Monday, August 30, 2021

.45 SUPER; MORE BEAR MEDICINE

 

As a lifelong gun nut, I’ve had a lot of guns come and go in my lifetime. Some I really regretted selling; more, I really regretted buying in the first place. But two handguns have remained constant since my 21st birthday; my Dirty Harry 6-inch Smith & Wesson Model 29 and my Colt Model 1911A1.

          Admittedly, I got the Smith & Wesson primarily because of Clint Eastwood. In those halcyon by-gone days before gender neutrality, ol’ Clint was the epitome of sheer damn manliness. Everyone knew his most famous movie role as Inspector “Dirty Harry” Callahan along with his co-star, the Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum.



Even back then, stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky, my plan was already to eventually move out West and spend most of my life in bear country, so I figured a .44 Magnum would be a very nice and handy means of protecting myself.

About a quarter century later, during which time I struck out year after year when it came to drawing a Montana Special Tag for moose, mountain goat, and bighorn sheep (it took me 27 years of trying before I at last drew a mountain goat tag) I finally decided I had better start hunting the state’s Unlimited Bighorn Sheep Districts if I was ever going to get to hunt sheep at all. Anyone can buy one of these bighorn ram tags and go hunting; when the quota of rams for that district has been reached, Montana FWP shuts down the sheep hunt for that district for the year. The odds of getting a ram are low, but still one helluva lot better than actually drawing a tag for a limited bighorn sheep district.

Montana’s unique unlimited sheep districts are possible because these districts are located in some of the roughest and most isolated grizzly-infested wilderness areas outside of Alaska.

Since I would be spending a lot of time there, and without a rifle on my scouting trips, I figured I should brush up on my shooting with the old Dirty Harry .44 Magnum in case I ever had to actually use it. “Do you feel lucky, Yogi?”  I quickly realized that I had little experience when it came to shooting a double-action revolver in double-action mode, quickly or otherwise. I had carried the hogleg for decades, played with various loads, and shot it extensively, even taking a couple of whitetail and mule deer with it. When my eyes were younger and sharper, I had even neatly decapitated many a mountain grouse with the 6-inch Model 29. All of my shooting, however, had been done single-action. It is so much easier to manually cock the hammer and squeeze off a well-aimed shot, but it kind of defeated the purpose of having a double-action revolver in the first place. The way I used it, I could just as well have been shooting a hundred year-old Colt Single Action Army “Peacemaker”.

In stopping a charging bear at close range, I figured I had darn well better learn how to quickly and accurately shoot a double-action revolver combat-style in double-action.

  


          So I consulted the Jedi of the Sixgun, re-reading the old masters; Elmer Keith, Ed McGivern, and Bill Jordan. All of them preferred the double-action S&W revolver for combat, hunting, and fast shooting. All argued their case for such a revolver being a superior weapon in a gunfight to even my beloved Model 1911A1 .45 automatic, although a couple of them really seemed to be stretching the argument a bit. One of Keith’s complaints was that if you emptied all your magazines from a 1911 and had only loose rounds remaining in your pocket you were effectively reduced to a single-shot weapon. True enough, but I figured if I got into any situation that could not be handled with three magazines of .45 ACP I was pretty well screwed anyway. Some of Jordan’s objections to the 1911 were even thinner. Carried as it should be, cocked and locked, that hammer to the rear on the 1911 just made it look dangerous, even though Jordan knew full well the mechanics of the pistol’s grip and manual safety. At any rate, those old boys had fifty times the experience I had with double-action revolvers, so I followed the advice of these Sixgun Jedi and tried to become much better with a wheel gun.  

          I bought a brand-new set of Snap-Caps and went through thousands upon thousands of dry-fire cycles with my hogleg. You can learn just about as much with dry-fire as you can with live ammo if you diligently practice proper form and sight picture, and it is said that the thousands of repetitions smooth out a Smith’s double-action trigger pull in the process. Before long, I could easily cycle through six double-action dry fires steady as hell with a dime balanced on top of the receiver flat. As per Bill Jordan, I took fifty .44 Special cases, drilled out the primer flash holes, and used them to make paraffin wax wad loads using only a Magnum pistol primer to propel them and shot many hundreds of these wads double-action at small targets at close range. Lastly, I put a whole lot of live rounds down-range, using up the last of a coffee can full of soft lead 240-grain wadcutters I’d purchased at a gun show years ago as well as shooting occasional strings with cheap factory ammo and finally my own heavy bear loads.

          I kept at it for a good six months and every once in a great while I would manage to shoot an absolutely marvelous group that really showed the potential of double-action revolver work. But I could never do it consistently or at will.

          Finally, one day, I put up identical IPSC-type silhouette targets side by side on the 25-yard line of my home range. On the first one, I fired two cylinders full of 300-grain .44 Magnums double-action through my 4-inch 629. To the second target I administered two magazines of 230-grain .45 ACP ball with my old Colt 1911A1. That clinched it for me. With Browning’s masterpiece my group was much tighter and I had been able to squeeze off the shots quickly and easily. Reloading is not really a factor in a bear attack; if you don’t settle the matter with what’s in the gun, you’re toast anyway. Still, it is just convenient, quick, and easy to thumb the release on a 1911, let the empty drop out of the gun on its own, slap in a fully loaded mag, and swipe the slide release. I took a course years ago that taught the proper way to reload a double-action revolver with 6-shot speed-loaders and I had practiced it often enough, but the process seems almost glacial compared to an auto-loader’s mag swap.

 If you need any further proof that this guy was a Super Genius, please consult the Book of Armaments, Browning Machine Gun, Caliber .50, M2.

           Plus, I had always been a pretty fair hand with John Moses Browning’s masterpiece and the good old Model 1911A1 always seemed to fit me like a glove. The problem was, as good as the ol’ .45 ACP is at stopping two-legged varmints, it just ain’t really good bear medicine.

          Virtually all of my life, if a guy wanted a real bear-whomper of a cartridge in a handgun that meant he had to get a big-ass revolver. The .44 Automag never really went anywhere. The Desert Eagle is a .44 Mag auto-loader, but it is also a boat anchor and rather finicky about the types of bullets it will digest reliably. So the .460 Rowland grabbed my attention when I saw that it had the power I wanted and could be used in the good old Model 1911 platform. 

          As good as it looked, it seemed a tad expensive and I didn’t know anyone who personally used one. After a bit of research, I decided to test the waters, so to speak, by converting a Remington R-1 1911A1 to fire the .45 Super cartridge.

          Some internet commandos will tell you to just throw in an extra powerful recoil spring and have at ‘er with ridiculously powerful .45 Super loads in a 1911. They load ‘em up as hot as the .460 Rowland and brag that they’ve put tons of these hot loads through their 1911 with nary a problem. You might get away with that for a little while, right up until the moment you don’t. And that moment could very well arrive in a catastrophic manner for both the gun and the shooter.

          So I went the whole nine yards on my R1 1911 conversion; 22 lbs recoil spring, 27 lbs main spring, Wilson shock buffer, firing pin and firing pin spring, EGW flat-bottomed firing pin stop and a muzzle compensator. The last two modifications are to slightly delay the unlocking time of the action so the more powerful .45 Super’s powder charge has spent most of its oomph down the pipe before the slide unlocks and heads to the rear. Then the recoil and main spring provide additional resistance to slow down slide velocity. Plus I put 10% extra power springs in the magazines to make sure they feed cartridges perfectly to the faster moving slide. When all was said and done, the R-1 .45 Super has performed flawlessly.



 

          Armed with a big box of Starline brass, at the reloading bench I worked up several loads for the .45 Super and tested them all extensively for accuracy, velocity and pressure, and reliability.

           In the end, for my bear load I wound up using Montana-made Rim Rock bullets, to be precise their “Top Shelf” .451” 250-grain round-nosed flat-point, hardcast lead with a Brinnell Hardness rating of 22 and a nice 0.258 Meplat. I used Starline brass, Winchester Large/Magnum pistol primers, and 9 grains of Power Pistol to get my loads up to 1,125 feet per second, about 50 fps faster than the Buffalo Bore and Underwood .45 Super factory bear loads. Lastly, I did the calculations for how low my groups were at 25 yards to order and install a new, higher front sight that put the R-1’s fixed sights right on the money for my special bear load.

          My penetration tests were kind of flaky. We had a lot of snow that winter and I had plowed up big berms off the driveway and I put my targets on them as backstops. Granted, large mounds of packed snow and ice that have been through multiple freeze-and-thaw cycles and have a bit of gravel mixed in aren’t real consistent or scientific media like ballistic gelatin but they were there and they were free. I fired some of my Rim Rock 250-grain RNFP loads side-by-side with some Speer 240-grain jacketed soft points loaded to 1,180 fps in the .44 Magnum for comparison, then dissected the snow berm with a shovel to see how well they penetrated.

          Even though the .45s were hardcast, I was surprised to find that the deepest penetrations by the .44 Mag was about the same as the shallowest penetrations by the .45 Super. I recovered all six the .44 Speers, finding the first three between 24 and 28 inches deep in the ice and snow. The deepest .44 slug penetrated to a depth of 46 inches, which was also where I found the first .45 Super. I dug out the remaining 250-grain RNFPs from 48 to 75-76 inches, penetration essentially amounting to 4-6 feet.

          And penetration is what you want with a grizzly bear, a tank of a critter with a tough hide, ropes of muscles, large, heavy skeletal structure, and a thick skull sloped about like the frontal armor of a T-34. I don’t watch too many YouTube gun videos because a fairly large percentage are made by complete idiots, but I did come across one where a guy used a Buffalo Bore 255-grain RNFP .45 Super (1,075 fps) to penetrate a grizzly bear skull. I figure my extra 50 fps should make up for a bullet weight 5 grains lighter.  

          It’s a good load, and as hot as I wanted to go in a 1911, but still a far cry from a .44 Magnum. Still, I could deliver those 250-grain .45 Super pills with considerably more speed and accuracy from a 1911A1 than I could deliver 300-grain .44-caliber whompers from a double-action revolver. Especially when compared to my 4-inch Model 629, the compensated .45 Super has little muzzle rise or flip and a spread-out recoil impulse that is more swiftly overcome. You can bring the gun and the sights back down onto the target after each shot quickly. With the .45 Super I found I could get off eight shots faster and more accurately than I could fire six bear loads from either my 6-inch or 4-inch S&W revolvers. 

          The whole .45 Super experiment went so well that when we got some money ahead, I decided to go whole hog and do the 1911 up right for proper bear defense by up-grading to the .460 Rowland.

My .45 Super bear load, the 250-grain RNFP at 1,125 feet per second, while solid, delivers only 697 foot-pounds of striking energy. The .460 Rowland launches a 255-grain hardcast flat-nose slug at 1,300 fps for an impressive 957 ft.-lbs, only 3 ft-lbs less than my standard .44 Magnum bear load, a 300-grain hardcast fired at 1,200 fps.


  You want all the power you can squeeze out of a pistol cartridge for bears, but you still want a pistol you can handle well when the bear shit hits the fan…quickly, easily, and automatically with muscle memory. I forget who coined the maxim, "In an emergency, you don't rise to the level of the occasion but rather revert to your level of training." So I ordered my new .460 Rowland in another 1911, the Kimber 6-inch Long-slide Hunter, and the extra weight of the longer slide doesn’t require a muzzle brake. My wife trained long and hard for ten years with a SiG P220 so she just can’t wrap her head around the manual safety of the 1911, so I got her a .460 in the Springfield XD-M, and she absolutely loves it.

My wife absolutely loves her 4.5-inch Springfield Armory XDm in .460 Rowland. She has small hands, but the XD comes with three sizes of grips to accommodate anything short of tentacles. You can buy a new pistol ready to go or the crew at .460 Rowland can convert your existing 1911A1, Glock, FN, or SA pistol.
 

 Dave and the gang at .460 Rowland® were superb from the get-go. I had to ask a whole lot of questions to make sure I got just what we wanted and needed, and they always responded quickly, helpfully, and patiently via email.

Unfortunately, I ordered our new bear pistols in early December of 2020, just as the Great Biden Guns & Ammo Famine was kicking into full swing. It has yet to ebb, and I don’t think even the most pessimistic of us predicted how bad and how long the famine would truly be. Originally, I was told there was a 4-month wait to get my pistol from Kimber. During this timeframe, however, Kimber decided to move all their gun manufacturing facilities from gun-hating, high-tax, liberal-infested New York to gun-loving, low-tax, redneck Alabama. I can’ blame them one bit for that and am glad they did so from a 2nd Amendment/screw New York point of view, but it has considerably delayed me getting my new bear pistol.

So, for the moment, I’m still packing my Remington R1 .45 Super in bear country, and trying out a 275-grain bullet. At this point, however, my sidearm is only a back-up to my other new toy, an M1 Garand converted to .35 Whelen and a 16.25-inch barrel by Tim Shufflin of Shuff’s Parkerizing, who I can’t recommend highly enough as a Garand expert.

Eventually I’ll get my Kimber in .460 and put it through its paces and do a full shakedown on it and write it up. In the meantime, the .45 Super R1 will have to do. Yes, I still want the Rowland’s “more power” (manly grunting noises) when I can get it, but I have been really happy with the overall .45 Super experience. I’m still glad I took the intermediate step first, as I learned a helluva lot working up loads and testing the Super that will serve me in good stead when I do get my .460 Rowland. And even with “just” the .45 Super, I still know I can get eight good solid hits in less time than I could get six sloppy hits with my double-action .44 Magnum. 

 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you back.

We don't have bear of any sort down here (south Texas) but I really apperciate the experiences you folks who do. To me, the need for self defense is more based on feral hog or violent individuals. Your .45 caliber would be just as effective on those cases. Some of my friends say a high capacity 10mm Magnum like the Glock 20 is their solution.

In any case, practice in building and maintaining your skills is important.