August 2010

Personal Defense 45 Colt Loads: Some Are Sedate, Others Sizzle

We collected the few loads available for the 45 Colt that are designed expressly for personal defense. We found four very dissimilar loads, but there was a clear-cut winner from Cor-Bon.

When we speak of big-bore handguns and the calibers that begin with a ‘4,’ the 45 Colt cartridge is among the most respected. (Sometimes the 45 Colt is called the 45 Long Colt, we won’t rehash that one here.) The 45 Colt in its original loading was introduced in 1873. This hoary old cartridge is the oldest centerfire handgun cartridge still in common use. The 45 Colt was designed as a martial cartridge. While we usually view handguns as short-range personal defense tools, the 45 Colt cartridge was often used at longer range in fighting aboriginal opponents. The cartridge was reputed to be capable of taking down an Indian war pony at 100 yards. The 45 Colt cartridge earned its reputation as a defense cartridge the hard way—not through opinion, but through front-line use. Aside from the Army and Marine Corps, the Texas Rangers, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the New York State Patrol were just a few users of the 45 Colt cartridge.

It is interesting that there are currently three and perhaps four power levels loaded in the 45 Colt. Two we are not concerned with. First, there are ultra-hot loads designed for hunting revolvers. The Ruger Blackhawk and the Freedom Arms 454 Casull will handle such loads. Your Uberti would probably be turned into a hand grenade. The second class of loading we are not concerned with are Cowboy loads. These usually use a 250- or 255-grain bullet running at 800 fps or less. We have clocked these loads as slow as 650 fps. While in the .455 Webley class, these are not loads we deem suitable for personal defense.

For much of its service life in the West, the 45 Colt was castrated by expedient. To make the same load usable in both the short cylinder "backup issue" Smith & Wesson 45 Schofield and the 45 Colt, the Schofield, a shorter, less powerful cartridge, was the general issue cartridge for both revolvers. One of our raters remarked that this is most interesting because today the 45 Colt standard loads and the 45 Colt +P defense loads offer much the same relationship. When we are testing 45 Colt +P loads, we are testing loads suitable for use in the Taurus Judge, Smith & Wesson double-action revolvers, and the strong US Fire Arms (USFA) single-action revolvers and the Ruger Vaquero. These are not Ruger Blackhawk–only loadings, but neither are they pipsqueaks.

The original 45 Colt full-power load pushed a 255-grain conical bullet to more than 900 fps. Today, outdoorsmen use a standard handload of a 250-grain semi-wadcutter at about 1000 fps. While this is a powerful load, a personal-defense load should use an expanding bullet for greater wound potential and also to limit penetration in the interest of public safety. It is interesting to note that although there are revolvers in this caliber available in the double-action format from Ruger, Smith & Wesson, and Taurus, there are few defensive loads available. We were able to test four loads from three different makers.

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