FREEDOM ARMS 353 CASULL
"John what do you think our next chambering should be for our revolver?" asked Wayne Baker as we walked the aisles of the 1991 SHOT Show. Freedom Arms had just officially unveiled their latest five-shot single action, the 252 Casull in .22 LR and company President Wayne Baker was not about to sit back and wait for the orders to roll in. The .22 chambering was a radical departure from the norm at Freedom Wyoming which has been bigger is better for the last decade.
It was in 1983 that the shooting public was introduced to the first Freedom Arms revolver, and 1991 marked the fourth chambering of the big five-gun, and now they were ready for the fifth in a series of super accurate, precision made revolvers. What would it be? Let's back up a bit and take a quick glance at the evolution of magnum revolvers.
In 1930, Smith & Wesson brought out the first ever sixgun that would be mated with a Plus P loading of the .38 Special. The sixgun was the .38/44 Heavy Duty and the .38 Special ammunition produced for this revolver was at least 200 feet per second faster than conventional .38 Special loadings. The gun and ammunition were designed to give peace officers a better chance against bootleggers and criminals armed with .45 ACP's and Thompson submachine guns.
Shooters like Elmer Keith and Phil Sharpe saw a better application for the .38/44 and began handloading the .38 Special for use in the .38/44 as an outdoorsman's sixgun. As a result of their work, the shooting public of the depression years was soon to be introduced to the first of the world's most powerful revolvers, the .357 Magnum. That was 1935.
Although the first Magnum was now a reality, men like Keith, Ray Thompson, Gordon Boser, and others were not satisfied. Sixgunners who had been loading the .44 Special to 1200 feet per second with a 250 grain bullet looked down their noses at the little .38 Special Magnum with its 158 grain bullet at 1500 feet per second. An exclusive society sprang up known as the .44 Associates whose members exchanged reloading data and spoke in mystical tones about the virtues of the .44 Special. As a result of Keith and others clamoring about the .44 Special for three decades, the second heir to the title of the world's most powerful revolver debuted in 1956 as the .44 Magnum became reality. Surely we had reached the ultimate.
Strange how things work out. Keith had abandoned the .45 Colt in 1925 after blowing a .45 Colt Single Action apart. He took up the stronger brass of the .44 Special and the heavier, stronger cylinder of the .44 chambered Single Action Colt. His experiments lead directly to the .44 Magnum thirty years later. In the early 1950's before the advent of the .44 Magnum, a young Utah gunsmith by the name of Dick Casull, gravitated to the .45 Colt as it was now available with solid head brass while the .44 Special was still made balloon-head style. Casull needed strong brass for his experiments with Colt Single Actions and Bisleys and later custom made five-guns which lead to the .45 Magnum, at first dubbed the .454 Magnum and later to be called the .454 Casull.
Casull made custom revolvers as well as rebarreling and fitting five shot cylinders to Ruger Super Blackhawks before deciding to produce a factory .454 revolver. After some false starts, Casull teamed up with Wayne Baker and the first .454 Casull from Freedom Arms was produced in the early 1980's. Now we had the third `world's most powerful' revolver. The .454 Casull became the hunting revolver in the 1980's just as the preceding .357 and .44 Magnums had in the 1930's and 1950's.
Freedom Arms had no intention of trying to outdo their real world's most powerful, and instead started chambering the world's best built revolver for lesser cartridges. The .45 Colt was a logical choice for all those who were appreciative of the old `Long Colt', and it was a simple matter to provide cylinders chambered for the .45 mated up with the .454 barrel.
The .454 is a kicker. Yes, it really kicks like the proverbial mule and everyone does not want that much recoil nor do they need that much power. A natural part of the evolution of the Freedom Arms revolver then seemed to be the .44 Magnum with sales aimed at silhouetters and hunters who needed no more than the .44 could deliver. The IHMSA Price Ceiling Rule stifled Freedom Arms' goal of building the ultimate silhouette revolver for awhile, but as it was lifted, not only did silhouetters look to Freedom Arms for .44 Magnum revolvers, Freedom Arms looked forward to bringing out another ultimate silhouette five-gun for the toughest test of silhouetting skill, the .22 course of fire.
With that in mind, Freedom Arms provided the shooting public with the fourth chambering of the Casull revolver with introduction of the 252 Casull. The `252' nomenclature is a play on numbers to mate it with the .454 caliber of the original Casull. The .22 Long Rifle chambered 252 soon gathered a reputation as the most accurate .22 revolver of all times. Now it was time for a fifth chambering. Which brings us to the question posed to me at the beginning fo this article.
My first reaction to Baker's question was to complete the Casull revolver lineup with the big bore Magnum that does not get enough respect, the .41 Magnum. Always the step-son of the Magnum family, perhaps its residence in the world's finest revolver would finally give it much deserved praise. "Wayne, how about chambering for the .41 Magnum. There are a lot of dedicated .41 shooters out there that would love a Freedom Arms revolver for their favorite cartridge." "What would you think about a .357 Magnum?" was his reply. Hmmm? "Yes, that does make a lot of sense as there are even more .357 Magnum lovers who would like to own a Casull with power coupled with low recoil and the .357 Magnum is still one of the best revolver chamberings for silhouetting. Yes, I think your choice would be a good one, Wayne." That's why he is the company president and makes great revolvers for writers like me to write about!
The Freedom Arms .357 Magnum is now a reality. The Silhouette Model has a nine-inch barrel instead of the ten-inch barrels available on the .454 and .44 Magnum as it will not make the four pound competition weight limit with a longer barrel. And as a natural follow-up to the .454 Casull and 252 Casull, this one is called the 353 Casull. Don't let the name fool you, it handles all .38 Special and .357 Magnum brass and loadings and there is no 353 Casull ammunition as such. At least not yet.
For those readers who may not be familiar with Freedom Arms revolvers, the Casull is a traditionally styled single action five shot revolver with a patented sliding safety bar making it perfectly safe to carry with five rounds. Personally, I always carry all single action revolvers, be they sixguns or five-guns, and whether they be equipped with safety bars, transfer bars, or no safety at all, with an empty chamber under the hammer.
A number of sighting options are available on most models beginning with standard fixed sights on 7 1/2" .454's and 4 3/4" .44 Magnums. Also available are low profile adjustable sights, silhouette sights, express sights, and scope mount bases. Front sights on all adjustable sighted models are easily removed by the loosening of a socket head screw that enters from the front, and a number of replacement front sights of differing heights are available both in plain black and red insert models.
All Freedom Arms revolvers are built with the precision of a fine watch and the strength of a bank vault. My original .454 Casull that was purchased in 1986 has had thousands of heavy rounds through it and it is still as tight as it was when it still resided in the factory box. No cylinder endplay and no cylinder side play is normal for Freedom Arms Casull revolvers.
The 353 Casull is a standard Freedom Arms revolver that is built the same as the .454 Casull, .44 Magnum, or 252 Casull. That is each Freedom Arms revolver is made of 17-4 steel with the emphasis on precision and quality. Using completely modern machinery, often built in-house as needed, Freedom Arms uses a number of innovations to insure that each Freedom Arms revolver is a high quality revolver.
Having a goal of perfect alignment with barrel and cylinder at the time the bullet is transferred to the barrel upon firing, the technicians at Freedom Arms pre-drill the cylinders, fit them to the frame, and then line-bore them to the barrel. That is each cylinder is chambered as it is fitted to the frame. Cylinders are not chambered in mass quantities and then simply fitted to a frame. Each barrel, frame and cylinder are a precisely fitted unit.
This quality is carried through as the gun is detailed out with files and emery paper the old fashioned way. Each pair of grips is individually fitted and it is impossible to simply order a pair of grips. The gun must be returned to the factory even for grip fitting. The one exception is the use of Pachmayr grips which are made to a standard pattern. They are not individually fitted.
With the .357 Magnum chambering in the 353 Casull, amazing things happen. We are talking 160 grain bullets at 1750 feet per second, 180 grain bullets at 1650 feet per second, and 200 grain bullets at 1500 feet per second. To put that into perspective, one needs only to look at some standard .357 Magnum loadings. These same jacketed bullets custom loaded for my pet eight and three-eighths inch .357 Magnum, the original .357 from Smith & Wesson, will safely do 1350 , 1250, and 1050 feet per second respectively. That is a dramatic difference to say the least.
It becomes even more dramatic when one compares the performance of the .357 Maximum/SuperMag with the 353 Casull. Remember, Maximum brass is .300" longer in length than standard .357 Magnum brass. The same bullets outlined above for the 353 Casull and .357 Magnum, max out at 1500, 1350, and 1250 feet per second respectively in my eight-inch Dan Wesson .357 SuperMag. A look at the following chart with muzzle velocities and muzzle energies puts all of this into proper perspective.
I had two test 353 Casulls at my disposal. One is a standard production Silhouette Model with nine-inch barrel and standard impregnated hardwood grips and Iron Sight Gun Works rear sight and sharply undercut black Patridge front sight. The other is the prototype 353 Casull with an SSK barrel of carbon steel specially contoured to a diamond shape. The factory gun has a groove diameter of .357" and 1:14 twist barrel, while the prototype has a .358" barrel. The 1:14 twist is designed to stabilize the heavier 180 grain and 200 grain .357 bullets used for silhouetting and hunting. The prototype 353 Casull is also fitted with Pachmayr grips and a Leupold 4X scope on a SSK T'SOB base. There were no malfunctions with either gun except the ejector rod on the factory gun had a tendency to hang up until it had been worked a hundred times or so. It either had a burr or mated up with a burr on the ejector rod housing.
The argument continues over whether or not the .357 Magnum is a hunting handgun. My friend Bill Ripple of Ohio, a thoroughly experienced Eastern deer hunter says that the standard .357 Magnum is adequate for everything east of the Mississippi River. But even he is now lusting after the .357 Magnum in the 353 Casull. If the standard .357 Magnum is adequate for Eastern deer hunting, the .357/353 Casull combination will be superb to say the least. For the first time we have a .357 Magnum that will utilize Hornady 158 grain XTP's at 1750 feet per second and I expect both 180 grain XTP's and CorBons, neither of which I had for testing, will do 1600 plus feet per second. Bob Baker of Freedom Arms took the first game with the 353 Casull, a Black Buck Antelope on the YO Ranch with a 180 CorBon at 1600 feet per second.
The 353 Casull can be loaded far above the performance of any other .357 Magnum or .357 Maximum/SuperMag revolver. But that is not its only claim to fame. It makes a perfectly superb .357 Magnum when used with standard loads and I suspect there are a lot of .357 Magnum shooters out there that want exactly that. Six factory jacketed bullet loads were tried in both the standard Silhouette Model 353 Casull and the scoped-sighted prototype. The results were an average, not the best mind you, but an average twenty-five yard five-shot group of 1.08" and an average fifty-yard five-shot group of 1.25". Those averages are miles above average for .357 Magnum revolvers! A direct result of the precision fit of the Casull revolvers.
FIREARM: FREEDOM ARMS 353 CASULL
Switching to handloads for the 353 Casull, I concentrated on super high performance loads. All loads are assembled with Federal .357 Magnum brass and Remington #7 1/2" Benchrest Small Rifle primers. I CANNOT EMPHASIZE ENOUGH THAT THESE ARE 353 CASULL LOADS AND MUST NOT BE USED IN ANY OTHER FIREARM CHAMBERED FOR THE .357 MAGNUM!!!!! It is impossible to damage the 353 Casull using these loads but brass life will be very short beginning with enlarged primer pockets. For best results these maximum loads should be assembled in brand new brass only. This is one instance in which the brass is operating at maximum levels not the revolver.
JACKETED BULLET HANDLOADS
Cast bullet shooting in the 353 Casull, as opposed to their use in the .357 Magnum or .357 Maximum/SuperMag, becomes a whole new field of experimentation. Cast bullets that perform well at 1400 feet per second may or may not perform well when driven at the velocities possible with the 353 Casull five-gun. I have run into the same situation when using some .45 Colt bullets in the .454 Casull. When the muzzle velocities exceed a certain level, accuracy disappears. My theory is that the bearing surface has to be just right or the bullets skid or strip on the rifling when driven at high speeds.
My old standard .357 Magnum loading consisting of the Lyman #358156GC over 15.0 grains of #2400 picks up considerable velocity over other long-barreled .357 Magnums and exits the barrel of the 353 Casull at 1641 feet per second and shoots very accurately with one and one-fourth inch groups at twenty-five yards and one and one-half inch groups at fifty yards. If I never used any other load in the 353 Casull, this load combination would make the 353 a prized possession.
Switching over to 180 grain cast gas-checked bullets in the 353 Casull, I tried both the RCBS 38-180 FN and the BRP 180 grain gas check. AGAIN,THESE LOADS ARE FOR USE IN THE 353 CASULL ONLY!!!
CAST BULLET LOADS
The 353 Casull .357 Magnum, is available in only two standard barrel lengths at this time, 7 1/2" and 9". All four chamberings are available with special silhouette packages consisting of special grips and special sights. Non-standard barrel lengths are available at extra cost from the Custom Shop. Contact Freedom Arms (P.O. Box 1776, Freedom Wyoming 83120. Phone 307-883-2468) for a complete catalog and price list of all models and options.
The .357 Magnum itself is rapidly approaching its 70th birthday and still remains the most popular of all of the Magnums. The .357 Magnum in the 353 Casull should re-write the book on the first Magnum, giving it new life as both a silhouette and hunting cartridge. Sometimes going backwards really turns out to be real step forwards.