HANG ON TIGHT! – SHOOTING THE .480 RUGER

It was with mixed feelings that I recently entered into a “relationship” with a .480 Ruger Super Redhawk revolver. I have long been an enthusiastic user of the .44 magnum cartridge in both handguns and long guns. In my opinion, this is one of the most versatile rounds available, especially for the hand loader – as well as on the upper limits of what I am willing to endure in recoil in a handgun. When loaded with heavy-for-caliber hard cast bullets, the good ol’ .44 can be a fire breathing dragon capable of taking down some of the world’s largest game. On the other hand, when loaded with those same bullets at less punishing velocities it will still have enough penetration to take down all but the very largest of those same game animals. Switch to lead semi-wadcutter target bullets pushed at low velocities by Trail Boss powder and it is fine for small game and pest control, as well as just “fun – shootin'”. With the performance offered by the .44 mag, I have found it hard to see the justification in a .454 Casull or larger handgun cartridge. The recoil in these big boomers is hard for many shooters to handle – and certainly could not be considered enjoyable. Just as if I want to shoot at long range I will pick up one of my rifles firing a cartridge intended for use at long range, I generally feel like if I need to shoot at something large and dangerous I would likely go for a heavy caliber rifle over a handgun.

Comparing cast bullet hand loads in .44, .45LC, and .480 Ruger with factory .480 ammo with 325gr and 400gr XTP's

Comparing cast bullet hand loads in .44, .45LC, and .480 Ruger with factory .480 ammo with 325gr and 400gr XTP’s

This having been said, the .480 appealed to me for its large (.475 caliber) bullet at lower velocities and pressures than the other ultra-bore handgun rounds. Not only does this give hope for less recoil, but perhaps also for the same sort of versatility as the .44 mag. The many loads listed in popular manuals featuring light charges of Trail Boss powder were especially interesting. I occasionally use Trail Boss in .44 loads, and I do not think you can get enough of this stuff in a .44 case to be even respectable in performance, much less dangerous. I can’t see the .480 Ruger being used much by the Cowboy Action Shooters who use the most of it, so I suspected there must be a number of .480 shooters who want a less powerful loading for target shooting and other instances where a full power load might not be needed – or wanted. Also promising to me were the number of load “recipes” using hard cast bullets and more conventional powders like Titegroup, and aimed at velocities in the 900 – 1100 fps range. These speeds are well under the potential of the .480, but should replicate or exceed the functionality of 300gr bullets at the same speeds in a .44 mag – great penetration, with low recoil.

The two Hard Cast bullets from Cast Performance Bullets weigh 375 and 410 grains, respectively. They have lubrication grooves, gas checks, and a flat nose for optimum penetration. To their left is a .44 magnum shell casing, INSIDE of a .480 Ruger casing!

The two Hard Cast bullets from Cast Performance Bullets weigh 375 and 410 grains, respectively. They have lubrication grooves, gas checks, and a flat nose for optimum penetration. To their left is a .44 magnum shell casing, INSIDE of a .480 Ruger casing!

While I had heard the recoil of the .480 described as not much more than a hot loaded .44 mag, I am not one who believes everything I hear or read, and chose to “work up” to shooting the factory loads I got in my gun deal. I had purchased a quantity of hard cast bullets from Cast Performance in .375 gr and 410gr weights for my .480 hunting hand loads, so I made up cylinder full of those 600 fps or less loads with Trail Boss to get an easy start – and explore the lower limits of .480 performance. On the first sunny day in January, I slogged my way out to my hunting property to shoot, thinking if I could handle the light load OK, I’d work my way up. Well, it didn’t take long – one shot, really – to see that these loads were cream puffs! Muzzle blast was minimal and recoil almost non-existant. Rapid shots were comfortable, either single or double action, and accuracy at 15 yards (I wanted to make sure I hit the target, without having to first sight in) seemed very good. I had just fired several rounds through my Ruger Blackhawk .45LC to check operation with its “new” red dot sight with 310gr HC bullets at around 800 – 900 fps, and those felt “stouter” than the light .480 rounds. I think my wife could fire these rounds, if she can hold the hefty Super Redhawk up!

From left: 305 gr .44 hard cast, .310gr .45Colt , 375gr .480 Ruger, 325gr XTP .480, 400gr XTP .480

From left: 305 gr .44 hard cast, .310gr .45Colt , 375gr .480 Ruger, 325gr XTP .480, 400gr XTP .480

After this “success”, I moved on to factory fodder. After having to choose between a lighter bullet at higher velocity or a heavier slug at slower speeds, I decided to first try the 325 gr XTP loads at 1350 fps. Well, logically enough these made quite a bit more of an impression than the 600 fps loads! Still they were not bad, confirming the rumor that the .480 does not “kick” much more than a hot .44 mag – and that the recoil is more of strong push than a sharp “whack” against the hand. Switching to the 400gr XTP at 1100 fps increased the felt recoil, but still not to uncomfortable levels – for me. Again, my SRH has a mag-na-ported barrel, which is supposed to reduce recoil, as well as the Tamer grips – and I was wearing my Pro Aim shooting gloves, which have both padding and a wrist brace. Not having fired a .480 Ruger without these aids, I can’t accurately report on how much they do reduce the recoil, but suspect it to be at least an easily noticeable amount.

I probably will not load many of those ultra-light rounds for this revolver in the future. They could easily make it a viable “plinking” or even home defense gun, but I have handguns for those uses that are more easily carried. My next load will be with Titegroup to get those big hard cast bullets moving at 1000 to 1100 fps for smacking hogs. After that, maybe I’ll try a 400gr or heavier bullet at 1300 fps or faster – just for grins!

In comparing to other calibers, I see the .480 being described as having 80% of the power offered by the .454 Casull, with 50% of the recoil! That is a combination that is hard NOT to like! Not really a fair comparison, of course, as in penetration tests the .480 with a flat nosed hard cast lead bullet traveling around 1000 fps will actually penetrate better and deeper than a smaller, faster moving jacketed bullet fired from a .454. For what might be called he “average” handgun hunter, I would think the .480 would be just about the cartridge dreams are made of!

Now for my “disclaimer” on loading and shooting the .480 so far. My first efforts with the .375 HC from CPB would not even fit in the Ruger’s chambers! The bullet diameter was a little over .475, and the chambers a little less – as can be the case with Ruger chambers. My usual answer to this would be to put a really tight crimp on the shell – which I prefer with a powerful revolver anyway – but Lee does not offer their Factory Crimp Die in .475/.480. I went to Richard Lee’s book on hand loading, and found a more detailed procedure for crimping bullets with the standard die set than comes in the instructions with the dies. This basically adds another step to the process, but allowed me to seat the bullets and crimp them tight enough to easily work in my chambers. I will probably have Lee build me a custom FCD for this cartridge, which they do at a very reasonable cost, but have also ordered a custom Bullet Swager and lube kit to size the bullets themselves for my gun.

Somewhere I had read that the early SRH in .480 (which mine seems to be) had an extraction problem that at least partly caused Ruger to stop production of the gun for a time. Reading these one of these articles again had that author relating that all the Hornady brass he fired exhibited sticky or difficult extraction, while loads with heavier hard cast bullets at lower velocities – 1000 – 1100 fps – simply fell out when the cylinder was inverted. The Hornady ammo I fired with the 400gr bullets was VERY difficult to extract from my gun, while those that had held 325gr bullets were much easier – but still did not “fall” out like the loads I made using new Starline brass did. Also, the Lee dies for .475/.480 come with a #5 shell holder, but state that for Hornady brass a #15 holder will be necessary. Again, the “empties” from my 400gr ammo would fit neither holder, while the brass from the 325gr ammo fit both?? Questioning all three types of brass with a micrometer showed a difference rim thickness – .068 for the Starline and 325gr Hornady brass, .074 on the brass from the 400gr ammo. The fired cases also told a differing tale, with those from the 325gr Hornady measuring .506, from the 400gr .510 – and the Starline brass .504. A Lee employee advises me not to shoot the 400gr ammo, as he considers the hard extraction a possible warning sign of high pressure. As I write this, Hornady is deciding whether to address the problem. Almost seems as though there may have never been a problem with the Ruger revolver, but rather in the factory ammo made for it?

This cylinder of empties shows the apparent size difference between brass from Hornady factory loads with 325gr and 400gr bullets against once fired Starline brass that shot 375gr hard cast bullets. The Hornady gave extraction problems and will not sldie back in the chambers, while the Starline empties dropped out easily - and get as easily drop back in.

This cylinder of empties shows the apparent size difference between brass from Hornady factory loads with 325gr and 400gr bullets against once fired Starline brass that shot 375gr hard cast bullets. The Hornady gave extraction problems and will not sldie back in the chambers, while the Starline empties dropped out easily – and get as easily drop back in.

About MikeH

Texas hunter and fisherman for 50 years, published outdoor writer since 1979, licensed charter boat operator from 1982 to 2013. Past Member, Board of Directors, National Association of Charterboat Operators, current member Environmental Advisory Committee to the DOE and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Married to Dorothy since 2000, one son, Michael who is recently married and living in Nederland, Texas. My wife and I live in Oyster Creek, Texas, near Freeport, and have a hunting property outside of Brazoria, Texas.
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2 Responses to HANG ON TIGHT! – SHOOTING THE .480 RUGER

  1. Last month I purchased a new Ruger 480 “Alaskan” (Short Barrel) Revolver for about $1,000.00 and took it to the range and put 6 shot of Hornady 325 gr XTP 1350fps bullets through it. These Hornady bullets represent about 90% of the bullets manufactured for this gun, making them clearly the “standard” choice, and anything else an odd “specialty” choice hot load for taking down elephants… so I stuck with what was obviously the recommended bullet. I can easily handle my 44 Magnum, so I thought the 480 would be no problem.
    I must admit I was surprised at the muzzle rise even more than the powerful recoil. The gun wants to lift straight up to the ceiling with each shot, and you must be very focussed in your effort to hold it down in order to fire a follow-up shot (or in order to keep in from flying up out of your hands). I can handle it… but the 480 is certainly my personal limit, and I understand why many people say that a 44 Magnum is the maximum that “most people” can get comfortable with. I would never want to wrestle for control with a 454 Casull or an S&W 46 Magnum or 50 Magnum… those loads are just insane.
    I am wondering if porting the short barrel of the Ruger 480 might be a good idea to tame the muzzle rise at the expense of a wee bit of velocity.
    My big disappointment came when I attempted to extract the 6 spent rounds from the cylinder. They were expanded and stuck in there very firmly. I pushed on the extractor rod with all my might until I feared I might bend it… and 2 of the 6 round loosened enough that I could pry them out with my finger tips. The other 4 rounds took a full minute of forceful prying with simultaneous extractor rod pushing, and just a little bit of foul language… and eventually they came out. If my life had depended upon reloading this gun in under a minute, I’d have been dead as hammer. I did put 6 more shots through it… same problem. I put a final 6 more shots through it, and after two minutes of struggling to eventually get the rounds out… I knew this was unacceptable.
    I sent the new 480 back to Ruger, and told me they fitted it with a new cylinder, but upon Ruger’s testing it, they apparently experienced the same problem, because they called me a couple days later and said the brand new gun was “beyond repair”!
    Earlier this week Ruger said they were going to scrap my gun and send me a “New Model” of their very recently improved 480 “Alaskan” short-barrel revolver as soon as the manufacturing run is completed later this month. I’m assuming they are going to bore the holes out a tiny fraction of a millimeter larger to solve this problem.

  2. MikeH says:

    First, the .480 Ruger is a little “stout” with “full power” factory loads, compared to a full house .44 magnum. You probably would not like the now-discontinued 400 gr Hornady ammo, either, because it is quite a bit “stouter” than the 325gr stuff. I have also had extraction problems with the Hornady ammo, more so with the 400 gr XTP load than with the 325. A technician at Lee Precision Reloading told me the difficult extraction was a sign of over pressure, and I should not fire any more of this ammo to avoid possibly damaging my revolver. A writer with more experience – and connections – than myself has told me that Ruger feels the initial problem with cylinders that caused them to stop production of the .480 Super Redhawk for a couple of years was actually due to the Hornady ammo. Ruger and Hornady developed this cartridge as a joint venture, and initially Hornady ammo was the only brand available.

    I reload for my own .480, and instead of loading to a velocity of 1100 – 1350 fps as Hornady does, I try to keep mine at 1000 fps, or a bit less – as I also do with my hand loads for .44 magnum and .45 Colt. I have found my “once-fired” Hornady brass unsuitable to reload, and use only Starline brass with hard cast bullets of 375 gr and 410 gr. Other than having to use a “Factory Crimp Die” on the heavier bullets to seat them in the cylinders, I have had no further problems – and at the “slower” velocities the recoil is very manageable, making the revolver much more pleasant to shoot. I have shot completely through 2 hogs with a 335 gr hard cast at 1050 fps out of a .44 magnum, so I feel a 400 gr bullet at 1000 fps should be sufficient for any critter I’m likely to encounter on the Texas Coastal plain.

    Using a light load of Trail Boss powder designed for lead bullets and popular with Cowboy Action shooters, I can fire my .480 with one hand as though it was a big, heavy .22LR!

    My Super Redhawk has a 7.5″ barrel, and it is Magnaported. I also removed the factory Hogue rubber grips and replaced them with Hogue “Tamer” grips – which have a silicon insert to help cushion recoil. In addition I have a set of Pro Aim shooting gloves that really help with heavy recoil, although with my handholds I really don’t need these aids as much.

    I am NOT a fan of short barreled big bore revolvers, although I understand they have a place. My first .44 magnum was an old Herters single action with a 4″ barrel, and I took a perverse pleasure in being able to shoot that beast back in those days. At my age, though, a lighter load is much preferred! I have no desire for a 2.5″ .480 (nor a .454 of ANY length right now).

    You have a fine revolver in a fine caliber. Porting should help with the muzzle rise and better grips and gloves will help reduce the felt recoil. I don’t know of any “light” loads from ammo manufacturers for the .480, but something might be available. As in many other ways, in this situation, hand loading is your best friend.

    Mike

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