ALPHA PRECISION .45 COLT
It is no secret to regular readers just what it is that constitutes my favorite handgun. First, last, and always, it will be a sixgun and that sixgun will be a single action. It seems like only yesterday but it has been over forty years since I started shooting. At that time there was exactly one factory production single action available and that was the Ruger .22 Single-Six. Over the next few years the void was corrected as Great Western offered the first Colt Single Action replica in .45 Colt, .44 Special, .38 Special, and .357 Atomic.
The combination of the Ruger .22 Single-Six, the Great Western Frontier Revolver, and Gunsmoke every Saturday evening was enough to stir the souls of shooters who had previously been fairly satisfied with
.38 Special double action revolvers and .45 semi-automatics. As a result, in rapid succession we saw the advent of the Ruger .357 Blackhawk and .44 Blackhawk, and the rebirth of the Colt Single Action Army.
The 1950's saw the start of a new found love for the single action that has steadily grown these past four decades. The Ruger Super Blackhawk and Bisley, the Freedom Arms .454 Casull, the Colt Single Action Army, and totally upgraded Italian single action replicas are all part of the single action scene today.
In addition to numerous articles on the above, over the past ten years it has also been my great privilege to test and report on the custom single action sixguns of pistolsmiths such as Hamilton Bowen, David Clements, Andy Horvath, John Linebaugh, and Milt Morrison. All of these men thoroughly understand the single action sixgun and offer their personal touch to custom single actions. One excellent pistolsmith whose work that I had not experienced in this time has been Jim Stroh.
Jim Stroh is Alpha Precision and although I have talked to him by phone numerous times we never put a project together. Until now. Jim and I discussed a possible custom single action at the American Pistolsmiths Guild booth at an NRA Convention and the result was a Ruger New Model Super Blackhawk on its way Southeast to Georgia and the custom shop of Alpha Precision.
While I prefer to convert Old Model .357 Blackhawks to my beloved .44 Special, the larger framed Ruger Super Blackhawk is larger than necessary for a .44 Special and already chambered in .44 Magnum so nothing would be gained. But it is perfect for the .45 Colt. The .44 Special in a medium framed Ruger is not a sixgun to push to the max, but an easy packin' and shooting sixgun that will deliver 250 grain bullets at muzzle velocities from 900 to 1100 feet per second.
By going to the Ruger Super Blackhawk frame it is possible to build a .45 Colt that relaxes with 300 to 350 grain bullets at 1200 feet per second, and if the need arises, will push the same bullets to 1500 feet per second and more. The one hundred and twenty-five year old .45 Colt is an amazing cartridge to say the least.
A New Model Super Blackhawk was sent off to Jim Stroh with the request to turn it into a first class .45 Colt, a truly once-in-a-lifetime custom sixgun with the two most important specifications being a 5 1/2" barrel with a post front sight. Since this was to be a true personal sidearm and not a sixgun to be scoped, the short barrel would make it easy to pack and the post front sight is the easiest of iron sights for older, let's call them mature, eyes to see.
Having never been a fan of the square-backed trigger guard of the Super Blackhawk, a design that was dropped by Colt before the Civil War, I asked Stroh to cut and weld the trigger guard to give it a rounded contour.
The only other specific request was a subdued blue finish and for the rest I simply turned Stroh loose to perform the single action sixgun magic that he is so well known for. When the project started it was to be a six-shot revolver using the original Super Blackhawk cylinder chambered to .45 Colt. We changed this midway through the customizing to a fully custom five-shot cylinder.
Stroh's custom cylinder, unlike the Ruger factory cylinder, has a bushing for the base pin to provide extra contact area at the rear of the frame surface. Stroh says that this will virtually eliminate the cylinder ratchet "foot prints" often seen in single actions after heavy use as fullhouse loads pound the cylinder against the frame. A look at the ratchet reveals a small area that concentrates recoil forces and the result is the loose cylinder so often found on big bore sixguns. When the gun is fired, the frame moves one way, the cylinder the other, and they slam together at the ratchet area.
The cylinder pin provided by Stroh is a press fit, unlike the easy to remove Colt Single Action cylinder bushing, and if it does wear it can be removed and replaced with special tooling. As Stroh fits the cylinder he cuts the front and rear of the cylinder as well as the front and rear bearing points on the frame as square as possible and then laps everything together for perfect fit.
The cylinder itself is fitted to the frame with an oversize base pin. Stroh uses a distinctive style of his own for the head of the base pin which is both attractive and easy to grasp for removal. Everyone who has ever shot single actions knows that it is a not unusual for the base pin to fly forward under recoil. Stroh uses a special heavy duty spring loaded latch to prevent this. The base pin snaps in with authority and locks in place. Everyone who has shot single actions much also knows the opposite extreme of a base pin letting loose under recoil and that is being virtually impossible to get loose when desired to remove the cylinder. That is why so many base pins have plier marks on their head. Not so on the Stroh design. When the latch is pushed in on the right side, the base pin snaps forward ready for removal.
The cylinder locking bolt is also oversize to perfectly fill the slot in the frame and the locking slots on the cylinder are also oversize to strengthen the lockup and remove all perceptible play from the cylinder. The cylinder on this .45 Colt by Stroh has absolutely no end shake or side-to-side play whatsoever. An interior support is added to the locking bolt to further insure that locking bolt and slots do not receive excessive wear under the forces of recoil.
The Ruger aluminum ejector rod housing has been replaced by a steel housing that has been fitted to the barrel with the use of two heat treated steel dowel pins that are concealed from view under the housing and prevent its movement during recoil. This gives great strength to the fastening of the housing without the barrel band that many custom makers use as part of the front sight on 5 1/2" barreled sixguns. In fact, the barrel band set-up which serves to anchor both ejector housing and front sight, is precisely why several custom makers only supply 5 1/2" barreled sixguns when it comes the heavy recoiling calibers.
I referred to Stroh's sixgun 'magic' and a careful look at the action further showcases Stroh's great talent in metal working. In 1973, the Ruger Blackhawk action was changed drastically. Until this time the Blackhawk operated as all single actions had since 1873. The loading gate is opened, the hammer is placed on half cock which allows the cylinder to revolve clockwise, and cartridges may be loaded or unloaded. Ruger changed all this and since the addition of the transfer bar safety, the Ruger single action operates by opening the loading gate which allows the cylinder to rotate. The hammer is never touched in the loading or unloading process. It is a much safer system for those not familiar with the old style BUT most traditionalists prefer the old style.
Stroh gives us the best of both worlds. The transfer bar safety is maintained and the cylinder rotates once the loading gate is opened. However something is quite different here. One soon notices that the cylinder rotates both clockwise and counter clockwise. This is tremendously important for those who shoot single actions extensively. Sooner or later a bullet will jump the crimp, stick out past the front of the cylinder, and stop operation of the gun as the bullet hits the left side of the barrel protruding through the rear of the frame.
With traditional sixguns, one finds a touchy situation as the cylinder has to be removed without being able capable of rotating. With the Stroh action, it is a simple matter to rotate the cylinder backwards and bring the cartridge case under the loading gate and remove it with the ejector rod. No stress. No mess. No danger.
That is only the beginning of Stroh's touch. For those of us traditionalists who miss the old style action, Stroh has placed a half cock notch on the Super Blackhawk hammer allowing the hammer to be placed in this old style loading position and the cylinder will rotate just as it always did before 1973. As a very special touch, the wide hammer of the Super Blackhawk has been fine line checkered to replace the serrations normally found on a Blackhawk hammer. This is not only very pleasing to the eye but saves wear and tear on the cocking thumb when a long string of .45 Colts are sent down range in a short period of time.
Most factory revolvers, in fact all except the Freedom Arms guns, are assembled by fitting a finished cylinder to the frame. Stroh uses the line-boring method initiated by Freedom Arms. In this method, a cylinder is fitted to the frame and each chamber is then cut as it is precisely aligned with the barrel. That is one of the reasons that Freedom Arms guns and custom sixguns by such craftsmen as Jim Stroh are so accurate.
The cylinder is the heart of any sixgun. Unfortunately many sixguns, especially .45 Colt guns, have oversize hearts. So much so that very mild factory loads will swell resulting in an easily seen and felt bulge. Not so with an Alpha Precision sixgun. Stroh cuts his chambers tight with a diameter of .482" at the back and a tight .452" at the chamber mouths. This results in increased accuracy and long case life.
Speaking of the cylinder, Stroh builds his cylinders as large as possible, in this case with a diameter of 1.780". This is the maximum diameter that can be used within the cylinder window of the Ruger Super Blackhawk without weakening the frame. Material is Aircraft Certified 4140 steel heat treated prior to machining.
Stroh reminded me of something that we all should follow carefully in shooting full house loads in .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, .454 Casull, .475 and .500 Linebaugh. The loading gate moves forward under recoil as the gun is fired. If no case head is under the loading gate as the gun is fired, it can move forward excessively and possibly break or at the least move the gate detente spring and lock the gate. Even those of us that prefer an empty chamber under the firing pin, should use an empty case to provide support under the loading gate as the cylinder is rotated to fire the next round.
Having a couple of well known friends, two in fact that all readers would know by name, that simply go ballistic with the mention of ".45 Long Colt", I had to tweak them a little as I had the chance. So this is one sixgun that is not marked .45 COLT but .45 LONG COLT. Their argument is that there never was a cartridge designated the Long Colt. I agree. The frontier army was armed with both Colt Single Actions chambered for the .45 Colt and the Smith & Wesson Schofield chambered for the shorter .45 Smith & Wesson. The latter could also be used in the Colt sixgun hence two .45's were available, a long and a short. In modern times the erroneous use of ".45 Long Colt" does preclude any confusion and mix-up between .45 ACP and .45 Colt. The Colt Single Action Army was designated at the factory as the Model P but never officially known as the Peacemaker. However, that term is widely accepted. Who can figure?
The .45 Colt works well with bullet weights from 250 to 350 grains but it is a rare gun whose sights will handle such a wide range of bullet weights. The rear sight simply does not have enough adjustment. Either the lighter weights will shoot low or the heavier weights will shoot high. Stroh has taken care of this by providing an interchangeable front sight system that operates by placing the front sight in a slot on the ramp and locking in place with an Allen screw that enters from the front of the sight base. Stroh provided two heights for my custom .45 Long Colt and others can be ordered.
Not only is this a once-in-a-lifetime sixgun, it is also a sixgun that will only be used with cast bullets. Fifteen years ago the .45 Colt sixgunner was faced with a very limited choice as to cast bullets. Other than standard weight 255 grain bullets in either the Keith semi-wadcutter style or the traditional flat-nosed black powder style, the only other choice was to size 300 grain Lyman #457191 .45-70 bullets down to .452" and use them as heavy weight .45 Colt bullets.
Now we have a large range of .45 Colt bullets that are perfectly useable in both Ruger Blackhawks and Bisleys in .45 Colt as well as custom five and six shot revolvers. The Ruger factory guns will easily handle 300 to 350 grain bullets to 1200 feet per second muzzle velocity. Walk very carefully going beyond this level. As mentioned earlier, custom five-shot guns will easily handle all bullet weights to a full 1500 feet per second.
Heavyweight bullets for the .45 Colt include NEI's Keith style semi-wadcutters, #310.451 and #325.454, in 300 and 325 grain weights. Lyman still offers the old #457191 300 grain .45-70 bullet that must be sized down to .452" as well as their newest design, the 325 grain flat-nosed #452651. LBT offers a full range of bullet weights in all calibers in both the LFN (long flat nose) and WFN (wide flat nose) styles. Their 350 grain bullet is the optimum weight for a long cylindered .45 Colt as the Stroh .45 is.
Another heavyweight bullet that deserves mentioning is the 340 grain flat-nosed SSK #340.451 designed by J.D. Jones. This is a superbly accurate bullet that has a wide flat nose for maximum energy transfer. RCBS's new 300 grain #45-300 is a gas checked design that has also proven to be a fine performer in the .45 Colt.
For those that do not cast their own, I know of three sources of heavy weight cast bullets. Bull-X and Fusilier both offer a plain-based 300 grain flat-nosed bullet, while BRP offers the Freedom Arms/Lyman design for the .454 Casull, a 300 grain flat-nosed gas check design.
With LBT's 350 grain cast gas checked wide flat nose bullet over 21.5 grains of WW296, the Stroh .45 Long Colt does 1150 feet per second and shoots a solid 1 1/2" group for five shots at 50 yards. For most hunting, a 300 to 350 grain bullet at 1100 to 1200 feet per second is totally adequate with more speed being needed only to flatten trajectory and extend range for longer shots. This .45 is designed to be always used with iron sights at close range, that is under 100 yards, so a sixgun using a 350 grain bullet at 1150 feet per second suits me just fine.
JIM STROH ALPHA PRECISION ".45 LONG COLT"
RUGER SUPER BLACKHAWK .45 COLT BBL LENGTH: 5 1/2"
|Bull-X 255||18.5 gr. #2400||1099|
|H&G 250 Keith||23.5 gr. WW296||1239|
|LBT 260 Keith||10.0 gr. Unique||1075|
|Lyman 260 Keith||20.0 gr. H4227||1080|
|BRP 300 FNGC||23.5 gr. WW296||1290|
|Bull-X 300 FN||9.0 gr. Unique||1006|
|Bull-X 300 FN||18.5 gr. H4227||1073|
|Fusilier 300 FN||9.0 gr. Unique||1036|
|Fusilier 300 FN||18.5 gr. H4227||1070|
|LBT 300 LFN||23.5 gr. WW296||1170|
|Lyman 300 FN||18.5 gr. #2400||1217|
|Lyman 325 FNGC||18.5 gr. H4227||1095|
|NEI 310 Keith||21.2 gr. H110||1132|
|NEI 325 Keith||21.2 gr. H110||1168|
|SSK 340 FN||21.5 gr. WW296||1227|
|SSK 340 FN||9.0 gr. Unique||986|
|LBT 350 WFN||21.0 gr. WW296||1127|
|LBT 350 WFN||22.0 gr. WW296||1168|
|LBT 350 WFN||23.0 gr. WW296||1208|
Jim Stroh is a member of the prestigious American Pistolsmiths Guild and Alpha Precision offers a full line of custom handgun services on semi-automatics and double action revolvers as well as building some of the finest single action sixguns in existence. Standard conversions include several levels of semi-automatics set up for IPSC, target, or duty. Revolver services include a Master Tune that reduces cylinder play, recrowns the muzzle, and recuts the forcing cone all the way up to conversions such as the five-shot .45 Colt or .475 on the Ruger Super Blackhawk.
Stroh is also known for offering a Master Blue finish that rivals the old Colt Python Royal Blue and Smith & Wesson Bright Blue finishes from the 1950's. Welding is both an art and a science and Stroh is known among other Master Gunsmiths as one who thoroughly understands the intricacies of reshaping metal. His checkering of metal needs to be seen to be believed. For a complete catalog of Alpha Precision services contact Jim Stroh at 2765 Preston Road NE, Good Hope Georgia 30641. Phone 404-267-6163.
You can visit his website at
My Stroh .45 Colt has now been Bisley-ized and may be seen at The Galleries.