Index Home About Blog
From: gmk@falstaff.MAE.CWRU.EDU (Geoff Kotzar)
Subject: Re: .45 Colt
Organization: Case Western Reserve University

In article <> (John Bercovitz)

#In article <> C08926RC@WUVMD.Wustl.Edu (Rob) writes:
##How does the .45 Colt compare to the .44?  Can handloads be worked
##up to be comparable to .44 Mag power?  Which round is more versatile?

#I had a 4 5/8 bbl Blackhawk in 45 Colt.  With 296 I was able to load
#it quite a bit hotter than a 44 Mag.  You get some pretty severe brass
#distortion, however, so I don't think I'd recommend the practice.
#The things you have going for you here over the 44 Mag are a larger case
#capacity and a larger bullet base area for the powder to act on.
#I never had a doubt the cylinder would hold the pressure but the
#brass might have let go eventually with an excessive number (3?) of reloads.

Some material about recoil deleted.

#To load a 45 Colt hot, basically you just need a gun with
#very thick chamber walls.  This leaves out the S&W but there are a number
#of single actions (not a Colt Peacemaker fer cryin' out loud) which are
#up to it.

#John Bercovitz     (

I would like to go on record as saying that I think attempting to equal
.44 Mag performance from a .45 Colt, much less surpass it, is a bad idea.
It makes for an interesting experimant but can prove to be unnecessarily

The problems with overloading the .45 Colt stem from a number of sources.
John noted one of them above, that is the excessive clearance between the
cartridge case and the chamber allowed by the SAAMI specifications. There
are two primary sources of custom Super-Magnums(.45, .475, and .500) John
Linebaugh and Hamilton Bowen. In the description of his " Small .45 Colt"
conversion Linebaugh states that the standard SAAMI specs for .45 Colt is
.484 minimum to .489 maximum chamber diameter while the average .45 Colt
case diameter is a .476 inch. His reamers cut a .480 chamber. It is this
excessive expansion to fill the overly large chambers that has lead to the
reputation of the .45 Colt brass as being weak. With tight chambers the
brass will sustain repeated use at .44 mag pressures and even higher. But
that does not solve the problem of the strength of the gun itself. When
Hamilton Bowen performs a six shot .45 Colt conversion on a Redhawk which
has even thicker chamber walls than the Blackhawk he still states: "Designed
to handle heavy .45 Colt loads suited to Blackhawks and Thompson/Center
Contenders listed in contemporary reloading manuals.". When either of these
two gunsmiths produce .45 Colt conversions to handle .44 Magnum pressures,
the results are oversize cylinders holding only 5 shots.

None of the loading manuals recommends loads over 25-28K CUP, which I take
to be the de facto maximum that is acceptable to Ruger and Thompson/Center.
Go beyond this point and you are in no mans land. If you read enough of the
writings of the early shooters whose experiments culminated in our current
high performance cartridges and loads you become aware of how expensive it
was learning where to draw the line. Just two cases in point:

A) In his book "Hell I Was There", Elmer Keith recounted how a .45 Colt load
   he had been using for some time finally resulted in the cylinder and top
   strap of his Single Action Army catastrophically relieving themselves of
   the burden of containing the excessive pressures.

B) Skeeter Skelton recounted how when he got his .44 mag he got a mold for
   the Thompson bullet (Lyman 429244) directly from Thompson along with his
   recommended maximum load of 23 grains of 2400. He used this load for
   about a year being quite impressed with the downrange performance and
   the uprange recoil. Then he received an urgently scribbled note from
   Thompson that the maximum load should be reduced to 22 grains, the
   same load that we now consider maximum for this bullet. Seems some
   people had finally split their chambers due to fatigue. And this was
   not even much of an overload compared to what people have attempted with
   the .45 Colt.

Remember too that Elmer Keith -the man whose experiments with the .44 Special
resulted in the .44 Magnum- did some amazing things with 245gr SWC's at 1200
fps. This performance is easily and safely duplicated by the .45 Colt using
260gr SWC's and sane doses of 2400, H110 or WW296. As far as a hunting load
goes, there is nothing East of the Mississippi that a 260 SWC @ 12-1300 fps
would be inadequate for if you shoot well, even big black bears.

John is right when he says that given the larger base area of the .45 bullets,
bullets of the same weight can be driven to the same velocities as the .44
bullets at lower pressures. There are just too many unknowns for the average
handloader to know just where he is on the life-expectancy/pressure curve.
A couple of factors work in your favor. First, if you are careful you will
probably not wind up with a hand grenade at the end of your fist, but sooner
or later your gun will just stop working. Second, these heavy loads are in a
way self-limiting; most people will not shoot a lot of them because they are
hard on the shooter. This means that you will find out when your gun stops
working later rather than sooner. But when you crack the forcing cone or
split a chamber wall you will know that the load was too much for the gun
to endure that many times. One of the goals of modern engineering techniques
is to reduce the need for this kind of destructive testing.

If you need more punch than you can get with recommended .45 Colt loads go
with a .44 Mag; if you just have to have more performance and the .45 bore
contact John Linebaugh or Hamilton Bowen for one of their conversions. FTR,
when Linebaugh and Bowen perform their "small" conversions the cylinders of
smaller diameter cartridges (.41, .44 Mags) are rechambered and the former
rebarrels with a Douglas barrel while the latter rebores the existing barrel.
Linebaugh performs this conversion on Blackhawks, preferably Bisleys, while
Bowen converts Redhawks. He does not even list one for the Blackhawk which
may be significant. J.D. Jones also will convert a Super Redhawk to .45 Colt
but the loads that he recommends for his guns still fall below the .44 Mag
performance class, by this I mean kinetic energy of the bullet not just
chamber pressures.

geoff kotzar   

Index Home About Blog