A true controllable hand-cannon for dangerous “fur balls” of teeth and claws.
I had been considering taking a solo backpack walkabout in the canyon country in western Colorado. Midsummer in this part of Colorado commands some hot weather. But as a tradeoff, there are no armed hunters.
The vast majority of hunters are responsible and make sure of what they’re shooting at; however, a few bad eggs will shoot at anything that moves. Knowing this, I will err on the safe side and avoid firearm season for my backpacking adventures.
I was aware of the recent increase of bear and lion populations in this area, and I needed to determine the adequate firearm for this trek. I ruled out an offense-type firearm, such as shoulder-fired rifles or shotguns. Hiking in semi-arid, hot canyon country requires the added weight of water. Due to the weight of a shotgun or rifle, I chose to take a handgun—in particular, a magnum revolver. But which one?
Choosing the Best Handgun
In choosing a magnum revolver, I considered possible threats. I pictured a 400-pound ball of fur, teeth and claws thundering toward me with lunch on its mind. Because I prefer single-action revolvers and have had many years of experience in the wilderness using them, this would narrow down my choice.
After more years than I care to remember as a law enforcement officer, I know that in times of stress, you revert to muscle memory or memory through repetition. I have a single-action Ruger Vaquero in .45 LC. However, I felt this was barely adequate for dangerous big game. Through research, I knew I wanted a big-bore magnum but with more power than a .44 Remington Magnum. I didn’t want the excessive recoil of the .454 Casull .460 S&W and .500 S&W, because a fast second shot might be necessary.
I am budget minded and not able to pay the $2,000-plus for the excellent Freedom Arms and Linebaugh single-action magnums, so the clear choice was the .480 Ruger.
Ruger is an excellent firearms manufacture and has high-quality products. The only Ruger single-action revolver chambered in the .480 Ruger is the New Model Super Blackhawk Bisley. This was great for me, because I have always wanted to try the Bisley-type grip. The New Model Super Blackhawk Bisley is offered exclusively from Lipsey’s Wholesale and is shipped to your local gun store. The Blackhawk Bisley is a five-shot, single-action stainless steel revolver with a 6.5-inch barrel. Unloaded, this beast tips in at a little more than 3 pounds. I knew this would be perfect for my trip, so I talked to the great people at Ruger and requested the Bisley .480 Ruger.
Testing the Bisley .480
Once I received the New Model Super Blackhawk Bisley test gun from Ruger, I went to my local big box store and bought a box of 20 Hornady 325-grain HP for $35. This is about the average price for these rounds. Shortly thereafter, I received several boxes from the folks at Hornady and my new “BFF” Tim at Buffalo Bore.
With a big-bore revolver and ammo in hand, I headed off to the range to test the Bisley .480 and to familiarize myself with its newfound power.
I tested the velocity of each type of round, as well as five-shot groups for accuracy. I fired a total of 120 rounds in the testing stage to familiarize myself with the Ruger Bisley .480 (see the performance results on page XXX). All the Hornady and Buffalo Bore loads that were tested performed very well. Each round possessed unique and favorable qualities. As a result, I am a big fan of them both.
Hornady produces only one weight and type of bullet in the .480 Ruger. The Hornady 325-grain HP XTP has a good weight and design. Due to this, the Hornady 325-grain would drive deeper into a large-framed fur ball than, say, a lighter bullet. This Hornady bullet ripped along at an average of 1,290 fps, with an impressive 1,201 foot-pounds of power. It gave the best accuracy, with a 3.02-inch group at 25 yards that was shot on a 12-inch black bullseye.
All rounds fired were in the black. I shot these with a sighted-in 6-o’clock hold. Different bullet weights and velocities resulted in different strike areas. As I shot the five-shot groups, I would stack the next target on top of the previous perforated one. The Bisley placed 80 percent of the rounds in a group at the top half of the 8 and 9 rings of the bullseye. I was impressed.
The Buffalo Bore ammo preformed equally well. Buffalo Bore has four different loads for the .480 Ruger. One load is the 370-grain LFN, which is purposely loaded lighter for target shooting and plinking but is still deadly enough to take medium-sized game. This round tested at 1,090 fps, with 976 foot-pounds of power and a 3.8-inch group. I love Buffalo Bore ammunition and the great people working there. In particular, I was amazed they produce a wicked, 275-grain Barns XPD Lead Free bad-boy hollow point. Now, just how could I test this interesting round?
Ruger Bisley Power
To satisfy my curiosity, I acquired a 50-pound block of modeling clay. After setting it up, I shot one round of the Buffalo Bore 275-grain Barnes XPD hollow points into the intended target. What happened next was almost spiritual.
I instantly knew I should have had a 75-pound block. The 275-grain, lead-free projectile entered the clay at about 1,600 fps and penetrated about 5 inches before it instantaneously expanded. This extremely bad boy created a 10-inch cavern in the clay. The round then traveled another 4 inches before veering downward and out through the 8-inch plywood base. The casualties were the clay, plywood and one of the sawhorses they were sitting on. I was, well, awestruck.
After the conclusion of this long day of fun with the hand-cannon, it was time to put it away and head to the casa to rest, reflect and ponder the day … with some Crown.
Solo Backpacking Into Lion and Bear Country
My choice of adventure was in the semi-arid canyon country of western Colorado about 20 miles southwest of Grand Junction. This is a vast, open area with wildlife that ranges from ground squirrels and snowshoe rabbits to coyotes, badgers, elk, mule deer, lions and bears.
My plan was to pitch my four-season warrior tent at around 6,200 feet. I was transported to the general area, where I geared up and hiked into the isolated predetermined location. I gave exact grid readings to my family so that if I didn’t show up at the road, they knew where to start looking. I had planned for a two-day solo trip, but due to things beyond my control, this turned into a two-day mini-adventure.
Once I hiked back into the canyon area, I moved to the predetermined location and set up camp. I then stowed away my gear, including a tactical tomahawk and camp knife. I had my New Super Blackhawk Bisley .480 Ruger strapped to my gun belt on my hip in its Bianchi Lawman holster.
My intention was to scout around my campsite, looking for signs of who my neighbors would be that night. I walked up the hill toward the escarpment. At an old jeep trail, I saw week-old lion and coyote tracks. It seemed to be a very large coyote‚ possibly, a wolf. This did not surprise me, because I was told by some locals that the lion population was high and that there were even rumors of some wolves.
Still-walking up the hill, I kicked out a snowshoe rabbit wearing its summer coat. Further on and within 75 yards of my tent, I saw fresh, moist dirt slung all over a mound of loose debris at the base of a large, gray granite boulder. I closed in. I initially thought the dirt-slinging was done by a badger. However, when I moved to my right to face the excavation or hole, I saw it was big enough for me to crawl into. It was a den.
At that very same moment, I heard the distinct sound of a bear expressing its displeasure at my presence. Now, even though I knew there were bear around, I never thought I would run into one—a cornered one. Luckily, it stayed in the den. I drew my Ruger .480 Bisley and backed away. I did not want to cause a deadly confrontation, and I certainly did not want to have to explain to a Colorado game ranger why I shot a bear out of season … and without a license.
I backed down my trail, being careful not to stumble over the rocky slope. I felt confident and secure with my Bisley in my hand. After feeling sure the bear and I had agreed to a peace deal, I moved on down the escarpment, looking for sign. While resting in a well-sheltered spot, a desert bighorn sheep ewe walked by me. She was beautiful. By this time, it was getting dark, so I returned to camp.
Once there, I sat down and had an MRE for dinner. It was not only a dry camp, it was also a no-fire camp, because there was a campfire ban for this area. I used my Gerber Center Drive multi-tool to open the MRE and a can of pork and beans. I was hungry from a full day of hiking and high adventure.
The next morning, I popped out of my tent and searched for tracks of unwanted visitors. I found none. I then broke camp and hiked a new trail toward some interesting rock structures that led to others. I saw signs of doe mule deer and one elk cow. I did not see any signs of bear. About mid-afternoon, I angled back to my predetermined pickup point using my GPS. I saw numerous old campsites but no human tracks. At the pickup point I dropped my pack and relaxed. In under 30 minutes, I saw my wife and daughter four-wheeling their way to pick me up. It had been a short adventure—a very rewarding one. (I plan on returning to this area to explore further and will be sure to bring the Ruger Bisley .480 for those creatures that might do me any harm, whether two or four legged.)
In making my final determination of the New Super Blackhawk Bisley .480 Ruger, consideration was given to several attributes I require for my lion/bear country handgun.
Does this handgun have the quality and strength to withstand years of use with full-house loads? The answer: a solid yes.
Does this handgun have the stopping power needed to take down an angry bear or lion? The answer: a solid yes.
Is the recoil of this handgun controllable for a second quick shot? For me, the answer is “Yes.” For others with less experience and strength, the answer is probably “No; not likely”—unless they get the Buffalo Bore 370-grain light load or use light hand loads. But for the average shooter, I believe the .480 Ruger in the Ruger Bisley is perfect.
Does this handgun possess the accuracy needed to hit a medium-sized live target at 25 yards? With practice, the Ruger Bisley .480 will take any large animal in the Western Hemisphere.
Is the weight of this magnum handgun light enough to carry all day while hiking? Yes. I carried the .480 Ruger Bisley all day for two days with 24 extra rounds; and even at my tender age, I had no problems. The key is a high-quality holster, such as the Bianchi 1L Lawman Holster mounted on a Bianchi California Outlaw gun belt. Cheap holsters and belts that are too small will wear you out quickly.
Because I love big-bore, single-action handguns—and specifically, single-action handguns—I can say that the New Super Blackhawk Bisley .480 Ruger is perfect for me. As on all Ruger products, this revolver is of the highest quality and designed with the shooter in mind. In addition, I think the .480 Ruger round has been overlooked and under-explored. I love the .480 round [[and]] the Ruger New Blackhawk Bisley single-action revolver.
|Hornady 325-grain HP/XTP||1,290||1,201||3.02|
|Buffalo Bore 410-grain LBT-WFN GC||1,241||1,402||3.75|
|Buffalo Bore 370-grain LFN (Light Load)||1,090||976||3.8|
|Buffalo Bore 370-grain LFN||1,243||1,270||4.5|
|Buffalo Bore 275-grain Barnes XPB Lead Free||1,557||1,481||3.75|
Notes: Accuracy is a five-shot group at 25 yards. Velocity is an average of five shots measured using a Caldwell Ballistic Precision Chronograph at 5 yards.
Ruger New Model Super Blackhawk Bisley
- Caliber: .480 Ruger
- Action: Single action
- Barrel length: 6.5 inches; 6 grooves, 1:18-inch, RH
- Weight: 49.2 ounces (slightly more than 3 pounds)
- Overall length: 12.40 inches
- Sights: Adjustable rear; fixed front
- Trigger pull: 3 pounds, 7 ounces (with a slight creep)
- Finish: Stainless steel
- Grips: Hardwood
- Capacity: 5 rounds
- MSRP: $999 (Lipsey’s)
Sturm, Ruger & Company: Ruger.com
Bianchi Holsters: Safariland.com
Buffalo Bore Ammunition: BuffaloBore.com
Daniel Winkler: winklerknives.com
Utica Cutlery Company: UticaCutlery.com
Editor’s note: The full version of this article is available in the September 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.