One (of several) Perfect Revolver

I must offer an apology. Last night I attempted to post this entry. However, I had a problem with editing the photos to achieve my goal and I ended up deleting the entry. However, in the process I managed to inadvertently engage the ‘Publish’ button and thereby posted the initial, incomplete and to my mind, unsatisfactory, version.

If any comments were submitted, they were deleted with the original mis-posted entry. My deepest apologies.

One of the most lauded self defense cartridges of modern time is known various as the .45 Autoloading Colt Pistol (ACP), the .45 Auto or just the “.45” – which can lead to some confusion with the .45 (‘Long”) Colt. While the round is condemned by some as generating too much recoil, some condemn the pistols as being too limited in round count and others think the cartridge is too ‘brutal’, very few argue the cartridge is incapable of delivering proper self defense.

For the record, I think the .45 ACP cartridge is the bee’s knees as a self defense mechanism. It is also quite useful as a target cartridge, presuming the accompanying pistol is suitable prepared.

.45 ACP and .45 Auto Rim variations.  From left to right:  "Hardball" load for semi-automatic pistol; 185 grain lead semi-wadcutter (reduced velocity) for target use; 200 grain jacketed semi-wadcutter (reduced velocity) for target work; .45 ACP hardball equivalent with lead bullet; .45 Auto Rim cartridge loaded to hardball velocities with lead bullet; .45 Auto Rim cartridge with 255 grain semi-wadcutter loaded to full velocity for defensive use.

.45 ACP and .45 Auto Rim variations. From left to right: “Hardball” load for semi-automatic pistol; 185 grain lead semi-wadcutter (reduced velocity) for target use; 200 grain jacketed semi-wadcutter (reduced velocity) for target work; .45 ACP hardball equivalent with lead bullet; .45 Auto Rim cartridge loaded to hardball velocities with lead bullet; .45 Auto Rim cartridge with 255 grain semi-wadcutter loaded to full velocity for defensive use.

There are some – possibly a majority of persons – who prefer other rounds for the purpose. I must confess to a weakness for .44 Special in the role; admit the .40 S&W round is quite adequate and even have been known to carry the lowly .38 Special at times. However, I know of no knowledgable enthusiast who denies the ability of the .45 ACP round to serve in self defense.

I find the double action (DA) revolver – as built by Smith & Wesson (S&W) from about 1900 to around 1981 or so (the ‘pinned barrel’ ilk) – to be well suited as a personal defense device. Yes, they have their detractors; primarily those who lack self-confidence in their ability to deliver aimed fire on an attack and therefore feel a minimum of twelve or so panic driven shots are needed for self defense, OR those who live in constant fear of being attacked by a full chapter of Hell’s Angels or perhaps a reinforced battalion of the Red Chinese Army.

I find the above described DA revolver rather handy and suitably accurate.

The reader will not – should not – be shocked to learn when I discovered a S&W pinned barrel revolver (in good shape, I might add) chambered in caliber .45 ACP, I was compelled to consider the purchase.

Since I have been seeking such a revolver for a number of years, the consideration took all of about four nanoseconds (my mind was a bit slow that day). I took it home, of course.

The Smith & Wesson Model 25-2

Smith & Wesson Target Revolver of 1955 or Model 25-2

Smith & Wesson Target Revolver of 1955 or Model 25-2 Note Fitz “Gunfighter” stocks

View of the same revolver with the cylinder open.  Note the cavernous chambers.

View of the same revolver with the cylinder open. Note the cavernous chambers.


Sample purchased commercially from Bud’s Pawn at Hastings Gun Show (spring, 2016). For any of those possessed of the ‘gun show loophole’ mania, I was required to establish my identity and complete a form 4473 prior to sale.

Marked 25-2, made after 1969; has N prefix serial number (846,xxx), so 1969 or later. Pinned barrel revolver. Chambers in cylinder are NOT recessed; only ‘magnum’ calibers and rimfire cartridges were recessed. Model 25-3 began in 1977. Therefore, sample made between 1969 and 1977.

Previous owner cut barrel – professionally – to four inches and remounted front sight . Front sight not original configuration – not ‘ramp’ but flat topped with steep angle on rear of sight. Both front and rear sights are uncolored; no inserts, no white outlines.

Front sight treatment.  Sight has been remounted and configured for holster and to provide a reliable sight picture.  Good job.

Front sight treatment. Sight has been remounted and configured for holster and to provide a reliable sight picture. Good job.


Crown work; note actual crown of muzzle is recessed and finished 'flat' without radius or contour.

Crown work; note actual crown of muzzle is recessed and finished ‘flat’ without radius or contour.

Original configuration features square butt; this has not been altered.

Blued finish. Bluing is in excellent condition with no appreciable wear (including muzzle). Does not appear to be refinished.

Weight: 2 pounds, 11 ounces or 1.2 kilograms; unloaded of course. This probably varies from the ‘official’ weight of the 1955 Target Revolver due to the removal of two inches of barrel.

Original trigger has been smoothed, target type (factory) serrations have been removed, ostensibly for double action use. Hammer seems unmodified. Double and single action trigger pull is normal for S&W revolver of this era; the single action pull is right at three pounds, the double action pull is over the limit of my spring scale measuring device, but is smooth and uniform throughout.

All in all, one gathers this revolver was intended for use as a personal defense type sidearm. The shortened barrel indicates an intention to carry the revolver in a normal belt holster. The butt has not been altered to ‘rounded’ configuration nor the barrel cut back to absolute minimum, implying it was not intended as a concealment sidearm. (With proper holster and clothing, it could be done; but the intention presents as a exposed holster type revolver.)

When purchased, the revolver sported Smith & Wesson Target stocks. Target stocks are not bad and very much superior to the previous ‘service’ and ‘magna’ fashioned stocks. However, I replaced the Target stocks with a set I prefer. They appear to me as the old – out of business – “Fitz” stocks of the 1950s and ‘60s. (Not to be confused with the late John H. FitzGerald of Colt revolver fame.) However, the box for the stocks – if there ever was such in my possession – is long gone and the interior of the stocks bear a label of “Made in the Philippines”. However, they do serve properly in connecting my manly metacarpus with the device in question. Not to mention they look proper.

This revolver – the ‘Target Model of 1955’, later given the model number of ’25’ – was originally designed as a Bullseye target revolver for .45 caliber competition. It is chambered for – at that time – the standard .45 ACP round known as ‘hardball’. (The normal military and commercial loading utilized a 230 grain full metal jacket bullet loaded to a maximum – and standard – loading of 21,000 PSI, resulting in an ‘average’ velocity of just over 900 feet per second in a government issue M1911 or M1911A1.)

Typically, as this was a target intended revolver, a lower weight, pressure and velocity round was employed – usually referred to as a ‘wadcutter’. (Typically this is the same construction as for ‘watcutter’ loads in semi-automatic pistols; either a 185 or 200 grain lead semi-wadcutter at velocities of around 700 feet per second [FPS].) The result of this use was a softer report, lessened recoil and less ‘stress’ on the shooter; this presumably made for more accurate shooting. However, the revolver is suited for firing full charge ammunition and need not be carefully protected from standard pressure/velocity ammunition.

The commercially loaded “.45 Auto Rim” or “.45 AR” cartridge – which can be confused with the “AR” of Armalite Rifle to much consternation – was typically loaded with lead bullets of 230 grains; this loading was intentionally loaded to lower velocity to reduce leading. From this loading, the SAAMI standards for pressure was determined. At least, so this has been reported. The current SAAMI publication does not list the pressure limit for .45 Auto Rim cartridge. As the initial revolvers – the M1917 S&W and M1917 Colt revolvers were intended for use with the issue “M1911 Pistol, caliber .45” cartridge – AND the S&W revolvers of the 1950s – the 1950 Military and Police, the 1950 Target Revolver and the 1955 Target Revolver – are all chambered for the .45 ACP cartridge; one must assume no difference in pressure levels allowed. .45 ACP and .45 Auto Rim have the same limitations and construction – other than the rim on the Auto Rim cartridge.

As usual, full charge ammunition will wear on the mechanism more than lower pressure ammunition. Which is not to say one is to never use full charge – standard pressure – ammunition. One finds pistols (M1911 type for use with .45 Automatic ammunition) used in the First World War and thereafter in perfect functioning condition. Perhaps some of the springs need to be replaced ‘sooner’.

The intentional ‘overloading’ of ammunition is not a sound practice. The standard loading of .45 ACP ammunition is sufficient to the purpose of personal self-defense. The standard loading pressure – with suitable projectiles (bullets) – is also sufficient for taking of small to medium game should circumstances demand. One notes numerous better weapons and ammunition for sport hunting under non-emergent conditions.

Normally, .45 ACP rounds – designed and suited for use in semi-automatic pistols, submachine guns or carbines – are ‘rimless’. Which is to say, the projecting ‘rim’, or ‘flange’ as our British brethren say, is absent. Initially, revolver use was facilitated by use of ‘half moon clips’ which fit onto the ammunition (three rounds, hence the ‘half-moon’ adjective) by the recessed extractor groove and provided the function of a rim. This both allowed quick loading of fresh ammunition, provided a headspacing mechanism in some very early revolvers and also gave a surface for the extractor to engage when unloading the revolver. (Hopefully the photos give visual information.) In later years, the ‘clip’ concept was extended to designs for both ‘full-moon’ (six rounds or a total revolver load) and “one-third moon” (two rounds) clips. The idea being to give greater flexibility to the user.

Adapter clips to allow use of rimless .45 ACP cartridges in revolver - bottom view.

Adapter clips to allow use of rimless .45 ACP cartridges in revolver – bottom view.

Adapter clips, side view.

Adapter clips, side view.

The down falls of the ‘clips’ are two and perhaps three fold in nature.
1. If the clip (traditionally a flat metal stamping) is bent, in use this tends to either prohibit use of the device or the bend tends to ‘spring’ and pushes one or more of the loaded cartridges against the recoil shield. This increased the effort needed to fire the revolver and may prevent cylinder rotation altogether.
2. The clips get lost easily. They’re rather thin and small, all things considered.
3. Snapping loaded rounds into the clips can be difficult. Removing fired cases from the clips can be difficult. This is the activity which bend the clips – see #1 again.

Please note the various machines and devices to aid installation and removal of ammunition from clips did not exist until the 1980s or so.

One should probably point out for all but a very few revolvers, the interior configuration and dimensions of the chamber allow for the rimless .45 ACP cartridge to be safely and successfully fired in revolvers so chambered. However, the extractor will NOT engage the cartridge to remove it from the cylinder and expended cases must be pulled – ‘plucked’ – from the revolver by use of a flat bladed screwdriver, pocket knife or fingernails. This can be done, but is less than optimal.

This practice was initiated in roughly 1917 by the use of both Smith & Wesson and Colt large frame revolvers in the U. S. Armed Forces. This engenders a complete story of its own and will not be addressed herein.

However, in about 1920, the Peters Cartridge Company (purchased by Remington later in 1934) developed the .45 Auto Rim cartridge (case). This was essentially a .45 ACP body with a rim (or flange if preferred); it was a revolver cartridge and could be used in revolver so chambered without the need for the the adaptive clips. One notes the rim upon the .45 Auto Rim cartridge is about twice as thick – fore and aft – as most revolver cartridge rims. This is to take up the space taken up by the addition of the half moon rims to standard ammunition.

Comparison of a .45 Auto Rim cartridge and a .45 ACP (rimless) cartridge inserted into an adaptive clip.

Comparison of a .45 Auto Rim cartridge and a .45 ACP (rimless) cartridge inserted into an adaptive clip.

.45 Auto Rim cases (and ammunition) are not plentiful and widespread. They are available, but one much search for them. Of note, HKS speed loaders make a speed loader for the .45 Auto Rim and for use in the Smith & Wesson revolvers so blessed. (They should fit the old Colt New Service revolver if chambered in .45 ACP as well. The ‘half moon’ clips were interchangeable and therefore the spacing of the chambers in the cylinders must be the same.)

One notes the .45 ACP cartridge is manufactured these days in any number of configurations. The ‘standard’ loading mentioned is still widespread and available. Several ammunition manufacturers offer variations in controlled expansion, clever shapes and various coatings as dedicated self-defense rounds. Some offerings are designed for low power – recoil – target work. Not to mention individual reloads with a rainbow of options.

Considering the subject of this report is a revolver, one can load square fronted bullets not suited to semi-automatic pistols. With a semi-automatic pistol of any caliber, the loaded round must – by virtue of being pushed, pulled or prodded from the magazine to the chamber in order to fire. This pushing, pulling and prodding is eased by a ‘streamlined’ or smooth and rounded bullet – the front of the loaded cartridge – which facilitates the operation of the arm.

With a revolver, the operator manually inserts the loaded cartridge into the chamber and closes the cylinder. Far less ‘fiddling’ in that regard.

Also, since a revolver does not rely on recoil and internal pressure to operate the mechanism, an individual can load either very light – as long as the bullet leaves the barrel – or slower burning powders which may not offer a recoil operated pistol the proper ‘impulse’ to reliably operate. In that regard, revolvers are far more versatile.

Because I have a supply of .45 Auto Rim cases, I felt it obvious to reload ammunition for this revolver. Having a keen sense of the blatantly obvious, the primary round is a duplication of the semi-automatic pistol ‘standard’ round.

For general shooting I decided a 230 grain RNL bullet and a suitable charge of WW 231 would serve. (Consult your local loading manual; typos are too easy to miss.) It is essentially what I shoot in my semi-automatic pistols with suitable results. The same loading with jacketed bullets should work, I shoot on an indoor range and the lead bullets are easier on the impact area.

Note: In deference to the noted revolvers of Smith & Wesson, all firing was done double action only. Most was ‘two hand, supported with off side hand’ and some was ‘strong hand only’ as noted.

Fresh B 21xR target from National Target Company.  Known to some of us old shooters as the 'Colt Target' - but I cannot find it listed as such on line anymore.  Probably not politically correct.

Fresh B 21xR target from National Target Company. Known to some of us old shooters as the ‘Colt Target’ – but I cannot find it listed as such on line anymore. Probably not politically correct.

.45 Auto Rim rounds loaded to hardball equivalence from 50 feet on indoor range.

.45 Auto Rim rounds loaded to hardball equivalence from 50 feet on indoor range.

The 230 RNL loading in the Auto Rim case shot almost boringly well. At 50 feet – just shy of seventeen yards – I fired 18 rounds (three full cylinders if that seems an odd choice of group) at the “5X” zone of a B-21xR target (National Target Co.) This target is known to some older shooters as the “Colt Target”. Of the 18 rounds fired, 15 were scored on the “5X” ring (including one on the line). Three shots were out of the ring, but all 18 shots were within the K5 zone. I’m pretty sure the three shots absent from the X ring were due to my shooting. I felt one or two at least were fired out of cadence. In looking at the group resulting, I should probably move the rear sight to the right one click. Maybe two clicks. Recoil and report were commensurate with a full charge load. I must confess the lead (alloy) bullets with ‘lube’ do smoke a bit. For outdoor shooting, I’ll probably use 230 grain FMJ or – more likely as they are cheaper – plated bullets to avoid the smoke problem.

As an experiment, I fired some 18 rounds of conventional .45 ACP (case) loads assisted by ‘third-moon’ clips. These were standard hardball equivalent loads using lead bullets. This is the ammunition I normally use in informal competition with my semi-automatic pistols.

This ammunition didn’t do as well. The registration of the bullet impacts is a bit higher on the target and the group was considerably looser. Hypothetically, perhaps the ‘clip’ arrangement gave a greater area of impact. Perhaps the bore was getting too leaded from the prior shooting (examination of the bore discounts this possibility in my mind). Possibly the coffee I had with lunch was kicking in. Perhaps I was wanting to go home. I will have to re-test this experiment and also move on to jacketed or plated bullets.

Poor results of .45 ACP ammunition held in clips.  Also just a bit high on target.

Poor results of .45 ACP ammunition held in clips. Also just a bit high on target.

The second, and nearly as obvious as the first loading to my mind, is the 255 grain SWCL bullet used in the .45 (Long) Colt cartridge. I use a slower powder with the heavier bullet; something in the nature of Unique or Power Pistol. I’m not sure if 2400 or a similar slow (for handgun) powder would do properly; the pressure range for proper burning may be too high.

The 255 grain loads in Auto Rim cases were equally satisfactory. Firing six rounds at 50 feet put all six rounds into the “5X” ring. Once again, the point of impact of the bullets was the same as the point of aim. Perhaps a bit high, but not enough to warrant concern.

255 grain SWC loading from 50 feet and 25 yards .

255 grain SWC loading from 50 feet and 25 yards .

I then fired six rounds at the same target, same point of aim and same ammunition from 25 yards. The grouping is a bit confusing. Four of the shots were together in a three inch group about four and one-half inch higher (above) the prior group. Which would indicate some trajectory was manifesting. However, two of the shots were mixed in with the 50 feet group. Had I not marked those prior shots, I would have not been able to distinguish which shots came from what group. Which would indicate the two groups – from somewhat different distances – didn’t show enough trajectory difference to matter.

The comforting thought is all those shots registered in such a way to render enemies of the Republic hors de combat. As one of my mothers-in-law said, “It won’t be noticed from a galloping horse.”

The last trial with the 255 grain loads was two strings of six shots at 7 yards. This was fired strong hand only. Twelve rounds fired, eleven rounds were in the K5 zone with a maximum separate – two furthest impacts – of just over nine inches. The twelfth round – I regretfully inform the reader – was a miss, between the K4 zone and the right arm. One also notes the group shape was ovate from high right to low left. This is the customary and traditional manner in which I fling shots in a hurry. I tend to either tighten my shooting (right) hand or twitch in such manner. I have talked to myself about it. It doesn’t seem to do much good.

7 yards, twelve shots from strong hand only.

7 yards, twelve shots from strong hand only.

The 255 grain loads were not particularly shocking Report was reasonable with full charge loads. Recoil was present and appropriate, but not violent.

I am now embarrassed to report I have absolutely NO velocity readings for this fine revolver and ammunition. The range at my gun club (the one of which I am member, not that I am sole owner and or proprietor) is under renovation construction. It is usually full of working men and assorted equipment. Even when the men are not there, the equipment is in residence and the whole shebang is not suitable for chronograph testing. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! I will report velocity findings directly I have them.

The title of this post implies ‘other’ perfect revolvers. The Smith & Wesson “Combat Magnum” (also known as the Model 19) and the Smith & Wesson “.44 Magnum” (or Model 29) in four inch configurations are nearly as perfect. The revolver under discussion strikes me as about the perfect combination. Both of the magnum revolvers temp one to load ammunition with more – uh – ‘enthusiasm’ than needed for self defense. I’ve talked to myself about that as well.

However, should I find a Smith & Wesson Target Revolver of 1950 in similar configuration…

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2 Comments

Filed under Firearms and their use

2 responses to “One (of several) Perfect Revolver

  1. Old Friend and Reader Thomas Chumley commented yesterday (and was erased accidently)

    Ever Shoot a Colt Seecamp DA conversion? And yes, the .45 auto is unquestionably the King.

  2. No, I haven’t. Another old friend of mine from the early days of my education had one and carried it as a duty gun. He shot it well.

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