THE BEST FIGHTIN' HANDGUN: THE 4" DOUBLE ACTION BIG BORE SIXGUN
Mark 1899 as a banner year for sixgunners. That was the year of the first really good double action revolver, the Smith & Wesson Model of 1899, later to be known as the Military and Police, and more recently in our computer world of numbers, the Model 10. This was the original K-frame and although it was not the first double action sixgun by any means it would be the double action by which all future and past double actions would be measured. This is the gun used by Ed McGivern to set many of his speed and accuracy shooting records.
Colt was the first out with a `big bore' double action with the Lightning in 1877. Even this was not the first double action from Colt since as far back as 1842, Sam Colt had built an experimental double action Paterson cap-and-ball. Colt's conclusion was that the double action was impossible to fire with accuracy. Fifteen years after his death, along came the Lightning in .38 Colt and the Thunderer in .41 Long Colt. One year after the introduction of the Lightning, Colt brought out a true big bore double action, the Frontier Model of 1878 in, among other calibers, .44-40 and .45 Colt. If you should happen on a DA Colt with a huge trigger guard, this is the Alaskan or Philippine Model. Four thousand six hundred of these military DA's were made to allow the use of two fingers or a gloved hand to operate the trigger mechanism.
Colt kept working to improve their double action design, an improvement that was desperately needed, and the Lightning and Frontier Model were followed by the 1889 New Navy, the 1903 New Army, the 1908 Army Special, to be soon followed by Colt hitting the jackpot with the Official Police which went on to become the Officer's Model and then the Python in 1955.
One of the truly classic guns of all time to come from Hartford is the New Service Colt which came along in 1898, and from that time until World War II, 356,000 Colt New Services were made in such calibers as .45 ACP, .45 Colt, .44-40, .44 Special, .38-40, and .357 Magnum . In twenty-five less years of production, the same number of DA New Services were manufactured as the Single Action Army. And would you believe that the popular New Service never resumed production after the war because the machinery was moved into the parking lot to make room for wartime production? It was of course ruined in the process.
Meanwhile over in Massachusetts, Smith & Wesson had started their big bore double action line in 1881 with the .44 Double Action First Model mainly in .44 Russian. Looking at what came before, the beautiful New Model .44 Russian Single Action, and what was to come after, the slick handlin' Military and Police ,it is hard to believe that the first DA Smith & Wesson came out of the same factory. Sometimes progress is very difficult.
In 1907, the 1899 Military and Police frame was enlarged, and Smith & Wesson introduced the first model of what would later be the N-frame series. The sixgun was .44 Hand Ejector, the .44 Triple Lock, the .44 New Century, take your pick of names. The new sixgun had a new cartridge that would eventually change the concept of big bore sixgunning. That cartridge was the .44 Special. Appropriately named, the .44 really was Special and was discovered by Elmer Keith in the late 1920's and loaded to a full 1200 feet per second with his own 250 grain bullet. Even the later .357 Magnum could not touch it for real energy delivered at the intended target.
The .44 Triple Lock was followed by the 1915 Second Model, the 1926 Third Model, better known as the Model 1926 for the year it came out, and the Fourth Model, the 1950 Target. All chambered in .44 Special, they lead the way for the introduction of the .44 Magnum in 1956.
Along the way these same guns were also chambered in .45 ACP, .45 Colt, .44-40, and .38/44, in many cases bearing other model numbers but the same basic gun. Then in 1935, Smith & Wesson made a quantum leap forward and unveiled the .357 Magnum, the first of many Magnum revolvers to come. With barrel lengths of three and one-half, four, and five inches, the first Magnum became a real favorite with shootists. The future General Patton acquired one of the early ones and Smith & Wesson was smart enough to send the first one to J. Edgar Hoover head of the FBI. The result was the .357, especially in the three and one-half inch length, becoming popular with FBI agents.
The .357 (Model 27) was followed by the Combat Magnum .357 (Model 19) and the .44 Magnum (Model 29) in 1956, the .41 Magnum (Model 57) in 1964, and a whole host of excellent DA sixguns ever since. Colt introduced its Cadillac revolver in 1955, the Python, and has tinkered with changes since the early 1950's resulting in the pre-Python Colt .357 , the Trooper, and the Mark series. Their DA's now, in addition to the Python in .357, are the King Cobra .357 and the Anaconda .44 Magnum. Colt seems to have been for the most part willing to leave the double action production to Smith & Wesson.
Ruger, after decades of producing excellent single actions, jumped into the double action market with the Security Six series of .38's and .357's. As the demand for double action .44's increased in the 1970's, Ruger brought out the Redhawk to be followed in the mid 1980's by the Super Redhawk. At about the same time, the Security Six was replaced by the GP-100 series.
Dan Wesson's double action revolvers began about twenty years ago with the .357 Model 12, now Model 15 and also to meet the demand of the .44 fanciers, the large frame Dan Wesson .44 Magnum came about in the early 1980's to be followed by the same basic model chambered in .41 Magnum, and finally the long-awaited .45 Colt, that Ruger has chosen to ignore in their double action line-up.
Both the Ruger and Dan Wesson big bore double action sixguns are aimed mainly at the handgun hunting and silhouette shooting sixgunners. Dan Wessons can be made into four-inch sixguns by adding extra barrels as I have in .44 Magnum, .45 Colt and .357 Magnum. I have rarely seen them offered for sale as complete guns except with six-inch or longer barrels. Ruger offers a five and one-half inch Redhawk in both .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum but has not gone below seven and one-half inches in the Super Redhawk. Both can be made into custom four-inch double action big bore revolvers.
The four-inch double action big bore revolver is the first choice for defensive shooting. No contest. The single action is the gun for experts only. It must be cocked before each shot is fired and in a stressful situation, as all shooting incidents would be, a cocked single action sixgun has no safety feature other than the shooter's ability to keep his finger off the trigger. Again I say for experts only.
Semi-autos may or may not be better than single action revolvers. They are certainly easier to shoot as they do not have to be cocked for each shot, but if they are of the single action style they can be carried with the chamber empty, in which case the slide must be worked to chamber a round. Or, if of the proper design, a round may be carried under the hammer and the hammer must be cocked to allow the gun to fire, a situation which, because of hammer shape and position, is much more difficult to handle then with a single action revolver. Or they can be carried the most popular way, cocked-and-locked, in which case a safety must be operated before the gun can be fired.
Double action semi-autos may be carried with a round in the chamber, hammer down and the safety engaged. In which case, again, a safety must be operated with the thumb before the gun can be fired. The problem with safeties on semi-automatics is that some operate by pushing down with the thumb, and some operate by pushing up. The former is much easier to operate, but one had best stick to one or the other style or find oneself not being able to operate the safety quickly when the situation demands it.
On the other hand, the double action revolver is simplicity in itself. No hammer to cock. Just draw and pull the trigger. No safety to dis-engage. Just draw and pull the trigger. No decision to make. Do I carry a round in the chamber or do I not? Just draw and pull the trigger. Cocked-and locked or hammer down? Just draw and pull the trigger. Most law enforcement agencies teach only one way to handle a double action revolver. Right. Just draw and pull the trigger and operate it as a true double action revolver.
It would not be a bad idea at all to remove the single action feature from all double action revolvers carried for defensive shooting. No decision to make. Do I cock the hammer or fire double action? Just draw and pull the trigger. Smith & Wesson has picked up on this and is now offering double action semi-automatics which has to be one of the best ideas for law enforcement use to come along in a long time. Many agencies are going to semi-automatics without the funds needed to train personnel in their use. A very unfortunate situation. Also most peace officers are not dedicated shooters and will not spend the time and money to train themselves.
The double action only semi-automatic removes the danger of a handgun presenting itself in a cocked position after each shot is fired. Basically this gives the officer, or private citizen, the safety feature of the revolver combined with the high capacity and quick reload capability of the semi-automatic. Plus, a big plus I might add, is the fact that the officer can carry his double action only semi-automatic with a safety engaged that makes it more difficult for the gun to be used against him/her if one of the bad guys snatches it from the holster. As the double action only semi-automatic progresses and all calibers become available and all bugs, if any, are worked out of the system, I may be re-writng this article in a few years proclaiming the double action only semi-automatic as the first choice in a defensive handgun.
Two of the top proponents of the double action revolver have been Elmer Keith and Bill Jordan. Both carried a double action daily, in Jordan's' case, a Smith & Wesson .357 Combat Magnum that was used in Border Patrol duties and later in exhibition shooting. From 1950 until his disabling stroke in 1981, Keith always carried a four-inch Smith & Wesson double action sixgun, first in .44 Special and then in .44 Magnum.
Bill Jordan said of the double action revolver: "This brings us to the logical choice and most widely used police weapon, the double action revolver. Here, in my opinion, is the closest to the ideal for enforcement officer use presently available. Fast for first and succeeding shots, safe and dependable, it also points well for double action hip shooting. Used single action for deliberate aimed shots, it can be effective against man-sized targets at 200 yards and beyond."
That was in 1965. I doubt if big Bill has changed his mind since.
Keith started with single action revolvers in the early part of this century and later switched to double actions as he considered them the best for defensive shooting: "Double action shooting with modern revolvers is practical shooting. It is the system to use in all close range gunfights. Hits on different targets can be made faster by double action then by any other method; hence it is the most practical. What you learn in aimed double action shooting, will stand you in good stead when you are forced to shoot in the dark by the feel of the gun, or in hip shooting when you have to beat an opponent or lose both your life and the cause for which you are fighting.....For both safety and deadly accuracy combined with speed, I consider the double action Smith & Wesson sixgun in a class all by itself."
Keith never changed his mind until his death in 1984. But he also clung to past traditions as one of the guns of his that I unloaded after his death was a very old Colt Single Action .45 with equally old factory .45 Colt cartridges. Traditions die hard if at all. Keith always carried the double action sixgun, a .41 Magnum the last time I visited him in Salmon, but he also kept the single action at ready.
Many semi-automatics have come along since Jordan and Keith wrote those words in the 1960's. But what they said remains true. The double action revolver is still the easiest handgun to master and remains the safest offering especially for the novice shooter. And let us not forget that Jerry Miculek continues to do well on the action circuit and also consistently wins the speed event at The Masters, not with a semi-automatic, but with a double action revolver.
SIXGUNS AND CARTRIDGES/THE .357 MAGNUM: As mentioned previously, the first really reliable double action design was the 1899 Smith & Wesson Military and Police .38 Special. The caliber was a little light but millions of .38 Special revolvers have been sold for both police and private citizen use both in the K-frame Smith and the later J-frame five-shot easily concealed short barreled revolvers and the large Smith & Wesson N-frame Heavy Duty .38 Specials and the Police Positives, Official Police, Detective Specials, and Cobras from Colt. All the Colts are gone now except through the used gun market; the Smiths have fared better with both the J- and K-frames remaining. Gone is the excellent .38/44 Heavy Duty .
With the coming of the large-framed Smith & Wessons, now N-frames, in 1907, we have the birth of the true big bore double action fighting handgun. The Colt New Service goes back a little further but it has been out of production for over fifty years and it remains to be seen what the first large-framed double action Colt to be offered since before I was born, the Anaconda, will really be like or if we will ever even see it.
In 1930, Smith & Wesson began to look seriously at the double action as a modern fighting weapon by chambering the .38 Special in the Heavy Duty. The first +P .38 ammunition was offered giving a 158 grain bullet around 1100 feet per second. Experimenters like Phil Sharpe and Elmer Keith soon had hard cast bullets up to 1400 feet per second and the .357 Magnum was not far off.
In 1935, the .357 Magnum arrived in what still is one of the finest sixguns ever offered, the .357 Magnum, now Model 27. The days of the .38 Special as a serious defensive cartridge were numbered. The .357 found early favor with outdoorsman, hunters, and peace officers. It was a particular favorite with the FBI's Walter Walsh and the Border Patrol's Charlie Askins. When Skeeter Skelton began his career with the Border Patrol his weapon of choice was not the issue .38 Special New Service, but the Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum.
George C. Patton bought a three and one-half inch barreled S&W .357 Magnum in Hawaii in 1935, equipped it with ivory grips and carried it as the second gun of a pair along with his 1916 .45 Colt Single Action Army. Patton had a double set of Myers Border Patrol holsters made up, a right and a left hand holster for each gun so he could wear then with either gun on either side according to his mood. He called the .357 his "killing gun".
The .357 Smith & Wesson, was and remains a superb double action sixgun. But by the 1950's the call was for a smaller, lighter .357 and Border Patrol Inspector Bill Jordan worked with Carl Hellstrom at Smith & Wesson and the result was the blending of the .357 Magnum and the .38 Military and Police resulting in the medium-framed Combat Magnum. Without fear of contradiction, I will say that the Combat Magnum, now Model 19, (and just why did descriptions have to give way to numbers?) was, and remains, the finest carrying .357 double action revolver ever designed. Its half-pound less weight, smaller cylinder and smaller grip frame made it ever so much easier to pack and conceal and still have a viable defensive chambering.
All was well with the Combat Magnum until the advent of modern ammunition which started to takes its toll. "Use .38 Special for practice and .357's for business" was not always heeded with the Model 19 and the shift was necessary back to a larger .357. The result was the 586 which kept the K-frame grip frame but added a larger cylinder, and for the first time on a Smith & Wesson revolver, a full heavy underlug style barrel. The 586 is even heavier than the Model 27 so call it a giant forward step backwards.
The .357 Magnum remains the only Magnum that most of us can handle effectively with full-house loads. In fact it makes little sense to use it with less as it simply becomes an oversized .38 Special. The one .38 Special load that I do use is the old Keith load that is normally for .357 Magnums only and consists of his 168 grain semi-wadcutter bullet over 13.5 grains of #2400. This is a +P+ load and, again is intended for use in .357 Magnums only. Now having said that I will admit to using it in five-shot J-frame.38 Specials but only very sparingly. It will wear one out very quickly. A second favorite handload is the Lyman #358156 over 15.5 grains of #2400. The original load for the .357 back in 1935 was 15.5 to 16.0 grains of #2400 according to who is telling the story.
All three of my Smith & Wesson .357 Magnums, the 3 1/2" Model 27, the 4" Model 19, and the 4" model 586 wear custom grips. The factory grips of current manufacture are good only for firewood. They are too thick, too blocky, too sharply checkered, all of which can be corrected with a file and sandpaper but they do not fill in behind the trigger guard enough and this cannot be corrected. This is not true of the grips that were made in the 1950's and 1960's and although Smith & Wesson assures me that they are made on the same machinery, something is definitely wrong.
The three .357 Magnums tested all wear a grip patterned after a style originated by Walter Roper. On the .357 Model 27, Roy Fishpaw (101 Primrose Lane, Dept AH, Lynchburg Virginia) has provided a gorgeous set of Circassian Walnut grips that are small and rounded in the right places and still fill in behind the trigger guard properly. This is as small as a grip can be made and still provide a grip adapter style feel.
Both the 19 and 586 wear Roper-style grips of the Skeeter Skelton design improvement. The 19 sports fancy walnut and the 586 is treated to rosewood. I do like my sixguns to look good as well as feel good and shoot good. These grips are hand made by Deacon Deason
(webmaster's Note: now they are made by Tedd Adamovich of
Six .357 Magnums were test fired, and as all sixguns tested for this piece, at 25 yards for groups to see what they are really capable of. The .357 Magnum especially when used with 125 grain jacketed hollowpoints has one of the best records for one-shot stops when the target is one that can shoot back.
S&W 4" MODEL 19
|S&W 3 1/2" MODEL 27|
|BLACK HILLS 125 JHP||1420||2 5/8"||1368||2 3/4"|
|BLACK HILLS 158 JHP||1129||2 1/4"||1101||2 1/4"|
|FEDERAL 158 LEAD SWC||1127||2 1/2"||1096||2 1/2"|
|FEDERAL 158 JSP||1127||1 1/2"||1100||1 5/8"|
|FEDERAL 180 JHP||1089||2 3/4"||1042||2 3/4"|
|WINCHESTER 125 JHP||1316||2 3/4"||1263||1 1/2"|
|WINCHESTER 145 SILVERTIP||1223||1 1/4"||1170||2"|
|WINCHESTER 158 JSP||1222||3"||1195||2"|
|LYMAN #358156GC/15.5 GR. #2400||1461||2 1/2"||1424||2 3/4"|
S&W M586 4"
|BLACK HILLS 125 JHP||1420||2 1/2"|
|BLACK HILLS 158 JHP||1145||1 3/4"|
|FEDERAL 158 LEAD SWC||1137||1 3/4"|
|FEDERAL 158 JSP||1166||2 1/2"|
|FEDERAL 180 JHP||1113||2 3/4"|
|WINCHESTER 125 JHP||1344||2 1/4"|
|WINCHESTER 145 SILVERTIP||1203||3"|
|WINCHESTER 158 JSP||1235||1 3/4"|
|LYMAN #358156GC/15.5 GR. #2400||1480||3"|
In 1955, Colt brought out what many still will insist is truly the finest .357 Magnum ever, the Colt Python. Originally designed to be a .38 Special target revolver, the engineers found that they had a fifty-six ounce sixgun on their hands. The barrel was cut to the familiar figure eight Python style, vents were cut to further reduce weight, and the chambering was changed to .357 Magnum. Sometimes, Colt really can do it right!
I can well remember as a teenager drooling over the ads for the Python which carried a full-sized four-inch barreled .357. I just had to have one. When I did get one and fit it with Herrett's Jordan stocks I found that I could not shoot it quite as easily as any number of Smith double actions I had owned since the first 1917 .45 ACP purchased for $15. I've never found the Colt double action to be quite as smooth to me as a Smith & Wesson except one notable example, A Sadowski tuned Python owned by friend and fellow Shootist Jack Pender. Jack let me borrow that gun for quite awhile and I'm sure he was a little nervous about ever seeing it again, but I finally relented and sent it back to him although quite tempted to send a replacement instead. It was Bill Jordan who once swapped Combat Magnums with Skeeter with the curt "Here, you can have yours back when mine is just as smooth." Pythons are still available, Sadowski Pythons are not. The late Colorado tunesmith really knew how to make a Python almost operate itself.
My present Python consists of an eight-inch model with an extra fitted four-inch barrel that my gunsmith can change for me in a few minutes. Everything that is wrong about S&W "target" grips also holds true for the Python factory wood grips and probably more so as the checkering is downright painful on Python grips. I called upon BearHug to furnish a pair of Skeeter Skelton style grips for the Python and while the grip frame of the Python is such that the same feel cannot be achieved as with the Smith K- or N-frame, it is a vast improvement over the standard Python fare.
COLT PYTHON 4"
|BLACK HILLS 125 JHP||1498||3"|
|BLACK HILLS 158 JHP||1223||1 1/4"|
|FEDERAL 158 LEAD SWC||1208||2"|
|FEDERAL 158 JSP||1266||2 1/4"|
|FEDERAL 180 JHP||1125||2 1/8"|
|WINCHESTER 125 JHP||1383||2 1/2"|
|WINCHESTER 145 SILVERTIP||1289||2"|
|WINCHESTER 158 JSP||1301||2 1/2"|
|LYMAN #358156GC/ 15.5 GR. #2400||1433||3"|
The Dan Wesson Model 15 and the Ruger GP-100 are the late comers on the .357 scene. The Dan Wesson has been a number one silhouette pistol for many years and I was unpleasantly surprised to find that my DW .357 which is superbly accurate as a ten-inch silhouette revolver is only mediocre with the four inch barrel installed. The Ruger GP-100 is a tough rugged sixgun and with its stainless finish perfectly suited to outdoor use. I do not find either one of these .357's as easy to handle as the Smith .357's or the Colt Python. As expected, both need action jobs to give the smooth feeling that already comes with the more expensive Python or Smith revolvers.
DW 4" HB MODEL 15
|BLACK HILLS 125 JHP||1401||3 1/2"||1483||3 1/4"|
|BLACK HILLS 158 JHP||1136||4"||1198||2 1/4"|
|FEDERAL 158 LEAD SWC||1187||3 1/2"||1212||2 1/4"|
|FEDERAL 158 JSP||1158||2 1/2"||1205||2 1/4"|
|FEDERAL 180 JHP||1177||3 1/2"||1155||2 7/8"|
|WINCHESTER 125 JHP||1340||3"||1398||3"|
|WINCHESTER 145 SILVERTIP||1217||1 3/4"||1284||2 1/4"|
|WINCHESTER 158 JSP||1217||3"||1300||3 1/2"|
|LYMAN #358156GC/15.5 GR. #2400||1472||3"||1515||2"|
SIXGUNS AND CARTRIDGES/THE PERFECT CHOICE: Now we come to the true big bore double action revolvers. A niche that is almost exclusively owned by Smith & Wesson. The .44 Magnum is available in both blued Model 29's and stainless Model 629's; .41 Magnum in blue Model 57's and stainless Model 657's; and .45 Colt in the blue Model 25-5. Until recently, the .44 Special could be had in a four-inch blue Model 24 or a four-inch stainless Model 624. I will go on record as saying the four-inch double action Smith & Wesson sixgun in any of the above calibers is the best possible defensive handgun available. I will also qualify that by saying when used with the proper ammunition.
Most peace officers are required by administrative mandate to carry a certain type of sidearm, usually a .357 Magnum, often loaded with .38 Specials, or a 9MM semi-automatic. For those few who are not so hampered, the big bores offer a much better defensive handgun especially with rural constables when such handgun may be called upon to be used against wild animals. Going up against a farmers' mad bull, or a cougar or bear that has wandered into town looking for food because it is too old to find its normal fare and whose attitude in the whole process has become downright mean and nasty, with a small bore pistol is not my idea of a great way to spend an afternoon.
For my own personal tastes, I prefer these big bore sixguns to have Skeeter Skelton style grips, smooth triggers, and black sights. Since most of these sixguns come with serrated triggers and red insert front sights, the help of a custom 'smith is of great help here. I am slowly changing all my sixguns to smooth triggers and black front sights. I too once thought wide hammers and triggers and red insert front sights were the best. I have learned and now know better.
SIXGUNS AND CARTRIDGES/THE .44 SPECIAL: Smith & Wesson offered the .44 Special in N-frame sixguns with the enclosed ejector rod from the Triple-Lock of 1907 through the Third Model of 1926, to the Target Model of 1950. The latter was killed off by the .44 Magnum, but Smith ran a goodly number of both blue and stainless four-inch .44 Specials just a few years back and they are still readily available and not at the inflated prices that are usually the case when production ceases. Even the 1950 Target Model can be found at fairly reasonable prices but not with the ultra rare four-inch length. My 1950 started life as a six and one-half inch gun that was purchased for $95 in 1970 and then made into an easy packin' four-inch by a local gunsmith.
Smith & Wesson recently resurrected the idea of the relatively lightweight .44 Special in their Mountain Gun which makes a much better .44 Special than a .44 Magnum. Smith & Wesson N-frame .357's can also be made into fine .44 Specials by re-chambering and if you are fortunate enough to find one, installing an original Smith barrel. If not, Bowen Classic Arms (P.O. Box 67, Dept AH, Louisville, Tennessee 37777) can re-chamber and re-bore .357's to .44 Special.
Federal and Black Hills both offer ammunition that is an improvement over the long-time standard factory loading of a 246 round-nosed bullet at a sedate 750 feet per second muzzle velocity. There is still room for improvement as they are designed for the lightweight five-shot .44 Charter Arms Bulldog. For the handloader, 7.5 grains of Unique will give an honest 900 feet per second with the 250 grain Keith bullet. When more power is needed, the full-house loading of 17.5 grains of #2400 with the same bullet will give nearly 1200 feet per second from a four-inch sixgun. This is a load that is nice to have in reserve, but should be used sparingly. Recoil with the lightweight .44 Special sixgun rivals the heavier .44 Magnum with full-house loads.
S&W 4" 1950
|S&W 4" M624|
|BLACK HILLS 240 LEAD SWC||727||3 1/8"||719||2 1/8"|
|FEDERAL 200 LEAD HP||870||4"||861||2 3/4"|
|PMC 180 JHP||920||2 1/8"||900||1 3/4"|
|LYMAN #429421/7.5 GR. UNIQUE||918||2 1/2"||918||3"|
|LYMAN #429421/17.5 GR. #2400||1174||2 5/8"||1167||2 3/8"|
SIXGUNS AND CARTRIDGES/THE .45 COLT: The big bore caliber of choice for Smith & Wesson for many years has been the forty-four. A very few Triple-Locks were chambered in .45 Colt, and probably even less in the 1950 and 1955 Target sixguns which were normally in .45 ACP/Auto Rim. Quite a few have been built up using the .357 Model 27 or Model 28 Highway Patrolman re-chambered combined with a 1950 or 1950 .45 ACP barrel. Both of these conversions leave the sixgunner with a short cylinder which will not accept many .45 Colt loads. A better way is to start with a Model 57 .41 Magnum or Model 29 .44 Magnum to allow for a full length cylinder. But then one has spent extra money on top of the original gun price to get something that is not really better, or possibly even as good as what they had originally.
Smith & Wesson has solved the dilemma by offering the N-frame in .45 Colt. The first offerings had longer barrels and short cylinders. The present Model 25-5 has the long cylinder and can be had in a four-inch barrel. Early ones had oversize cylinder throats but that has been corrected.
A four-inch Model 25-5 .45 Colt is about as close to ideal as one can get with a defensive sixgun. Add Skeeter Skelton stocks, in my case Rosewood that were originally on Deacon Deason's personal .41 Magnum. He sent it over for me to try and I pulled a Bill Jordan on him and sent the .41 back without grips. "You can have yours back when I get a pair as nice as these are." The target hammer and trigger (why do they put these on four-inch sixguns?), have been replaced by standard style, with the trigger being of the smooth variety. A nice slick handlin' defensive sixgun with mild recoil and plenty of punch.
Other .45 Colt sixguns are available but harder to find. It took some real searching to find a four-inch heavy barrel for the .45 Colt Dan Wesson but I did locate one. Coupled with Herrett's Dan Wesson smooth walnut stocks and an Idaho leather custom thumbbreak pancake holster, the big Dan Wesson carries almost as easily as a Smith & Wesson. The action is not as smooth but it has the advantage of being able to handle heavier loads than the Smith .45 Colt which could be a factor for the rural sheriff, farmer or rancher. Patriot Manufacturing ( P.O. Box 50065, Dept. AH, Lighthouse Point, Florida 33074) now offers + P .45 Colt loads with 300 grain cast and jacketed bullets for use in the Ruger Blackhawk and Dan Wesson .45 Colt.
Ruger has not seen fit to chamber the Redhawk in .45 Colt (until very recently), but Bowen Classic Arms is offering their Alpine Model (wonder where they got that designation?), which is a Redhawk in .44 Magnum or .45 Colt with a rounded butt and four-inch barrel. I recently had the pleasure of test-firing one of these in .45 Colt that was fitted with Roy Fishpaw custom grips that were small yet still filled in behind the trigger guard. The Redhawk which is quite large becomes very easy handlin' when round-butted and cut to a four-inch barrel.
Like the .44 Special, loads for the .45 Colt are on the light side. A notable exception is the Black Hills .45 Colt prototype that may or may not get into producton. This is a 255 grain SWC at a true 900 feet per second from a four-inch barrel and is the best factory offering so far for use in standard .45 Colts. I use the same bullet over 10.0 grains of Unique, 18.5 grains of #2400, or 20.0 grains of H4227 for 900-1000 feet per second. Powerful but easy to handle.
Winchester offers their Silvertip design in a 225 grain .45 Colt at 800 feet per second. This is very easy to handle and should be the equivalent of the .45 ACP Silvertip which has a very good one-shot stop record.
S&W 4" M25-5 DAN WESSON 4" VH
LOAD MV GROUP MV GROUP
BLACK HILLS 255 LEAD SWC 926 2 1/2" 935 2 1/2"
BLACK HILLS 230 LEAD RN 765 1 3/4" 779 4"
FEDERAL 225 LEAD HP 738 1 1/4" 769 3 1/2"
CCI BLAZER 255 LEAD 729 4" 746 2"
WINCHESTER 225 SILVERTIP HP 802 2 1/2" 801 2"
WINCHESTER 255 LEAD 719 2 3/4" 720 2 1/4"
PATRIOT +P 300 LBT 1097 1 1/4"
PATRIOT +P 300 JSP 1137 2 1/2"
CCI BLAZER 200 JHP 889 2 1/2" 887 2 1/2"
BULL-X 255 SWC/10.0 GR. UNIQUE 958 2 1/2" 1002 3"
BULL-X 255 SWC/20.0 GR. H4227 912 2 1/4" 923 2 3/4"
BULL-X 255 SWC/18.5 GR. #2400 994 3" 1091 4"
RUGER 4" REDHAWK .45 COLT BY BOWEN
LOAD MV GROUP
BLACK HILLS 255 LEAD 973 2 1/2"
BLACK HILLS 230 RN 810 3 1/2"
FEDERAL 225 LEAD HP 892 1 1/4"
CCI BLAZER 255 LEAD 769 1 1/8"
WINCHESTER 225 SILVERTIP HP 819 1 7/8"
WINCHESTER 255 LEAD 777 2 1/2"
CCI BLAZER 200 JHP 922 2 1/2"
BRP 300 #454629/21.5 GR. WW296 1087 1 7/8"
BULL-X 255 SWC/9.0 GR. UNIQUE 946 1 7/8"
SIXGUNS AND CARTRIDGES/THE .45 ACP-AUTO RIM: In 1917, both Colt and Smith & Wesson adapted their big bore double action sixguns to take the military service cartridge, the .45 ACP. Sidearms were needed for the American Expeditionary Force and 1911 Government Models could not be made fast enough. After the war, Smith & Wesson retained the Model of 1917 and offered a civilian model with a better finish than the standard dull blue military model. A new cartridge was created to fit these sixguns which used .45 ACP ammunition with half moon clips to provide the proper headspacing. To alleviate the problem of using the clips, the .45 Auto Rim (semi-automatic with a rim) was created. In either case, ACP or Auto Rim version, this revolver makes an excellent defensive proposition.
After World War II, Smith & Wesson resumed production of the 1917 .45 ACP as the 1950 Military with fixed sights and without the enclosed ejector rod housing, and the 1950 .45 Target with fully adjustable sights and the enclosed ejector rod. This was soon followed by the 1955 .45 Target with a bull barrel. Until recently, this sixgun was available as the 25-2, and now is available as the stainless 625-2 with five, four and three-inch heavy underlug barrels.
I recently made up a Poor Man's Magnum starting with a 25-2 .45 ACP purchased for $225. The barrel was cut to four inches and a Ron Power front sight fitted for $60. The wide trigger was traded for a smooth standard trigger, no charge, and the factory stocks were replaced with an old pair of 1960-ish Smith & Wesson target stocks that a friend worked over for me smoothing and rounding wherever possible. Again no charge. So for a total of $285 I have a first class fighting handgun which handles .45 Auto Rim reloads or the .45 ACP's with half moon clips, or the ultimate speedloader, full moon clips loaded with .45 ACP's.
The .45 ACP cartridge needs no defense as a serious business load. Factory .45 ACP loadings are heavier than factory .45 Colt loadings, a strange situation. Why do you suppose manufacturers are still worried about black powder sixguns 100 years after they were changed over to smokeless and not about eighty year old 1911 Government Models?
The military selection board notwithstanding, the .45 ACP is still the number one fight stopper. It may or may not be supplanted by the upstart 10MM and/or .40 S&W. If it is it will only be because they are even better not because it is any less of a superb defensive cartridge.
S&W 4" M25-2
|BLACK HILLS 200 LEAD SWC||783||2 1/4"|
|BLACK HILLS 200 JHP||947||2 1/4"|
|BLACK HILLS 230 FMJ||794||2"|
|BLAZER 200 JHP||917||1 3/4"|
|FEDERAL 185 JHP||832||1 1/2"|
|FEDERAL 230 HYDRA-SHOK||848||1 1/2"|
|FEDERAL 230 FMJ||773||2"|
|WINCHESTER 185 SILVERTIP HP||889||3 1/4"|
|BULL-X 200 SWC||750||1 1/2"|
.45 AUTO RIM
S&W 4" M25-2
|HORNADY 185JHP/8.5 GR. UNIQUE||1022||3 1/2"|
|SIERRA 185JHP/8.5 GR. UNIQUE||1068||1 3/4"|
|H&G #68 SWC/7.5 GR. UNIQUE||1072||1 5/8"|
|LYMAN #452423/7.5 GR. UNIQUE||976||4 1/2"|
|LYMAN #452490GC/7.0 GR. UNIQUE||909||2 1/2"|
|LYMAN #452490GC/13.0 GR. #2400||990||3 1/2"|