Levergun Loads:
.45 Colt Part 1

A modern reinvention of old technology
5

The levergun that never was, is. It took over a century, however it finally happened. Why did it take so long?

A somewhat modern version of the sixgun/levergun combination is the Ruger
Bisley Model and the Winchester 16" Model 1894 both chambered in .45 Colt.

In The Beginning

The first Winchester lever-action rifle — Model 1866 — used the rimfire .44 Henry round. Starting with the Model 1873, Winchester used a cartridge that was basically sixgun length — the .44 WCF (Winchester Center Fire), or as it is mostly known today the .44-40. It was basically the same length as the .45 Colt. This did not go unnoticed by Colt and by 1878 they were offering the Single Action Army chambered in .44-40. Now shooters could have a rifle and revolver chambered in the same centerfire cartridge which was quite a bit more powerful than earlier rimfire cartridges. Winchester also soon offered the Model 1873 in two other new cartridges, the .38-40 and .32-20. Colt followed suit and chambered the Single Action Army in these two cartridges.

Now you would think Winchester would reciprocate and chamber the model 1873 in .45 Colt. It never happened. Why not? One of the possibilities is the differences between the .44-40 and .45 Colt. The former is a tapered cartridge, meaning it’s almost a .45 necked down to .44. This design results in a cartridge which feeds through the action of a levergun much easier and smoother than a straight-wall cartridge such as the .45 Colt.
Another problem was the design of the .45 Colt cartridge itself. The rim was very thin and not much larger in diameter than the base of the case, which meant there was not much for the extractor to grip. A look at today’s .45 Colt brass shows a thicker rim and also a moat-like recess cut around the base of the cartridge case, in front of the rim, which helps to give more area for the extractor to grasp.

Choices

Before choosing a .45 Colt levergun, it is necessary to decide just what one expects from the choice. Copies of the original three Winchesters are basically for standard loads only. More modern versions of the 1892 and 1894 Winchesters as well as the Marlins and Henry Big Boy will handle heavier loads than the original Winchesters. One also has to decide whether loads will use longer, heavier bullets or be confined to standard length cartridges.

Almost any length of .45 Colt cartridge will feed and chamber in a Winchester Model 1894, while the others require shorter cartridges. I have considerable experience over the past 40 years with all action styles and lengths of .45 leverguns and have loaded dummy cartridges from 200-grain to 340-grain weights — and more — and use these dummies to make a GO/NO GO chart which tells me exactly which loads will work through which action. The Marlins and the 1892 replicas are quite picky about cartridge length.

Another thing to consider is whether one will be shooting mostly jacketed bullets or cast bullets, or even the relatively new powder-coated bullets. Also, even if standard length cartridges are used exclusively, there are some bullet shapes such as Keith and Keith-style which will not feed and chamber through all .45 Colt leverguns. In other words, it pays to know exactly which loads will be used before choosing a .45 Colt rifle. We will be looking at all three types of bullets, and herein take a really quick look at the latest rage — powder-coated (PC) bullets.

In the last quarter of the last century Winchester offered the 16" Model 1894 Trapper chambered in .45 Colt with both case colored and blued receivers.

Get PC

Many of the commercial bullet companies are now offering PC bullets and mold makers are offering PC molds with no lube grooves. I am just getting started making my own PC Bullets using the “shake and bake” method. For this method a plastic container (which will create static electricity) is needed to bond the paint to the cast bullets. Something as simple as a Cool Whip container will hold 75 bullets or so. Add paint powder like Harbor Freight Red or Black and then shake. Next, the bullets are dumped into a colander so the excess paint can be shaken off, placed on aluminum foil and baked at 400 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool and size as normal cast bullets. They should be sized as soon as they are cool because they will age-harden in a few days, making them harder to size. If they size hard, simply spraying them with Hornady One Shot Case Lube will prevent sticking in the sizing die.

Here are some of the bullet shapes and styles that can be powder coated at home.
Targets shot with powder-coated bullets in Winchester Trapper .45 Colt.

Loads

For use in the 16″ Winchester 1894 Trapper .45 Colt, I have thus far only used relatively mild loads just to see what can be accomplished. Acme offers the two standard .45 Colt bullets, 255-grain semi-wadcutter and a 250-grain round-nosed flat-point. For both of these I go with 7.5 grains of either True Blue or Unique. Muzzle velocities from a pair of Trappers, one with a case-colored frame and the other blue, are right at 960–975 fps with my best results at 30 yards being groups right at 1″. I have also had access to a homebrewed 272-grain Powder Coated Hollow Point which shoots exceptionally well using 7.5 grains of Unique for right at the same muzzle velocity and very close to 1″ groups from both leverguns. Syntech’s 230-grain .45 ACP lipstick bullets also work well, giving the same muzzle velocity range when loaded over 7.0 grains of Green Dot. Next we will be looking at both cast bullets and jacketed bullets in the Marlin and Winchester leverguns — stay tuned.

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