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Gunnotes...Smith & Wesson Mod 25-5
By: John Linebaugh
We get several calls and letters here weekly asking for information and load data for the various .45s on the market.
The toughest and best built by far are the Ruger Blackhawks and Bisleys. These are fine hunting and utility guns and in 4-3/4" barrel length make what could be considered by many the ultimate packing gun.
The Colt SAA and New Frontiers are the ultimate packers and offer power levels with safe handloads to handle any game in the lower 48 states.
The price of the base Colt keeps lots of shooters from enjoying these fine guns. One of the best priced and balanced packing power packages we have today is the Smith and Wesson Mod 25-5 in .45 Colt.
This gun has a few drawbacks but they can be worked around or repaired to the point that in my opinion, it becomes my favorite all around packin' gun.
Perhaps the main reason I like it so much is this caliber is my favorite. Secondly, the Grand old Master of the Shooting game packed the same size, style gun for 30 plus years daily in .44 magnum caliber. If Elmer Keith stuck to something that long it had to be old school and it had to be good.
While I have nothing against the .41 or .44 magnum calibers I prefer the .45 for these two main reasons.
First, it simply packs more punch due to bullet weight and caliber, "the only constants we have in external ballistics," and the gun is slightly lighter due to the bigger holes drilled in the barrel and cylinder.
I've listened to the arguments of many .41 lovers that their .41 and a belt of ammo weighed practically the same as my lighter .45 caliber gun and it's heavier ammo. This point an not be argued but I don't carry a gun belt full of heavy handloads. The six in the gun plus six more on my belt or pocket will get me out of most any situation I'm foolish enough to stumble into. And the lighter gun, even though it's a couple ounces, make for better times out of the holster and speed in bringing the gun to bear on target. If you doubt this I suggest you get yourself one of the fancy PACT timers and do a little fast gun work with various sizes an weights of guns. The big guns are simply slower as one must overcome the mass.
Perhaps some will wonder why I would choose the .45 over the mighty .44 magnum and loose the power advantage. In our testing over the years we have proven in pressure barrels using the copper crusher method that the .45 Colt cartridge will do anything the .44 magnum round will do with 5,000 to around 10,000 PSI less pressure depending on the load and bullet weight combination. This is not a great secret, its just a matter of capacity.
You can't make a .308 into a .30-06. Close, yes, but with the heavy slugs it just can't be done. The bigger case holds more powder, generates more gas upon ignition and has more steam to push the slug down the barrel, and more capacity gives the gas more room to work in "more comfortably" so to speak. Overall this keeps the pressure level lower for each unit of velocity. Bigger cartridges simply give us more speed and power for less pressure. It may surprise many but the cylinder on the S&W .45 Colt is the same diameter as the Ruger Blackhawk. The webs (between chambers) and outside chamber wall are also the same. So basically the Ruger and S&W cylinders are identical in strength and dimension. We recommend handloads for the Rugers single action in .45 Colt caliber to 32,000 PSI levels.
While the S&W will take these loads safely such loads will greatly shorten the life of your gun. The frames on S&W are not heat treated thus are pretty soft. With loads that exceed what the gun can comfortably handle the frame stretches immediately lengthwise and then springs back. This all causes battering and soon your gun has excessive endshake. I don't know how long it takes to wreck a N frame S&W with heavy handloads but Jeff Cooper printed one time he saw a model 29 go out in the realm of 1,000 hot handloads if I remember correctly. I would agree that serious damage could be done in this amount of shooting with too heavy a handload.
The bearing surfaces on the front and rear of the cylinder in the DA guns just aren't as massive as the single action guns and the lock-up system isn't near as rigid as the single action base pin system.
In short, several small parts can't be expected to stand up as well as a few heavy parts. So now I've proven we have a inferior design, that requires less powerful handloads to "keep it alive" and a design that is going to wear out sooner than a SA even with care and handling. I'll give a few reasons why I like the S&W 4" so much.
First I guess it's like the gun Elmer carried for so long. I'm not trying to be Elmer but I've done a lot of studying on why he picked the 4" model 29.It's vary packable, it has plenty of power, it's fast when needed and accurate for precision shots. Perhaps Elmer's statement that a sixgun should be capable of being brought into action in 1/2 a second or drawn up between your knees and make long range hits says it all. The all around sixgun.
It has it's weak points like all of us, but overall its hard to beat. Some of the problems with the model 25-5 is most obvious, the HULK size grips S&W installs on the N frame guns.
I cut a full 1/4" off the bottom of my grips and then finish the wood with a fine rasp till all checkering was gone. Sandpaper to desired finish and tung oil. When this is done carefully and properly you will get a shape that resembles the old S&W Diamond grips, the finest ever produced by this company.
My modified grips work perfectly for me and even shooters with big hands, and yet my little wife and 12 and 14 year old boys can shoot these guns fine. People often call and tell me they have big hands and thus need big grips. I disagree, just BIG grips aren't the answer, they need well designed grips that are full in the rear to distribute the recoil energy over a wide area and graceful in other areas so we can CONTROL the gun properly.
There is plenty of wood in a stock S&W revolver to contour it to your liking. In 1983 S&W discontinued the "pinned" barrel feature. As many of you well know this was a small pin through the barrel shank thread area of the frame and barrel. At this time, the .45 chamber dimensions were reduced from .488-.489 diameter to minimum industry dimension of .483. These new "NON PINNED" guns with small chambers are tops in my opinion. The front sights are the same as the .44 mag model 29 and are a bit too short for the loads I use daily, causing my gun to shoot about 4" high at 25 yards.
Other than this, I'd take this gun anywhere and bet my life on it anytime. Both of my 25-5s are 4" and are stock other than the grip work described. One can cut a turn off the trigger return spring for fast gun work but I've found both of my guns nearly perfect just as they cam "out of the box." As a custom gun builder I am approached daily with ideas and gimmicks. I've settled on solid old school basics. The shooter has to do his part too.
Whistles and bells and flashing lights on sixguns won't replace determination, practice and expenditure of lead. S&W also made a few model 25-7s. This was a 5" gun with a non-fluted cylinder. The non-fluted feature does nothing for strength and only adds weight to the cylinder. This in turn is harder to get rotating and harder to stop. Thus increasing wear on the ratchet, hand and bolt and bolt notches in fast gun work. For a hunting gun this model is tops. All were marked model of 1987 on the barrel with white etching and came with Hogue monogrips. I would change these for some nice wood or ivory micarta. The front sight may be a bit short for heavy bullet loads but the gun has the minimum dimension chambers and is a top performer.
I've shot two or three of them here with the 310gr Keith slug (old NEI mould) and 23.5 gr of H-110 for a full, honest 1,200 fps..(THIS IS A MAXIMUM LOAD). All guns printed this load in the 1-1/2" range at 25 yards off sandbags.
I know for a fact this load will go through elk like cheese at long range. I don't mean to be beating a dead horse but velocity does not buy us power. Instead it buys us trajectory and range. At handgun ranges I'm not sure we need an abundance of either. I load to 1,200 fps for a good all around speed in my sixguns. If I need more power I got to a bugger slug or bigger caliber. A couple years ago I was testing some new +P .45 Colt ammo for accuracy, velocity, penetration and expansion in wet paper. The bullet was a custom made 275 gr JSP design.
Notes in my loading notebook here state that the wet paper was supported or backed up by a pine log. The Ruger with it's 1,170 fps drove the 275 gr slug through 22" of wet paper and 1" of pine. The S&W 4" with 130 fps less velocity penetrated through 22" of wet paper and 1/2" of pine. For all practical purposes the same. The 260 Keith didn't penetrate quite as deep but cut a larger hole with the full caliber front band. When we tested the first .475 and .500 Maximums we gained on the average 150 fps over the standard .475 and .500 Linebaugh rounds.
In wet paper our penetration went up less than 2". Recoil went up drastically. Its a specialty sixgun for sure, and has a place, but not for average hunting conditions. I have seen my wife shoot two or three mule deer and about eight antelope now with a .45 Colt. The load she has used almost exclusively for seven years now is a 260 Keith slug at 900 fps out of a 4 3/4" Seville revolver. This will consistently shoot length ways and exit on mule deer and antelope at 100 yards.
It kills in my estimation better than a .270 or .30-06 class rifle as it acts a lot like an arrow and doesn't excite the animal. They usually show minor hit reaction and trot off 20 to 30 yards. By then they have leaked so much, they are done. No whistles or bells, just honest consistent performance.
I have used this load on two antelope with exacting results. In my early hunting years I used the same 260 gr Keith at 1,400 fps. out of a dozen antelope and one mule deer I have personally taken I can't see that it stops them one bit better than the 900 fps load.
Why, well history will tell us, as Elmer said. Once you shoot completely through your intended target you've done all you can do. Sure there are bigger guns, capable of faster velocities and more energy, but I personally don't buy the theory.
In general, the S&W may not be the strongest sixgun. We know other models will shooter harder and faster, but practical game and field experience proves to me that it will shoot a big enough slug, fast enough to go through anything I'm gonna tackle on an average day. And if I bump into a bad bear or other two legged varmint the range will likely be in inches or feet, not yards.
Then I'm really going to appreciate the fast handling double action with its advantages for these conditions. I feel too many sixgunners today handicap themselves with big, clumsy revolvers for our walks in the woods.
My favorite loads for the 4" S&W .45 Colt are built around two bullets. The 260 Keith and the 310 Keith cast slugs. In the last few years I have used the LBT style cast slugs in a lot of our five shot .45 Colts and .475 and .500s.
These are excellent slugs and accurate to the extreme. The 320 gr Plain base LBT LFN is a good choice but either it or the 310 Keith are as heavy as I will use or recommend in the .45 Colt in S&W revolvers.
For day in and day out packing I use a lot of either 8.0 gr Win 231 or 13.0 gr HS-6 with the 260 Keith. These loads go just under and just over 900 fps respectively.
If I were an officer who worked night shift I'd use the Win 231 load for reduced muzzle flash. This slug at 850 to 900 fps will go through car doors with energy to spare. If it has a shortcoming it's over penetration.
I've shot the Winchester Silvertip and Federal 225 swaged HP but detest both and would never consider using them for any shooting purpose. They both lack penetration, speed or bullet weight for serious work.
If I had to carry the .45 Colt mod 25-5 and work in congested areas I would possibly consider a 230 gr Truncated con .45 ACP slug at 800 fps. This basically duplicates the .45 Auto and at 800 fps from what I'm told it will "just" barely or sometimes pass through a crook.
The Speer 200 grain JHP slug otherwise known as the Flying Ashtray might have some application in specialized situations but I'm very much against these lightweight slugs and their inconsistent results.
It's been proven that the number of misses exceed the hits dramatically in actual gunfights so over penetration becomes a minor or second place concern.
Bullets that fragment or fail on belt buckles and coat button don't interest me. Despite these downfalls that follow the big bore revolvers they are the greatest stoppers we can carry.
My other two favorite loads are 24.0 grains of H-110 and the 260 Keith for 1,080 fps and 23.5 grains of H-110 under the 310 Keith or 320 LBT for 1,100 fps. I use and recommend the use of these latter loads sparingly so you don't wear out your favorite sixgun prematurely. They are near the upper end of what the Smith and Wesson can handle safely. This is the load I carry when in bear country or on camping trips. This 4" S&W with the 310/320 at 1,100 fps is what I keep under my pillow in elk camp along with a strong flashlight. This is my everyday backcountry insurance policy.
Listed below are some loads I have used and recommend for the Smith and Wesson Mod 25-5 revolvers with good results for several years now. All load data listed below has proven safe in our shop with our components. Work up to all listed loads carefully following all safe reloading practices with your individual components. The author assumes no responsibility for any handloads other than his own.
Most of the new non-pinned Model 25-5 and 25-7 that I have inspected and shot here not only had minimum chambers but many had tight chamber throats. The common diameter was near .451 and none exceeded .452. This is plenty tight. Always remember that tight cylinder throats build unnecessary pressure. We polished all throats so the bullets we used would push through with minimum resistance.
Like Elmer said in his fine book Sixguns, all bullets should pass through the cylinder throats with just slight finger pressure. Overall the Smith & Wesson Model 25-7 and 25-7s are fine revolvers that offer plenty of punch for most situations normal folks will find themselves in. They shot bullets a little bigger and a little heavier than the .44 magnum at the same speeds from equal barrel lengths.
The difference in chamber pressure makes up for the difference in mechanical strength in the guns. The .45 just isn't quite as strong mechanically as the .44 magnum in the cylinder, but in turn the .45 does any equal amount of work with less pressure. It all balances out.
To date my oldest and most used S&W .45 Colt has probably taken 5,000 plus loads. Half of these have been 24.0 gr H-110 with the 260 Keith. Doesn't sound like I shoot it a lot huh! Well, I shoot a lot of other stuff daily on the side, and I figure this old Smith gets carried about 200 miles per shot. It's packable, practical and powerful, and that's what Old School sixguns are all about.
Neither I, handloads.com nor the author of this article assume any responsiblity for any use of the data listed here. It is the responsiblity of every handloader to verify the data they are using is safe in their individual handguns.
John Linebaugh and Linebaugh Custom Sixguns can be found online at http://www.sixgunner.com/linebaugh/