Part 2: Sixguns
March/April 2009 Handloading Column
Today’s crop of .45 ACP semiautos are exceptionally dependable, definitely accurate, and certainly make one of the best, if not the best, option for self-defense use and concealed carry. However, revolvers chambered for the .45 ACP will take the heaviest possible loads, and not only is this still true, they are also much more versatile than autos. For self-defense use, a good quality .45 semiauto is certainly to be desired much more so than a single action sixgun, even by this confirmed single action sixgunner. However, when it comes to a DA revolver the choice is not so simple. The auto definitely conceals easier, however a seasoned hand with a .45 ACP sixgun using full moon clips can put out an awful lot of lead very quickly.
When it comes to target shooting, examples can be found of all three .45 ACPs — semiautos, single actions and double action revolvers — which can outshoot the best of shooters. And if you think the single action sixgun should be left out of such select company then you have probably never shot a Freedom Arms Model 97 chambered in .45 Colt but fitted with a .45 ACP cylinder. I would place it up against the finest target .45 ACP semiauto ever made and expect at least a tie, but more likely in this case the sixgun would win.
Early in my marriage, I bought a Ruger Blackhawk in .45 Colt. What a great sixgun that Ruger was — and is. When I bought it I was so excited I did not notice the little red bag in the factory box. When I got home I discovered an auxiliary .45 ACP cylinder in the box, and distinctly remember my first thought was what in the world am I going to do with this? At the time, in the early 1970s, my wife, the kids, and I often drove up into the foothills to shoot. In a weak moment I pulled out a box of military .45 ACP hardball ammunition, slipped the .45 ACP cylinder into the Blackhawk, and shooting offhand watched a one-hole group form at 25 yards. My attitude about .45 ACP sixguns changed immediately and dramatically.
Shooting the Smith & Wesson .45 ACP Model of 1988.
In The Beginning
The concept of the .45 ACP revolver goes all the way back to World War I when S&W and Colt adapted the .45 ACP cartridge to their big DA revolvers. An engineer at S&W came up with the idea of the half-moon clip which held three cartridges and two of these loaded clips could be placed in the .45 ACP cylinder, fired and then easily ejected all at once.
With today’s .45 ACP sixguns we have several choices. Single actions are loaded in the traditional way and extracted with the ejector rod. With DA revolvers we can go with no clips, at least with some revolvers, one-third, half-, or full- moon clips. For using clips two accessory items are just about indispensable, a mooner for easily loading cartridges into clips and a de-mooner for removing fired brass from the clips. They save a lot of wear and tear on fingers.
Today, in addition to .45 Colt single action sixguns with extra cylinders available from Colt, Freedom Arms, Ruger and USFA, S&W offers a varied line of Model 625 stainless steel heavy underlug-barreled .45 ACP revolvers as well as the 4″ fixed-sighted and blued Model 22. With full moon clips and using bullets with no sharp edges such as 230 grain round-nosed or flat-nosed bullets, whether jacketed or cast, reloading the cylinder is exceptionally fast, especially with practice.
I haven’t said much about actual reloading of .45 ACP cartridges for sixguns. For revolver use, cartridges can be loaded the same as if they were going to be used in semiautos, or if clips are used they can be crimped the same as any other sixgun cartridge. I do load .45 ACPs destined for sixgun use, only heavier than for semi-automatics; some of these loads are found in the accompanying chart and MUST NOT BE USED in .45 ACP autos as they will surely batter the slide into submission in short order.
The same warning is also true for any military surplus Model 1917s — they are to be used only with standard loads. Two final pluses for the .45 ACP sixgun are the use of light loads and shorter or longer than normal loads. Loads too light to work the slide on a semiauto work just fine in a sixgun cylinder, and loads can also be assembled longer than a magazine will accept and shorter than they will feed reliably from that same magazine. Long live the .45 ACP sixgun.
Cast bullets offered by Oregon Trail include the 200 grain Semi-Wadcutter patterned
after the Hensley & Gibbs #68, a 225 grain Flat-Nose, and a 230 grain Round-Nose.
Any bullet shape such as a lead Semi-Wadcutter, Jacketed Hollow Point,
or round-nosed Full Metal Jacket can be used in a revolver, however all
will not be equal when it comes to reloading speed.
Older WWI era .45 ACP sixguns perform well however they
should be used with standard level loads only.
To clip or not to clip? Top targets were shot with .45 ACP rounds
loaded in full-moon clips; bottom targets without using clips.
Essential items if one is going to shoot a lot of .45 ACP rounds in
sixguns include a full-moon loader and also a de-mooner.
Notice the difference in size of the cylinders and also how deep the .45 ACP loads
seat in the Colt New Frontier, Ruger Blackhawk, Freedom Arms Models 83 and 97.
Test-Fire: S&W .45 ACP Model of 188×5″
.45 ACP Handloaded Ammo Performance
|Bullet||Brass||Powder||Charge (grs.)||Velocity (fps)||Group Size (inch)|
|Oregon Trail 200 LSWC||Military||WW452||6.0||1,028||1-7/8|
|Oregon Trail 200 LSWC||Military||WW231||6.0||947||1-1/2|
|Oregon Trail 200 LSWC||Midway||Bullseye||5.0||874||1-1/8|
|Oregon Trail 200 LSWC||Military||Unique||7.0||1,081||1-1/2|
|Oregon Trail 200 LSWC||Federal||Red Dot||5.0||889||1-7/8|
|Oregon Trail 200 LSWC||Hornady||Green Dot||5.0||849||1-7/8|
|Oregon Trail 200 LSWC||Winchester||AA#5||9.0||1,039||1|
|Oregon Trail 200 LRN||Midway||WW231||5.5||955||1-1/2|
|Oregon Trail 200 LRN||Federal||Bullseye||3.5||679||1-1/2|
|Oregon Trail 200 LRN||Winchester||Bullseye||4.5||735||1-3/8|
|Oregon Trail 225 LFN||Federal||Red Dot||5.0||906||1-7/8|
|Oregon Trail 225 LFN||Winchester||Green Dot||5.0||855||1-1/4|
|Oregon Trail 225 LFN||Winchester||AA#5||8.0||830||1-1/8|
|Oregon Trail 230 LRN||Winchester||WW231||6.0||867||1-1/2|
|Oregon Trail 230 LRN||Midway||Unique||6.5||889||1-5/8|
|Hornady 185 JHP||Winchester||Unique||8.5||1,099||1-3/4|
|Hornady 230 XTP||Starline||Power Pistol||7.0||887||1-1/4|
|Sierra 185 JHC||Winchester||Unique||8.5||1,172||7/8|
|Sierra 230 FMJ||Starline||Red Dot||5.0||825||3/4|
|Sierra 230 FMJ||Starline||Power Pistol||7.0||870||1-3/8|
|Speer 185 Gold Dot HP||Midway||Action Pistol||8.9||866||1-1/8|
|Speer 200 JHP||Remington||Power Pistol||8.0||1,021||2|
|Speer 200 Gold DotHP||Federal||Unique||7.0||895||1|
|Speer 230 Gold Dot HP||Midway||Action Pistol||6.2||618||1|
THE FOLLOWING LOADS ARE ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY FOR USE
ONLY IN MODERN LARGE FRAME SIXGUNS IN EXCELLENT CONDITION!
|Bullet||Brass||Powder||Charge (gr.)||Velocity (fps)||Group Size|
|Oregon Trail 200 LSWC||Federal||Red Dot||6.0||1,069||1-3/4|
|Oregon Trail 200 LSWC||Hornady||Green Dot||6.0||1,049||1-3/4|
|Oregon Trail 225 LFN||Federal||Red Dot||6.0||1,006||1-3/4|
|Oregon Trail 225 LFN||Winchester||Green Dot||6.0||901||1-3/8|
|Sierra 230 FMJ||Starline||Red Dot||6.0||1,025||1|
Notes: Groups the product of 5 Shots at 20 yards. Chronograph screens set at 10’ from muzzle. CCI #300 primers used in listed brass.