Tales from the Back Creek Diary –

An Adopted “Beast” Gets A Buddy…

© 2014 – Ed Harris


Last winter I found a Colt New service .45 DA Model of 1909 at CS Arms of Upperville, VA, a small shop specializing in Antiques and Militaria. The old revolver had been reblued, so had no collector value, and was cheap. Its bore was not perfect, but shootable with light salt & pepper, typical of any 100-year-old revolver of the corrosive-primer era. It locked up tight, indexed well and had a decent, albeit heavy trigger pull. I decided why not? Any .45  revolver which works you can buy for $350 today is a good deal.


CS Arms of Upperville, VA

Harry Archer long ago convinced me of the utility of owning at least one long gun chambered for each caliber of handgun ammo I use.  I went looking for an inexpensive rifle to keep my New Service company.  George Damron knew his friend Wally had been carrying a New England Firearms CR-45LC Cowboy carbine at gun shows, so would ask if he still had it. This is a 6-1/2 pound, iron-sighted, break-open single-shot with 20 inch barrel on the familiar Topper shotgun action.

My reasoning was that the H&R would be a compact, handy, low-noise option to accompany the big revolver, using standard .45 Colt ammunition. I saw no point in developing hot loads for rifle use only, which could not be used in the Colt New Service, because this would defeat its purpose. George put me in touch with Wally and a deal was struck.

My first trial of the M1909 took place firing out the back door during our big snowstorm of 2011, firing at a used 5-inch paper plate stained from Little Friskies Salmon Feast cat food, stapled to a pine tree, out about 20 yards. The New Service went bang six out of six times, six hits on the plate firing offhand in failing light with almost invisible sights. Winchester 250-gr. Cowboy loads from Sportsman’s Guide hit more or less to point of aim, eyeballed as “about a 3" group,” 4 shots being within about 2 inches, one shot a bit wide, the last shot low, both pilot error, but OK for the conditions. Service grade accuracy.

A few weeks later my friend Dick Nearing and I fired under more controlled conditions what Dick so-aptly named "the Beast," the two of us alternating groups between Dick’s rack-grade GI .45 firing ball ammo as a sanity check, compared to my Winchester Cowboy loads in the M1909. Testing took place on a cold, dark indoor range firing at 20 yards. You could see your exhaled breath condense in the range light.  Dick’s M1911A1 firing mixed odds and ends of Ball ammo, some dating back to WWII, which was steel cased and was corrosive, and some newer 1980s FC and WCC stuff, burning up all of our collected dregs. We confirmed that 3 inches at 20 yards with a rack-grade GI .45 is still good benchmark. We knew that, but seeing data is truth.

Attempting to use a 6:00 hold with mild Winchester Cowboy loads Old Beast shot low on paper below the bull. Modern Cowboy loads are “mouse-fart” stuff compared to the factory .45 Colt loads of my youth which would really put lead in your pencil! Our best sight picture with the M1909 .45 DA turned out to be to center the bull of a 20 yard Standard American bullseye target down into the U notch and center the tiny front sight over the black. Firing so that groups are centered and hold the black. Their average extreme spread measured 3.46 inches off handbags. The sights are hard to see, but at least I now had brass to reload!

I also fired six rounds of reloads assembled in the six cases I had emptied the previous week out my back door. These were loaded with the Saeco 230-gr. flat-nose, #954 Cowboy bullet. Bullets were loaded as-cast from wheel weights, unsized, tumbled in Lee Liquid Alox, with 15.4 grs. of #2400 with Winchester large pistol primers. Alliant lists 15.4 grains of #2400 in the .45 Colt behind a 250-grain Speer lead SWC. My Little Dandy powder measure is usually set up with the #19 rotor which throws nominally 15.4 grains of the stuff, because I use that charge as a “medium velocity” load with Saeco #430 in the .44 Magnum and as a GC go-to load in my .30 and .303  cal. Military bolt guns and hunting rifles.

So I gave #2400 a try in .45 Colt. BIG mistake!…BOOM~!, Crack$#!@~, Plooopp.... WHAM~!, Phuuuuuuuuuuuudd.. Poooow! VERY erratic reports. Conclusion, use no more #2400 in the .45 Colt. Unburned powder jams up the action, so that the trigger doesn’t return reliably and cylinder is hard to open and close. Break out the toothbrush and canned air…Important lesson learned. Back to Bullseye!  Plentiful and familiar.

The one group with #2400 showed promise, 2-1/2" in spite of obvious velocity and pressure variation. It confirmed that Saeco #954 as-cast and unsized fits and shoots well, so deserves further trial with a more suitable powder, such as Bullseye, which I have in ample supply to load .38 and .44 Specials and .45 ACPs.

The New Service Colt was an impulse purchase plinker, not for serious work. I wanted to keep things simple and use the same bullets I cast for my other .45 ACP revolvers, S&W Model 625 and Ruger Single-action, and converted Marlin rifle which use ACP. So, I next did what I should have in the first place, loaded my merger supply of .45 Colt fired brass with 6 grains of Bullseye and the Saeco #954 230 grain FN Cowboy bullet, as-cast .4555 diameter to proper fit the .456 cylinder ball seats of the Colt. My hope was that this load would approximate .45 Auto Rim velocity (800-830 fps) and shoot 3 inches or better at 20 yards. It did exactly that.

Doing so at 25 yards of course would have been simply delightful, but after the indoor range at Sharpshooters was refurbished to provide a deeper coaching and safety zone behind the firing line, what was a 25 yard range became 22.  What matter for security guards and civilians who mostly shoot at paper zombies and pictures of Osama with snubbies!  I found official 20 yard official NRA Timed and Rapid-fire bullseye targets and adjusted range accordingly. Truth said.

After all, this is a 100-year old gun with crude sights, being fired by a then 62-, and now 63-year old bald headed fat man with an inter-ocular lens implant in his shooting eyeball.  So we have to calmly face reality here. Being able to shoot 3 inch groups to point of aim at 20 yards is serviceable accuracy, as good as a rack M1911, we have already proven that. I do believe that my favorite reading “Other Famous Gun Writer” in Montana himself would accept that premise. Achieving a realistic, admittedly modest level of performance confirmed that my working load of 6 grains of Bullseye was just the ticket, by the time my backordered box of 500 new Starline cases arrived from Midway at the next full moon...

Valley Guns II of Inwood, WV called shortly afterwards, reporting that my H&R CL-45LC had arrived for transfer.  Beast had a bunker buddy now. Shooting larger samples in the M1909 Colt indoors at 20 yards, as-cast from wheel weights, loaded unsized at .4555 diameter, the Saeco #954 flatnosed 230-grain cowboy bullets were tumbled in Lee Liquid Alox. A powder charge of 6 grains of Bullseye outshot everything else, including factory Winchester 250-gr. lead and cast lead 250-gr. flatnosed bullets from two different moulds, when loaded with the listed charges from Alliant.

Hand held off sandbags, trying hard to see the tiny blade front sight and U rear notch groups I fired from the Colt New Service with Saeco #954 averaged 2.2 inches over ten consecutive 6-shot groups. Occasional groups were under 2" and the worst ones including fliers and all were not over 3" whereas factory Winchester cowboy loads went 3.46” and contained unexplained random fliers opening some groups to 4 inches or more.  

My belief is that longer, heavier 250-gr. bullets with a greater ratio of length to diameter (L/D) are more difficult to cast without voids. Their casting requires extra care to overflow the blocks, casting a large sprue to keep the sprue liquid as .long as possible before it solidifies and cools. No such fliers occurred using the shorter 230-grain Saeco bullet, but did occur with the nearly identical #955 which weighs 260 grains in soft alloy, differing only by its heavier base band. Groups with #954 were round with dense centers.

Bullets of shorter L/D are better suited for mass production. A buddy of mine is a commercial caster who says he can run 230-gr. .45 bullets 25% faster on his Magma casting machine than 250 grain or heavier in the same caliber. Hmmmm.. This is known as a clue!

Firing the same ammo in a carbine: Saeco #954 loaded unsized and tumble-lubed with Lee Liquid Alox, charge of 6 grs. of Bullseye shot from the single-shot H&R CR45LC carbine with Millet DMS scope, groups averaged an inch at 20 yards firing a series of 50 shots as fast as I could bang them off, in about 5 minutes, until the barrel got too hot to hold, heat mirage was visible in the scope and my eyes got tired. The best groups fired carefully held, starting from a cold barrel warming up during the first ten rounds went all into one ragged hole, as if you had fired a single 12-ga. slug through the target.  Zeroing the buckhorns later it was easy to poke 4-inch groups at 100 yards with open sights. Velocity was 780 from the Colt, and 971 from the H&R.  

Substituting the heavier 255-gr. #955 Saeco bullet, of identical shape, except for its heavier base band, velocity was 800 from the Colt and 1027 fps from the H&R.  If I was really fussy about casting, slowing production rate and being careful with inspection, grouping about  as good, but with higher revolver point of impact and more drop at 100 yards from the rifle. OK, but less useful.  

The 230-gr. cowboy load shoots better than I can hold using an improvised sandbag rest on an indoor pistol range without having a proper rifle bench. I'm done with load development in the .45 Colt. It approximates the old M1875 military Schofield load, which was adequate to shoot buffalo and kill Indians, subsonic in the rifle with a modest 'pop' and not a Bang!!!

The 230-gr. Saeco #954 has an ogival nose with .32 diameter meplat, one grease groove and a crimp groove. With a 4-cavity mould castings fill out and drop easily. I can run 100 pounds of alloy (a little over 3000 bullets - or a day's production to load on the RL550B) on a Saturday. My buddies and I use this same bullet to load .45 ACP with 5 grains of Bullseye loaded on the Dillon machine. It feeds in most M1911s which don't run hollow points or target-wadcutters and runs in anything which will feed GI hardball. The large flat nose is more effective on game, penetrating straight through, 30 inches of water jugs, without tumbling unlike ordinary LRN and cuts a nice hole, about as good as a Keith SWC.

Unlike Keith's or H&G semi-wadcutters, it feeds lever action .45 Colt Marlins and ACP full autos. So, #954 has become our basic "go-to-45 load" and it runs like a pony trotting in M1911s, revolvers with full moons and a buddy's M1928 Thompson. I am thinking of getting rid of my other .45 handgun moulds, buying another of these and using the money from the sale of now seldom used stuff to buy more powder and primers. I just might. 

KISS principle!

My mentor the late BG Charles Cogswell, USMC (Ret.) carried a .45 M1917 revolver through the Pacific during WWII. He said that the big revolver was superior to an M1911 as a parry and impact weapon. His old warhorse has Japanese sword cuts on it to prove it. When the revolver is empty use it to smack your opponent senseless across his temples or parry his sword while you carve his guts up with your K-Bar. Old fashioned sailing ship, cutlass fighting tactics learned from watching Errol Flynn in movies, he said.

It’s easy to imagine the M1909 Colt in similar circumstances.  Double feature DVDs tonight, Charlton Heston in Khartoum, and Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom.  Ah, the aroma of Rangoon Oil, slightly animal, a hint of jungle mold and dried camel dung punctuated with black powder, sweat, old leather, and, of course, the Royal Navy Pusser’s Rum… Or Old Granddad if you really insist. Bully~!


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