Reloading .45ACP Sixguns
by John Taffin
"The truth is that the fat, stubby .45 ACP cartridge can reach its greatest potential in a handgun for which it was never intended for-- the old fashioned, much maligned revolver. And this is much more true in the progressive year of 1973 than ever before because we have strong, modern sixshooters that will take the heaviest .45 auto loads, loads that would ruin any automatics, without the mildest complaint." That was written by Skeeter Skelton more than 35 years ago in an article entitled. "The Best .45 Autos Are Sixguns”; is it still true today?
When that statement was written about the only readily available .45 ACP semi-automatic was the Colt 1911 or Commander; I would hate to try to list from memory just how many .45 semi-automatics have come, and many of which have gone, since 1973. Today we have at least a dozen manufacturers producing high quality 1911s, as well as polymer framed .45s from such companies as Glock, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Springfield Armory, and Taurus. Are sixguns still really the best .45 autos?
Today's crop of .45 ACP semi-automatics 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, Skeeter’s main point still holds, that is 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 .45 semi-automatics. For self-defense use a good quality .45 semi-automatic 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 double action revolver the choice is not so simple. The semi-automatic definitely conceals easier, however a seasoned hand with a .45 ACP sixgun and 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, semi-automatic, single action sixgun, and double action revolver 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 semi-automatic ever made and expect at least a tie but more likely in this case the sixgun would win.
When Skeeter made his statement the only .45 ACP generally available as a new sixgun was the Smith & Wesson Model 25-2, the Model 1955. A few years earlier Ruger had introduced their first .45, the .45 Colt Blackhawk. At the time I was going to graduate school in Montana, totally bored with being away from home and family, walked into the local gun shop and was stunned to see a brand new Ruger Blackhawk chambered in .45 Colt. Not being a resident of the state I had to make the necessary arrangements for it to be transferred to me legally and then anxiously wait for the days to pass when I could head back home.
What a great sixgun that .45 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 did get home I discovered an auxiliary .45 ACP cylinder in the box, and I 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; shortly thereafter I was able to agree completely with Skeeter’s assessment of .45 ACP revolvers.
The concept of the .45 ACP revolver goes all the way back to World War I when Smith & Wesson and Colt adapted the .45 ACP cartridge to their big double action revolvers. There was no way to extract the cartridges except by punching them out from the front as there was no rim on the case for the star of the extractor to push on for ejection. An engineer at Smith & Wesson 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 do not accept clips but are rather loaded in the traditional way and extracted with the ejector rod. With double action 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 such as those pictured. 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, Smith & Wesson 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. We can't all be Jerry Miculek but we can learn to reload very quickly.
I haven't said much about actual reloading of .45 ACP cartridges for sixguns. For revolvers use cartridges can be loaded the same as if they were going to be used in semi-automatics, 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 semi-automatics 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 semi-auto 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.
Test-Fire: S&W .45 ACP Model of 1988 x 5”
.45 ACP Handloaded Ammo Performance
Bullet/Powder/Charge Velocity Group Size
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/WW452/6.0 gr. 1,028 fps 1-7/8”
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/WW231/6.0 gr. 947 fps 1-1/2”
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/Bullseye/5.0 gr. 874 fps 1-1/8”
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/Unique/7.0 gr. 1,081 fps 1-1/2”
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/Red Dot/5.0 gr. 889 fps 1-7/8”
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/Green Dot/5.0 gr. 849 fps 1-7/8”
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/AA#5/9.0 gr. 1,039 fps 1”
Oregon Trail 200 LRN/WW231/5.5 gr. 955 fps 1-1/2”
Oregon Trail 200 LRN/Bullseye/3.5 gr. 679 fps 1-1/2”
Oregon Trail 200 LRN/Bullseye/4.5 gr. 735 fps 1-3/8”
Oregon Trail 225 LFN/Red Dot/5.0 gr. 906 fps 1-7/8”
Oregon Trail 225 LFN/Green Dot/5.0 gr. 855 fps 1-1/4”
Oregon Trail 225 LFN/AA#5/8.0 gr. 830 fps 1-1/8”
Oregon Trail 230 LRN/WW231/6.0 gr. 867 fps 1-1/2”
Oregon Trail 230 LRN/Unique/6.5 gr. 889 fps 1-5/8”
Hornady 185 JHP/Unique/8.5 gr. 1,099 fps 1-3/4”
Hornady 230 XTP/Power Pistol/7.0 gr. 887 fps 1-1/4”
Sierra 185 JHC/Unique/8.5 gr. 1,172 fps 7/8”
Sierra 230 FMJ/Red Dot/5.0 gr. 825 fps 3/4"
Sierra 230 FMJ/Power Pistol/7.0 gr. 870 fps 1-3/8”
Speer 185 GDHP/Action Pistol/8.9 gr. 866 fps 1-1/8”
Speer 200 JHP/Power Pistol/8.0 gr. 1,021 fps 2”
Speer 200 GDHP/Unique/7.0 gr. 895 fps 1”
Speer 230 GDHP/Action Pistol/6.2 gr. 618 fps 1”
THE FOLLOWING LOADS ARE ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY FOR USE ONLY IN MODERN LARGE FRAME SIXGUNS IN EXCELLENT CONDITION!
Bullet/Powder/Charge Velocity Group Size
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/Red Dot/6.0 gr. 1,069 fps 1-3/4”
Oregon Trail 200 LSWC/Green Dot/6.0 gr. 1,049 fps 1-3/4”
Oregon Trail 225 LFN/Red Dot/6.0 gr. 1,006 fps 1-3/4”
Oregon Trail 225 LFN/Green Dot/6.0 gr. 901 fps 1-3/8”
Sierra 230 FMJ/Red Dot/6.0 gr. 1,025 fps 1”
Lyman #452423KT/#2400/15.0 gr. 952 fps 1-1/2”
Lyman #454423KT/Unique/7.5 gr. 902 fps 1-1/2”
Lyman #454424KT/#2400/15.0 gr. 926 fps 1-3/4”
Lyman #454424KT/Unique/7.5 gr. 915 fps 1-7/8”
Notes: Groups the product of 5 Shots at 20 yards. Chronograph screens set at 10’ from muzzle. CCI #300 primers used.