Upgrading revolver ammo

Upgrading revolver ammo

Towsley, Bryce M

Scratch any handgun hunter with gray in his beard and you will discover a bullet caster lurking beneath the surface. Years ‘back, handgun hunting meant revolvers, and even the biggest ones fired cartridges that, compared to rifle loads, could only be called puny.

The most important component for any hunting load is the bullet. It is the only connection with the animal, and serious thought should go into its selection. The problem in those ancient times (circa 1970) was that good revolver bullets were rare.

Big game dies from tissue damage-no matter what you hit it with-so it’s imperative that the bullet passes through something critical. With the relatively low impact energy of a handgun bullet the key point is penetration. Any worthy big game revolver bullet is already fairly large in diameter, so expansion isn’t as critical as it might be with smaller calibers. On that basis, it has long been conventional wisdom among big-game handgun hunters that hard-cast, flat-nose bullets are the key to success. The large meplat (the flat, leading edge of the bullet) of a big caliber can be as deadly as any smaller bullet that expands. It displaces a lot of tissue as it passes through the animal, creating a significant wound channel with sufficient depth to ensure exit holes on most shots. Because hard-cast bullets don’t expand, weight retention is usually 100 percent, which aids in penetration.

Federal recognized all this when they introduced several handgun loads with hard-cast bullets a few years ago. That line-up features a 250-grain .41 Mag. and a 300-grain .44 Mag., both traveling at 1250 fps. Both bullets are well designed and the ammo has proven accurate in my testing. They’re a good choice for any big-game hunting with a revolver and almost a must if you’re hunting something really big and tough like elk or bears.

Recent developments, however, have changed the revolver side of handgun hunting. The .454 Casull is now popular, and mainstream companies like Ruger and Taurus have joined Freedom Arms in making guns chambered for the big cartridge. That means the power level available for wheelgunners has moved up considerably. Also, handgun hunting bullets are finally being taken seriously and technology is catching up with the needs of revolver hunters.

On deer-size game penetration is not as critical as it is with the truly big stuff, particularly with larger handgun cartridges. A high-quality, factory-loaded expanding bullet that retained weight to allow penetration was needed.

Enter Nosler. The company’s Partition bullet has been around for rifles since 1948, but it wasn’t until 1997 that it became available in a revolver projectile. Winchester now loads it in factory ammo with a 250-grain in .44 Mag. and a 260-grain in the .454 Casull and .45 Win. Mag. I first used Partitions in a .44 Mag., shooting a big and very mad Florida boar hog. The first shot did the job, but I hit him twice more just to be sure. One bullet exited and the other two were recovered after penetrating an amazing amount of hog. Both recovered bullets had expanded to about .650 inch. One weighed 241.8 grains and the other 237.2 grains. Considering the close range and high impact velocity, this is outstanding weight retention.

Since then, I’ve used the Winchester Partition Gold Handgun ammo in .44 Mag. and .454 Casull to shoot several whitetail deer, a turkey, and a few more hogs. Performance has been perfect, and the few bullets I have recovered showed outstanding weight retention.

If you’re looking for more penetration, Winchester also offers 260- and 300-grain flat-point loads. Of course, the recoil from a Casull can be tough to handle. Winchester has addressed this, too, with a 250-grain HP medium velocity load with a muzzle velocity of 1300 fps. In testing, I alternated it with full-power loads, and the difference in recoil was amazing. At the same time, the load should be great on deer.

It might be argued that the trend for good handgun hunting ammo started with the introduction of the Hornady XTP bullet in 1989. It soon gained a reputation as an excellent hunting bullet because it was accurate, expanded reliably, held together, and penetrated.

Today, Hornady loads hunting ammo with XTP bullets for the .44 Rem. Mag. in a wide range of weights. New for 1999, the .454 Casull is loaded with XTPs in 250 or 300 grains. I’ve used handloaded 250-grain STPs in my Casull tor years, taking several deer and a black bear. Performance has always been excellent, and the new 300-grain weight should be even better. It’s also one of the most accurate factory loads I’ve ever tested in my Freedom Arms .454 Casull.

You can also find XTP bullets factory-loaded in .44 Rem. Mag. from Black Hills ammo. I have one fussy .44 that won’t shoot anything well except the Black Hills 240-grain load. I can’t say why, but where that gun is concerned, there’s magic in that load.

Cor-Bon offers .454 Casull ammo in six different bullets with weights ranging from 265 grains to 360 grains. Their Bonded-Core Soft Point has long been recognized as one of the better hunting bullets around, while the non-expanding Penetrator bullet has been used in the Casull to hunt just about every critter on the planet. Additionally, Cor-Bon loads Casull ammo with conventional cast or jacketed bullets. It also loads seven hunting bullets for the .44 Mag., four in .45 Win. Mag., and two choices in .45 Colt loaded to magnum pressures designed for use in strong guns.

Remington’s Core-Lokt bullet has been proven in game fields around the world in rifle ammo, and now the design has been modified for handgun hunting. The company loads it in a 275-grain JHP for the .44 Mag. Remington also offers one of the few .41 Mag. loads suitable for deer-sized game, a 210-grain soft-point with a muzzle velocity of 1300 fps.

Finally, two other makers shouldn’t be left out when talking high-performance, big-game handgun loads. Speer has a 270grain .44 Rem. Mag. load that features their Uni-Cor design. It bonds the jacket to the core for good weight retention. And PMC offers a .41 Rem. Mag. with a 210grain hollow-point, as well as a variety of .44 Mag. ammo, including one with the Starfire bullet in 240 grains. This should be an interesting bullet on whitetail-size game as it provides quick expansion to double its diameter.

From antelope to big bears, wheelgun hunters now can find ammo that is exactly right for the job. The best part is that in the years ahead it will only get better as more loads and bullets are added to this already stellar line-up.


Black Hills (Dept. AH)

Box 3090, Rapid City; SD 57709-3090


CCI-Speer (Dept. AH)

Box 856, Lewiston, ID 83501


Cor-Bon (Dept. AH)

1311 Industry Road, Sturgis, SD 57785


Federal Cartridge (Dept. AH)

900 Ehlen Dr.

Anoka. MN 55303-7503


Hornady (Dept. AH)

Box 1848, Grand Island, NE 68802


PMC Dept. AH)

12801 US Highway 95 South

Boulder City, NV 89005


Remington (Dept. AH)

870 Remington Drive

Madison. NC 27025-0700


Winchester/Olin (Dept. AH)

427 N. Shamrock St.

East Alton, IL 62024-1174 618-258-1I74

Copyright National Rifle Association of America Sep 1999

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