I’m not saying they’re stupid, but man, people make some very questionable choices. Fearing “election riots” a grown man traded me used Glock 42 in .380ACP for a new-in-box New Model Ruger Super Blackhawk Bisley in .454 Casull. Not even a drag line on the cylinder yet.
He made a bad trade. The Ruger Super Blackhawk Bisley in .454 Casull is an awesome, historic handgun, fully capable and well proven to take any animal on earth.
The .454 Casull is generally considered the start of the true heavy magnums. If you believed Dirty Harry and thought it was the .44 Magnum, you are mistaken. The .44 Magnum is, even at its most potent loading, a sneeze compared to the .454 Casull. The top loads of the .44 Magnum produce about 1,200ft/lbs of muzzle energy. The .454 Casull? Over 1,900ft/lbs. And that’s through the same weight revolver with the same barrel length.
Unlike many of the big bore magnums, that power isn’t because of a particularly heavy bullet. In fact, the inability to load a bullet to or past 400 grains is really the only downside to the .454 Casull. No, Dick Casull’s big baby’s claim to fame is how fast it pushes the 300(ish) grain rounds. A 300 grain bullet fired from a 6 1/2″ barrel like this one should be moving at 1,600 fps, at its top end. A 240 gr hollow point? You’re looking closer to 1,900 fps.
That’s a whole lot of energy. And pressure. The .454 Casull legitimately operates at rifle pressures. With its perfected case, small rifle primer, and a good amount of fast powder behind the bullet, the SAAMI maximum pressure for the .454 Casull is a whopping 65,000 psi. For reference, that’s slightly above both the 5.56 NATO and .308 Winchester rifle cartridges.
Of course, all that energy comes with a price paid in recoil. At the top end of the .454 Casull loads from this Ruger Super Blackhawk Bisley, you should expect about 35 lbs of recoil energy back to the shooter. To put that into perspective, assuming you were shooting it through the exact same gun, the absolute top loads of a .44 Magnum will give you 23 lbs, and the .357 Magnum would give you 11 lbs. For more perspective, a 15 lb rifle chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum provides 29 lbs. Heavy loads in the .460 Smith and Wesson Magnum fired from their 460XVR double action revolvers provides about 31 lbs of recoil energy. That’s assuming H110 is used as the powder for all the previous pistol loads.
Anything above 30 lbs is a heck of handshake.
Fortunately, all that recoil is usually unnecessary, mostly because of the practical genius of Dick Casull.
Handgun hunters owe a whole lot to Mr. Casull. His work, and his incredible influence on other gunsmiths, led the way for revolver hunting as we know it today. I have no doubt there would not be the variety and quality of firearms or cartridges available to the handgun hunter today if not for Dick Casull.
He didn’t start out to produce the most famous cartridge that bears his name, he started out trying to create a very heavy .45 Colt. He rightly recognized the killing potential of the .45 Colt, but saw the weaknesses of the case design as well as the firearms they were fired in.
Eventually, he strengthened the case wall and head, and went with the small rifle primer to get as much case head strength as possible. He lengthened the case a bit as well. The guns he put them in were originally modified Ruger single actions with custom cylinders. This was before he and Wayne Baker created Freedom Arms.
I have fired a few of Freedom Arms revolvers in .454 Casull, and they are all exceptional guns. A Freedom Arms Model 83 in .454 Casull is a true homage to the master, but firing Casull’s cartridge in a Ruger single action is a bit like bringing the bird back to the nest.
Casull’s process means that every .454 Casull-chambered revolver can also fire the .45 Colt and .45 Schofield cartridges. For the commercial ammunition buyer, that gives you a very wide range of bullets, muzzle velocities, and recoil profiles. For the hand loader, you have a truly extreme array of possibilities. I can fire a 180 gr Cowboy Action Load at 660 fps and wonder if the bullet actually made it out of the barrel. I can fire a hard cast 395 gr bullet at 1,300 fps, and wonder only at the power of the monster I have created. And everything in between.
For those of you who read my review of this same gun in .480 Ruger, you’ll recognize all the same general features on this new revolver of mine, save the caliber. They’re twin sisters (fraternal).
The Super Blackhawk Bisley carries the same brushed stainless finish throughout the gun. This is definitely a “working gun” finish. You can still see a bit of the “grain” in the steel, and although the finish is even throughout, there’s nothing special about it at all. The Ruger Bisleys are probably the best revolvers most people can afford, but it’s not because Ruger spends a lot of time making them pretty.
Following the utilitarian theme are the hardwood grips adorning the Bisley grip frame. The fit is okay. They overhang a bit on the front, one side more than the other, and the wood doesn’t quite meet up with the frame on the back.
Although the wood-to-metal fit is just acceptable, the grip shape itself is just about perfect. Borrowing from the original Colt Bisley target revolver grip frame, Ruger improved on this further, making it the supreme grip for recoil reduction. Even with the .44 Magnum, most shooters find a big improvement in recoil management with the Ruger Bisley frame over the standard plow handle. Some folks have an issue with the trigger guard hitting their middle finger in recoil on the Bisley frame, but I have not had a concern with this.
One of the weak points on all adjustable sight Ruger single actions are the sights. The front sight is a serrated black ramp. On a dark target, or shooting in shadows, this tends to disappear, or at the very least loses its sharp edges. The Hunter models have an orange insert, but these models do not.
The rear sight is one of the most often changed items when customizing these guns. That’s because it is also black and unmarked, so only worsens the problems of the front sight. They also seem to vary widely with how difficult they are to adjust, and how well the adjustments remain true under heavy recoil. Heck, I’ve had a Single Six rear sight that simply would not hold still. This one does.
One of the great features of these newer Super Blackhawk Bisleys in the heaviest calibers is the larger locking cylinder base pin included right from the factory. This is a must have for any of the truly big calibers, and ensures that the base pin won’t walk out in heavy recoil. The results of this occurring run from annoying to catastrophic, so it’s great that Ruger addresses this from the outset.
Of course, being a Bisley, not only do we see the different grip but also the lowered wide hammer spur. These guns all include this welcome feature. With a deeply textured top surface, this hammer is easy to get to even with heavy winter gloves on.
The single action trigger of the New Model Rugers are rarely anything to crow about, but this one is a little better than others. There’s a bit of squish, but right behind that is a surprisingly light trigger. As an average of five trigger pulls, my Lyman digital trigger scale puts this .454 Casull New Model Super Blackhawk Bisley’s trigger pull at 2lbs, 13oz. I would have guessed lighter, and this is likely the best of the Ruger single action triggers I remember. Certainly the best of the ones I have, and I’ve got a bunch.
To contain the immense pressure of the round, the cylinder has been bored to hold only 5 rounds. This is obviously necessary to contain the .454 Casull, but it’s also nice to know that an infinite amount of very heavy .45 Colt (25-30k psi) would never start to fatigue this cylinder.
Because of the New Models’ transfer bar, that means that you can fully load the cylinder each time, giving the gun the same real carrying capacity as the original Colt single action cartridge revolvers. There’s no need to load one, skip one, and load four (or 3).
Just like the .480 Ruger I previously reviewed, if you need more than five full power .454 Casull loads to take anything down, run. Run for your life. You’ve picked a fight with Godzilla.
I put 200 rounds of commercial .454 Casull ammunition through this revolver. I also threw another 120 rounds of my own .45 Colt handloads of varying pressures through it, and then 20 more rounds of my own hand loaded .454 Casull top pressure loads through it. I never had any issues with the gun in any way. There were no failures to load or fire, and all the rounds ejected with a simple press of the ejector. The sights never changed and the base pin never moved. The grips did loosen a bit, but nothing a turn of the single center screw didn’t fix.
All the shooting was done within a week’s time. The revolver was well lubricated prior to shooting, but not lubricated or cleaned in any way during the review until all of the shooting was done and it was time for photos.
I measured the cylinder gap and end-shake on this gun both before and after shooting. Neither changed.
To be fair, I was not able to precisely measure the end-shake (cylinder front to back play) on this gun. I don’t mean I don’t have the tools or don’t know how, I mean it is so minimal that none of the tools I have was precise enough to measure it. That is very good news.
It’s incredibly rare to have a round within SAAMI specifications blow up a revolver. That’s just not how these guns die. They shake themselves to death. Sometimes this starts with excessive end shake, where every round fired makes the problem worse. With zero start on that from the factory, and even after quite a few rounds in a compressed amount of time, I’m confident this firearm is capable of outlasting a lifetime of shooting and hunting. (As an aside, if you want your revolvers to last, especially your heavy recoiling guns, ensure they are lubricated adequately. I store a little Lucas Oil tube in each of my revolver cases to make sure I don’t shoot them without checking lubrication.)
Unfortunately, the cylinder gap didn’t measure quite up to the same standards. When I first saw it, I thought “But Soft! What light through yonder window breaks?” Measuring .009″ with a feeler gauge, it’s far too much, and if this gun wasn’t headed to a smith for some work I’d send it back to Ruger to bring it down closer to .002″, or at least to Ruger’s usual .005″ish.
As it is, it’s robbing each cartridge of power. This was easily born out on the chronograph, where not a single commercial round fired reached within 50 fps of the advertised velocity, and none of my reloaded rounds came very close to what the math said would be the muzzle velocity either.
Since I have a Ruger Blackhawk Bisley in .45 Colt (as everyone should), I was able to shoot light to heavy .45 Colt rounds side by side in each gun. In every instance, the smaller caliber Ruger, which has a much tighter cylinder gap, shot the same bullet faster than the Super Blackhawk Bisley.
This is common with the heavy cartridges, and even more especially for one with as much powder and as high pressures as the .454 Casull, a larger cylinder gap like this bleeds powder.
The cylinder throats measure .456″ with a minus pin gauge. This is acceptable, but I’d prefer them a bit tighter. Any qualified gunsmith can move the barrel in to reduce the cylinder gap, but nobody is going to magically shrink those cylinder throats. Proper bullet selection will be key.
I assume this is pretty standard for these guns, as I hear and read most folks say their Super Blackhawk Bisley’s shoot .454 Casull cartridge much better than the lower pressure .45 Colts. This isn’t usually how it should be. Higher pressures and more gas typically make for worse shooting, not better. Imperfections, especially an imperfect barrel crown, will really show up the more gas is being pushed through them, so we would expect the .45 Colts to shoot better. (For instance, is there any Single Six Convertible made that shoots the .22 WMR as good as it shoots the .22 LR?)
The key to wringing the most accuracy out of guns like these with wider throats and a larger cylinder gap isn’t more powder and pressure, it’s longer bullets closer to the forcing cone that obturate the bore better.
Commercial Magtech 260gr jacketed soft point rounds scored the same as Winchester’s 225 grain Defender jacketed hollow point round, printing an average of 3″ for four strings of five round groups when shot seated off bags. Stepping up some in recoil and bullet weight, the HSM “Bear Load” 325gr moving at 1,300 fps averaged much better, at 2.1″ on average. This is good, but it can do better.
The Cast Performance 300 grain flat nosed gas checked hard cast lead bullet is my favorite for the heavy .45 Colt. I’ve taken deer, pigs, javelina, and a wide variety of varmints with this bullet in that previously mentioned .45 Colt Ruger Blackhawk Bisley. Loading that same bullet into .45 Colt Starline cases and pushed by 23 grains of H110, my groups shrank a bit more, finally dropping just barely under the 2″ mark. Taking that same H110, but increasing it to 26 grains, and now pushing an even heavier Cast Performance 335 grain bullet with a liberal amount of gooey bullet lube, my groups finally shrank to the 1.7″ mark, on average.
Any of these rounds fired by a competent marksman, save the Winchester Defender, would cleanly take any deer, pig, or black bear at 50 yards. Any of the .454 Casull rounds would do the same for Elk or Moose at the same distance. That 335 grain hard cast round moving over 1,300 fps would take any animal that walks on this or any other planet we are aware of. I’d expect a pass through on even a grizzly at 30 yards with that one, and it is well under the maximum pressure limit for the cartridge.
Given the history of the cartridge, and how the Ruger single action is linked directly to its birth, the Ruger Super Blackhawk Bisley in .454 Casull is a must have for any big bore pistol aficionado. It’s also one of the most versatile cartridges available, and capable of providing the marksman with the joy of target shooting, or big game hunting on any continent.
Like all Ruger single actions, there’s no better starting material for a truly world class gun. I’ve got seven Ruger single actions with different smiths, and as soon as a couple of them come back, I’ll be having some work done on this one. Probably Hamilton Bowen’s “Perfected Bisley #3” package. Given the ridiculous low cost of the gun to me, I’m still doing great, cost-wise. But even if you left the gun factory, it’s still a good revolver, capable of a lifetime of solid performance.
Ruger Super Blackhawk Bisley
Caliber: .454 Casull
Front Sight: Ramp
Rear Sight: Adjustable
Barrel Length 6.50″
Twist: 1:24″ RH
Material: Stainless Steel
Finish: Satin Stainless
Grips: Bisley Hardwood
Overall Length: 12.40″
Weight: 50.4 oz.
MSRP: $1,049 (Lipsey’s Dealer Exclusive)
Style and Appearance ***
Some do stainless better than others. Ruger’s brushed stainless finish on all of their revolvers is good enough.
There’s probably no other revolver out there that has been modified as much as the Ruger single action. Maybe the Colt Single Action Army, but I doubt it. Customization costs money.
Decent, but nothing spectacular.
Ruger has done well with these big bore Super Blackhawks. This one is no exception. It will run forever.
The potential for this revolver is incredible. The disappointments are (mostly) easily fixed. Ruger has made what was once purely custom now within relatively easy reach of the average handgun hunter and shooter, and done it well enough to satisfy all but the pickiest of gun writers.