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Introduced by Ruger Firearms and Hornady in 2003, the .480 Ruger is one of the most controllable large bore handgun calibers in production. This great hunting cartridge outperforms the .44 Magnum in power, but not the .454 Casull. Learn More

History of 480 Ruger Ammo

The .480 Ruger, released in 2003, is a unique big bore caliber designed to be used in a large, high-power revolver. In its standard factory load, the .480 Ruger features a .475-inch diameter bullet that weighs 325 grain (gr). Although the bullet’s diameter is 0.475 inch, it was deemed the .480 Ruger to avoid confusion with the much higher-pressured (and parent case) .475 Linebaugh.

This bullet sits in a semi-rimmed, straight-walled casing that measures 1.285 inches in length, just a little shorter than the above mentioned .475 Linebaugh. The full cartridge has an overall length of 1.650 inches.

Unlike the other ammunitions on the upper end of the big bore cartridges, the .480 Ruger isn’t a hot load. While powerful, the ammo is not a Magnum and wasn’t designed to be. The .480 Ruger uses a large pistol primer and has a maximum pressure set by SAAMI (the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute) at 48,000 pounds per square inch (psi).

When it comes to the performance of the .480 Ruger, the cartridge doesn’t disappoint. With its factory load, the 325 gr bullet can travel faster than 1,350 feet per second (fps) with a muzzle energy of up to 1,300 foot pound force (ft·lb). At 100 yards, the lead’s still moving at 1,075 fps with an energy level of 835 ft·lb, which is rather impressive for such a heavy bullet.

To see the ammunition's full potential, increase the bullet weight to 400 gr, and the .480 Ruger becomes even better. It can reach a velocity of 1,300 fps with 1,500 ft·lb energy, a whopping 50 percent more than standard .44 Magnum cartridges.

What makes this much power unique, is that it doesn’t come with the perceived recoil and muzzle blast often associated with big-framed wheel gun ammunitions. While the performance is just slightly less than the .454 Casull and above the performance of the .44 Magnum, its impressive numbers are achieved with lighter recoil than can be found in most large caliber five- and six-shot revolvers, providing an ammo that’s available to significantly more shooters than the Casull.

The Development of .480 Ruger Ammo

Instead of being the next, biggest, hottest, and most powerful ammo (which was what was going on in the market at the time), the creators of the .480 Ruger took a different approach. They set out to create an ammunition big enough and powerful enough to kill America’s largest game, but not so big and so powerful that most hunters would be unable to handle it. Ideally, they were looking for a cartridge that felt like a .44 Magnum, but performed like the .454 Casull.

It came to fruition in 2003, when Sturm, Ruger, & Co. paired with Hornady to introduce the .480 Ruger – the first and, thus far, only ammunition cartridge to bear the Ruger name. Though the .480 Ruger doesn’t reach the high levels of energy and velocity of the .454 Casull, it should be noted that the .480 is considerably easier to manage in terms of recoil control and muzzle blast. The .480 Ruger is therefore a more accessible caliber for shooters who want more power than a .44 Magnum, but don't want to suffer the abuse delivered by other cartridges, which is exactly what the companies were hoping.

The .480 round was quickly coined the .475 Special. After all, much like the .38 Special and the .44 Special (also known as the .44 S&W), the .480 Ruger is a smaller version of a more powerful caliber round. And in the same way that the .38 Special can be loaded into a revolver chambered for the .357 Magnum (and a .44 Special can be loaded in place of the .44 Mag), shooters can load the revolvers for the .475 Linebaugh with the easier-to-shoot .480 Ruger.

Although the .480 Ruger achieved the goals its creators set for it, and it fit its job description rather well, its popularity was lackluster. While there’s many factors that go into a new cartridge’s market acceptance, there were multiple influences on the .480 Ruger.

First, at this point in the United States’s ammunition market, big was better. When the .480 Ruger was released, some shooters were hoping it was something that could top the .454 Casull. Instead, they were disappointed to realize it was not more powerful nor was it intended to be.

Second, on the heels of the .480 release, Smith & Wesson introduced the .500 S&W Magnum. And two years later in 2005, the .460 S&W Magnum. What’s more, the revolvers manufactured for the .460 Magnum were also designed to shoot the .45 Colt and the .454 Casull. With these additions to the big bore market, the .480 Ruger couldn’t compete with these heavy-hitting rounds and wheel guns.

Hunting with the .480 Ruger

Although it lacked in popularity, the .480 Ruger turned out to be a great caliber for medium to large game hunting. It has an increase in both velocity and energy when compared to the .44 Mag, making it able to take America’s largest game (those that the .44 Mag just can’t handle) and protect its carrier when in large predator area (the .44 Mag isn’t powerful enough for some of the country’s apex predators). Even with this increase in power, the .480 Ruger doesn’t have an increase in perceived recoil, allowing hunters to get back on target quicker and easier, improving their accuracy in subsequent shots.

Overall, the .480 Ruger provides hunters with a fine balance of bullet weight, velocity, and operating pressure, giving it a field performance that other ammo hasn’t been able to compete with, even with today’s modern ammunition and ballistic technologies.

Although the .480 Ruger doesn’t have the ammunition selection of other big bore cartridges, the rounds that are available do their job well. In North America, Hornady offers its XTP cartridges with both 325 and 400 gr bullets that can please most hunters. CCI offers Gold Dot hollow point bullets, weighing 275 gr for the .480 Ruger, while Federal makes a 275 gr bullet as well – the Barnes Expander – in its Vital-Shok cartridge line.

Comparing the .480 Ruger to Other Big Bore Rounds

While many big bore lovers opt for the “bigger is better” mentality, those who shoot often can recognize the benefit of a round that offers a heavy bullet without the punishing muzzle blast and recoil. That’s why some call the .480 Ruger the Goldilock cartridge of the big bores. It’s not too big. It’s not too small. It’s just right.

When comparing actual ammo size, the .480 Ruger shares a maximum cartridge length of 1.79 inches (although the standard factory load is a bit smaller at 1.650 inches), the same max length as the .44 Remington Magnum, the .41 Special, and the .357 Magnum. So although all three of these have different arrangements, most are held to a relatively similar case capacity.

When it comes to bullet size, the .480 round is obviously a little bigger (but remember it actually measures .475 inch, not .480). It’s not only larger, but it’s also quite a bit heavier. The standard .480 Ruger bullet weighs 325 gr, while the smaller .44 Mag bullet weighs 240 gr, and the .45 Long Colt, 255 gr. Yet the .480 bullet isn’t as heavy as the biggest revolver calibers, and with its more manageable size, shooters can avoid the rifle-like power that must accompany the larger bullets.

What’s more, when it comes to hunting practicalities, the .460 S&W and .500 S&W are never going to be considered backup guns. When used, they’re almost always the main hunting firearm, as they’re too big and bulky to carry along as a second weapon. On the other hand, the .480 Ruger can easily be worn at the hip without interfering too much with movement and shooting, giving hunters the ability to carry it along with their hunting rifle for those worst case scenario situations. This allows shooters more versatility, as the .480 caliber can be used as either the primary hunting handgun or as a backup.

In a general comparison between the .480 and the other heavy-hitting revolver ammunitions, it’s easy to see that the .480 Ruger’s combination of heavy bullet and moderate power gives its shooter an ammunition that’s as deadly and accurate as the bigger bullets – all in a revolver that most shooters can handle, especially handgun hunters, which is something the .454 Casull, .460 Magnum, and .500 S&W can’t claim.

The .480 Ruger Super Blackhawk Revolver

When Hornady released the .480 Ruger, Sturm, Ruger, & Co. released its corresponding revolver chambered for the caliber – a single-action six-shot Super Blackhawk. This wheel gun was made for the big game hunter, which is obvious by its design.

The heavy frame was made from custom 465 stainless steel, a premium grade, age-hardened alloy originally crafted for aerospace components. This steel is so strong, it’s capable of withstanding 260,000 psi, much more than the .480 Ruger is pressurized.

In its standard form, the Ruger Super Blackhawk came with a 7.5-inch barrel and a minimal cylinder gap between .003 and .004 inch. As expected, the double-action trigger was heavy, but offered a crisp 4.5 pound pull in single action. Empty, the gun weighed 53 ounces and had an overall length of 13 inches, making it too big to carry concealed, but easily capable of being worn on the hip.

This revolver was rugged and has proved itself effective both in function and firing. Unfortunately, Ruger discontinued production of the .480 Ruger Super Blackhawk, replacing it with an upgraded model, the Super Blackhawk Bisley.

Other Firearms Chambered for the .480 Ruger

Although the Ruger Super Blackhawk was the first firearm chambered for the .480 Ruger, it wasn’t the only one. After the Super Blackhawk, Sturm, Ruger, & Co. created a Super Blackhawk Bisley revolver in the .480 caliber. Similar to the standard Super Blackhawk, this firearm is a single-action, five-shot revolver that comes standard with a 6.5-inch barrel (a shorter 4.62 inch option is also available). To make it more comfortable to shoot, it also features a Bisley frame, grip, hammer, and trigger.

Ruger also provides shooters another .480 Ruger option with its Super Redhawk and Super Redhawk Alaskan. A double-action six shooter, the Super Redhawk comes in the same 465 stainless steel alloy, giving the shooter a solid frame to hold on to. The standard edition comes with a 7.5-inch barrel, while the snub-nosed Alaskan features a shortened 2.5-inch barrel, which takes about 10 ounces off of the wheel gun’s weight.

Taurus also offered its Raging Bull revolver in .480 Ruger, but the wheel gun has since been discontinued.

While Freedom Arms doesn’t offer a specific revolver for the .480 Ruger, they do offer multiple variations of the company’s famous Model 83 (which was originally released alongside the .454 Casull) chambered for the .475 Linebaugh. Freedom Arms also offers alternate cylinders for the Model 83, including one chambered for the .480 Ruger.

Shooters can purchase the .475 Linebaugh, easily change the cylinder, and have a beautiful wheel gun capable of firing the .480 Ruger without issue. This allows lovers of big bore wheel guns to get the best of both worlds: the power and bang of the .454 Casull and the performance and shootability of the .480 Ruger, without the cost of purchasing a second revolver.

480 Ruger Ballistics: Chart of Average 480 Ruger Ballistics

The .480 Ruger will likely never become as popular as the .44 Magnum, or even the other big bore revolver calibers like the .454 Casull. But for shooters who want an effective handgun hunting caliber with manageable recoil, the .480 Ruger is well worth considering.

Note: This information comes from the manufacturer and is for informational purposes only. The actual ballistics obtained with your firearm can vary considerably from the advertised ballistics. Also, ballistics can vary from lot to lot with the same brand and type load.

480 Ruger Bullet WEIGHT Muzzle VELOCITY (fps) Muzzle ENERGY (ft. lbs.) Mid-Range TRAJECTORY (in.) Barrel Length (in.)
  Muzzle 50 yds. 100 yds. Muzzle 50 yds. 100 yds. 50 yds. 100 yds.  
325 Grain 1350 1191 1076 1315 1023 835 2.6 0 7.5"
Molly Carter
Written by
Molly Carter