When you look at the properties of a cartridge, you should understand what the cartridge was designed to do. The .45 Colt was introduced in 1873 in the Colt Single Action Army. It replaced less effective .44 caliber revolvers. The .45 Colt was designed, among other things, to be effective against an Indian war pony at 100 yards.
More horses than men were killed during many battles, sometimes two to one. Study that a bit and you will find that the .45 Colt’s design envelope is useful today. Some may purchase a snub .38 or slim-line 9mm and be satisfied, but the .45 Colt is still viable.
I am an outdoorsman and like to have something on the hip that will anchor a wild beast. If you have ever run across one of the big cats or a bear in the wild, the heart-pounding moment of realization isn’t easily forgotten. Feral dogs are a real danger. If you want a cartridge that will cut through over 40 inches of animal without the fuss, bother, noise, and recoil of a magnum, the .45 Colt is your best bet.
A Ruger Blackhawk will take loads that bring the .45 into, or past, .44 Magnum territory. The Smith & Wesson and Ruger double-action revolvers handle well and are very accurate. The single-action revolvers, beginning with Colt and also the Traditions and Taylors and Company, are first-class recreational firearms. The .45 Colt, with different load levels, is useful in all of these revolvers.
.45 Colt History
While the cartridge is pretty darned old, I find it cool in a way that no modern cartridge can be, save perhaps the .45 ACP. The .45 Colt was used by Elmer Keith, Frank Hamer, Tom Threepersons, Wyatt Earp, and a host of others. With light-recoiling loads, it is a joy to fire and use, with the heavier stuff, it is capable of taking any game animal that may be taken with a handgun.
By modern standards, the 1.285-inch long cartridge is huge. The .512 case rim is on the small size for the size of the cartridge. It isn’t always well-suited to ejector-star ejecting double-action revolvers, it was designed for use with a single-action revolver and button ejecting.
The original black powder load, per my research, used a bullet of 230–260 grains, at 750–900 fps, depending on the maker and exact specifications. Some used copper cartridge cases and even central inside priming. I call the cartridge the .45 Colt. However, .45 Long Colt is also correct even though there is no .45 Short Colt.
The Army also adopted the Smith & Wesson Schofield revolver as a secondary standard. Hinged-frame revolvers are limited by the design and ejection to shorter cartridges, and the .45 Schofield is a shorter .45. Velocity is about 780 fps with a 230-grain bullet. So, the two cartridges in use were the .45 Schofield and .45 Long Colt, to be exact. History tells us the .45 Schofield cartridge was usually issued, as it could be chambered in both firearms.
Most of the loads I use are handloads. A 200-grain SWC at 750 fps is superbly accurate and cuts a clean, easily-scored hole in the target. Moving to 255-grain hard-cast bullets at about the same velocity, long-range accuracy is better.
Some use cowboy-action loads that are slower, even 500 fps! This is ok, but for my use, 700–800 fps seems a sweet spot for accuracy. I like trying the old cartridge out at 100 yards or so. Hold enough of the front sight up and you’ll get a hit or at least you’ll get close.
.45 Colt Defense
A shooter who enjoys cowboy action is a pretty good shot with a single-action revolver. The Single Action Army-type revolver is a pleasant shooter and makes a fine trail gun. A CCI Shotshell is available for dispatching dangerous reptiles and pests and the standard 255-grain load is a proven defensive load. Several modern jacketed hollow point loads offer performance similar to the .45 ACP hollow point.
An advantage of the .45 Colt is that the hollow point bullet need not be shaped in order to feed through a semi-automatic action. The nose doesn’t need to be as strong. The Speer Gold Dot, Hornady FTX, Winchester Silvertip and Federal SWC/HP are good defensive choices.
Among the most useful loads are the heavier loads that are safe in all revolvers, but somewhat elevated over the cowboy standard. Buffalo Bore offers these as factory loads. I don’t use 1,300 fps heavy-game loads, as my lightweight .45s are carry guns and field guns. They would not withstand the Ruger-only loads. The 255-grain hard-cast lead SWC at 1,000 fps is plenty strong enough. Powerful, accurate, and capable of taking medium-size game easily, these are good choices.
I handload my own, although the primer situation is limiting my loading at present. I like the old .45 and the revolvers that chamber it. The .45 Colt is a crackerjack loading.
What do you think of the .45 Colt cartridge? Let us know in the comments section.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July of 2021. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.