454 Casull Factory Ammo
Performance with a Capitol "P"

M.L. McPherson

Synopsis: We now have many factory ammunition options for use in 454 Casull chambered revolvers. In terms of energy, these loads range from top-end 44 Magnum to nearly 308 Winchester rifle levels. Bullet designs include non-expanding, controlled expansion and violent expansion. Generally, these loads offer exemplary performance. Importantly, it is quite difficult for the handloader to create 454 ammunition surpassing factory offerings in terms of accuracy, energy or (especially) functionality.

Background

Freedom Arms is no longer in the ammunition business. Had this change occurred several years ago, it would have left the 454 Casull owner with only one option – handloading. Fortunately, there are now at least four major players offering 454 Casull ammo: Buffalo Bore, Cor-Bon, Hornady and Winchester. Current loadings total fifteen (as of late 1999). Bullet types include several non-expanding designs (hard cast and jacketed) and various jacketed expanding types (some of which give violent expansion while others offer more controlled mushrooming. Bullet weights range from 240 grains to 360 grains. Muzzle energy ranges from about 950 to 2125 foot-pounds.

While this seems an inordinate range, it is probably insufficient! We still need someone to offer 454 cased loads generating no more than 1000 fps with a bullet of about 260 grains. Such a load provides all the power needed for many applications and allows novice shooters to get used to handling this revolver, without subjecting their anatomy to the grueling recoil of even the lightest current factory loads, let alone the truly punishing hammering doled out by the most powerful offerings.

The lightest factory 454 offerings generate entirely too much recoil for the typical novice. To place 454-revolver recoil in perspective, consider that Cor-Bon’s 360-grain load, fired in a typical revolver, generates as much recoil energy as a 500-grain, 458 Winchester Magnum load, fired in a 13-pound rifle. Perhaps firing a 13 pound 458 Win Mag does not sound all that bad but consider forcing your hand (or hands) to absorb 100% of that punishment! Consider also that upon firing, the revolver is almost instantly accelerated into the shooter’s hand at over 30 fps. This is much faster than the recoil of any normal rifle and recoil velocity is the major physiological factor in recoil punishment.

Use of 45 Colt ammunition in the 454 is proscribed by Freedom Arms. The problem is, (owing to the shorter case) 45 Colt loads can leave rings of lead at the front of the chambers. If full-power 454 loads are chambered and fired without removing these lead deposits, it is possible to "ring" the chamber, destroying the cylinder. Ideally, use only 454 cases in 454 chambered guns. There is, however, one can seat bullets to standard 45 Colt length and use 45 Colt loads.

Performance measurement of factory 454 ammunition divides into four distinct categories: accuracy, energy (muzzle & down-range), functionality and terminal bullet performance. I would almost certainly err in trying to order the significance of each, beyond this simple fact: functionality comes first and foremost. In a revolver that might be needed to save the user’s life, any load that is not 100% reliable is potentially less than worthless. Specifically, the overriding concern among serious 454 shooters is: "Will every case hold the bullet during recoil, every time?"

This issue is so important that I am compelled to state something entirely contrary to my handloader’s ego: Those hunting dangerous game with the 454 are strongly advised to use an appropriate factory load. Having handloaded and fired many thousands of 454 rounds, using various types of bullets (ranging from 200 grains to 525 grains), and having listened to many accounts from other serious 454 users, I am persuaded that it is truly difficult to produce full-power 454 handloads that are 100% dependable!

At least one handloading Alaskan hunter has found out the hard way that a pulled bullet is certain to occur at the worst possible time – as just you fire a shot that wounds, but does not stop, an enraged Kodiak bear intent upon serious mayhem. While that hunter is reported to have survived, we suspect he learned that a 454 revolver is something less than an effective club.

I am not saying that you cannot produce 100% reliable full-power 454 loads. What I am saying is this, I would prefer to use factory ammo for such applications.

Almost as an aside, I am compelled to mention that I cannot interest any factory producer in offering my 1100-fps, 475-grain Hard Cast WC combination. This load combines adequate penetration potential, rapid energy deposition, relatively modest recoil and vastly reduced muzzle blast. Compared to any conventional full-power load, this load is much less apt to produce hearing damage when fired without ear protection. Therefore, it makes sense for hunters who do not want to hunt with earplugs installed or pause to insert those before taking that "shot-of-a-lifetime" and this load is a proven performer on elk-size game.

I must note another concern about 454 handloading. Most jacketed component bullets are not designed to handle full-power 454 pressures. Using such bullets rapidly damages the forcing cone. This can lead to irreparable gun damage.

Limited accuracy testing in a Freedom Arms revolver suggests that every current factory load is capable of outstanding accuracy. Were I to thoroughly test this aspect, I would only prove myself incapable of shooting such an accurate gun with a sufficiently consistent hold to fairly compare so many loads. Furthermore, since I am human, I make no apology for omitting the grueling testing such an analysis would require.

I am confident that each of these loads has the intrinsic accuracy necessary to place the bullet well inside a four-inch circle at 100 yards, when fired from a Freedom Arms revolver. I suspect that several are true MOA performers. Such accuracy is certainly sufficient for any reasonable handgun hunting.

Terminal Bullet Performance

Now, finally, to the heart of this article: terminal bullet performance. In writings on this subject, I have often stated a paramount fact, one that should be obvious but is overlooked by many pundits. Specifically, when considering the potential effectiveness of a hunter’s shot, three things are critical, see table:

Hunting Load Effectiveness

Factor

Importance
(scale: 1 – 10)

Bullet Placement

10

Bullet Performance

7

Delivered Energy

3

While it is unfair to claim that delivered energy does not matter, the following evaluation should make it clear that in real-world applications, increased energy cannot substitute for either proper bullet performance or proper shot placement. Frankly, a gut shot elk is a gut shot elk, it makes essentially no difference how much energy the bullet carried; equally, a small-caliber, round-nosed bullet that punches cleanly through the animal without expanding must encounter heavy bone, brain, spinal cord, heart or a major artery to offer any chance of rapidly incapacitating the animal – as in, before it mauls the hunter beyond all recognition. Similarly, a frangible bullet that fails to penetrate into the boiler room is unlikely to do the job.

Conversely, a relatively measly 22 Magnum HP fired into the lungs of a broadside elk will almost certainly kill within a few minutes. Furthermore, practically every serious hunter of the cartridge era has developed some alternative to "kinetic energy" as an evaluation technique for judging the potential effectiveness of a load – this fact must mean something! While we will never convince everyone that delivered energy is overrated, we hope these thoughts will give you pause to consider.

So, how do we test bullet performance? While I would love to work at a slaughterhouse, testing the effectiveness of various loads and shot placements, I have not found the kind soul who is ready, willing and able to finance such an endeavor. Therefore, I make do with two very simple and effective mediums: saturated and dry telephone book. Saturated telephone book is a credible mimic of soft tissue. It contains water, cellulose and clay in proportions sufficiently similar to living tissue to make an excellent proxy. Equally important, this medium is simple for any serious hunter to prepare and is quite repeatable.

On the other hand, dry telephone book is a fine mimic for heavy bone. A bullet that survives a full velocity impact with this medium can be counted upon to survive impact with the heaviest bone.

Evaluation of such a test includes measurement of six pertinent factors:

Evaluation of a Bullet, Terminal Performance in Paper

Factor Description

1

Total Penetration

2

Weight Retention of Main (largest) Projectile Body

3

Expanded Bullet Frontal Size, Shape & Characteristics

4

Details of Asymmetric Expansion & Bullet Fragmentation

5

Any Deformation of "Non-Expanding" Bullets

6

Whether Bullet Stays Point-On & if it Follows a Straight-Line Path

My testing method, a modification of one advocated by the late Finn Aagaard, involves firing into the face of stacks of telephone books. For the saturated paper test, I make bundled units that begin as 9-inches of dry paper (I remove any shiny pages). These stacks are saturated (wherein the stack expands to about 13-inches), then pressed to a 12-inch thickness and finally tied with fishing line. At least three of these stacks are placed one in front of the other (very deeply penetrating solids can require many more stacks).

My experience suggests that for elk-sized animals, a total penetration in saturated telephone book of about 18-inches is completely adequate for expanding bullets – Aagaard felt this was adequate for most North American Species. Since hunters using non-expanding bullets probably intend to take shots into heavy bone, such bullets should penetrate deeper. The following table gives what should be reasonable relative values for various types of game and bullets. Of course, the amount of penetration you will need depends critically upon the types of shots that you will take – raking shots might require more, broadside shots into the ribcage, less.

Bullet

Reasonable Penetration Depths

Type

(saturated telephone book medium)

Species

Antelope

Lesser
Deer

Elk
Moose
Grizzly

Kodiak & Similarly
Sized African
Species

Cape
Buffalo

(Est.*)

Expanding

7-10

9-14

12-18

16-24

>30

Solid

–-

–-

16-24

22-33

>34

* Estimate, based upon anecdotal information.

The results of our 454 testing are listed in the following table. Readers should review these data to gain an understanding of the wide variation in performance among factory loads.

 

 

 

 

Factory 454 Bullets, Terminal Performance (telephone book medium)

 

 

Loading

Rated

Free

 

Saturated

Dry

 

Muzzle

Recoil

Core

 

Velocity

Energy

Hardness

Penetration

Expansion

Retained

Penetration

Expansion

Retained

 

(fps)2

(ft. lbs.)3

(Saeco)4

(inches)5

(increase)6

Weight7

(inches)5

(increase)6

Weight7

 

Winchester

 

 

 250 JHP (XTP)

1300

16

2

10.00

160%

94%

6.00

Disintegrated

68%

 

 

 260 Partition Gold1

1800

40

2

13.00

210%

95%

6.75

116%

92%

 

 

 260 JFP

1800

40

–-

Not Tested

Not tested

 

 

 300 JFP

1625

40

10

34.50

0%

97%

10.00

48%

92%

 

 

Hornady

 

 

 240 XTP/Mag

2000

42

3

10.50

210%

82%

8.50

50%

100%

 

 

 300 XTP/Mag

1650

40

2

11.00

235%

83%

9.25

175%

95%

 

 

Cor-Bon

 

 

 240 JHP

1450

20

5

8.00

48%

75%

3.50

Disintegrated

41%

 

 

 265 Bonded Core HP

1800

41

4

9.00

175%

65%

7.00

Disintegrated

54%

 

 

 285 Bonded Core SP

1700

41

3

11.50

175%

97%

7.00

Disintegrated

51%

 

 

 300 JSP

1650

41

8

23.50

5%

96%

8.00

Disintegrated

64%

 

 

 320 RN Penetrator*

1600

43

4

21.50

0%

100%

8.25

0%

100%

 

 

 320 FP Penetrator

1600

43

4

32.00

0%

100%

7.25

0%

100%

 

 

 335 Hard Cast LFN

1600

46

8

29.00

0%

98%

6.50

Disintegrated

35%

 

 

 360 RN Penetrator*

1500

46

4

23.00

0%

100%

9.25

0%

100%

 

 

 360 FP Penetrator

1500

46

4

34.00

0%

100%

8.25

0%

100%

 

 

Buffalo Bore

 

 

 300 Speer UCSP

1525

34

7

12.00

180%

99%

7.25

198%

92%

 

 

 325 Hard Cast LFN

1525

39

10

28.00

0%

100%

5.25

Disintegrated

41%

 

 

Handloads (representing desirable load types unavailable in factory production)

 

 

 300 Hornady XTP

1000

12

11.00

175%

97%

4.75

213%

88%

 

 

 475 Hard Cast WC

1100

35

11

26.00

0%

100%

4.25

43%

89%

 

 

 525 Hard Cast WC

1000

34

10

22.00

0%

100%

4.00

71%

86%

 

* Discontinued Loadings

1.This was the only bullet producing symmetrical expansion in the dry test.

2. Typically, chronographed velocity in Freedom Arms revolver duplicates advertised ballistics.

3. Actual felt recoil is somewhat less, depending upon how shooter interacts with gun.

4. Approximate reading taken on core filed to a flat, solid point; those with higher numbers are harder but more brittle.

5. Distance to last broken page.

6. Increase in cross-sectional area (expansion).

7. Compared to unfired bullet. For bullets that disintegrated this represents heaviest fragment.

A quick review of these tables reveals that no single factory offering is perfectly suitable for every reasonable hunting application. On the other hand, at least one of those now available should cover any application any serious hunter might reasonably consider. Excepting the absence of an affordably priced, relatively low-powered practice round, factory 454 ammunition has come of age.

In closing, I am compelled to note that many of the more powerful loads listed in this table generate pressures similar to magnum-rifle loads. While such loads have proven completely safe for extended usage in Freedom Arms revolvers and in various custom conversion revolvers fitted with special high-strength five-shot cylinders, use of such ammo in some other revolvers has led to premature gun retirement.


 

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454bullets.jpg (26892 bytes)

Many offerings provide exemplary performance in the wet test (see text). Clockwise from upper left:

Bullet

Load

fps

Penetration

240 XTP-Mag

Hornady

2000

10.5"

250 XTP

Winchester

1300

10.0"

285 BC FP

Cor-Bon

1700

11.5"

300 XTP

Handload

1000

11.0"

300 XTP-Mag

Hornady

1650

11.0"

300 UCSP

Buffalo Bore

1525

12.0"

 


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wet_dry.jpg (18595 bytes)

Bullets perform quite differently, depending upon impact medium. Top row, wet test bullets; bottom row, dry test bullets. Left to right:

 

Bullet

fps

Penetration
Wet/Dry

240 Hornady XTP-Mag

2000

10.5"/8.5"

285 Cor-Bon Bonded Core

1700

11.5"/7.0"

300 Speer UniCore

1525

12.0"/7.2"

525 Cast WC, Heat Treated

1000

22.0"/4.0"


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win_corbon.jpg (10894 bytes)

Minor differences matter. Compared to the Winchester bullet (right), the Cor-Bon bullet (left) has a slightly longer exposed lead nose and a slightly wider jacket opening. While impact velocity was higher for the Cor-Bon load, in both the wet and dry tests, the Winchester bullet penetrated significantly further – 34.5/23.5-inches & 10.0/8.0-inches respectively. See Reasonable Penetration Depths table in text.

 


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4pair.jpg (17482 bytes)

Again, details are important. Consider each, apparently similar, pair and refer to Reasonable Penetration Depths table in text. Left to right: 335 gr. Cor-Bon, 325 gr. Buffalo Bore. Despite less velocity and weight, the sharper nose allows the Buffalo Bore bullet to penetrate almost as deeply.

300 gr. Cor-Bon, 300 gr. Winchester.

525 gr. Handload, 475 gr. Handload. note bulge in case wall, just below midpoint. This is where base of bullet enters into tapered portion of case

320 gr. Cor-Bon Penetrator RN,  320 gr. Penetrator FP

Pair

Load

Bullet

fps

Wet Penetration

1

335 Cor-Bon

Hard Cast

1600

29.0"

325 Buffalo Bore

Hard Cast

1525

28.0"

 
2

300 Cor-Bon

JFP

1650

23.5"

300 Winchester

JFP

1625

34.5"

 
3

525 Handload

Heat Treated WC

1000

22.0"

475 Handload

Heat Treated WC

1100

26.0"

 
4

320 Cor-Bon

Penetrator RN

1600

21.5"

320 Cor-Bon

Penetrator FP

1600

32.0"

 


 

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detail4.jpg (13513 bytes)

This (discontinued) round nose failed to stay point-on in wet test.

 


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detail3.jpg (13262 bytes)

Owing to slight nose bevel, lighter bullet penetrates significantly further. Also, note bulge in case wall, just below midpoint. This is where base of bullet enters into tapered portion of case. Some case brands have a shorter untapered section and will not work with this bullet – these particular loads are a snug fit in tested Freedom Arms gun.


Buffalo Bore Ammunition Company
P.O. Box 78
Carmen, ID 83462
208-756-8085

Cor-Bon
1311 Industry
Sturgis, SD 57785
605-347-4544