I have had several readers, many from other countries, ask about how American cowboy pistols would compare to modern firearms. Today, we will take a look.

The most common "western" cartridge would surely be the .45 Long Colt. Many will say that it ought to be called simply the ".45 Colt", as there is no ".45 Short Colt". But to distinguish it from the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge, I believe the .45 LC is a good name.

This round was very common, especially after Sam Colt designed the .45 Colt Peacemaker, also known as the Colt Army Revolver. It is said that a cowboy was once asked why he carried a .45. His answer was, "Because Sir, Mr. Colt doesn't make a .46."

In those days, the only way to increase the effectiveness of a pistol was to increase the diameter of the round and the weight of the bullet. Black powder would only drive bullets so fast.

I do not have an original example of this pistol, but I have a couple of nice modern copies, a Ruger Vaquero and a Beretta Stampede, both in .45 LC.

They are both great shooters.

Here they are.

Here they are.​

First, let's look at the round. I will first test a modern example of this round.

It is a Blazer 200 gr, JHP.

We will shoot it into the Waterbox O' Truth.

Here goes out of the Beretta Stampede.


We were surprised that it penetrated 4 jugs and dented the 5th.

That's about 24 inches of water, or 12 inches of ballistic gelatin.

Plenty to make the 12 inch minimum required.

Here's the spent bullet.

Here's the spent bullet.​

Didn't expand as well as it might should have, but it sure made the 12 inches of penetration.

Of course, in the old west, the only loads available were lead bullets.

The most common round was a lead 250 grain Flat Pointed Round Nose, at about 900 fps.

Let's give that one a try out of the Ruger Vaquero.

28-4We were once again surprised that it penetrated 5 jugs and bounced off the sixth, almost penetrating the sixth jug.

Here it is.

Here it is.​

As you can see, it could almost be reloaded and shot again.

I also like the Keith design 255 grain SWC (Semi Wad Cutter) at the same velocity.

Here I am shooting that round from the Beretta Stampede.

Here I am shooting that round from the Beretta Stampede.​

I had just fired the shot and Tman caught a picture of the water pouring out of the box.

I had only 6 gallons of water left for that last shot and we thought it would be plenty to stop the SWC.

We were wrong.

Here's a picture of the back of the box.

Here's a picture of the back of the box.​

It had busted all six gallons of water and then blew a hole through the back of the waterbox.

That's 36 inches of water (18 inches of BG) and a board. It was still moving as it left the Box, mad as a hornet.

I believe we can mark that one down as "Good Penetration".

For many modern shooters, there is no better sport than Cowboy Action Shooting.

These folks dress up in authentic cowboy clothes and holsters, and all the accoutrements, and go out and have a great time.

I am a member of the Orange Gun Club in Orange, Texas.

28-8This great club has a big group of Cowboy Action Shooters that have developed a great Cowboy Action Range.

Here's some pictures of the range


Here we are shooting on this range.​

Only revolvers shooting lead bullets at less than 1,000 fps are allowed on this range.

The targets are mostly steel "swingers" that allow immediate feedback of a hit by hearing a loud "clang"

It is great fun.

Here I am shooting the Ruger Vaquero.

Here I am shooting the Ruger Vaquero.​

And the Stampede. Notice the recoil.

And the Stampede. Notice the recoil.​

They had a hangman's noose there and I tried to get Tman to jump off the platform and let me try to shoot the rope in half, like in the movies.

He declined.


Here's Tman taking a turn with the Vaquero. He doesn't often miss.

Here's Tman taking a turn with the Vaquero. He doesn't often miss.​

And, finally with the Beretta.


Lessons learned:

  1. JHP bullets aren't really much improvement on these big rounds. Even if they don't expand, they are still .45 inch wide.
  2. Hard cast lead bullets will penetrate plenty deeply. Old Elmer Keith told stories of seeing horses shot with .45 Long Colt pistols in gun battles that had two holes in them....one going in and one going out the other side. No lack of penetration.
  3. A man armed with this round is not under-armed regarding penetration. But they are slow to shoot and even slower to reload. That's why many old gunfighters had mulitple pistols on their horses' saddles.
  4. And, as always, it's sure fun to shoot stuff with these great pistols.