Big Bore Snubbie -- The 1917, Spokhandguns Style


Staff member
This is the story about an N-frame snub-nosed revolver chambered in .45 ACP that was made back in the early 1980s by Dave Ewer of Spokhandguns. He started with a Model 58 frame (fixed sight .41 Magnum), which were readily available and surprisingly affordable in the late 1970s (the police market hadn’t taken off for this gun quite like S&W had hoped). To this Dave fitted a S&W Model 1917 cylinder chambered for .45 ACP. Like most 1917 cylinders, this one has .455” throats. Next, he fitted a 3” .45 caliber bull barrel (cut down from a Model 1955 barrel?), with a new front sight blade pinned into the rib. The whole package was then bead-blasted, engraved, and hard-chromed. Dave chose to regulate the front sight height for Federal Gold Medal Match ammunition (i.e. 185 grain SWC at 780 fps). Federal primers are soft and Dave wanted this gun to have the silkiest smoothest DA ever, so he gave this gun an action job that had to be felt to be believed – the hammer weight (32 ounces) was just barely enough to get Federal primers to go bang reliably. I bought this gun from his estate a while back, and found that while the DA was indeed silky smooth, unfortunately other brands of primers were only 50% to 80% reliable with this weak hammer fall. So I sadly and somewhat reluctantly removed the mainspring and trigger return spring, and replaced them with springs from another N-frame .45 revolver that Dave had done a “duty action job” to, and this little .45 ACP snubbie now has a 40 ounce hammer-fall, and it goes bang every time, with all brands of primers. DA is still smooth, and lighter than factory, and highly shootable, but nothing like it was. I must confess, I had to chuckle to myself when I saw some of the things Dave had done to achieve that honey-sweet DA, but I also wanted to cry when I took it apart. It was truly a beautiful action job, but it was unreliable with anything other Federal primers…

Ewer 45 ACP3.jpg

I needed to find a good cast bullets for this gun. I tried a variety of loads that I had sitting on the shelf, using bullets like the 185 grain Lyman 452374 Devastator HP, the 200 grain H&G #68, the 200 grain Lyman 452460, the 200 grain Lee RNFP, the 210 grain Lyman 452372 HP (that Erik Ohlen had made for me), the 225 grain NOE HP, the 230 grain Lee TC, the 235 grain Lyman 452423, the 238 grain NEI TC, and the 250 grain H&G #503 Keith SWC.

What did I learn?

The gun groups very well with a wide variety of loads, but it only shoots 185-200 grain bullets to the point of aim with the fixed sights. Anything heavier than about 210 grains shoots well above point of aim at 50 feet (this is unfortunate because this little gun could be very well served by the 235 grain Lyman 452423 that Elmer Keith designed explicitly for the 1917 .45ACP/AR).

I also learned that I needed to design a new bullet….

The perfect bullet needed to be fat to fit the throats, needed to be light to shoot to the sights, needed a short, smaller diameter forward driving band to insure easy chambering of loaded moon clips as the 6 forward driving bands entered the 6 throats, and I wanted a smooth tapered ogive (i.e. no SWC shoulders) to feed smoothly into the mouths of the cylinder (i.e. RNFP or TC).

I can hear some of you asking, “Why not use the Lee 200 grain RN-FP?” Good question, I’m glad you asked. I have the Lee, and I tried it in this gun. It groups pretty well, and shoots more or less to the sights. BUT the forward driving band is full diameter (i.e. about .455”), and it’s thick enough that when I size the bullets .454” I have to force the loaded moon clips into place, and commonly the cylinder binds up in the gun. When I size the bullets .452” they chamber smoothly, but aren’t as accurate. What I wanted was .454+” driving bands, coupled with a very narrow forward driving band that was no larger than .453”.

Also, the Lee bullet has a larger meplat than is needed, and the loaded moon clip (i.e. 6 rounds at once) doesn’t feed into cylinder quite as smoothly as I would like.

As my buddy Dave might have said, “I would like a B-52 flying overhead to be able to drop a loaded moon-clip from 30,000 feet, and have it drop smoothly into place, ready to shoot.” (Dave really liked speed-loaders and moon-clips, and because of this he favored the RNFP ogive/meplat since there was very little to hang up on the chamber mouths as the 6 bullets entered the cylinder)

I turned to Mountain Molds online design tool and drew up my vision of the perfect bullet for this gun. Dimensions .455+” driving bands, .453” forward driving band (and only .050” wide), 65% meplat on a RNFP (i.e. rounded ogive for smooth feeding), and a small crimp groove since these loads would not require a heavy crimp.

MM 45 200 RNFP.jpg

Once again, Dan made exactly what I asked him to make, and the mould cast smoothly and easily. My first casting session was with a fairly hard alloy (BHN of about 16-18) simply because that’s what I had in the pot. They dropped from the blocks at 195 grains, with driving bands at .455” and .453”, just like I had asked for, and they sized to .454” easily. My Dillon was already set up for loading .45 ACP target loads, so I adjusted the powder measure for 5.0 grains of Bullseye, and adjusted the seating die for the desired depth and a moderate crimp in the crimp groove.

Ammo loaded with the MM 45 200 RNFP chambers effortlessly, groups well, and shoots to the sights. I haven’t found any B-52s flying overhead at 30,000 feet, but I’m pretty sure that Dave would have really liked this bullet design.

Spokhandguns 45 ACP and MM target.jpg

I haven’t chronographed this load yet, but I suspect that it should be running about 850 fps. A nice comfortable all-round .45 ACP load.

I love it when a plan comes together!
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