Ammunition

Throwback: .45 Colt — An Old Cartridge With a Lot to Offer

.45 Colt Single-Action Revolvers

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.

Stainless Single-Action Revolver
A classic Colt Single Action Army is never a bad choice.

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.

.45 Colt Cartridge
This 250-grain XTP at only 780 fps plowed through 40 inches of water!

Handloads

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.

Derringer
This Bond Arms Derringer is certainly useful in many situations.

.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.

Revolver Cylinder
The SAA cylinder is plenty strong for standard .45 Colt loads.

Heavier Loads

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.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (28)

  1. I love .45 colt. I started years ago with a replica that was so accurate I developed a bromance. Since then I acquired a Colt 1873 made in 1874 (black powder that old be careful) and a Freedom Arms with .454, .45 colt, and .45 acp cylinders. I hunt with the FA and find all sorts of appropriate bullets and powder to reload. I have a TC Encore rifle barrel to take on a hunt if the distance gets out beyond the Freedom Arms. It’s not my point to just list the arms I have. I just want to point out that the .45 colt is a good round and perfectly fine for hunting. Cowboy loads are tame for people in the family who are recoil sensitive and accurate. I get plenty of reloads out of .45 colt loads that are more powerful than a .44 magnum. It’s easy to reload and safe for the entire family.

  2. Thanks for another great article. Some years ago, I bought the short-barreled Ruger Alaskan to carry in my chest pack while dirt-bike riding in big bear country, mostly Colorado. As I’ve gotten older, the heavy Casull loads have gotten a little heavy for my hands. The .45 Colt bear loads are still quite manageable, however, so that’s what I load in my Ruger now. It might not be as powerful, but should still be ok for the large black bears that I’ve seen while trail riding near Flagstaff. Reading your article makes me feel better about this decision.

  3. I love the 45 Colt, I have a Bond Arms I use for a back up w/ the 45 Colt Snake shot in one barrel and a 410 PDX1 in the other barrel. I use the Judge’s different designs for shooting at the range and it is easy to shoot for my teen age grand kids as well. I have several barrel lengths but the 45 colt is more accurate w/ the longer barrels. It is even manageable in the Public Defender.

  4. I too am a fan of the old style firearms from a hundred and fifty years ago. And when you think of the old west the 45Colt comes to mind. I have a Heritige Big boy in the same caliber,and liked it so much that I bought a Henry also in 45Colt. Both guns are a Hoot To Shoot, and when friends come over to have fun, they put down their AR’s and want the Henry.

  5. I bought my Ruger Blackhawk in 45 Long Colt brand new $200 out the door have you did target shooting self-defense hand hunting wild boar hand loading my own ammo Hornady 250 xtp bullets using Blue Dot no regrets have also owned Smith & Wesson 25-5

  6. One of my all time favorites! I started out loading for .45 Colt, then added .45-70 for rifles. Then I found a sweet .45 Colt Carbine with a 20″ barrel and loved it. I also carry on my chest holster a .45 Colt 5.5″ barrelled Ruger Blackhawk. I have taken deer with it at 30 or so yards and use it often to finish animals if they are hanging on. I also carry a .45 Colt Charter Arms Bulldog, which they made for a couple years. I was lucky enough to find one and it’s a good strong action and shoots well as snubbies go. I know this, the carbine and my blackhawk won’t ever leave my posession. 😉

  7. .45 Colt is the bomb, i love it. i carry a ’57 Colt SAA and a newer Ruger Vacarro. i grew up from 3 years old learning on Ruger single sixes and blackhawks. I’m extremely down with this

  8. I was in the process of purchasing a Cimarron Pistolero seemingly moments before Covid hit. I really wanted the .45 LC version to experience true cowboy shooting, but the rounds were expensive and very hard to find in my area. So I opted for the .357 instead. Then of course, as Covid started, no rounds of any type were available to be found. Now, .357s are starting to show up on shelves again, but the .45 LCs are still pretty scarce.
    But if they become more widely available, I will probably buy another cowboy gun in that chamber at some point.

  9. Will Dane – I was privileged to shoot a Freedom Arms 454 before and after Magnaporting. The Magnaports made the .454 Casul cartridge’s recoil FEEL like .45 Colt! And the .45 Colt feel like a .38. I recommend this solution to help with recoil. It works.

  10. Back in 1998 on a trip to Vegas I stopped and purchased my first Black Powder Pistol (a Stainless Uberti 1858 Remington replica).
    It was their “Display Gun” and I got it for a “Song”!
    Back home I ordered the Tradition’s 45 Colt conversion cylinder and acquired all the necessary Handloading Dies and Components.
    I have since settled upon my favorite Load for it consisting of the Bear Creek 200 Gr SWC over a charge of Hodgdon “Trail Boss” that is not only pleasant to shoot but More than accurate enough. It’s always a delight to watch the faces on my Friends and Grandkids as Pappa brings out a massive “Hog Leg” and perforates the Ten Ring!

  11. Re the S&W Schofield cartridge. It’s maximum rim diameter was 0.525″ compared to the Colt rim max. dimension of 0.512″. It was found that not all Schoenfeld rounds would chamber in all Colt revolvers. The Army then proceeded to make their own ammunition, Schofield case length and Colt rim diameter. Some catalogs list it as the .45 Gov.

    The Colt company never made the shortened version so there was no official “45 Short Colt”, they continued with the “45 Colt” designation. On the frontier – the longer cased 45 became the “Long Colt” since the Gov. cartridge also fit the Colt revolver. Officially, no Army cartridges were sold to civilian customers.

    The Colt and Schofield revolvers were sold to the army at a low profit margin, both companies expecting to make a decent profit on selling their ammunition to the military. (Not unlike ink-jet printers today,)

  12. Great article on the.45 Colt! … bought a Cimmaron SA Army on a whim & can’t get enough of this fun cartridge!!… immediately added dies & bullet molds for this caliber…
    probably will get a lever gun for this round also… thanks for the write up

  13. From about 1980 until about 1987 the Police Dept. I worked for issued S&W mod. 25-5’s which is an N-frame revolver in .45 Colt. I love the cartridge. The only issue was that in that time period there was only low velocity factory loads available. After carrying .357 magnums, these loads were not as affective in stopping threats. We were able to purchase our duty guns when the Dept. switched to auto pistols and I still have my old issued 25-5.

  14. Very interesting article. I have a .454 Casull Ruger Alaskan with the 2 3/4”barrel. I originally purchased it because it would fit in a small zipper bag mounted to my chest protector when dirt bike riding, specifically in Colorado, where there are some very large bears. After a lot of research, it seemed like the .454 was one of the few rounds that would stop a large bear if the shot was well-placed. I quit riding dirt bikes when I turned 70 a couple of years ago, but started back up when a younger neighbor wanted someone to ride with. A few weeks ago a very large black bear crossed our path while riding a local fire road. He kept going, but was very close (a few yards) at one point. So, I went home and dug my .454 out of the gun safe. I used to practice a few rounds of .454 from time to time just to stay familiar with the recoil and how to properly hold the gun. For general target practice and I would shoot .45 long Colts. To me, it’s almost the difference between a .38+P and a .357 magnum. I’m not sure that I can still handle the .454 loads accurately in a defensive situation, so this article makes me feel better about using an appropriately load .45LC. Thanks.

  15. I am a very long time owner of a Ruger single action Blackhawk .357Mag with a 6 1/2″ barrel. I see Billy M. owns a 7 1/2″ Ruger Blackhawk .45 Colt, which must be really long, but probably has less kick. About 8 years ago I purchased a Ruger Blackhawk .45 Ruger ‘Flattop’, which can shoot .45 ACP rounds with a cylinder swap. But mine has only a 5 1/2 ” barrel, so when I shoot the very heavy .45 LC rounds, there is quite a kick! I have to shoot those with two hands, whereas normally I shoot using just one arm, fully extended, with my body facing 90 degrees from the target.

    Both the 45 Colt (LC) loads and the .45 ACP come in varying manufactured power loads. I use to do reloading long ago with my .357 Mag Ruger Blackhawk, but ‘today’ (prior to the COVID 19 pandemic), it was a lot more economical to buy factory loads, so I never reloaded round for my .45 Colt. But there is a huge range of ammo out there for both calibers, for the 45 Colt and the .45 ACP, that would satisfy just about anyone’s whims, needs, or desires.

    The Cowboy loads for the .45 Colt are very weak and have almost no recoil. But as you move up the ‘food chain’, the .45 Colt rounds can get very powerful, almost as much as the .44 Mag. I have created a ballistics file which shows ballistics for 35 handgun calibers (and 19 rifle ones). It has over 1900 entries of handgun rounds, with 142 entries for the .45 Colt, and over 340 for the .45 ACP. The .45 Colt manufactured rounds vary from just 180 ft. lbs. (it power) of muzzle energy (ME), and goes all the way up to 1,344 ft. lbs. (Buffalo Bore). This is a huge range! I would suspect that these very high powered rounds would not be so food for self defense, but great for hunting bigger game. Self defense rounds would probably be more in line with ammo that delivers 500-900 ft. lbs. of ME, such as from Underwood, Liberty Defense, HSM, Georgia Firearms, Double Tap, Cor-Bon, and the not so powerful Buffalo Bore rounds.

    If your .45 Colt handgun can also shoot .45 ACP rounds, then the higher powered .45 ACP rounds (+P) would make great self defense rounds also. You can get .45 ACP +P rounds between 450-650 ft. lbs. of ME from Winchester, Underwood, Speer Gold Dot, Silver Bear, Remington Golden Saber, Magtech, Hornady, Grizzly, Cor-Bon, Atomic, and Buffalo Bore. There is also what is known as the .45 Super, which is simply the same .45 ACP round, only packed with even more power. I suspect that there are very few semi-auto .45 ACP handguns that can handle these rounds since they can go from about 600-770 ft. lbs. of ME. Since I have a revolver, I can shoot any of these in my .45 Colt Ruger Blackhawk when I use the .45 ACP cylinder. These .45 ACP rounds do have some noticeable kick, whereas none of the others do.

    Vincent (07-10-2021)

  16. Oldclimber,

    Uberti makes a birdshead in .45 long colt that the website shows at $579. May find it for less. I have the same in .357 and shoot .38 in it for cowboy shooting in a shoulder rig. Fun little gun.

    I have a Taurus Judge Public Defender for a lightweight carry in the backcountry. Will shoot .45 LC or .410 shotshells in any configuration you want, depending on where you are going and what threats you think you will encounter.

  17. 45 Colt is a great cartridge. I own S&W, Ruger, Cimarron revolvers and lever action rifles in 45 Colt. I even SBRed a Rossi Ranchhand pistol. Fornuately I purchased all my 45 Colt firearms several years ago.

  18. I have been a fan of the cartridge since 1985. Ammunition manufacturers were reluctant to juice up their factory loads for fear of blowing up older guns. Reloading was a necessity if a shooter wanted to get the full range out of the cartridge in the Blackhawk and smith and Wesson 25. I worked up the perfect load for a duty gun by taking a 200 grain Speer JHP (made for the ACP) and putting it in a long colt and pushing it with 12 grains of unique. Absolute tack driver in the 25-5.

  19. I have a D/A Ruger (Redhawk specifically) and I am a huge fan of this very old but still supremely capable cartridge!

    Some things get better with age and smokeless powders and modern projectiles definitely improved this fantastic cartridge.

    I’m looking forward to hunting deer with this caliber in a Henry Lever Acton.

  20. .45 Schofield was often issued to U.S. troops, as the COLT revolvers would fire either cartridge – hence some folks using the term “Long Colt” to describe the 1873 .45 Colt cartridge. Note – When the .45 ACP cartridge was developed by Mr. Browning, he recreated the .45 Schofield ballistics, not those of the 1873 .45 COLT. With modern guns, like the RUGERs, a “.45 COLT +P” load is easy for most reloaders, and several manuals show numerous “RUGER” .45 COLT loads. A 240 – 255 grain semi wadcutter at ~1,000 fps. is still comfortable to shoot in a S/A RUGER, but outperforms any 9mm/.357 loads for self defense or most hunting applications. I did end up with a S/A RUGER .44 mag, (and a RUGER ,44 rifle), as my attempt to get a S/A RUGER .45 failed. Now, would consider a HENRY and a RUGER combo if I was getting a .45 COLT.

  21. With the Redhawk,Blackhawk,Supper Redhawk [they have longer cylinders]you can safely use cast bullets >=320gr on a regular basis[unlike the S&Ws.Although the S&W “Mountain Gun”would be a light weight,non frequent use option].I use Hogue Monogrips on all my revolvers.Fora derringer a 45Colt or 44 Special[or 45ACP] would be a viable option.

  22. Thanks Oldprof – I looked it up. At $600 its pretty reasonable, if I can find one. Everyone is out of stock though. Looks like I’ll have to wait though. No problem, the .44 is more than adequate, and I also have a .45 Khar that I mostly carry.

  23. To Oldclimber: I believe Ruger still catalogs the new model Vaquero birdshead in 45 Colt. I used to have the same gun in 45 auto, but regrettably traded it away.

  24. I have a Ruger Blackhawk. When I first started handloading I was surprised to see a page for .45 Long Colt and then a page for the Ruger Blackhawk. A friend of mine, who was an experience reloader, made up several loads for this gun. We could consistanly hit a an 18″ steel plate at 100 yrds. My friend has passed away but I still have is his load data. The .45 Long Colt is definately on my carry list when out in the woods. With the wide range of loads available, this is an excellent, and fun round to shoot and out of 7 12″ Ruger, distances out to 100 yards are very easy.

  25. My first duty gun was a 4 inch model 25-5. I was the only one that ever carried that caliber. I found a 3 inch snub one for off duty as well. I carried that for several years until I was drawn into the great wide world of handguns replacing it with 44 mags and 41 mags then into semi autos eventually carrying mainly the 1911 or a European Sig 220. I loved the 45 LC and would still feel adequately armed if that’s all I had today as well. Fine cartridge.

  26. I like the .45 as much as anyone who currently uses it. Problem is, I dislike the “Western” grip and prefer the “birdshead”, and have not seen it available except in rimfire revolvers. Until there are reasonably priced revolvers in that grip, I will opt for what I have, including a S&W 629.

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