first handgun was a really cool H&R .22
break-open that Dad gave me on my 13th birthday. I
loved that old gun and toted it everywhere. It was on
my side during the many pack trips Dad and I made into the
Superstition Wilderness, panning gold and prospecting.
I carried it for several years and when I was 15 Dad gave me
a big-bore sixgun- a Ruger .357 Magnum Blackhawk.
was back in 1961 and Ruger was THE premier single action.
I shot that gun every day, casting my own bullets and
reloading the ammo with a Lyman 310 Tool. One
summer Dad bought over 150 pounds of lead and I cast bullets
of it and shot it all by winter! By the time I was 17
I had become - without bragging - a pretty decent shot.
I shot that pistol at ranges from several feet to hundreds
of yards. The old Keith 173 gr. semi-wadcutter when
pushed by a heavy load of 2400 powder lit off by a small
rifle primer would go through a car rim at 200 yards.
few years into my shooting and troubles in Southeast Asia
and a summons from Uncle Sam interrupted my sixgun work.
I carried a single action as much as I could while I was
State-side, but I sent it home when we shipped out. I
did not make it back to the States for 2 1/2 years which
coincided with the end of my enlistment.
Returning home I picked up the 357 and went back to work.
I also picked up a Second Generation Colt SAA .45 and
began shooting it a lot.
first 3 shots I fired with that .45 Colt were on my
Grandpa's ranch in eastern Washington State. I lined the
sights up on an old 41 Ford that had been scrapped years
before. It was on the section line about 1/2 mile from
the house. I was using Winchester factory ammo - the
copper "plated" bullet. My first shot was
over the car and in the loose dust created a huge cloud just
beyond the old car body. My second shot was low and
for the 3rd shot I held in between and touched it off.
There was no dust cloud this time and on the wind a solid
THUNK drifted back to me. I was hooked!
graduated to heavy bullets in the Colt fairly quickly.
The Keith #454424 260 gr. semi-wadcutter was THE heavy
bullet in those days. I soon had loads using Keith's
recommended 18.5 gr. of 2400 running through the gun.
These had some real steam and reached out to very long
distances quite easily. Shooting 400 yards to 800
yards in country where you could see the bullet strike was
not a big problem. In those days we felt that a heavy
loaded .45 Colt like that was just the ticket for most
anything and while it did not approach the top loads of the
.44 Magnum, it was more than respectable.
Ruger went and did something unusual. They chambered the
large-frame Blackhawk in .45 Colt!
the early 1970's I had been writing to Elmer Keith
and picking his brain for anything I could get on his .45
Colt handloads. His use of the .45-90 rifle bullet
intrigued me and I pestered him about it. He was kind
enough to write and tell me his experiences with it in the
old Colt Single Action Army. He had used the bullet
with black powder and also with 2400 behind it. He
even killed a large Mule Deer with it and while it held some
fascination for him, the guns of the day were not up to its
new Ruger .45 Colt changed all that.
began experimenting with the bullet - #457191- in my 7
1/2" Ruger. My Lyman mold cast a perfectly round
bullet of 305 gr. when using wheelweights. I tried
sizing the bullets and found that you could absolutely ruin
them when trying to size them in one step. The method
I developed in those days was to run the bullets nose-first
into a .457" die, then nose first into a .454" die
and finally size and lube them in a .452" die.
This turned out good, accurate bullets without distorting
them or wiping out the grease grooves.
only powder I was familiar with was 2400 and I began testing
with it. H110 and WW296 were on the market but there
was no data for the .45 Colt and nothing with heavy bullets.
Being unfamiliar with it I stayed away from it. I knew
just enough about internal ballistics to tread carefully.
ran various loads of 2400 through the Ruger and settled on
18.5 gr. 2400. This gave me pretty good velocity, shot
very accurately and penetrated well. (this was in
pre-chronograph days) Measuring case head expansion I
figured I was in a safe pressure range and estimated the
velocity at 1200 fps. Some years later I had these
loads pressure-tested at Hodgdon's and found they
averaged 1188 fps and gave an average pressure of 29,400
CUP. This became my standard load in the Ruger. I shot
deer and pigs with it and it worked pretty well. It was
a great bullet for long range shooting. The
penetration was excellent and retained velocity and energy
at long distances were just great. Shooting 3/8 of a
mile at an old cabin up on the Gray's River in Wyoming the
slugs penetrated the log cabin wall and had enough energy
left to seriously dent the angle iron of an old bed frame
inside. I found the bullet where it bounced back
against the cabin wall when we drove over to check the
my "long" range I had a 16" truck rim hung on
a tripod at a little over 400 yards. This target was a
tough one, but if conditions were right and I was on top of
my game, I could ring it 3 out of 5 shots. I shot at
this target for several months and one day decided to go out
and see what it looked like. To my amazement, many of
the slugs had cracked the rim!
day my phone rang and the caller identified himself as a
"John Linebaugh" from Cody, Wyoming.
He had heard that I was experimenting with heavy loads in
the .45 Colt and as this was an area he was interested in,
he wanted to talk.
asked me about my gun and loads and what I had found out.
I shared what little knowledge I had and then he began to
talk about what he was doing. When he mentioned 1500
fps in a single action with a specially-built 5-shot
cylinder I mentally said to myself "hoo boy .. this guy
has got to be nuts" but I kept my mouth shut and
listened. He asked if I had ever tried H110 and I told
him I had not. In fact, I told him I was kind of
afraid of it since there was no data anyplace relating to
it's use with heavy bullets in the .45 Colt. He said
he would send me some data he had and that I should try it
out and see.
he not only sent the data - which when I tried, I found that
he knew what he was talking about - eventually he also sent
a stainless Seville .45 single action that he had
made a 5-shot cylinder for. He included loading data
for that gun for me to try. With fear and trembling I
made up some of the ammo and when the time was right,
touched off the first one. And ..........
had never had a pistol in my hands that produced that kind
that I began a quest for handgun power in a packable
revolver. I kept in touch with John Linebaugh, visited
him when ever I could, and tried to encourage him in
his work. In those days he was holding down a job and
trying to make a name as a gunsmith and raise a family.
No easy task.
problem was, in those days anyone playing with heavy loads
in the .45 Colt or in custom-built 5 shots were considered
to be dabbling in voodoo. No one wanted to write about
it or allow it to be published, No one that is, except
J.D. Jones in his monthly paper "The
Sixgunner". J.D. proved that you could
load 300 to 320 gr. bullets in the .44 Magnum to 1400 fps
and still stay within SAAMI specs. As that idea gained
acceptance the work with the heavy bullets in the .45 Colt
followed right behind.
once we had only .45 caliber rifle bullets to work over and
shoot in the .45 Colt, mold makers began to produce heavy
bullets for the .45 Colt. One by one they began
appearing and within a few years there was quite a choice
this time I began lobbying ammunition makers for heavy loads
in the .45 Colt. All were polite but treated me more
or less like I had a social disease. Some returned my
letters. None returned my calls. Some would
listen politely and then explain that they were not about to
venture into an area with so many dangers liability-wise.
Especially since there were no SAAMI specs for these kinds
few years before this the Bakers came on the scene
and working with Dick Casull made his ideas for a
big-bore .45 caliber handgun a viable, marketable reality.
Freedom Arms was born and the 454 Casull began to get
into the hands of serious big-bore shooters and hunters.
Freedom Arms is still THE premier big-bore single action.
There are other guns produced in 454 Casull and while they
are good guns, none have come close the quality found in the
Freedom Arms guns.
many ways it was the Freedom Arms 454 Casull that opened the
door for the custom 5-shot .45 Colts to begin to be
recognized by the "gun press". Once that
happened thing progressed rather rapidly.
the course of a few years John Linebaugh developed the
now-famous .500 Linebaugh
and then the .475 Linebaugh
(and the Long versions of each) and since that time the
firearms world has gone crazy with various heavy-loaded
big-bore cartridges being produced for revolvers, the latest
being the .500 Magnum produced by
Smith & Wesson. Gary Reeder has a
number of big-bore cartridges available as does Jack
Huntington. Ammo companies such as Cor-Bon
have marketed various heavy loads for the .45 Colt and the
.454 as has Buffalo Bore. In fact, Buffalo Bore
brought the Linebaugh cartridges to production long before
have come a long way since those years when those of us who
liked big bullets in the .45 Colt were treated like the
weird uncle in the basement.
the record, my time-line for the "big bullet
phenomenon" is not exact, but a general retelling of
how it came to be.
for the record, I was not the only person experimenting with
heavy bullets in the .45 Colt. And I was not the first to do
so by any means. Nor was I the only one trying to get
someone to produce them. There were men who were doing
the same things and more, years before I started.
There were many who were much more knowledgeable than I AND
who had much more experience than I. Most likely their
names would not be recognized except by a handful of people
alive today. This is partly because they did not get
any public recognition of their work. Most everyone
who experimented in these areas in the early years were
isolated and little word of their work got out.
to be truthful, credit for a lot of the work with heavy
bullets would have to go to many unsung shooters in IHMSA.
A lot of these guys were shooting heavy bullets in sixguns
years before anyone else got up the nerve to try it. Not
only were they shooting them, they were shooting them a LOT!
And shooting them in competition that demands accuracy.
If you can find a copy of SHOOTING STEEL by John
Taffin (published 1986) you will find record of heavy
bullet loads in sixguns going back to the early days of
was simply one of many who were working along the same lines
things are much different today as I have said. I have
watched the work with heavy bullets progress. We have
gone from efforts to get the guns to perform more
efficiently to the ridiculous. I saw early warning
signs of this in the early 1980's. A commercial cast
bullet dealer in Tucson saw me running some heavy bullets in
the 454 as well as the .45 Colt. I was not driving
them hard...850 to 900 fps. But I was using a 380 gr.
bullet in the 454 and a 340 gr. in the .45 Colt.
figured that if 340 in the .45 Colt worked so well at 850
fps a 400 gr. bullet would be better. The first one
that was fired took the top off the cylinder.
have seen this kind of thinking over and over again.
a bullet of "X" weight works great, then lets make
one heavier" is the thinking. Apparently the idea is
that it will have to work better. Many of the
experimenters have no concept of how pressures in a
cartridge behave, the Law of Diminishing Returns, or a
myriad of other issues. Quite a few guns have been
broken in the process. Very little thought seems to
have been given to the practical side of things or of
learning rudimentary ballistics.
I obtained my first 454 I went through the "how fast
will go" and "how big of a bullet can we
shoot" phase. It did not last long. Reality
set in after awhile. Elephant stomping power is not needed
for deer. It isn't needed for long-range rock shooting
I ran heavy bullets and heavy loads in the .475 that
John Linebaugh built me...for awhile. I soon settled
on a 400 cast LBT at 1225 fps for my hunting load. It
shot clean through anything I hit with it (full length shots
included) and dropped them right now. What more did I
even that changed. Awhile back I traded the .475 off.
I had spent 3 days shooting it and came to the conclusion I
did not want to do that anymore. While I could reach
out and tag stuff at 400 yards with it, I could do the same
with my .45 Colt using a 300 gr. bullet at 1200 fps and it
is much more pleasant to shoot. I am no spring chicken
any more and my wrists still work without pain or
discomfort. I decided to keep it that way.
I have been experimenting with a big-bore gun but it is a
pussycat. Max velocities are under 900 fps and bullet
weights are not heavy.
days fully 90% of the loads I shoot in the .45 Colt are 255
gr. bullets at 800 to 850 fps.
last deer hunt with the 454 was with 225 gr. JHP's.
They don't have to run full-bore to be devastating on our
Whitetail Deer. Accuracy is much more important to me
find I like the .41 Magnum with 200 gr. bullets at around
1300 fps for Deer and Javelina. Not much recoil,
plenty of power for the job, and VERY accurate.
everyday carry gun is a .357 Magnum Old Model Ruger single
I shoot hundreds of .22's every month.
seems I have come full circle.
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