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The 45 Colt's original load of a 250-260 gr bullet over a case full of black powder at 900 feet per second wasn't a weak load by any standard. At the time it was one of the more powerful handgun rounds available. Today we have many outstanding options for the 45 Colt both in powders and bullet selection. The 45 Colt really shines with heavy bullets - those 300 grains or heavier, up to around 350. Heavier bullets can be used but tend to take up so much case capacity that in the Rugers and Smiths there just isn't enough room for reasonable velocities at safe pressures.
Most of the loads listed here eclipse typical 44 Magnum rounds, some by a considerable margin. These loads should not be fired by an inexperienced shooter or one not used to firing heavy recoiling handguns. Jumping right to shooting loads at this level in any caliber without working up to them is inviting yourself to develop a world class flinch. Many of these loads are the absolute max for these particular handguns and should not simply be copied and fired in your firearms. The loads listed here were safe in these particular revolvers with these lots of powder and primers. There is no guarantee that they will be safe in your guns. This load data is provided for informational purposes only and only experienced handloaders should attempt to duplicate this performance.
When I started this project, I was an avid fan of H110 for heavy loads in the 45 Colt and 44 Magnum. I and many others have used it for years with great success. It has nearly always been the best choice when you were looking for the highest velocity with heavy bullets in these calibers, and worked especially well with hard cast bullets. But it seems that H110s days may be numbered, at least for the most part on my loading bench. In every case, Hodgdons new powder Lil'Gun outperformed H110. It generates more velocity with less powder and apparently less pressure than H110 in every caliber I've tried it in thus far. As you'll see in the tables below Lil'Gun is very efficient with heavy bullets in the 45 Colt.
The larger group is caused partially by the greater difference in velocity, but also by human error. The heavier load is simply harder to shoot well without pulling shots. Some groups with that load would be right around an inch or less only to have one round open the group up. I have no doubt that with practice with the heavier loads and a shooting glove this gun/load combination would shoot right around 2" groups or better as well.
This bullet design puts a tremendous amount of bullet outside the case relative to most other LSWC or LRN designs. So much so that going up to 26.0 gr or possibly higher of H110 to get this bullet to the 1,300 fps range that can be expected with this bullet. At 23.0 gr the cases would nearly fall freely from the cylinder and exhibited no signs of excessive pressure in my Blackhawk.
Dry Creek Bullet Works 325 gr Keith style LSWC may be one of the best balanced bullets for this caliber. It offers good weight but doesn't use so much case capacity that you can't achieve higher velocities.
From 1,200 and up this bullet will shoot right through a 12" green pine log. What does that tell you about it's penetration? Well, at a minimum it tells you that it will shoot through 12" pine log and then some. In practical uses at anything over around 1,100 fps, this bullet will shoot through just about any game animal in the lower 48 states.
I suspect the higher Lil'Gun loads are able to shoot as well as the gun can, and will do better than the groups listed here. I find it hard to keep shooting up to the guns potential on long strings of heavy loads and those were towards the end of the shooting session or I'm sure the groups would have been smaller. If you and your gun likes heavy cast bullets, this would make a great bullet for hunting large game.
Another terrific heavy bullet from Dry Creek Bullet Works is their DC-458-340-FN bullet. This was originally a 45-70 rifle bullet and as such has a much longer nose than most cast handgun bullets. However they aren't long enough to cause a problem in Ruger cylinders. In fact, they're just about perfect because they fit fine in the Rugers but are to long for the Smiths, which shouldn't be shooting these loads anyway. Loaded to the crimp groove the OAL was 1.748".
On to the shooting results. It seems the faster this bullet goes the better it shoots:
A note about the OAL of these rounds; I had to load them slightly deeper than what I would consider optimal because of the throats in the Rugers. The cylinder is long enough for a much longer bullet, but the wide shoulder on the Keith SWC design hits the throat preventing the bullet from chambering if it's loaded any longer than 1.705" in both my Ruger single actions. I don't have one to check, but I suspect the Redhawk, or certainly any 454 Casull, wouldn't have this issue. It's not a problem or a shortcoming of the bullet, just something to be aware of when you're loading it.
As you can see 22.0 gr of H110 was the hottest round, not only in velocity but also in pressure. That load was the only one to have any cases stick even a little bit. It also showed more flattening of the primers than any other load. I consider that the absolute max for that particular sixgun, likely a tad beyond what should be the max considering how much more consistent the 21.5 gr load was. I suspect there is a bit more room in my Bisley to use more Lil'Gun with this bullet if there were some need for more velocity but I didn't see a need to push right to the ragged edge. If a 350 gr hard cast bullet at 1,200 fps isn't enough I doubt pushing it to 1,300 fps would help.
If I were going to load up this bullet for general woods carry, I believe I would go with the 16.0 gr of Lil'Gun load. It's not the hottest but seemed to have the most accuracy potential and was easiest to shoot. Even though it was the lightest load, a 350 gr bullet at 1,050 fps is nothing to sneeze at. For hunting I'd experiment with something between 18.0 and 19.0 gr looking for the most accurate load.
And there we have it, a round up of just a fraction of the heavy bullets available for the 45 Colt today. In this article I focused mainly on Keith style bullets for the loads over 300 grains but you can get LBT or LFP designs up to 400 gr from a variety of sources.
When working up loads remember to use your head and start conservative. You can always work up from a low load but if you blow up your gun with your first hot rod attempt with a new bullet it's to late to work back down.
Most of these loads are in the load data database here at Handloads.Com. The highs and lows of each bullet are in the database, but not every load used when working up to the top loads.
I hope you've enjoyed this article and come away with an idea of what the 45 Colt is able to accomplish. It's not a 454 Casull or 475 Linebaugh, but in a strong gun with heavy bullets the 45 Colt can do just about anything you can ask of a standard production revolver.
Email author: John Knutson