For a defense gun against man, the 1917 S & W semi-auto rim is a fine, fast gun, and one can carry a couple of the three-shot clips loaded with 45 auto ammo, preferably of the new Remington and Peters 185-grain wadcutter type, and have a very quick reload.
The late Frank Waterman carried a nickel-plated 7 1/2-inch Single Action Colt 45 all his life. His dad had given it to him new when Frank was a kid in Wyoming. Frank was past seventy when he died last year.
That old Peacemaker had killed all species of game in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho except buffalo. When on a Wyoming elk hunt, a sportsman had downed a big bull elk and the guide borrowed Frank's 45 Colt to go back and pack out the elk as he did not want to bother with a rifle that day. They were working up a brushy creek bed to the kill, and the sportsman was some one hundred yards to the rear as usual, when the guide turned around a big willow bush and found the elk. A big grizzly was eating on the carcass.
The bear instantly rose to its full height, and the guide drew Frank's old Peacemaker. Aiming just under the chin of the big grizzly, he squeezed the trigger. The heavy 260-grain bullet backed by Frank's 40-grain black powder load went in under the chin and broke the grizzly's neck, and the bear went down like a sack of beans.
I once loaded some 44 Specials with the Keith 250-grain solid and 12 grains of No. 80 for Charley Stauffenberg. He carried a New Service Colt for that cartridge. One fall, when in need of his winter's meat, Charley ran onto a bull moose standing broadside. Holding his gun with both hands, he aimed for the heart and shot once. The bull lurched away but went only one hundred yards and lay down and was soon ready for the knife. The flat-point Keith bullet went through the middle of the heart and bled him out nicely.
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Some nineteen years ago I loaded a large quantity of the very same load for James T. Maxwell, of Omaha, Neb., for use in Africa in a 6 1/2 inch S & W. Maxwell later reported that he had no trouble at all supplying twelve men with all the antelope meat they could eat by using that gun and load alone. He said it killed the small and medium antelope about as well as a rifle during a six-week period of African hunting in Kenya and Tanganyika. Recently I had another letter from the good doctor saying he had just tested some of these same loads after all these years and they still shot as well as ever.
With the advent of Hercules 2400 powder I dropped the use of No. 80 entirely, as 2400 proved a much better propellant, giving far less pressure than No. 80 and even higher velocity.
Throughout the West and North, many men – prospectors, surveyors, cowpunchers, trappers, and woods' loafers – who must make long trips into the back country, often by back pack only, and who cannot carry a rifle handily, need a good dependable heavy sixgun. The best guns for the purpose today are the Colt Single Action and the S & W 357 Magnum and 1926 44 Special target models.
The guns should have accurate target sights which suit individual preference as to width of blade or bead and general type, but the sights should be adjustable so that they may be correctly zeroed for any desired load. If the Colt Single Action is preferred, then it should be target sighted by King Gunsight Co., Pachmayr, or some other reliable gunsmith. The best rear sight is the S & W click adjustment target rear, with a suitable band or ramp front sight base and blade sight. The S & W target guns, both the Magnums and the 1926, come equipped with perfect sights, and front beads or blades to suit individual preference can be had to order.
For loads, I believe the 357's & W Magnum and 45 Colt to be the best in factory loads, and the 44-40 is not so far behind, some shooters preferring it to the others. If the shooter is also a handloader, or wishes to purchase heavy handloads from Moody's Custom Loads, Helena, Mont., or another custom loader, the best caliber is the 44 Special. The factory 44 Special makes a fine grouse and small-game load and is also an ideal target load.
The Keith 250-grain solid bullet or the 235-grain hollow base or hollow point can be loaded with 18.5 grains of Hercules 2400 and bullets sized to .001 inch larger than groove diameter and cast 1 part tin to 16 parts lead for solids, and 1 to 20 for hollow points, and you have the most powerful handgun loads in existence.
The factory 357 Magnum is very good but it is not nearly as good a killer as the above-mentioned 44 Special hand-loads. Col. Doug Wesson killed elk, antelope, moose, and grizzly with the 357 Magnum, but the fact remains that the heavy Keith 44 Special loads are a lot more powerful. The factory 38 Special can also be used in the Magnum as a grouse or small-game load; wadcutters in full charge are particularly good small-game loads.
If you want to reload for the Magnum, use 13.5 grains of 2400 behind the Keith 173-grain solid bullet or the 160-grain Keith hollow point in 38 Special cases. For the longer Magnum case, use 14 grains of 2400 with the 160-grain hollow point or 13.5 grains with the 173-grain Keith solid and barely crimp the case over the front band of the bullet.
The fact remains, however, that the 38 Special case, with Keith bullet and 13.5 grains of 2400, is a more accurate load at any range, even to 600 yards, than is the factory 357 Magnum or the Keith bullet from the Magnum case when the case is crimped over the forward band. Bullets should be of same temper as above for the 44 Special and should be sized to not over .001 inch above groove diameter.
In the 45 Colt, the standard factory smokeless load is a good one though at only about 800 feet velocity. It is accurate and will penetrate well. The old Remington 40-grain black powder load was much more powerful, and handloads can be made up with the Keith 250-grain Ideal bullet and 18 to 20 grains of Hercules 2400, always keeping bullets sized to not over .001 inch above groove diameter and crimping in the beveled crimp groove. In the 45 Colt, we have much thinner cylinder walls than in the 44 Special and for that reason the 44 Special has a much greater margin of safety.
The bullet, being the same weight as for the 45, also has more sectional density and will penetrate better, so for the handloader the 44 Special is absolutely tops. The factory 44 Special 146-grain bullet is loaded to only 750 feet velocity, and both the 357 Magnum and the 45 Colt, as well as the 44-40, beat it badly for killing power in factory loads. But carefully handloaded, the 44 Special comes to life.
For all social purposes, when a gun is needed in self defense against man targets, the 357 Magnum is the smallest cartridge I would consider. The heavy Keith hand-loads described above are, however, much better stoppers, and a man hit anywhere between the top of the skull and the pelvic bone with one of them in 44 Special or 45 Colt will not shoot back.
Automatics are totally dependent on perfect ammunition for certain functioning and are, for that reason, a second choice for a defense gun. If a jam or a misfire occurs, then two hands are needed to clear the jam and get the gun in action again. For that reason, they are never as reliable as a good cylinder gun when one's life is at stake.