Tom Lounsbury: In search of the ultimate hunting revolver                    

Although I dearly love all hunting avenues and the various hunting arms used, I must admit that hunting with a handgun has truly become my favorite passion. That is why a dozen years ago, I decided to finally take the plunge and invest in a dream I had harbored for some time. Some hunters, when they reach a certain point in their life (such as when the last of three kids is finally through college) might decide to finally buy that long-thought-of (and probably expensive) bow, rifle or shotgun.

For me, of course, that desired item would have to be what I personally consider the ultimate hunting revolver.

The person who most influenced my deep affection for handgun hunting was the late Larry Kelly, founder of Mag-Na-Port International, a Michigan-based business in Harrison Township, near Mount Clemens. Larry (who passed away in December 2010) developed the process for porting the muzzles of firearms to tame recoil, and created many customizing features to further enhance performance and handling characteristics. (For instance, the snub-nosed magnum revolvers being manufactured today that are designed for a fisherman’s or hiker’s last-ditch protection from big bears, were originally created and customized by Mag-Na-Port.)

Larry Kelly actually began handgun hunting not long after he was married. His passion at the time was pursuing local cottontails with beagles, and he had already switched from a shotgun to a .22 rifle to add more challenge to the hunt when his wife presented him with a gift, a .22 H&R nine-shot revolver. From then on, there was no looking back for Larry.

When Ruger first came out with its .44 Magnum Black Hawk (single-action) revolver, Larry bought one right away, although at that time he had to do so on the layaway plan, as money was short. The first big-game animal he took with a handgun was a four-point whitetail buck taken near Pinconning using the Ruger revolver. This Ruger revolver would also play a major role in the Mag-Na-Port legacy, as it was the first firearm to be ported after Larry had experimented with the special EDM process on some military-surplus rifle barrels.

To promote his new business, Larry began using his passion for handgun hunting to pursue big-game animals all over the world. I can remember seeing Mag-Na-Port ads (as well as articles by Larry) in outdoor publications which had photos of him posing next to everything from big bears to even elephants, holding only a handgun.

It was over 35 years ago when I contacted Larry to interview him for my weekly newspaper column. It was then that I got to hold and admire a newly developed hunting revolver he had recently used quite successfully on some African safaris to shoot not only Cape buffalo, but lions and even elephants as well. (Larry killed a male lion that was charging at close range, hitting the lion in the chest when it was in midair and not only stopping its forward momentum but knocking over it backwards.)

This revolver was the Freedom Arms .454 Casull revolver (first manufactured in 1983), which at that time was the only firearm being made for that particular (new) cartridge, making it the most powerful revolver in the world, for a while, anyway. Constructed of stainless steel, it is of the Colt-type single-action design and has a five-shot cylinder, instead of the typical six-shot cylinder, to assist its stout nature for handling heavy loads designed for hunting.

Larry Kelly considered the Freedom Arms .454 Casull the finest revolver ever made (he literally staked his life on it), and I must concur.

However, at that time, our house was under continual construction, and my wife Ginny and I had three young sons for whom we had already begun saving funds for college, so the Freedom Arms revolver was a tad out of my reach, even on the layaway plan.

So, I went with what I had: a new model Ruger Black Hawk revolver in the venerable .45 Colt (which I had purchased in 1974 – we’ve been together awhile).

Mag-Na-Port has two custom designs for hunting revolvers: the “Predator,” which is a shorter-barrel (usually just under five inches) version with open sights, and the “Stalker,” which features a longer barrel (usually over eight inches) and is topped with a handgun scope. The custom features include a trigger with a three-pound pull (no creep), a crowned muzzle (to improve accuracy when the bullet exits), and porting to control recoil.

I selected the Predator customization for my Ruger revolver, but had the barrel left to its original 7 ½ inches because I always liked its balance and feel, and I believe that is a good barrel length for milking out the best in my .45 Colt hand-loads.

The person doing the work on the handgun was Larry Kelly’s son, Ken, who now heads the business and was also the 2007 Pistolsmith of the year. When it comes to customizing handguns (and all other firearms), Ken is a true artist. (He actually started helping his dad at the age of 12 and  has certainly earned his spurs working from the ground on up.)

I’ve never regretted having my Ruger revolver Mag-Na-Port customized, I’ve taken my share of local whitetails with it, and it will always remain a favorite handgun of mine. But I must admit that I never got over being smitten with Larry Kelly’s Freedom Arms .454 Casull that he had customized into a Mag-Na-Port “Stalker.” I just had to have one, is all I can say. The key would be convincing my wife that it was all a “business expense."

When you make decisions like this, you need to start early and not wait until a couple weeks before the opening day of deer season. I’ve always said that all firearms require a dating period, so to speak, before the marriage in order to know them well. It is good I followed my own advice because I discovered Freedom Arms revolvers don’t grow on trees, even at the factory in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming. I had to wait nine weeks for mine to be built.

Then it was off to Ken Kelly to get the Mag-Na-Port Stalker conversion. I had also ordered a 2X Leupold handgun scope (which Larry Kelly swore by) and had it ready and waiting when the work began.

I stuck with the original 10-inch barrel, not only for optimum performance, but also because it felt just right in my hand. I also ordered the revolver  with the smooth black micarta grips, not only because it looks nice with stainless steel, but also because single-action revolvers are designed to literally rock in the palm of your hand during recoil, which is a distinct asset, in my opinion.

Needless to say, I was like a kid on Christmas morning when I traveled to the Mag-Na-Port facility to fetch my completed “ultimate hunting revolver." And there was plenty of time left for the dating process before the marriage, so to speak, until the next local deer season arrived.

My ultimate hunting revolver continually serves me quite well for local whitetails, and it is a favorite firearm for Michigan black bear hunting. The .454 Casull round also comes in a wide variety of bullet selections for every hunting application you can think of, and it is truly a powerhouse.

The worldwide hunting feats and adventures performed by Larry Kelly using his trusty Mag-Na-Port “Stalker” revolver for bagging an amazing variety of big-game (including dangerous game) animals certainly say it all. 

Email Tom Lounsbury at tlounsburyoutdoors@gmail.com