By: Greg Chabot
Photos by: Sasha Steadman
The .45 Colt is an iconic American round that has withstood the test of time.
Originally designed in 1872 by Colt and Union Metallic Cartridge for Colt’s Single Action Army, following the release of the SAA in 1873, it was adopted by the Army and remained one of its official side arms for the next 14 years.
Because the S&W Scofield was chambered in .45 S&W Schofield, Army quartermasters referred to the newer .45 Colt unofficially as the “Long” Colt, due to its longer length and to prevent confusion. During that time period, both the Schofield and SAA were issued to the troops. The Army finally adopted the M1882 Government version of .45 Schofield, using two different rounds until switching to .38 Long Colt in 1892.
With the popularity of the SAA, the .45 Colt endured into the smokeless powder era and remained popular for self-defense and target shooting. The Colt New Service was one of the first double action revolvers chambered in .45 Colt.
In 1908, S&W introduced the New Century, built on the N frame that was designed for the .44 S&W Special with their first model triple-lock guns. Prior to the Great War, they made a limited number of 2ndModel hand ejectors chambered in .45 Colt.
As WW1 heated up, models chambered in .455 Webley were made for the British under contract. Upon America entering the war, there was a shortage of 1911s. S&W modified their cylinders to use patented “Moon” clips for the rimless .45 ACP, calling it the Model 1917. After the war, some unfinished contract .455 chambered guns were rechambered for .45 Colt and sold to the public.
During the pre-war years, S&W continued to focus on the .38, .44 Special, and the then-new .357 magnum chamberings, with revolvers in .45 Colt going by the wayside until after the Second World War.
In 1950, with the revival of shooting sports, S&W released the Model 1950 Target in .45 Colt, which was an upgraded version of the 1917 model, to meet the demand of the bullseye shooting community. The followed that with the 1955 model with a heavier barrel and ejector shroud, which we are familiar with today.
Two years later, in 1957, S&W changed over to the numbering system for their catalog with the .45 chamberings becoming the Model 25. Pre-dash Model 25s are chambered in either .45 ACP or Colt. To keep things simple with engineering changes, S&W used odd dash numbers for .45 Colt even for .45 ACP.
(Note: During production, some Model 25s were offered with a spare cylinder chambered for .45 ACP. Some .45 Colt cylinders were cut for moon clips to use .45 ACP, production numbers unknown.)
When it comes to double action revolvers, I prefer the pre-1982 N frames. I like how they feel in my hand and the overall robustness of the design. I have always enjoyed shooting guns chambered in .45 Colt. For many years, I owned a Ruger Vaquero, which I foolishly sold. Recently, I was offered the opportunity to borrow a pristine example of the S&W Model 25-5 to T&E. The gun came in a wooden presentation box and was in excellent condition, with only some slight wear to the dark bluing. Barrel was pinned with a length of 8 3/8” with a red insert for the front sight. (Note: Only Magnums were offered with recessed cylinders.) Rear sight is a fully adjustable for windage and elevation.
According to my research, the 8 3/8” barrel was introduced in 1978 for the -5, and not many were produced. The specimen was well cared for over the years. There were no issues with the timing or cylinder lock-up. The trigger and hammer are case-hardened target type that came standard on the Model 25 series. Trigger pull in double action was a smooth 9lbs with single action breaking at 3.5lbs. The sample came with Goncalo Alves target grips that were standard on S&W revolvers back in the day.
Due to the continuing China virus/ stolen election ammo shortage, I was only able to source 200 rounds of ammo for this test. I apologize to my readers for this. Bullet weight was strictly 230 grain JHP for the different brands I was able to buy. Shooting was done off-hand in both single and double action, with ranges kept mostly at 25 yards with some shooting done out to 50 yards on steel. I have zero complaints about the accuracy of this weapon. Rapid fire groups averaged 2 ½” at 25 yards with the best group at 1 ¾”. Off-hand single action averaged 2” at 25 yards. The excellent trigger and long sight radius greatly contributed to the accuracy. I would be curious to see how the 25-5 performed with other bullet types if the ammo shortage ever ends.
I set up my steel target at 50 yards and fired double action. My best was 4 out of 6 rounds hitting the steel. The 25-5 has a reputation for not being accurate due to oversized cylinder throats. The original pre-WW2 specs called for a .454 bullet size for revolvers. During WW2, the specs were standardized to the .451-.452 size used for 1911s. I found the sample to be within proper specifications. Doing some research, I did find some guns were sent out with old spec cylinders. That was quickly corrected by S&W, and in my opinion, has been overblown on gun forums. Recoil was non-existent in the 25-5, the weight and long barrel kept muzzle rise down in both rapid and slow fire. I had no issues controlling this weapon while shooting Mozambique drills with factory ammo. Granted, the 8 3/8” barrel is more suited for hunting or target shooting. I would have no issue using this weapon for home defense as tested. Though a shorter barrel is more practical for that scenario.
I really enjoyed my time with this weapon. It was accurate and easy to control and represents what used to be a quality product made by skilled craftsmen of a bygone era. Would I recommend a Model 25 in .45 Colt? Yes, I would recommend a vintage one made before 1982 if you can find one. After 1982, S&W changed their manufacturing process and cheapened the overall product in my opinion — more concerned with their bottom line than building a quality weapon one can trust their life to. The recent Classic series N frames are shadows of their former self, with shrouded barrels and that damn Clinton era lock. You couldn’t give me one to use for a paperweight.
Would I recommend the .45 Colt for self-defense? Yes, it has been solving problems for 148 years. The .45 Colt has excellent controllability and fight stopping power. And the ability to humanely harvest game with the right loads. It has served generations of shooters. And I foresee this timeless round serving the shooting community well into the future.
Big Thanks to the Gun Closet!