Reloading the .45 Colt

In 1873, the U.S. Army adopted a new service handgun and cartridge. The gun? The legendary Colt Single Action Army. The cartridge? The equally iconic .45 Colt. The round was originally loaded with a 255-grain lead bullet over 40 grains of FFg black powder for a velocity of about 900 fps (out of the issue SAA's 7½-inch barrel). It was a formidable cartridge, used on good guys, bad guys and innumerable game, large and small. It is immensely popular to this day, and justifiably so.

Much to the irritation of cartridge buffs, the .45 Colt is often incorrectly referred to as the ".45 Long Colt," and many guns, cartridge boxes and cases have been so labeled. But this was never an official designation for the round. The term was meant to differentiate it from the shorter (and newer) .45 Smith & Wesson (aka the .45 Schofield). Our test gun this month is Beretta's single-action Stampede, made by Uberti in Serezzo, Italy. For reloading, I used the RCBS carbide dies I've had for decades, and they worked to perfection. The .45 Colt offers a wealth of versatility to the reloader. Replica revolvers as well as vintage arms are not particularly strong, so pressures of loads for them must be kept within the SAAMI maximum limit of 14,000 psi. All of the loads shown here are within this maximum and should be safe in any .45 Colt SA in serviceable condition, especially the modern-day clones. The loading manuals have separate listings of load data for the much stronger Ruger revolvers, but amped-up loadings must not be used in Colt originals or replicas.

It is also possible to get two, or even three charges into the .45 Colt's cavernous case. A solution to this dilemma is to use IMR's new Trail Boss low-density powder. An appropriate charge of Trail Boss occupies a lot of the case volume, and while it makes an overload less likely, the reloader must still remain vigilant. Many traditional powders are also suitable, and we have included a representative cross-section of them.


The mainstay of the .45 Colt is, of course, cast bullets. While the lighter 200-grainers are just fine for plinking loads, the classic 250- to 255-grain roundnose flatpoints or semi-wadcutters at 750 to 850 fps mimic original loads and offer plenty of power and accuracy. Loads that are close to the original weight and velocity tend to hit closer to point of aim than lightweight bullets at higher velocities.


Modest charges of the fast-burning W-231 and TiteGroup did great with the 200-grain RN bullets. At velocities of 825 to 900 fps they punched small groups, and recoil was light.


The 244-grain WC bullets were made by my friend, the late Joel Penny, out of pure linotype. They are hard as a rock, but do not lead, and they shoot great at about any velocity. Contemporary firms offer similar designs. The representative combination shown uses 6.2 grains of TiteGroup for 917 fps.

Several great loads were developed with the traditional 250- and 255-grain lead bullets. It's hard to find a bad load with such bullets, but they favored True Blue, AA-5, and Vihtavuori N-350, to name a few. I must confess, however, that I long ago settled on the BBC 250-grain RNFP with 11.5 grains of Vihtavuori 3N37 as my standard .45 Colt load. Velocity is almost exactly 1,000 fps, and accuracy is top drawer.

While most jacketed hollow- and softpoints need about 800 fps for expansion, at lower velocities these heavyweights are still formidable. They function like a hardcast bullet, i.e., they don't expand, but penetrate like the dickens.


Hornady's new 225-grain FTX bullet was developed for the many .45 Colt lever-action rifles with tubular magazines, but it lends itself nicely to revolvers with increased velocities and flatter trajectories. Velocities over 900 fps were obtained with HS-6, True Blue and Longshot. Check out the new Hornady Manual 10th Edition for additional loads.

[nggallery id=189]

A minor modification in loading technique is required for the FTX bullet. Overall maximum cartridge length for the .45 Colt is 1.600 inches, but the FTX bullet has a long ogive, so cases have to be shortened to 1.215 inches to stay within this length. Trimming can be easily accomplished with a manual case trimmer, but being basically lazy, I used Hornady's new Lock-N-Load power case trimmer to whittle cases down to size.


You may or may not be able to securely roll-crimp the FTX bullet in these shortened cases with your regular seating die, but not to worry. The Hornady Series II .45-caliber seating die (part no. 044151) works great for the FTX loads, as does the Lee Carbide Factory Crimp die (part no. 90865). Loads with all bullets except the FTX were crimped with the Lee die. A good bullet pull is essential for uniform ballistics, and a firm crimp is a big help.

The excellent Speer 225-grain JHP did well with 7.5 grains of old standby W-231 at 826 fps. Sierra's 240-grain JHC favored 7.0 grains of Red Dot. The Hornady 250-grain XTP is a great all-around game bullet, and typically shows fine accuracy. Here Alliant's Power Pistol was a standout. With 8.5 grains, velocity was 877 fps. HS-6 and W-231 were also quite accurate.

Interestingly, all of these loads, regardless of varying bullets weights, hit pretty much the same as to elevation (but still left of the point of aim). Varying the velocity up or down can also adjust for elevation, too.

It is silent testament to the grand, old .45 Colt that virtually every ammo manufacturer extant produces a variety of loads for it, and a fine cadre of revolvers—replica, as well as modern—is readily available.

Witness also the fact that the .45 Colt enjoys enormous popularity with reloaders. RCBS reports that in 2006, they sold more dies in .45 Colt than in .25-06, 9mm, .30-30, 8x57, .222 and the list goes on. So fans of the original frontier manstopper need not fear its demise anytime soon.

45-Colt_002

Recommended for You

Since Dr. John Mathews founded the company in 1979, SureFire's (then Laser Products) corporate Accessories

SureFire Ryder 22-A Suppressor Review

Jeremy Stafford - March 11, 2014

Since Dr. John Mathews founded the company in 1979, SureFire's (then Laser Products) corporate

The Jeff Cooper Commemorative 1911 was designed to be everything the Colonel would've wanted in a handgun. NRA Show

Ed Brown's Jeff Cooper Commemorative 1911

G&A Digital Staff - May 21, 2019

The Jeff Cooper Commemorative 1911 was designed to be everything the Colonel would've wanted...

Is the new Rise Armament RA-315C race ready? Reviews

Rise Armament RA-­315C Review

Chris Cerino - May 28, 2019

Is the new Rise Armament RA-315C race ready?

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Century Arms Introduces a Heavy-Duty AK Rifle

Century Arms Introduces a Heavy-Duty AK Rifle

Chambered in 7.62x39mm with components machined from extremely durable S7 tool steel, a chrome-moly 4150 barrel and a carburized 4140 steel bolt.

A New Season of G&A TV

A New Season of G&A TV

In this new season of Guns & Ammo TV, we introduce two new series and bring back a viewer favorite - Camera's Don't Lie. We look at long-range tech and see how to make shots previously thought impossible. Next we visit ISS Prop House in Hollywood.

Gun Clips with Joe Mantegna - 94 WINCHESTER

Gun Clips with Joe Mantegna - 94 WINCHESTER

Joe Mantegna talks about the origins of the 94 Winchester rifle.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Some guns are easier to work with than others, but the Ruger American Rifle doesn't require an engineering degree to tinker with; here's a look at some upgrade options to take your Ruger American to the next level, and make it something a bit different. Accessories

Top Ruger American Rifle Upgrades

Philip Massaro - March 15, 2018

Some guns are easier to work with than others, but the Ruger American Rifle doesn't require an...

How much have things really changed in the wake of the newest wave of anti-gun sentiment? We have done our best to aggregate and analyze the gun laws of all fifty states and the District of Columbia. From this study, we create a ranking list of gun-friendly states. Here are the best states for gun owners - worst to best - for 2018. 2nd Amendment

Best Gun Friendly States in 2018

Keith Wood - October 31, 2018

How much have things really changed in the wake of the newest wave of anti-gun sentiment? We...

Crossbreed's new The Reckoning holster is a simple leather-Kydex combination with multiple points of retention adjustment and clip options. Accessories

Crossbreed's The Reckoning Holster

Eric R. Poole - May 13, 2019

Crossbreed's new The Reckoning holster is a simple leather-Kydex combination with multiple...

See More Stories

More Historical

It may be the ugly duckling of military firearms, but the Lee-Enfield series of bolt action rifles served the British Empire from the closing years of the 19th century, almost to the 21st. Historical

Enfield- 'Gun Stories'

G&A Online Editors - August 22, 2018

It may be the ugly duckling of military firearms, but the Lee-Enfield series of bolt action...


Historical

Recommended Reads: 'The Colt Model 1860 Army Revolver'

G&A Staff - August 16, 2018

"The Colt Model 1860 Revolver", by Charles W. Pate, Mowbray Publishing, Woonsocket, Rhode...

It's not too late to start collecting soldier souvenirs from the last century. Historical

Trench Art

Eric R. Poole - November 09, 2018

It's not too late to start collecting soldier souvenirs from the last century.

See More Historical

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×