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Freedom Arm's .454 Casull 'atomic-class' Magnum!

The banner on the magazine read, ".454 Magnum--World's Most Powerful Handgun." It appeared on the November 1959 Issue of Guns & Ammo. Dick Casull's dream of a super-powered .45 Magnum revolver has taken a long time to become a reality. Over the years, many gun buffs had heard of these custom-built revolvers that used special five-shot cylinders. The Casull cartridges they were designed to handle were, in those days, nothing more than the familiar .45 Colt--but stoked with spooky sounding "triplex" loads. These were concoctions of Bullseye, Unique and 2400 that I strongly recommend you don't try to duplicate today. They were meant to give extra-high velocities with .45 slugs--and they generated extra-high pressures that went along with such velocities.

Despite the widespread fame of the .454 Casull (or should I say "notoriety"?), few of us had ever seen a revolver chambered for this round until quite recently.

Today the situation is very different. Revolvers in .454 Casull are being manufactured in limited quantities by Freedom Arms in Freedom, Wyoming, previously best known for their line of .22 mini-revolvers. In addition to the .454 revolvers, Freedom Arms is also offering a full line of components, ammo, bullet moulds, holsters, slings, scope rings and more for their new single actions.

The cartridge case, too, has changed. The Casull round now uses a special case 1/10-inch longer than the standard .45 Colt Case. This is to prevent ammo loaded to Casull pressures from being chambered and fired in standard .45 Colt revolvers, which could be disastrous! Unfortunately, some .45 Colt revolvers will accept the Casull cartridge. As you value your gun and your life, don't even dream of using .454 Casull ammo in .45 Colt revolvers. Freedom Arms strongly urges that their ammo be used in no other revolvers than .454 Casulls manufactured by themselves.

Gone, too, are the triplex loads. Casull has found that modern powders like H-110 and the nearly idetical W-296 give him the results he wants without the need for triplex loads.

Despite the abandonment of the triplex loads, .454 Casull pressures are extremely high--too high in the opinion of some eminent ballisticians. Factory ammo from Freedom Arms generates pressures slightly over 50,000 c.u.p. (copper units of pressure), and some of the makers' recommended loads are a good bit hotter than this. There can be no question that the .454 Casull revolver from Freedom Arms is an extremely strong, beautifully made revolver, but whether it can stand up to pressures well in excess of those recommended for bolt-action rifles and their much stronger cartridges remains to be seen. Dick Casull and Wayne Baker, president of Freedom Arms, claim that their revolvers cannot be blown up with any available powder and nromally seated bullets. Other knowledgeable people have their doubts about this. Whichever side is correct, I strongly urge all readers who may be interested in one of these fine revolvers to work up loads very, very cautiously and avoid top end loads altogether. One can still get ballistics far in excess of anything obtainable from the .44 Magnum with safe, relatively pleasant-shooting loads, so why not play it safe and stick to such loads?

With this matter out of the way, let's look at the revolver itself. It may be arguable whether the .454 is still the world's most powerful revolver. There have been various lunker .45-70 revolvers and odd-balls like the .460 Whitehorse Magnum that might rival the .454 in the power department. What no one can deny is that the new five-shot single-action revolvers from Freedom Arms are among the finest handguns that have ever been made. In fact, if someone wanted to argue that the Freedom Arms Casull is the best built revolver in the world, he could make a very strong case. The fitting, tolerances and machine work on this revolver verge on absolute perfection. If any revolver can handle extra-high pressures, it is surely this Casull. Many gunsmiths and others have made remarks to the effect that "it's built like a bank vault."

The stainless steel surfaces are polished with a relatively coarse grit for a fairly subdued external finish. No doubt it could be polised mirror bright, but the Casull is built for business. A mirror-polished revolver would flash and gleam in the hunting fields, spooking game. It would also be much more vulnerable to scratches.

In size and appearance, the .454 somewhat resembles a stainless Ruger Super Blackhawk with a rounded triggerguard and a Pacemaker-style hammer. Our sample had a 7-1/2-inch barrel; lenghts of 4-3/4, 10 and 12 inches are also available. The Casull's massive, unfluted five-shot cylinder boosts the weight a bit; our 7-1/2-inch .454 weighs 52 ounces. It is certainly in no way excessively bulky or unwieldy, and it is entirely practical as a holster gun.

Aside from its extreme strength, ultra-precise fitting and workmanship and five-shot cylinder, the Casull is a fairly conventional. Anyone familiar with Colt, Ruger or similar revolvers of this type will be completely at home with the Casull.

The Casull does incorporate a sliding safety-bar mechanism that blocks the hammer from reaching the frame-mounted firing pin when the hammer is in the quartercock or "safety" notch. However, Freedom Arms recommends that for greatest safety the revolver be carried with an empty chamber under the hammer.

Loading and unloading are effected in the traditional manner by setting the hammer at half-cock to lower the cylinder bolt to permit free rotation of the cylinder. The cylinder hand is under extra spring tension to prevent cylinder spin when the gun is fired, and so some slight resistance will be encountered in rotating the cylinder with the hammer at half-cock.

Hard-kicking single actions often tend to cause their base (cylinder axis) pins to jump free-wing possible damage to the gun if it is subsequently fired. The Casull uses one of the simplest, most positive methods for anchoring the base pin imaginable. A screw extends through a threaded hole in the base pin and anchors it solidly to the barrel. It's so simple and effective, I'm surprised it hasn't been used mroe often.

An even mroe distinctive feature is Casull's hardened steel forcing cone insert, which is threaded into the breech of the barrel and anchored with a set screw. This excellent feature is available as an option at extra cost. It greatly prolongs barrel life if large numbers of jacketed bullets are to be fired in the revolver, but it is probably unnecessary if hard-case lead bullets are to be the Casull's primary fodder. The insert also creates a degree of free-bore that boosts velocities somewhat.

Barrel to cylinder gap is extremely tight on these revolvers. Factory specs call for .002-inch, and it runs even tighter on revolvers with the insert. Performance-robbing gas loss through the gap is thus held to a minimum with the Casull.

The Casull is available with several options in sights. Least expensive is the simple fixed-sight version. The front sight is left high on this so that it can be filed down to raise point of impact to the desired degree. Our sample was fitted with the adjustable "hunting" sight. This system uses interchageable front sight blades, and the rear is adjustable for both windage and elevation.

The only flaw in quality on our sample revolver was that the front sight was skewed a little to the right, and so the rear sight had to be moved considerably to the right. These revolvers are also available with Bo-Bar silhoutte sights as an option, and freedom Arms offers scope, ring and base units that fit in place of the hunting rear sight with no gunsmithing involved.

The "hunting" sights offered an excellent sight picture. The sights are regulated for the high velocities of the Casull loadings. Even a fairly stiff .45 Colt handload using a 260-grain Saeco full wadcutter (which I helped design) printed over a foot high at 25 yards because of the longer barrel time. For this reason, I fear, the Casull revolvers are not well suited for use with standard .45 Colt loads for plinking or practice.

The grip frame is handsome oversized variant of the Peacemaker type; it was obviously designed by someone with an excellent eye for grace and line. The grip panels themselves are made of a resin-impregnated laminate of cherrywood, known commercially as Pacawood. These grips appear to be tough.

Grip screw loosening is a common problem with all Peacemaker-type revolvers. This is especially true of the hard-bucking Casull. Check the grip screws for looseness after every ten shots or so. They tend to unscrew themselves fast. A sealing agent like the nonpermanent variety of Loc-Tite ought to help.

Because of safety and liability considerations, standard trigger pulls on these revolvers run about 5 pounds. We opted for Freedom Arms' special custom trigger job on our sample. It seems to me that the boys overdid things a bit--the resulting trigger pull was a shade under 2 pounds, which, I think, is too light for a revolver of this power. Everyone who used it had problems with premature discharges. Other than being slightly too light (about 3 pounds would have been ideal), it was the best trigger action I have ever encountered on a Peacemaker-type revolver; there was not a trace of the mushiness or backlash so commonly found on SA revolver triggers.

As previously mentioned, the Casull uses a lengthened version of the .45 Colt case. Many authorities have looked askance at using the relatively thin-walled .45 Colt case for extra-hot loads. Casull and Baker maintain that this is not a critical matter if chamber and headspace tolerances are tight enough to give the case adequate support during firing. Nonetheless, future lots of .454 brass will have stronger case walls and heads.

Casull has foun that H-110 and W-296 are the best powders for use in his .454, but the slightly faster Accurate Powder #9 also shows promise. Large Rifle primers are used for more uniform ignition of the large quantities of powder and to avoid primer extrusions. Casull has also experimented with bushing the primer pockets to accept Magnum Small Rifle primers to further lessen the chances of primer extrusion and to ensure more uniform burning of top-end loads. We received primed cases of this type and used them in a couple of handloads, but we had no problems of any type with either variety of primer setting back into the firing pin hole.

We tried factory loads in three bullet weigths--all using freedom Arms' special jacketed bullets with hard-cast cores. (Ordinary jacketed .45 pistol bullets will not stand up to .454 velocities.) These loads are very powerful indeed, in one instance churning up over a ton of muzzle energy. Most fired cases fell from the chamber, but we did encounter sticky case extraction with a few. Ballistics of these loads are shown in the accompanying table.

Some of the loading data provided by Freedom Arms even exceeds these hot loads by 100 feet per second or more. Again, I would caution against loading this round to the max. You may or may not be working with dangerously high pressures, but even leaving considerations of safety aside, blast and muzzle whip will simply be too disconcerting for nearly all shooters. When shooting the factory loads off the bench at Angeles Shooting Ranges, I had to fight flinch constantly, and the best I could do were a couple of 2-inch groups at 25 yards, even though I could tell the revolver was capable of doing better.

I really think the .454 is at its best firing a 300-grain bullet at 1,500 feet per second. Such a load generates almost 1,500 foot pounds of energy--almost 66 percent more than a .44 Magnum. In fact, it is nearly identical ballistically to the old black powder .45-90 rifle cartridge, which was considered quite a game-getter in its day. (Jack London fans will recall that this caliber figures prominently in his tales.) Such a load should be quite safe in the super-strong .454 Casull revolver, and anyone usd to handling full-house .41 or .44 Magnum loads will have no trouble accurately shooting a .454 loaded to this power level.

Thus it was on a subsequent outing to the Petersen Ranch that I had best results, using Freedom Arms' 300-grain JSP bullets and their 300-grain cast truncated cone gas check bullets. (Freedom Arms offers Lyman-made moulds for the latter design.) Loaded ahead of charges of 27.5 grains of W-296, these bullets averaged 1,481 fps and 1,556 fps respectively, and both printed groups close to the 1-inch mark at 25 yards. Obviously, the Casull is capable of wonderful accuracy.

I also tried a couple of extra-heavy .45 bullets designed by my G&A colleague and friend Ross Seyfried. NEI makes the moulds for these. Their number 325.454 is a giant 325-grain Keith-style bullet, while the #360.451 is a flat-point, rounded-ogive Gould-type bullet that Ross designed for use on really big stuff--like Cape buffalo! The latter bullet runs 343 grains cast from straight Linotype, which is what Freedom Arms recommends for all cast bullets in the Casull. Walter Melander of NEI made me a mould to cast both these bullets, which I did. When used in the Casull, these bullets must be crimped over the front driving band of the .454 case; if the crimp groove is used, overall cartridge length will be too long for the Casull's cylinder. The #360.451 showed especially good accuracy potential, but both loads printed very high. Despite the ".454" designation, Casulls are bored tight and are designed for .451 or .452 bullets. When I fired one of Freedom's 240-grain JHP loads into duct sealing compound alongside a Wincheste .44 Magnum JHP, I found that the very fast moving .454 bullet blew apart and didn't perform noticeably better than the .44, which held together a good bit better. When I tried Ross Seyfried's 343-grainer from the Casull, though, it was another story. The big slug blasted right through about 15 inchs of this extremely resistant medium, left a large exit hole and went sailing on its way. It was an awesome display of penetration and power--the like of which I have never seen from a repeating handgun.

Even with the hot facory loads, recoil, although disconcerting, was never actually punishing. Casull's adaptation of the classic single-action grip does a splendid job of minimizing recoil effect. Never once did I feel any actual pain. By way of contrast, I recently put a box of factory .44 Magnums through a Smith Model 29 with factory stocks, and that was downright nasty in comparison--certainly far moe abusive than the Casull.

The .454 Casull is one of the strongest, best made, most accurate and powerful revolvers in existence. As you may have surmised by now, such a combination does not come cheap. Base price for the fixed-sight model is $795; the adjustable sighted version is $100 more, and options like the lightened trigger and the forcing cone insert will run the price up a little more. Unquestionably, it makes a great "bragging gun," masculinity symbol or whatever you want to call it, but does it have any real, practical value? I think so. For the man who wishes to hunt big game with a revolver, it clearly looks like the top choice. It outclasses the .44 Magnum by a wide margin. It should be especially suitable for animals that are somewhat larger and/or tougher than deer; I am particularly thinking of black bear and wild boar. Many knowledgeable people consider the .44 Magnum badly underpowered for such beasts, and the .454 Casull ought to be far more effective.

Many outdoorsmen like to carry a revolver against attack by largE, dangerous wild animals. Over much of North America this practice is probably more romantic than realistic. Grizzly country is about the only area on this continent where a gun may be serously needed for this use, and a revolver is usually pretty feeble against these bruins--more likely to aggravate than terminate a bear attack. Still, if I were out in the brown bear country of Alaska and for some reason it was impractical to tote a rifle or shotgun, I would most definitely feel far better protected with a .454 Casull in my holster than any lesser handgun. It's not surprising that more .454 Casulls are going to Alaska than to any other state.

Finally, this revolver should be of some interest to silhouette competitors. It certainly has plenty of accuracy, and, even with reduced loadS, a flatter trajectory than the .44 Mag. A 300-grain bullet at good velocity ought to bowl over the 200-meter rams with the greatest of ease. With the loads I favor it is no more abusive to shoot than the .44 Magnum in similar revolvers. The .454 may just have a future in IHMSA's revolver class.

If you feel a need for a revolver with more power than the .44 Magnum, then the .454 Casull is the gun for you. Just keep your loads down at a reasonable level, and your splendid .454 Casull revolver should give you excellent service for many years to come.

Additional information and loading data,. plus details on ordering, are avilable from Freedom Arms, Dept. GA, One Freedom Lane, Freedom, WY 83120.
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Title Annotation:evaluation
Author:Libourel, Jan
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Oct 1, 1985
Words:2893
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