.45 Colt: More Than Just a Cowboy Action Round?

While many see the .45 Colt as an oddball caliber that can’t quite hack it, some view it as a great caliber choice for cowboy action shooting.

45 Colt Revolvers and Ammo
.45 Colt Revolvers and Ammo

(That ‘cowboy’ definition only goes so far when you push the cartridge to its limits.)

In truth, the .45 Colt can be a pretty crappy oddball round overall…especially compared to other caliber choices.

Despite its reputation, the .45 Colt does possess some unique possibilities. Namely, the ability to transition to a black powder load should the need arise.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

45 Colt Reloads Lever Action
Did someone say reloads?

In this article, we’ll take you through the ins and outs of the .45 Colt (and its siblings).

We’ll dive into why you might choose it and even some tips for how to load it, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Ultimately you’ll walk away better acquainted with the round.

Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself in the midst of some Wild West-style shooting a la cowboy action.

Table of Contents

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.45 Colt: A Non-Binary Caliber

There are quite a few similar calibers to .45 Colt.

So let’s find out which ones are near-siblings to this venerable round.

The .45 Schofield is essentially a .45 Short Colt, and the .454 Casull is the .45 Longer Colt.

.44 Magnum, .454 Casull, .480 Ruger
Some select big bores

Ever heard of .460 S&W? It’s the .45 Über Colt.

And of these, the .454 and .460 occupy hunting cartridge territory with an increased capacity.

45 Colt Shooting Revolver
.45 Colt can be a wrist breaker.

Worth mentioning that most of the firearms that can handle these massive wrist breakers can be scoped.

Nearly any firearm chambered in .460 S&W will also fire .454 Casull, .45 Colt, and .45 Schofield and most firearms in .454 Casull will also fire .45 Colt and .45 Schofield.

You get where I’m going with this…

30
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

.45 ACP vs. .45 Colt

.45 ACP is frequently thought to be similar to .45 Colt. It’s the same, but different, but also the same.

Featuring a slightly smaller diameter, the velocities of the lighter .45 ACP bullet mimic those of standard .45 Colt loads that have a heavier bullet.

This means the .45 Colt comes capable of more stopping power.

45 Colt Loading Revolver
The .45 Colt packs a punch.

To put it this way; it’s the Swiss Army knife of .45 calibers.

Granted, the typical load data places it just over 800 feet-per-second, but there are +P loads available that can push a 250-grain bullet at 1,400 feet-per-second.

To put that in perspective, that’s just over the velocity of a standard .44 Magnum and standard .357 Magnum loads.

What does this all mean other than throwing a bunch of numbers around for no reason?

In my humble opinion, the .45 Colt fills multiple roles.

45 Colt Reloads
It’s a versatile round.

It could be loaded light for older revolvers or conversion cylinder, but also for light hunting applications.

Why is that significant? Well, it’s not.

For most shooters, the versatility of a single cartridge means absolutely nothing, and they would settle for buying a different cartridge better suited for the intended role.

For those who have sensitive hands, the lower charged loads can help to train proper gun handling and technique.

Light loads are also great for new shooters you don’t want to scare away.

45 Colt Lyman 310 Tool
While you can certainly buy .45 Colt, you can also load it yourself with the right tools.

What Can I Use .45 Colt For Anyway?

With the way the world is progressing, semi-automatics are in the crosshairs of many politicians.

This means preparing and training with alternative firearms may become more commonplace.

Since the release of the Marlin Dark series and the Henry X Tactical line, there has been a revival of the lever-action rifle for perceived tactical applications.

830
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Most of these firearms held comfortable spots with the cowboy, target, and hunting crowd.

Shiny brass that could blind someone from a mile away or a fancy wood stock that looks like caviar on a G-string has graced lever-action for over a century.

There are several models of lever-action adapted for modern training accessories in the lever-action platform.

.45 Colt fits this role as well.

The .45 ACP is an extremely capable round and thought to have tremendous stopping power.

But the .45 Colt is no different and actually may have MORE stopping power.

In SASS shooting – that’s cowboy action for you ordinary folks – the .45 Colt is used with incredible speed.

SASS Champions
SASS Champions.

Light loaded cases are common and make it very easy to train in speed without using as much powder. 

Current Production Ammo: Is It Good?

Straight up, in current and popular loads…it’s bad. Most current production ammunition only serves cowboy action shooting.

This means it hangs just over 300 to 800 feet-per-second.

Good news if you want cowboy action.

People suggest velocities are kept low because there are many antique firearms in .45 Colt.

Antique NY Militia Colt Single Action Army Revolver in 45 Colt
A Antique New York Militia Colt Single Action Army Revolver. Estimated price? A cool $5,000-$8,000. (Photo: Rock Island Armory)

Since metallurgy has drastically improved over the last 100 years, it’s safe to say that the modern materials used to produce pistol and revolver frames are considerably better.

Because of the potentially weak metal, due to antiquated methods or abuse of time, the lower velocities and pressures are the SAAMI spec.

But what if you want to .45 Colt that can do a little more?

Well, that’s when we turn to handloading…

Handloading .45 Colt: My Experience

This part might be boring for some, but very interesting to the hand loader.

If you don’t want to reload ammunition, you might want to jump to the next topic. You’ve been warned!

I have been loading the .45 Colt as hot as possible.

45 Colt Reloading
Getting ready to do some loading.

My goal: to run it across platforms and firearms that can handle the pressure.

When carrying multiple calibers is not an option, getting the .45 Colt to perform as well as some of the bear defense rounds makes it perfectly acceptable for hunting.

Because of the dangers associated with “hot-loading” the .45 Colt cartridge, I would strongly advise against loading beyond SAAMI specs.

Hot

For this reason, handload specifics will not be put into this article for fear of shooting it out of an antique or replica firearm not built to handle the pressures.

DO NOT ATTEMPT THESE HANDLOADS AT HOME.

The Theory Behind the Loads

Theoretically, if a firearm is produced in .44 Magnum it can handle the extreme pressures of the .45 Colt +P loads.

Since the .45 Colt is a larger diameter, calculations must be run in order to compensate for the material lost compared to the two calibers.

.44 Magnum has a maximum 36,000 PSI, and it appears more of the companies that produce a .45 Colt +P load are sticking around 34,000 PSI.

45 Colt Pouring Charge
Pouring the charge.

So, that is the number I needed to stay under.

S&W 460V is designed to take pressures of up to 60,000 PSI with a .460 Magnum cartridge.

I was not worried about this revolver with any loads and would feel comfortable going closer to 40,000 PSI in this gun.

However, 40,000 would likely destroy the Henry Big Boy, and I did not want to accidentally mix up ammunition between the two platforms.

The Projectile

Nickel-plated cartridges were loaded for the revolver and standard brass cases for the lever-action.

The projectile loaded is a Lyman .454664 flat base .452 diameter 150-153 grain projectile using range-scrap lead/wheel-weigh 4/1 mixture (BHN 10) and powder coated.

Each projectile was water quenched when dropped from the mold and also quenched after powder coating.

45 Colt Reloading
Water quenching after powder coat increases bullet hardness.

About half of the projectiles were sized and lubed in a Lyman .4500 with Super Moly Lube after powder coating (PCSML). The other half was only powder-coated (PC).

They were set to an OAL of 1.600-inches with a medium roll crimp on Starline Brass.

45 Colt Powder Coated Bullets
The finished bullets.

The Powder

I used a VihtaVuori powder with outstanding results.

The decision to use a slightly slower burning powder was in an effort to keep overall pressures at a minimum.

45 Colt Measuring
.45 Colt measuring powder.

I highly recommend their powders for consistency.

Each case was between 70-76.6% filled before seating the bullet.

45 Colt Reloading Press
Getting ready to press.

The Loads

Each load was separated into four categories: LV+P (Low Velocity), MV+P (Mid Velocity), HV+P (High Velocity), and MP+P (Maximum Pressure).

Since the loads were calculated mathematically beforehand, there was definitely a possibility for error.

45 Colt Seating Bullet
Seating the bullet.

I also ran the numbers with Black Hills Ammunition factory loads of .45 Schofield and .45 Colt as a baseline.

Each category was tested with 5-round groups.

45 Colt Chart

The Data

There were reading issues in the MV+P. I believe that as the velocities increased, the Caldwell G2 was too close to take accurate readings.

After moving the chronograph back by 1-foot, the readings were more accurate.

45 Colt Shooting Revolver
Testing out the loads.

The HV+P PC appears to have been the most consistent during this test and will likely have more future testing to find the exact load that works best in both firearms.

Overall, PC and PCSML didn’t appear to have much of a difference. I’ll probably stick with PC and produce a projectile with a thick PC coating.

Notable Information

After checking the cases for signs of overpressure, there was a slight but observable bulge on one side of the case when fired from the Big Boy X.

Examining the cases fired from the 460V showed no odd shapes or pressure spike characteristics.

Measuring the bulging case showed a slight variation of .002-inches, which isn’t much but was enough to be seen.

45 Colt Brass Bulge
Bulge on the brass.

This was evident in both the standard cowboy loads and the proprietary +P loadings.

After a call with Henry, I was informed that this was normal as the chamber may have a slightly different cut in order to accommodate the ejector.

Survival Applications

Does .45 Colt have any business in the survival world?

Sure!

The round can adapt for everything between hunting and target loads.

What about when the powder runs dry, and you’re left with shiny metal cases?

In come…drumroll…

Drumroll

Black powder!

.45 Colt was. historically, a black-powder cartridge that would still push a 230 to 255-grain bullet over 1,000 feet-per-second.

The process is time-consuming, and on paper, it’s easy. In practice, it might be different.

This is by no means the most amazing or earth-shattering discovery.

Knowing how to manufacture powder, primers, and cast balls/boolits, you can become almost entirely self-sustaining with firearms.

45 Colt Lyman 310 Tool
Being able to make your own ammunition is a valuable skill!

The major downside to this is actually knowing the skills vs. putting them to use.

To me, the .45 Colt is a great survival caliber when paired with the appropriate firearms.

Not only is it one of the easiest calibers to reload with small hand reloaders, but it can be loaded with very little powder.

That brass 1858 Remington conversion is far from an appropriate firearm for +P loads.

A Ruger Blackhawk, Smith & Wesson 460, or a newer production lever-action chambered for .45 Colt or .454 Casull is more than capable of handling the higher pressures and velocities.

700
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Kirst Konverter

Have you ever wanted to turn a black powder revolver into a standard revolver?

Yes! Who hasn’t?

Kirst Konverters replace the black powder cylinder in many reproduction black powder revolvers and allow them to fire standard ammunition.

45 Colt Revolvers
Kirst Konverters take black powder revolvers and turn them into fully capable low-power firearms.

There are pressure issues, and it’s very plainly written for standard or low-pressure loads, but it still exists!

My favorite is the .45 Colt conversion, obviously.

I can use my stainless 1858 Remington reproduction from Cimarron or my blued 1858 Remington from Traditions and utilize them for both black powder .44 ball or cartridge .45 Colt.

300
at Cabela's

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Cimarron employs Uberti reproduction while Traditions uses Pietta.

Traditions offers some great firearms, and I highly recommend their proprietary offerings.

With the addition of a percussion cap maker, it is theoretically easy enough to make everything you need for defensive and hunting purposes, sans lead.

Conclusion

In my opinion, the .45 Colt is one of the best calibers, hands down. There will inevitably be another caliber better suited for a specific purpose, but the .45 Colt can address a lot of gaps and cover a broad range of practical applications.

From cowboy action to hunting nearly any game in North America, it has you covered. Granted, it may only have you covered inside of 50-yards, but that’s better than nothing.

45 Colt Guns and Ammo
Guns and Ammo

With some great hunting and bear defense cartridges adopting a very similar design to the .45 Colt, some unique caliber chamberings will be able to accommodate the antiquated round.

Having said that, if there is a true end of the world event, the .45 Colt will be able to jump right in with both smokeless and black powder cartridges.

45 Colt Ammo

To me, there isn’t a better all-around cartridge in the history of firearms. The history of the .45 Colt is deeper than the majority of firearm types.

There are a lot of possibilities here, and I’m looking forward to seeing a revival.

30
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Let us have your thoughts on .45 Colt. Have you loaded it before? Tell us in the comments below. Meanwhile, if you’re into that SASS life, check out our Ultimate Guide to Cowboy Action. Or to learn more about calibers and types, take a look at our Bullets Guide!

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