Shooting For The Moon

The Ins And Outs Of Wheelgun Clips And Rims

Smith & Wesson produced this Model 22 .45 ACP as the Thunder Ranch Special circa 2005.
Note half-moon clips, full-moon clips and .45 Auto-Rims in speed loader

Whoever at Smith & Wesson was responsible for inventing the little pieces of spring steel commonly called “half-moon clips” should have received recognition. This was prior to the United States’ entry into World War I in 1917. Those simple devices made it possible for rimless .45 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) cartridges to serve in revolvers. In turn both Smith & Wesson and Colt converted their large-frame sixguns to supplement the US Army’s handgun supply during the war’s armament emergency.

In a move nigh on unique in American military firearms history, both companies’ .45 ACP revolvers were designated US Model 1917, notwithstanding the fact no two parts were interchangeable between them. Colt’s version was based on their New Service handgun introduced in 1899. Smith & Wesson’s was their large N-Frame, Hand Ejector, 2nd Model revised from the 1st Model only two years prior. Between 1917 and 1919 when the government cancelled orders, the two entities collectively produced over 300,000 Model 1917’s.

Duke loading S&W Model 22 .45 ACP with .45 Auto-Rim loads using speed loader.

During World War I, the US Army issued .45 ACP cartridges already loaded in half-moon clips designed specifically for Model 1917 revolvers.

Back To The Future

As additional proof the idea of a .45 ACP revolver was a good one, note the fact Colt kept the caliber as an option until New Service production ceased in 1944. Smith & Wesson sold Model 1917’s commercially until it was revised as the Model 1950 Military. At the same time a target-sighted Model 1950 was also added and five years later a heavier barreled version named Model 1955 Target was introduced. These 1950s-vintage .45 ACP Smith & Wessons became the Models 22, 26 and 25, in the same order. Except for Model 25’s which lasted until 1991, the others were dropped in the 1960s.

There is more. Early in this century Smith & Wesson returned to the .45 ACP revolver concept with a variety of Model 22’s, among them a 4" Thunder Ranch Special and a 51/2"-barreled copy of the Model 1917. At this point I’m stopping because I can say here every one of the above mentioned .45 Auto revolvers have passed through my hands at one time or the other. Several are still here.

The only thing needed to handload the .45 Auto-Rim with .45 ACP dies is the proper shell-holder.

Fly In The Ointment

Now allow me to reverse myself. Although I applaud the idea of “half-moon” clips they are seldom used in my .45 Auto revolvers. This is because the little buggers are darn hard to load and unload with my arthritic senior-citizen hands. This isn’t a big criticism of the original idea. After all the military wasn’t worried about saving brass; only about getting revolvers to function with rimless ammunition. The clips were there to serve as a pseudo rim.

Therefore, I also applaud some unrecognized geniuses who were part of the Peters Cartridge Company circa 1921. American gun buyers evidently thought highly of .45 Auto revolvers but complained about half-moon clips being a nuisance. Bright thinking at Peters resulted in putting a thick rim on .45 ACP cases. They named it .45 Auto-Rim and it was and is a hum-dinger!

In my considered opinion, the .45 Auto-Rim is the best non-magnum big-bore revolver cartridge. Its ballistics can easily duplicate standard .45 Colt factory loads. If you already handload .45 ACP’s all that’s required for the .45 Auto-Rim is the proper shell holder. Also, it has been written much in the past that .45 ACP revolver barrels were cut with shallow rifling, therefore they perform best with jacketed bullets instead of lead alloy types. Not so. Take note my sample groups shown with this article.

And now it’s time to return to clips. Brass for .45 Auto-Rim isn’t uncommon; Starline sells it in bulk. But it’s certainly not as common as .45 ACP brass. So naturally this makes many shooters favor cheaper .45 ACP cases. This brings us to full-moon clips as sold by Ranch Products. Instead of 3 rounds, full-moon clips hold 6, in effect becoming speed loaders. Upon first trying full-moon clips I again complained about my fingers having trouble pulling empty cases out. Then I became aware of a small, wrench-like, Ranch Products tool that snaps those empties out with little effort.

Duke fired this 10-shot group from a machine rest with lead alloy bullets from this S&W Model 25 .45 ACP.

Duke fired this group from his S&W Model 22 .45 ACP revolver using Remington .45 Auto-Rim factory loads with very soft bullets.

Hold Those Horses

It has often been written clips or rimmed cases aren’t needed for .45 ACP revolvers. Rimless cases can work fine because headspacing is done by the case mouth on the chamber edge. Then you just use a rod to punch out empties. Most revolvers will work this way most of the time. The problem is this: A revolver’s hammer blow can be cushioned by driving the case deeper into the chamber. With clips and rims, all .45 ACP revolvers will fire all of the time.

Revolvers for .45 ACP were a great idea. They still are. Evidence of their popularity is the fact they have been made to the tune of several hundred thousand over a 100-year period. So, if you want to get on the bandwagon, just make sure you understand their strengths, their weaknesses, and how best to use them. Oh, and be sure to have fun as well!

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