44 Magnum vs. 454 Casull
Powerful handguns are necessary equipment in some circles. Individuals who fish, hike, camp, and otherwise recreate in the great outdoors often carry heavy-hitting, magnum revolvers for bear and lion defense like the Ruger Alaskan and the Super Redhawk. Revolvers are so much more convenient and portable than rifles and shotguns, and more likely to be there when needed. Magnum revolvers are likewise popular among handgun hunters who hunt large and potentially dangerous game.
Two of the most popular cartridges out there for bear defense and handgun hunting are the .44 Remington Magnum and the .454 Casull. Both of these rounds have a rich history. Both are incredibly powerful and fire deep-penetrating, hard-hitting bullets. But is one better than the other? This article will compare the .44 Mag vs .454 Casull. We’ll take a look at the history of each round, compare ballistics, and look at factors like recoil, cost, and availability.
Brief History of the 44 Mag and 454 Casull
The .44 Magnum was designed in 1954. Its designer was legendary hand gunner, Elmer Keith and it was based on the .44 Special. Remington introduced the cartridge in 1955 as a joint venture with Smith & Wesson’s and their Model 29. At the time it was “the most powerful handgun in the world.” The .44 Magnum was an immediate hit, and when Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry film franchise launched in 1971, it was also one of the most popular handguns in the world.
The .454 Casull wasn’t that far behind the .44 Magnum, though it took a long time before it become commercially viable. The .454 was developed as a wildcat cartridge by Dick Casull, Duane Marsh, and Jack Fulmer, and wasn’t introduced commercially until 1997. Initially factory firearms in this chambering were few and far between (and expensive!) with the Freedom Arms Model 83 being the only option for several years. Since then, many more handguns have been chambered in .454 Casull, and longer .460 S&W cylinders will also chamber and safely fire .454 Casull cartridges.
Hunters and those living and working in bear country have adopted these cartridges and the revolvers they chamber in droves. Though there are now more powerful revolvers out there, it is doubtful any are or will be as popular as the .44 Magnum and .454 Casull. Let’s start comparing these two, beginning with ballistics.
44 Mag vs. 454 Casull: Ballistics Comparison
It is well established that these handguns are incredibly powerful. But which is more so? Looking at the large ammo companies can be misleading, as they don’t necessarily load either round to its full potential. For this comparison we’ll look at offerings from Grizzly Cartridge, because we squeeze ever last ft-lb out of both of these rounds.
When it comes to power, there really is no comparison. Let’s look at two loads from the .44 Magnum, a 240-grain JHP and a 260-grain WFNGC. These represent two popular configurations for this caliber: the 240 grain load is one of the most common .44 Magnum cartridges and the 260-grain wide flat nose, gas checked is a popular, deep-penetrating load for big/dangerous/heavy game. The 240-grain load from Grizzly leaves the muzzle at 1,475 feet per second for 1,159 ft-lbs. of muzzle energy. The 260-grainer has a muzzle velocity of 1,450 feet per second, generating 1,214 ft-lbs. of muzzle energy.
Those velocities and energies are impressive! To put this in perspective, compare that to a 9mm. The average 9mm bullet has similar muzzle velocity but only produces muzzle energies of around 300-400 ft-lbs. But now let’s look at the .454 Casull, again comparing two hot versions from Grizzly Cartridge.
The first is a 265-grain WFNGC travel at 1,700 fps at the muzzle. That’s heavier than the heaviest .44 Magnum bullet above, moving almost 500 fps faster! The muzzle energy of this bullet is a whopping 1,701 ft-lbs. Let’s compare that to another really common caliber with which we are all familiar: the .223 Remington. A 60 grain bullet from the .223, fired from a rifle, only generates 1,281 ft-lbs. of energy, over 400 ft-lbs. less than the .454 from a handgun barrel length! But that’s not all. Let’s look at an even heavier .454 Casull loading.
Grizzly Cartridge’s 335-grain WLNGC bullet screams from the muzzle at 1,600 FPS. That’s incredibly fast for a handgun bullet. This is even more amazing considering its weight. At such velocity, this bullet produces over 1,900 ft-lbs. of muzzle energy. That’s more muzzle energy than many manufacturer’s standard-velocity, 1-ounce shotgun slugs (1,772). It is hard to overstate how impressive this amount of kinetic energy is from a revolver! This hard cast bullet would plow through any game animal on Earth.
Either of these cartridges would be acceptable for bear defense. The .44 Magnum has the power to take any game on North America. The .454 Casull on the other hand, would take any game on the planet. There are some other factors that come into play when selecting between these two powerhouse handgun cartridges, however.
44 Mag vs. 454 Casull: Recoil Comparison
Recoil is kind of a big deal. When you are firing a round of ammunition with shotgun-slug-like power from a handgun, there will be significant recoil. Recoil can be dealt with by many shooters through seasoning. Some shooters will struggle with it, though, and heavy recoil can cause them to flinch, throwing shots. Poorly-placed shots are unacceptable when hunting, and life-threatening in a bear-defense situation. Recoil on this order can also slow follow-up shots substantially.
Felt recoil is a matter of physics. Greater bullet weight, leaving the muzzle at a faster rate of travel will generate more recoil. The .454 Casull generates substantially more recoil than the .44 Magnum, but the payoff may or may not be worth it. Do you need .454 power? If not, why deal with the added recoil.
There are some other considerations here. Again, the experience of the shooter can make a big difference. A more experienced shooter may be able to handle more recoil, all things being equal. On the other hand, a very experience shooter with carpal tunnel or arthritis may struggle with heavy recoil. The weight of the gun can also make a difference. If you need a light(ish) revolver, the .44 may be the better choice. Grips can also influence how recoil is perceived and managed, and a simple grip swap may make a big difference.
44 Mag vs. 454 Casull: Comparison of Cost & Availability
The logistical factors – ammunition cost and availability – that go into owning these revolvers cannot be ignored. The cost of these cartridges is about the same when purchasing premium hunting or defense ammunition. Neither are inexpensive. When it comes to cheap factory ammo from the big-name ammo makers, the .44 will definitely have the edge. When it comes to availability, again, Grizzly Cartridge will have both readily available. If you need to buy a box of factory ammo from a gun shop or general store on a dirt road somewhere, .44 Mag is definitely the safer bet.
This is because of both raw materials and popularity. The .454 uses more brass, more powder, and more lead and copper, making the raw cost greater. But it also isn’t nearly as popular as the .44 Magnum. The .44 has the massive advantage of being chambered for tens of thousands of (relatively) inexpensive production guns. There are just a lot of them out there, so a lot more .44 ammo is produced than is .454, making it less expensive by dint of quantity.
Both of these cartridges are also scalable in a downward direction. The .44 Magnum can fire .44 Special ammunition, which is both less expensive and generates less recoil. The .454 Casull can fire cheaper and lighter .45 Long Colt and .45 ACP ammunition. Again, this is a big versatility advantage, and allows cheaper, less-punishing practice sessions.
Use Case Comparison of 44 Mag and 454 Casull
These two cartridges are fighting in the same weight class: heavy handguns for big-game hunting or dangerous game defense. Either are plenty powerful for black bear and Alaskan brown bear. In fact, you could depend on either to stop a charging bear. The truth is, either will suffice for anything on North America with correct bullet placement. Both will work for hunting any large game you’d hunt with a handgun, and either would perform admirably for bear or lion defense. The two start to differentiate themselves in the details.
Are you looking for a lightweight, backpacking gun like the Smith & Wesson Mountain Gun? If so, the .44 Magnum is, most likely, the right choice for you. Are you looking for the ultimate power – whether for hunting African game, or simply the novelty of it, where the extra weight isn’t a factor? If so, the .454 Casull is probably the choice for you. On the other hand, is ammunition cost and availability an important consideration to you? Again, look at the .44 Mag. If money is no object and this gun is a range toy for which ammunition availability isn’t a huge factor, the .454 once again becomes a viable option.
One other factor that we haven’t yet addressed is handgun availability. The revolvers available in .44 Magnum are much more varied and plentiful than handguns chambered in .454 Casull. Casull-chambered wheel guns also command a premium over the more pedestrian .44 Magnum revolvers.
Shop Grizzly Cartridge for all of your 44 Mag & 454 Casull Ammo!
Again, both of the cartridges have power to spare. Both will do if you will do – for nearly any purpose. Whether you choose one over the other is a personal choice that hinges on the minutia. Regardless of which you choose, stoke it with the best ammunition available: Grizzly Cartridge .44 Magnum and .454 Casull ammunition. Your hunt or your life shouldn’t depend on anything less.