The .45 Winchester Magnum

By Chuck Hawks

This big case magnum auto pistol cartridge was in the works for at least two years before its 1979 introduction. It never became popular, mainly because there were precious few pistols in which to fire it. The first, I believe, was the rather scarce Wildey gas operated pistol and the second was the single shot T/C Contender, something of a strange vehicle for an autoloading pistol cartridge. The big Freedom Arms .454 Casull revolver could be had with a .45 Mag. cylinder and the AMT Automag IV pistol was also available in .45 Mag. The cartridge is now obsolete, as Winchester is no longer loading the ammunition

There may have been other pistols I don't know about, but the salient point is that none of the popular autoloading pistol manufacturers, such as Beretta, Browning, Colt, CZ, Glock, H&K, Kahr, Kimber, Ruger, SIG, S&W, Taurus, or Walther chambered guns for the .45 Win. Mag. The 10mm Auto seems to fill what market there is for a big bore magnum auto pistol cartridge, which isn't much.

Another problem was that there are many revolvers and single shot pistols, and even a few autoloading pistols, chambered for the much more popular .44 Remington Magnum cartridge, which delivers about the same level of performance. The .44 Magnum offers a much better selection of factory loads for hunting at lower cost and is far more widely distributed.

Never the less, the .45 Winchester Magnum was a good cartridge. It was essentially a stretched and strengthened version of the old .45 ACP. The rimless .45 Magnum case has a length of 1.198 inches, compared to the .898 inch case of the .45 ACP. Rim diameter is .480 inch and bullet diameter is .451-.452 inch, both of which are identical to the .45 ACP. The .45 Magnum could use any of the bullets available to reloaders for the .45 ACP.

Winchester offered two factory load for their .45 Magnum, a Supreme load using a 260 grain Nosler Partition Gold bullet and a Super-X load using a 260 grain JHP bullet. Both claimed a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1200 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 831 ft. lbs., measured from a five inch test barrel. At 100 yards the Supreme Gold bullet was still rolling along at 1033 fps and packing 617 ft. lbs. of energy. This was very similar to the retained energy of the Winchester Supreme .44 Magnum revolver load using a 250 grain Partition Gold bullet, which is 620 ft. lbs. The Winchester trajectory figures for the Supreme factory load with the Nosler 260 grain Partition Gold bullet called for a midrange trajectory over 50 yards of 0.8 inches and 3.5 inches at 100 yards.

Handloaders with a supply of .45 Win. Mag. brass have a broad selection of bullets, ranging from 185 to 300 grains. Hodgdon Powder Company technicians reported that H110 and W296 powders gave top velocities with heavy bullets (no surprise there), but advised that HS6 and HS7 powders burn cleaner. This information might be important to anyone with a .45 Mag. autoloading pistol. Hodgdon recommended 240, 250, or 260 grain JHP bullets for deer hunting.

HS6 and HS7 powders are the best choices for top velocity with lighter bullets. With a 200 grain jacketed bullet the Hodgdon Data Manual, 26th Edition showed that the reloader could expect a MV of 1244 fps from 16.0 grains of HS6 powder and 1409 fps from 17.5 grains of HS6. With a 260 grain jacketed bullet 24.5 grains of H110 powder gave a MV of 1290 fps and 25.0 grains of H110 achieved 1339 fps. The pressure of the latter load was measured at 37,400 cup. All of these velocities were measured in a five inch pressure test barrel.

One of my correspondents who has both .454 and .45 Win. Mag. cylinders for his Freedom Arms Model 83 Field Grade revolver reports that he finds the .45 Magnum cartridge far easier to shoot accurately than the .454, because it kicks less. His is an honest account of a situation common to many shooters.

In truth, it is hard to ignore the recoil of any of the magnum pistol cartridges, from the .357 Magnum on up. In the case of the .45 Win. Mag. the free recoil amounts to about 10.6 ft. lbs. in a 4 pound pistol such as the Wildey. The recoil velocity is 13.1 fps. The .45 Magnum's recoil is greater than a full house .357 Magnum, but less than the 10mm Auto and about the same as a .40 S&W in pistols of normal weight for their respective calibers. This relatively controllable recoil is primarily due to the heavy pistols in which the .45 Mag. is available. If it were chambered in a service weight pistol its recoil would be vicious.

Clearly, the .45 Win. Mag. was a top flight hunting cartridge for use in auto pistols that would do whatever the .44 Magnum revolver cartridge can do out to about 125 yards. In terms of handgun deer hunting, that covers about all that needs to be done.

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Copyright 2002, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.