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Thompson Center .45-70 Handgun...

For years we went to the movies and heard Clint Eastwood say, “Do you feel lucky?” and “The most powerful handgun made.”

This was all in reference to the .44 Magnum, which at one time was the most powerful handgun made. But this designation can no longer be claimed by the .44 Magnum, as other calibers like the .45-70, S&W .460, S&W .500 and some off-the-wall handguns like the .600 Nitro Express have far surpassed the power of the .44 Magnum.

With companies like Thompson Center making single-shot handguns in a wide variety of calibers, you can get one of their pistols ranging from .17 HMR all the way up to the big bad .500 S&W.

When I started considering a single-shot handgun, I looked at the ballistics of the .460 S&W, 45-70 and .500 S&W, and also considered the availability of brass, factory ammo and the hand-loading dies I currently had. Finally, I decided on the .45-70.

There was only one drawback with the Thompson Center handgun in .45-70. The gun did not have iron sights and was not set up to install them. With a little more research, I figured out I could install some sort of red dot on the Weaver-style scope rail that came with this pistol. So a Thompson Center .45-70 it would be.

By the time the pistol arrived, I had loaded several flavors – from mild to real thumpers – and had secured several boxes of factory loads. I had also purchased a reflex prism-type red dot optics to mount to the scope rail.

I was grinning from ear to ear as I opened the pistol box and fondled this gorgeous pistol. The bluing was a deep blue with a nice muzzle brake. The hand grip and fore grip wood color was highlighted by the deep, rich blue of the metal. I couldn’t wait to take it to the range!

I went to the 25-yard pistol range, set up my spot and put up a target. I had laid out all of the ammo and set up a Caldwell pistol rest. I turned on the sight and after a little bore sighting, I was ready to make this big boy go "boom."

I opened a box of factory ammo, inserted one in the barrel, sighted-in the red dot on the "X" on the target and, with a slow, gradual squeeze of the trigger, this big gun went "boom!" – and almost broke a finger on my left hand!

What had I done now? It hurt, and I mean really hurt! After a little moaning and cursing, I determined nothing on my hand was broken, but it sure did hurt. This gun kicks a bunch! Well, based on the painful results of the first shot, if I was going to shoot this gun, it was going to have to be one-handed.

I loaded another round, found my target and squeezed the trigger for another big boom. This was a lot better, but still hurt my hand. Here I was, ready to shoot this fine pistol, but it was thumping me pretty good every time I pulled the trigger.

What to do? Pack up, go home and hope I can get my money back? Wrap a towel around my hand and hope I could hold onto the gun when I shot it, or tough it out and continue to shoot?

On this day, that old saying “older and wiser” did not apply. I stayed and toughed it out. I ran about 15 rounds through the pistol when, all of the sudden, it was shooting all over the paper. After a few more rounds – and some reasonable deductions on my part – I figured out the big recoil had destroyed the sight. The internal workings of the sight were rattling around like BBs in a tin can. Now, I did head home.

A few days later I was back at the range. This time I had a BSA RD42 Illuminated Sight to replace the sight that could not stand up to the recoil. I had also made another change to the grip. The wood hand and fore grips were very pretty, but really not very functional. The wood did not absorb any of the recoil and was very slippery, so I went with the Thompson Center soft rubber hand and fore grip.

I looked at my options for this pistol and only found two rubber grips – the TC and a Pachmayr. I have a couple of hand guns with the Pachmayr, and it does provide a better grip than wood, but is made of a hard rubber. As bad as this gun thumped, I wanted a pillow-soft grip, and the TC is much softer.

With my new sight and grips, I was ready to see what this big dog would do. The first few shots were to sight-in the new sight and see just how soft the new grip was. Let me tell you, this TC soft rubber grip makes a real big difference in the felt recoil on this gun. I also changed my style to allow the gun to recoil back, instead of me trying to force the gun from coming back when it was shot.

On the first outing, I tried to force the gun from coming back as it recoiled, and I think this had a lot to do with the pain I felt on every shot. The first time out, I tried to have the recoil absorbed from my wrist to the gun. This time I was going to let my elbow be the pivot point and let the gun come back toward me. I thought this would help with the big thump.

As I shot with the new sight and my new style of recoil reduction, the gun went from one I was ready to get rid of to one that was FUN to shoot. I started with the factory loads and worked to some of my hand loads. This pistol really liked the Hornady FTX Leverevolution 325 grain and the Federal 300 grain Speer Hot-Cor HP. But, this pistol did not like the other four factory loads.

I had two hand loads that were almost as accurate as the Hornady factory loads, but I knew I could do better. I also wanted to tune the load down a little, as it still thumped pretty good, even with the rubber grips and new shooting style.

With the results and info I accumulated, I headed back to the house for more time at the hand-load bench where I had a big bunch of Hornady brass, bullets and three kinds of powder.

After about a week, I had loaded enough different flavors of .45-70 to keep two people busy for a couple days of shooting and was ready for round three at the range. I loaded all of the rounds with Hornady brass sized to 2.040” along with Federal 210M primers, Hornady 300 grain hp #4500 bullets and three powders, IMR3031, H322 and H4198. All of my loads were lightly crimped, using the Hornady New Dimension Dies.

I know some of you seasoned .45-70 hand-loaders are questioning my case length size. Most modern reloading manuals state the case length should be 2.095” with a max of 2.105” BUT in the newest Hornady manual they have trimmed the case to 2.040 for their Leverevolution ammo with great success. I am going to have to say, the folks at Hornady know more about loading ammo than any of us will ever know, and they have access to all of the equipment needed to test for pressures I do not have. The bottom line is, I trust Hornady.

I do offer this caution. I would not load these shorter cases anywhere near the max load data that is published for the standard 2.095” case length. This load information is for modern guns in good condition and NOT for trap door or rolling block actions.

After several hours of burning up powder and primers, I settled on a load that chronographed at 1970 fps at 20 feet from the muzzle and shot one-hole groups at 25 yards and right at 3/4 of an inch at 50 yards.

This load does not rock my hand and is extremely accurate. I settled on 46.0 grains of IMR 3031, Federal 210M primer, Hornady brass, Hornady 300 grain jacketed hollow point #4500 bullet, with an OAL of 2.493” and lightly crimped.

I ran a foot-pounds energy calculation on this load compared to a .44 magnum hot load of the same bullet weight, and the .45-70 has almost three times the knockdown power of what used to be “The Most Powerful Handgun Made.”

(Remember the awesomeness of Dirty Harry's .44 Mag in action!?)

(Just for contrast here is the TC .45-70 vs. a Milk jug.)

The bottom line on this gun: Once I swapped out the wood grip for the Thompson Center soft rubber grip, this went from a gun I DID NOT want to shoot to a pleasant shooter. It is plenty accurate with a couple of factory loads and with a little effort hand loading, can be a very accurate pistol. It is well made, dependable and what is there to go wrong with a break-open single shot.

You can purchase interchangeable barrels with many caliber offerings. I like it and intend on bringing some meat to the table with it.

Now that hunting season is almost over for this year, maybe I will head to Tiger Island Outfitters and try it out on a wild boar.

If this is any example of the rest of the T/C handgun line, you would be happy with one. For me, well, I have my eye on one in .35 Remington.

If all guns were treated as if they were loaded, there would be NO MORE accidental shootings.


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.”