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edleft.jpg (2193 bytes)wpe4C.jpg (10501 bytes)I was on my way back from the range, when I got  to thinking about the marketing genius of the powder companies. With most products, higher  cost typically means more of something, however, with smokeless powder, you pay more to  get less. Newer slow burning powders deliver less energy per grain than older fast  powders, which means more powder is required to do the same job.

For the big guns, designed to push bullets at maximum  speeds and high chamber pressure, slower powders are a blessing. In fact, they’ve given a  new lease on life to some seriously overbore cartridges that had been written off long  ago. The relatively recent release of the Weatherby .30/378, as an example, was predated  by its first public appearance in the mid 1960’s.

The original .30/378, using non-standard powder, pushed a  30 grain bullet to over 5800 fps for the benefit of the US government. However, when  loaded with the day’s commonly available powders and bullets, this huge cartridge could  barely duplicate production .300 Weatherby Magnum performance, and needed half again as  much powder to get there. Today, I can stuff my .338/378 full of IMR 7828 or Reloader 25  and push 200 – 300 fps past factory loads, as can .30/378 owners. Of course, it’s not only  Weatherby taking advantage of the opportunity, Remington is right there with recent 7mm  STW and .300 Ultra Mag introductions. But all large cartridges don’t offer the same  potential.

powder.jpg (14002 bytes)Cartridges like the .45 Colt, originally  designed for black powder, have the powder capacity to benefit from slower burning  powders. Unfortunately, these cartridges are typically not available in guns that can  handle the 45,000 – 55,000 c.u.p. chamber pressure that’s generated when these slow  powders push bullets to an elevated velocity. A a result, .45 Colt case may be physically  capable of holding the same amount of Winchester 296 as the .454 Casull, but the maximum  load in the .45 Colt is almost 50% less than the Casull cartridge.

So the first part of the story on slow burning powders,  is that they are not for all applications. The second part of the story is that the slower  the powder, the more it takes to deliver any given muzzle velocity or, in other words,  what you can do with 11 grains of Unique, can take over 20 grains of H110 or Winchester  296.

Large magnum rifle cartridges may have a variation of 10  – 12 grains in recommended maximum powder charge weight, depending on the powder  selection. Some of the very large cases, like the .30-378 or other full length rounds  based on the .416 Rigby, may have a maximum charge variation as high as 20 – 23 grains, a  difference on the order of 10% – 20%. The .45 Colt takes the potential variation much  farther.

.45 Colt Reloading Economics
Velocity Powder
Cost/lb. Rounds/
1000 Rnds
fps above
% Cost
% Perf
250 1159 Unique 11.3 $16 619 $27 59
250 1273 800X 13.8 $15 507 $31 173 $1 4% 16% +12
250 1103 2400 20.0 $16 350 $47 3 $21 78% -78
250 1119 IMR4227 25.0 $16 280 $57 19 $32 118% 2% -116
250 1281 HS7 17.0 $15 412 $36 181 $7 26% 16% -10
260 1183 W296 20.5 $15 341 $45 83 $17 63% 8% -55
260 1151 H110 20.0 $15 350 $43 51 $16 59% 5% -54
260 1133 WAP 12.5 $15 560 $28 33 $2 7% 3% -4

Within this table, I tried to establish a  common denominator to evaluate the real cost of powder. I took into consideration   variations in powder charges, and variations in performance. I started by assessing the  cost of each powder type to produce 1000 cartridges. Since all of the loads could produce  over 1,100 fps, I compared the amount of improvement beyond 1,100 fps to the amount of  additional cost incurred to achieve that increased performance. The result of that  comparison became the powder’s relative value.

I think I’d invest in a little 800X, spend a buck more  than I would for Unique, and receive a 16% performance increase. By the same token, I  don’t think I’m ready to change to IMR4227, increase my cost 118% to possibly see a 2%  increase in velocity. Alliant’s 2400 cost 78% more than the baseline Unique, but actually  reduced MV. This isn’t meant to be a static model of powder costs. Performance can vary  with applications, and what is an inefficient product in one situation, maybe the best  choice in another. May be good to take a look before committing to large quantities of  powder.

Reloading Bench Notes

wpe4C.jpg (4900 bytes)I have that special combination from RCBS of a too small sizing  die and an oversize shell holder. The result is somewhat lumpy cases, with rims that get  jammed in the shell holder of the APS press. In sorting out the cause of the problem, the  new Remington brass checked out well within spec. The over done resizing will eventually  work harden the brass, causing it to crack prematurely, and I don’t particularly like  sizing cases .008″ below chamber diameter. 

The width of the shell holder slot is cut correctly to  accept .45 Colt and .454 Casull rims, but I’m not sure what RCBS was going for in the slot  height. The Colt and Casull rims are approx. .060″ thick, but the shell holder was  cut to .127″, making it easy for the case to tip and jam, and become permanently  damaged.

wpe4C.jpg (12875 bytes)I used the single stage Rock Chucker to  assemble these initial rounds. The .45 Colt is a relatively easy case to work with. The  large mouth makes case charging easy, and the big rim makes them hard to knock over. Based  on the fine ball and flake powder, size of the charge and the light sizing and forming  steps, this is definitely a good cartridge for auto progressive loader production.

Tight roll crimps are essential on the .45 Colt to  prevent them from becoming dislodged from recoil. Some of the folks who post heavy loads  utilizing cast bullets, feel an extremely tight crimp is necessary to help build initial  pressure and more complete powder burn.

Some of the long bullets have more than one cannelure.  One manufacturer may caution to make sure only the rear cannelure is used, which results  in an overly long cartridge. Another makes no stipulation, but uses a shorter OCL. I  noticed Hornady had a relatively light Win 296 load for their 300  grain that is  listed at 1,300 fps. I wonder if the high velocity is the result of less powder and high  pressure, caused by a deeply seated bullet ?

wpe4F.jpg (2885 bytes)Over a period of time, I believe I’ve gotten a  lot more organized when I handload, and I try to use the same process and steps all the  time. The repetition creates a familiar pattern, so  things jump out when they aren’t  right. As an example, one bullet only has a partially formed cannelure, and was detected  while being removed from its carton, because it didn’t feel right. Now that the process is  the same, the view is the same and operating motion is the same, I tend to notice a short  powder throw without staring at the measure, or a mis-fed primer or feel a dry or rough  case before it gets stuck in the die.

When I have a lot of short runs of different loads for  the same cartridge for testing, I try to work them up the same way each time. I never have  more than one type of component on the bench in front of me at a time and as soon as cases  start to take on a personality, as in magnum versus standard primers, they are never  placed in open areas together. Labels of various types are always affixed to each lot to  insure proper identification.

wpe52.jpg (6507 bytes)This is what my preliminary samples for  chronographing look like. I make up three of each type, put the set of three is a small  sealed plastic bag, along with the details of the load. The chronograph results will be  written right on the same tag, and returned to the bag with the empty cases. Later on, I  will be able to check the results and more closely examine the brass.

I use three rounds of each in the single action for  several reasons. First of all, I think three rounds gives an indication of how the round  will generally perform and saves a lot of disassembly when high pressure signs develop.

The use of three rounds in a six shot cylinder also  leaves an empty chamber on either side of the round being fired. Realistic or not, I feel  this offers a greater safety margin if I blow the cylinder out. The empty space also  offers more isolation of other live rounds is I encounter a squib load that vents toward  the face of the cylinder.

The Range

A couple of things became obvious very  quickly. First, I needed to reduce the distance to 25 yards for group size determination;  a combination of not having exceptional eyesight, and the thickness of the sight on the  Ruger. I’ve come to like optical sights, even on hunting handguns, and I am sure the  Bisley will be fitted for a scope very soon.

The second point is that the high velocities  attributed to cast bullets and very large powder charges weren’t going to be achieved with  jacketed bullets, at least not in this gun. The more I read on the subject, by people with  an extensive background in six guns or the .45 Colt, the more emphasis I see placed on the  use of cast bullets and penetration as the key to bullet and gun performance. That may  very well be.

I need to extend my own tests to include a  selection of cast bullets, and I need to use the gun for hunting with both jacketed and  cast bullets. In the mean time, the Bisley actually did quite well.  Compared to  something like .45 auto ballistics, the .45 Colt is moving very heavy bullets at  velocities not inconsistent with modern magnum cartridges. I probably wouldn’t have a  problem using the gun for the same hunting applications I would normally reserve for my  .30-30 carbine.

.45 Long Colt Handload Results

All rounds fired normally,  including the red line, however, that load split a case and leaked past the primer. A  little later on this week I will disassemble the rest of the cartridges loaded to the same  spec to make sure the loads were correct, and take a closer look at the brass and cylinder  to see if there appears to be extenuating circumstances.


I think there is much more than ballistics to make this  cartridge and gun worthwhile. The gun is enjoyable to shoot. The weight, barrel length and  grip style make it pleasant to shoot, even with the heaviest loads. The appearance is  nice, the gun feels good, and there is something very substantial that you would not find  in a semi-auto type handgun. Maybe the gun just has a different intent and purpose than  most handguns being manufactured today.

I’ve managed to pick up a selection of pieces Ruger  owners might install to improve the performance and/or appearance of the gun. I will see  if I can put together some information on these parts, and report if it is easy to turn a  Ruger into scrape metal while attempting minor modifications.


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