Compared: The .454 Casull and .475 Linebaugh

By Chuck Hawks

Dick Casull designed the .454 cartridge that bears his name after experimenting with high-pressure loads in .45 Colt caliber. The .454 case is based on a lengthened and greatly strengthened .45 Colt case. Not only does the .454 case (unlike the .45 Colt case) have very heavy case walls and web, it uses small rifle primers because of the high, 65,000 psi, pressure to which it is loaded. The .454 derives its great power not only from considerable bullet weight and diameter, but also from the high velocity made possible by its high operating pressure. Bullet diameter is actually .452", the same as the .45 Colt.

John Linebaugh designed his .475 around 1988 as a wildcat cartridge based on the .45-70 rifle case cut down to a length of 1.4". Later the big .475 was picked-up by Hornady, who offers it as a factory loaded cartridge. The .474 Linebaugh actually uses .475" diameter bullets.

Both of the .454 Casull and .475 Linebaugh are intended for big game hunting, and both were designed for use in revolvers. Both also generate terrific recoil and should be avoided by all but the most experienced handgun hunters.

At handgun ranges these two calibers are capable of taking all North American big game. They are not the most powerful cartridges regularly chambered in handguns, as many single shot pistols are chambered for a variety of powerful rifle cartridges, including the .45-70 (parent case of the .475 Linebaugh). However, the .454 and .475 are the most powerful handgun cartridges factory loaded by a major manufacturer.

The .454 was introduced in the lovingly crafted Freedom Arms Model 83 single action revolver. The .475 was introduced in 5-shot Ruger Bisley single action revolvers modified by John Linebaugh, and later appeared as a standard chambering in the Freedom Arms Model 83.

Factory loads for the .454 Casull are available from several manufacturers and use bullets weighing from 240 to 300 grains. Most popular are 300 grain jacketed bullets. Hornady loads their 300 grain XTP-MAG bullet to a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1650 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 1813 ft. lbs. The figures at 100 yards are 1328 fps and 1175 ft. lbs.

According to the fifth edition of the Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading, handloaders can drive the same 300 grain bullet at MV's ranging from 1400 fps to 1650 fps from the 7.5" barrel of a Freedom Arms revolver. At a MV of 1650 fps the trajectory of that bullet looks like this: +1.6" at 50 yards, 0 at 100 yards, and -6.4" at 150 yards.

Hornady markets the only factory load for the .475 Linebaugh at the time of this writing. The Hornady factory load uses a 400 grain XTP-MAG bullet at a MV of 1300 fps and ME of 1501 ft. lbs. The figures at 100 yards are 1093 fps and 1060 ft. lbs.

Again according to the fifth edition of the Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading, reloaders can drive the same 400 grain XTP-MAG bullet at muzzle velocities ranging from 1100 fps to 1350 fps from the 7.5" barrel of a Freedom Arms revolver. At a MV of 1350 fps (50 fps faster than the factory load) the trajectory of that bullet looks like this: +2.5" at 50 yards, 0 at 100 yards, and -9.5" at 150 yards.

Comparing the muzzle energy of the two cartridges as factory loaded by Hornady shows that the .454 has a 312 ft. lb. advantage. At 100 yards the .454 has a 115 ft. lb. advantage. Kinetic energy is an important factor in killing power, as it is energy that indicates the bullet's potential to penetrate, expand, and create a devastating wound channel in the target.

Another important factor in killing power is the sectional density (SD) of the bullet. Sectional density is an important factor in bullet penetration, and if all other factors are equal, the bullet with the greater SD will penetrate best. The deeper the penetration, the deeper the wound channel. The SD of a 300 grain .452" bullet is .210. The SD of a 400 grain .475" bullet is .253, giving the .475 the advantage in this area.

The frontal area of the bullet should also be considered. The greater the frontal area, the wider the wound channel, other factors being equal. The .475 obviously has an advantage over the .454 in bullet frontal area.

Trajectory is important to any hunter, as you cannot kill what you cannot hit, and a flatter trajectory makes hitting easier. The .454 has the advantage in trajectory with either handloads or factory loads. Comparing Hornady factory loads with a 100 yard zero, the .454 has 3.7" less bullet drop at 150 yards than the .475.

Recoil is another important factor to any hunter, as the greater the recoil the more difficult it becomes to place a bullet accurately for a killing shot. The most powerful gun on earth is useless if the hunter misses a vital spot or, worse, wounds an animal because he or she flinched. Unfortunately, the recoil of both the .454 and .475 are severe and very likely to induce a flinch in all but the most hardened shooters. According to my "Handgun Recoil Table," the free recoil energy of the Hornady .454 Casull factory load in a 3.2 pound revolver is 38.6 ft. lbs., and the free recoil energy of the .475 factory load in a revolver of the same weight is 38.1 ft. lbs. There is no significant difference in those numbers, either one will trash your wrist in short order.

No cartridge is better than the gun that fires it. The .454 Casull is available in single action and double action production revolvers from Freedom Arms, Magnum Research, Ruger, and Taurus as well as the Thompson/Center Encore single shot pistol. The .475 Linebaugh is available only in the single action Freedom Arms revolver and Linebaugh customized Ruger revolvers. This makes a .475 a much more expensive proposition than a .454.

Likewise, factory loaded ammunition for the .454 Casull is offered by Federal, Hornady, Magtech, Speer, and Winchester in 240, 250, 260, and 300 grain bullet weights. The Hornady 400 grain bullet is the sole factory load for the .475 Linebaugh.

To summarize the comparison, in terms of performance the results are mixed. Both are big bore cartridges. The .454 Casull wins the comparison in energy and trajectory. The .475 Linebaugh has the advantage in bullet frontal area and sectional density. The recoil of both cartridges is fierce, with neither cartridge having any particular advantage in this area.

In terms of availability of guns and ammunition, the Casull has a definite advantage. There are more models, styles, and prices of guns in .454. There are also more companies supplying a greater variety of ammunition in .454.

Both the .454 Casull and .475 Linebaugh have been used to bag virtually all North American species of big game, and most African species. Either cartridge represents the top level of performance available from a conventional handgun. There are more powerful "handguns," but they are either chambered for rifle cartridges, or essentially rifles without a buttstock. The .454 and .475 are both more powerful than either the .480 Ruger or .50 Action Express (see "Compared: The .480 Ruger and .50 AE"), which are their nearest commercial competitors.

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Copyright 2003, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.