Teddy Roosevelt once famously said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” He meant that to reflect his style of foreign policy, but that wisdom applies to hunters and outdoorsmen in the field, too. Especially when it comes to entering the habitat of critters that can hunt you as well as you can hunt them, it pays to carry a big stick—the biggest you can comfortably stuff in a holster, ideally. And when it comes to packing big wallop in a comparatively small package, a wheel gun chambered in .454 Casull is a surefire answer. Sure, there are a few larger cartridges available in handguns, but they come with a rolling chassis and a tank crew. Ruger, known for their rock-solid, built-like-a-brick-shithouse revolvers, offers a uniquely handsome handgun that you can comfortably carry while still supplying the staggering potency of the .454 Casull: the single-action, New Model Super Blackhawk Bisley.
One big boom
The .454 Casull began life as a wildcat cartridge back in 1957, but only became commercially viable in the late ’90s when SAAMI specifications were published for the caliber. The .454 is a heavyweight contender in the upper echelons of magnum handgun calibers. Firing up to 400-grain bullets at speeds ranging from 1,400 FPS to north of 1,900 FPS, the .454 Casull delivers 1,800 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy. That’s more than the 6.8mm Remington SPC!
But the shooter pays the price for that performance. The recoil of the .454 Casull can only be described as wrist-wrenchingly violent, like having someone a whole lot bigger than you trying to yank the gun from your grasp with every shot. Even for experienced shooters with good grip and wrist strength, a hot .454 will take just about everything you’ve got to keep it controlled. More than a few rounds sent downrange in a day will leave your palm and wrist aching.
The assumption, of course, is that you’d only fire such potent loads when you really need that kind of horsepower. And in a dangerous situation, you’ll be damn glad you have it. But for target practice or for more modest hunting and defense applications, you can safely shoot .45 LC and .45 Schofield rounds through a .454.
The gun itself
This is a substantial handgun and not some snub-nosed concealed-carry piece. For backwoods open carry, though, it’s just about right in every way. Its pinned, ramped front sight is quick to visually acquire, but still slender enough to facilitate precise shooting. The 4 5/8″ barrel (these are available with 6 1/2″ barrels, too) is long enough to fully exploit the cartridge—giving it room to build velocity and burn its copious powder—provide a long enough sight radius to achieve respectable accuracy, and still be reasonably quick handling. Its stainless steel frame ensures it’ll withstand even the harshest elements, and it looks good doing it. Weighing in at 48 ounces, the Super Blackhawk Bisley is hefty enough to tame some of the recoil, but not a debilitating burden to carry all day.
Designing this revolver with a five-shot cylinder instead of the more conventional six enabled Ruger to keep the cylinder comparatively slim and also add a little extra substance to the cylinder walls, ensuring many years of service from a piece that must contain chamber pressures rivaling or exceeding that of several rifle cartridges (the .454 Casull operates at a maximum average pressure of 50,000 C.U.P., whereas the 30-30 Winchester operates at maximum average pressure of 42,000 C.U.P., for perspective).
Although Ruger Super Blackhawks have been around in various calibers since 1955, it’s only been in the past few decades that Ruger has produced Bisley-style Super Blackhawks. Modeled after the Bisley target version of the Colt Single Action Army, these revolvers have a longer, more aggressively swept-under grip (great for those with bigger hands and when trying to control severe recoil), as well as a lowered, easier-to-reach hammer.
Rugged and recommended
There’s just something about a single-action revolver that embodies simplicity and steadfast reliability. Pair this tried-and-true design with a mortar shell of a caliber, and you’ve got a hand cannon you can count on when it matters most.