column By: Brian Pearce | April, 22
Like so many others, I have had a difficult time finding components in the past couple of years. When loading the .45 Colt, I originally used Alliant Unique, but based on your recommendations a few years back, I switched to Accurate No. 2. I have been very pleased with the accuracy and clean-burning nature of that powder. However, since the component crunch, I have not been able to find either powder. Recently, my searching turned up a couple of pounds of Hodgdon Titegroup at a local dealer that I instantly snagged. When I sat down at my loading bench, I had misplaced your “Pet Loads” article on standard pressure .45 Colt handloading data, so I referenced another published source for loads and assembled a few hundred rounds. That load consisted of cast bullets from Lyman mould No. 452664 that weighed 262 grains from my alloy with lube installed and a specified charge of Titegroup powder. I used new Remington cases capped with Federal 150 standard Large Pistol primers with bullets being roll crimped to the bottom of the crimp groove. These loads were specified as suitable for the Colt Single Action Army, so I thought that I was on safe ground.
When I went to the range with my Colt New Frontier .45 Colt, third generation, the first shot was a bit of a surprise due to the recoil, but I cocked the gun and fired again. I then knew something was amiss and stopped shooting. The first case required a couple of hits with the ejector rod to be removed, but the next case was severely stuck. So I unloaded the remaining cartridges and returned home. I drove the stuck case out with a steel rod and was very disappointed to see that it was heavily scratched on one side. I examined that chamber and discovered that the bolt notch was pushed out or bulged from the inside. I immediately thought that I had loaded the cartridges with a wrong powder charge. I pulled several bullets and the powder charge weights were exactly correct. My loading practice is very cautious and I really don’t believe that I double-charged a case. Now I have a ruined gun and would value your insight as to why this occurred.
A: First, thank you for the kind compliments and for taking the time to read our magazine. Second, the damage to your New Frontier is unfortunate, but all is not lost, as I will discuss in a moment.
If you double-charged your load, your gun would have most certainly had a catastrophic failure, wherein the top three chambers would have been destroyed and the top strap severely bent or more likely blown upward. Regarding the handload data that you used, it is a far too heavy of a powder charge for use in a Colt Single Action Army or New Frontier. It has been tested and generates in excess of 30,000 psi and should only be used in guns designed to handle that much pressure such as the Ruger Blackhawk, New Model Blackhawk and guns of similar strength.
While it is true that post-World War II Colt Single Action Army and New Frontier revolvers can withstand greater pressure than pre-World War II revolvers, even smokeless-era guns, I generally consider 21,000 psi loads as maximum, and with a strong warning that guns will tend to loosen up prematurely if a steady diet of these loads are fired in them. For day in, day out .45 Colt loads, it is best to stick with data that runs 14,000 psi as prescribed by SAAMI. In your case, I would suggest dropping your Titegroup powder charge to 6.0 to 6.2 grains, which will keep you within that pressure limit and will usually yield 840 to 870 fps with 250- to 260-grain bullets in most sixguns.
While the handload data you used was indeed too hot for the Colt sixgun, part of the problem possibly stems from the oversized chambers of third generation SAAs that leaves very little supporting steel between the chamber and the locking bolt notches. To make matters worse, in order to get a mirror-shiny chamber, Colt’s burnishing process often pushes the locking bolt notches out slightly, which can be observed in the form of a shadow in each chamber with new-in-the-box guns. The biggest problem is that practice leaves a fault in the steel that can fail if fired with an over-pressure load. But again, the credibility of your data source should be in question!
The good news is that your New Frontier is by no means ruined. New third generation cylinders are readily available at around $100 to $200, which will probably need to be fitted to your gun (including headspace, timing, end-shake, etc.), which is neither difficult nor expensive. Personally, I would not replace your cylinder with a factory original version; rather I would find a .357 Magnum cylinder and have it chambered to .45 Colt (preferably line-bored). Regardless, the reamer should be an industry minimum specification (as offered by Dave Manson Reamers) to add extra chamber strength, but this will also work your cases less, resulting in increased case life and better accuracy. If the throats are cut to around .452 inch, accuracy will be further improved and you will have a much better gun than previously.
T.S., Omaha, NE
A: Using either of the above bullets, try 43.3 grains of Winchester StaBALL 6.5 powder, which will give you nearly 100 fps greater velocity than your existing load. You may or may not want the added velocity. If you want to duplicate your original velocities, you will need to decrease the charge by 1.5 to 2.0 grains.
My question is: on page 16, the Sears Colt SAA is resting on a most beautiful holster and belt. I searched the photo captions and the text, but there is no reference as to the maker. Can you tell me who made that rig and perhaps how to reach them?
S.G., Portland, OR
A: Try Rick Bachman at Old West Reproductions, Inc. (406-273-2615, or visit oldwestreproductions.com). His work is second to none. The holster and belt are more or less an exact reproduction of the fabulous F.A. Menea Mexican drop loop rigs that were built in Cheyenne, Wyoming, during the 1880s and 1890s, the “golden days” of the cowboy era. Bachman’s rigs are fully hand-built, stitched and carved using the finest U.S. leathers. Since every holster and belt is built to order, there will be a reasonable lead time.
While the reproduction Sears, Roebuck & Company Colt SAA Cowboy Special is a work of art, it must also perform… perfectly and therefore gets used, just carefully!
R.C., via email
A: As a general rule, the faster the burn rate of powder, the less velocity will be increased from a rifle barrel. For example, Hodgdon Titegroup and Alliant Bullseye powders will usually gain at least 200 to 250 fps from a rifle barrel when compared with the same loads from a sixgun. On the other hand, slower-burning powders such as Alliant Unique, Power Pistol, etc., will easily pick up more than 300 fps from a rifle barrel. I hope that gives you a general idea of what to expect. Incidentally, in the next year or so, I will be offering a “Pet Loads” article for .44-40 rifles, so stay tuned to Handloader!