Life was so much simpler, but certainly much harder, in the 1870s and 1880s. Just imagine a life without airport security, or even airplanes, television and an endless supply of mindless programming, cell phones, gasoline engines, freeways, the IRS, and thousands upon thousands of rules and regulations, which now intrude into all facets of our life. At least from this end of history, travel by rail looks a whole lot more appealing than by airplanes or automobiles. Of course, the great advantage of looking back is the fact we can look through rose-colored glasses and everything looks much better than it probably was. At least, we can dream and wonder if these are the best of times or those days were.
When it came to sixgun ammunition, things were definitely much simpler. Whether your single action sixgun was chambered for .44 Russian, .38-40, .44-40, or .45 Colt, it was simply necessary to ask for a box of cartridges as they were all black powder and pretty standardized as to bullet weight. The one fellow that had to be careful was he who had a.45 Schofield to make sure he had the shorter .45 S&W ammunition rather than a .45 Colt.
Today there are all levels of sixguns strength-wise as well as ammunition loaded with smokeless and black powder; heavy-duty hunting loads with standard and heavyweight bullets; and reloading information that must be tailored to a specific sixgun. For example, the old .45 Colt is offered in many single action sixguns, which are not all equal when it comes to strength. At the bottom end, strength wise, we have the replica single actions, including the top-break Smith & Wesson copies, and then we work our way up with the Colt Single Action Army, the Colt New Frontier, the USFA Single Action with its slightly larger cylinder, the Ruger Blackhawk, the Freedom Arms Model 97, custom five-shot single actions, and finally the Freedom Arms Model 83 .454 with an extra cylinder chambered in .45 Colt. Even with the .38-40 and .44-40 there are two different levels with the Colt-style single action sixguns nowhere near as strong as the Ruger Blackhawks and Vaqueros; all of this means care should be used in selecting any single action sixgun ammunition, be it factory produced or reloaded.
Over the years, I've settled on some favored sixgun loads, both those I refer to as Everyday Working Loads and Heavy Duty Hunting Loads. Sometimes these overlap, for example my EWL for the old .44 Magnum Flat-Top Rugers also serves well as a hunting load. There was a time in my life in which I thought everything had to be loaded peddle to the metal. In those days, I loaded for the .45 Colt, .44 Magnum, .44 Special, and .38 Special. Although I had .357 Magnum chambered sixguns at the time, they were normally fed heavy .38 Special loads. I never marked the boxes as I used the standard Keith load for everything. I was missing one of the main advantages of loading my own, which is tailoring loads for specific situations and specific sixguns. I've learned over the years and reload much smarter these days.
Everyday Working Loads are standard loads capable of doing just about anything short of hunting our largest big game. The original black powder loads for .45 Colt, .44-40, and .38-40 used 255, 200, and 180 gr. bullets respectively at muzzle velocities of 850 to 1,000 fps from a sixgun. These are the same levels I set for my Everyday Working Loads. Years ago all my bullets were carefully cast, sized, and lubricated to fit a particular sixgun. These days my time is at a much greater premium and I find myself turning more and more to commercial cast bullets and using my own home cast bullets for much less than 50% of my shooting chores.
For standard .38 Special loads I long ago settled on 5.0 gr. of Unique. Used with Oregon Trail’s 158 grain SWC this is about an 850 fps load and safe in any Colt Single Action-style full-sized sixgun chambered for the .38 Special or for any .357 Magnum. Before +P .38 Special loads there was the .38/44 loading originally made for Smith & Wesson's Heavy Duty N-frame .38 Special in 1930. I still stay with Keith’s Lyman #358429, a hard cast bullet of around 168 gr. weight, however I have dropped his 13.5 gr. load to 11.5 gr. of #2400 for right at 1,100 fps. For my use this load goes only into sixguns marked .357 Magnum or in large-framed .38 Specials such as original .38 Specials from Colt and Great Western, or the current USFA .38 Special Single Action.
My favorite Everyday Working Load for the .357 Magnum in the Ruger Blackhawk has pretty much remained the same over several decades. Since the late 1950s my load of choice for the .357 Magnum has been 14.5-15.5 gr. of #2400 under the Lyman/Thompson #358156GC bullet. This is still a favorite and it has been joined by 13.0 gr. of WW296 or H110 with Cast Performance Bullet Co.’s 187 gr. flat-nosed, gas-checked, hard cast bullet. This load is just under 1,200 fps from a special .357 Flat-Top Blackhawk I had fitted with a 10 ½” barrel from a Ruger .357 Maximum.
I have pretty much standardized my Everyday Working Loads for the .45 Colt, .44-40, and .38-40 using the same powder charge. My most used load with all three is 8.0 grains of Unique with bullets from Oregon Trail Bullet Co. With the RCBS Pro 2000 Progressive Press, I have found I can use the same shell plate for all three cartridges and it takes less than 15 seconds to change the die plate, the powder measure is stationary, and all three take the same primer, all going together to make the assembly of Everyday Working Loads very easy. Bullet weights and styles are 250 grain RNFP and 255 grain SWC for the .45 Colt, 200 and 225 grain RNFPs for the .44-40, and 180 grain RNFP for the .38-40 respectively. These are not only great Everyday Working Loads in Colt Single Actions and replicas, they place very little stress on either sixgun or sixgunner. In a short easy to pack 4 ¾” sixgun muzzle velocities are around 850 fps with the .45 Colt, 900-950 fps with the .44-40, and right at 1,000 fps with the .38-40. These are black powder level loads without the black powder smoke and necessary cleanup.
I used to think it was pretty close to blasphemy to load the .44 Special with anything but the original Keith bullet. After many years of carefully casting, lubing, and sizing my own bullets I discovered Oregon Trail's 240 SWC not only shot just as good as my bullets but often even better. Much of my casting time is now put to better use as about 90 percent of my .44 Special loads are assembled with Oregon Trail’s 240 grain SWC bullet. A very easy shooting load that duplicates the original pre-World War I load is 6.0 gr. of Unique for around 750 fps from a short barreled Colt Single Action, Great Western Frontier, or .44 Special conversion on an old Model .357 Blackhawk. A more powerful Everyday Working Load is 7.5 grains of Unique for around 950 fps.
Oregon Trail's 240 SWC also works exceptionally well in the .44 Magnum. To duplicate Keith’s heavy .44 Special load in Magnum brass, I use 10.0 gr. of Unique for 1,180 fps in a 7 ½” .44 Magnum Ruger Flat-Top Blackhawk. To duplicate my Everyday Working Load for the .44 Special in the .44 Magnum, I use the same bullet with 8.5 grains of Unique. I still like to use the Keith bullet in the .44 Magnum, as well as the .44 Special, .45 Colt and .38 Special. Dry Creek Bullet Works offers authentic Keith bullets in all of these calibers. For easy shooting loads in the .44 Magnum with a 300 grain bullet I go with Oregon Trail’s 300FN over 6.0 to 8.0 grains of WW231 for 725 to 975 fps.
I have already mentioned the .45 Colt with the .38-40 and .44-40 and the fact my most used load with the .45 Colt these days is 8.0 gr. of Unique and Oregon Trail's 250 gr. RNFP or their 255 gr. SWC. When I do cast my own, the same charge goes under the RCBS #45-270 SWC, an excellent Keith design weighing 275-280 grains depending upon alloy used, that clocks out at 900+ fps and shoots superbly. For easy shooting with heavy bullets, I again go with Oregon Trail’s 300 FN over 7.0 grains of Universal or 10.0 grains of HS-6 for around 850 fps, and 8.0 grains of WW231 for around 975 fps. One load that I always keep on hand, simply because it works when others may fail, is the original Lyman Keith bullet #454424 over 20.0 gr. of H4227 for a little over 1,000 fps. This is my all-time favorite load in a special 4 ¾” .45 Colt New Frontier, in fact, it is the only load that will group all the shots in one hole from this little sixgun.
I would hate to try to tally the number of full power loads, which have gone down the barrels of a Freedom Arms .454 Casulls. The sixguns came through unscathed however my wrists and hands demand lighter loads be used as Everyday Working Loads, so I now use 10.0 gr. of HS-6 and either Oregon Trail's 300 grain FP or my own hard cast NEI 325 grain Keith-style bullets. Muzzle velocity is right at a very pleasant shooting 900 fps. With Cast Performance Bullet Co.’s 325 LBT, I like 10.0 grains of Universal or 9.0 grains of AA #N-100 for around 1,000 fps.
You have probably noticed most of my Everyday Working Loads are in the 900-1,000 fps range no matter what the bullet weight. This holds true for the .480 Ruger. Cast Performance Bullet Co. offers a full range of bullet weights for the .480 Ruger. For use in a 4 ¾” Freedom Arms Model 83 I choose the CPBC 370 gr. LBT over 20.0 gr. of H4227, 12.0 grains of HS-6, or 10.0 grains of Universal for 950-1,000 fps or their 425 gr. LBT with 18.0 gr. of H4227 for 925 fps.
For the .475 Linebaugh chambered 4 3/4” Freedom Arms Model 83 I move up a bit above the .480, which is used in the same sixgun. For an Everyday Working Load with the .475 Linebaugh, I once again go with a CPBC LBT bullet, the same 425 gr. bullet used in the .480 Ruger. However, the powder charge of H4427 is bumped up to 23.0 gr. for right at 1,100 fps from a 4 ¾” barrel. With this load we are beginning to move out of the pleasant shooting range and entering the realm of Heavy Duty Hunting Loads. An easy shooting, and exceptionally accurate load for the .475 is CPBC’s 390 grain LBT over 8.0 grains of Unique and 825 fps.
We can’t forget the .500 Linebaugh, which while known for power does not always have to be run full throttle. CPBC’s 410 grain LBT over 12.0 grains of Unique does 900 fps and will surely take care of any deer at close range even though it is relatively easy shooting. For an even milder load, 13.0 grains of HS-6 does 775 fps and is very easy on the shooter.
My Heavy Duty Hunting Loads begin with the .357 Magnum although I do not normally recommend it for hunting big game, however I have taken several animals with the .357 Magnum and all of them were one shot instantaneous kills. I stacked the deck in my favor by taking only animals that weighed 150 pounds or less and with standing broadside shots. Actually standing broadside shots is what I want in every situation with any animal and any sixgun load. Hornady’s 158 grain XTP-JHP is my bullet of choice using either 15.5 gr. #2400 or 17.5 gr. of WW296 for around 1,350 fps from a 7 1/2” Ruger Bisley Model. It will do the job cleanly if animals are reasonably small and distances kept reasonably short.
My favorite hunting load for the .41 Magnum, again in the 7 1/2” Ruger Bisley Model is Lyman’s 220 grain #410459 SWC over 19.5 gr. of #2400 for about 1,450 fps making it plenty potent for deer and black bear. Freedom Arms opened new parameters on the .41 Magnum by chambering their Model 83 for the smallest of the true big bores. The 10 1/2” Model 83 .41 Magnum is not only the most accurate .41 Magnum I have ever fired, it is also the most accurate centerfire revolver I have ever experienced. My load of choice, which is only for use in the Model 83, is Hornady’s 210 XTP over 22.0 grains of Accurate Arm’s AA#9 for 1,750 fps and the capability of placing three shots in 5/8” at 100 yards. If I had to pick a sixgun/load combination for shooting deer at 100 yards or a bit more, this would be my choice. We are, of course, talking a scope sight, not iron sights, and a solid rest.
For use as a Heavy Duty Hunting Load in the .44 Special I still like the 250 grain hard cast Keith bullet over 17.0 gr. of #2400 for 1,200 fps or 18.5 gr. of H4227 for 1,160 fps from 7 ½” sixguns, however a better choice, for me at least, is Speer’s copper cupped, lead core 225 gr. JHP over 16.5 gr. of #2400 for 1,150 fps. I related in the chapter on hunting handguns of the use of the hollow point version of the Keith bullet over 17.0 grains of #2400 to successfully and quickly take two very large feral boars. If I were to take nothing the rest of my handgun hunting life except deer-sized animals at 50 yards or less I could get by quite famously with the .44 Special. However, be warned, all of these .44 Special loads are in the 25,000 to 30,000 psi range and should be approached with the mandatory caution warning of starting well below the listed loads and working upwards.
With the .44 Magnum we enter the bottom rung of the ladder marked True Big Bore Sixguns, those which are adequate for taking large boned, tough, heavily muscled animals where deep penetration is needed. My favorite Heavy Duty .44 Magnum load is BRP’s 290 grain Keith-style gas checked hard cast bullet over 21.5 gr. of either WW296 or H110 for right at 1,350-1,400 fps from a long barreled sixgun. For those who prefer to cast their own bullets this is NEI’s #295.429. I do not use this load on deer-sized game, but instead prefer Hornady’s 240 gr. XTP over 25.0 gr. of H110 for around 1,350 fps. This duplicates Black Hills .44 Magnum load, which is absolutely deadly on deer-sized game.
For use in my Ruger .45 Colts, be they Blackhawks or Bisley Blackhawks, my favorite heavy duty load is BRP’s 305 gr. FNGC (flat-nosed gas check) over 21.5 gr. of either WW296 or H110 for 1,200 fps from a 7 ½” barrel. Others push these sixguns further, however, I see no reason to do so as this load is more than adequate for my use with the .45 Colt. Besides, I have the .454 if I want to go further with a .45 caliber bullet.
The same bullet mentioned as a favorite with the .45 Colt is also my number one choice for the .454 Casull; in fact BRP’s 305 gr. FNGC was originally designed by Dick Casull for the .454 Casull. It is superbly accurate in either the .45 Colt or .454 Casull. In the bigger .45, I use the same bullet and powders as with the .45 Colt, however the powder charge is increased to 32.0 grains for 1,700 fps. This is an extremely powerful and flat-shooting load.
The .480 Ruger is simply the .475 Linebaugh trimmed back so I normally treat it as I would the .44 Special when compared to the .44 Magnum and that is my Heavy Duty Hunting Loads are in the 1,200 fps range. Favorite loads include the Cast Performance Bullet Company 370 LBT over 22.0 grains of Lil’ Gun for 1216 fps, and 19.0 grains of Lil’ Gun or 21.0 grains of H110 for right at 1125 fps with Cast Performance Bullet Company’s 390 LBT. Do not take these comparatively mild muzzle velocities for granted. I took my first American bison with a 420 hard cast bullet at 1,100 fps in the .480 Ruger from the Freedom Arms 4 3/4” Model 83. At 35 yards, the bullet gave complete penetration, in one side and out the other.
My bullets of choice for the .475 Linebaugh from CPBC are the 370 LBT over 26.0 grains of Lil’ Gun for 1,450 fps, the 420 LBT and 23.0 grains of Lil’ Gun for 1,350 fps, and the 440 LBT with the same powder cut back to 22.0 grains for 1,300 fps. These bullets are all designed for the deepest possible penetration of the toughest animals that walk.
There was a time when it was impossible true hunting loads for sixguns. All that has changed and we have many Factory Heavy Duty Hunting Loads to choose from. Several years ago Randy Garrett of Garrett Cartridges began offering serious heavy duty hunting loads for the .44 Magnum using 280 grain and 310 grain Keith-Style hard cast semi-wadcutters. This great .44 ammunition has been dropped from production, however it has been replaced by two new loads, which have proven to be even more accurate and to also give more penetration on big, tough critters.
The newest .44 loads from Garrett are known as the Hammerheads featuring 310 grain and 330 grain LBT hard cast bullets rated at 1300 fps. The heavier bulleted load is designed to be used only in the Ruger Redhawk and Super Redhawk with their longer than normal cylinders. I was pleasantly surprised to find both loads would chamber in my Freedom Arms .44 Magnum. The former Garrett loads with Keith-style bullets would not work in this Freedom Arms .44 Magnum. Test firing the Garrett loads at 50 yards was accomplished with a Freedom Arms .44 with a 7 1/2" barrel and Leupold 2x LER scope. The 310 and 330 Hammerheads both came in at 1,400 fps with 1 3/8" 50 yard groups in the Freedom Arms. Garrett Cartridges offers these .44 Magnum loads as their only handgun load and they are for serious handgun hunters who desire power and superior penetration.
Buffalo Bore’s motto is Strictly Big Bore, Strictly Business and they mean exactly that as they offer only Heavy Duty Hunting Loads, Until very recently the smallest bore they offered was the .41 Magnum followed by all the big bore sixgun loadings, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, .454 Casull, .480 Ruger, .475 Linebaugh, and .500 Linebaugh, all serious Heavy Duty Loads. They have now added a 170 grain JHP and a 180 Hard Cast load for the .357 Magnum.
All of Buffalo Bore’s .45 Colt loads are advertised as Heavy .45 Colt and are for use only in modern heavy duty .45 Colt sixguns. There are three standard offerings: for maximum penetration, a hard cast 325 grain LBT-LFN at 1,325 fps; for penetration combined with expansion, a 300 grain Speer PSP (Plated Soft Point) at 1,300 fps; and for smaller critters where expansion is more important than deep penetration, Buffalo Bore offers a 260 grain jacketed hollow point at 1,450 fps. The fourth offering from Buffalo Bore was designed with the mid-framed Freedom Arms Model 97 .45 Colt in mind and is a 300 grain Speer PSP at 1,200 fps.
Buffalo Bore’s .44 Magnum loads consist of three Heavy .44 Magnum offerings. First there is the 270 grain Speer Gold Dot loaded to 1,450 fps; then a 300 grain Speer PSP (Plated Soft Point) at 1,300 fps, and finally for maximum penetration, a 305 grain hard cast LBT-LFN (Long Flat Nose) rated at 1,325 fps. Buffalo Bore, as far as I know, is the only company offering Heavy Duty .41 Magnum hunting loads. Their standard weight bullet is a 170 gr. JHP at 1,650 fps, which is joined by two hard cast bulleted loads, a 230 gr. Keith bullet rated at 1,450 fps; and for maximum penetration, there is the 265 grain LWN (Long Wide Nose) at 1,350 fps. As with most Keith-bulleted rounds, the Buffalo Bore 230 will not fit the tight chambers of the Freedom Arms Model 83.
Buffalo Bore offers two hard cast and one jacketed bullet load for the .454 Casull. The jacketed version consists of Freedom Arms’ 300 gr. jacketed flat nose at 1,625 fps; while the two hard cast bullet loads are a 325 gr. LBT-LFN at 1,525 fps and a 360 grain LBT-WFN (Wide Flat Nose) at 1425 fps. These loads are made to handle big mean critters.
John Linebaugh’s first wildcat is well represented by custom five-shot revolvers from John Linebaugh as well as other sixgunsmiths such as Hamilton Bowen, David Clements, Jack Huntington, Gary Reeder, and Jim Stroh. The only factory loads available are those from Buffalo Bore. Three hard cast LBT designs, a 435 grain LFN at an easy shootin’ 950 fps; the same bullet at a full bore 1,300 fps; and a 440 grain WFN for maximum shocking power combined with penetration at 1,250 fps; are all joined by a 400 gr. jacketed hollow point at 1,400 feet per second. A 435 grain LFN at 950 fps may be easy shootin’ compared to the others, however it would certainly do the job on a deer or feral pigs.
John Linebaugh’s original .475 was made by trimming .45-70 brass to length, resulting in a cartridge with a large rim that will fit in custom five-shot cylinders fitted to Ruger frames, however there is not enough room for the same rounds to fit in a Freedom Arms cylinder as the rims would overlap as well as interfere with the ratchet. When Buffalo Bore began offering .475 Linebaugh ammunition as a factory chambering the rims were trimmed to fit in the Freedom Arms-sized cylinders. So we now have the excellent Model 83 offered in .475 Linebaugh in all standard barrel lengths, as well as six versions of .475 ammunition from Buffalo Bore.
First comes an easy shootin’ loading, deer and pig load of a 420 grain LBT-LFN at 950 fps; next comes the two heavy duty cast bullet loads both at 1,350 fps, and both weighing in at 420 grains, one an LBT-LFN for maximum penetration and the other an LBT-WFN (Wide Flat Nose) for maximum shocking power. For those preferring jacketed bullets there is a 400 grain JSP at 1,400 fps and finally two loadings of a 350 gr. JHP at 1,500 fps and a 440 LBT-WFN at 1,325 fps.
The .480 Ruger is simply the 1.400” .475 cut back to 1.275” and loaded by Buffalo Bore to be easier handling than the bigger brother. For practice, or for deer hunting as well, there is the 370 gr. LFN at an easy shooting 1,000 fps; the same bullet loaded to a full 1,300 fps; and my choice for bison, the 420 grain. WFN which clocks out at 1,200 fps from a 7 ½” barrel.
During all the years Elmer Keith was trying to get ammunition companies to offer his 1,200 fps Keith load, he also asked if they could at least load it to 1,000 fps. Ammo manufacturers were concerned about his heavy load in older guns so he suggested this compromise. It never happened until now. Buffalo Bore offers a true 255 grain hard cast Keith bullet rated at an even 1,000 fps. This load should do fine for close range operations on small deer.
Bullets for hunting have been mentioned throughout this book and we now have a new style of bullet offered to us for deep penetration on big game by Kelye Schlepp, he of Belt Mountain base pins. Kelye’s latest offering is Punch Bullets, bullets turned from brass on a lathe with a solid lead core. He currently offers heavyweight Belt Mountain Punch Bullets for the .44 Magnum, .45 Colt/.454 Casull, .457 Linebaugh/.480 Ruger, had the .500 Linebaugh. They not only offer deep penetration they also shoot very well. Thus far my loads have been for the .45 Colt in a Ruger 4 5/8” Blackhawk, 320 grain bullet over 22.0 grains of H4227 for 1169 fps; the same bullet in the .454 FA 4 3/4” Model 83 with 26.0 grains of H4227,1326 fps; 388 grain bullet, .475 Linebaugh, FA 4 3/4” M83, 25.0 grains of H4227, 1175 fps; same bullet, .480 Ruger, FA 4 3/4” M83, 19.5 grains of H4227, 1010 fps; and for the .500 Linebaugh a 458 grain Punch Bullet in a custom five-shot Linebaugh 5 1/2” Bisley with 24.0 grains of H4227 for an easy shootin’ but deep penetrating 939 fps.