column By: Brian Pearce | February, 20
Q: I read and re-read your Pet Loads feature article on the .45 Colt in the June 2019 No. 320 issue of Handloader Magazine, which was a most excellent and informative piece unlike anything that I have ever read before. Your comments on throat sizes were especially interesting and I am considering fitting my Colt Single Action Army .45 with a new cylinder and have several questions. First, my gun is a second generation manufactured in 1959 and has throats that measure .457 inch. Accuracy has never been great. Some loads are doing good to stay within 5-inches at 25-yards (including factory cowboy loads) from a sandbag rest, but based on your recommendations of using larger diameter bullets in my handloads, I have managed to get select loads to group around 2½ to 3½ inches. I would like to further improve its accuracy and fit it with a new cylinder with chamber throats of .452 inch as per your recommendation.
I have two basic questions. First, how much will this change improve my accuracy? And second, what is the best way to make this change and who would you recommend doing the work?
I very much enjoy Handloader Magazine and always turn to your articles first. Any insight that you can offer will be appreciated.
– J.H., Scottsbluff NE
A: There is no guarantee how much accuracy will be improved by changing cylinders. However, Colt barrel stock is good quality and with a cylinder that is chambered correctly with .452-inch throats and that ranges perfectly, it is often possible to achieve one-inch groups (and even smaller) at 25 yards with select handloads. Naturally, the above accuracy also dictates a proper forcing cone surface and angle, cleanly cut crown, minimal cylinder end shake and side play, correct headspace, etc.
There are two approaches to fit a new cylinder. It is common to obtain a Colt second generation cylinder chambered for .357 Magnum or .38 Special, fit it to the gun and then have it line bored and chambered for literally perfect bore alignment. This work is usually best performed by a qualified revolver smith who specializes in this kind of work. A few examples include John Linebaugh Custom Sixguns, Bowen Classic Arms and Ben Forkin.
Another option that is less costly is to send your gun to Nutmeg Sports (38 Crystal Ridge Drive Tolland, Connecticut, 06084 860-872-7373) to be fitted with a new OEM .45 Colt cylinder featuring .452-inch throats, which the company can provide. Its cylinders are very good and you should be pleased with the results. However, they are slightly longer than original Colt cylinders and once they are fitted correctly, the original cylinder cannot be reinstalled. This is not a problem for shooters, but collectors will frown should you choose to sell your gun at some point.
.454 Casull Powder Options
Q: I have been hunting with a Freedom Arms Model 83 chambered in .454 Casull for many years and have taken many head of big game including moose. The powder that I have been using for my standard deer load pushes a Hornady 300-grain XTP at a slightly reduced velocity (about 1500 fps), but is amazingly accurate. However, recently my powder supply ran low and upon purchasing more, I discovered that it has been changed. First, it is bulkier and I cannot duplicate my original 29.0 grain charge. But even worse, accuracy has decreased to an unacceptable level. I used to get groups around 1¼ to 1½-inches, but now groups have more than doubled in size. I have experimented with many other powders from Hodgdon and Accurate, but groups are running around 4½-inches, which are larger than desired (with testing being conducted at 65-yards with a scope installed). Do you have any suggestions as to powder type and charge weight?
– M.H., West Des Moines IA
A: Several powders can give the performance you desire; however, I would suggest trying Alliant 2400. It may not be the cleanest burning, but it still is a top choice that will reach your targeted velocity while providing excellent accuracy. Using the Hornady 300-grain XTP bullet, you will find that 26.5 to 27.5 grains will give you your targeted 1,500 fps velocity. While I have traditionally used Federal 205 Gold Medal Match primers in the .454 Casull when loaded with spherical powders, 2400 ignites easily and may actually produce lower extreme spreads with a standard small rifle primer such as the CCI BR-4. Let me know how these loads work for you.
M. H. Response: I tried your suggested .454 Casull loads (as well as others). Using 26.5 grains of 2400 with the 300-grain Hornady XTP bullet, in Keith style sitting position off a small tripod with a sandbag, three shots hovered around 1-inch and are right on target. This is clearly the most accurate powder choice and handload tried. Great choice on the 2400 powder. Thanks for the information Brian!
Brian’s Response: You are welcome and I wish you the best on your upcoming deer hunt.
Why Not Unique?
Q: Regarding your Pet Loads article on handloading the 9mm Luger; I noticed, on page 44, a picture of various powders that would be suitable for loading the 9mm that included Alliant Unique. Interestingly, in the listings of various loads including those with cast bullets, no Unique loads were published. How come?
For whatever it might be worth, I will share my own experience in loading the 9mm with cast bullets. I use a 123-grain flat nose bullet, Winchester small pistol primers, 4.8 grains of Unique powder assembled in cases of mixed manufactures both military and commercial, and with an overall cartridge length of 1.035 inch. These loads are used in three different pistols including a Browning Hi-Power, CZ-75 B and Star Model 30M, which has functioned and fed well in all guns and has been used in IPSC Competition (minor caliber).
As above mentioned, I found the lack of mention of loads using Unique curious. The benefit of your thinking would be appreciated should you care to respond.
– A.S., Allison Park PA
A: First, thanks for taking the time to read our magazine and writing a letter sharing your experience. Handload data for the 9mm Luger was indeed included in my Pet Loads feature using Alliant Unique powder, specifically with the Sierra Sig Sauer 124-grain V-Crown JHP bullet as well as the Sierra Sig Sauer 125-grain V-Crown bullet.
I am first to admit that this is rather sparse data; however, there is reasoning behind my decision to limit load data. First, Unique has been around since about 1900 when it was first developed by Laflin & Rand and then eventually produced by Hercules Powder Company for many, many years. In 1995 Alliant purchased Hercules, and about 20 years ago (for its 100th birthday) the company began modernizing Unique powder to help it burn cleaner, reduce extreme spreads and increase accuracy, resulting in it being better than ever. Load data remained the same.
Unique is without question one of the most popular pistol and revolver powders ever manufactured. However, data is everywhere and it would be a bit redundant for me to offer data that has been (and continues to be) broadly published for over 100 years.
There are many new powders that offer state-of-art technology but have very limited, or in some instances, no data available. While I try to include all legitimate powders (which is difficult as there is a huge selection and limited space), it is important to include all new powders and help establish data.
Again, thanks for taking the time to write and for raising an excellent question.
6.5 PRC Load Duplication
Q: I have been shooting the 6.5 Creedmoor for several years in two different rifles. As we discussed previously, I have had very good accuracy with it and am pleased with its performance on Kansas whitetail deer. However, distances have never exceeded 300 yards. After studying the ballistics I am beginning to see (as you pointed out) the practical advantages of a higher velocity cartridge in the field. So my latest acquisition is a custom-built Howa 1500 chambered in 6.5 PRC. I had a Shilen barrel installed with No. 2 contour and 24-inches long. I purchased Hornady factory loads with the 143-grain ELD-X bullet, which are easily staying under ½-inch.
Now I need load data, which is extremely scarce from credible sources, so am seeking your help. I would like to at least duplicate the performance of the above factory loads, which are advertised at 2960 fps, but are actually clocking around 2925 fps from my rifle. Can you suggest a powder charge, primer choice, overall cartridge length etc.?
Any help that you can offer will be appreciated. I admire your insight and extensive knowledge of guns and ballistics.
– T.S., Denver CO
A: I developed extensive data for the 6.5 PRC using a Montana Rifle X3 with a 24-inch barrel, which is available on LoadData.com. [This data first appeared in a 6.5 special edition of Rifle magazine (Fall 2019, No. 11) and is available at Wolfeoutdoorsports.com or by calling 800-899-7810. –Ed.] It is an efficient cartridge that is capable of excellent accuracy and should offer interesting ballistics for hunters.
I was able to exceed advertised and actual velocities of factory loads containing the 143-grain ELD-X bullet with several powders. A couple of noteworthy choices include 57.5 grains of Reloder 26, which produced just over 3,000 fps while 57.5 grains of Norma MRP gave 3,032 fps. Reloder 25 also gave notable accuracy and performance, with 60 grains reaching 2,985 fps. A factory duplication load includes 59.4 grains of Hodgdon Retumbo for 2,907 fps. If you want to use a spherical powder, try 62.5 grains of Ramshot Magnum for 2,959 fps.
The above loads were assembled in Hornady cases with CCI BR-2 (non-magnum) primers. Bullets were seated with an overall cartridge length of 2.950 inches. As always, you will want to experiment with bullet seating depth to find the accuracy “sweet spot” in your rifle. As a reminder, your “starting” loads should be around 5 percent below my listed “maximum” powder charges. Good luck hunting.