Many of the cartridges we as shooters take for granted today once began as wildcat cartridges. Whether it’s rifle cartridges such as the .243 Winchester or 7mm-08 Remington, or handgun cartridges such as the 10mm Auto and .357 Magnum, wildcatters have done much to advance the art and science of cartridge design. Many wildcatters have done so in pursuit of more power and performance, and perhaps no cartridge typifies that better than the .454 Casull.
Development of the .454 Casull by wildcatter Dick Casull began in the late 1950s, with the cartridge originally being unveiled in 1959. For nearly 40 years the cartridge remained a wildcat until it was chambered by Ruger in its revolvers, and standardized by SAAMI in 1997.
Casull’s original aim was to achieve 2,000 feet per second from a .45 Colt case out of a revolver with a 7.5-inch barrel. Both case and firearm metallurgy of the time prevented him from doing so, so he went to work.
Old .45 Colt cases were of the balloon-head type, meaning that the case head was not solid. The original .454 Casull maintained the same length case as the .45 Colt, but with a stronger, solid case head. Original loads consisted of triplex loads, using three different powders of various burn rates all held together tightly to prevent powder migration. Triplex loads are inherently dangerous and should not be attempted by handloaders today. Casull, Elmer Keith, and others blew up numerous firearms while testing these types of loads.
Eventually the .454 Casull received the longer case we know today, in an attempt to keep the more powerful .454 Casull ammunition from being accidentally loaded in older, weaker firearms chambered in .45 Colt. Because the .454 Casull was designed for pressures up to 60,000 psi, and normally operates at 55,000 psi, even strong modern guns chambered in .45 Colt are at risk of blowing up if .454 Casull loads are fired in them.
The .454 Casull is capable, with 240-grain bullets, of achieving over 2,060 feet per second out of a 9 3/8” barrel revolver, and nearly 1,900 feet per second out of a 7.5” barrel. That results in muzzle energy of 1,900 to 2,300 foot-pounds, almost equal to some .308 Winchester rifle loads. The cartridge is capable of being loaded with bullets weighing up to 400 grains, with those heavy bullets running over 1,360 feet per second from the muzzle, with over 1,600 foot-pounds of energy. While Dirty Harry may have claimed the .44 Magnum was the most powerful handgun cartridge in the world, the .454 Casull held that title for quite a while, trouncing the .44 Magnum handily.
It takes a strong wrist and a lot of nerve to fire more than a few rounds that powerful out of a revolver. Many revolvers today chambered in .454 Casull are intended for carrying in Alaska and other areas where hunters or hikers may face charges from grizzly bears, polar bears, and other dangerous game that need to be stopped immediately.
The .454 Casull has also been chambered in Rossi-made rifles patterned after the Winchester 92. These rifles, trading under the names Legacy, Rossi, and Puma, give even greater performance from their 16” and 20” barrels, making them almost a mini .45-70. Ballistics from a rifle range from 1,675 feet per second and 2,500 foot-pounds of muzzle energy from 400-grain bullets to 2,285 feet per second and 2,900 foot-pounds of muzzle energy from 250-grain bullets, with the rifles’ tubular magazines are capable of holding up to 10 rounds.
One of the major knocks on the .454 is the cost of its ammunition. Ammo starts at about $1 a round and goes up from there, making handloading almost a necessity to keep costs down. Firearms chambered for .454 Casull are also capable of firing .45 Colt, allowing the use of cheaper and less powerful ammo for practice purposes.
For those who need the kind of power the .454 Casull offers, in a package that slips under radar, there’s perhaps no better choice, particularly as the .454 is commonly available in the areas in which it is most used and needed. So if you’re looking for a powerful revolver stopping cartridge for your survival armory, give the .454 Casull a look.