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Sierra Bullets
Rifle Magazine
October - November 2003
Volume 38, Number 5
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 225
On the cover...
Ruger's Model 77 MKII Target rifle sports a Leupold scope and is chambered for the .220 Weatherby Rocket. Rifle photo by Stan Trzoniec. Inset photo by Gerald Hudson.
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Q: Recently I picked up a new Ruger Super Redhawk .454 Casull with a 7 1/2-inch barrel. After ordering brass, I began loading ammunition. According to the manuals, loads selected were on the upper end of pressure limits but should be safe. To date I have used H-110, 2400, AAC-9 and W-296, all with 300-grain jacketed bullets from Speer and Freedom Arms. The first load tried consisted of 33.0 grains of H-110, which was accurate, but the fired cases stuck in the chambers. To clear cases, the ejector rod had to be pushed hard with a wooden block. I have scrubbed the chambers, but there was no improvement. I reduced the recommended powder charges, which has helped, but the muzzle velocity is now only 1,300 to 1,450 fps, and cases are still occasionally hard to extract. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement, as I didn’t buy a .454 to shoot reduced loads.

What is wrong? Are my loads too hot or is there something wrong with the gun? Any suggestions to solve the problem would be greatly appreciated.

- J.D., California

A: When Sturm, Ruger & Company introduced the Super Redhawk .454 Casull, there were many that had concerns about using a cartridge that develops 65,000 psi maximum average pressure in a six-shot revolver. In spite of the Redhawk being a big, stout gun, the cylinder walls are not as thick or as massive as the five-shot Freedom Arms revolvers - the gun that brought the cartridge to life. On the other hand, since Ruger has always engineered its guns with plenty of strength, I had little concern the new Redhawk would be safe.

I was sent one of the first production guns and, guess what? Cases stuck in the chambers the same as your gun, but did so with factory ammunition from Hornady and Winchester. And I have heard this problem described many times by other shooters in the past four years. Incidentally, the same factory loads worked without a hitch in a Freedom Arms Model 83.

Ruger uses a Carpenter series 465 stainless steel for the .454’s cylinder, which is reportedly made in its own plant. This is a strong material with sufficient strength to handle the 65,000 psi generated by factory fodder or handloads that generate similar pressures, but a Ruger engineer tells me it tends to move or stretch when under pressure. In other words, because of the significant pressure generated by the .454 Casull, the chamber swells slightly and temporarily as the cartridge is fired. Naturally    the brass case also expands to     the same shape or size as the “stretched” chamber, and when the chamber bounces back to its original dimension, the case and chamber fit is tight and results in difficult extraction. Again, this is not a safety issue, as there is plenty of strength to handle the big cartridge, but is characteristic of the steel.

As to remedies for your problem, I would suggest calling Ruger first. It will likely want the gun returned so that chambers can be polished or possibly a new cylinder installed. Whatever is done, it will probably help, but frankly with full-house loads you may not get the problem completely solved. However, there are a couple things you can do. Try switching to cast bullets, preferably with a gas check. This will allow you to reduce the powder charge, but more importantly the chamber pressure, yet still achieve the same velocity as the factory loads you are trying to duplicate. For example a 310-grain cast bullet, Lyman mould 454629, produces 1,647 fps with 30.5 grains of H-110 using a Winchester case and Remington 7 1/2 Bench Rest rifle primer. (These velocities were obtained from a Freedom Arms Model 83 with a 7 1/2-inch barrel.) This reduction in chamber pressure will decrease the “chamber stretching” discussed and make case extraction easier.

Just for the record, your load with 33.0 grains of Hodgdon H-110 and the 300-grain Speer PSP bullet is generating right at 65,000 psi and is safe. As a side note, if you choose not to reduce the powder charge but simply switch to the Lyman 454629 310-grain cast bullet, which was designed by Dick Casull specifically for the .454 Casull, velocity will increase 150 fps and pressure will decrease slightly, but not enough to cure the problem.

You may also check the size of the chamber throats, as some Super Redhawks have been observed with undersized or tight throats, which further increases chamber pressure and diminishes accuracy. If they measure less than .452 inch, it would be beneficial to have them opened to .4525 inch. As a bonus this modification almost always increases accuracy. The job is easy and can be performed by most specialized sixgun shops for around $50 and only requires shipping the cylinder rather than the whole gun.

If case sticking still persists, try applying a light coat of water-soluble RCBS case lube on the cases just before firing, which will help cases extract easily. This last suggestion will no doubt raise some eyebrows and additional questions, but I will second-guess some of them by saying that this procedure only slightly increases case head thrust and is not dangerous. This practice is only recommended for fair weather (or warm) conditions, as it can become stiff (or frozen) and cause extraction problems in colder temperatures.

The last solution is to have a specialized custom gunsmith make a new cylinder for your Super Redhawk, but this option will cost more than the gun.

* * *


Lead Bullet Technology Returns

After a several year business absence, Veral Smith of LBT fame is again producing moulds and accessories for bullet casters. The LBT moulds are second to none in terms of quality, as cast bullets come out close to perfect. Smith’s most successful handgun bullet designs have included the Wide Flat Nose (WFN), Long Flat Nose (LFN) and Wide Long Nose (WLN). All are designed to seat out of the case as far as is prudent, which   increases powder capacity and reduces pressure, or allows a heavier powder charge and increased velocity while staying within pressure limits. The wide meplat delivers great shock and opens a large wound channel and, being a cast bullet, penetrates deeply. These features have made them highly popular with big game hunters.

There are two LBT products that every cast bullet shooter should have. (Please note I didn’t say every bullet caster, but rather every “cast bullet shooter.”) First is Veral Smith’s book Jacketed Performance with Cast Bullets. It contains practical information about what is required to get top results from cast bullets, including accuracy and terminal performance. If you are not getting the desired performance from your home cast bullets or commercial cast bullets, this book will help identify why. And Veral destroys many myths regarding cast bullets. Price is only $30 per copy (postpaid) and there are only a limited number left, so you better hurry!

The second item is the LBT Hardness Tester, which reveals a bullet’s hardness in Brinell hardness number (BHN). It is simple, accurate and quick to use. I have had one for nearly 20 years and wouldn’t be without it! Price is $98.50 postpaid.

Currently LBT is only offering moulds for handguns but will expand to include most rifle cartridges in the future. Two-cavity versions are priced at $85, with four-cavity versions running $125. Orders or catalog requests should be sent to Judy Smith, HCR 62 Box 145, Moyie Springs ID 83845.

* * *

NEI Handtools Is Back!

Last fall, the news came that our friend Walt Melander, the originator of NEI Handtools, had unexpectedly passed away. Not only will his friendship be missed, but it’s also a major loss to the firearms industry. NEI offered hundreds of moulds ranging from .224 inch to over one inch that fit practically every type of firearm conceivable. NEI also offered moulds for making heavyweight big-bore sixgun bullets long before it became an industry trend.

I am happy to announce that Walt’s daughter Patty has now resumed operations and will be offering the same products and services as formerly. It should be noted, however, that the business has moved from Scappoose, Oregon, to PO Box 370356, El Paso TX 79937-0356. They can be reached by e-mail: nei@columbia-center.org.  For the latest ordering information or for a copy of the latest catalog, you can visit them online at: www.neihandtools.com.

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