A Modern Look At The .45 Schofield

  • 12K Views
  • Last Post 06 November 2017
Ed Harris posted this 11 February 2013

REVISED 3-20-2013 REFLECTING TESTS and FEEDBACK TO DATE

Testing Schofield vs .45 Colt in a New Service and Ruger Blackhawk

Seating Bullets Out and Sizing Them to Fit Cylinder Throats Diameter Are Important

Ed Harris, Gerrardstown, West Virginia

The .45 Schofield cartridge dates from 1875 when Major George W. Schofield convinced the U.S. Army that the S&W No. 3 top-break's simultaneous ejection was faster and easier to manage on horseback than the Colt Single-Action Army's rod ejection. By 1879 the Army had bought 8289 No. 3 Schofields and by then also realized that having two different .45 revolver cartridges in its supply system was an awkward complication. So, the Schofield cartridge was adopted as the M1887 for interchangeable use in both Smith & Wesson No.3 top-break and Colt Single-Action Army revolvers. The .45 S&W was loaded commercially until just before WW2.

Keith, in Sixguns (1950) stated, “While many soldiers could shoot the Smith & Wesson better, on account of its lighter recoil, the S&W cartridge was never as good for knocking over a running Indian pony.” None the less, by the late 1880s, the Schofield was the only .45 revolver cartridge being produced for US Army issue. By then, it had gained a reputation as a reliable man-stopper, in the hands of gunmen such as Bill Cody, both the James and Younger gangs, John Wesley Hardin, Pat Garret, and Virgil Earp, among others. In 1902, Colt Single Actions and Schofield ammunition would be sent to the Philippines as a stopgap, after noted failures of the .38 Long Colt, until adoption of Colt's .45 Double Action Revolver Model of 1909.

Hatcher's Textbook of Pistols and Revolvers (1935) stated that the .45 Schofield cartridge was loaded with 28 grains of black powder and a 230 grain flat-nosed bullet, producing a muzzle velocity of 730 f.p.s. The performance expected of production ammunition was a mean absolute deviation of 5 inches, with 4 inches of penetration in soft pine, at 50-yards, the range at which Army revolvers were sighted. This standard of accuracy and penetration still represents a useful benchmark to assess what an adequate “service revolver” should do.

The popularity of Cowboy Action Shooting has revived interest in the Schofield cartridge. This is because mild, low-velocity loads are best suited for this sport. Getting acceptable ballistic uniformity when firing bullets of 230 grains or lighter, at velocities less than 700 fps, is challenging, when loading dense, fast-burning, modern smokeless powders in the full-length (1.285”) Colt .45 case, because it was originally designed for black powder and has excessive airspace. Cowboy shooters say that the shorter (1.109”) Schofield case is better for light loads, but they fire short-range events, which don't require high levels of either power or accuracy.

Schofield load data in popular manuals are for mild “Cowboy Action” loads, rather than being at “full charge” levels required of hunting or service ammunition. I fired velocity tests with Alliant Bullseye powder and the Saeco Cowboy bullets, comparing them in a Colt M1909 with 5-1/2” barrel, and Ruger New Model Blackhawk with 4-5/8” barrel. Despite better steel, modern reproductions of the S&W No. 3 revolver probably should not be used with loads exceeding about 700 fps. My old school buddy Dave, in Alaska, tells me his No. 3 clone “pops open after every round of factory .45 Colt ammo including factory Cowboy loads.” While Schofield's No. 3 was a great idea for its time, its value today is rooted in its nostalgia, not practical functionality.

Modern smokeless-frame Colt Single-Actions, their clones and the Colt New Service, in sound condition, can handle up to 900 fps with 260-gr. lead bullets or 1000 fps with the lead 230-grainers. Medium-frame Ruger Flat Tops and Vaqueros are strong enough for use with a steady diet of 1000 fps loads with 260-gr. lead bullets, but are NOT recommended for use with so-called “Ruger Only” loads intended for revolvers on the Super Blackhawk frame and the T/C Contenders, which approach or exceed 1100 fps and 25,000 psi. with 250+ grain bullets.

I used Starline cases, Winchester Large Pistol primers and Alliant Bullseye powder. Charges in the accompanying tables correspond to charges thrown with the RCBS Little Dandy measure using the numbered rotors indicated, for those who wish to duplicate these loads.

For most of my testing I used the Saeco #954. This traditional ogival-nosed, 230-grain flat-point resembles the original Schofield service bullet and is one with which I have a lot of experience. It is my favorite bullet for use in both the .45 Colt and the .45 ACP in revolvers, rifles and auto pistols. If I were limited to one bullet to use in all of my .45s this one would be “it.”

Only limited tests were fired with the Saeco #955. This 260-grain bullet has the same profile as the 230-grain #954, differing only in width of its base band. I found it less accurate, and simply used up my remaining rounds and loose bullets, because I no longer own that mold. Revolver accuracy tests were fired at 25 yards, hand-held, off sandbags. A few .45 Colt loads previously tested in my H&R CR45LC carbine with iron sights at 50 yards are included. Testing Saeco #954 bullets sized to different diameters in the H&R's .452” groove diameter with .457” diameter ball seat did not improve accuracy compared to firing as-cast bullets at .455”.

I do not use specialized “carbine” loads in .45 Colt, because doing so defeats my intended purpose for owning the .45 Colt rifle in the first place, to use the same ammunition in it AND my revolver. It was not possible to test Schofield loads in the H&R, because their larger case rim diameter of 0.520” vs. 0.512” precludes them from chambering in the rifle. A negative for me!

Cylinder throat diameters of the Colt New Service revolver measure .455.” As-cast Saeco bullets fit them optimally without sizing. The accuracy results obtained, despite its tiny fixed sights, which are difficult to see well, reflect this. The tighter cylinder gap of the 4-5/8” Ruger revolver (0.006”) produced somewhat higher velocities than the Colt New Service, which has a 5-1/2” barrel, but with a .008” cylinder gap, fairly typical of revolvers made before WW1.
Firing .45 Colt ammunition loaded with unsized .455 bullets in the Ruger, increased group size from 2” or less at 25 yards firing bullets, sized to .452” to fit its cylinder throats, to 2-1/2” or more for groups shot with as-cast and unsized bullets. While not enough to impair utility for field shooting, resizing bullets to fit the cylinder throats improves accuracy of .45 Colt ammunition.

When loading ammunition in Schofield brass and crimping bullets in the crimp groove, at 1.40” OAL, sizing bullets to cylinder throat diameter was of no benefit. But when seating bullets out in Schofield brass, and crimping instead in the lubricating groove, at 1.55” overall length, grouping improved when bullets were properly sized to fit the cylinder throats. Best accuracy was obtained in the Ruger revolver when bullets were resized from their as-cast diameter of .455 down to .452” in a Lee push-through sizing die. While sizing as much as 0.003” is not ideal, test results clearly illustrate the importance of sizing bullets to fit the cylinder throats, rather than to barrel groove diameter (which was .4505” in the Ruger vs. .453” for the Colt). Further improvement may be possible in Ruger revolvers using bullets from a mold which casts smaller.

It is best that molds drop bullets at correct diameter, so as to not require sizing at all. Sizing bullets to .454” to attempt a compromise diameter fit for use in both revolvers was of no benefit, compared to firing loading bullets as-cast and unsized. Cylinder leading severe enough to cause resistance to chambering .45 Colt ammunition was noted after firing 100 or more Schofield loads. Seating bullets out in Schofield brass to an overall cartridge length of 1.55” improved accuracy, but did not mitigate chamber leading, a negative aspect for me! Removal of these lead deposits required VIGOROUS scrubbing with Kano Kroil on a .410 shotgun brush.

If One-Inch-Per-Ten (Yards) revolver accuracy is important, the Schofield is less accurate than .45 Colt ammunition assembled with the same bullet, at all velocity levels tested. Bullseye powder gives quite acceptable ballistic uniformity and accuracy in .45 Colt brass, even with reduced charges down to 700 fps with 230-grain bullets. The advantages of Schofield brass are in being able to visually identify low-recoil plinking loads, and for nostalgia. Schofield loads do provide adequate accuracy for close range plinking targets, but are best reserved for that purpose. The .45 Colt is still best for any serious use where power and accuracy are important.

73 de KE4SKY In Home Mix We Trust From the Home of Ed's Red in "Almost Heaven" West Virginia

Attached Files

  • Liked by
  • GP Idaho
  • M3 Mitch
Order By: Standard | Newest | Votes
M3 Mitch posted this 06 November 2017

I think the lesser accuracy of the Schofield round fired in a full length Colt chamber is what you usually get when you fire a short version of a round in a longer chamber (22 short in 22 LR, 32 S&W short in 32 S&W long, etc.)

Attached Files

  • Liked by
  • cb shooter
BigMan54 posted this 02 November 2017

In 1995-6 both ARMI SAN MARCO & UBERTI came out with #3 Schofield replica's. The ASM was the same size as the originals, just lengthened enough to accommodate the factory .45Colt loading. UBERTI's were about 3-5% bigger. The ASM came out first. It shot okay with light COWBOY loads but it did pop open with both WINCHESTER & REMINGTON factory loads. It went back to the importer, never to be seen again. Although some were sold through distributors & not all were returned in the recall.

I have a UBERTI made #3 Schofield that I bought in 1998. I've fired factory loads, COWBOY loads, and even a few warmish RUGER loads. I DO NOT RECOMMEND ANY LOAD ABOVE FACTORY EQUIVALENT. PLEASE DO NOT SHOOT HOT LOADS IN THIS GUN.

I've never had my gun ever pop open regardless of the load shot in it, 3000rds+ without a problem. I've shot 5-6 different UBERTI #3 SCHOFIELDS in all 3 barrel lengths & never had one pop open. Even knew of one COWBOY shooter who shot a pair of 5inch all the time, 500rds a months for several yrs without a problem. 

I started using .45Schofield brass in my #3 SCHOFIELD simply because I already load 3 different .45Colt loads, I didn't need a 4th. I ended up with a 200gr load using the stubby LYMAN #452488 WC. But it would NOT feed in either my MARLIN COWBOY or UBERTI 1866 replica. But it does fit/shoot in all my COLTS, RUGERS & all my Italian replica SAA. That bigger rim just doesn't seem to be a problem in a revolver. Although because they wouldn't feed in my rifles I never tried to drop a loose round in the chamber to see if they would fit/fire.

The cases load easily enough. I use a .45Colt T/C sizer & a mix of .45ACP/.45Colt loose dies I had on hand to make up a SCHOFIELD die set. And a .44WCF shellholder.

Long time Caster/Reloader, Getting back into it after almost 10yrs. Life Member NRA 40+yrs, Life S.A.S.S. #375. Does this mean a description of me as a fumble-fingered knuckle-draggin' baboon. I also drool in my sleep. I firmly believe that true happiness is a warm gun. Did I mention how much I HATE auto-correct on this blasted tablet.

Attached Files

GP Idaho posted this 02 November 2017

 Thanks for this information on 45 Colt vs. the Schofield. My Ruger Blackhawk convertible is one of my favorites. I've bought a couple of hundred pieces of Schofield brass but you are right, the rim size will keep them from chambering in some barrels. (They wouldn't fit my T/C Encore either)  I'll most likely just cut down 45 Colt if I ever wear the Schofield brass out.  I've thought about having Doug do the cylinder work for me but I have SO MUCH 45ACP brass on hand that so far it's just a thought. Doug does excellent work and is "The man" for revolver cylinder work. I recommend him highly. Gp

Attached Files

  • Liked by
  • Treetop
Ed Harris posted this 02 November 2017

Another interesting wrinkle on the Schofield, is that DougGuy over on Boolits has been rechambering Ruger .45 ACP cylinders to .45 Schofield, with the purpose of using the strong NM Blackhawk platform to load to .45 ACP +P pressure levels, 23,000 psi max., not having the excess free airspace of the .45 COlt case.  Using Quickload calculated loads he's getting 1050 fps with 250-grain long-nosed Accurate cast bullets which fit the Ruger cylinder, seating out to 1.55" OAL, using a near case full of powder.  The combo produces very uniform velocities, clean burn and outstanding accuracy.  He's honing chamber throats .4542" to fit the custom-designed bullets and using Taylor throating in the revolver. driving inch 6-shot groups at 25 yds. 

As much power as anybody needs from a compact handgun.

73 de KE4SKY In Home Mix We Trust From the Home of Ed's Red in "Almost Heaven" West Virginia

Attached Files

  • Liked by
  • GP Idaho
Ken Campbell Iowa posted this 02 November 2017

hi ... go to the list of subjects on the right side of these pages.

one subject is a * search box * ... this is really a great feature...

if you type      schofield       in the box and hit ENTER it will pull up several old pages of posts about the schofield ....  including several by ed harris ... and some loading results ...

hoping this helps  ...  ken

schofield  not schoefield

Attached Files

David Reiss posted this 02 November 2017

 RMan, will send you a PM about the article.

David Reiss - NRA Life Member & PSC Range Member Retired Police Firearms Instructor/Armorer
-Services: Wars Fought, Uprisings Quelled, Bars Emptied, Revolutions Started, Tigers Tamed, Assassinations Plotted, Women Seduced, Governments Run, Gun Appraisals, Lost Treasure Found.
- Also deal in: Land, Banjos, Nails, Firearms, Manure, Fly Swatters, Used Cars, Whisky, Racing Forms, Rare Antiquities, Lead, Used Keyboard Keys, Good Dogs, Pith Helmets & Zulu Headdresses. .

Attached Files

Rman posted this 02 November 2017

Hello! I was hoping to purchase the back issue of The Fowling Shot, in order to access the tables referenced, but I can't seem to find it in the list? Could someone please tell me which issue this article appeared in?

Much thanks!

 

R.

Attached Files

Ken Campbell Iowa posted this 14 March 2013

this may have been mentioned before, but i enjoyed the twin rig used by the badarse in the movie _3 o'clock train to yuma _ ... wonder if they were original revolvers ?

me too ...lusting after a schofield

ken with no schofield

Attached Files

Ed Harris posted this 13 March 2013

Uberti

73 de KE4SKY In Home Mix We Trust From the Home of Ed's Red in "Almost Heaven" West Virginia

Attached Files

mckg posted this 13 March 2013

Ed, thank you for your time.

Who made your buddy's replica? I seem to remember that Pietta (?) first got contracted for the first ones (Schofields?) but couldn't get the lock right, so Uberti was called to take over...

Attached Files

Clod Hopper posted this 06 March 2013

Great article as usual. I sent an article to Glenn about my sporadic testing for a mild load in full length .45 Colt brass. I had good luck accuracy-wise with the .45 Special brass at .45 ACP length, BUT at a velocity of 500 fps. One and half inches at 15 yards. From what Ed has written, I think that if I load it up in velocity, I will get less accuracy and leading. When it warms up, I will try some warmer loads.

Dale M. Lock

Attached Files

Ed Harris posted this 06 March 2013

Yes, I tried the .45 Cowboy Special brass also and results were disappointing. Groups about double of what good .45 Colt loads would do. Schofield loads tend to be less accurate than .45 Colt also unless you seat the bullets out.

Effect of Changing OAL and Sized Bullet Diameter In .45 Schofield Brass - Showing the Ruger data only. Cylinder throats are .452". Fouling Shot article will have the New Service Colt data also, and show how the results flip-flop and give 2-1/2” groups with unsized bullets in .455 cylinder throats and 4"+ when sized .452 bullets rattle through.....

Starline cases, 1.109”, Winchester Large Pistol Primers, Alliant Bullseye

Saeco # 954 230-gr. FN, 12 BHN, as-cast UNSIZED .455,” LLA, OAL 1.40”

Rotor Grs. Ruger 4-5/8” Avg. five 5-shot groups

9 5.0 802, 13 Sd 2.39” Ruger at 25 yds.

Saeco #954 230-gr. FN, 12 BHN, UNSIZED .455,” LLA, SEATED OUT to 1.55” OAL

Rotor Grs. Ruger 4-5/8” Avg. five 5-shot groups

9 5.0 698, 13 Sd 2.53” Ruger at 25 yds.

Saeco #954 230-gr. FN, 12 BHN, as-cast .455” RESIZED to .452”, LLA, OAL 1.40”

Rotor Grs. Ruger 4-5/8” Avg. five 5-shot groups

8 4.5 756, 7Sd 2.36” Ruger 25 yds.

9 5.0 794, 13Sd 2.42” Ruger at 25 yds.

Saeco #954 230-gr. FN, as-cast .455” RESIZED to .452”, LLA, SEATED OUT to 1.55” OAL

9 5.0 702, 25 Sd 2.17” Ruger 25yd.

BEST Schofield load in Ruger

73 de KE4SKY In Home Mix We Trust From the Home of Ed's Red in "Almost Heaven" West Virginia

Attached Files

Gene posted this 06 March 2013

Ed,

I have found the same results with my Vaquero using the Schofield and the new 45 Special brass.............I'm glad because I thought it was just me , as the designer of the 45 Special brass claims excellent accuracy and NO leading !!!  If I seated the bullets out further than recommended, I got incomplete burn (cases were black) and no better accuracy...........maybe a little less leading !!!  The best results were with 45 LC cases with the bullet seated out just a few thousandths using BE and TGP.

Also, basically the same results with my 357 and 44 M.

Thanks for a Great thread.......

Gene

Attached Files

Ed Harris posted this 12 February 2013

tturner53 wrote: Very interesting. Thanks for the preview Ed. A #3 clone has been on my wish list for some time. There's one at Sportsman's Warehouse that calls to me. It's been on the wall a long time. Now I'm rethinking this gun, considering the “pop-open” feature mentioned above. Is this common with these guns? Is this considered acceptable by the buyers of Italian #3 clones? Anybody else got one? Say it aint so!?

My buddy says that so far as he can tell the latch is fitted correctly, but this seems to be a design limitation. Gun is OK with very light loads, about 600-650 fps, but loading that slow in .45 Colt brass with other than the very bulky powders such as Trail Boss causes problems. He says the tiny sights are hard to see and the gun isn't as accurate as his Vaquero or Colt clones...

Back in my NRA days I briefly shot an original Schofield with factory pre-WW2 Peters ammo and I don't recall anything noteworthy, so it must have been “ordinary.” I do remember an original US-marked Colt from the NRA Museum, with 7-1/2” barrel which I shot at the same time shot to point of aim, was accurate and I clearly remember THAT gun, which would be worth far too much to shoot today.

73 de KE4SKY In Home Mix We Trust From the Home of Ed's Red in "Almost Heaven" West Virginia

Attached Files

tturner53 posted this 12 February 2013

Very interesting. Thanks for the preview Ed. A #3 clone has been on my wish list for some time. There's one at Sportsman's Warehouse that calls to me. It's been on the wall a long time. Now I'm rethinking this gun, considering the “pop-open” feature mentioned above. Is this common with these guns? Is this considered acceptable by the buyers of Italian #3 clones? Anybody else got one? Say it aint so!?

Attached Files

mike morrison posted this 12 February 2013

Looking forward to the Fowling Shot with this in it. Thanks for all the info you provide Ed. With your articles you allow us to raid your treasure chest. I always enjoy. Keep um comin. m

Attached Files

Chargar posted this 12 February 2013

Excellent in every way. Keep em coming!

Attached Files

Dale53 posted this 12 February 2013

Ed Harris wrote: I'm glad you all think the olde hound dog can still put it together....

This sort of stuff doesn't get in the Rifleman anymore, so I think having quality material in the Fouling Shot is the best membership draw which the CBA has.

AMEN! to all of the above!

Dale53

Attached Files

Ed Harris posted this 12 February 2013

I'm glad you all think the olde hound dog can still put it together....

This sort of stuff doesn't get in the Rifleman anymore, so I think having quality material in the Fouling Shot is the best membership draw which the CBA has.

73 de KE4SKY In Home Mix We Trust From the Home of Ed's Red in "Almost Heaven" West Virginia

Attached Files

  • Liked by
  • M3 Mitch
delmarskid1 posted this 12 February 2013

Nice work. It reminds me of when The American Rifleman was a better magazine.

Attached Files

  • Liked by
  • M3 Mitch
  • Treetop
Show More Posts
Close