Reloading And Accurizing For The 45 Colt Revolver- Part 2, by “Papa Bear”


The 45 Colt is a great choice for reloading. The size of the 45 Colt cartridge helps to make it an easy one to reload. The cartridge can be easily inspected along every step of the reloading process. Also, the handloader has many component options to produce high quality ammunition at a cost much lower than purchasing factory new ammunition. There are some safety considerations that deserve mentioning before getting into the actual reloading instructions. For some reason, there are many people who find it necessary to load the 45 Colt to pressures WAY above safe limits, even exceeding 44 Mag levels. This is very foolish! It only takes one cylinder failure to cripple, maim, or even kill the shooter or a bystander with gunmetal shrapnel. Besides that, quality weapons are too expensive to destroy with reckless abuse. If a person will not be satisfied with the power of a 45 Colt, they should just buy a 44 Mag or 500 S&W, instead of trying to make the gun do something it is not designed to do. Additionally, some reloading recipes will state the loads to be safe in only certain makes and models of 45 Colt caliber firearms. The wise and prudent person will follow these recommendations. Heeding these safety tips will prevent the handloader from being injured or destroying a weapon.

Historically, there has been variations in the bore diameter of 45 Colt revolvers. Newly manufactured weapons should have a bore diameter of .451 inches. Antique weapons may have a bore diameter of .454 inches. It is not unheard of to encounter revolvers that fall somewhere in between these measurements. To get the best accuracy out of handloads, projectile diameter needs to be appropriately matched to the bore diameter. If there is any doubt about the bore diameter in a new production revolver, the manufacturer should be able to provide a definite answer. For older weapons, it is best to slug the barrel. This is accomplishted by using a mallet and wooden dowel to drive a slightly oversized soft lead slug, like a .457 inch muzzle loader round ball, through the bore and then measuring the slug with calipers. If reloading using jacketed bullets, the bullets should match the bore diameter. If reloading with cast lead bullets, bullets that are 0.001 to 0.002 oversized will usually give the best accuracy even when used with gas checks. When reloading with cast lead bullets, have the revolver’s cylinder handy. When setting the bullet seating and crimping die, adjust it so that the bullet sets as far out of the cartridge as possible while still fitting easily into the cylinder and staying within the recommended cartridge overall length. Test the loaded cartridge length for fit by dropping a completed round into the cylinder. If the rounds will not seat fully into the cylinder, the bullet must be seated further into the case. Setting the bullet out further will increase the accuracy of the hand load by slightly reducing the bullet jump. It is a small improvement, but the synergistic effect of combining many small improvements will give great gains in accuracy. Once the proper bullet diameter has been determined and the proper seating depth and crimp has been set, it is time to load up some test rounds.

Gather all components and begin loading between six and 12 cartridges, starting with the lowest recommended powder charge; accurately label this batch of cartridges with the amount of powder they contain. Six to 12 cartridges are loaded, instead of just three to minimize the chance of always shooting out of the same cylinders and to minimize the effect of any one cylinder being more accurate than the others. Like a good representative democracy, each cylinder will have an equal voice when firing test groups. Next, load up 6-12 more cartridges, adding 0.1 grains of powder, and then accurately label this batch also. Repeat this process, increasing the powder charge 0.1 grains each time until the maximum powder charge is reached. It is not a bad practice to always stop 0.1 to 0.2 grains short of the maximum recommended load. Of course, never exceed the maximum recommended powder charge. It is always better to err on the side of caution than to risk a cylinder failure. For the 45 Colt, magnum pistol primers are not always necessary, and the use is left up to the reloaders personal preference and reloading recipe recommendations. When loaded within safe limits, the handloader can produce accurate and very capable 45 Colt ammunition. The attention to detail and time spent reloading will be rewarded with a productive shooting session.

Shooting/Testing at the Range

Now it’s time for the fun part, shooting at the range! Discovering a consistently accurate load is the reward for putting in the time and effort in accurizing and reloading the 45 Colt. Here are a few suggestions to maximize the results and time spent at the range. Many people will shoot for accuracy with handguns at 25 yards. However, smaller improvements in group sizes will become more apparent when the distance is doubled to 50 yards. So, set up a steady shooting rest and shoot at 50 yards to determine which test batches will group the tightest. The shooting rest and target set up will have an effect on the reloader’s ability to shoot accurately and consistently. Support for the revolver should closely align the gun to the target without the shooter needing to apply much physical manipulation to the weapon; just make sure to have the area around the revolver’s cylinder gap clear. Many nice shooting bags have been ripped open by propellant gasses escaping from the cylinder gap. The next consideration to improve the human component of accuracy is target selection. The target should be well visible at the intended range. Targets with central shapes that are too small may appear blurry or too obscured when the aligned sights are placed on them, while target areas that are too large will make it difficult for the shooter to align the sight picture exactly the same way on exactly the same spot with every shot. The specific target area should be big enough for visibility and small enough to ensure maintaining the exact same sight picture on every shot. It is helpful to make an “X” from corner to corner of the target out of brightly colored duct tape. The top half of the “X” makes a “V” shape. The lower point of the “V” shape makes an excellent aiming point to help maintain precise sight alignment for more repeatable shot placement. Another trick is to take eye drops to the shooting range. Tired, dry, and blurry eyes can be helped by a few eye drops, greatly improving shooting. These few suggestions can help get the most consistent shot groups.

Now it’s finally time to get shooting! Get warmed up by loading up the revolver and shooting a few cylinder fulls of ammo at the target. Examine the shot groups for indications of any shooter errors, such as inconsistent breathing or trigger squeeze, and then correct the shooting form before shooting up the limited number of test loads. Using a new target each time, shoot each batch of test ammo. Save and label each shot target appropriately. It is a good practice to clean the revolver to some degree between test loads. A bore snake will make this process much faster and less arduous. After all of the test loads have been shot, measure the size of the shot groups. The shot group that measures the smallest will be the powder charge that will give the best accuracy when loaded with the other selected components. Since everything has been labeled accurately and the best load in known, it is now a cinch to load up as much ammo as desired with the newly proven recipe for accuracy. Just remember, a 250 grain bullet traveling at 850 feet per second smashing through an animal’s heart is much more effective than the same bullet traveling at 1,000 feet per second and only slicing through air. The goal is a load that shoots exactly where pointed, every single time. This is the reward for all the time spent working on the gun and the handloads.

Benefits of the 45 Colt

In conclusion, the 45 Colt is a fun gun to shoot. This big revolver carries a lot of nostalgia for fans of western movies and people who pretended to be cowboys as children. Aside from that, it is a very capable round and can be an accurate weapon with some careful treatment to the firearm and precise handloading. The heavy bullet with large frontal area is quite effective at handgun ranges; it’s big medicine indeed! This capable weapon has some advantages for the preparedness community also. The action is strong and without moving parts bearing the energy of the cartridge. The single action revolver will provide a long service life and is mechanically dependable to the extreme. Firing the weapon produces comparatively lower chamber pressures, which translates to longer cartridge case life and less wear on the firearm, again adding to longevity and longer runs between any servicing or repairs. The resourceful prepper can gather lead and cast bullets at no cost, cutting ammo supply cost significantly. The 45 colt is useful for hunting at handgun ranges and has been used to kill surprisingly large animals. It’s definitely more than adequate for whitetails. For self defense, it is dependable, powerful, and accurate; however, since it is slower to reload, every round needs to count. One of the greatest attributes of the 45 Colt revolver is that it is fun to shoot! There are many things that a fan of the 45 Colt could say to sell it to the preparedness community. With a few easy gunsmithing tasks and some good handloading, this old gun has a place in the modern preparedness culture as a powerful, accurate, and rock solid dependable weapon. With such an increase in first time gun owners and new preppers, spreading the good word about reloading to the online community is my passion. Happy reloading!