The Sixgunner: .45 Colt Double Action Sixguns

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S&W recently revived the Classic .45 Colt; leather is by Al Goerg.

I am going to take advantage of my advancing years looking at my favorite sixguns; this will definitely not be objective but rather entirely subjective. Choosing favorites is not always easy. Sometimes I can pick one favorite; other times it will be several. With this in mind, we herein look at Taffin’s Top .45 Colt DA sixguns.

S&W’s Heritage Model .45 Colt compared to the Classic Model .45 Colt.

Colt’s First

Colt not only offered the first .45 Colt sixgun with the Single Action Army in 1873, but they also followed five years later with the .45 Colt Model 1878 Double Action. The latter is basically an SAA fitted with a DA mechanism and a different grip. The Model 1878 loads and unloads the same way as the SAA, that is, with a loading gate and an ejector rod, however, the grip frame was designed along the lines of the Lightning .38 and Thunderer .41 to keep it from rolling in the hand as the SA grip was designed to do.

For fast work with a DA, one needs a grip that will stay in the same hand position from shot to shot. Shooters who felt they needed to shoot faster without having to cock the hammer bypassed the SA for the Model 1878. They were used by the military, especially by officers in the Philippines and Alaska, and they were often fitted with a larger than normal trigger guard to allow use with a gloved hand.

Approximately 20 years after the introduction of the Model 1878, Colt brought forth their first swing-out cylindered DA .45 Colt with the New Service. This was a large-framed sixgun with the grip frame made for those with large hands. For many years, the .45 Colt New Service was a standard sidearm of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and some U.S. government agencies. In 1940, the New Service suffered the same fate as the SAA when it was dropped from production. Unlike the SAA, it has never returned — a tremendous loss for sixgunners.

The S&W 83/8" Model 25-5 is great for long-distance shooting.

Fitz Not to Be

Several years ago, I picked up a late-model .45 Colt New Service with the standard 51/2″ barrel. It has some real pitting on one side of the frame and cylinder, so I was able to acquire it for a good price. My thought at the time was to use it to make a Fitz Special. Fitz used all sizes of Colt DAs for his modifications; however, he preferred the .45 Colt New Service. When I visited Col. Rex Applegate in his home/museum, he had a very special .45 Fitz Special New Service engraved “To Rex From Fitz.” I wanted one just like it.

To make his Special, Fitz shortened the barrel, dehorned the hammer, made the grip frame smaller, and cut out the front of the trigger guard. Before sending off the .45 Colt New Service to Andy Horvath to be made into a Fitz Special, I made the mistake of shooting it. It shot so well I decided to look for another candidate which turned out to be a .44 Special, so I still don’t have a .45 Colt Fitz.

Colt’s premier DA .45 was the Anaconda; stocks are by BearHug.

Anaconda

Colt never did return the New Service to production, however, when the decision was finally made in the early 1990s to build a .44 Magnum, they also chambered the same sixgun in .45 Colt. The Anaconda is the largest, and probably the best, .45 Colt DA ever produced by Colt. It is all stainless-steel construction. Mine has a 6″ barrel, and some were also made with 4 and 8″ barrels, however, they are very rare.

The Anaconda easily handles standard .45 Colt loads as well as my Heavy Duty .45 Colt loads consisting of a 300-grain bullet at 1,200 fps.

Two favored .45 S&Ws carry in classic Berns-Martin holsters; stainless s
teel Mountain Gun and Model 25-5. Grips are by BluMagnum.

Smith Swings Out

When S&W introduced their first large-framed, swing-out cylindered sixgun in late 1907, it was chambered in the new .44 Special. During the eight years this First Model Hand Ejector, or Triple-Lock was manufactured, very few were chambered in .45 Colt and are quite valuable collectors’ items today. The same can be said of the Second Model Hand Ejector, which lasted from 1915 to 1941. I don’t believe the Third Model, or 1926 Model, was ever offered in .45 Colt.

In 1950, S&W introduced the 1950 Target in both .44 Special and .45 ACP, with again a very small number being made in .45 Colt. In 1955, S&W upgraded their .45 ACP Target Model by adding a heavy ball barrel, target hammer and trigger, and target stocks. This became the Model 25 in 1957 and then in 1978 was offered as the Model 25-5 chambered in .45 Colt and three standard barrel lengths of 4, 6 and 83/8″. I could get along quite well with the 4″ Model 25-5 as a self-defense sixgun, and I thoroughly enjoy shooting long-range with the 83/8″ .45 Colt. S&W was not always careful with the chamber throats on their .45 Colt, and they can be found as large as 0.455–0.456″ in diameter.

Over the years S&W has offered several heavy underlugged barreled .45 Colts and their stainless-steel Model 625 5″ is as fine a shooting DA .45 Colt as can be found. However, for self-defense use it is somewhat heavy and bulky. S&W addressed this by coming up with the 4″ .45 Colt Mountain Gun with a tapered barrel. This makes it much lighter than the original 4″ Model 25-5. It would be my first choice as a self-defense .45 Colt DA sixgun. Colt has also resurrected the 1950 Target as the Classic .45 Colt, and it is an excellent shooting sixgun. Even before the Classic, S&W made a series of Heritage Revolvers, and one of these was in .45 Colt with a tapered barrel, enclosed ejector rod, and gold bead front sight. It may not be called the Classic, but it is sure a classic-looking revolver.

The Dan Wesson .45 Colt was built on a much larger frame than their .357 Magnum.

Dan Wesson

Once Dan Wesson brought their .44 Magnum to market, they soon began to offer it in other chamberings. The frame and cylinder were stretched to house the .357, .375, .414 and .445 SuperMags, however, they also used it in the standard version for the .41 Magnum, and thankfully, the .45 Colt.

Dan Wesson sixguns were known for two things, beautiful, high polished bright blue finishes and superb accuracy. The .45 Colt 8″ Heavy Barrel Dan Wesson is definitely a superbly accurate sixgun and weighing in right at 4 lbs. handles 300-grain bullets at 1,200 fps with no punishing felt recoil to the shooter. I purchased mine more than 20 years ago when I was deeply involved in long-range silhouetting. It has now been fitted with custom stocks by Rod Herrett and is simply a pure joy to shoot.

Ruger’s first big bore DA was the .44 Magnum Redhawk, top,
however it was soon followed by the .45 Colt version.

Ruger

With the coming of the .44 Magnum Ruger Redhawk in the 1980s, it was only natural it would soon be offered in .45 Colt. The Redhawk is probably a stronger DA .45 Colt than the Dan Wesson, however, being lighter and harder to stock with a good comfortable grip for my hands, it does not handle felt recoil as well as the Dan Wesson. Ruger just recently brought out a 4″ stainless steel Redhawk in .45 Colt which is fitted with pebble-grained, finger-grooved, recoil-reducing grips which make shooting any heavy .45 Colt load quite tolerable. With a cylinder longer than the Ruger .45 Colt Blackhawk, it will handle heavier and longer bullets.

When it comes to DA .45 Colt sixguns, I am mostly partial to 4″ sixguns. For everyday packing and self-defense use my hands-down favorite is the S&W stainless steel Mountain Gun; however, if I’m going to do a lot of shooting or use heavier than standard loads, I would go with the 4″ S&W Model 25-5. If I ever found myself, which at my age isn’t very likely, being outside in all kinds of weather and rough terrain, again, the choice would be easy. I would reach for the 4″ Ruger Redhawk.

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