.45 COLT: DAN WESSON STYLE
The year 1873 was monumental in the history of firearms. That year saw the introduction of the Winchester 73 in .44-40, the 1873 Springfield in 45-70, and the Colt Single Action , serial number 1 of which was chambered for a cartridge that was to become legendary, the .45 Colt. All of these firearms are gone now, but the three cartridges live on. The .44-40 can still be found in the Colt SAA and numerous replica Italian single actions and leverguns, the .45-70 is available in the Marlin 1895 lever gun, Winchester 1886, Sharps, Remington Rolling Blocks, Browning 1885, the Ruger Number One, custom T/C's from SSK, and in both rifle and pistol form from Thompson/Center.
The .45 Colt has had a long and somewhat up and down history. First chambered in the Colt Single Action Army, the gun and cartridge were officially adopted by the military and when the Army also adopted the Smith & Wesson .45 Schofield in somewhat smaller numbers, they found themselves with a supply problem. The .45 for the Colt was longer than the .45 for the Schofield, so a "short Colt" cartridge utilizing a 230 grain bullet over 28 grains of blackpowder was standardized as it would fit both sixguns. This short Colt was much less powerful than the long Colt which used a full 40 grains of blackpowder and a 255 grain bullet.
Cartridge collectors have found many of the shorter rounds marked .45 Colt instead of .45 S&W, hence perhaps there a valid reason exists for ".45 Long Colt" being used by old time pistoleros and modern sixgunners when referring to the original Colt cartridge.
Of nearly 400,000 Colt Single Actions produced prior to WWII, nearly one-half of these were in .45 Colt with 35 other calibers filling out the balance. Remington also chambered their Frontier Model for the .45 Colt, and a few Smith & Wesson Triple-locks and Model 1926's also were chambered for the big .45. Most .45 Smith & Wesson's encountered from this period will be .455's that have been rechambered.
Prior to 1941, the only other sixgun of note chambered for the .45 Colt was Colt's big New Service, and after the war Smith & Wesson did chamber a very few 1950 Target Models for the .45 Colt with most being the standard .45 Auto Rim chambering.
My love affair with the .45 Colt goes back to 1957 when as a teenager, I spent my money not for a fast car but for a brand new seven and one-half inch barreled .45 Colt Single Action Army. Colt had resumed production of the excellent old sixgun in 1955 and those early Single Actions were prime examples of the gunmaker's art. The future would see the cessation of production of the Colt SA twice more before the final death blow was dealt in 1981. Costing more than twice as much as a Ruger Single Action, available with virtually unbreakable lockwork and springs and also chambered for the .44 Magnum, was more than the old Colt could handle. It had to die. Basically the same gun in 1981 as it had been in 1873, the .45 Colt Single Action could no longer compete in either price or power and only dedicated Single Action lovers like myself still purchased the old Colt and even we winced at the price.
The Colt Single Action was dead, but the cartridge lived on. Smith and Wesson, most noted for .44 caliber sixguns from the .44 Russian of 1869, through the .44 Special in the Triple-lock, Model 1926, and Model 1950, and the finally the .44 Magnum in its many variations, brought out the new Model 25-5 in the old .45 Long Colt. Sixgunners now had a fine double action sixgun in .45 Colt.
In single action form, the .45 Colt lived on in the strong Ruger Blackhawk and later the Bisley Model, and Thompson/Center even chambered their excellent single shot design for both .45 Colt and a .45/.410 combination. Most reloading manuals have special sections giving .45 Colt loads for use in Ruger and Thompson/Center handguns only. To further ensure the survival of the .45 Colt, USRA gave levergun lovers a .45 Colt in the Model 94 Trapper.
Surely .45 Long Colt fanciers could now be satisfied. We had the Colt Single Action and the target sighted version, the New Frontier available in abundance even though production had ceased. There is something about the feeling of a Colt SA that cannot be transmitted by any other sixgun. Especially in the four and three-quarter inch barrel length, the old Colt just seems to nestle into the hand with everything in the right place; the same feeling occurs whether this sixgun is riding in a hip holster or nestled in the waistband. A campfire and bacon frying just do not seem complete without the companion packin' of a .45 Colt.
Then for confirmed double action sixgunners, there was the Smith & Wesson 25-5 .45 in the four inch length, a good argument for the perfect defensive sixgun combination. In fact, even in these days of Uzis, Wondernines, and Assault(?) rifles, I still would feel adequately armed with a four-inch S&W .45 and a companion Trapper levergun.
Only slightly larger than the Colt, the Ruger Blackhawk and Bisley Models offered a definite increase in cylinder and frame strength. The .45 Contender could be easily scoped and both the Ruger and Contender gave hunters the possibility of loads that nipped at the heels of the .44 Magnum.
But something was still missing. No one offered a modern, double action, large frame sixgun chambered in the .45 Colt. Two candidates were available, the Ruger Redhawk and the Dan Wesson Model 44, and custom 'smiths took advantage of the situation and offered .45 Colt conversions in both of these fine sixguns. Rumors abounded that both would be factory chambered in .45 Colt, and though we saw the Redhawk in the three standard Magnums, .357, .41, and .44, and Dan Wesson added the .41 Magnum, and then stretched frame and cylinder for the SuperMag cartridges, no .45 Colt was forthcoming. At least immediately.
All that has changed. Even though it seems like a long time since the original announcement and advertising, the .45 Colt is now available in the big double action Dan Wesson sixgun. Basically a .44 Magnum that has been rechambered and rebarreled, the .45 Colt looks identical to the .44 Magnum except for the ".45 Colt" stamping on the right side of the barrel shroud. In fact, I use my scope-mounted eight-inch .44 Magnum shroud on the .45 Colt DW when my shooting requirements include a scope.
Being the same basic model in .45 Colt as it is in .44 Magnum, the Dan Wesson .45 carries the same excellent characteristics. Namely, a cylinder that locks at the front and the rear, interchangeable front sights, interchangeable barrels in various lengths, a one piece frame, and stocks that wrap around a grip frame stud rather than being bolted to a grip frame.
The fitting and bluing on my test .45 Colt with an eight-inch heavy barrel are both excellent as are the single action and double action pulls. Have examined other .45 Dan Wessons and experienced the same fine feeling action, I am happy to report that this is a long way from the rough actions encountered with the first Dan Wesson .44 Magnums nearly ten years ago.
Weighing in at just three ounces under four pounds with the heavy weight eight-inch barrel, the Dan Wesson .45 Colt is an exceptionally pleasant big bore to shoot even when used with heavyweight bullets of 300 grains or more. In addition to the standard weight .45 Colt bullets of 240 to 260 grains, numerous heavyweight bullets of 270, 300, 320, 340, 350,and 365 grains, were also shot in the Dan Wesson .45 Colt.
Years ago a myth arose that the .45 Colt was a weak cartridge. Perhaps this goes all the way back to Elmer Keith's early years as his first American Rifleman article, in 1925, chronicled his destruction of a .45 Colt sixgun. Turns out, the gun was an old blackpowder Colt and Keith was using balloon head brass with 300 grain .45-70 bullets of .458" diameter when the old Colt let go. No one remembers the details, only that the Colt .45 blew.
.45 Colt brass is neither weaker nor stronger than other sixgun brass. Dick Casull did all of his development of the .454 Casull with nothing more than standard .45 Colt brass and he was running 230 grain bullets at over 2000 fps. The key factor was the very strong custom guns that Casull employed. For years the .45 Colt has been hampered by weak guns, or perhaps we should more properly say, non-Magnum sized sixguns with very thin cylinder walls. Examine a Colt Single Action .45 and you will see this fact easily.
The advent of the Ruger Blackhawk in .45 Colt changed this. The Ruger .45 and the Thompson/Center Contender, and now the .45 Dan Wesson, can all be safely used with loads that are substantially above standard .45 Colt loads. The .44 Magnum has a working pressure (CUPS) of 40,000#+. The .45 Colt can be held to less than 30,000# (CUPS) and still give powerful, game-getting muzzle velocities and energies.
For example, a 260 grain Keith cast .45 bullet at 1400 fps from a seven and one-half inch barrel goes 28,000#; a 300 grain cast bullet at 1300 fps goes 30,000#; and a 325 grain cast bullet at 1200 fps goes 26,000#. All loads use either H110 or WW296; fast burning powders should never be used to build high performance .45 Colt loads. These are all well within the capabilities of the Dan Wesson .45 Colt and "weak" .45 Colt brass. Of extreme interest is the fact that a 260 grain .45 cast bullet at 1450 fps is slightly over 30,000 CUPS, while a 250 grain .44 Magnum requires just slightly under 40,000 CUPS to give 1500 fps. That is nearly 10,000# more pressure for 50 fps more!
With this in mind, let us look at some loads that turn the .45 Colt Dan Wesson into an excellent hunting handgun. For those who do not reload, high performance .45 Colt loads are now available from Patriot Manufacturing & Sales (P.O. Box 2014, Dept. G, Sebring, Florida 33871. 813-655-1798). Loads are available with both cast and jacketed soft point bullets from 270 to 325 grains in weight. Their 300 grain JSP load gives 1105 fps in the eight-inch Dan Wesson and shoots into one and one-fourth inches, five shots at 25 yards. Excellent performance.
For those who do reload, but do not cast their own, hard cast bullets are available from BRP High Performance Cast Bullets, Cast Performance Bullet Co., and Beartooth Bullets. BRP offers 300 grain flat point gas checked .45 bullets from Lyman's #454629GC mold, CPBC offers of full line of .45 bullets from LBT molds ranging in weight from 260 to 360 grains, and Beartooth has the Keith bullet.
The .45 Colt Dan Wesson was tested with the following high performance, heavyweight bullet loads weighing from 270 to 365 grains. All loads were safe in this particular .45 with no indications of high pressure and fired cases extracted easily.
The loads listed here are only for the .45 Colt Dan Wesson. They may be too heavy for smaller framed .45 Colt revolvers.
DAN WESSON .45 COLT
BARREL LENGTH: 8"
BRASS: FEDERAL .45 COLT
PRIMER: FED 150
TEMP: 75 DEGREES
CHRONOGRAPH: AVG OF PACT PC AND OEHLER 33
|300 GR. JSP PATRIOT||FACTORY||1105|
|SSK #270.451||23.0 GR. H4227||1240|
|24.0 GR. H4227||1251|
|NEI #310.451||21.0 GR. WW296||1081|
|22.0 GR. WW296||1119|
|23.0 GR. WW296||1193|
|BRP 300 GR. GC||21.0 GR. WW296||1099|
|LYMAN #457191||21.0 GR. WW296||1101|
|NEI #325.451||21.0 GR. WW296||1127|
|22.0 GR. WW296||1176|
|23.0 GR. WW296||1236|
|NEI #350.451||19.0 GR. WW296||994|
|20.0 GR. WW296||1060|
|21.0 GR. WW296||1160|
|22.0 GR. WW296||1206|
|10.0 GR. HS-7||726|
|11.0 GR. HS-7||786|
|12.0 GR. HS-7||908|
|LBT #350451FN||20.0 GR. WW296||1069|
|21.0 GR. WW296||1079|
|22.0 GR. WW296||1174|
|11.0 GR. HS-7||758|
|12.0 GR. HS-7||817|
|SSK #345.451||20.0 GR. WW296||1106|
|21.0 GR. WW296||1207|
|22.0 GR. WW296||1244|
ALL LOADS EXTRACT EASILY, NO CRATERED PRIMERS.
NEI #310.451: 300 GRAIN KEITH
LYMAN #457191: 300 GRAIN FP
BRP 300 GR. GC: CASULL DESIGN
NEI #325.451: 320 GRAIN KEITH
SSK #345.451: 340 GRAIN FP
NEI #350.451: 365 GRAIN KEITH
LBT #350451: 350 GRAIN FP
SSK #270.451: 270 GRAIN FP
I have shot the .45 Colt Dan Wesson with heavyweight bullets over dry dusty ground to a full 800 yards and if I were to relate the size of the targets a number of seasoned sixgunners were able to hit with the .45, no one would believe it anyway. Suffice it to say that both sixgun and cartridge will deliver the goods at long range. I have also seen the .45 Colt loaded with 300 grain bullets at 1100-1200 fps go through both walls of an old abandoned log cabin at a full 700 yards!
Accuracy of .45 Colt heavyweight bullets in the Dan Wesson is exceptional. For example, the BRP gas checked Lyman #454629 at 300 grains will shoot into one and one-eighth inches at 25 yards using 21.0 grains of WW296 for 1100 fps. For some unknown reason, both my .45 Colt and .44 Magnum Dan Wesson's shoot cast bullets of gas checked design much better than standard plain base bullets.
While many .45 Colt sixgunners prefer heavy weight bullets for hunting because of the deeper penetration they afford, others will still continue to use the standard weight, "lightweight" 240 to 260 grain bullets for the Dan Wesson .45. No problem here as the Dan Wesson .45 still makes an excellent .45 Colt when loaded thusly.
The following loads were also used in the .45 Dan Wesson with the same precautions being advanced for these loads:
DAN WESSON .45 COLT
BARREL LENGTH: 8"
BRASS: FEDERAL .45 COLT
PRIMER: FED 150
TEMP: 75 DEGREES
CHRONOGRAPH: AVG OF PACT PC AND OEHLER 33
|230 GR. RN LEAD||BLACK HILLS FACTORY||837|
|255 GR. FP LEAD CCI BLAZER||FACTORY||779|
JACKETED BULLET HANDLOADS:
|SIERRA 240 JHC||25.0 GR. WW296||1198|
|26.0 GR. WW296||1264|
|23.0 GR. H4227||1198|
|24.0 GR. H4227||1234|
|HORNADY 250 JHP||25.0 GR. WW296||1158|
|26.0 GR. WW296||1199|
|23.0 GR. H4227||1154|
|24.0 GR. H4227||1175|
|SPEER 260 JHP||25.0 GR. WW296||1242|
|26.0 GR. WW296||1271|
|23.0 GR. H4227||1232|
|24.0 GR. H4227||1242|
CAST BULLET HANDLOADS:
|BULL-X 250 SWC||10.0 GR. UNIQUE||1045|
|LYMAN #454424||9.0 GR. UNIQUE||954|
|10.0 GR. UNIQUE||1082|
|20.0 GR. #2400||1208|
|21.0 GR. #2400||1283|
|22.0 GR. #2400||1351|
|20.0 GR. H4227||1062|
|21.0 GR. H4227||1109|
|22.0 GR. H4227||1166|
|23.0 GR. H4227||1222|
|24.0 GR. H4227||1237|
BULL-X 250 SWC: 250 GRAIN
KEITH LYMAN #454424: 260 GRAIN KEITH
The .45 Colt cartridge itself is strange in the fact that even though it measures .480" above the base compared to the .44 Magnum's .455", they both have the the same diameter rim, namely .505". This means that the extractor star of a .45 Colt DA revolver has only .0125" to push on to extract empties while the .44 Magnum star has .025" to work with. Unless care is used, extraction will result in .45 Colt cases being by-passed and left below the extractor and in the chamber. I found that by holding the fired .45 Colt Dan Wesson muzzle up and giving a sharp tap on the extractor rod, no problems were encountered in extraction of empties.
The Dan Wesson large frame revolver is the only double action sixgun that comes with useable grips. No checkering to punish the hands through long strings of fire and obviously shaped by someone who understands shooter's needs. But there is always room for improvement and I found that improvement when I ran into Rod Herrett at the NRA Show in St Louis. Rod reached into his brief case and came out with Herrett's latest offering, a grip for the large frame Dan Wesson. I have been using this grip on the Dan Wesson .45 Colt ever since.
Herrett's has come up with a more compact, more controllable grip for the large frame Dan Wesson, one that will be welcomed especially by shooters with smaller hands who find the Dan Wesson grip a real handful. The idea of a one piece grip that bolts on through the bottom of the grip is still used although Herrett's DW grip is actually two piece. The grip bolts together on the sides with two screws and a third screw enters from the bottom and bolts the "one piece style/two piece grip" to the Dan Wesson frame. The grip actually feels much like Herrett's Jordan grip but is smaller and with the same rounded butt for comfortable two-handed shooting. Of smooth fancy walnut and filling in perfectly behind the trigger guard, it feels like a winner on the Dan Wesson .45.
The .45 Dan Wesson eight-inch heavy barrel sixgun at nearly four pounds is about one pound above what this shooter considers maximum for waist belt or cartridge belt carry. Fatigue sets in quickly once handguns get over the three pound weight limit and they are carried at waist level, so I much prefer to carry them in a top quality shoulder holster that evenly distributes the weight between shoulders and the waist belt.
Such a rig is used to carry the my .44 Magnum Dan Wesson and the .45 Dan Wesson fits it perfectly. Idaho Leather offers their #41 Deluxe Shoulder Rig for Dan Wesson and other revolvers as well. This outfit consists of a spring clip pouch, and is made of top grain leather, with wide shoulder straps to distribute the weight, plus most importantly, fastens on the waist belt both with a strap on the back of the holster and a 24-capacity cartridge carrier on the off-side. The complete outfit is secure, carries comfortably, and provides plenty of ammunition space for the handgun hunter.
By the late 1890's, the .45 Colt was passé, or so many thought. When smaller calibers proved inadequate, shooters went back to the .45 Colt. In the 1930's it died again, as shooters looked to the smaller caliber high velocity rounds. Production of the Colt Single Action in all calibers ceased in 1941. No one really expected to see it again. In 1955, by some miracle, the .45 Colt was back again in the old Single Action Army. Both the cartridge and the sixgun died again in the early '80's. They came back!. Dan Wesson's decision to chamber their large frame sixgun in .45 Colt assures sixgunners that quality .45 Colt revolvers will be available for decades to come.