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The original mega-mag: although the .454 Casull never attained the .44 Magnum's iconic status, it still provides remarkable versatility and crushing power.

Dick Casull and his friend Jack Fulmer began experimenting with souped-up loads for revolvers of various calibers during the early 1950s, At the time, the .357 Magnum was being promoted as the most powerful handgun cartridge in the world, but Casull and Fulmer were convinced that the .45 Colt was more effective on deer and even larger game, especially when it was loaded to higher-than-normal velocities. Standard factory speed for the .45 Colt was 870 fps with a 250-grain bullet for just over 400 ft-lbs of energy. Their goal was to increase that to a whopping 1,650 ft-lbs by loading a 230-grain bullet to 1,800 fps. It represented a huge step forward in handgun power since, at the time, the .357 Magnum was factory rated at 690 ft-lbs.

As was soon discovered, the limiting factor was handgun strength. The Colt single actions the men were working with were plenty strong for the .45 Colt loaded to its original performance level, but six of the big cartridges take up a lot of cylinder room, leaving chamber walls quite thin. The margin of safety with hot loads was extremely narrow. Cylinders blew and topstraps sailed into orbit long before the desired velocity was reached.

At the time, Casull was working for P.O. Ackley and without Ackley's expertise along with his shop full of tools and machinery, the project might have died with the last blown Colt SAA. Machining a new cylinder from Type 4140 steel and heat-treating to a Rockwell hardness of 42C increased strength, but what really enabled it to contain pressures far beyond the capabilities of the Colt cylinder was reducing its capacity to five rounds. Doing so put more steel on the outside and between chambers. Just as important, it positioned the cylinder stop notches between chambers rather than over them. The new cylinder--along with reheat-treating the Colt frame--enabled Casull to meet his velocity goals.

At the time, Hercules 2400 was the slowest powder available, but it proved stubborn about igniting in the big .45 Colt case. Enlarging primer pockets so Large Rifle primers could be used helped, but too much unburned powder remained in the barrel. The solution at the time (and a dangerous one at that) was triplex loading. I won't mention charge weights, but a pinch of Unique went into a case first, followed by a big dollop of 2400 and a bit of Bullseye finished it off. Seating a bullet compressed the three powders enough to prevent them from mixing. Muzzle velocities for 230- and 300-grain bullets were 1,800 and 1,500 fps, respectively,

The power was there, but accuracy left a bit to be desired. After experimenting with barrels made by Ackley in various twist rates, it was discovered that 1:24 produced much smaller groups than 1:16, which is standard for the .45 Colt. Casull called his cartridge the .454 Magnum, and during the 1960s and on into the 1970s he built a number of handguns chambered for it for various customers. Most were on the Colt frame, but he also converted a few Ruger Black hawks.

In the November 1959 issue of "Guns & Ammo," P.O. Ackley broke the story of a hand-built revolver with strength far exceeding those built on the other frames. The frame was beefier than the Colt and its cylinder slightly larger in diameter. The gun also weighed about 10 ounces more. Velocities increased to 2,000 fps for a 230-grain bullet and 1,710 fps for a bullet weighing 300 grains. Muzzle energy exceeded 2,000 ft-lbs.

Casull knew that the likelihood of any ammunition company loading a cartridge capable of totally destroying other guns chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge was slim, so in order to prevent his cartridge from being chambered in them, he increased case length to 1.383 inches. Those first cases were pocketed for Large Rifle primers, but the switch was later made to the Small Rifle primer.

A new company called Freedom Arms was eventually formed, with the first Model 83 revolver in .454 Casull built in 1983. It has often been described as the most accurate magnum-performance revolver ever built, and having shot one for many years, I cannot disagree. I consider five shots inside five inches at 100 yards excellent accuracy from a revolver, and the Model 83 in .454 Casull often trims that by two or three inches. It is also capable of averaging five inches at twice the distance with loads it likes.

From a practical point of view, the .454 Casull uses about the maximum amount of powder that can be burned in a .45-caliber revolver with any degree of efficiency. Increasing the charge by going with a longer case yields very little velocity gain. The .460 S&W Magnum case is a longer version of the .454 Casull, and when it burns about 20 percent more powder to reach top speed with a 300-grain bullet, the results are a bit more noise and recoil but not a lot of gain in velocity.

Not long ago I shot a Model 460 revolver with a 12-inch barrel from the S&W Performance Center. The fastest loads I came up with for 300-grain bullets were 1,602 fps with H4227 and 1,634 fps with Lil'Gun. And that was from a foot-long barrel. The .454 is capable of pushing a 300-grain bullet from a 7 1/2-inch barrel at 1,600 fps.

Reloading manuals tend to agree with my experience. For its 300-grain Gold Dot HP, Speer shows a maximum velocity of 1,591 fps for the .460 in a 8 3/8-inch barrel and 1,630 fps for the .454 in a 7 1/2-inch barrel. Technicians who shot data for the Hornady manual used those same two barrel lengths and came up with a maximum speed of 1,650 fps for both the .454 and the .460. That's not much difference.

There is no scarcity of .454 Casull factory loads. Federal and Winchester offer three each, and two loads are available from Hornady. Cor-Bon has eight options loaded with bullets ranging in weight from 240 to 360 grains, and there are seven loads from Buffalo Bore. In addition to various jacketed bullets, Buffalo loads a 365-grain hardcast lead bullet at 1,525 fps that has a reputation for extreme penetration on the largest game animals. The Barnes 250-grain XPB is available in the company's Vor-Tx ammo line (loaded by Remington). SAAMI maximum chamber pressure for the .454 Casull is 65,000 psi, but most factories and those who shoot data for various handloading manuals hold it to 55,000 or so. This is still about 15,000 psi higher than the .44 Magnum is commonly loaded to.

It is not unusual for factory loads to equal and even exceed advertised velocities in some guns. Federal Premium loaded with the 300-grain A-Frame is supposed to move out at 1,530 fps, but it clocks 1,555 fps from my 7 1/2-inch Freedom Arms Model 83. Hornady lists 1,650 fps for its 300-grain XTP-MAG, and my chronograph says it is just about dead on the money. Winchester's 265-grain Dual Bond is rated at 1,800 fps, hut in my gun it averages 1,837 fps.

Most shooters I know who own guns in .454 Casull mostly shoot .45 Colt ammo in them and reserve full-power loads for hunting. Punching paper with .45 Schofield ammo from Black Hills reduces recoil even more during practice sessions. Bullets fired from the shorter cases have to leap through a great deal of space in the long .454 chamber before entering the barrel, but close-to medium-range accuracy is still quite good.

However, shooting either or the two shorter cartridges in a .454 chamber can leave a ring of fouling. The chambers in a Freedom Arms revolver are reamed to absolute minimum diameter, and if the ring of fouling is not removed prior to firing .454 ammo, it can prevent the case from springing away from the bullet during firing, resulting in a hazardous jump in pressure. Removing the fouling with a brass brush and solvent will prevent this from happening. Or you can simply buy an extra .45 Colt cylinder.

Unprimed cases are available from Starline and Hornady. A few reloading rules should be adhered to. Full-length-sizing virgin cases prior to loading them is one. A sizing die made for the .45 Colt should not be used, because a die reamed specifically for the .454 reduces a case to a smaller diameter and that along with a hard roll crimp will keep bullets from creeping forward and tying up cylinder rotation. I prefer to maintain a maximum overall cartridge length that positions the nose of a bullet no closer than .010 inch from the front of the cylinder.

If I could have only one powder for the .454, it would be W296 or H110, which is actually the same powder with different names. Lil'Gun and Accurate 1680 are also quite good. Those powders are for full-power loads or close to it, and charge weights lighter than the lightest loads shown in various reloading manuals should not be used. Using quicker-burning powders to push a cast bullet along at modest velocity saves wear and tear on gun and shooter and can be quite accurate to boot. "Lyman's Cast Bullet Handbook" has plenty of data. The Model 83 is the only magnum-performance revolver I have shot that's accurate enough to indicate preferences in primers. The Remington 7 1/2 is my first choice, with the Federal GM205M in a very close second place.

Not all .45-caliber bullets are suitable for use in the .454 Casull. All are safe to use at .45 Colt velocities, but when loaded to maximum .454 chamber pressures, those with soft lead cores and relatively thin jackets can obturate excessively when entering the forcing cone of the barrel, causing pressures to skyrocket to dangerous levels. If the maker of a particular bullet does not include the .454 Casull in its loading manual or on its website, it is not suitable for maximum-velocity loadings. The No. 14 manual from Speer has reduced-velocity loads for standard bullets and high-velocity loads for bullets capable of withstanding the strain.

Hornady's manual also has loads for its two types of .45-caliber bullets, the standard XTP for .45 Colt chamber pressures and the XTP-Mag for use in full-power .454 Casull loads. The two types of bullets differ in construction. The core of the XTP is pure lead, and its jacket tapers to a thickness of about .010 inch near the nose. The core of the XTP-Mag is made harder by the addition of 5 percent antimony, and its jacket is .025 inch thick at the nose. While I am on the subject of data sources, Hodgdon's manual has loads listed for a wider range of bullet weights (240 to 395 grains) than any other data source.

A number of bullets are suitable for full-power loading. Three are the Swift A-Frames weighing 260, 300 and 325 grains. I recently took my all-time best whitetail deer with the 300-grain A-Frame at 1,500 fps from an inline muzzleloader, and expansion at 223 yards left nothing to be desired. The Hornady 240- and 300-grain XTP-Mag bullets are also quite good, as is the 250-grain XPB from Barnes. Barnes also has a 275-grain XPB, but it is made specifically for the .460 S&W Magnum and the distance from its cannelure to its pointed nose is too great to stay within maximum overall cartridge length for the shorter .454 Casull chamber. Speer's 300-grain Gold Dot hollowpoint is another great option.

CHRONO/ACCURACY RESULTS

200 YARDS

BULLET/WEIGHT (GR.)    POWDER/CHARGE  MUZ. VEL.  AVG. GRP.
                        WEIGHT (CR.)      (FPS)      (IN.)

HORNADY XTP-MAG/300      A-1680/33.0      1,644       5.11

SPEER GDHP/300             H110/31.0      1,588       6.12

SWIFT A-FRAME/100       Lil'Cun/31.0      1,610       5.19

100 YARDS

HORNADY XTP-MAG/300          Hornady      1,638       5.62
                             Factory

SWIFT A-FRAME/300    Federal Factory      1,555       4.87

HDRNADV XTP-MAG/240     Lil'Gun/38 0      1,868       3.65

BARNES XPB/250             W296/2B,0      1,802       3.65

SWIFT A-FRAME/265          H110/37.0      1,744       1.84

SWIFT A-FRAME/325          H110/28.0      1,464       2.44

BARNES XPB/250       Federal Factory      1,548       2.63

COR-BONSN/300        Cor-Bon Factory      1,619       4.55

HORNADY XPB/240      Hornady Factory      1,855       3.21

WINCHESTER DB/260       Win. Factory      1,837       5.18

25 YARDS

LYMAN CAST/255           Unique/12.5      1,248       1.11

RCBS CAST/270            Unique/12.5      1,210       0.94

LEAD FN .45 COLT/250     Black Hills        834       1.48
                             Factory

LEAD FN .45              Black Hills        751       1.43
SCHOFIELD/180                Factory

NOTES: A Freedom Arms Model 83 with a 7 1/2-inch
barrel and a Nikon 2.5-8X scope was used for all
loads. With the exception of the cast bullet loads,
all powder charges are maximum and should be
reduced by four grains for starting loads. Hornady
cases and Remington 7 1/2 primers were used.
Accuracy shown is for five five-shot groups fired
from a benchrest at the indicated distances.
Velocities are averages of 25 or more rounds
clocked 12 feet from the muzzle with an Oehler
Model 33 chronograph.


For all-around big-game use, a good 300-grain bullet is tough to beat. When exiting the muzzle at 1,500 to 1,600 fps, it drops only about four inches more at 150 yards than a 240-grain bullet at 1,900 fps. Sectional density of the heavier bullet is about 25 percent higher, and there is very little difference in recoil.

Having a revolver in .454 Casull is a lot like owning a high-performance car. Its power is seldom actually needed, but when it is, few cartridges offer more.

RELATED ARTICLE: Other Options

During the 1960s P.O. Ackley rebarreled a few Winchester Model 92s to .454 Casull. Heat-treating their receivers increased strength, but it was asking a lot of a rifle originally designed to handle the mild-mannered .38-40 and .44-40 cartridges. This held especially true for any shooter I who dared load the .454 to its original 65,000 psi. More recently, several companies have imported Model 92 copies in .454, but I believe all have been discontinued. Legacy Sports International still offers the Puma, and while it was once available in .454, that chambering is not an option in the company's 2013 catalog.

The big cartridge definitely gains speed in a longer barrel, especially in a closed-breech gun. A maximum load in the Swift reloading manual pushes a 300-grain bullet along at 1,992 fps--from a 20-inch pressure barrel. That's a good 400 fps faster than from a 7 1/2-inch revolver barrel--and darned close to what I get with a bullet of the same weight in my Marlin 1895 In .45-70 Government.

The only other standard-production .454-caliber revolvers I am aware of are the Ruger Super Redhawk and the Raging Bull from Taurus. Like the Freedom Arms Model 83, both have five-round cylinders. My experience with both is limited to shooting a few rounds offhand from each gun, so I am no expert on either. But I will say that neither is as comfortable to shoot as the Model 83. Between the two, I find the Super Redhawk to be much kinder to the hand than the Raging Bull.

The 4 1/2-pound weight (plus scope) of my Model 83 makes it quite tolerable to shoot. This is probably due to the fact that it has a straighter grip than a standard Colt SAA. As far as I'm concerned, the Model 83 is more comfortable to shoot than the Ruger Super Blackhawk in .44 Magnum. When wearing a padded glove from my days of metallic silhouette competition, I can go 50 to 60 rounds in one session without stress or strain. I could survive more, I suppose, but shooting is supposed to be fun.
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Author:Simpson, Layne
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Article Type:Product/service evaluation
Date:Jul 1, 2013
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