David Tong writes [via ammoland.com]:
Americans are smitten by “power.” No question. We love our high horsepower cars, our torque-laden diesel trucks and motorcycles, and of course more germane to this, the most powerful cartridges we can stuff into our firearms.
The ink was barely dry on the 1955 introduction of the vaunted .44 Remington Magnum, which was for a short time “the most powerful handgun in the world.” Just as its predecessor, the .357 Smith & Wesson Magnum, it featured a case lengthened from its smaller parent, the .38 Smith & Wesson Special, which in turn was a lengthened .38 Long Colt.
The reason for all these rises in cubic inches? The market for a handgun to hunt with at extended ranges. This role all but requires not only accuracy, but also flat shooting to at least one-hundred yards, as well as expansion and penetration to bring down the larger species in North America.
Enter the 454 Casull Cartridge.
The late inventor Dick Casull (above) designed the .454 cartridge bearing his name just four short years after the .44 Magnum’s debut as a wildcat round, which means there were no factory loaded rounds available. Essentially it shares the same case diameter as the old .45 S&W Schofield and .45 Colt cartridges, but is lengthened by almost exactly one-tenth inch.
However, internally the case featured a reinforced case head and walls. This is a good thing, because the 1997 SAAMI pressure specs for the then commercial-spec round exceeds 60,000psi, which is in the range of high-intensity RIFLE cartridges. This was done to avoid case head separations, and Casull originally designed the case using small rifle primers, that have substantially more robust cups to reduce the potential for ruptured primers.
While the cartridge first saw use in what is now known as the Freedom Arms Model 83, a huge five-shot single action revolver of impeccable finish yet very traditional design ethos, other manufacturers such as Ruger and Taurus brought out “huge by large” revolvers to handle the round.
Bullet weights for the .454, so named after the .45 Colt round’s original groove diameter between the lands, run between a 240gr bullet, through 300, 325, 335, and 360 grain slugs, with speeds between 1,900 and 1,400fps corresponding to the increases in weight.
The Wikipedia article on the cartridge suggests that it has “75%” more recoil than a .44 Magnum, and five times that of the parent .45 Colt round. As a relatively experienced hand with the Smith & Wesson N-frame Models 29 and 629 revolvers, I can state categorically that the .44 is enough for me, as I do not see much point in a cartridge to do substitute rifle work.
I would expect it would be best used as a self-defense round against the great northern bear species while fishing or hiking in those environs.
Of course, this wouldn’t be America if someone eventually built something even bigger, and that happened around the turn of the 21st Century with the introduction of the .460 and .500 S&W Magnums, in even substantially heavier “X-frame” revolvers.
Suffice to say that the “old” .454 is about all many shooters can handle, and too much for most of us. The beauty of it is the flexibility of the ammunition that can be placed into its cavernous chamber, as it would no sweat to hot-load the old Colt round beyond even what the more powerful .44 Magnum is capable of, yet make it feel like a pussycat relative to the mighty Casull round.
One would just have to work their way up the power scale on learning to shoot one well. Power is no substitute for bullet placement while hunting or for defense purposes, but from all accounts it is an ample killer of big game.
I suspect that due to the huge case volume of the .454, that downloading it might be a tricky proposition, as small charges of faster powders might cause interesting pressure variations, so I would recommend the use of .45 Colt rounds, .454 factory standard cartridges, or scrupulously following recommendations in loading manuals for its use.
It remains a really good choice for folks that feel a need to pack a Ruger Super Redhawk or Taurus Raging Bull into harm’s way. Just like those big V-8 cars so often bought without much actual usability, the .454 stands as a testimonial of American love of “big pistons.”