The .480 Ruger

By Chuck Hawks

.480 Ruger
Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The .480 Ruger is a by-product of the work Hornady put into developing a load for the .475 Linebaugh specialty revolver cartridge. The basic idea behind the new cartridge was a .475 with reduced recoil (compared to the brutal .475 Linebaugh) and an overall length short enough to fit the cylinders of .454 Casull production revolvers. The new cartridge would be an understudy to the .475 Linebaugh in the same sense that the .38 Special +P is an understudy to the .357 Magnum. It was hoped that at least some of the existing revolvers chambered for the .454 Casull would be adapted to the new cartridge. To insure this, Hornady approached Sturm Ruger with a proposal for joint development.

Hornady did the development work on the cartridge and Ruger came up with a revolver to fire it. Ruger changed the name from .475 Ruger to .480 Ruger to give the cartridge a unique identity, but the actual bullet diameter remained .475 inch. The SAAMI maximum average pressure for the .480 Ruger is pegged at 48,000 psi, slightly below the 50,000 psi allowed for the .454 Casull.

The .480 Ruger is based on a .475 Linebaugh case shortened to a length of 1.285 inches. (The .475 Linebaugh is based on a modified .45-70 case shortened to 1.5 inches in length.) Hornady also developed a new 325 grain XTP-MAG bullet for the cartridge that allows an overall cartridge length of 1.65 inches. The maximum overall length of the .454 Casull cartridge is 1.68 inches, so any revolver cylinder long enough to accommodate the .454 is long enough for the .480 Ruger.

This allowed Ruger to adapt their .454 Super Redhawk revolver for the .480 cartridge. The .480 may also be fired in any gun chambered for the .475 Linebaugh. However, by 2010 Ruger no longer offered the .480 cartridge in the Super Redhawk. Winchester briefly adapted the Model 94 lever action carbine to the cartridge, but no longer does. The .480 already appears headed for obsolescence.

The ballistics of .480 factory loads call for a 325 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1350 fps from a 7.5" revolver barrel. Muzzle energy is 1315 ft. lbs. At 100 yards the bullet is still rolling along at about 1075 fps and carrying 835 ft. lbs. of energy. That is, as intended, about midway between the .44 Magnum and the .454 Casull in power. From a pistol zeroed at 100 yards the trajectory of the factory loads should have a midrange rise of about 3 inches, which makes 100 yards the logical distance at which to zero a .480 revolver for big game hunting.

The reports I have read suggest that the recoil is also, at least subjectively, between the .44 and .454 in Super Redhawk revolvers. I'll take the reporters' word for it, as I have no particular desire to find out for myself!

Hornady still supplies .480 factory loaded ammunition, as well as brass and bullets for reloading. Speer offers a 325 grain Gold Dot bullet to handloaders. .475 Linebaugh reloading dies can be used to reload .480 Ruger cartridges.

Reloading data is available online from the Hodgdon Powder Company, Speer and others. According to Hodgdon 2002 data 27.0 grains of H110 powder will drive a 325 grain Hornady bullet to a MV of 1518 fps from the 7.5" barel of a Ruger revolver. The 400 grain Hornady XTP bullet can be driven to a MV of 1258 fps by 20.5 grains of H110. These loads used Hornady cases and Winchester primers, and generated 44,900 psi and 46,600 psi respectively.

Clearly the .480 Ruger should be a very effective handgun hunting cartridge to slightly over 100 yards. The 325 grain Hornady XTP-MAG bullet has a SD of about .206, nearly identical to the SD of the Hornady 265 grain (.429") bullet for the .444 Marlin rifle cartridge. Penetration should be adequate and obviously a .475 inch bullet will make a big hole in any animal it hits.

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