Sensible Heavy-Bullet Sixgun Loads

By John Taffin

Standard bullet weights for the .38/357 are normally around 158 grains; for the .44 Special/.44 Magnum, 240–250 grains and in the .45 Colt regular weight bullets usually run around 250–260 grains. To increase velocity significantly we normally go to lighter bullets, and to increase penetration — and even accuracy — heavier bullets usually do the job. When Ruger brought out the .45 Colt Blackhawk 40 years ago it didn’t take us long to find we had a .45 Colt sixgun that could handle 300-gr. bullets easily at 1,200 fps. At that time there were no heavy .45 Colt bullets available so we did the next best thing — sized 300-grain .45-70 bullets, which normally run about 0.458″ in diameter, down to 0.452″ for use in the Ruger.

NEI #358.200GC in an original Ruger .357 Flat-Top Blackhawk. Consistently accurate!

.357 Magnum

The heavyweight bullet used in the early days of silhouetting was the RCBS #35-200FNGC which was originally designed for use in the .35 Remington. Lyman came up with a better choice for use in .357 Magnum brass by simply taking the long standard Elmer Keith 168-gr. SWC and adding a longer body with a gas check. This is bullet #358627 and weighs right at 210 grains. In the 71/2″ Colt New Frontier loaded over 13 grains of H110 it results in a muzzle velocity of 1,235 fps with five shots in 7/8″. The NEI #358.200GC is another excellent heavyweight bullet for the .357 Magnum weighing right at 200 grains. I load this one over 13.5 grains of WW296 for just under 1,200 fps and 1″ groups in a Ruger Flat-Top Blackhawk I had made up using a 101/2″ Ruger .357 Maximum barrel. For those who do not cast their own, Cast Performance Bullet Co. offers a 187-gr. flat-nosed gas check bullet giving me exceptional accuracy in this same Ruger when loaded over 14 grains of #4227 for a very pleasant-shooting 1,160 fps.

Heavyweight .357 Magnum Bullets: NEI #358.200GC and Lyman #358627GC.

Here’s some .45 Colt bullets compared: Lyman and RCBS 255 Keith, Lyman
255 Thompson, NEI 310 and 325 grain and Lyman/Casull 300 FNGC.

.45 Colt

Those early loads assembled for the .45 Ruger Blackhawk used the Lyman #457191, a 300-gr. bullet designed for the .45-70 which means it had to be sized-down in stages. I used a 0.458″ sizing die followed by 0.454″ and then finally 0.452″ die to get the bullets down to the right size with a minimum of distortion. Once these bullets were properly sized and lubricated they were loaded over 18.5 grains of #2400 for right at 1,175 fps in the 71/2″ Blackhawk. Life was made much simpler when heavy bullets designed specifically for the .45 Colt arrived. We also soon found either WW296 or H110 powders were better choices for loading them.

Dick Casull designed Lyman #454629 for use in his .454 Casull. This is a 300-gr., flat-nosed gas check bullet also working just fine in the .45 Colt. The load I settled on is 21.5 grains of either H110 or WW296 for just under 1,200 fps in the 71/2″ Ruger Blackhawk. This same .45 Colt load has been used in the Freedom Arms 43/4″ Model 83 chambered in .454 and has given exceptional accuracy out to 700 yards. Others go with heavier powder charges, however this does everything I need it to do.

NEI has two excellent Keith-style SWC bullets designed for the .45 Colt, #451.351 and #454.325. These are plain-based bullet designs and the last three digits tell us the approximate weight. Both of these bullets are loaded over the same 21.5 grains of either WW296 or H110 resulting in just over 1,200 fps from a 71/2″ barrel. For use in the Colt Single Action I use a little less bullet weight and a little less powder, the RCBS #45-270SAA which drops at 285 grains from my alloy. When loaded over 18.5 grains of #4227 is right at 950 fps from a 71/2″ Colt. I can’t see any reason to try to push the Colt any heavier.

.44 Magnum

My most-used heavyweight bullet in the .44 Magnum is the NEI #429.290GC (290 grains). For use in older .44 Magnums such as the early Smith & Wessons from the 1950’s and the original 71/2″ Ruger Flat-Top Blackhawk I use 10 grains of Unique for right at 1,150 fps. This is a load sufficiently powerful while still being easy on both shooter and sixgun. With later .44 Magnums I use the same 21.5 grains of H110/WW296 as in the .45 Colt, resulting in 1,300–1,350 fps. I have taken enough game with this load to know I don’t need anything heavier.

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