Sign Up | Reset your password
← Back to Real Guns

.357 SIG headspace update

edleft.jpg (2193 bytes)As a follow to the article on the .357 SIG headspace problem, I just stopped reloading with Speer Lawman  empties, which seems to have resolved the misfire problem. Once again, Speer Lawman ammo  never misfired in my SIG, only reloads made with Speer brass. The problem appears to be  the cases are well below trim length so headspacing is totally dependent on the shoulder  placement.

Still can’t tell if the headspace on the SIG  is marginal. I do know the Speer brass is about .010″ below minimum trim length. I  have seen other communications where SIGs with interchangeable barrels are described as  having shallow primer contact and misfires, so I am not discounting the gun or  interchangeable barrel as the central issue. I’m still looking into this part of the  equation.

wpe57.jpg (3821 bytes)I did pick up a bunch of new .357 SIG brass from Starline Inc. The prices were good, the  material was delivered to my door in 5 or 6 days, and it was of very good quality.  Ordering over the Internet was easy, and through a secured server.

As received, the cases were dimensionally  very consistent, notably all were right between the “trim to” and “max case  length” specs. I ran a bunch through my barrel/dial indicator set up and every case  headspaced well within a reliable range. Other than a little case mouth deburring, and  cleaning away process oil residue, they were ready to go. This material, with no other  changes in my die set up, resulted in no misfires and less shallow firing pin indentation.

The price from Starline was $58/500 and, in  looking at the other cartridges they support, Starline’s prices are between 20% – 25% less  than Remington or Winchester bulk brass, as sold through discount mail-order suppliers.

Speer Reloading Manual #13

Speer Reloading Manual #13 has four more  rifle loads and three less handgun loads than #12. A section was added addressing Cowboy  Action Shooting, and this is reflected in the loading data changes. Unfortunately, not  much else is, which makes the new manual appear dated.

Rifle adds:
.260 Remington
.32-20 Winchester
.38-40 Winchester
.44-40 Winchester
.45 Colt Rifle
Handgun drops:
6mm T/CU
7mm Intl Rimmed
Handgun Adds:
.32 auto
.32-20 standard
.357 SIG (2 loads!)
.44 Russian
.44-40 Winchester
.45 Schofield

What’s missing ? Basically  every proprietary high performance rifle load that has been introduced in the past 5  years, and half the Weatherby product line, including the 45 year old .378 and the 40 year  old .460. There are no 7mm STW loads, no big bore .416 Rigby’s….

In light of all the pressure the industry is  under, and the decline in firearm sales in this country, wouldn’t it be nice if a bullet  manufacturer put more support behind well established, and exciting new cartridge  developments ? We’re at a cross roads. The industry will either find a way to gain support  and survive, or it will keep raising prices, offering less, until it implodes in the  absence of a viable economic base.

$20 is a lot to pay for what amounts to a  bullet manufacturers catalog, that contains less current information than the powder  companies provide on the Internet for free. If your stuck for load data for your rifle or  handgun, try –

Accurate  Arms
Alliant Powder Company
Hodgdon Powder Company
Nobel Sport
IMR Smokeless Powders

The first three companies in particular have  been very helpful answering questions, or redirecting to other helpful sources. They’ve  sent info in the mail and they are very current. Both Alliant and Winchester use an  Acrobat format, so it’s easy to download and read offline.

Nosler Reloading Guide Number 4

The Nosler book was a little puzzling. It  stopped at the .378 Weatherby and offered no data for bore sizes beyond the .375, even  though  they offer a .416 400 grain spitzer and a 300 grain .458 suitable for the  .45-70. They also have a decent selection of .451 bullets, but no data for the .454  Casull. They did not include the .357 SIG, but they also don’t offer much in 9MM  (.355″) bullets.

What they do have is the 7mm STW, the  .30-378 Weatherby, the .358 STA and a slew of bench rest pistol cartridges. Is it worth  $25 ? Probably not, there is too much electronic data out there. I wouldn’t doubt if  somebody got smart, and offered subscriptions to a reloading data site that could be  updated continually and accessed as necessary.

Ruger Bisley .45 Long Colt II

This week, I spent time on basic handloads  and practice shooting. Each day I’ve gone through 100 rounds of .22 target pistol and 50  rounds of .45 Colt. It gave me an opportunity to learn more about the Ruger, get some  sorely needed practice, and research some potential refinements for the future. The gun  will eventually be used for hunting, so any modifications will have to make the gun more  accurate, have more power, be more reliable, or be more durable. It’s not easy to choose.

When is .45 not .45 ? When it’s a  .45 Colt of course

I like firearms, so I like digging through  the details, even if just to make sure I understand information I’m exposed to. As an  example, I’ve seen published, several times (including once in a letter appearing on this  site), that current .45 Colt Ruger production has undersized cylinder throats, a condition  which causes: lead accumulation, bullet deformity and subsequent inaccuracy. Honing the  cylinder above .452″ seems the consensus corrective action. The following is an  excerpt from Bowen Classic Arms –


For years, cylinder throats in .45 Colt  single-actions have been reamed too large for optimal performance with modern bullets.  Leading and inaccuracy have plagued .45 shooters of Colt, Ruger and S&W revolvers too  long.

The Ruger Co. has listened to it’s customer’s  concerns and downsized the throats. Unfortunately, they overcorrected. Now, most .45  Bisleys, Blackhawks and Vaqueros have throats that are from .449-.451. This is too small  for .451–.4515 barrels and swages down the bullets until they are undersize causing, you  guessed it, leading and inaccuracy.

There is a simple cure… honing to size. We use a  Sunnen industrial honing machine for superior results, honing up to .4525–.453, the  optimum diameter in our experience.


From 1873, until just prior to World War II, the .45 Colt  had a bore diameter of .454″. Post war production changed to .451″ – .452″,  duplicating the .45 auto. Modern cast bullets available through retail always seem to be  spec’d at .452-.454″, however, cast bullets always run a little larger. Jacketed  bullet size seems to vary depending upon the manufacturer; Speer .451″, Hornady  .452″ and Sierra fence straddles at .451″.

wpe4C.jpg (6310 bytes)I pulled the cylinder from the Bisley and  measured all six holes. They were pretty much all the same at .450″. The bore  measured .451. So I thought, “undersize throats = an inaccurate gun, but the gun  shoots .600″ groups.” So I decided to dig a little further.

I disassembled several of the Winchester Silvertip  cartridges I’d been using, to see if this component would explain the gun’s accuracy.

wpe4D.jpg (3374 bytes)While I was at it, I took some measurements  from a couple of other .45 cal bullets designed for both the Colt and the .45 auto:

.455″ 225 grain Silvertip, far left
.452″ 250 grain Hornady, rear, left
.451″ 300 grain Hornady, rear, right
.451″ 185 grain Remington, front, left
.451″ 185 grain Speer, front, right

The Silvertip, dimensionally, was a whopper and clearly  subject to swaging through the undersized cylinder throats prior to entering the bore. The  condition, however, certainly didn’t have an adverse effect on accuracy. I tried Hornady  250 and 300 grain bullets, and got the same accuracy results.

I think the undersize throat theory is interesting,  however, I have another. The bullet gets pressed through a round hole in the cylinder  maybe .001″ smaller than the bore. The accelerating bullet, hot and relatively  elastic, hits the rifling under high pressure, upsetting the bullet material along the  rifling path, and displacing it into the barrel groove, thereby sealing the bore.

wpe4C.jpg (5360 bytes)To the left is an example of a bullet that expanded to..looks like  about 1.25″ … kidding. This is a picture of a 250 grain .452″ Hornady bullet,  driven into the barrel with only primer generated pressure. The diameter of the bullet at  the land formed grooves is .442″, and the diameter at the groove surface is  .451″ – which is the bore size. The bullet really does look normal.

So what does this all mean ? Probably nothing more than I  don’t have to spend $100 – $200 and wait 11 weeks to get a $350 gun to shoot straight. It  also means I can use the money saved toward getting a decent finish put on the gun, or  maybe some nice exotic wood grips, or I can toss the aluminum ejector rod housing for a  steel replacement. I think Ruger deserves a reward, the gun already shoots better than I  can. I bought the steel ejector housing, it was the only item I could cover with the  savings.

Freebore – didn’t I just get rid  of that ?

Near the end of the 1400’s, when rifling was  introduced to firearm technology, there was a universal theory that explained why this  rotation of a projectile increased accuracy. It seems that devils cannot stand on a  rotating surface, therefore they could not come in contact with the bullet and misguide it  from its intended path. I’m pretty much okay with  that.

I think there are a lot of things you can do to improve a  firearm’s accuracy. Sometimes the shooter is even good enough to take advantage of those  improvements. I also think it’s possible to spend an incredible amount of money in areas  that may offer no measurable improvement for any shooter. Considering we are always  subject to the laws of physics, amazingly there is little reciprocity of opinion  between experts who shoot rifles, and experts who shoot single action revolvers. Please  keep in mind I fall into neither category, but I can offer this example, freebore –

Most handloading publications, when dealing with the  issue of accuracy, will advise seating bullets so the chamber round will rest within  .030″ – .100″ of the rifling. Some target and bench rest shooters go so far as  to reduce handload powder charges so they can seat bullets against the rifling,  while avoiding excessive pressure spikes. I know when I am working up loads for the rifles  and the TC, I’m always stretching rounds to the maximum COL that will feed reliably, and  still come within .030 of the rifling. This approach delivers absolute and measurable  results, particularly with heavier bullets.

I was a little surprised to see Alpha Precision  charging to put freebore in a customer’s gun – Taylor Throating. The site states freebore,  two to three calibers long (.900″), will increase accuracy by 50%. They claim the  improvement is the result of the bullet having a chance to stabilize before being gently  guided into the rifling. I may have difficulty with the word “gentle” being  applied to; a soft projectile, getting stuffed into an undersized hole, while accelerating  to 1,200+ fps, in a temperature/pressure environment high enough to erode stainless steel.  More so, short of fixing a broken gun, I don’t think I’ve seen any single mod that made a  gun twice as accurate

wpe4D.jpg (4328 bytes)The chambers in a standard Ruger are approximately 1.710″  long. Max length of a .45 Colt round is approximately 1.600″, but the bullet ogive  places the surface that will eventually make contact with the rifling, much further down  in the cylinder. Between cylinder length, cylinder gap, and forcing cone, the bullet will  travel a full half inch before hitting rifling – 5 times typical engagement distances for  an accurate rifle.

Most of the time revolver shooters try to overcome an  open breech by tightening cylinders, closing gaps and truing forcing cones. A process that  removes almost an inch of rifling, would seem a little drastic. It’s possible I’m just  missing something.

What to do…what to do ?

Not relating to Alpha, but gunsmithing  services of this type in general – I don’t know what to make of these services and  modifications. I’d like to have a really slick gun at some point in time, but I think I  want the factory engineered functionality, only smoother, with less rattles, cleaner  looking, and with greater consistency. I’ll revisit all of these areas in the near future.

I do think I will pass on opening the “tight”  factory Ruger cylinder for $100, especially when there is a service on the other side of  the street offering custom tightened of cylinders for $350. The entire gun only cost $350.  I have no idea why each service brings up the fact that they use Sunnen equipment for  boring and honing. The process has been around for over 25 years, and line boring/honing  is not an exotic process.

I don’t understand the need for a $1,000 cylinder/bore  line-boring job. It seems that achieving perfect alignment between the chambers in the  cylinder and the barrel bore may initially make for incredibly tight and uniform  alignment, but any normal wear of any of three or four parts that locate and lock up the  cylinder, would more than offset any possible gain.

I don’t need to go retro on the Ruger and put a half cock  hammer position back in the gun. I don’t need a cylinder that spins in both directions  when unlocked, or will align for loading at the click. I don’t need a special 5 shot .50  caliber cylinder fitted for big game, my other revolver is a .338-378 Weatherby, nor do I  need a more expensive version of the same sights that came with the gun. I especially  don’t want anything that would make my Ruger look like a Colt.

In fact, unless deer or pigs get smaller, or the distance  of 100 yards gets farther away, I’m pretty happy with the excellent, low cost product  Ruger was able to bring to market. Are there modifications I will have done in the future  ? Sure, but not right now. Triggers get rough, revolvers eventually require timing, gaps  between cylinders and barrels widen. Eventually small parts, weak links, break and fall  off, and cosmetics of a gun get boring or worn. We’ll see – there’s a lot to consider.

Practice loads – first handloads  for the .45 Colt

There are so many loads and sources of information for  this cartridge. Shows what 125 years of accumulated info can offer. I wanted to use  Jacketed bullets, I wanted to use something at 250 grains and above in preparation for  hunting loads, but I wanted something I could shoot a lot without having screws fall out  of the gun, or my elbow. I also wanted to see if I could use a powder/primer combination  in concert with other cartridges.

I decided on a 250 grain bullet for light target practice  and to reserve the 300 grain bullets for something closer to hunting loads. The selection  of Hornady in this instance, does not mean this is the final selection for the purposes  outlined. It does mean I’ve had good luck with this product in terms of cost, quality and  accuracy –

wpe54.jpg (1651 bytes) Light target practice:
Bullet: Hornady 250 grain XTP
Powder: 7.0 grains Unique
Primer: Federal #150
Brass: Remington Bulk
Approximate ballistics: 750 fps, 312 ft/lbs.


wpe53.jpg (1851 bytes) Heavy practice:
Bullet: Hornady 300 grain XTP
Powder: 23.0 grains Win 296
Primer: CCI #350
Brass: Remington Bulk
Approximate ballistics: 1250 fps, 1040 ft/lbs.

As I work through this portion of  the project,  developing load data, I’ll evaluate each for 50′ or 25 yard accuracy. Near the conclusion  of the series, I’ll drag a sample of each work up to the outdoor facility, and test longer  distance accuracy, chronograph each, and summarize all of the data.

wpe4A.jpg (9643 bytes)Okay – retro cartridge, retro press. This is a  new procedure form me. Whenever I start loading a different cartridge, it goes into the  single stage Rock Chucker until I’ve rung out various combinations. Then if there is to be  volume runs, I move the cartridge over to the progressive press.

Step one was to run all of the virgin brass through a  carbide resizing die (no lube) and into the first controlled lot. There are always little  things to remember when changing from one cartridge to another.

Standard sizing dies are adjusted by raising the ram and  screwing the die down until it contacts the shell holder, then tightened another 1/8 to  1/4 turn to “cam over”, or force the face of the die into the shell holder when  the press handle linkage is fully extended. Carbide dies are hardened and do not respond  well to impact, or direct pressure stress. Dies are screwed in until they just touch the  shell holder, and no further.

wpe4D.jpg (4513 bytes)The Remington brass came out of the sizing die looking pretty good. The  carbide actually burnished the cases and the overall case length was 1.280″ – about  halfway between the “trim to” and max.

The full length resizing die took the case down in size  significantly. There was perhaps a .003″ difference between the straight wall that  passed through the die and the area immediately above the case head, .477″ compared  to a spec of .480″. I don’t believe this will mean very much in use. The cases are  not going to be filled to capacity, even with max loads, and I am not sure what the  manual’s base line wall thickness was.

wpe4E.jpg (10057 bytes)Prior to priming and slightly expanding the  case mouth, I used an inside/outside chamfering tool to clean off any original  manufacturing burrs. The cases were all washed to get rid of any process oil, prior to  priming.

The new cases felt dry to the touch, or without a  slippery film, but sizing 100 cases left drops of oil in the shell holder which had bled  through the open flash holes. Without washing, this reside could have collected in the  primer and caused misfires.


wpe57.jpg (3384 bytes)The cases were all run through the expanding  die to   facilitate bullet seating. Too much expansion works the brass and shortens  its useful life. Too little expansion and the bullet could collapse the case when being  seated.

I think the rule of thumb is to back out on the expander  plug and very gradually ease it down until a bullet will just sit up inside the case  mouth.

In previous articles, I’ve noted that I use the RCBS APS  system, for lots of reasons. The APS press assures consistent primer seating. There is  less handling of primers, which means greater ignition reliability. APS does not always  mean CCI brand primers. In this case, I had an inventory of quality Federal primers that I  wanted to use, so I loaded empty APS strips, using the tool RCBS offers for this purpose.

wpe4E.jpg (6926 bytes)The primer box is inverted and opened into the  tray of the tool, which also acts as a primer flipper, so bare hands don’t touch primers.  Shaken side to side, the anvil side edge of the primers catch on the tray’s ribbed  surface, roll over to anvil side up, and are ready to load into the plastic strips.

A discipline that is required when working with the APS  system, is to use the correct color coded strip. White, for example, indicates these are  large pistol primers. After filling, the strips are placed on large adhesive labels that  seal the open side of the primer from contamination.

wpe58.jpg (4363 bytes)The change over from one cartridge to another  with APS is very straight forward. The unit uses standard shell holders (1), so the same  one can be swapped between the loading press and APS press.

You can see the strips loaded into the press, and the  small safety shield. It’s a very compact unit that shares a mounting hole location with a  powder measure. I have mine all held in place with wing nuts so I can clear them all off  the bench when not in use.

The priming process took less than 7 minutes for 100  rounds, and that included un-sticking 4 case rims that became wedged in the shell holder  of the press. First I thought I had a problem shell holder, then I noticed the rims on  some of the cases looked oddly coined on the case head, so I checked some out.

Sample Diameter” Var Thickness” Var
Spec .512 .060
1 .506 -.006 .057 -.003
2 .505 -.007 .055 -.005
3 .503 -.009 .056 -.004
4 .504 -.008 .055 -.005
5 .504 -.008 .057 -.003
6 .505 -.007 .060 0
7 .506 -.006 .055 -.005
8 .506 -.006 .056 -.004
9 .506 -.006 .057 -.003
10 .505 -.007 .053 -.007

Looks like I just picked up some bulk  brass with undersized rims. I don’t believe there is anything that will prove significant  in use, but it caused the casings to really slop around in the shell holder.

The bullet seating die set up quickly; screw the die down  until it hits the case mouth, crank the seating plug down until the bullet is properly  positioned. Then back off on the seating plug, turn the die down 1//8 turn at a time until  there is a proper roll crimp, then screw the seating plug in until it contacts the bullet.  It’s a lot easier than it sounds and this is about 25% the size of the explanation that’s  packed with the dies.

wpe5A.jpg (4721 bytes)If the roll crimp is correct, at least in this  case, it should be rolled into the bullet cannelure – not to large as to interfere with  chambering of the round, not so small it won’t hold the bullet in place under heavy  recoil.

It was nice working with this small chunky press. It took  a little over an hour to load 100 rounds, but I don’t think a single round was off the  1.595″ overall cartridge length or had a malformed crimp. The simple single stage  press produced very uniform results without any of the worries of missed charges, jammed  primer shuttles or incorrectly seated primers.

wpe4C.jpg (11126 bytes)The only problem I had using this setup was  the way I had equipment laid out, or maybe the fact I didn’t have things specifically set  up. It was very awkward and difficult to establish a smooth pattern of motions.

I figure a few hundred rounds of struggling with the  process will determine where things need to be, and how I can set up the work area and  specific elements. But that’s probably another story.

I’ve had a chance to put quite a few rounds through the  Ruger. The 250 grain loads group okay, probably capable of sub 1″ at 50′ which is  fine for me. The recoil and muzzle blast are negligible, more of a “pop” than a  roar and that heavy weight and grip soak up and potential jolts. I think the barrel must  be made out of rubber, based on the way the front blade droops down below the rear sight  after shooting 50 rounds or so. All I have to do now is find someone who can install a  carbon fiber wrapped 6″ barrel.

The 300 grain bullet loads were not suitable for lots of  paper punching, and they really changed the personality of the gun. This load is not  without recoil, and it is not a quiet round to shoot. It actually seemed more accurate  than the 250 grain loads. Several of the manuals or publications containing a wide variety  of loads for the .45 Colt listed “accuracy” loads. It was interesting that none  were very low velocity. I may try bumping the 250 grains up to 900 – 1000 fps and see how  that effects accuracy.

I have bullets in several other brands arriving this  week, several varieties of powder, some with magnum and some with standard large pistol  primers. Right now it’s difficult for me to tell how sensitive the cartridge is to any  particular components. I’m sure you’ve noticed that similar bullet weights, types and  loads never track from one manual to another. Nice gun to work with, but really, really  large. Can’t think what it would be like to shoot one of the Freedom Arms revolvers on a  routine basis.

More “Ruger Bisley .45 Long Colt”:
Ruger Bisley .45 Long Colt
Ruger Bisley .45 Long Colt Part II
Ruger Bisley .45 Long Colt Part III
Ruger Bisley .45 Long Colt Part IV
Handload Data