It was the middle 1960’s, the site, a shooting range on the banks of Cummins Creek just north of Columbus, Texas and the Gulf Coast Prairie. Hollis Sillivan, our local Texas Ranger handed me a large framed single-action revolver. “Give this one a try! Bit more powerful than what you’re shooting.” Said he with a smile. I accepted the revolver, noticed the hole in the muzzle was bigger than my .357 Mag., then glanced at the stamp on the barrel, .44 Rem Mag. I had read about the round but had not previously had the opportunity to shoot it.
“Got two rounds left!”
I rested against a post, cocked the hammer, took a “fine bead” centered on a six-inch rock twenty-five paces away and gently pulled the trigger. I lost my sight-picture when I squeezed the trigger but saw the rock literally explode. “WOW!” I uttered in amazement, then lined up on a second rock just a bit farther away. It too exploded. I was truly impressed. I glance back at the Ranger and smiled. “I gotta have one of these!”
That was my introduction to the .44 Remington Magnum which was developed during the early 1950’s through a joint effort of the legendary Elmer Keith, Smith & Wesson, and Remington. Keith for a few years had been experimenting with lengthening the .44 Special case, which at time was a very popular round. He wanted to develop a case/round that would accept more powder and thus be more powerful than the parent cartridge.
The popularity of the .44 Mag increased immediately after Smith & Wesson introduced the round in their Model 29 double action in 1955. Ruger also released a Super Blackhawk single-action revolver chambered for the .44 Magnum that same year. The round was made increasingly popular by the writings of Elmer Keith and other legendary writers of the same era. Designed mostly for hunting, law enforcement officers on occasion carried a .44 Mag, although they were not necessarily “department issued” firearms.
The .44 Mag reached unbelievable popularity starting in 1971 when Clint Eastwood, aka “Dirty” Harry Callahan, appeared in the first of the “Dirty Harry” movies where he proclaimed his .44 Mag was “the most powerful handgun in the world”. Powerful yes, most powerful, not quite!
It took a while before I owned a .44 Mag Ruger Super Blackhawk.
Before getting into hunting with my .44 Mag handguns, let us take a look at another, appropriately these days very popular handgun hunting rounds, the .454 Casull. After the introduction of the .44 Mag, Dick Casull, a young gunsmith with a passion for handguns, along with Jack Fulmer and Duane Smith, started looking for and developing an even more powerful revolver round. They took a .45 Colt (also known as a Long Colt), made the case 0.10 inch longer and started developing what would become in time the .454 Casull. This was back in the early 1980’s. The round was officially introduced in 1983. Because the new round produced considerably more pressure, they “played” with several guns. They chambered the .454 Casull (thusly then named) during 1983 in a Freedom Arms Model 83. Ruger followed suit by introducing a .454 Casull in their Super Redhawk. Taurus did the same in their Raging Bull double-action in 1998.
The .454 Casull in terms of velocity has a 33% advantage over the .44 Mag. The more or less average velocity of numerous .454 Casull rounds is 1,600 feet per second while the average velocity of .44 Mag rounds is about 1,350 fps. While average .44 Mag rounds develop 1,000 foot pounds of energy, the .454 Casull rounds average around 1,700 foot pounds of energy.
With the increased power of the .454 Casull over the .44 Mag comes a bit more recoil. The .44 Mag handgun averages around 33-foot pounds of recoil energy, while the .454 Casull produces 36-foot pounds of energy. But realize recoil is influenced by bullet weights, loads, weight of the revolver, barrel lengths and whether or not they are ported. I own several .44 Mag revolvers and .454 Casull revolvers. For years I shot and hunted with a Ruger Super Blackhawk in .44 Mag, specifically the Super Blackhawk Hunter. These days I shoot and hunt primarily with Taurus Raging Hunters, which have an integral porting system. My .454 Casull revolvers are Ruger Super Redhawks and Taurus Raging Hunters double-actions.
I have hunted with both .44 Mag and .454 Casull revolvers for many years going back to the late 1970’s and forward. I hunted a lot with my Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter .44 Mag which has an integral scope base. With it I have taken numerous whitetail and mule deer, but also black bear and elk.
Back a few years ago I shot the biggest bull elk I have ever taken using a .44 Mag Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter, topped with a 2.5-7X Simmons long- eye relief scope, shooting Hornady’s 240-grain XTP Custom bullet. Prior to the hunt I spent considerable time at the range. I sighted-in my revolver to be dead- on at 100 yards. Prior to the elk hunt I had taken numerous whitetails, a couple of mule deer and one black bear with that particular .44 Mag. I had great confidence in that combination. Shooting at 100-yards from a solid “hunter’s rest’ I could put all six shots into a less than 2.5-inches group. At that distance the bullet still retains nearly 700-foot pounds of energy.
After several days of hunting my guide and I finally found a monstrous 6×6 bull. Try as we might we could not get any closer than 100-yards. The big bull stood broadside facing left. I really wanted the bull and knew I could place shots into his vitals at that distance. From a solid rest I shot the bull right behind the shoulder. He jumped-up and I sent a second bullet his way, this time aiming about 6 to 8-inches farther back from the first shot hoping to create a second wound channel. The bull shuddered, and did not move.
Immediately I shot him a third time again in the vitals but in another area to create a third wound channel. I cocked the .44 Mag’s hammer and was settling the crosshairs for another shot when the bull collapsed where he stood. I could see him lying flat on his side. I had three shots left. I kept my crosshairs on the downed bull. If he so much as kicked, I was prepared to shoot him again.
Moments later at his side I was amazed not only by the size of his antlers but his body as well. He was monstrously huge! Later, when removing his “insides” I noticed that two of the perfectly mushroomed bullets were just under the skin on the opposite side. The third had exited.
To say I was thrilled would have been the understatement of the year.
Over the years I have taken a lot of big game animals with my .44 Mag revolvers shooting Hornady Custom ammo. My longest shots were those I had just taken. Most have been at 75-yards or considerably less.
Back to the .454 Casull. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s while I was on staff with “Shooting Times” magazine, I served as their hunting editor as well as the hunting editor of their sister publication at the time “Handgunning”. During that time, I had the opportunity to shoot numerous handguns including several .454 Casull manufactured by Taurus in their double-action Raging Bull, Ruger’s double action Super Redhawk, and a single-action Freedom Arms Model 83. While I really liked the Ruger and Taurus, I have to admit I fell head over heels for the Freedom Arms. The quality of their work was second to none.
Using the .454 Casull Freedom Arms I shot numerous really nice whitetail deer. Back then, I also served on Bass Pro’s RedHead Pro-Hunting Team comprised of Bob Foulkrod, Walter Parrott, Jerry Martin and me. Several of my hunts with the Freedom Arms .454 Casull were filmed for Bass Pro television shows, as well as the various other shows I was involved in at the time.
From an early age I had dreamed of hunting Alaskan Brown bear. That opportunity came when a dear friend, Jerry Baker, invited me on a hunt with the Branham’s who at the time outfitted and hunted the Alaskan Peninsula.
After several days of hunting, my guide Joe Polanco and I finally spotted a bear high on a ridge. Normally bears would have been much lower, but that spring there was very little snow. Bears that would normally have fed on fresh green grass as the snow-line receded from near the shoreline up, were now at the tops of ridges rather than down low.
The stalk was extremely arduous, complete with many ups and downs, literally! Then, finally having to cross a waist-deep, literally ice-cold fast running water stream to get within 75-yards of the bear; one of the toughest stalks I have ever done in many years of hunting throughout much of the world! After a stalk that took nearly all day, we finally got to within shooting distance of the bear. It fed at an acute angle up above us. I crawled to boulder that would make a good solid rest. There I settled the .454 Casull’s crosshairs on the bear’s shoulder, cocked the hammer, took several deep breaths and when there was very little crosshair movement, I gently pulled the trigger.
At the shot the bear fell, made one complete roll-over downhill, ending up standing again on its four feet. I sent a second 300-grain Hornady XTP bullet into the bear’s vitals, about six or so inches to the right of where I had placed the first shot, to create a second wound channel. At the shot my bear slumped to the ground and laid still. I kept my crosshairs planted on the bear just in case it moved. It did not! My .454 Casull had done its job… perfectly!
After the horrendous stalk I was nearly spent of all energy. It took me thirty minutes to crawl to where my bear lay. I was so tired I hardly took any pictures. We skinned my bear and prepared for the long trip back to the water’s edge. Little did I know my adventure was only partly over for the day. I will relate the rest of the story in a new book I am writing which should be available in late 2024.
.44 Mag or .454 Casull? I am truly glad I have both. Currently I am hunting with Taurus’ Raging Hunters double action revolvers, using various Hornady ammo. Why Taurus? I like how their revolvers look, “feel” and how accurately they shoot, plus with their integral break the recoil is less than other revolvers chambered for the same rounds!
Why Hornady? Past experience tells me Hornady is acutely accurate and deadly. With the .44 Mag I can also shoot .44 Special ammo. With the .454 Casull I can also shoot .45 Colt (Long Colt). Both the .44 Mag and especially the .454 Casull are capable of bringing down our biggest game.
Which will I take on my next hunt? I will flip a coin, heads it’s the .454 Casull, tails it will me my .44 Mag… Check with me after that next hunt is over and I will tell which one it was.