The Spectacular .454 Casull

By Chuck Hawks

.454 Casull
Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The .454 Casull was the result of experiments with heavy .45 Colt revolver loads. It was designed by Dick Casull and Jack Fullmer in the 1950's as a cartridge for big game hunting.

The .454 case is basically a longer (by approximately 1/10th inch) and much stronger version of the .45 Colt case, and a .454 Casull pistol can also shoot .45 Colt ammunition, much as a .44 Magnum revolver can also shoot .44 Special ammunition. The SAAMI did not accept the .454 Casull as a standard cartridge until 1998, when the maximum average pressure was set at 65,000 psi. The highest pressure shown in the Hodgdon Data Manual using the older copper crusher method is 55,000 cup. These pressures are similar to those of the .300 Weatherby Magnum rifle cartridge!

For many years the extremely strong, accurate, precisely made (and expensive) Freedom Arms single action 5-shot revolver was the only gun chambered for the .454 Casull, but now Ruger and Taurus offer large double action revolvers for the cartridge. T/C also offers their Encore single shot pistol in .454. With .454 Casull pistols now widely available it is unnecessary to attempt to "magnumize" the .45 Colt cartridge with heavy handloads. The .454 Casull is a professionally magnumized version of the .45 Colt.

.454 Casull factory loaded ammunition is available from Federal (300 grain JSP at 1630 fps), Freedom Arms (240, 260, and 300 grain jacketed hard-core bullets), Magtech (260 grain JSP at 1800 fps), and Winchester (250 grain JHP at 1300 fps, 260 grain JHP at 1800 fps, 300 grain JSP at 1625 fps). These velocities are all taken in 7.5" vented (revolver) test barrels.

The Winchester factory load using a 260 grain Nosler PartitionGold bullet can be taken as representative. Winchester figures show a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1800 fps with 1871 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. At 50 yards the figures are 1605 fps and 1485 ft. lbs. At 100 yards the velocity is 1427 fps, and the energy is 1176 ft. lbs. These energy figures are about twice those achieved by Winchester .44 Magnum factory loads with a 250 grain bullet.

The Winchester trajectory table shows a mid range rise of 0.4" over 50 yards, and 1.7" over 100 yards. This makes the .454 among the flattest shooting of all revolver cartridges.

For handgun hunting, most reloaders will choose jacketed bullets ranging from 200 to 300 grains, depending on the intended purpose. Use the conventional 200-260 grain JHP bullets for deer hunting, and the tough 260-300 grain premium bullets for large game. Note that the .454 Casull cartridge is designed for use with small rifle primers due to the extremely high pressure at which it operates.

Most .452" bullets are designed for optimum performance at .45 Colt velocities and should not be driven to the maximum velocity possible from a .454 pistol. Naturally, magnum pistol powders like Hodgdon H110 and Winchester 296 are best for the .454.

The Hodgdon Data Manual No. 26 shows the following muzzle velocities using Freedom Arms JHP bullets in front of maximum loads of H110 powder sparked by Remington 7 1/2 primers. The .454 achieved a MV of 2090 fps with the 240 grain bullet in front of 39.0 grains of H110, 2005 fps with the 260 grain bullet in front of 37.0 grains of H110, and 1780 fps with the 300 grain bullet in front of 31.5 grains of H110 powder. All of these loads were chronographed in a 7.5" pressure test barrel. The maximum average pressures of these loads was between 53,800 cup and 55,000 cup.

The price for all of this power is increased recoil, greatly increased recoil. The .454 generates almost 5 times the recoil of the .45 Long Colt, and about 75% more recoil energy than the .44 Magnum. (See the Handgun Recoil Table for specifics.) It is way out of the class of all but the most experienced and recoil tolerant shooters.

The .454 Casull is a spectacular revolver cartridge in every way. It is super strong, operates at super high pressure, offers superior velocity and energy, and makes the handgun shooter pay with recoil equivalent to that generated by an 8.5 pound .300 Ultra Magnum rifle. Wow!

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Copyright 2002, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.