The internet “experts” just can’t let this one go!
If you’re new to this discussion, please read this short article on the use of +P ammunition in Colt revolvers. Apparently, the fact that a manufacturer would dare tell a customer what kind of ammunition they should use rubs some people the wrong way!
The latest argument from the “experts” delves into Colt advertising history. Way back when, Colt’s advertisements stated that their small revolvers were suitable for use with the .38-44 “Heavy Duty” round, which was the predecessor to the .357 Magnum – but in a Special-length case.
When the Magnum was introduced, the .38-44 went away. It wasn’t until many years later that the more hotly loaded .38 Special +P made its appearance. It wasn’t a throwback, however – it was still lighter than the .38-44. (Think of the +P as being between the regular .38 Special and the .38-44 in terms of power, and you won’t be terribly far off.)
The “experts” quickly point out that the .38-44 is far more powerful than the .38 +P, and the fact that Colt advertised the use of .38-44 ammo in their guns is some sort of “proof“ that Colt’s last factory recommendations for proper loadings are somehow “wrong.“ They conclude from all of this that using unlimited amounts of +P ammunition in small frame Colts is perfectly fine.
Such opinions, aside from flying counter to those of the people who actually designed and constructed the gun, ignore certain realities of the times involved.
Yes, Colt did say in print ads that their guns were rated for the .38-44 round. It doesn’t say that the guns wouldn’t experience increased wear, however, nor did it say that they could use that load regularly! When one examines the ads, it is obvious Colt was saying the guns wouldn’t suffer catastrophic failure from firing those rounds, and not that there would be no long-term consequences from doing so. There is a difference!
It’s important to remember that, at the time, a) there were a huge number of trained Colt gunsmiths; b) Colt was producing, and had available, parts for all of the guns (including the frames); c) shipping restrictions, as in sending guns back to the factory, were non-existent making factory service far more affordable.
Finally, there was a different gun culture in existence. Today we think nothing of shooting a hundred rounds just in a quick trip to the range, but back then it just wasn’t like that. A Colt revolver, even in police service, might only see a hundred rounds a year. Outside of that, it was extremely common – perhaps the norm – to buy a new revolver and a box of ammunition, and a decade or two later still have more than half that box of ammo!
Handguns just weren’t shot all that much back then. Handgun hunting was virtually unknown, handgun sports (outside of regulation bullseye) didn’t exist, and handgun shooting as recreation wasn’t common. Handguns simply weren’t used as frequently, and under those conditions the very occasional cylinder of .38-44 rounds wasn’t going to hurt anything.
That’s why Colt makes the 3,000 round recommendation for the use of +P ammunition in their recent production revolvers. 3,000 rounds doesn’t sound like a lot to us, but even a police officer back in those days wouldn’t expect to shoot that much in his entire career.
Once you consider all of the facts, it becomes clear that there is no contradiction between what Colt said then and what they say now. Times have changed, and their recommendations have changed as well.
-=[ Grant ]=-