COLT DAR CALIBER 41 LONG COLT 

How I got started with the 41 Long Colt

GUN PHOTO IN THE WORKS # 1

1892   New Navy  .41 cal.  6" original bright blue FINISH.

THE COLT 1892 DOUBLE ACTION REVOLVER WAS VERY POPULAR SIDE ARM FOR THE POLICE AND MILITARY TO THE EARLY 1900'S THEN THE COLT 45 ACP BECAME AVAILABLE AND WAS CHOSEN BY THE MILITARY.

THE 38 SPECIAL CALIBER IN THE REVOLVERS QUICKLY BECAME THE STANDARD
FIREARM OF THE POLICE.

 

1892 DAR   New Navy .41 cal.  6" original bright blue FINISH.

MY FATHER WAS ON THE POLICE FORCE IN ABOUT 1915 AND THE WAY I UNDERSTAND IT THE 41 LC WAS POPULAR AT THAT TIME AND WAS LATER REPLACED WITH THE CURRENT DAY 38 SPECIAL. WHEN HE DIED I BECAME THE OWNER OF HIS COLT DAR 41 LC. I BOUGHT A TOTAL OF 2 BOXES OF AMMO AND THEN ACQUIRED A IDEAL 310 NUTCRACKER AND SOME LYMAN MOLDS AND STARTED ROLLING MY OWN AMMO. THAT GOT ME HOOKED AND BEFORE YOU KNOW IT I WAS A FULL FLEDGED HAND LOADER. MY UNCLE HELPED ME GET STARTED AND TOOK ME UNDER HIS GUIDANCE AND HE TOOK ME TO WYOMING DEER HUNTING WHEN I WAS ONLY FIFTEEN AND I SHOT MY FIRST DEER WITH A 257 ROBERTS REMINGTON 721 OR 722 WITH ROUNDS I HAND LOADED. I HAD TO HAVE MY OWN RIFLE THEN SO I BOUGHT A NEW REMINGTON 725 IN 270 CALIBER, THEN A 222 IN A SAVAGE 340. THIS PAGE IS ABOUT THE 41 LC SO I WILL LET THE FELLOW WHO WROTE THE INFORMATION BELOW GIVE YOU ALL THE DETAILS ON THE 41 LC.

below are recent photos of each gun

 

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2 ARE AVAILABLE 41 LONG COLT WITH DIES AND BRASS AND SOME FACTORY LOADED AMMO

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I SHOT THIS IN 1959 AND IT WAS $10.00 TO HAVE IT MOUNTED AND $8.40 TO HAVE IT SHIPPED 500 MILES BY THE UP RAIL ROAD. I TOOK THIS PHOTO 7/23/2003. THE 41 LC HOOKED ME ON GUNS.

THE FOLLOWING WAS EMAILED TO ME. THANK YOU

Everything you wanted to know about the 41 Long Colt 
(and probably more)

* How I got started with the 41 Long Colt
* How to form low-cost 41 Long Colt cases

How I got started with the 41 Long Colt

It all started when I found an Ideal 310 nutcracker reloading tool for the 41 Colt in the corner of an old gunshop. This was an old one with steel handles, 5 dies, a hole in the handle for the case instead of a removable ring, and was stamped "41 Colt" on the side. It was not very expensive, so I bought it. Little did I know what I was getting into.

The 41 Long Colt cartridge was created in 1877 for Colt's double action "Thunderer" revolver. The front of the bullet was about 0.406"OD, approximately the same diameter as the barrel grooves and the O.D. of the case. The bullet lubrication was outside of the case. The base of the bullet was smaller in diameter at 0.388"OD to fit inside the case. This is known as a "heel-base" bullet. In other words, the bullet was a lot like a really big .22LR.

After a while, Colt reduced the entire diameter of the bullet to 0.386" and lengthened the brass case in order to put the bullet and its lubrication inside the case. The bore of the revolver was reduced slightly to match the diameter of the more popular 38-40 at 0.401" groove diameter. The soft lead bullet was made with a large hollow base like Civil War Minie'-Balls. The intent was for the base of the bullet to expand with the pressure of the gunpowder to grip the rifling. Surprisingly, it worked pretty well. Although it will never be a target gun, the accuracy is adequate for close-range self-defense.

After a while, I ran across a fairly cheap Colt 1892 Army/Navy revolver in 41LC, so naturally I had to buy it (to use the reloading dies I already owned of course). It was in poor shape (which is why it was cheap), but it cleaned up pretty good. There is still some pitting in the bore, but the rifling is fairly strong. Then I had to find bullets and brass. Bullets were not much of a problem. Several places sell them (sources listed below). All seem to be made from the same type of Rapine hollow-base mold so the only difference is cost and how fast they fill the order.

Obtaining brass was something entirely different. Starline has said that they are going to produce 41LC brass "soon" for at least the last 5 or 6 years. Nothing firm yet. Rumors are that they are nearer to producing it, but the projected price (if and when it ever arrives) is expected to be approximately 50 cents each. Not cheap. Many places sell Bertram brass from Australia. It costs about $1.00 per case wherever you find it. Original fired brass usually runs a 50 to 75 cents on the auction boards and varies greatly in quality. A fair percentage of the used brass is balloon-head, black powder brass. Stay away from it unless it is dirt cheap (not likely) -- much of it is brittle and it is heartbreaking to see a 50 to 75 cent case break in two the first time it is sized. Don't even bother with anything that has green (verdigris) on it. Also, the primer pocket in a balloon-head case gets loose very quickly.

There are a few places that sell brass made from 30-30 cases for nearly the same cost as the Bertram. Doing this yourself requires a heavy forming-die/bench-press and also a lathe too machine down the rim. Do NO try to form a 30-30 case with ordinary loading dies. They will stick (regardless of the lube) and may damage your very expensive and hard to find 41LC dies. All loaded cartridges are collectors items. They seem to be running $1.25 to $2.00 for shootable cartridges right now. Except for a small run made by Winchester in the 1960's-70's (for L.M. Burney Co. of Texas. But don't call -- they have been sold out for a long time), the last 41LC cartridges were made in the 1920's-30's.

I started looking at case dimensions and noticed that the .38 Special case is almost exactly the same length as the 41LC. The rim thickness and rim diameter are almost exactly the same, too. However, the case diameter is too small by 0.026". I wondered if it would be possible to fireform .38 Special brass to 41LC size. The advantage of this is that the .38 Special brass is dirt cheap, you can use standard loading dies to form them, and do not have to machine the rim afterwards. I tried several experiments before I found out how to make .38 Special and .357 Magnum brass work.

Incidentally, I have since found out that the exact length of a 41 Long Colt case is unimportant. All the 41LC handguns I have inspected have straight through chambers. There is no throat. Only the case diameter and rim diameter are important. I have a selection of original factory brass now that ranges from 0.932" long (for heel-base bullets) to 1.132" long (for hollow-base bullets). Because the 41 Colt chambers were bored straight through, anything that is loaded shorter than the cylinder will work. For example, loading a "normal" length 1.132" case with a heel-base bullet makes a cartridge that is too long to fit in an 1892 Colt cylinder. However, I have some virgin Remington/Peters brass that was originally manufactured at 1.010" long. When it is loaded with either a hollow-base or heel-base bullet, the finished cartridge will fit the gun. In addition, a few of my factory cases have pockets for large pistol primers instead of the usual small pistol primers. Evidently, there were not very many standards for this cartridge.

Anyway, the following is what I did to form low cost 41 Long Colt brass.

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How to form low-cost 41 Long Colt cases

1. Start with .38 Special brass or shorten .357 Magnum brass. I used a Lee .38 Special trimmer in a power drill to speed it up (the difference between the length of the 41LC and .38 Special cases is only .030" and after expanding it is virtually zero).

2. Anneal the brass. I did this by inserting a long 5/16" steel rod in the mouth of the case, holding the case upside down, and rotating it in a propane torch flame starting from the center of the case and working toward the case mouth. When there was a noticeable change in color (brownish starting to turn dull cherry red -- bright cherry red or orange is too much), I dropped it in a bucket of water to stop the heat from migrating completely through the base (head) of the cartridge. Even if the head softens, this is not particularly dangerous at 41LC pressures. The primer pocket will expand on firing and make the case useless in one or two reloadings. After annealing, parts of the case will be discolored (brownish). This has no effect on
it and will lessen with each cleaning.

3. I put a .38 Special case holder in my press and screwed in a Redding 41LC neck expanding die (my wife bought me a Redding set for Christmas). The Ideal 310 nutcracker will work, but it is MUCH easier 

4. Put the annealed case in the case holder and raise it into the neck expanding die. Do it gently and it will expand straight and even from 0.357" ID to 0.386" ID in the front 1/2" of case. Remove it from the die.

5. Roll the case on a flat surface. If it did not expand evenly all around, you will see it "wiggle" as it rolls. If it wiggles, throw it
out. The primer will not line up with the firing pin if it did not expand straight. There are VERY few crooked cases with the Redding die, but the Ideal nutcracker turns out more mistakes. It is because the hole for the 41LC case in the handle is larger than the .38 Special case and the case "tilts" easily. This is not a defect of the Ideal 310. It loads 41LC cases perfectly. That is what it was designed for. It was not designed for expanding .38 Special cases.

6. Prime the cases as usual. Use a .38 Special shellholder.

7. Add powder. I use 3.3gr of Bullseye in my 1892 Colt.

8. Seat a bullet. I use 185gr Rapine HB-RNL bullets which are available from several sources. You cannot seat it as deeply as normal. The neck expander is not long (deep) enough, so the expanded part of the case is too short. There are three lube grooves in the Rapine bullets. You can seat it so that two lube grooves are inside the case and one is outside the case. I just screw out the bullet seating bolt a little, but leave the crimp setting in place.

9. They look strange when you are done loading them. There is a larger diameter bullet and case in the front and a smaller diameter case behind that. Don't worry. You can load them in the cylinder without spacers in the rear or pointing the gun upward or anything else unusual. Just load them into the gun like you would any normal 41LC case and shoot them. If they are straight, they will fire, and they seem to be about as accurate as "real" 41LC cartridges even in the "pre-fireformed" stage.

10. What you have now is an expanded (fireformed) .38 Special case that looks just like a real 41LC case in the front 3/4 of the case. It gently necks down to a standard .38 Special rim in the rear 1/4. It is sort of like a large extractor groove for a rimless case. The 41LC is not really rimless, but it does have a VERY small rim. There is no longer any hint of where the neck expanding stopped and the fireforming started.

11. Reload them as normal 41LC cases from now on. Use a .38 Special shellholder. BTW, in spite of what the reloading companies say, a .38 Special shellholder will not accept a REAL 41LC case. You have to use a motodremel tool to open up the inside slightly (you don't need to do this for the formed cases). Don't overdo it. The 41LC rim is very small.

12. I have not had any cases fail during firing using this method. However, if you wish to do the same, you do it at your own risk (just like handloading is done at your own risk). At this writing, I have reloaded the first ones I fireformed ten or more times. Like any case, it will eventually crack at the neck from repeatedly forming, neck expanding, and crimping. However, it looks like they will last a long time at 41LC pressures. I have not had any let go (split) near the base.

Reloading data

Reloading the 41LC is actually pretty easy once you find all the components. After all, it is a straight-forward, straight-sided case. Much of the reloading information I have on the 41LC is from two very old Lyman reloading manuals. I have only found a couple of mentions in shooting books about loading the 41LC, but they match the reloading manual. Although I went up to the maximum in stages, I went back to a little less (4.5gr for the Unique and 3.3gr for the Bullseye) for the 1892DA.

The Unique load gave poor accuracy. That was surprising to me. Unique has always been "old reliable" for me. The best groups were about 3-1/2" to 4" at 15 yards offhand and were high and a little to the left. I believe that Unique is too slow to expand the hollow base of the bullet quickly enough.

Bullseye was better, in-between 2-1/2" and 3", and a little high on the black. I also tried using plastic shot buffer as a filler with the Bullseye. If you use filler make sure there is enough so that the bullet compresses the filler when the bullet is seated. If this is not done, the filler and powder will mix with handling, leading to variable ignition up to and including hangfires. Also reduce the powder charge whenever you use filler. The weight of the filler adds to the weight of the bullet when figuring pressure. This is an important consideration with an old gun. Anyway, there was no noticeable difference in accuracy between the loads with and without filler

I have also fired a slightly compressed case of FFFg black powder in it. I didn't weigh them once I found the right size scoop -- one that fills the case to where the bullet compresses the powder slightly when it is seated. Black powder gave by far the best accuracy and the most recoil of any of the 41LC load I tried (this is with old balloon-head cases). It's best groups were only 2" at 15 yards offhand and they were centered in the black. I tried a few groups at 25 yards, but this gun and cartridge are not well suited for anything more than 15 yards. It is not a target gun or a hunting gun, but it is certainly adequate for close range self defense. But more importantly, it is fun to shoot. More fun than it has a right to be. I don't understand why, but maybe it is because it shouldn't work at all. But it does work and it works surprisingly well.

The amount of BP that 41LC cases can hold varies considerably. From tests, the different kinds of brass hold the following amounts of FFFg BP. However, keep in mind that the amount of BP will vary depending on how much pressure you use to compress the powder. Be very careful not to damage the hollow base of the soft lead bullet, though.

1. Original balloon-head BP case (0.932") for heel-base bullets = 18.5gr.
2. Original balloon-head BP case (1.132") for hollow-base bullets = 21.5gr.
3. Original solid-head BP case (1.132") for hollow-base bullets = 19.5gr.
4. Formed .38 Special cases for hollow-base bullets = 18.0 gr.
5. Formed .357 Magnum cases (unshortened) for hollow-base bullets = 20.5gr.

The unshortened .357 Magnum case is longer than the originals, but will fit some 41LC handguns because the chambers are bored straight through. However, the OAL loaded length must fit in the cylinder. That means it won't fit the 1892 Colt (and probably not the Thunderer). It will fit an 1873 Colt, Colt clone, or any handgun made with those dimensions. I am currently having a Uberti Bisley Colt-clone in 38-40 changed over to 41LC. The gunsmith is rechambering a .357 Magnum cylinder to 41LC. The unshortened .357 Magnum cases should fit it and come close to holding the original amount of BP.

The only problem with BP is the cleaning. It is filthy. I highly recommend using special "BP" cleaning solutions instead of the usual oil-based solvents to clean BP. BP also not welcome in some indoor ranges. In fact, it got me kicked out of an indoor range once and the owner eyed me suspiciously when shooting Unique and Bullseye for several visits afterward. Pyrodex P was between smokeless and BP when it came to fouling, but did not have BP's accuracy. Incidentally, the accuracy tests were made with real (original) solid-head 41LC brass, not fireformed brass, although I have not seen any noticeable difference between the two. Also, I have not found any practical difference between smokeless lube and BP lube when used with smokeless powder. Do use BP lube (it is softer) if you are shooting BP.

I have also tried heel-base bullets, but have not had any success with any powder, charge, type of case, or method of crimping. I personally don't think that heel-base bullets are worth pursuing. The original Lyman/Ideal molds are oversized for later guns. It is difficult to even chamber outside lubed 0.406"OD bullets in a 0.410"ID chamber. Crimping is difficult, too. If you want to try them yourself, you need to shorten the cases. The originals are 0.932" long. Keep in mind that there these lengths are approximate. There is more variation in 41LC cases than any other case I have worked with.

Lyman molds

* 386176 which is a 0.388/0.406"OD, 163gr RNL, heel-base for the 41Short Colt, but will work in the 41LC.
* 386177 which is a 0.388/0.406"OD, 196gr RNL, heel-base for the 41LC.
* 386178 which is a 0.386"OD, 200gr RNL, hollow-base for the 41LC
(recommended, but make sure that they are made from very soft alloy --hard alloy will NOT work).


The Colt Official Police is a common enough firearm. Colt made them from 1926 to 1969 and in that time made about half a million of them. The most common caliber is .38 Special, though they were also made in .22 Long Rifles, .32/20 and .41 Long Colt. I actually have one in .22 Long Rifle, with the six-inch barrel. It might also be noted that the predecessor to the Official Police was called the Army Special and that it was mechanically identical. Colt changed the name when they gave up trying to sell revolvers to the military. Also, the famous Colt Python revolver used the same frame and mechanism as the Official Police, as did the somewhat more rare Colt Commando.

PLEASE EMAIL ME AS I TRAVEL A LOT AND MY VOICE MAIL GETS OVERLOADED. SIDENVER@YAHOO.COM

 
 
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