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Thompson Center .45 Colt

A few years back, I purchased my first Thompson Center Contender. The .45-70 cartridge it is chambered in is a heck of a handgun cartridge that I was able to tune down a little to make it a more desirable handgun load.

Since that TC, I have purchased others in .44 magnum, .35 Remington and my latest in .45 Colt or .45 Long Colt.

The .45 Long Colt Cartridge: This cartridge has been in use for almost 140 years, and is used in cowboy shooting competition and by hunters today. In the modern-day loads, it is capable of dispatching deer, black bear, wild boar and – with a beefed-up load– is capable of being used on larger game with well-placed shots. This cartridge was originally created by Colt and UMC back in 1871 and was designed to be a military handgun cartridge. In 1873 the U.S Army adopted it as their official handgun cartridge, and for the next 19 years it was issued to the troops along with the Colt single-action Army revolver.

This cartridge was originally designed as a black powder load and was loaded using 28 to 40 grains of black powder, pushing a 230- to 255-grain lead bullet at speeds up to 1,000 feet per second. But, most loads back then were pushing the projectiles at speeds from 750 to 850 fps. This is sort of wimpy in today’s world in which some modern handgun loads push a 300-grain bullet at speeds well over 2,000 fps.

This cartridge enjoyed a great deal of popularity for 19 years, but eventfully gave way to the .44-40 Winchester because the .44-40 could be chambered in both handgun and repeating lever-action rifles.

The .45 Long Colt could not be used in the lever-action rifles because it had a small rim that would not allow it to eject reliably. Today this problem has been rectified, and there are several rifles chambered in .45 Long Colt, like Henry, Marlin, Taylors, Uberti and Winchester.

Fast forward many years, and we are able to use the .45 Colt for hunting in several handguns and rifles. With some fine handloading components now available, we are able to send the .45 Long Colt projectile downrange at speeds nearly twice as fast as the old black powder loads.

You must keep in mind these faster, more powerful loads are designed for ONLY modern-day firearms and should NEVER be fired in the older single action revolvers. My TC Contender is built of a heavy frame and with modern-day stronger metal that can withstand the increased pressures of the hotter modern loads, so I jumped right in and loaded up some hot loads for it. I also took to the range several factory loads and a few other handloads that were more in line with the factory load velocity – or maybe just a tad faster.

Before I headed to the range, I wanted to mount a scope. Lo and behold, what did I find the in scope box? A real nice, older Redfield 1-1/2x handgun scope. By adding this scope I will be able to shoot from a rest, putting the crosshairs on the dot in the “i” and add a little extra weight to the gun, thus eliminating a little of the felt recoil. And it looks really neat with a scope on it that is from the same period as the pistol, as this one was made on 1969.

This older pistol is beautiful, with nice wood grips and foregrip. It is decorated with a rope scroll design grip cap, and the metal is decorated with a big cat on a ledge scrolled on both sides of the receiver. It also has a nice ported muzzle brake. The pistol had a nice adjustable rear sight, but it had to be removed to add the scope.

Once at the range, I used a few of my handloads to get the scope dialed in, then moved over to the 50-yard target for the true test of the pistol and ammo I planned to fire through it.

I had six different factory loads and three handloads, consisting of Hornady 185-grain and 225-grain FTX, Winchester 225-grain lead round nose and Silvertip JHP, Federal 225-grain semi-wadcutter hollow point and Barnes 200-grain XPB hollow point.

All of my handloads used the Hornady 250-grain XTP bullets, Starline brass, H110 powder, CCI LPM primers and Hornady’s 3 die set. My rest was the Caldwell Handy Rest NXT. I wanted to get my hot handloads down-range first, just to see how this pistol handled them. After shooting them all I had to say was “too much powder.” My next loads were much milder and closer to factory-loaded ammo as far as the velocity. They were much better on my hand, and the accuracy at 50 yards was remarkable. I was shooting 1-inch groups with one and 1.5-inch with the other.

These loads consisted of 26.00 and 25.4 grains of H110 with the bullet OAL of 1.68” and 1.55” respectively. Well heck, I really did not need to shoot any more, as these loads were plenty accurate for the distance I would be shooting (not more than 25 yards, and most likely 10-15 yards). But, I was at the range and had some more ammo....and I really do like to shoot, so what the heck, let’s shoot it up!

Next was the Hornady ammo. The 225-grain FTX shot as good or maybe a little better than my handloads, but this pistol was not pleased with the 185-grain and shot two groups in the 2-inch range.

Then came the Winchester. Neither of these were as good as my handloads, with groups in the 2- to 3-inch size. The Silvertip was the better of these two.

Next came the Federal. This was on the money with nice, tight, 1-inch groups, and the recoil was noticeably less than the faster Hornady and Winchester loads.

Last, but by no means least, came the Barnes with the all-copper bullet that they advertise as non-fragmenting and deeper penetrating. These shot a consistent 2 inches, and the one that I shot into several phone books did not fragment and looked just like the picture on the box of a fired bullet.

I intend to use my handloads or the Hornady 225-grain FTX for hunting, due to their being the most accurate of what I have sent downrange in this pistol, but any of these would work with the short distances I intend to shoot it.

The pistol was fun to shoot, and with the added weight of the scope, mount and rings, the recoil was not bad. I would imagine it would be tolerable for most shooters. I would still like to find some nice, squishy, rubber grips for it like the ones I have for the 45-70.

The problem is this pistol is one of the original Contenders, and the grips made for the newer G2 series will not fit. If any of you know where I can get a nice, soft, rubber grip, please email me ([email protected]).

I was also able to find a nice Velcro-flap holster that it fits in nice and snug, so I guess I am ready to sit in the stand with my new handgun.

Thompson Center has been making these handguns for many years and has done a great job with this one. It is well made, shoots very accurate and is darn nice looking. Even my hunting buddy that hates single-shot anything, says it is real nice looking and was sort of hinting that he could use it. I think you would be pleased to own one of these Contenders in this caliber (or any other).

For those wondering if one shot is enough, I have been hunting with single-shot rifles for many years, and one shot has been enough for me.

Shoot Straight, Shoot Safe


Jim Hammond has had some sort of gun in his hand since he was 5 years old. He started with a Daisy BB gun as a small boy, and with careful instruction from his very safety-minded father, has become a skilled and knowledgeable shooter now willing to share his knowledge and experience as he has FUN SHOOTING. “Safety first and everything else will follow.”