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Holiday Valley Ski Resort

.480 Ruger & Ruger's Super Redhawk
By Dick Metcalf, Technical Editor, Shooting Times.

When Steve Hornady called Bill Ruger with the idea for a new big-bore handgun cartridge, the first chambering to carry the Ruger name was born.

Hornady’s just-introduced .480 Ruger cartridge powers a new-design 325-grain .475-caliber XTP-MAG bullet at 1350 fps velocity from a 71/2-inch revolver barrel to deliver 1315 foot-pounds (ft-lbs) of energy. At 50 yards it’s carrying approximately 1100 fps velocity and 1025 ft-lbs energy, and at 100 yards it still retains more than 1075 fps velocity and 835 ft-lbs of energy. Those are impressive figures!

By comparison, this performance represents 82 percent of the rated muzzle velocity and 73 percent of the muzzle energy of a 300-grain .454 Casull load. At 100 yards the comparison is still 81 percent of the .454’s retained velocity and 71 percent of its energy. When compared to a 300-grain .44 Magnum, the .480 Ruger has 17 percent greater muzzle velocity with nearly 50 percent more muzzle energy, and at 100 yards it still has a four-percent velocity advantage, with 18 percent more energy. Put even more directly, the .480 Ruger delivers nearly 150 ft-lbs more energy at 50 yards than the 881 ft-lbs the .44 Magnum has at the muzzle, and it doesn't drop below the energy of the .44's muzzle until about 85 yards. That's power.

At the same time, due to the larger caliber diameter of the .480 Ruger in comparison to the .454 Casull, Hornady claims the felt recoil of its initial .480 Ruger load is approximately 50 percent less than the .454 when shooting it in a conventional revolver—due to the flatter, less spiked, pressure curve of the bigger-bore cartridge (which translates into more of a perceived “heavy push” instead of a sharp “wrenching blow”).

Subjectively, I agree. After firing a trio of identical-length Super Redhawks with Hornady’s own 300-grain .44 Magnum, 325-grain .480 Ruger, and 300-grain .454 Casull loads, I’ll testify that the .480 feels much more like the .44 than the .454, and I can shoot the .480 for as long as I want without undue stress. Eighty percent of the .454 Casull’s power with half the recoil—no wonder Hornady believes the new .480 Ruger “takes handgun performance to an entirely new level.”

Dimensionally, the .480 has a nominal 1.285-inch case length and a maximum overall loaded length of 1.650 inches. Its case diameter, rim size, and other specifications are the same as the longer (1.5-inch case) and much more powerful 475 Linebaugh cartridge, which was developed from a cut-down .45-70 case with a reduced-diameter rim.

Hornady takes particular note of the fact that .480 Ruger performance comes at essentially “normal handgun operating pressures,” so its brass isn't subjected to unusual stress and can be reloaded at about the same rate as .44 Magnum brass. Unfired .480 Ruger brass is available from Hornady for handloaders, and existing .475 Linebaugh dies (available from RCBS, Dillion, Redding, and Hornady) are used to load the .480 Ruger the same way .44 Magnum dies are used to load .44 Special loads.

All of this helps to understand how the .480 Ruger came into being. Steve Hornady has always loved heavy, big-bore cartridges, but he doesn't love heavy, big-bore recoil—especially in handguns. So after introducing his .475 Linebaugh load to the market in early 2000, he perceived an opportunity. He wasn't going to sell a lot of full-power Linebaugh ammunition unless people were buying Linebaugh-chambered guns, but there weren't going to be a lot of people buying Linebaugh-chambered guns if the only thing to shoot in them was full-power .475 Linebaugh ammunition.

What was needed was a .475 cartridge that could stand in the same position relative to the Linebaugh as the .44 Special and .45 Colt stand in relation to the .44 Magnum and .454 Casull. He figured that a shorter case .475 load splitting the power difference between a heavy-load .44 Magnum and the .454 Casull would be about right and could offer handgun hunters a previously untapped combination of serious performance with acceptable recoil. Hornady’s technical branch had already done virtually all the groundwork necessary in the process of developing the full-power Linebaugh loads, so the only real task was to cut back the case to a length that could fit revolvers already in the marketplace, pick an appropriate .475 bullet weight for the targeted performance level, and select a powder for optimum load density and efficient burn in the new-length case.

.480 Ruger Ballistic Comparison


.480 Ruger
Hornady 325-gr. XTP-MAG
.44 Magnum
Hornady 300-gr. HP/XTP
.45 Colt “Magnum +P”
Hornady 300-gr. JSP
.454 Casull
Hornady 300-gr. XTP-MAG
.475 Linebaugh
Hornady 400-gr. XTP-MAG
NOTES: All figures are for 71/2-inch test barrels

The result was the new load before us, which fits exactly into the slot Steve Hornady envisioned for it and, I might add, is the cleanest burning big-bore handgun cartridge I've ever fired. I don’t know what powder Hornady is using, but the inside of a once-fired factory case is absolutely free of residue and nearly as bright as fresh, unfired brass.

With his new “.475 Short” cartridge basically in hand, Steve also recognized a need to have guns that were chambered for it in its own right, instead of just being hooked to the .475 Linebaugh. The technical data readings showed that the new load was coming in with a SAAMI-standard maximum average pressure (MAP) of 48,000 psi, which is less than the 50,000 psi that is standard for the .454 Casull. That meant any revolver designed for the .454 was already specced to handle this new cartridge, provided the cylinder geometry would accommodate the 0.023 larger caliber. Keenly aware that the most recent .454 Casull revolver introduction was Ruger’s Super Redhawk in 1999, and equally aware that Ruger was actively urging the use of .45 Colt loads and “medium” Casull loadings in that same revolver to promote its popularity and increased general use, Hornady made the approach.

Hornady: “I've got this new revolver cartridge with more power than a .44 Magnum and less recoil than a .454 Casull. I think it will work in your gun. Want to do a joint development?

Ruger: “Possibly. What's it called?”

Hornady: “What do you WANT to call it?”

It was about that simple. The first prototype revolvers Ruger sent to Hornady were in fact marked “.475 Ruger,” but after rethinking, Ruger decided to change the name of the cartridge to “.480” to give it a stand-alone identity.

Hornady is very high on its new product and regards it as far more than just another routine loading variation. And with the Ruger name now officially attached to the cartridge, it certainly won’t be long before we see many other loading variations in different bullet designs and weights from many other ammunition manufacturers—not to mention additional makes and models of guns.

Page One - The Cartridge: History, Development, Ballistic Comparison
Page Two - The Gun: Specs, History, Looks
Page Three - Shooting the .480 Ruger, Velocity/Accuracy Chart, .480 Guns to Come

This article was originally published in Shooting Times magazine in May, 2001.

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