In his 1955 Book, Sixguns, Elmer Keith reported he had tried a revolver weighing five pounds and chambered for the .45-70 rifle cartridge, "….it was accurate and the load was not at all unpleasant to shoot from the huge gun. However the gun was so crudely made it did not function worth a whoop and could not be recommended, but it proved such a gun is entirely possible." Sometime in the late 1950s/early 1960s two .45-70 revolvers were hand-made in a joint effort by Clarence Bates of Arizona and Stu Brainard of Idaho. Brainard displayed his big revolver at local gun shows for many years until his death.
Now enter Earl Keller. In the mid-1970s, Keller started manufacturing the Century Model 100 revolver in .45-70 chambering. Keller died in 1986 after making slightly less than 400 of the big sixguns and I bought serial number 276 ordered and then received after a wait of eight years! Elmer Keith had serial number 12. At the time of his death, Keller had requests and reserved serial numbers for more than 2,500 more of the big .45-70's. Just before his death, Keller negotiated the sale of his company to Paul Majors who produced 120 more revolvers in Keller's Evansville, Indiana plant before moving the entire operation to Greenfield, Indiana.
The Greenfield Centurys are made using investment casting with the frame being of 120,000# tensil strength bronze and the barrels and cylinders of 4140 steel. This is a big revolver! Weighing in at six pounds, it dwarfs ordinary revolvers like the Colt Single Action or Ruger Super Blackhawk; and two hands are the norm in firing this big sixgun. Although the Century is huge, the grip frame is of the proper porportion and is quite comfortable. Recoil, rather than being a quick snap, is more like a large shove.
The Century is a traditional single action six-shot revolver, which means loading one cartridge at a time and ejecting one at a time. Its diameter is such my hand and fingers are stretched to capacity just to revolve it. There is a cross bolt safety for safely carrying six shots, however I do not use it as much prefer to let the hammer down on an empty chamber, so I normally load only five rounds. Sights are a fully adjustable Millett rear sight set into a massive flat-top frame and the front sight is a rifle ramp with a dovetail for the front sight allowing the easy use of different height and blade combinations, an excellent idea.
I've fired the .45-70 Century quite extensively, both the original Evansville Model and the new Greenfield Model. The .45-70 Century has proven to be quite accurate at both 25-yard paper and random rocks out to 250 yards. Bringing out the big .45 is a guarantee of drawing a crowd at any public shooting range. My top bullet preference is the 405 grain cast bullet from RCBS's #45-405FN mold. In addition to the Model 100 .45-70, I have also tested two other Century sixguns, a Model 400 in .444 Marlin and a Model 500 in .50-70 Government. The Model .50-70 is appropriately dubbed "The Mother Load" and is so inscribed on the barrel. The Century has also been offered in .30-30 Winchester and .375 Winchester. Personally speaking, I can see no use for the .30-30, .375, or .444 marlin chamberings in this big gun. It deserves better, namely the old .45-70 Government and .50-70 Government chamberings. The .444 marlin cannot do anything that cannot be accomplished by the .44 Magnum and the .445 SuperMag in more compact sixguns and the .30-30 and .375 are definitely in the light caliber category in this big sixgun.
The Model 400 in .444 Marlin did perform well in the accuracy department, but I was surprised to find the factory .444 Marlin Remington 265 grain load delivering less than 1,500 feet per second, or about what a good .44 Magnum will do. The .444 Marlin is hampered by case capacity, too much, not too little. The case is so long that there is little room left for bullet seating in the Century chamber and 300 grain bullets seated deep bulge the brass.
The real powerhouse of the Century sixguns is the old black powder .50-70 Government cartridge, it actually pre-dates the .45-70, safely delivers over 1,400 fps with a 525 grain bullet! Century tells me they have regularly shot 450 grain bullets to 1,800 fps from The Mother Load. In looking for bullets for the biggest of the big, I came across the RCBS #50-515 FN a mold and .512" sizer. With my alloy of three parts lead to four parts type metal, these dropped from the mold at 525 grains. Huge!
I do believe the .50-70 is actually more accurate than the .45-70 as all loads tried printed excellent groups especially in light of the fact that this gun kicks. Even though it weighs six pounds, recoil of full house loads brings it rarin' right back and care must be used when it is fired off sandbags to not get hit in the head or face. In spite of its reaction to heavy loads, the recoil is not punishing by any means, again just a large, heavy push. Loads for the .50-70 were assembled using the top grease groove rather than the crimping groove to give a little more case capacity though I doubt it is needed. Even the top loads show no signs of excessive pressure on primers nor do fired cases have any stickiness tendency in the cylinder. The Century big sixes shoot well; the only question is how practical are they? The huge cylinders are at the outer limits of one being able to physically turn them for loading and unloading and no one is going to fire a six pound revolver off-hand for very long. It may not be practical but it is different and a real attention getter.
In the 1980’s John Linebaugh came forth with his two cartridges, the .500 using a .348 Winchester case and a .475 based on .45-70 brass, with both cases cut back to 1.400”. Recoil was, and is, heavy with these really big sixguns built on Ruger New Model frames, and one would think the .475 and .500 Linebaughs would be the ultimate, the top, as far as we could go, then along came the Linebaugh Longs, the .475 and .500 Maximums using the same basic brass as for the regular Linebaugh cartridges but at 1.610" length. Linebaugh used the only gun available for conversions to Linebaugh Long calibers and that sixgun is the out-of-production Ruger .357 stretched frame Maximum. As only a limited number of these sixguns are available and production has stopped, the conversion automatically became a more-expensive-than-usual affair as Ruger Maximums have acquired semi-collectible status and one usually has to pay at least $500 to get one to use as a platform for conversion. The Ruger Maximum may be gone, however Gary Reeder is now offering Maximum length frames on his custom sixguns, including chambering to the .500 S&W Magnum
Very little of the Ruger Maximum was used except the frame, a new five-shot cylinder being fitted along with a new barrel. Ruger Bisley parts, namely grip frame, hammer and trigger, were fitted to the Ruger Maximum frame as the Bisley grip is the only grip that will handle the very heavy recoil of the big Maximums in full house loadings. So just the frame of a Ruger Maximum and needed Ruger Bisley parts will find the would be owner of a Linebaugh Long revolver spending at least $800 before even beginning to think about barrel, cylinder, and action work. Something as simple as attaching the ejector rod housing so it will stay on becomes a real problem with these big guns. Even with his standard .475 and .500, Linebaugh prefers to build revolvers with a 6” barrel length with a built-in barrel band that holds the front sight and also gives support to the ejector rod housing preventing it from flying forward under the tremendous recoil generated by these five- shot guns. This is even more critical with the Linebugh Longs. Even with their long cylinders these big guns balance well, pack easily, and one has to look twice to even notice that the cylinders are made to handle brass that is one third of an inch longer than normal.
My first shot through the .475 Linebaugh Long chambered five-gun with moderate loads told me very quickly that I had my work cut out for me. These guns kick and kick hard. There is no way around it, nor any way to make it sound any different. I have fired hundreds of rounds per day with .44 Magnum and .454 Casull , and well over a hundred per day with both the .475 Linebaugh and the .500 Linebaugh. Not so with the .475 Linebaugh Long. I had just forty cases to work with and that was more than enough per shooting session.
Linebaugh's .475 Long uses Winchester .45-70 cases with the brass cut to 1.610" and loaded with .475 caliber bullets. Winchester brass is thin enough that it simply is a matter of trimming and loading with the proper dies of course, and the standard .475 Linebaugh dies work fine in loading the Linebaugh Long. These dies, as well as those for many wildcat rounds, are available from RCBS. The .475 Linebaugh Long will do 1,550 fps with a 370-380 grain cast bullet and 1,500 fps with a 410 grain bullet. Recoil is understandably fierce.
The .500 Linebaugh Long is right at the very edge, more likely over, of manageability and only with tremendous concentration and strength can it be handled. Both the .475 and .500 Linebaugh Longs are only for those revolver shooters with vast experience shooting big bores. Very few handgunners will really be able to handle the recoil of this biggest of all big bores.
The recoil with the .500 Linebaugh Long in full house loadings is H-E-A-V-Y, V-E-R-Y H-E-A-V-Y!!!! A shooting glove is essential, and I used a Chimere with the lightly padded palm and then taped the knuckle of the middle finger on my shooting hand with several layers of adhesive tape. I also taped my trigger finger to avoid being cut by the bottom of the trigger. Even so, it takes a tremendous amount of concentration and expended strength to fire thirty to forty rounds of this biggest of all revolver cartridges that will still fit in a portable package. I have fired thousands upon thousands of the heaviest revolver cartridges over the years, but I found myself taking a tremendous beating from shooting the big .500 Linebaugh Long.
A full-house load for the .500 sends a 440 grain bullet out at 1,500 fps, and I repeat, recoil of the .500 Linebaugh Long is like nothing else ever experienced. The .475 Linebaugh revolver generates at least three times the recoil of a .44 Magnum and the .500 Linebaugh Long/Maximum almost puts the .475 Linebaugh Long/Maximum in the mild class. Today it may be very difficult to find many custom sixgunsmiths willing to build either the .475 or .500 Linebaugh Long as they do not wish to test-fire them. Can’t say I blame them. Smith & Wesson wisely came out with a sixgun weighing more than four pounds with their version of the .500 Maximum, the .500 S&W. Even so recoil is still horrendous with full house loads.
After building the .475 and .500 Linebaugh Longs, John took a step backwards with a smaller Long caliber, the more practical .44 Linebaugh Long. Basically the same cartridge as the .445 SuperMag and the .44 Schafer Magnum before it, the .44 Linebaugh Long uses stronger brass made from .303 British or .30-40 Krag brass. The .44 Linebaugh Long goes way beyond the .44 Magnum and in the 6” six-inch barreled Custom Bisley/Maximum is, relatively speaking when compared to the Long .475 and .500, quite easy to handle. With 250-300 grain .44 bullets, the .44 Linebaugh Long is a 1,600 plus fps gun and makes an imminently practical packin' pistol with plenty of power for big game.
A few years back a company by the name of D-Max started exhibiting long-cylindered revolvers at the SHOT Show. Apparently, they were never able to turn out many of these revolvers, which appeared to be well made and except for being crafted of stainless steel were spitting images of the five-shot sixguns made by a custom gunsmith several years ago. In the 1980's, while at our local gunshop, Shapel's, I met this man from Utah who was building five shot .45-70 sixguns by welding two Ruger frames together end-to-end to get the proper length for the rather long .45-70 cartridge, and then crafting five-shot cylinders for these elongated frames. Bill Wheeler has since succumbed to cancer and unless his partner, Neil Topping, is still building these guns, they are no more, however, this basic .45-70 is now being distributed by Magnum Research as the Biggest Finest Revolver (BFR).
Putting the .45-70 in a revolver is a real Catch-22 situation. To help tame recoil and give a true sixgun with a cylinder that holds six rounds requires enough mass to bring the weight up to six pounds as on the Century revolver. If one desires less weight and easier packin', the cylinder must be smaller as on the BFR .45-70 with its five-shot capacity and weight of four pounds, four and one-half ounces. This means that to gain portability one also gains more recoil. Recoil of the .45-70 Magnum Research BFR revolver is neither excessive nor punishing but it will get your attention and one best pay attention when shooting it especially with 300 grain bullets at more than 1,600 fps.
To aid in controlling recoil, the BFR .45-70 is fitted with rubber grips that fill in behind the square-backed trigger guard that is notorious as a knuckle buster for many shooters when found on the Super Blackhawk. Since it is supplied with Uncle Mike's Rubber grips I found it necessary to wear Uncle Mike's other product to help with recoil, shooting gloves, to keep the checkered rubber from gnawing on my palm and rubbing it raw or raising blisters. Checkering as found on these grips is a fine non-slip surface for a few shots or hunting in foul weather but not when firing a long string of test loads.
The BFR .45-70 is an all stainless steel, except for the sights, five-shot, 10" revolver that appears to me made of many parts that are also found on the Ruger Super Blackhawk. I would suspect that the castings for the BFR come from Pine Tree Castings, the same company that supplies Ruger, and at one time, Wesson Firearms, and Texas Longhorn Arms. The grip frame is definitely Ruger Super Blackhawk size and stag grips from my Ruger Super Blackhawk also fit the BFR perfectly. The alloy rear sight appears identical to the Ruger Super Blackhawk rear sight while the front sight is different in that it is ramp style with a face that is orange and the base of which is held on to the barrel with an Allen screw. The grip frame is also secured to the main frame with Allen screws.
Unlike the Super Blackhawk, the BFR .45-70 has a feature that is usually only found on custom single actions, namely, the cylinder will rotate either clockwise or counter clockwise when the loading gate is opened. This is always helpful on hard kickin' sixguns should a bullet jump the crimp, protrude from the case, and the mouth of the cylinder thus butting up against the back of the barrel keeping the cylinder from rotating forwards. With a free wheeling cylinder one simply rotates it backwards until the round in question comes in place to be removed with the ejector rod. The cylinder is the massive heart of this big revolver measuring 1.740" in diameter and 2.735" in length on my Hornady Digital Caliper. A Ruger Super Blackhawk comes in at 1.730" and 1.701" for the same measurements respectively. The heavy bull barrel of the BFR .45-70 measures 10" in length and is a straight .850" from frame to muzzle end while the Super Blackhawk tapers from .800" to .715" at the muzzle end.
This is a big revolver to be sure but not all that unwieldy. Its weight is only four ounces more than a Dan Wesson .44 Magnum with a 10" heavy barrel. It is packable and could easily be used for hunting. One can well imagine the penetration afforded on big game by a hard cast 500 grain bullet! Whatever the use it is pressed into, it will definitely draw crowds wherever shooters gather. The BFR in the .45-70 version is offered with either a 7 1/2" or 10" barrel, or the same long cylindered offering in .444 Marlin or .45 Colt/.410.
Magnum Research is also offering the newest sixgun big bore cartridge, the .500 S&W Magnum, in the BFR revolver. The basic platform of the .500 is the long cylindered .45-70 re-chambered and fitted with a 1:15 twist 10 ½” barrel, which is hand lapped with cut rifling. At the front we have a recessed crown, while at the back end of the barrel, barrel/cylinder gaps are held under .005”. The huge five-shot cylinder is also free-spinning, however with the .500 Magnum being much shorter than the .45-70, the bullet has a long way to travel through the cylinder throat, into the forcing cone and down the barrel. It certainly does not seem to affect the accuracy in any way.
The BFR .500 is constructed of stainless-steel, with a soft brush finish. The grip frame is fitted with wraparound rubber grips, which were once again much appreciated when firing full house loads. The BFR features a fully adjustable rear sight mated up with a ramp front sight, however I ordered the test gun with a 2X Leupold LER pistol scope on an SSK base. It was not at all that uncommon to have groups fired with the BFR .500 S&W Magnum be well under one inch at 25 yards. With the milder loads, and no anticipation of heavy recoil, some loads were in the one-half inch range.
The BFR is offered in two versions, the Short Cylinder chambered in .454 Casull and .480 Ruger/.475 Linebaugh, while the Long Cylinder is offered in .444 Marlin, .450 Marlin, .45-70, and a special .45 Colt that also accepts 3” .410 shotgun shells. My test BFR came in .480 Ruger/.475 Linebaugh with a 1 ¼-4X Burris mounted on an SSK T’SOB base, the most secure mounting system in the industry.
BFR revolvers are totally American-made with cut-rifled, hand-lapped, recessed muzzle crowned barrels; tight tolerances; soft brushed stainless steel finish; and normally equipped with an adjustable rear sight mated up with a front sight with interchangeable blades of differing heights. A full complement of .480 Ruger and .475 Linebaugh handloads as well as factory .475 Linebaugh loads from Buffalo Bore were fired through the BFR. It performed flawlessly with no malfunctions whatsoever and also proved to be superbly accurate. Six of the loads tested grouped four shots into 5/8 of an inch at 25 yards. That is excellent by anyone's standards.
In the early 1970s, United States Arms began production of the Abilene revolver, which was then turned over to Mossberg in the late 1970s where production continued until around 1983. A similar sixgun, the Seville continued to be manufactured by United States Arms. A stainless-steel version of the Seville was known as the El Dorado. The El Dorado preceded both the stainless steel Freedom Arms and the Ruger single actions.
A second split within the company saw United Sporting Arms of Arizona being formed. Whether in blue or stainless steel, the Arizona sixguns were all called Sevilles. They were offered in standard length cylinders chambered in such cartridges as .45 Colt, .44 Magnum, and .41 Magnum, while a stretched frame/cylinder version became very popular with long-range silhouette shooters when chambered in .357 or .375 Maximum. The Sevilles were capable of shooting loads with much higher velocities than either the Dan Wesson SuperMag or the Ruger Maximum. At one time I used a 10 1/2” United Sporting .375 Maximum/SuperMag for long-range silhouetting and found it to be exceptionally accurate and flat shooting. United Sporting Arms was quite innovative even offering the .41 and .44 SuperMags before Dan Wesson. The Sevilles disappeared for good in the late 1990s.
In the early 1980s, Elgin Gates, President of International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association (IHMSA) loaned me his personal .375 SuperMag and then when they set up shop in northern Idaho I ordered my own .375 which turned out to be consecutively numbered to Gates. In both cases they were exceptionally accurate shooting long-range sixguns and up to that point the fastest shooting revolvers for the long-range game. When I stopped shooting silhouettes, the .375 SuperMag was traded off for a much more practical, for me, a 7 1/2” 2nd Generation .357 Magnum New Frontier. I found a 4 3/4” .45 Colt New Frontier barrel, had the .357 cylinder tightly chambered to .45 Colt and I had a Personal Practical Perfect Packin’ Pistol.