Traditional .45 Colt Loads


July 26, 2003, 05:52 PM
I understand that one of the factory blackpowder loadings for .45 Colt was a 252 grain bullet at roughly 900 - 950 feet per second, which is about the same as a modern .45 +P. (Not bad for the 19th Century.)

But, from an artifcle I read in the Shotgun News, when the .45 Colt round was switched to smokeless powder and chambered in, for instance, Colt double action revolvers, the velocity dropped to like 750 feet per second.

First, is this true? If so, why the big loss in muzzle energy? Were the early Colt and S&W double actions not as strong as a single action? Did the smokeless powder require higher pressures to generate the same velocity?

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Old Fuff
July 26, 2003, 06:35 PM
The old Remington "Bridgeport Load" used 40 grains of FF black powder with a (give or take) 250 grain lead bullet. Out of a 7 1/2" barrel it did indeed hit 900+ FPS. The army however, prefered a lighter charge of 30 grains of powder, and this is the one that was duplicated when they went to smokeless powder.

The first .45 revolver intended to use smokeless powder was Colt's New Service model. It was adopted in 1909 as the Model 1909. Most were sent to the Philippine Islands - for obvious reasons.

July 26, 2003, 07:22 PM
Why did the Army prefer the reduced powder charge, and what kind of velocities did it produce out of the Colt New Service?

Old Fuff
July 26, 2003, 07:51 PM
Boy, you're going to put me too work .....

I don't find a specific reason they went to a lighter load, but I suspect it was because they had trouble training the troops. That at least was one of the reasons they changed to a .38 revolver in 1892.

A special cartridge was made for the Model 1909 (New Service) that was identical to the .45 Colt except it was slightly longer, and had a larger rim so that the double-action's star extractor would work better. It was loaded with 5 grains of then-new "Bullseye" powder. I estimate the velocity with a 250 + grain bullet was around 730 FPS. I can probably find the exact specifications, but it will take some time. I'm pretty sure it was equal to the lighter black powder load they'd been using in earlier Colt Single Actions (model 1873) and 1878 Double Actions (model 1902).

Old Fuff
July 26, 2003, 08:15 PM
More data .......

.45 Colt 250 grain bullet 40 grains FFG black powder = 910 FPS
.45 Colt 255 grain bullet 28.9 grains FFG black Powder = 790 FPS
.45 Colt 250 grain bullet 5.0 grains Bullseye Powder = 760 FPS
.45 Colt 255 grain bullet 5.0 grains Bullseye Powder = 785 FPS

.45 1909 255 grain bullet 8.4 grains "RSQ" powder = 738 FPS

Barrel lengths are not specified, and that could make a difference. However at the time (early 1900's) the model 1909 had a 5 1/2" barrel and the remaining Colt Single Actions had been cut down to that length.

Jim March
July 26, 2003, 08:31 PM
One more thing to consider in terms of "old vs new" differences: the old "balloon head" cases had more internal capacity than the present machined cases. Mind you, I wouldn't go back, for the strength issues.

But increased case capacity reduces overall peak pressures and makes recoil "feel milder" even with the same ballistics.

Old Fuff
July 26, 2003, 09:57 PM
Jim is right. I almost mentioned balloon head cases, but got sidetracked trying to find the load data. Handloaders should always adjust loading data (such as older Keith loads) downward, if they were developed in balloon head cases, when they are now using modern solid-head cases. Incidently, weak heads were the reason original S&W .357 Magnums had recessed chambers, and the reason rim-fire chambers are still recessed today.

July 26, 2003, 09:59 PM
not traditional, but my favorite plinking load for my .45 Colt handguns is a 250 grain Speer LSWC over 9 grains of Unique. Runs right at 900 fps from my Model 25-5, 6 inch barrel. I get a little less velocity from my Rugers, but they have shorter barrels.

July 26, 2003, 10:56 PM
The army however, prefered a lighter charge of 30 grains of powder
Actually, if I recall correctly, this came in when the Army adopted the S&W Schofield with its .45 S&W cartridge. This was shorter than the .45 Colt, and could only handle a charge of about 30gr. of powder. The Army standardized (for a time) on the shorter cartridge, since this could be loaded in both S&W's and Colts, whereas the longer Colt cartridge could not be used in the S&W's. After the S&W's were retired, I understand the Colt cartridge continued to be loaded with the Army's "standard" powder charge.

Can anyone confirm this? It's what I remember reading about it years ago.

Old Fuff
July 27, 2003, 09:27 AM

You could be right. The 30 grain (give or take) load was put out for the army at Frankfort Arsenal, and also offered as a commercial round by the mainline ammunition companies of the day. In his book "Sixguns" Elmer Keith said that early smokeless loads were offered in a shorter then regular .45 Colt case. Some research might bring up interesting facts. I also wonder if the (give or take) 30 grain charge might go back to Civil War cap & ball revolvers.

Jim Watson
July 27, 2003, 09:54 AM
I recall reading that the Army went to 35 grains of powder after some early SAAs failed proof.

I also read that Army issued a short round for use in Schofields and Colts. About 28 grains of powder. The source (not at hand, reliability not certain) said it was not quite the original .45 S&W but close.

Dave T
July 27, 2003, 04:17 PM
Ten years ago I was really into the Cowboy Action Shooting game and my slant was original weapons with the original ammunition. Spent a lot of time and effort duplicating the original civilian performance. Got lucky at a gun show and came up with about 100 ballon head cases that were in brand new condition. I duplicated the original bullet as to weight (255g) and alloy 1-20 Tin-Lead. Here's the results out of 1st Generation Colts:

4.75" SAA, 40g FFg = 864 fps

5.5" SAA, 40g FFg = 894 fps

7.5" SAA, 40g FFg = 914 fps

My research showed this was generated at a chamber pressure of 10,000 PSI. I believe the reason they dropped the performance when they went to smokeless was because they couldn't duplicate the performace at anywhere near the pressure and there were a lot of 19th Century guns around at the turn of the Century.

By the way, the S&W load was with a 230g bullet over 28g of black powder (according to my research). That's were the Ordnance Board came up with the 230g specification for the 45 ACP in 1911.

August 1, 2003, 06:36 PM
Wait a sec.

So the 45 Colt was downloaded? Is that why its not called a 45-40?

That means the 44-40 was more powerful than the old 45?

That also means the 38-40 was too? (going to look up ballistics)

Dave T
August 2, 2003, 11:54 PM

The black powder 45 Colt was not downloaded by the commercial ammo makers of the 19th Century according to my research. Yes the military down loaded, just as todays FBI downloaded the 10mm.

To say the 44-40 was more powerful is miss leading. It had a lighter bullet (200g) versis the 45 Colt's 250-255g. With the same powder charge the 45 was obviously more powerful by most standards.

Also, keep in mind that the 44-40 and 38-40 were introduced as a rifle cartridges by Winchester - the 44 WCF (Winchester Center Fire) and 38 WCF, respectively. They were adopted by Colt as revolver chamberings some time later.

August 3, 2003, 09:50 AM
First, is this true?

Yes. 100% true.

If so, why the big loss in muzzle energy?

Black powder is an explosive.
Smokless powder is a propellent.

Were the early Colt and S&W double actions not as strong as a single action?

No, they wern't as strong, but that really didn't have that much bearing on it. It was more about,,,(see the next)

Did the smokeless powder require higher pressures to generate the same velocity?

Yes. The real difference is the peak pressure, and the delta time(? I think that's the correct term) involved in reaching those peak pressures. Black powder "comes on" all at once, while smokless gets there on a "curve". There were a lot of attempts at slowing down the explosion of black powder such as coatings and different granular sizes (FG, FFG, FFFG, FFFFG) so as to increase the dwell time the projectile spent in it's accleration process. Longer accleration time is more better)(It's a fundamental concept - - get behind a car and shove it vs running full steam into the back of it in order to move it)

If you look at Dave T's post, you'll notice he's specific about using FFG. That's a very sane and safe loading. Change that to FFFFG, and there's no amount of money that would get me within 100 yards of that load.

If it doesn't make much sense now, don't sweat it. Once you take up reloading, and start working up loads with different burn rates it'll make some sense.

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