Reloading the .480 Ruger


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn


Since writing the original article for reviewing Ruger's new .480 Super Redhawk (see article at The .480 Ruger), I have had the opportunity to do some load development with the new cartridge.

The original factory ammunition from  Hornady is loaded with a 325 grain XTP Magnum hollowpoint bullet at a  velocity of 1350 feet-per-second (fps). As stated in the earlier article, I achieved 1332 fps at 12 feet from the  muzzle, indicating that Hornady's ballistic figures are very accurate. Also noted in the first article was my intention of trying the new cartridge with some heavier bullets, both in weight and construction.

I obtained for the purpose of this article some excellent bullets from  Cast Performance. These are hard-cast .475 diameter flat point bullets in 370 grain plain base and 405 grain gas-check configurations. I have used the Cast Performance bullets before (see article at Cast Performance), and have total confidence in their accuracy and construction. I also received some of Hornady's XTP jacketed hollowpoint bullets in 325 and 400 grain weights. I experimented with several proven powders that are old favorites with  magnum shooters and one that is quickly becoming a favorite of mine for heavy bullets in the magnum handguns, that powder being Hodgdon's Lil' Gun (see article at Hodgdon Lil' Gun Powder).

I won't list here every powder and bullet combination tried, but will  attempt to review some of the better loads for practical handgun use. As some of the loads did not prove to be useful, I will try to save the .480 shooter a little time and materials in their own load development. 

I do want to commend Ruger on the strength and accuracy of the Super  Redhawk that I used for testing the loads in this article. The loads were developed for use in this Ruger, and I strongly urge each shooter to develop the best loads for his own gun. I will concentrate the effort here only upon the best bullets and powders that I have found for this particular cartridge. 

In the course of this load development, I used exclusively the Hornady New  Dimension Carbide dies. They worked perfectly in conjunction with my Dillon 550B reloader in loading flawless ammunition for the tests. All loads were fired over the screens of my Pact Professional chronograph which has proven itself for the last 18  years.

In comparing the results of my load development with that of Hodgdon  Powder Co., I concluded that with some powders I could not achieve the velocities that they did with seemingly identical guns. For instance with the 325 grain hollowpoint and Li'l Gun, while I came within 10 fps of their results, I had to use more powder to get there, and the pressure was excessive for my gun. While Hodgdon has state-of-the-art pressure equipment and I do not, I did have to enlist the help of a hickory limb to extract the cases. I point this out only to confirm that each gun is unique, and must be treated as such when developing heavy loads.

For the heaviest and most dangerous game in North America, including the  largest bears, I believe that the 405 grain bullet from Cast Performance should prove ideal in the .480. With 23 grains of 296 powder, this bullet was reaching speeds of 1300 fps and showing signs of only moderate pressure. This bullet weight and speed are nearing that of the traditional  45-70 rifle load, and should have no trouble penetrating plenty deep in flesh  and bone. Li'l Gun also proved to give good results with both this Cast Performance 405 and the Hornady 400 grain bullets, but 296 was better. The aforementioned load of 23 grains and the 405 CP was very consistent, with a mean average deviation (MAD) of only 5.6.

In working with the lighter weight bullets, I was able to exceed the velocity of the factory load by over 100 fps, using the same 325 grain XTP-HP and 296 powder. This bullet at this speed is relatively fragile according to my tests. That is not a  condemnation of the bullet at all, merely a statement of the use for the  bullet. Were a person inclined to shoot light game or heavy varmints at long range, the 325 Hornady at 1500 plus fps should be a great combination of bullet construction and speed, giving immediate expansion.

Loading the same Hornady 325 with a charge of 10 grains of Alliant Unique (see article at Alliant Unique) gave superb accuracy out of the Ruger with a muzzle velocity of 1015 fps, and a MAD of only 5.9, indicating excellent  consistency. This particular load should be ideal for use on Whitetail deer, with great accuracy, relatively mild recoil, and good bullet expansion. Interestingly, the same charge of  Unique behind the CP 370 grain bullet gave erratic velocities and a MAD  exceeding 65. This same bullet proved great with more velocity however, indicating to me that bullet obturation was inadequate with the mild powder charge of this load.

Loading the CP 370 grain bullet with 26.2 grains of W-W 296 gave both good velocity and accuracy.

In conclusion, the bullets and powders which proved best in my opinion are  as follows:

For heavy loads and maximum penetration I like the Cast Performance 405 grain bullet with a healthy dose of H110 or W-W 296. 

For long range and high velocity where deep penetration is neither needed nor desired, the Hornady 325 XTP Magnum HP with 28 to 29 grains of 296 will give plenty of reach for a big bore sixgun. 

Perhaps the most useful load for ninety-five percent of the hunting that will be done with a .480 caliber sixgun (or fivegun for that matter) in this country, is the 325 Hornady and Unique powder. This is a load which is neither punishing or excessively destructive, leaving plenty of meat for the freezer instead of a lot of bloodshot pulp and hair. This isn't a  load that will win you bragging rights for having the biggest, baddest magnum in the woods, but it isn't intended to be. 

Someone will always come up with a stronger gun and load. If you really need the power, the .480 can deliver. It will throw a tough, heavy bullet weighing more than 400 grains in excess of 1300 fps. It will also send a 325 grain bullet in excess of 1500 fps. Having the ability to do this and still be extremely accurate with milder loads, gives us a versatile, if somewhat heavy, hunting handgun and cartridge. 

This cartridge, in my opinion, would be ideal in a lighter sixgun, such as the Blackhawk. It would also have great potential for use in a lever-action or semi-auto carbine. 

It is, as currently offered, available in heavy handguns very suitable for hunting with or  without a scope sight. The Ruger .480 gives shooters an affordable big bore alternative to the excellent custom handguns that are beyond the financial means of many. A shooter desiring a .475 bore handgun can buy a Super Redhawk, dies, leather, and a large supply of components for much less than a custom five-shot revolver alone. 

There will always be a demand for the custom guns, and rightly so. They are true works of art. The .480 Ruger is more of an everyman's sixgun that will get him into the over-.45 club without selling the children to do so. 

I think that Ruger has, once again, hit the proverbial nail on the head. It is a cartridge that will give twice the power and penetration than most shooters, including myself, will ever need.

Jeff Quinn

NOTE: All load data posted on this web site are for educational purposes only. Neither the author nor assume any responsibility for the use or misuse of this data. The data indicated were arrived at using specialized equipment under conditions not necessarily comparable to those encountered by the potential user of this data.  Always use data from respected loading manuals and begin working up loads at least 10% below the loads indicated in the source manual.

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Author used Hornady's "New Dimension" carbide dies in his Dillon 550B machine to assemble some consistent, accurate and powerful loads for Ruger's excellent .480 Super Redhawk.














Pact's precision chronograph has served the author well for nearly two decades.














Bullets tested by the author included (left to right) Hornady 325-grain and 400-grain XTP hollowpoints and Cast Performance 370-grain and 405-grain Lead Flat Points.














Powders used in testing included (left to right) Alliant's new Unique, Hodgon's Lil' Gun, Accurate No. 5, and W-W 296.














All testing was done using Ruger's Super Redhawk DA revolver with a 7-1/2" barrel. Author was pleased by the accuracy and strength of the gun and by the great potential of the new cartridge.