January 2015

Three Generations of 45 ACP Revolvers from Smith & Wesson

In our estimation, the Champion Series Model 625-8 JM is a best-in-class 45 ACP revolver when compared to an older M1917 and a newer Model 327 Thunder Ranch, our shooters said.

Three Generations of 45 ACP Revolvers from Smith & Wesson

Top: To load a moon or half moon clip, each cartridge is pressed into one of the U-shaped slots in the clip. The clip fits in the 45 ACP cartridge’s extractor groove. Bottom: To remove an empty case still attached to the clip, the demooner is inserted into the tube and the notch on the tube provided leverage against the clip to twist the empty case free.

Shooting the 45 ACP cartridge in a revolver may seem like an oxymoron, but the round has a long history of being matched up in revolvers starting at the turn of the 20th century. The issue in 1917, other than World War I, was a dearth of the new M1911 pistols as the U.S. became involved in the war. Tooling up for 1911 production was not an option since it would cost too much time. Remember, at the turn of the century, revolvers ruled the roost and all manufacturers were building double-action revolvers. With plenty of 45 ACP ammunition in inventory, the U.S. military turned to Colt and Smith & Wesson, which chambered the 45 ACP in their heavy frame revolvers.

S&W is credited with the idea of using moon clips, because there’s a trick to firing the rimless 45 ACP cartridge in a wheelgun. Revolvers use rimmed cartridges, which headspace on the rim. Rimless pistol cartridges headspace on the case mouth. Insert a 45 ACP in the cylinder chamber and it will fit and probably fire the round. But the issue now becomes, how does the shooter eject the cartridge? The solution S&W came up with was a moon clip that holds six rounds, or a half-moon clip that holds three rounds. Both Colt and S&W used moon clips in what the U.S. Military named the United States Revolver, Caliber .45, M1917. We tested one of these old warhorses against two other generations of 45 ACP revolvers recently to see if the relic stood the test of time.

A newer generation is the S&W Champion Series Model 625-8 JM, with the JM standing for Jerry Miculek. This is the revolver that Mr. Miculek uses to shoot un-Godly fast; it took him 2.99 seconds to fire six shots, reload and fire six more shots with this model revolver. Testers really liked this revolver, though it seemed the plainest of the three revolvers, looking a lot like a Model 686. This revolver is very popular with IDPA shooters and other competitors. Now we know why — it loved to be run and run hard at the range.

The newest generation is the S&W Performance Center Model 325 Thunder Ranch, which is constructed from lightweight materials and offers a few modern updates on revolver design, which we thought were good intentions. But we learned we did not like having an accessory rail under the barrel. It’s a good idea to incorporate a tactical light or laser sight onto a revolver via an accessory rail, but it’s a bad idea to have the rail in a place that could potentially injure the shooter. More on that in a minute.

We looked at these N-frame revolvers through two lenses, one being defensive and the second being competitive. As testers pawed over the three revolvers, comments on the 45 ACP 6-shooters ranged from “novelty” and “antique” to “convenient” and “practical.” The 1911 shooters leaned toward the positive end of the grading spectrum, while others seemed bothered to shoot a semi-automatic cartridge in a revolver. Nonetheless, we put the wheelguns through their paces, and here’s how the generations fared.

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