Shotgun Powder Meets Sixgunning
By John Taffin
The .45 Colt arrived in 1873 and for the next 60-plus years it was the most powerful factory loaded cartridge available. The original load consisting of 40.0 grains of black powder would not be dethroned until the arrival of the .357 Magnum in 1935.
From Wild …
Elmer Keith worked with the .45 Colt as well as the .44 Special and came up with a load in the former of 18.5 grains of #2400 under his 260-gr. Lyman #454424 cast bullet. In the 1950s and ’60s I used this load in my 7-1/2″ Colt Single Action Army and my records show it clocks out at 1,165 fps!
A milder load published in the Lyman Reloading Manual in the 1950s was 1,030 fps with 10.3 grains of Unique. My records show 10.0 grains clocked 1,013. Again this is in a Colt SAA and, in retrospect, I think both of these loads — especially the #2400 one — are heavier than should be used in an SAA on a regular basis.
Two things happened in the 1970s. I dropped my standard .45 Colt load for Colt SAAs back to 9.0 grains of Unique and relegated the above two loads for the newly arrived Ruger Blackhawk .45 Colt. Now we had a .45 Colt SA to handle them, as well as even heavier loads. Soon we were shooting 300-gr. bullets over 21.5 grains of Hodgdon’s H110 for a full 1,200 fps.
Then in the next decade, the .454 Casull arrived allowing unheard of velocities in a .45 sixgun. One day in the 1980s I shot 800 full house .454 Casull loads in a trio of Freedom Arms Model 83s with barrel lengths of 4-3/4, 7-1/2, and 10″. But that was then and this is now. Today I can’t realistically shoot any of the above loads on a regular basis. I am thankful at my age to still be able to see sights and have a trigger finger which still works, however, I am no longer invincible and have to be careful with what I shoot.
An Old Model Ruger Blackhawk and a pair of Bisley Models chambered in .45
Colt all handle .45 Schofield loads well.
John likes Hodgdon’s Clays for easy shooting loads in .45 sixguns.
… To Mild
I’ve set my upper parameter for sixgun loads to be equivalent to the performance and recoil of .45 ACP hardball — namely a 230-gr. bullet at 820 fps. This is not a weak load by anyone’s standards and when shooting other .45 sixgun loads — .45 Schofield, .45 Colt, and .454 Casull — the same performance comes from a 250-gr. bullet at 785 fps. There are many powders available for loading at this level, including several from Hodgdon’s. For these experiments I’ve settled on Clays.
Clays arrived in 1992 as a shotshell powder with very clean burning characteristics. It’s a flake cut, double-based propellant which soon found its way into handgun cartridges — and especially for target loads in .38 Special and .45 ACP. For me it performs exceptionally well in .45 Colt, .45 Schofield and .454 Casull. It also works well in the sixgun equivalent of the .45 ACP — the .45 Auto Rim.
For loading the Colt, Schofield, and Casull .45s I use the Oregon Trail 250-gr. RNFP in all three cartridges. For the .45 Colt my standard load is 5.5 grains of Clays, which gives from 780 fps to 840 fps depending upon the sixgun used. A pair of Old Model Blackhawks with 4-5/8″ and 4-3/4″ barrels put five rounds in 1″ at 20 yards while traveling at about 800 fps.
The same load in a Jim Stroh custom 5-1/2″ Bisley has the same accuracy with more velocity. Should I want a more powerful loading — which still doesn’t get out of my comfort range — I go with 6.0 grains of Clays with the same bullet. This gives me 890 fps in a 7-1/2″ Old Model Blackhawk.
The .45 Schofield is not quite as old as the .45 Colt arriving two years later in 1875. Shorter than the .45 Colt, it was designed to be used in the shorter cylinder of the Smith & Wesson No. 3 top-break single action. It was long ago pronounced obsolete, however, it was resurrected with the coming of Cowboy Action, and now Starline offers .45 Schofield brass.
Four forty-fives! Dies from both Lyman and RCBS are used by John for loading
(left to right) .45 Auto Rim, .45 Schofield, .45 Colt and the .454 Casull.
An Old Model Ruger Blackhawk and a pair of Bisley Models chambered in .45 Colt all handle .45 Schofield loads well.
The rim on the Schofield case is slightly different than that on the .45 Colt, but it’s enough difference to preclude its being used in some .45 Colt sixguns. My standard load is a very mild 4.0 grains of Clays for right at 675-700 fps from a 4-5/8″ barrel. Groups are in the 1″ range.
Finally we come to the .454 Casull. I’ve shot many .454 loads in the superb Freedom Arms 5-shooter with muzzle velocities of 1,600 fps and more. Today I’m a lot more comfortable with loads at half this speed, which is easily accomplished with Oregon Trail’s 250-gr. bullet over 6.5 grains of Clays. I have no worries about any load putting undue stress on the .454 Freedom Arms — but I’m a lot less stressed with this load.