In 1957, this then young teenager purchased the first 2nd Generation Colt Single Action Army to arrive in my area, my first .45 Colt sixgun. At that time the myth of weak .45 Colt brass was widespread, and even to some extent continues today thanks to some writers who have kept it alive. I forgive their ignorance. Perhaps there is some justification for the “weak” label as original .45 Colt brass was of the balloon head style with a very small rim. In my early days of reloading I never had a case come apart, however that thin little rim more than once pulled out of the shell holder. I can assure everyone that brass manufacturers do not separate their facilities into weak and strong sections. These same manufacturers use the same high-quality materials and manufacturing techniques for .45 Colt as they do for .44 Magnum. Sectioning both cases will prove this to be true.
In the early 1950s there was one man that certainly did not believe the weak label attached to the .45 Colt, in fact he was using the .45 Colt for his experiments with high velocity sixgun ammunition, At that time .45 Colt brass had just become available with solid head construction, while .44 Special brass was still of the balloon head style. This young Utah gunsmith had a dream and a goal. The dream was to achieve 1,800 fps with a 230 grain bullet in a standard size sixgun while the goal was to do it safely. Had Dick Casull listened to the experts of the time the .454 Casull would never have arrived and Freedom Arms would not be celebrating nearly 25 years of building the world's finest single action sixguns.
Casull began experimenting with his .45 Magnum even before the .44 Magnum arrived. He was quite limited in what revolver he could use for his special loads in that the only one suitable was the Colt Single Action, as Ruger’s much stronger Blackhawk was still several years into the future. The Colt Single Action is a beautifully balanced, easy packin’, easy shootin’ sixgun, however Colt SA cylinders are almost paper thin in .45 Colt chambering. It is a gun built for standard loads equivalent to the original black powder loads with pressures that are relatively low. Casull discovered very early that the .45 Colt cylinder would not even come close to holding what he was trying to achieve as he bulged many cylinders in the early stages. With heavier loads, cylinders burst and top straps blew.
If a conventional six-shot cylinder was just not strong enough to contain the pressures he was working with, the obvious answer would be a five-shot cylinder that would give greater strength and more metal between chambers. By using 4140 steel and five-shot cylinders made as large as possible and still fit the frame window of the Colt Single Action, Casull achieved 1,300 feet per second with a 230 grain .45 hard cast bullet. Not enough. He then turned to special heat-treating and in 1954 using a Colt Single Action .45 with an oversized five-shot cylinder, Casull hit 1,550 fps with 250 grain bullets. Remember this is two years before the .44 Magnum and his results are 100 fps faster with 10 grains more bullet than the factory loaded .44 Magnum of 1956. Casull had the power but he was concerned about the margin of safety, so in 1957, he decided to build his own single action frame. Using 4140 steel for the frame and 4150 steel for the cylinder, the first .454 Magnum was created. In the early 1960’s reports of Dick Casull and his .45 Magnum started showing up in gun magazines. At the time, Casull was also converting Ruger Super Blackhawks to five-shot .45s.
Several attempts were made to turn his dream sixgun into a production revolver. This would not be realized until Dick Casull and Wayne Baker came together. In March 1979 Baker and Casull began Freedom Arms producing .22 Mini-guns. Four years later, in October 1983, the first factory built five-shot .454 Casull left the Freedom Arms factory located in the Star Valley area of Freedom Wyoming. The .454 Casull revolver was now reality, however it would be several years before it was widely accepted by the general shooting public.
This was also about the same time I was getting serious about a writing career. Long-range silhouetting took up much of my time, and I had been writing for two club journals, Elgin Gates’ The Silhouette and The Sixgunner of Handgun Hunters International. Relatively speaking, very few people in the industry knew who I was or where I was coming from. I decided to call Wayne Baker and found a most personable man who was willing to trust me with one of his expensive revolvers. He sent me a 10” Premier Grade .454 that was soon outfitted with silhouette sights. I used it for the long-range game, switched to standard sights or a scope for hunting, and also fired thousands of heavy test loads through my first, but not last, .454.
Along the way I was able to introduce several other writers to the wonders of the .454. This test gun was subsequently purchased and today remains as tight as the day it left the factory. My first article on the .454 Casull appeared in American Handgunner in 1986 with that article definitely helping to begin my writing career with American Handgunner. The art department did an exceptional job in laying out the first published extensive handloading information for the .454 and those pages were tacked up in reloading rooms all over the country.
From the very beginning the Freedom Arms .454 revolver, now known as the Model 83, has been built to exacting tolerances. Cylinders are line bored, that is locked into the frame and then a pilot hole drilled to begin to form each chamber, which should be locked into precise alignment with the barrel in any sixgun for top accuracy. Freedom Arms revolvers are not assembled by reaching into a box or bin and taking out the cylinder, the frame, and the barrel and putting them together. They are in fact hand-fitted from the very beginning of mating one particular cylinder to one particular barrel and frame. Many other manufacturers firearms are built to a certain price level; Freedom Arms does it the opposite way, that is, they build the best possible revolver that their machinery and craftsmen are capable of achieving and then set the price. That price is high, however Freedom Arms makes no apology for it and it is a rare purchaser of a Freedom Arms revolver that would say it is not worth the price. I have yet to find such an individual.
No one ever expected to see a production revolver that would be more powerful than the .44 Magnum and to also be able to do it in such a portable package. Consider this, standard factory loading of the .44 Magnum in the 1980s was a 240 grain bullet at around 1,400 fps. Factory ammunition for the Freedom Arms five shot .454 Casull revolver consisted of bullet with a hard lead core with a heavy .032” copper jacket. Using my 10” .454 revolver the factory 260 clocked out at 1,884 fps, and the 300 at 1,690 fps. Using H110 I was able to duplicate both loads using the factory jacketed bullets. Dick Casull also designed two gas checked cast bullet molds especially for use in the Freedom Arms .454. With my handloads, the 260 clocks out at 1,986 fps, while the 300 breaks 1,800 fps. This is with 34.0 and 32.0 gr. of H110 respectively. J.D. Jones designed a special 340 grain flat-nosed cast bullet that also achieves 1,800 fps using 32.0 gr. of H110 in the same 10” revolver. Recoil? Up to that time it was worst I had ever experienced.
Times were tough for Freedom Arms in those early days. It was not easy to convince even most gun writers that the .454 was something they even needed to look at, which helped even more to make the finest factory built revolver in a superb big game hunting chambering a tough sell for several years. Finally the word did get out and the .454 became a favorite choice of serious big game hunters. However, Freedom Arms wisely realized that some diversification was necessary as everyone did not need or even want the power of the .454, and yet many shooters had the desire to own such a masterpiece of revolver engineering and manufacturing. In February 1986 Freedom Arms offered their first Model 83 chambered in .45 Colt, followed one month later by the .44 Magnum.
The Freedom Arms .44 Magnum maintained the same five-shot cylinder and line-boring operation as its older brother resulting in as-near-as-possible perfect barrel/ cylinder/frame alignment. This made it nearly perfect for long-range silhouetting, and once the infamous price ceiling rule was reversed it became a favorite on the firing line and very quickly the revolver choice for the top shooters. As with the .454 Model 83, the specially designed grip of the .44 Magnum minimizes felt recoil as much as possible.
In the 1980s I used both the .454 and .44 Magnum 10” Freedom Arms Model 83’s for competition set up with silhouette sights. When hunting season arrived, the .454 received a change of sights for the field. I have since added two more Freedom Arms Model 83’s to my hunting battery, both with 7 ½” barrels and fitted with scope sights. The .454 was my choice for Africa, however, the .44 Magnum remains my most used hunting handgun especially for whitetails. For game under 200 pounds I prefer Black Hills 240 grain jacketed hollow point as it is superbly accurate in my 7 1/2" .44 Magnum and normally drops everything immediately with lung shots. One of my most memorable hunting experiences consists of a long, steep, uphill climb in waist deep snow after a mountain lion. For this outing, I carried a 6” iron-sighted .44 Model 83 in a shoulder holster. That mountain lion is now stretched out on a limb above my desk looking down even as I type.
As silhouette shooters began to look more and more for the best possible revolver for competition, Freedom Arms stood ready to accommodate them. In January 1991 the first five-shot .22 Long Rifle Model 83 (it was originally known as the Model 252) arrived and it quickly became the revolver of choice with the .22 silhouette shooters. The test gun I had in .22 was so accurate I hesitated to publish the results knowing that many would find it hard to believe. It was no simple matter for a .22 to make silhouette weight when chambered in the large framed Freedom Arms Single Action. The cylinder was shortened and the barrel extended back through the frame, the hammer also has four holes drilled completely through the side to help cut weight and improve lock time, and the 10” barrel is tapered from approximately .780" at the frame to .750" at the muzzle end. The result is a silhouette revolver that is one ounce under four pounds.
A big game rifle that will shoot into one inch with three shots at 100 yards is a joy; the Model 83 revolver will do it with a full cylinder of five shots. Both Winchester T22s and CCI MiniMag +V's put five shots into 1” at 100 yards, closely followed by the CCI Pistol Match load at 1 1/8” and the PMC Match Rifle load at 1 ¼”. This is not from a heavy barreled target rifle, but a revolver, a sixgun, with five separate holes that must each line up with the barrel. This is precisely why Freedom Arms are worth the cost.
One year later, in January 1992, Freedom Arms added the .357 Magnum to the Model 83 line. Now Silhouette shooters had a superbly accurate centerfire revolver with minimum recoil. The .357 has a 9” barrel instead of the 10” barrel available on the .454, .44 Magnum, and .22LR Model 83s to be able to make the four pound competition weight limit. Originally, as a follow-up to the .454 Casull and 252 Casull, the .357 was the 353 Casull. Now it is simply the Model 83 .357 Magnum. However, with the .357 Magnum chambering in the Model 83, whole new vistas arrived for the original Magnum of the 1930s. How about 160 grain jacketed bullets at 1,750 fps, 180 grain jacketed bullets at 1,650 fps, and 200 grain jacketed bullets at 1,500 fps? That is 400 fps faster than I can safely achieve with my pet 8 3/8” Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum. For several decades a standard heavy .357 Magnum loading has consisted of Lyman’s #358156GC over 15.0 grains of #2400. From the 9” barreled Model 83 the muzzle velocity is 1,640 fps per second with groups of 1 ¼” at 25 yards, 1 ½” at 50 yards. Outstanding performance.
In December 1993, Freedom Arms went really big bore by chambering the Model 83 for the .50 Action Express. At the time it was dubbed the Model 555. The original .50 Action Express was designed by Evan Whildin and chambered in a Desert Eagle that was a true fifty, that is, the groove diameter was .510" as were the bullets, and the bore diameter was .500". The ATF said no, semi-automatic handguns may not be more than one-half inch in barrel and bullet diameter. So barrels were shrunk in diameter, and bullets are now .500" in diameter. This means the .50AE cannot be loaded with the .510” bullets of the .500 Linebaugh. CCI’s Lawman Factory 325 JSP clocks out of the 7 ½” barreled Model 83 .50AE at 1,342 fps, while my handload using the Speer 325 JHP does just a shade under 1,500 fps with 21.0 grains of Blue Dot. For cast bullets I use BRP’s 385 grain LBT flat-nose over 32.5 grains of H110 for 1,460 fps.
Freedom Arms had two more big bores to introduce in the Model 83 before the turn of the century. In December 1997, the Model 83 .41 Magnum arrived first as the Model 654. As I discussed the .41 Magnum project with Randy Smith and Bob Baker of Freedom Arms in 1996, I shared that many factory .41 Magnums would not handle heavy bullets, bullets much over 220 grains, very accurately. The problem had to be barrel twist and Freedom Arms addressed this with a barrel twist of 1:14. Heavyweight bullets that used to provide shotgun style patterns at 50 yards, now will shoot in a .41 Magnum. Both the Cor-Bon 265 grain Hard Cast and the Federal 250 grain Hard Cast factory load designed for hunting will stay right at one-inch at 50 yards. These loads are designed for the deepest possible penetration with the .41 Magnum and achieve muzzle velocities of 1,400 fps and 1,300 fps respectively. At 100 yards Hornady's 210 grain XTP over 22.0 grains of Accurate Arms #9 for 1,750 fps is unbelievable in its performance. The first three rounds fired from the Model 83 .41 Magnum at 100 yards measured 7/8". With the next five shots, three went into 5/8", four into 1 1/4", and all five were a most satisfying 1 1/2" at 100 yards. This is not only the most accurate .41 Magnum I have ever had in my hands, it is simply the most accurate centerfire revolver I have ever shot.
The final chapter, at least for now, (there may be another big bore chambering by the time you read this) on the Model 83 was written in April of 1999 with the arrival of the .475 Linebaugh. In 1996, Freedom Arms started experimenting with one of their Premier Grade five-shot revolvers chambered in .475 Linebaugh. It was my privilege then to fire the newest big bore but I was unable to share anything about it until they were ready to introduce it. The cylinder of the Freedom Arms features enclosed case rims so it was necessary to reduce the rim diameter of .475 cases made from .45-70 brass to fit the Freedom Arms cylinders. Naturally, Freedom Arms was reluctant to introduce their revolver in .475 Linebaugh until factory ammo was available.
Once Buffalo Bore began offering a factory load for the .475 Linebaugh having the necessary small rim, the .475 Linebaugh Freedom Arms revolver became a reality. With Buffalo Bore's loads, all assembled with hard cast bullets, the 420 grain LBT-LFN (Long Flat Nose) "light load" does 1,000 feet per second from a 7 1/2" Freedom Arms .475 Linebaugh, while the full house load with the same bullet achieves 1,380 feet per second, and with the 420 grain WFN (Wide Flat Nose) muzzle velocity is 1,330 feet per second.
Since the advent of the .475 Linebaugh in the Freedom Arms Model 83, Hornady and Ruger teamed up to produce the .480 Ruger which is nothing more than a slightly shortened .475 Linebaugh. Buffalo Bore also offers factory loaded .480 Ruger ammunition with a 420 grain bullet at 1,100 fps from a 7 ½” barrel. Using this load in a 4 ¾” Freedom Arms Model 83 fitted with a .480 Ruger cylinder, I took a 1200# bison in November 2000 with a broadside shot at 35 yards. Penetration was complete; in one side and out the other.
Wayne Baker, founder and first president of Freedom Arms is now basically retired from that position, Dick Casull is out on his own with Casull Arms, and Freedom Arms is now under the charge of Wayne’s son Bob Baker. I asked Bob if he had any plans for a special 25th Anniversary sixgun. He has already been thinking about this, so in a very few short years we will see a special Silver Anniversary revolver, possibly a pair in a fitted case. I'm looking forward to it.