By John Taffin
Today’s reloader has a nearly endless supply of jacketed and factory cast bullets available for reloading the .45 Colt. For standard loads using jacketed bullets Sierra offers the 240-gr. JHP, Hornady’s standard .45 Colt bullet is a 250-gr. XTP-JHP and Speer’s offering is a 260-gr. JHP. Although I’ve used all of these bullets at various times, as well as thousands of Oregon Trail’s 255-gr. SWC Laser Cast hard cast bullets, when I load large quantities of .45 Colt rounds (I prefer to have at least 500 pieces of brass before I start) I mostly go with cast bullets I produce myself.
The original conical bullet found in black powder .45 Colt loads is very close to the #454190 Lyman bullet, while 8.0-8.5 grains of Unique is pretty close to the original black powder loading. Elmer Keith (familiar with original loads) was way ahead of his time in developing every day working and hunting loads improving on those originals. His .45 Colt bullet is #454424 which was available for decades from Lyman. This is a 260-gr. bullet, depending upon the alloy used, and is still one of my favorites. It was designed for use in the Colt SAA, however I have individual Colts with cylinders slightly too short to use the Keith bullet when crimped in the crimping groove. For these exceptions it’s necessary to crimp over the front band, however due to the decreased powder space charges should be decreased accordingly.
Another problem arising with #454424 has been addressed by Lyman. Unfortunately they did it by dropping #454424 and replacing it with #452424. The original bullet was designed to fit Colt cylinders which often have throats of 0.454″ or even larger. Then Ruger’s .45 Blackhawk came along with much tighter chamber throats and when the original Keith bullet was sized down to fit the Ruger cylinder the crimping groove would often come close to disappearing. The newer version drops bullets at a smaller diameter to be easily sized to fit the Ruger cylinders, however they are often too small already to be sized to custom fit Colt chambers.
RCBS’ #45-201 for the .45 ACP and Lyman #452423
in solid and HP form for the .45 Auto Rim.
.45 Colt Keith bullets: Lyman #454424 (264 gr.), RCBS #450255KT (258 gr.),
RCBS #45-270SWC (284 gr.). Weights in parenthesis are as-cast from wheelweights.
Improving the Keith Bullet
Keith’s #454424 was an excellent bullet, however it has been improved by Dave Scovill and is offered by RCBS as #45-270SAA. This is definitely my favorite bullet for use in .45 Colt sixguns. It follows Keith’s original idea of three equally sized driving bands. This bullet runs around 280-285 grains when cast, while at the same time having a slightly shorter nose than the original Keith design so it will fit in all Colt cylinders.
When loaded in the Colt Single Action at around 900 fps it’s a powerful everyday working load. This same bullet can be loaded to much higher velocity in Ruger’s single action and double action sixguns. RCBS also offers an excellent bullet of standard weight with their #45-255KT. This standard weight Keith bullet does not have the problems associated with the original Keith bullet.
With the coming of Ruger’s Blackhawk chambered in .45 Colt in the early 1970’s we finally had a sixgun able to tap the potential of the .45 Colt. We were soon shooting 300-gr. bullets at 1,200 fps from a 71/2″ Ruger. We had to size down 300-gr. .45–70 bullets in several stages, going from around 0.460″ to 0.452″ to get that weight. It did not take long for manufacturers to offer heavier bullets, and two of the best came from NEI. Both of these are plain base Keith-style bullets and their numbers are #310.451 and #325.454, with the first three digits giving the approximate bullet weight. These can be driven to a full 1,200 fps in the Ruger Blackhawk.
It’s obvious here why one of John’s favorite .45 Colt bullets is the RCBS
#45-270 SAA. Sixguns are Ruger’s New Vaquero and S&W HEG (Hand Ejector).
Bullet designer Ray Thompson’s #452490GC was originally made for the .45 Auto Rim for use in the S&W 1950 Target. I use the Thompson design, which weighs around 255 grains, for heavy duty loads approaching the realm of the .44 Magnum in the Ruger .45 Blackhawk. At 1,400 fps it’s an excellent hunting bullet.
My most-used bullet for the .45 ACP actually comes from three sources and I’ve been unable to determine any accuracy difference between the three bullets. They are the H&G #68, the RCBS #45-201 and the Oregon Trail 200SWC. Col. Cooper’s favorite load for the .45 ACP was this bullet over 7.5 grains of Unique. I cut it to 7.0 grains and it works fine for me.