The 45 Colt

The 45 Colt cartridge may be the perfect round for the large caliber enthusiast and handloader. Many pundits will tell you that the 44 magnum is the ideal round, since revolvers chambered in this caliber can fire both 44 special and 44 magnum roungs. While this combination does make sense to the non handloader for those who load their own the 45 Colt offers more.

The picture on the left is of a 45 Colt with a 340 gr SSK bullet, 357 Magnum with a 125 gr JHP and a 9mm with a 115gr JHP. As you can tell the 45 Colt is a massive cartridge that *usually* requires a large frame revolver, and in a modern large frame 45 Colt revolver it can outperform a 44 magnum with bigger heavier bullets, and less presure. More on that in a little bit. Many people simply feel more comfortable with a big piece of lead in defensive situations, as can be seen in the continued popularity of the 45 acp after so many years and the introduction of many new cartridges.

270gr Keith, 310gr LBT, 325gr Keith, 340gr SSK, 340gr FP
Revolver shooters however have long had to content themselves with a 44 special if they wanted a large caliber defensive round in a reasonable package. Large frame revolvers such as the N fram Smith have been available in 45 Colt, 45 acp or 44 mag for many years, however they are a bit large for concealed carry. Charter arms was for many years the only manufacturer that made a small frame large caliber revolver, the 44 special Bull Dog. The down side to this (other than the lack of choice) is that the Bull Dog wasn't very durable and would go out of time after only a few hundred rounds. Taurus came to the rescue by offering a 5 shot 44 special based on their medium framed revolvers, roughly the size of a K frame Smith. *Update: Since writing this Smith and Wesson has released a 5 shot 44 Special using their L frame revolver.* These are very good strong defensive guns, but are 'only' 44 caliber. Today Taurus is offering their medium frame revolvers in 45 Colt, at last a 45 in a carryable size. While these are strong guns, you don't want to stick your hot magnum level loads in them, but they are strong enough to launch 255gr bullets at 1000+ fps. For those of us who favor large caliber revolvers this is possibly the ultimate defensive pistol. It's small enough for daily carry, and packs the wallop that we expect from our guns. So here we have half of the reason that the 45 Colt is better than the 44 special, its availble in just as small a package, but throws a bigger heavier bullet.

Click for larger image
The second half of this argument is power. Properly loaded the 45 Colt is capable of surpassing the mighty 44 magnum in the right revolvers. What constitutes the "right" revolver? There are several available either new, used or soon to be offered. The Ruger Blackhawk or Bisley first comes to mind, its the pistol that first gave 45 Colt shooters a strong enough platform to experiment with this grand round. Dan Wesson 45 Colt revolvers can sometimes be had on the used gun market, this is a super strong revolver with all the accuracy that Dan Wessons are famous for. Possibly my favorite though is the 45 Colt Anaconda from Colt. This new chambering for the Anaconda gives us a terrific platform for this caliber. While the Anaconda looks like a Python on steroids it's actually based on the much more durable King Cobra lockwork, so its got more than enough strength for increased loads. Taurus also chambers the large frame Raging Bull in 45 Colt to compliment their medium version. This massive piece is basically a 6 shot version of their 5 shot 454 Casull, again more than strong enough for these loads. Finally one that isn't available just yet but hopefully will soon is the Ruger Redhawk in 45 Colt. With all of Rugers famous strength this one has been long awaited. *Update: Since writing this Ruger has started producing the Redhawk in 45 Colt, along with the Super Redhawk in 454 Casull*

Why go to the trouble of handloading hot 45 Colt rounds instead of just shooting 44 magnums? Three reasons, caliber, bullet weight and presure. Obviously a 45 is bigger than a 44, and with that increase comes heavier bullets. The heaviest practical bullet for the 44 mag is right around 300 grains, with the 45 Colt in these revolvers you can easily go up to 350. So the two things that you can always count on, bullet diameter and weight, beat the 44 mag. Since you never really know how long your shot will be you can't count on any specific velocity. The third aspect, presure, is also held by the 45 Colt. As it has a significantly larger case, roughly 11%, it can do what the 44 mag does with less presure. Why? What moves the bullet down the barrel? A volume of expanding gas. Since the 45 Colt case is larger it gives us more powder, thus more gas to push the bullet. So we can either have less presure and push the bullet at the same speed as a 44 mag, or have the same presure and push it faster. Most people who hot load the 45 Colt take the former route and go with less presure, but larger bullets.

To be honest the 45 Colt isn't perfect for everybody. For one thing, and this is important. If you have a medium frame 45 Colt for your carry piece or Colt SAA or clone you MUST be certain you never allow your hot magnum level loads to be fired in it. If you do and you're lucky you might escape with only being injured. This is one of the strengths of the 44special/mag combo, since the hot loads won't chamber it's easier to ensure that this situation never arises. With that in mind I still belive that the 45 Colt is the most versitle round available today. If I were limited to a single caliber I wouldn't hesitate to pick the 45 Colt, I'd have a Taurus medium frame for concealed carry, a 6" Anaconda for field/hunting/sport shooting and a lever action rifle for the times when I wanted to hunt, or just plink at longer ranges. Of course a custom bolt action chambered for the 45 Colt does have posibilities...but that would be the subject of another article.

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