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American Handgunner May/June 2010 - Page 30
THE SIXGUNNER hen I became deeply interested in sixguns, I wanted to know the experiences of earlier shooters. I had often read of the use of #80 powder for heavy sixgun loads before the advent of #2400, however I had never even seen a can of the stuff until now. Friend and custom gunsmith Gary Reeder found a batch of very old powder. Two of the cans were DuPont Sporting Rifle Powder #80 and DuPont Pistol Powder #6 and surely date back to before World War II. He had never heard of these powders and when he asked me John Taffin Blast PFrom The Past W about them the light went on and I saw a chance to step back into history. I have been collecting information of interest to me when it comes to sixguns for over 50 years, giving me a bookcase full of loose-leaf binders and old reloading manuals and books. I also have nearly 700 rounds of the old style balloon-head brass in .44 Special and .45 Colt. For the past 60 years or so all sixgun brass has been of the solid head construction, however before that time the primer pocket looked like a “balloon” in the middle of the base without any supporting brass P VEl(fPs)51/2" 71/2" P lOAD lOAD Ancient powders and modern Rugers proved the old powders and loads could deliver the goods. around it. This brass had a higher case capacity but was also weaker. With heavy loads it would often swell out just above the rim to the point of not being able to enter the shell holder for resizing. This is particularly true of the old-style .45 Colt brass, especially so with Western brass and is probably where the idea came from that .45 Colt brass is weak. If it was, this all changed in the early 1950s with the advent of solid head brass. TEST-FiRE: .44 Special Keith 250-260 Gr. Cast Bullet 9.5GR.#80 12.0GR.#80 13.0GR.#80 6.0GR.#6 812 953 1,059 815 51/2" GROUP/INCH* 817 986 1,098 835 71/2" 2 11/2 11/2 21/4 GROUP/INCH* LOADS FOR BALLOON HEAD BRASS ONLY TEST-FiRE: .45 Colt Keith 250-260 Gr. Cast Bullet DuPont Powders and data from Phil Sharpe and Elmer Keith all predate WWII. John tested them in modern Rugers. 12.0GR.#80 15.0GR.#80 7.0GR.#6 855 936 765 888 998 813 11/4 ½! 17/8 AllloadsuseWinchesterlPPrimers.Temperature:35degrees.*Groupsarefiveofsix shotsat20yardswith71/2"barrel Sectioned .45 Colt brass shows the difference in construction of balloon head (L) and modern solid head brass. Myth Or Magic? y primary interest was to see what could be done with #80 using the old loads in the old-style brass. Opening the can revealed no deterioration, however I was very curious about the color until I found Phil Sharpe’s description of it as buff-colored. It was introduced in 1913 and removed from production in 1939; that means the can I have is at least as old as I am. I also found several warnings about its use. Sharpe said: “My good friend Elmer Keith, in experimenting with #80 in his .38 Special and .44 Special heavy loads, has wrecked several revolvers.” The editor of the American Rifleman in the 1920s was a crusty old fellow by the name of Chauncey Thomas. In 1926, writing about a brand-new .44 Special SAA that was blown up he said: “What blew up that gun was a high-power rifle primer used with a pistol charge of No. 80 powder. But I have always protested against No. 80 in any revolver.” Later Keith would say: “For a good many years DuPont #80 powder was our best bet for heavy revolver loads, in spite of criticisms by many handloaders. Properly loaded, it will give very fine accuracy at comparatively high velocity. I do not like it as well as Unique for many loads, mainly on account of its being affected by moisture or extremes in temperature . Cartridges loaded with #80 and stored in a hot and dry climate may in a short time so increase in pressure that they are decidedly unsafe . This fact . makes it an unsafe powder for revolvers under all conditions of loading . I consider it now obsolete.” 30 M o here I am with an old can of #80 and Ideal #32 plus data and warnings from Keith, Sharpe and Thomas. Yes I am going to try the old loads in the old style brass and yes I’m going to use that old can of powder but you can be very sure I am not going to use 1930s revolvers. I have both pre-war .44 Specials and .45 Colt sixguns however they are not going to be part of the experiment. My chosen test guns are Rugers, the super-strong Ruger .44 Magnum and .45 Colt Blackhawks. Warning: Do Not, repeat do not assemble any of these loads in modern brass which has less capacity, and definitely do not use any of these loads in any but the strongest of large frame revolvers. This experiment is strictly for information about what our sixgun ancestors had to work with in the 1930s and has absolutely no practical value for modern applications. In this case, it’s knowledge for knowledge’s sake and to satisfy my great curiosity. I hope you find it interesting. Have I proven old powder is safe to use? No! These two cans were — all the rest may not be. s Do Not … * WWW.AMERICANHANDGUNNER.COM • MAY/JUNE2010