Everything you ever wanted to know about the 41 Long Colt.
How I got started with the 41 Long Colt
It all started when I found an Ideal 310 nutcracker reloading tool for the 41 Colt in the corner of an old gunshop. This was an old one with steel handles, five dies, a hole in the handle for the case instead of a removable ring, and was stamped "41 Colt" on the side. It was in an original orange and black box and even included an original 41LC cartridge. It was not very expensive, so I bought it. Little did I know what I was getting into.
Since then, I have learned about the 41LC by loading and shooting more than 5,000 rounds to date. This includes two types of hollow-base bullets, eight types of heel-base bullets, four types of powder, several types of lube, two types of primers, close to a dozen types of brass (including three different lengths, old, new, fire-formed, and machined cases), and four different guns. This article should save you some time if you start shooting the 41LC.
Obligatory (but short) History
The 41 Long Colt cartridge was created in 1877 for Colt's double action "Thunderer" revolver. The front of the bullet was about 0.406"-0.408”OD, the same as the case. I have measured a few Thunderer’s. The barrel was about 0.404”-0.406” groove diameter and the chambers seem to run about 0.413”ID. The bullet lubrication was outside of the case. The base of the bullet was smaller in diameter at 0.386”-0.388"OD to fit inside the case. This is known as a "heel-base" bullet. In other words, the cartridge was a lot like a really big .22LR.
In the mid-1890’s, Colt redesigned the cartridge. They reduced the entire diameter of the bullet to 0.386"OD and lengthened the brass case in order to put both the bullet and its lubrication inside the case. The loaded length of both cartridges was about the same, however. The bore of the revolver was reduced slightly to match the more popular 38-40 at 0.400"-0.401” groove diameter (this was probably done for manufacturing reasons, not accuracy reasons) and the chambers were reduced to 0.410”ID. This meant that the OD of the new bullet was smaller than the barrel’s bore, let alone its groove diameter. A hollow-base bullet can be dropped down the bore by gravity alone.
The newer soft lead bullet was made with a large hollow base like Civil War Minie' balls. The intent was for the base of the bullet to expand with the pressure of the burning gunpowder to grip the rifling. It worked surprisingly well, but by the beginning of WWI the 41LC was in serious decline and it was dead by the beginning of WWII. So were a lot of other black powder handgun cartridges that are once again popular due to Cowboy Action Shooting, but the 41LC has not made a comeback.
Shooting the Cartridge
After a while, I ran across a fairly cheap Colt 1892 Army/Navy revolver in 41LC, so I had to buy it (to use the reloading dies I already owned, of course). This is also known as the 41-frame double-action (DA). It was in poor shape, which was why it was cheap, but it cleaned up pretty well. There was still some pitting in the grooves, but the rifling was strong. Then I had to find bullets and brass. Bullets were not much of a problem. Several places sell them. I bought hollow-base bullets cast from a Rapine 386185 mould from three different casters and some heel-base bullets from two different heel-base moulds.
The people who cast hollow-base 41LC bullets seem to have gotten the message. The three sources I tried were all cast from very soft lead (approx. 40:1 lead/tin). Kudos to them. That is exactly what is needed for this caliber. The two sources I ordered heel-base bullets from cast them from linotype metal. They were totally worthless. I quickly learned to forget about the hard, heel-base bullets and concentrate on the soft, hollow-base bullets.
Obtaining brass was something entirely different. There were only three choices back then; Bertram brass, used original brass, or brass formed from 30-30 cases. Bertram brass cost about $1.00 per case. Original fired brass usually ran 50 to 75 cents on the auction boards and varied greatly in quality. A fair percentage of the used brass was balloon-head, black powder brass that was rotten from the mercuric primers used back when they were new. The reworked 30-30 cases cost as much as the Bertram. None of these appealed to me, so I learned to fireform .38 Special brass into a usable 41LC case. I made several hundred of them. That was a lot of work, but Starline now makes 41LC brass at a fairly reasonable price. That undoubtedly means that lots of unused 41LC’s will be dug out and shot again.
Reloading the 41LC is actually pretty easy once you find all the components. After all, it is a straight-forward, straight-sided case. After loading several hundred rounds with the Ideal 310, my wife gave me a Redding 41LC die set for Christmas. These are much easier to use. The only problem is that no manufacturer currently makes a correctly sized 41LC shellholder for a press. Some list the .38 Special shellholder and some list the .45ACP shellholder for the 41LC. Neither is correct. The .38 Special size is a little too small and the .45ACP size is a little too big. I took a .38 Special shellholder and motodremeled it out slightly. You don’t have to remove much. The rims on 41LC cases are VERY small.
The reloading information I started with is from several pre-WWII reloading manuals. They list five smokeless powders, but only two of them are still used; Unique and Bullseye. I worked up to the maximum listed load of 5.0gr of Unique, but its accuracy was poor. That was surprising. Unique has always been "old reliable" for me. It was hard to keep them on the paper at 25 yards, so I moved in closer for testing. The best groups were about 3-1/2" to 4" at 15 yards offhand and were quite a bit high and a little to the left. I believe that Unique is too slow to expand the hollow base of the bullet quickly enough.
The maximum load of 3.5gr of Bullseye was better, with groups running between 2-1/2" and 3", and a little high on the black. Note that the oldest reloading manuals (intended for the Thunderer) stop at 3.0gr. Bullseye is faster than Unique, but not quite quick enough.
Then I tried FFFg black powder (BP). BP and magnum primers gave by far the best accuracy of any load tried with hollow-base bullets. BP’s best 5-shot groups were only 2" at 15 yards offhand and were centered in the black. I was also able to occasionally shoot groups as small as 1-1/4” to 1-1/2” at 15 yards from a sandbag rest. This load is with either the Rapine or Lyman hollow-base, soft-lead bullets, loaded in modern, solid-head, 1.132” long cases, with approximately 19gr of FFFg BP, a magnum primer, and SPG lube. The velocity is a little under 750fps. Although I can do better with my S&W K-38, I am satisfied with this level of accuracy in this gun. Keep in mind that I am not a competitive target shooter and I am sure that others could do better.
Goex BP leaves more fouling in the barrel than Swiss BP, but both are equally accurate. Tests with Pyrodex P powder showed that it was less accurate than BP, but cleaner. It was about as accurate as Bullseye, but dirtier. I have not tried any of the recent BP substitutes like Clear Shot or Clean Shot, so I cannot comment on them.
I recovered a few of the bullets fired with BP and was surprised to find that the entire side of the bullet (from the skirt at the rear to where the nose curves away from the side) was strongly and evenly engraved with rifling. The rifling was not just in the skirt area.
Changes, Voluntary and Involuntary
About this time, a number of changes occurred. One side of the forcing cone of my first 1892 Colt blew out in brittle chunks just behind the frame. I suspect that corrosion from BP and mercuric primers working on the metal for nearly 100 years might have had something to do with the failure. And/or, the timing may have been a bit off and the bullets were hitting one side a little more than the other. The timing on these old Colts is delicate.
I found another 1892 Colt that is in much better condition with a great bore and better lockup, but the accuracy is pretty much the same. Then I found a Uberti Bisley clone in 38-40 caliber and sent it off to a gunsmith. He took a .357 Magnum cylinder and bored out the chambers to 0.410”ID straight through. This matches all the chambers I have seen in original 41LC handguns on gunshow tables. None of them had a reduced diameter neck (throat) in the front of the chamber. The rechambered Uberti is a little more accurate than the old guns and it is much more consistent (fewer flyers). Later, I found a 41LC Colt Army Special built in 1929 that was probably unfired. It is not much more accurate than the older ones, however. There is a limit to accuracy of a 41LC regardless of the gun.
I also got fed up with the number of rejects I was having with the bullets I was buying (be sure to look carefully inside the hollow-base for cavities before loading them – hollows show up as a dark spot). I think some of the early inaccuracy I had with this cartridge was because a large percentage of the bullets I bought had cavities in them. So, I bought a new 185gr Rapine 386185 bullet mould and learned to cast hollow-base bullets. (To reduce confusion, I will use the bullet weight listed by each mould manufacturer for the rest of this article rather than the actual weight.) Casting hollow-base bullets is not as hard as I had heard.
Later, I was lucky enough to trade for a 200gr Lyman 386178 hollow-base mould. Both bullets are about the same length and weight, but the Rapine has a shorter nose (more of it is inside the case) with wider lube grooves and the skirt is longer and thinner than the Lyman. Since the Rapine carries 2 to 3 times the amount of lube, it can be shot longer before the gun starts to bind up from BP fouling (75-100 rounds or so for the Rapine vs about 30-50 for the Lyman). It is fairly easy to cast with either mould, but being single cavity moulds that must be kept very hot, casting with them is slow. I usually average about one to 1-1/4 bullets per minute. All bullets for the 41LC are cast from a soft, 40:1 lead/tin mixture. Both hollow-base bullets work equally well in my guns.
Soft BP lube is what I use exclusively for 41LC bullets anymore. This works equally well for both BP and smokeless loads at 41LC velocities. There is little or no leading, even though the bullets are so soft. Hard, smokeless lubes do not work at all well with BP and do not work well with smokeless powder at these (low) velocities. Soft, BP lube does more than lubricate the lead bullet as it is forced down the barrel. It also melts at low temperatures mixing with the BP fouling in the bore to soften it. Hard BP fouling hurts accuracy.
At first, I used the Kake Kutter method of lubing hollow-base bullets. Set the bullets in a pan, pour melted lube around them, and after it hardens, cut them out with a modified, fired case. A properly formed skirt does not fill with lube. If you do get lube in the hollow, the accuracy will drop dramatically. I believe it cushions the blow and prevents the bullet base from expanding quickly or evenly enough.
Later, I found an aluminum .38 Special Lee Kutter at a gunshow and drilled it out with a 0.386” drill bit. If you live near a well-stocked hardware store, a 0.386” drill bit is “W” in a lettered drill set. It comes in handy for a lot of things if you have a 41LC. The modified Lee Kutter is easier to use than the modified case. I was on backorder for a custom 0.386” sizing/lubing die for nearly a year, but I have it now. It is easier, quicker, and cleaner than pan lubing, but it only works with hollow-base bullets.
Since I now have a strong, modern 41LC with strong, modern steel (the rechambered Uberti), I increased the smokeless loads above what I felt comfortable with in my 1892's (Repeat: DO NOT use these loads in original guns of any type). I went up to 4.5gr of Bullseye in that gun (and that gun only), but the accuracy peaked at 4.0gr to 4.1gr. Accuracy was better than with the lighter Bullseye loads, but was still not quite as good as BP. There is no doubt in my mind that BP is the way to go with the 41LC, especially now that I have found a source for Swiss BP. The Swiss powder is no more accurate than Goex, but it is cleaner burning. No, it is not as clean as smokeless, but it is a noticeable improvement.
After “mastering” the hollow-base bullet, I was lucky enough to buy three different heel-base moulds for the 41LC. I had some success with one of them and spent the next 5 years tracking down and buying more. It turns out that the first one I found is still the most accurate. Two of the first three were in a brass “Old West” mould and the third was an NEI #215. Later, I added a Lyman 386177 mould, a Custom Lee heel-hollow-base mould, and a BallistiCast #721 (which is identical to the old H&G #121 mould). I also finally broke down and bought a new mould with the NEI #213 and #214 cavities in it.
Case Length – Important with Heel-Base Bullets – Pay Attention
When dealing with heel-base bullets, you MUST consider the case length. The original 41LC cases came in three primary lengths, although they vary more within a headstamp than any other case I have measured. The first ones were the shortest at about 0.932” to 0.937” long. In balloon-head cases, they held about 20gr of compressed BP with a 200gr flat-bottom, heel-base, blunt-nose bullet. The next cases were about 1.130” to 1.138” long with a 200gr hollow-base, blunt-nose bullet and about 21gr of BP (also in balloon-head cases). Both cartridges were about the same overall length when loaded. Modern solid-head cases hold about 2gr less BP than balloon-head cases.
The third case length undoubtedly came about after some people tried to load heel-base bullets into the longer cases. The overall length of the resulting cartridge is too long for a Thunderer or a 41-frame DA. They will not fit. To correct this, Remington/Peters and Winchester/Western started producing a 1.005” to 1.010” long 41LC case for reloaders. Almost every heel-base bullet requires a case at least this short. I have never seen a loaded cartridge of this length, but I have 100 empties (50 from each manufacturer) that were unfired and in their original boxes when I bought them. This case is the right length to load either heel-base or hollow-base bullets and still fit into any 41LC cylinder length.
The Starline cases are the longest variety. For some reason, they are only 1.120” to 1.125” long, but that is closer to the longest cases. If you are shooting a Thunderer or 41-frame DA, you must shorten the cases if you want to use most of the heel-base bullets. However, if you are shooting a Colt SAA, you can use the Starline cases and any heel-base bullets, as-is. One economy move (even Starline 41LC cases are moderately expensive) is to use new Starline cases with hollow-base bullets. When the cases start cracking at the mouth, they can be shortened to 1.010” and used with heel-base bullets.
Lubing and Crimping Heel-Base Bullets
Heel-base bullets have three problems that hollow-base bullets don’t have. The biggest problem is crimping. Heel-base bullets cannot be crimped with any of the sets of dies I own (I now have seven sets; a Redding, an RCBS, two different Ideal 310’s, a CH/4D, a Lyman A-A, and a Lee Loader) and I doubt that you can with any other set. Without a decent crimp, smokeless powder will not ignite quickly or uniformly enough to get any kind of accuracy. BP is not as finicky as smokeless is, but even BP benefits slightly from a crimp. I originally modified an electrical wire stripping/crimping tool by drilling a 0.386”ID hole in it (remember the “W” drill bit) and smoothing the edges. It is crude, but is a lot better than nothing.
I later bought a custom factory crimp die for the 41LC from Lee. It is a considerable improvement. Just make sure that you specify the “collet” type die when ordering. Normally, the Lee die works with only one case length, however, a die set up for the 1.132” case will also work on a shorter 1.010” case if you place the shorter case on top of the shellholder instead of inside it. Since the crimped cartridge drops out by gravity, you don’t really need to put the rim in the shellholder. Also, Lee cannot provide a factory crimp die for the shortest, 0.932” case. The collets fatigue prematurely with the shortest case.
The next problem is that the heel makes the bullet difficult to lube. Lubrisizers lube the entire heel making a mess, pan lubing is even more of a mess than with hollow-base bullets, and smearing some SPG on after loading is an expensive mess. Originally, I placed a lube-wad/grease-cookie between the powder and the bullet base. It was quicker and less messy than rubbing SPG into the exterior lube grooves on the bullet after loading. However, the results were questionable. Not terribly bad, but not good enough and I could not get them to improve even after a number of experiments.
I now think that the lube wad cushions the base and keeps it from expanding quickly or evenly enough. Now, I do not put anything between the powder and the base of the bullet. I lube the entire bullet with a thin coat of Lee Liquid Alox. That stops leading. However, it does nothing for BP fouling. Rubbing SPG into the exterior lube grooves after loading takes care of that for between 12 to 40 shots, depending on the size of the lube groove. After that you have to run a wet patch down the bore.
Another minor problem is the diameter (this is probably not a problem with earlier guns like the Thunderer, but I don’t actually own one to try). Several heel-base bullets are 0.406”-0.408”OD at the front. After adding external lube, it is difficult or impossible to even load a bullet that diameter into a newer 0.410”ID chamber. There is not enough room. The front of the bullet needs to be sized down. I originally tried a 0.401” sizer from the 38-40/10mm, but that was too much. Later I found a 0.406” sizer that works better and the resulting bullet/’lube is just barely small enough to fit the chambers.
I have recovered fired heel-base bullets and found that the most accurate heel-base loads make the rear of the heel expand enough to pick up rifling. The challenge is getting the base of the bullet to expand enough, but not too much, and not unevenly. If it doesn’t do all three things, it is less accurate.
Testing Heel-Base Bullets
The most accurate heel-base bullets have a long, straight front section to keep the bullet straight and centered in the bore and a heel that expands symmetrically to reach the rifling when fired. That describes Old West heel-base bullets perfectly.
The Old West mould has a 160gr and a 195gr heel-base bullet in a two-cavity, brass mould. They are fairly short and flat-nosed, almost a wadcutter in shape. There is a slight bevel on the front to aid loading, but it is closer to the shape of a wadcutter than any other 41LC bullet I own. In other words, most of the front of the bullet head is full diameter.
The best accuracy that I was able to achieve with heel-base bullets was with soft-lead, 195gr Old West bullets loaded in modern, solid-head 1.132” long cases with about 23gr of FFFg BP, a magnum primer, lubed with thinned Alox, crimped with a Lee factory crimp die, and SPG lube rubbed into the lube groove after loading. I believe this is because there is a long “full diameter” portion of this bullet ahead of the heel and the rear of the heel is long enough to expand to grip the rifling, both of which help center it in the bore. Because of its shape, the bullet is kept straight (no tipping) at the front or the rear. This is probably why it is my most accurate 41LC bullet.
Because of the overall cartridge length and the fact that it holds a little more powder than the original, I only shoot it in the rechambered Uberti. It is a little more accurate than hollow-base bullets at 15 yards with the added benefit that it retains its accuracy better at 25 yards. Offhand groups at 15 yards were still around 2”, but they were down to 1” to 1-1/4” from a sandbag rest. This is still not target gun accuracy, but it is good enough for me. The velocity is a little higher than with hollow-base bullets, but is still barely over 750fps. I have never been able to get anywhere near the 880fps listed for this cartridge in several sources.
The front of the 160gr Old West bullet is identical to the 195gr bullet, but the heel is not quite as long. The cherry was just held a little further out while cutting, which had the effect of shortening the heel. It is also not quite as accurate as the heavier one. I believe that this is because the rear of the heel is not long enough to expand enough to reach the rifling. You need a 1.010” case if you are going to shoot either bullet in a 41-frame DA or Thunderer.
The NEI #215 bullet is in a single-cavity aluminum mould. It is a longer bullet with a gently rounded nose (almost a spitzer) bullet. Unfortunately, it is inaccurate. There is very little of the bullet that is full diameter. That probably makes it easy to tip in the bore, meaning each bullet leaves the bore in a different direction. The #215 requires the shorter, 1.010” case in order to fit in the shorter cylinder. With work, I was able to improve the accuracy of the #215 a little bit, but it will never be as good enough. This is unfortunate since this mould is the “sweetest” casting mould I own. It is still in production.
The NEI #213 and #214 bullets both have a very short nose and a long tail (heel). Originally, I did not own moulds for these two and bought samples from other casters. Both were hard cast and were totally inaccurate, not even up to shotgun pattern standards. I have since bought a mould with both of them in it and have cast them in soft lead. Accuracy is better with soft lead than with hard, but still not good enough. There is firm evidence that the #214 tips in the bore. I recovered one after firing that showed marks on only one side (and only on a small part) of the rear of the heel. It tipped. The reason the #213 and #214 were made with the short-head/long-tail was so they could be loaded into standard 1.132” cases and still fit into the shorter 41DA or Thunderer cylinder. Unfortunately, this compromise also made them inaccurate. Both are still in production.
Next is the classic Lyman 386177. It has a short, blunt rounded-nose, two full-diameter driving bands, one ahead and one behind a large lube groove, and a moderate length tail (heel). It shoots better than the NEI bullets and a little worse than the Old West bullets. As before, shorter cases (1.010”) are needed with this bullet if you intend to shoot them in a 41-frame DA or Thunderer. Unfortunately, this mould is becoming a collectors item (ie; VERY expensive).
Another mould is a Ballisti-Cast #721, which is still in production. This is identical to the old H&G #121 mould and it is one impressive hunk of metal. The sprue plate alone weighs about as much as an entire Lyman mould. It is a very close copy of the Lyman 386177 in shape and the accuracy is also similar to the Lyman. As usual, shorter cases (1.010”) are needed with this bullet if you intend to shoot them in a 41DA or Thunderer.
The last 41LC mould I own is a Lee is a custom bullet that is a combination heel and hollow-base. I found it used and do not know who designed it. It has a medium length straight front section with a truncated cone ahead of that. The heel has a shallow cup in the base. I once thought that this would be the best of all possible worlds for the 41LC. It might be, but you cannot tell it from this particular design. The bullet is made to be tumble-lubed with liquid Alox (with very small multiple lube grooves), so it is totally unsuitable for BP. The Lee bullet does, however, work the best of any bullet tried so far with Bullseye. BP still has the edge in accuracy with some of the other bullets, though. Because of the length of the bullet, shorter cases are needed here, too.
After sorting out all these new bullets and finding some that were reasonably accurate (see below), I tried a few groups at 25 yards. Unfortunately, this cartridge is not very well suited for anything beyond 15 yards. Remember that this cartridge starts out with two no-no’s for revolver accuracy. The base of the bullet must be deformed (expanded) to fill an oversized bore and the cylinder “throat” is much larger than the diameter of the bore. Accuracy goes downhill rapidly after 15 yards. By then, the deformed base catches up with you regardless of how carefully you load the cartridge.
The accuracy the 41LC is capable of is not good enough for a target or a hunting gun, but it is certainly adequate for what it was intended; close range self defense -- especially with the heavy, soft lead bullet it uses. In fact, Elmer Keith wrote in his book “Sixguns” that the 41LC was a better fight-stopper than its paper ballistics would indicate and it was better for self-defense than any .38 Special load made. But, more important to me is that it is fun to shoot. More fun than it has a right to be. I don't understand why, but maybe it is because it shouldn't work at all. But, it does work and it works surprisingly well.
Anyway, this is what works for me. I believe that the 41 Long Colt can be made to shoot accurately enough for CAS shooting with either hollow-base or (some) heel-base bullets. But, you have to work at it. The improvements in accuracy come from many small details that don’t do much individually, but cumulatively make a big difference. When I started shooting this caliber, I could not keep all the shots on an 8-1/2” by 11” target at 15 yards. Doing it the way described here, I can keep most shots in 2” to 2-1/2” groups at that distance, offhand.
To put it in perspective, my 41LC is now about as accurate as my much newer stock 9mm semi-automatics. Isn’t progress wonderful?
Dimensions, weights, and relative accuracy of 41 Long Colt cast bullets
|Bullet / Mould||Style||Dia. Front||Dia. Rear||Listed Weight||Actual Wt. 40:1||Accuracy|
|1. Rapine 386185||Round-nose wi small flat, hollow-base||0.387”||0.387”||180gr||188gr||B+|
|2. Lyman 386178||Blunt round-nose wi large flat, hollow-base||0.387”||0.387”||200gr||188gr||B|
|3. Old West heavy||Wide-ogival, flat-nose wi heel-base||0.404”||0.385”||195gr||210gr||A|
|4. Lyman 386177||Blunt round-nose wi heel-base||0.406”||0.385”||195gr||196gr||B|
|5. Ballisti-Cast #721||Blunt round-nose wi heel-base||0.404”||0.385”||185gr||193gr||B-|
|6. Old West light||Wide-ogival, flat-nose wi short heel-base||0.404”||0.385”||160gr||175gr||B-|
|7. Lee Custom||Wide-ogival, flat-nose wi heel-hollow-base||0.407”||0.385”||210gr||213gr||C+|
|8. NEI #215||Long round-nose (no flat) wi heel-base||0.408”||0.386”||205gr||213gr||D|
|9. NEI #214||Short round-nose wi heel-base||0.406”||0.387”||200gr||182gr||D|
|10. NEI #213||Short round-nose wi heel-base||0.400”||0.387”||200gr||200gr||D|
Harry Owen at harryo41LC@gmail.com rev 5-10-05
Update on the 41 Long Colt
I am now using the 41 Long Colt for my handgun caliber at the local Cowboy Action Shoots. I was right in saying that the 41LC is accurate enough for CAS shooting. It works fine.
I started CAS shooting with two Uberti Cattleman SAA revolvers in the 38-40 WCF caliber. After a couple of years with the 38-40’s, I decided to change them over to 41LC. I had two cylinders reamed out to 0.410”ID (one cylinder started out as a .357 Magnum and one was a 32-20). I also changed the center pin to a Belt Mountain, replaced the bolt/trigger spring with a wire spring, the mainspring with a lighter Wolff spring, did an action/timing job, reamed the forcing cone to 11 degrees, and replaced the front sights with half nickels. They feel like a totally different guns now, light, tight, smooth, and precise. The first time I shot them (along with my newest "favorite" 41LC load) my time was nearly 10% below my last 38-40 time. I don't credit the caliber change for that. The changes inside the handguns are the reason. However, I also now have a 41LC load for it that is just about as accurate as my 38-40 loads in these guns, at least at CAS distances.
The latest load began when I shortened the hollow-base pin on a Rapine 386185 mould to increase the weight of the bullet. I ended up with a mould that dropped a 218gr bullet, which is 30gr heavier than the original. The heavier bullet turned out to be more accurate than the original Rapine 188gr version. Some of the improvement in accuracy may be because of the longer bearing surface (OAL bullet length of 0.760” for the 188gr bullet and 0.790” for the 218gr bullet). Some may be because of the increase in inertia from the extra weight, allowing more time for the skirt to expand before the bullet starts moving. And, the 11 degree forcing cone might help. This is all conjecture, but whatever is causing it, there is no disputing that the heavier bullet is more accurate. The amount of improvement depends greatly on the gun, however.
I originally started using the new bullet with full length cases and 15.0gr of Swiss 3F Black Powder. No problem, but the recoil was more than my 38-40 CAS loads (which used 5.0gr of Trail Boss), and more than most of the other people who were shooting CAS with me. Then I tried the shorter, handloading cases (1.005” to 1.010” OAL--see above for more details) with the heavier bullet. This is similar to the people who use Schofield cases in .45 Colt firearms. The short cases made it impossible to roll-crimp the bullet with any of the dies I have. I had to use the Lee FCD (normally used with heel-base bullets) to do that. The BP was reduced to 10.0gr in the short cases. The increase in accuracy with this load was dramatic, almost freaky, in both Uberti SAA's even though the bullet had a longer jump to get to the barrel. I am guessing that 10.0gr is enough to open up the hollow-base, but does not continue to deform it as it travels down the barrel. Whatever the reason, I had my load for CAS and have been using it ever since.
Next, I tried the freaky accurate CAS loads in my double-action revolvers. Their accuracy was improved somewhat, but not nearly as much as the single-actions. I wondered why, so it was back to basics. I slugged the barrel of my earliest 1892 series Colt when I first got it and found that it had the larger groove diameter (0.406” to 0.407”). Way back then, I was allowed to slug the barrel of a couple of Thunderers and a post-1900 Colt Bisley in 41LC (none of these are mine). The Thunderers had large groove diameters (0.404" to .406"), but the Bisley was made to 38-40 specs (0.401"). That matched what has been printed in several places (that all of the 41LC Colt's made after 1900 had the smaller barrels), so I assumed it was true.
Wrong. I slugged all the barrels this time. Every one of the 41-frame 1892 series DA revolvers I own (manufactured in 1895, 1902 and 1909) have the larger barrel. I also have a 41LC Army Special (which is a 41-frame) that was built in 1929 and it also has the larger barrel. If anything, the bore and groove diameters grew with age. By the time the 1929 Colt was built, the groove diameter had grown to between 0.4075" and 0.4080". The 1929 Colt was probably unfired when I bought it and probably has less than 500 rounds through it now, so wear had nothing to do with it. Evidently the 41-frame Colt’s were never converted to the smaller 38-40 diameter bores.
I guess that makes some sense since the 38-40 caliber was never offered in that frame size. The switch was probably only done with guns that were chambered in both 41LC and 38-40 (like the Colt SAA, Bisley, 1878 and perhaps the commercial versions of the 1917) that had extra 38-40 barrels on hand. Even so, the heavier, hollow-base bullet has slightly better accuracy than the lighter bullet in the double-actions. Of course, the Uberti SAA 38-40’s that I had converted have the smaller 0.401” groove diameters. That is probably why the accuracy with this load is better in them than in the double-actions.
The cylinder is barely longer (only 0.015") than a 41-frame Colt. That is not long enough for full length cases and heel-base bullets. The length rules listed above for 41-frame Colt's and heel-base bullets apply to this gun. When I got it, I immediately slugged the barrel and was happy to find that it was made to 38-40 dimensions with a 0.401” groove diameter. The freaky accurate CAS load worked just about as well in this gun. Also, the front sight is wide enough for my old eyes to see without replacing it with a half nickel.
It is a good gun, but like most, will require some TLC before it can become a favorite. The ejector does not push the empties all the way out. The inside of the chambers were originally too rough for the fired cases to drop free and they had to be pried out. I polished out the grooves and it ejects cleanly now. The gap between the back of the barrel and the front of the cylinder is a bit too small for black powder. It starts binding in only 2 to 3 cylinderfuls. The gap needs to be opened up a bit. The mainspring is heavy enough for the rear end of a pickup truck. I will have to find an aftermarket replacement or thin it myself. Naturally, the point of aim and the point of impact are not quite the same. It is impacting a little bit to the left with all loads (and with some, a little bit high, too). I will have to do some front and rear sight adjusting with a file once I decide on which load I intend to use for this gun. There is nothing wrong with it that can't be easily fixed, though.
I still wish Uberti made a full sized single-action in 41LC.
I also have gone back and done some more testing with primers. I tested my most accurate loads for each gun with both standard and magnum primers. There does not seem to be any way to predict which primer will be more accurate in a given load. Sometimes, the magnum primer is more accurate and sometimes the standard primer is more accurate. The difference is fairly small, but it is real. The only way to know for sure which one is more accurate is to test both of them.
I also have done some testing with the 41LC and Trail Boss powder. No luck. Trail Boss worked great in my 38-40's, but is too slow to expand the base of a 41LC. IMR lists the speed of Trail Boss as about halfway between Bullseye and Unique. That is too slow for the 41LC. Bullseye is only marginally fast enough.
I also see that the very latest Starline 41LC cases have larger extraction/ejection grooves on them than the original brass and the very first run of Starline cases. What this means is that .38 Special shellholders will fit them without using the Moto-Dremel tool on the inside edge. Because of this, I have separated my brass. I have cut down all my original Winchester-Western and Remington-Peters brass to 1.000” for CAS shooting. This should also extend their life a little bit. Some were starting to split at the neck. I also cut down my original handloader cases (the 1.005” to 1.010” ones) to that same length to make everything the same. I use the moto-dremeled shell holder on them. I have kept all the Starline cases full length and use them for any shooting other than CAS. I use the .38 Spl. shellholder on them.
So much for now. rev 6-25-10