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Old Eyes and Old Barrels
November 2019
Gerhard Schroeder


 
Old 45ACP barrel attached to 2nd generation TC Contender;
all testing done without fore end
Open sights ruled early on. Like on the Weihrauch WH35 air rifle my dad bought us when I was barely able to cock the thing. But soon thereafter no starling or sparrow was safe in our yard. At age 22 I arrived in the US. For a shooterholic, a state of mind I fell into at a very tender age, Arizona was like a form of heaven. Apparently, that wasn’t true for me alone. Friend Hans-Juergen purchased a 22LR lever gun, and I got me a 6” Star 22 Auto. When on sale, between us we bought 5000 CCI Mini Mags. The Kmart clerk, no doubt in our interest and due to our heavy accent, asked three times if we meant 500.

Those 2500 each did not last long, all consumed via those open-sighted guns. The most memorable shot happened during a bird hunt, always with that Star on my hip. A snake slowly crawled across a narrow dirt path along an irrigation ditch. One shot from that pistol and the snake instantly took to spastic convulsions. About forty steps later we were at the snake. A lucky hit had mangled its jaws, but the head was where I had aimed. Fast-forward 40 some years. Another addiction had entered my system, in the form of a SigSauer suppressor. And, with the 2016 election results bringing all forms of hope, a suppressed 45 Auto Contender seemed irresistible. Why? At subsonic speeds, the 30 Herrett just did not kill game with authority. Soon a used, original octagon lightweight Contender barrel in 45ACP was in my possession. Unfortunately, the suppressor law change did not happen. My 45ACP project went dormant.


 
Custom features: muzzle brake instead of choke tube, and
scope base attached between the open sights
Spring time is play time, testing time. Guns get to go to the desert which typically live a semi-rejected safe life. There, in the safe, also resides a close cousin, one of the first 45-410 barrels. Now over 25 years old, and somewhat modified, I used to shoot it often.

Back when quail were more plentiful, that barrel one day knocked seven of them out of the air. Pure fun. Enter the German combo gun mindset. The 45-410 barrel was good for more: silhouettes. No, no, not in 45 Long Colt, but via insert barrels in 22LR and 22Hornet. A TC Contender can do a lot!

Back to the 45s. How would they compare in accuracy? Especially with cheap(er) lead bullet loads. The early Arizona May of 2019 was invitingly mild, perfect for testing. But there was a problem. Those open sights looked like a mirage to my old eyeballs! Turns out I could fix that by wearing two sets of glasses. This made those nicely machined Contender sights stand out perfectly sharp. What a joy! BUT … now the target, about twenty steps away, was utterly blurred. After experimenting with several different types and colors, aiming worked best with round darker ‘aiming areas’ which were at least 4 inches in size. Since hitting was less of a goal than grouping, aiming off the bench took concentration but appeared repeatable. Shooting finally began.

Now, the 10” 45-410 barrel is a hybrid beast. Chamber is 3” long, followed by about five inches of rifling, because near the muzzle the inside is recessed two inches for a screw-in choke. Bottom line, none of the tested lead bullets sized .452” nor .454” liked that. They arrived at the paper sideways, key-holed, and of course more pattern-like than grouped. That was the case for 200 to 405grainers – yes, I even tried down-sized 45-70 slugs once. Be careful, 454 Casull ammo also chambers. Since those longer Casull cases would slightly decrease the distance a bullet travels before engaging the rifled portion, I tried that brass as well, but ONLY at 45 LC pressures/velocities! 454 Casull brass did not result in any accuracy improvement.

 
45LC, 250 XTP 7.5gr Unique

However, here is what jacketed stuff did:

This accuracy did not surprise me because years ago I killed a javelina with the 45LC load. It collapsed where it stood. 45s kill!

Oh yeah, one more possibility: 410 slug loads. Factory Remington ammo looked encouraging even when fired with choke tube installed. In fact, I found and bought another box. That’s before ‘discovering’ that handloading 410 slugs can be done by substituting shot with some type of 9mm or 38 caliber bullet. Either fits neatly inside the small 410 wads. Components were on hand. So I tried many of them, with 2.5” and 3” hulls, with bullets weighing from 90 to 250grains. Useful accuracy remained elusive.


 
Left: Those are 4 shots with factory Remington 410 slugs Right: 250gr reloaded “slugs” keyholed and sprayed from top to bottom and left to right, despite two of them hitting the same place near the top. the fifth shot missed. In contrast, a mild lead bullet load shot through the choke may have potential. Only two of the five shots show slight tipping.

The best ‘slug’ option remained the Remington factory fodder. OK, so I purposely also shot a mild lead bullet load with choke installed. Results appear useful. I may explore that a little more.

OK, even though it was off the subject, I did fire the insert barrels, this time scoped (good old fixed 6X Tasco). At 50 yards the results are silhouette worthy.


 
Insert Barrel 22 Hornet                     Insert Barrel 22 LR

In summary, my 45-410 barrel is a blast as a 410 ‘shot’gun, accurate in 45LC configuration WITH CHOKE REMOVED and firing jacketed bullets, borderline useful with slugs and choke installed, and quite OK on silhouettes with both the 22Hornet and 22LR insert barrels and that 6X scope, all held taco-style. It will not please when fed lead bullet loads. When bird hunting it makes for light travel. I just carry the pistol in my hand, while my pocket holds plenty of skinny 410 shells.


 
22 LR version; 6X Tasco in see-thru rings,
allowing open sights to also be used, barely
Should a target of opportunity present itself, opening the gun and trading a shell for a slug is easy to do. Fun way to go if one wants an extra challenge in the game field.

On to 45ACP. This barrel is super light, therefore tends to kick. Since the Contenders, both original and second generation, are very strong guns, it’s no problem to go up to +P when pouring powder. That of course kicks even more. The glove came out.


 
Recoil is way more an issue than with a typical 1911 auto

Since a Contender is a single shot, all types of projectile shapes will work when seated deep enough to chamber. By the way, growing up with single shots, the WH35, the combo, the Anschutz Mod 54, a ‘custom’ 22 pistol, those all taught me to make the first shot count.


 
155SWC, 185 HP, 185XTP, 200RN 2x, 230RN and 4 types of 255 to 260gr

Right away, this 45ACP barrel did not have much of a problem with lead bullets. Here are a few examples:


 

 

 

No complaints here, especially since for each shot the target was super blurred. EXCEPT point of impact changed a lot! With those open sights all the way down, the 155s printed a good 6 inches low. I could have adjusted for that. 200 grainers were about “on”, but not great on accuracy. Unfortunately, my favorite for field applications, the 260 SWCs printed 8 inches high. Maybe that is why this barrel was for sale.

Anyway, the barrel, old and skinny as it is, shoots! What to do??? Don’t tell Steve, but I removed the rear sight, attached a Weaver base, and onto that a Holosun Red Dot sight. I’m suspicious of anything requiring batteries. But for old eyes a red dot seems to be a very good fix. Clearly, aiming and shooting unsupported is a lot easier than dealing with blurred sights and/or targets.


 

Interestingly, accuracy did not improve too much. So at least off the bench, with plenty of time to carefully align crisp open sights with severely blurred bullseye type targets, still allows useful shooting. OK, useful only for testing different loads. Blurred sights and certainly target(s) is not a practical way to put bullets where we intend them to go. Either a scope or red dot sight will fix that. Turns out with today's designs that red dot sights can be tiny and almost offer the compactness of open sights. And, once in hand, I find them to be faster than open sights, certainly with a little practice. Plus, the dot covers less of a target and thus provides more accuracy potential.


 
Red Dot sight also could not be adjusted for 260grSWC loads to be “on” at 20 steps, but makes for a more compact package than a 2X scope

 
But my hope that the Holosun could be adjusted so the heavy bullets would hit center did not pan out. They still shot about 8 inches high. About then we had to step away for a summer break, meaning BLM closed the desert for shooting. Meanwhile I shimmed up the front of the scope base and finally in late September we were allowed back into the desert. That shimming did get me on target with my favorite load, but not for long. The scope base loosened. I could fix that, and the next time out she shot well again.

The ship seems to have sailed for equipping this 45ACP barrel with a suppressor – wait, wait, it does not have threads and is oh so thin. Trust me, I had a solution in mind – moot point now. At least the barrel is accurate. Plus, I enjoy launching fat slugs at moderate velocity. Those 45s make bigger holes, kick up more dirt, rip off more bark – you get the idea. Equipped with a red dot I lucked out getting a fun and cheap-to-shoot plinker in the end. Like with all single shots, it’s the best tool to practice for accuracy, and a box of ammo lasts a little longer. Of course, it would make a fine hunting tool as well for anything up to javelina, or even deer out to about a hundred paces. None of those critters would argue with a 185XTP at +P speeds coming at them from any 10” barrel. However, not for me, not anymore. I now would want a suppressor while hunting. Will we ever get reasonable suppressor laws, like they have them even in otherwise over-restricted western Europe? 2020?!? Vote!

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