Now, Dick Casull has turned his many talents in a radically different direction. Instead of a revolver, Casull Arms is producing the Dick Casull Signature Model -- a 6-inch, 1911-style semiautomatic chambered in .38 Casull.

The Model CA-3800 incorporates a number of tempting features. The barrel and bushing are of match grade, carefully fitted. The frame incorporates a beveled magazine well, and 20 lpi checkering on the front strap and mainspring housing. Also included are a full length, two-piece guide rod, an aluminum match trigger, and a high ride beavertail grip safety. Sights consist of a fully adjustable rear sight, matched up with a dovetailed post front sight.

As one would expect with any firearm from Dick Casull, the CA-3800 shows close-tolerances and careful hand fitting. No corners are cut here when it comes to quality, and this is also evident in the checkered stock panels made from beautiful exotic woods. Weight is 40 ounces empty and a full 3 pounds loaded.

The capacity of the .38 Casull is rated at 8 plus one, however I prefer to use 8 rounds, 7 in the magazine and one in the chamber. Most autopistol magazines seem to work better if they are not pushed to their capacity. The Model CA-3800 comes with two Wilson magazines, and wrenches for bushing and guide rod-all packaged into a quality locking aluminum case.

A Real Hot-Rod .38

Currently, Casull Arms also offers two factory .38 Casull loads, a 124 grain ZTP-JHP rated at 1,800 fps, and a147 grain XTP-JHP at 1,650 fps. From my gunm these clocked out at 1,722 fps and 1,547 fps respecitively. For testing purposes I acquired five, 20-round boxes of both type of factory ammunition as well as 200 rounds of brass Arms also offers a fitted slide and barrel in .45 ACP for those dsiring a liggle versatility.

At the present time, Casull Arms recommends one powder, Winchester 296, and all of my handloads were assembled with this propellant. In the future I will be experimenting with other powders, but I felt it appropriate to start with 296. For testing I used 9mm bullets from Hornady, Sierra, and Speer. All loads were primed with Federal's No. 155 Magnum Pistol primer.

Overall length is important and loaded rounds must fit in, and feed from a standard sized 1911 magazine. Casull Arms recommends an overall length of 1.26 inches, however this may be too long with some bullet profiles. I have ordered some copper Keith-style bullets for future reloads, and it will be interesting to see what OAL will be required using these different style bullets.

The Answer Is No

To arrive at the .38 Casull, Dick started with the standard .45 ACP case, trimmed it back slightly, and then necked it down to .38. The natural question that will arise is, can I make .38 Casull brass from standard .45 ACP brass? The answer is no. This would be unsafe as .38 Casull brass is heavier than standard .45 ACP cases. The right brass is easily obtainable from Casull Arms at reasonable prices and I recommend it be used exclusively.

Shooting the CA-3800 was a most pleasant experience as expected, since I had fired two test guns six months earlier on the YO Ranch. Recoil is about the equivalent of +P loads in a standard 1911 .45. All my test shooting was accomplished at 25 yards. Although the sights are big, bold, and black -- just as they should be -- unfortunately my aging eyes do not make the best of them.

With this in mind, I am most gratified with the test results and would guess that someone with younger eyes could do even better. It would be interesting, to me at least, to see what I could accomplish with a red-dot scope in place.

One can really see how strong the recoil spring on the CA-3800 is, not only by pulling the slide rearward to chamber the first round from the magazine, but also by how far the ejected brass travels. With some of my loads, I found the brass 42 inches behind and to my right. When the slide comes back, the fired brass really flies!


Dick Casull is a true firearms genius and one does not need to spend much time with him in order to discover that he is a modest, quiet, humble man who truly loves his country and strongly believes in every American's right to keep and bear arms. I recommend his newest creation highly.

It certainly is portable enough to be a true Trail Gun, so that part of my dream has finally been fulfilled; and it also would make an excellent hunting handgun for turkeys, cougar, small deer, in fact anything weighing 200 pounds or less. Not only is this a keeper, I did not have to wait until I received a test firearm bill to make that decision. This one is already mine, free and clear.

 Load MV 7-Shots/25 Yards

 Factory 124 gr. XTP-JHP 1,722 2 1/4"
 Factory 147 gr. XTP-JHP 1,547 2 1/4"
Hornady 147 gr. XTP/17.5 gr. WW296 1,590 1 1/2"
 Hornady 147 gr. RN-FMJ/17.5 gr. 1,584 2"
 Speer 147 gr. Gold Dot/17.5 gr. 1,528 1 3/4"
 Hornady 124 gr. XTP-JHP/18.5 gr. 1,629 1 3/4"
 Hornady 124 gr. RN-FMJ/18.5 gr. 1,710 2"
 Speer 124 gr. Gold Dot/18.5 gr. 1,652 1 3/4"
 Speer 115 gr. JHP/18.5 gr. WW296 1,678 2 1/4"
 Speer 115 gr. JHP/18.5 gr. WW296 1,649 2 1/4"
 Sierra 130 gr. RN-FMJ/18.5 gr. 1,621 2 1/4"


Casull Arms

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Author:Taffin, John
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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