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Slow & Easy

Slow & Easy
An Old Guy’s Fun Guns.

What sort of handguns do gun’riters shoot for their own enjoyment when they become senior citizens? I can’t speak for the other guys like Taffin or Clint Smith, but at this point in my life I like them slow and easy. That means slow as in low muzzle velocities regardless of caliber or bullet weight, and easy — as in recoil that doesn’t hurt my poor old arthritic hands.

Somebody has to be thinking, “And this is from a guy whose last article in these pages was about .357 Magnums!” That’s right, I can reminisce about the days of youth when I actually packed magnum sixguns about the hills of Montana. In truth I do still have a couple of magnum sixguns. They are just not shot for personal enjoyment.

The guns I shoot for fun nowadays are medium to big bores, just not medium to big bores using big cases. They’re handguns chambered for little-bitty cases such as .44 S&W Russian, .45 S&W Schofield on the big end, to .38 Long Colt on the small size. Case lengths for those run from .97 (.44 Russian) to 1.10″ (.45 S&W). Factory velocities run from about 730 fps with .45 S&W to about 750 fps with the .44 Russian.

It doesn’t take a sky-high IQ to suspect I’m talking about revolvers here. I do shoot more semi-autos now than ever before, but that’s another story. All these “slow and easy” shooters are Old West types, single actions, with one being even a top break. All have fixed sights, which may sound like a conundrum seeing as how I’m shooting them more now because of aging, which includes my eyes. I confess I wear special glasses made to focus on handgun sights.

Duke’s “slow & easy” fun guns are these three single actions.
From front to rear: Colt Model 1861 Conversion to .38 Long Colt, Navy
Arms replica of S&W 3rd Model .44 Russian and a Colt SAA .45.

Ancient Iron

Here’s a bit of irony. I like the above revolver cartridges for recreational shooting because they’re “slow and easy” but every one of these served major military organizations in their day. The US Army used both .38 Colt and .45 S&W, and of course the .44 S&W Russian is named after its developers.

Something else easily discernible is all the above cartridges are more or less ancient, as in originally developed with black powder. Not so with the revolvers I shoot them in. Actually at one time I owned all of Smith & Wesson’s #3 sixguns, but since all were produced in the black-powder era I felt them too fragile and too valuable for smokeless shooting. They were sold, but I’ve kept the Navy Arms/Uberti replica of S&W’s 3rd Model .44 Russian. It’s a joy to shoot despite its almost non-existent rear sight, and it’s perfectly safe with modern ammo.

It’s a little known fact although the US Army adopted Colt’s .45 Single Action Army for cavalry service in 1873, for many years they only issued shorter .45 S&W “Schofield” ammo for them. Since I’m no great fan of the .45 Colt’s huge case capacity when using small dollops of smokeless powders, I mostly shoot .45 S&W loads in mine — especially those meant to replicate the enormously expensive actual US marked, 7½” Colt SAAs.

One of my favorite “slow and easy” revolvers is a cartridge conversion of the Colt 1851 Navy cap-and-ball sixgun. They were put together by Colt in the 1870s once metallic cartridges became the norm. The company mated leftover parts with new cylinders. I had a gunsmith (no longer doing it) convert one of the excellent 2nd Generation, ’51 Navy .36s to .38 Long Colt about 15 years back. Talk about a sweet shooting, low noise, light recoiling Old West sixgun! The only wart on it is in an effort to duplicate the originals of the 1870s I had him leave its bore at .375″ groove diameter. Hence it requires pure lead, hollowbase bullets in order for .357″ projectiles to swell up enough to grip rifling. They’re so slow to cast.

Duke’s Navy Arms replica 3rd Model .44 Russian shot high with normal 240- to 250-gr.
.44 bullets so he had this Hoch four cavity mould made to drop 200-gr. .44 roundnose bullets.

Finding “Easy” Ammo

Factory ammo for all the “slow and easy” rounds is available, although perhaps not sitting on every gun stores’ shelves — especially right now. Black Hills makes .44 Russian, .45 S&W “Schofield” and .38 Long Colt, although the latter has solid base bullets, not hollowbase, so they don’t do me any good with my .38 Conversion.

To perfectly duplicate original ballistics of these three “slow and easy” cartridges I prefer my own handloads. Loading them is a no-brainer. All these rounds have straight-sided cases so carbide type resizing dies are available. At 700 to 750 fps velocities only lead alloy bullets should be used — jacketed ones likely would stick in barrels at such slow speeds. The following are my handloading details.

.38 Long Colt

Things are just a bit complicated here because of the hollowbase issue. My 150-gr., .358″ hollowbase bullet design is cast of pure lead in a mould by the now defunct Rapine Bullet Mould Company. I know of no other outfit making a suitable hollowbase .38 cast bullet mould. Old Lyman hollowbase .38 moulds can be found on the Internet with a little searching though. Loaded over 3.0 grs. of Bullseye in Starline brass, the 150-gr. hollowbase shoots nicely from my Colt 1861 Conversion’s 7½” barrel and just barely breaks 700 fps.

That’s not all. When feeling especially energetic about gun cleaning I’ll sometimes shoot this sixgun as it was used in the 1870s — with black powder. A charge of 17 grs. Goex FFg with the Rapine bullet gives 750 fps.

A long time student of the Plains Indian Wars, Duke has gathered up these .45 Colt revolvers,
facsimiles of those issued to the US Cavalry during that time. From left to right are two
Colt 1873-1973 Peacemaker Centennial .45s and at right is a USFA Custer Battlefield .45.

.44 S&W Russian

Although early black powder .44 Russian loads used bullets from 255 to 275 grs., most smokeless powder factory loads carried the same 246-gr., .429″ roundnose bullet that made the later .44 Special famous. Any lead alloy .429/.430″ bullet of any shape will suffice for modern .44 Russian loading, but my Navy Arms 3rd Model .44 Russian shoots just a bit high with 240- to 250-gr. bullets. So along the way I had Colorado Shooter’s Supply produce one of their fine quality four cavity bullet moulds for a 200-gr., .430″ roundnose. An hour’s work with that mould results in several hundred bullets that, loaded over 3.7 grs. of Bullseye, give about 715 fps and impact on target right at point-of-aim. On those days when wanting to experience shooting as done in the 1870s, black powder is burned. Modern brass won’t hold as much powder as old cases, but a charge of 17.0 grs. of Swiss FFFg will break 750 fps with the 200-gr. bullet.

Duke enveloped by a cloud of black powder smoke produced by a single
.44 Russian round fired in the Navy Arms 3rd Model .44 Russian.

.45 S&W Schofield

Original US military .45 S&W loads were rated at 725 fps with 230-gr. bullets powered by 28 grs. of black powder. That can be duplicated by putting similar weight bullets over 4.4 grs. of Titegroup in Starline brass. When casting my own bullets RCBS mould #45-230CM is used. It drops a 233-gr. RN/FP bullet of 1-20 tin to lead alloy and those can be sized either .452″ or .454″ to fit different revolver cylinders. Velocity from the 7½” barrel of my USFA Custer Battlefield .45 or my two 7½”-barreled Colt .45s is about 730 fps. To experience the buck and roar provided by black powder, modern Starline brass will hold 27 grs. of Goex FFg. Coupled with the 233-gr. RCBS bullet, it hits about 735 fps.

My “slow and easy” shooting is nothing formal. Just plinking steel or punching paper targets for the sheer joy of shooting quality handguns, with no great demands on performance — or stress on myself. It’s a great afternoon pastime when the word-processor gets boring!

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By Mike “Duke” Venturino

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