It was the third day of our client’s ten-day hunt for Alaskan moose, but we had not seen anything; no moose, no bear, nothing but brush and marsh and spruce thickets. Obviously we were beginning to get concerned. It was coming up on mid September on the Upper Yentna River in south central Alaska, and we expected to hear some moose, even if we didn't’t see them. The area was blessed with few open areas, and 50 yards appeared to be a major opening, as far as visibility was concerned, but our hunter wasn’t looking to shoot any moose at 500 yards, with some new rocket science magnum rifle, rather he was packing the venerable .454 Casull. The pistol is pretty famous by now, in Alaska, and other places as well, but in this day and age when everyone is clamoring over the new Ultra mags, or some new Lazzeroni cartridge, and many guys are trying to find rifles capable of shooting deer at ranges over a half mile, the pistol hunter is still a relative oddity. Odd as they may be, we planned on getting Roger Koziczkowski his moose, so we kept at the calling, regardless of the fact that we had not heard any moose vocalizing yet. I belted out a woeful cow moose imitation with my mouth, then we listened, then we moved on a little further, then we heard the muted response. We looked at each other for a moment, then we heard the low pitched response of the bull moose again, the sound almost like a subconscious thought, similar in my mind to the faint drumming of a ruffed grouse. The bull seemed to be grunting several hundred yards below us, along a section of marsh that fed the lake where we had our camp, but we headed on up the ridge that we were traveling on, hoping to get into a more favorable position with a little visibility. We spent about ten minutes getting to a spot where the wind was blowing in our favor, and we had about a 30 yard opening looking down the hill in front of us, the direction from which the bull appeared to be coming. We let out another cow call, and the bull continued to grunt his way closer and closer. We positioned Roger between the forks of an old birch tree and we waited, hoping that the wind would remain steady in our face.
The problem that many hunters have when they decide to try hunting with a pistol is an obvious lack of suitable loads for big game. There appear to be a number of loads available for individuals hunting deer sized game, but when it comes to the bigger North American species, such as moose and brown bear, bullet selection becomes a little more difficult. Our client had tested numerous different bullet designs, and loads, and each time he came to the conclusion that he just couldn’t trust any of them to expand reliably at the slow velocities of the big Casull. It appeared that anything that would expand would also come apart at the seams if it contacted anything substantial, so Roger opted for hard cast. Starting with Starline cases, Winchester 296 Ball Powder and 360 grain LBT heat treated cast bullets (see inset) Roger gradually worked the load up to 1,500 fps, using 27 grains of the previously mentioned powder, with his Field Grade Casull that sported a 7 1/2 “ barrel. We should of course mention that the Casull is not really designed for the meek of heart, and it certainly requires more effort to handle the recoil than the smaller .44 Magnums do, nonetheless it offers those who are interested in larger game an effective alternative to the long gun, at least this is what we were desiring when the moment of truth arrived!
The bull uttered another low grunt, and it was obviously closer than before. We were sure the bull would be in our sights with a few more grunts, but in this part of Alaska, bull moose have to be over 50” wide, or have 3 or more brow tines, so we knew we would have to get a pretty clear picture of the bull before we could give Roger the go ahead. Another grunt and our eyes were straining, then another, and another, and finally the antlers began to swing back and forth through the alders, and the old bull began to take shape. He moved right into the opening we were betting on, and it was obvious that he was well over 50”, so my partner (Dan Cisewski) gave Roger the nod. The bull turned to an almost broadside position at around 30 yards, and roger fired. The bull turned directly into the opening and came full steam up the hill, straight toward our position, although it didn’t have a clue where we were at, and roger never let up with the big pistol from Freedom Arms. The old bull came roaring by us at less than 3 yards, and Roger unloaded on him, attempting to anchor it on the spot, rather than allowing it to run for the nasty country below. The huge bull soaked up all five rounds from the Casull and continued on by us for another 20 yards before he paused, turned, and collapsed in the alders. For a moment, the earth was quite, all was still, then of course the old harsh realities set in – huge moose require a lot of sweat.
Roger had considered this hunt a kind of testing ground for the loads he had developed, with a future brown bear in mind, so we were interested to see exactly how the fired rounds had performed on the downed moose. One thing was obvious to me, and that was the fact that none of the rounds had a visible effect on the big bull. After a lot of butchering and the recovery of one round, it was fairly easy to see why the bull didn’t react much when hit. The one round was recovered just inside of the hide, after it had penetrated clean through the vitals of the moose, and just as expected, it had no deformation at all, rather it appeared that it could easily be used again. The hard cast bullets had easily penetrated through the moose without any expansion at all, hence the lack of noticeable shock to the animal, regardless of this, the .45 caliber bullets made substantial wound channels. While I might have preferred the extra shock of an expanding bullet, the hard cast .45’s did the job efficiently, indeed the first shot on this bull was sufficient, and we should probably point out the fact that moose routinely ignore the fact that they have been shot at all, even when the rounds are coming from more explosive rifle calibers. We encouraged the extra shots from Roger, simply as a practical matter.
As for thoughts on the round’s performance in view of future brown bears, from my perspective, this particular load leaves me with an annoying question – is this performance acceptable in a up close, and potentially dangerous encounter with a big bear? Certainly the .454 loaded in this manner will take the largest of bear down with proper shot placement, but as a guide, one has to consider the most pessimistic scenarios, and honestly I would not want to be using the Casull (regardless of what it is loaded with) in one of these less than optimal scenarios. On the other hand we have the gents taking brown bear with archery gear, and the Casull comforts me a great deal more than a broadhead ever will. All in all, the .454 Casull, loaded with hard cast premium bullets is suitable for all North American big game, and Roger’s 65” Alaskan moose is testimony to this. With proper loads, and precise shot placement, the pistol packing hunters of this country can rest assured that the .454 Casull will continue to put meat in the freezer, as well as trophies in the book.
The 360 gr. LBT (WLNGC) heat-treated bullets are available from Cast Performance Bullets, PO Box 153 Riverton, WY 82501