May 1998

Freedom Arms Model 454: Still Best .454 Casull Revolver

However, we also felt the much less expensive Taurus Model 454 Raging Bull double action revolver was worth the money.

About forty years ago, Dick Casull, together with one Jack Fulmer, developed the .454 Casull. Originally known as the .454 Magnum Revolver, the cartridge began life in solid-base .45 Long Colt brass. Today the .454 Casull case is a tenth of an inch longer than Colt brass, precluding its use in guns that can’t take its exceptionally high pressure. Make no mistake, the .454 Casull is a hot cartridge with but one purpose: handgun hunting.

Okay, some will want to use it on silhouettes, but the great power of the .454 isn’t needed in that game. It sure isn’t the best plinking cartridge. The .454 offers lots of security for those who want a powerful handgun where bears are a problem, though it doesn’t make a lot of sense for other self-defense uses. However, it truly shines in the hunting field.

Although it towers over the .44 Magnum in performance, the .454 is not the most powerful cartridge available in an easily carried revolver. Freedom Arms offers the .50 AE in their fine single-action five-shot revolvers, and both John Linebaugh and Hamilton Bowen offer easily carried, very well-made custom five-shooters in the elephant-smashing .475 and .500 Linebaugh cartridges. The .500 Linebaugh, for instance, throws an ounce of lead (440 grains) at over 1,300 fps, and will shoot through an elephant’s skull. It has more retained energy at 1,000 yards than a .44 Magnum has at 100. If that’s not enough power for you, Linebaugh also offers his .475 and .500 Linebaugh Longs, which are the ultimate in easily portable, repeating handgun horsepower. But even John Linebaugh thinks the Long versions are too much handgun.

The .454 Casull is therefore probably the most useful handgun hunting cartridge chambered in a repeating handgun. It works well, doesn’t damage the shooter’s hand, and it’s easy to keep in ammunition, unlike some of the other semi-wildcat big bores mentioned above. Ammunition for the .454 Casull has been made by Black Hills, Winchester, Cor-Bon and Freedom Arms, but Freedom recently decided to quit ammo manufacture, and Black Hills has dropped the .454 from their line.

Of course, .45 Long Colt can be fired in any .454 Casull, and that’s a good way to get shooting practice without busting your hands—or your pocketbook—with the full-power fodder. Handloaders have lots of choices in jacketed and cast bullets to play with. The .45 Colt case can be handloaded to give nearly the same performance as the .454, so brass isn’t a problem with this cartridge. However, the 1/10-inch longer Casull case utilizes small pistol primers to give still more strength to the case head for maximum loads.

The Wyoming company of Freedom Arms was for years the only source of ready-made revolvers for the potent .454 Casull cartridge. However, custom makers John Linebaugh and Hamilton Bowen (and one or two others) kept many of us happy with their fine products if we didn’t like the all-stainless, well-made Freedoms for any reason. Today we have a new chef in the Casull-making kitchen, Taurus. Their new five-shot Raging Bull now gives .454 Casull shooters a double-action option.

Taurus 454 Raging Bull
This double-action five-shot handgun is big. It’s 12 1/4 inches long, 6 1/4 inches high, and weighs 3.60 pounds. Our test gun was blued, but stainless is an extra-cost option. The gun has an integral compensator in the form of a counterbored barrel with four ports along each side of the massive barrel, next to the front sight. This compensator reduces the effective barrel length to 5 1/4 inches, though externally it’s 6 1/2 inches long. The barrel is topped by an integral milled-in ventilated rib which has three slots. These serve as part of Taurus’s scope-mounting system, but we didn’t use a scope. The barrel has an integral full-length underlug that adds to the mass of the gun and helps tame recoil.

Click here to view the Taurus 454 Raging Bull features guide

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The grip is wrapped in two-tone rubber. The red rear portion is supposed to be made of a special compound to reduce recoil where it’s the worst, but we could detect no difference between the springiness of the red and the black portions. Rubber grips are mandatory with this handgun design, because the double-action grip shape means that the gun can’t slide in your hand on recoil. That means your hand has to take all the kick, and it’s delivered straight up your arm in a bone-numbing jolt. A single-action revolver, on the other hand, can rotate upward in recoil, extending the time for the impulse to be transmitted to your hand, and you feel less recoil.

Two latches must be activated to swing out the Raging Bull’s cylinder. Think of them as both Smith & Wesson and Dan Wesson latches on the same gun. Opening the Taurus is fast and easy once you learn how. Before we learned, we did some fumbling. The double catch system was very secure.

The fluted five-shot cylinder has its bolt cuts between the chambers, which is a good idea when working with these pressures. That’s an advantage shared by all revolvers that have an odd number of chambers, by the way. The chambers are not recessed, but that’s not a problem. In fact, it makes cleaning the gun all the easier. Taurus could have left the cylinder unfluted, adding weight and easing cleaning chores. However, shooters who go for the double-action looks also tend to like fluted cylinders, and we think Taurus made the right choice there.

The Raging Bull is topped with a slightly undercut black patridge front sight and a fully adjustable matte-black rear, with a notch that matches the front properly. The sight picture is excellent. The trigger is smooth on its wide front face, and the hammer is well checkered for easy control. All the exterior portions of the gun are glossy blue, but the very top of the frame and the top of the barrel are matted to reduce glare.

Fit & Finish
Our first impression was that there was lots of waviness to the sides of the frame. This looked like the result of poor polishing and did nothing for the overall appearance of the gun. We noticed it on another Raging Bull we tested in .45 Long Colt (for a future issue), and on another gun examined in a different part of the country, so we suspect that waviness is part and parcel of the Raging Bull.

The metal-to-metal finish was overall very good to excellent, and there were no visible flaws in the bluing. The grip-to-metal fit was very good, and that’s better than average these days when the grip maker never sees the actual gun that wears his grips. However, the red rear insert was slightly lopsided near the top.

We noticed a bit of rotational play in the cylinder when it was supposed to be locked up tight. This looseness in the indexing, we thought, would result in some spitting, and we were not disappointed. In a handgun of this horsepower any looseness at the start will more than likely result in problems down the line. The first indication of problems will be erosion of the forcing cone from gas cutting and bullet particle shaving, and we advise the buyer to keep a close eye on the cone.

Shooting
Our first cylinderful told us all we needed to know. The Raging Bull was a solid handgun that delivered all the accuracy one needs for hunting, the recoil was severe but manageable by experienced shooters, and we felt the double-action option was completely and entirely useless when shooting full-power loads. The grip shape, as noted above, caused the shooting hand to absorb all the recoil of the round. The muzzle porting served primarily to reduce the muzzle rise, but did little to reduce the rearward kick. The muzzle climbed about 6 to 8 inches with each shot.

We rapid-fired two shots double action and hit the paper with both, but the gun twisted in our hands between shots. Nothing we tried could prevent this twisting in subsequent tests. We could have easily cocked the gun in the time it took to recover from recoil. Every shooter who fired the Raging Bull double action stated that he didn’t like it, and would never shoot the gun that way. One fellow, when asked if he’d like to be able to shoot five quick shots into an attacking bear, stated that he’d rather be eaten by the bear.

To add to the double-action agony was the long reach (3.75 inches) to the trigger and the heavy (16 pound) double-action pull. The pull was quite smooth, but too heavy, much heavier than another Raging Bull we tried. Our test gun had a clean single-action pull that broke at a somewhat heavy 6 pounds.

The gun was relatively comfortable in the hand, though a bit top-heavy. It inspired confidence. A few shooters said they liked the looks of the double-action Taurus better than that of single-action handguns. They said it looked modern, while the single actions look old-fashioned. Everyone who tried the big Bull was able to shoot several shots with good control, so its recoil was not impossible to handle. Ejection of spent cases was smooth and positive. We found no mechanical troubles of any sort with the gun.

Halfway through our test shooting one of our testers got hit in the face by back-spitted powder or bullet particles. As noted above, from the looseness of the cylinder lockup, we had expected this. It happened a few more times during accuracy testing. However, we could not detect that the gun got any looser during our shooting.

The Raging Bull delivered pretty good accuracy, especially with the 300-grain Winchester ammo. These big slugs whistled downrange at 1,605 feet per second, and the Taurus put them into an average five-shot group size of 1.65 inches at 25 yards. Groups with the 260-grain bullet (at 1,768 feet per second) were larger, 2.10 inches on average, but still good enough to bag your buck at realistic distances.

This Taurus has a unique safety lock. On the back of the hammer is an Allen screw. Turn it about half a turn with one of the two Allen wrenches supplied and it’s impossible to fire the gun. The hammer is prevented from being moved rearward by the screw, which interferes with the frame. This seems like a quick and effective way to child-proof the gun in homes where the kids have no discipline.

Freedom Arms 454 Field
This is the most basic of Freedoms’ guns and it’s absolutely superb. It’s a fine piece of workmanship. It locks up tight, looks great, shoots like a house afire, and is comfortable to shoot. We even shot it one-handed! This, in a nutshell, is what a hunting handgun ought to be. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit.

Click here to view the Freedom Arms 454 Field features guide

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This all-stainless Freedom Arms was a five-shot single-action revolver with fixed sights. More on the sights in a minute. The barrel was 6 inches long and was Mag-Na-Ported (optional) to reduce muzzle jump. Our test gun came with Pachmayr rubber grips.

Freedom makes a Premier Grade version of this gun that features a better finish and a lifetime warranty to the original owner. The Field Grade has a one year warranty. However, you can order just about whatever options of barrel length, sights, grips or finish you want on your personal gun, whether Field Grade or Premier, and it’s a long list. All their guns feature much hand fitting and considerable hand finishing.

The front sight of our Freedom 454 was a black, ramped square-topped blade with serrated rear surface to cut glare, and the rear sight was a generous notch that gave an excellent sight picture. The front is left high so you can file it to center your favorite load. The dull-black rear is drift adjustable (with a clamp) for windage, so once the sights are set for your one perfect load they won’t change. If you miss, it’s your fault. Okay, if you must have adjustable sights, they’re an extra-cost option. Take the rear sight off any Freedom Arms revolver and it’s drilled and tapped for easy scope mounting.

The cylinder requires a slotted screwdriver for removal. A screw passes vertically upward through the front end of the cylinder base pin, into the underside of the barrel. This is a very good way to ensure the base pin stays where it ought to. Spring catches, which are provided on most single action revolvers, simply won’t hold the base pin in place in guns with heavy recoil.

There is a safety bar system within the Freedom that makes it impossible for the gun to fire unless the trigger is held rearward. There is also a safety notch on the hammer. However, Freedom recommends carrying the gun in the field with an empty chamber under the hammer, making it a four-shooter.

Fit & Finish
This stainless steel revolver had an even, smooth matte finish in a dull gray. It screamed high quality even at a distance. Handling the gun verified this first impression. The loading gate opened with a positive click, the hammer slid back into each notch smoothly and crisply, and the cylinder revolved easily without a trace of looseness. Bringing the gun to full cock was akin to locking a vault door. The cylinder exhibited no motion whatsoever when the gun was fully cocked...or with the hammer fully down, for that matter. The trigger was crisp at a measured 4-pound pull, and had minimal overtravel. We looked forward to shooting this gun, which we can’t say about the Taurus.

The metal-to-metal finish was simply superb. It’s hard to believe this company offers a higher-grade gun. The Pachmayr grips fit well enough, and were retained with a single through-bolt. We’d prefer the optional smooth wood grips, because with a single-action handgun chambered for the hard-kicking .454, it’s necessary to let the gun slide in the hand to get the maximum recoil reduction, as noted above.

These Pachmayr rubber grips, however, weren’t bad. They almost completely fill the space behind the trigger guard, which is not necessarily a good idea. If your second finger is out of the way, it can’t get bruised by the recoiling trigger guard. However, the rubber filler behind the guard forces the barrel to sit higher above the hand, which increases the leverage, and that gives a resultant increase in felt recoil. The Pachmayrs wrap around the back of the grip, increasing the distance to the trigger while cushioning the hand from the sting. We suggest you try both the smooth wood grips and the Pachmayrs on your gun.

Some folks like Mag-Na-Porting and others don’t. In our testers’ experiences, Mag-Na-Porting definitely reduces muzzle flip but also increases muzzle blast.

Shooting
It was a pleasure shooting this Freedom Arms revolver. It was exceptionally accurate and its outstanding trigger made hits easy. There were no problems of any sort with the gun. Extraction of spent cases was easy, too.

Accuracy is best described by saying it can only be fully evaluated by mounting a 20x scope and bedding the whole operation down in concrete. The better we held, the better it shot. Our largest 25-yard five-shot group was with the 260-grain Winchester jacketed flat points (at an average velocity of 1,766 feet per second) and measured 1.63 inches.

Click here to view the performance table

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The best was with the 300-grain Winchester load (1,634 feet per second) and was just 1.00 inch. The gun seemed to like the heavier bullets more, averaging 1.20 inches for all groups, compared to 1.45 inches average with the lighter 260-grainers. In short, it shoots.

We shot this gun one-handed without pain. We found that if the gun is held somewhat loosely, recoil causes it to rotate upward in the hand, and felt recoil is greatly reduced, compared to what you get if you fight the gun. The sticky rubber grips made it possible to grip the gun so firmly that it can’t rotate in your hand, and then it stung the hand just like the Taurus.

If the grips had been smooth wood, the rear surface would have been actually wider than with these thin rubber grips, and the gun would have rotated in the hand even easier. Felt recoil would have been reduced significantly. We didn’t have a chance to try this gun with wood grips, but several shooters who own powerful handguns said they’d prefer wood grips, especially those that don’t fill the space behind the trigger guard. One shooter has a .45 Linebaugh revolver so equipped, and he said that its felt recoil is relatively insignificant.

Comparisons
The Freedom Arms .454 Casull ended up over the shooter’s head when fired one-handed, and pretty high when fired with both hands. However, this didn’t slow the second or third shots at all, compared with the Taurus. With either gun you must first recover from recoil and bring the gun back on target before you can fire again, and you can cock the hammer as you do so—with either handgun. If you shoot the Taurus double action, you’ve got to reposition it in your hand first, because it twists, and that takes time. It also is harder to score center hits when shooting double action, no matter how good you are. The fastest way to get hits with either gun is to shoot it single action. The severe recoil of the .454 Casull cartridge makes this an even race, so the winning gun is that which is the more accurate, and the better overall bargain.