When it comes to big and badass revolver cartridges, the .44 Remington Magnum and the .454 Casull are two of the best. They’ve both been around a long time and they’ve both proven their worth on everything from feral hogs to African buffalo. But some wonder which one is the best. The thing is, sometimes cartridge comparisons are obvious and easy, but that’s not always the case; best and most powerful do not necessarily mean the same thing. When comparing .454 Casull vs .44 Magnum, there’s more to consider than ballistics.
.44 Remington Magnum
In 1955, Smith & Wesson and Remington teamed up to introduce the .44 Remington Magnum, and gun writer Elmer Keith was a great inspiration in the cartridge’s development. The .44 Magnum’s starring role in Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry movie gave it immediate credibility and fame. It is, however, a handful to shoot, which is why it’s common to find used .44 Magnum revolvers being sold that come with a half box of ammo. Many shooters find they’re just not quite the man Inspector Harry Callahan was. Fortunately, .44 Magnum revolvers can also safely chamber and fire .44 Special ammunition, which has much less offensive recoil. In factory ammunition, there are more than 50 .44 Magnum loads to choose from, and about half as many .44 Special loads.
The 44 Magnum does not use a 0.44-caliber bullet. The bullet diameter is actually 0.429-inch in diameter, but, 429 or 430 Magnum just does not have the same ring to it. The cartridge is loaded to a maximum average pressure of 36,000 psi, which is about twice that of the .44 Special. As powerful as that seems, the .357 SIG is actually loaded to a higher pressure. The .44 Magnum has been used to successfully take every game animal on earth, and it’s a personal protection favorite with those who like to tromp around in big bear country. Marlin and several other manufacturers currently offer lever guns chambered for the .44 Magnum.
Originally called the .45 Magnum Revolver, this cartridge was developed by Dick Casull in the late 1950s. It uses a cartridge case that’s 0.10-inch longer than the .45 Colt cartridge case (the 45 Colt is often called the 45 Long Colt). This means .454 Casull revolvers can safely chamber and fire .45 Colt cartridges. The .454 Casull is one of the most powerful revolver cartridges available and more than 20 factory loads are currently offered. The compatibility with .45 Colt ammunition allows for that dual-power versatility found with the .38 Special and .357 Magnum, as well as the .44 Special and .44 Magnum.
The .454 Casull was not approved by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute (SAAMI) until 1997, and their standard specifies a maximum average pressure of 65,000 psi. This is absurdly more than the .44 Magnum, and it’s where the .454 Casull finds all its power. The cartridge can push a 200-grain bullet to more than 2000 fps. By comparison, the .45 Colt is only loaded to a maximum average pressure of 14,000 psi. In a 50-ounce revolver, .454 Casull is intimidating to shoot with full-power loads, recoiling with around 36 foot-pounds of hand-numbing and wrist-twisting force. Rossi and Big Horn Armory both offer lever-action rifles chambered for the .454 Casull.
454 Casull vs 44 Magnum: Power
If power is your main consideration, there’s no comparison; the .454 Casull is the clear winner. With its most powerful loads, the .454 Casull can generate nearly 2,000 foot-pounds of kinetic energy at the muzzle. This puts it in the same class as some popular rifle cartridges, but with bullets weighing twice as much. However, with high performance +P+ ammunition, the .44 Magnum is not that far behind the .454. Take note, however, there is not a SAAMI standard for +P or +P+ .44 Magnum ammo. Dirty Harry’s cartridge will not shoot quite as fast or hit as hard as the .454 Casull, but like the .454 Casull, the .44 magnum is capable of handling any critter you want to tackle.
Winner: 454 Casull
454 Casull vs 44 Magnum: Versatility
The most important comparison between the .454 Casull and the .44 Magnum might be with the other cartridges that can be fired in both. For plinking and recreational shooting, the .44 Special and .45 Colt are much more pleasant in hand, and loads with similar recoil can be had in either chambering. However, when it comes to higher-performance factory .44 Special and .45 Colt ammunition, there’s more powerful options available in .45 Colt; some will even contend with the .44 Magnum. This reinforces the power advantage of the .45 Colt/.454 Casull duo, but there are so many more factory ammunition options available for the .44 Special and .44 Magnum, offering more versatility. Also, while ammunition for all four of these cartridges can be expensive and hard to find, .44 Special and .44 Magnum ammo isn't quite as bad.
Winner: 44 Magnum
454 Casull vs 44 Magnum: Guns
The cartridge your gun fires is important but so too the is the gun you’re shooting. Shooters have distinct tastes when it comes to firearms and, as they say, variety is the spice of life. Ruger alone currently catalogs 19 .44 Magnum revolvers but only five in .454 Casull. When it comes to long guns, Henry catalogs 14 .44 Magnum lever-action rifles but not a single rifle in .454 Casull, and Ruger even offers a .44 Magnum bolt-action rifle. Cleary, there are a lot more guns chambered for the .44 Magnum than the .454 Casull, which means you’ll have a lot more to choose from with the lesser cartridge. Of course, custom gun makers can build a .454 Casull about any way you want it, but most of us are live on a beer as opposed to a champagne budget.
Winner: 44 Magnum
454 Casull vs 44 Magnum: The Practical Choice
The reality is that most who want a powerful, large-bore handgun probably have designs on hunting with it or using it for protection against large predators like agitated grizzlies. If that’s you, it’s hard to argue against the .454 Casull. If you’re going to go big, might as well go badass too. And given that both cartridges in their full-power form kick like a mule, you’re probably not going to be shooting too many rounds through either. For those reasons, if I wanted a powerful big-bore revolver, I’d go with the .454 Casull just to make sure I left a mark that could not be rubbed off.
On the other hand, if I wanted a rifle or a rifle and revolver combo that could share ammunition, and if I wanted to go through some rounds, I’d opt for the 44 Magnum and the plethora of factory guns and loads that are currently available for it. Whichever way you go, be prepared to have your world rocked. The .44 Magnum and the .454 Casull like to let you know you’ve got hold of something mean and nasty when you press the trigger. Like my grandfather used to say, “Those guns are for grown-ass men.”