Gun Experiment: .45 ACP From a Taurus Raging Judge

The Raging Judge from Taurus is an intriguing beast, a huge, heavy revolver that fires the powerful .454 Casull cartridge, and can also launch .45 Colt and .45 Schofield along with both 2.5″ and 3″ .410 shotshells. That versatility makes it interesting in its own right, but . . .

.45 Casull is expensive, usually priced well over a dollar to three dollars a round. And .45 Colt and Schofield cost a pretty penny, too. They go for around sixty cents per round, as compared to .45 ACP, which can be bought for as low as about 31 cents per round.

What’s a plinker to do? Are there options for inexpensive range ammo in this bore size? Actually, yes, a number of them, but I decided to address the most glaring elephant in the room, the .45 ACP. The Smith & Wesson Governor can chamber .45 ACP, .45 Colt, and the .410 shotshell, after all,  so I wondered if a Judge, specifically a Raging Judge could do it, too.

Well, the answer is yes, and also yes-ish. .45 ACP is a rimless cartridge, and won’t generally just work in a .45 Colt revolver; the .45 Colt is a much longer cartridge, so the chamber is significantly deeper, and a .45 ACP will just drop into a .45 Colt chamber and disappear. For it to work properly, you need to use moonclips, which are small steel brackets that hold the rimless cartridge in place so that it won’t slip into the chamber. The moonclip positions the round so that it headspaces properly, and the firing pin can reach the primer. It also helps the revolver’s extractor to remove the spent casings.

The problem here is that .45 Colt weapons typically need to be modified to be able to accomodate moonclips. There are companies that will machine out a recessed area in your .45 Colt revolver’s cylinder, to make space for the moonclips. The Governor comes from the S&W factory with its cylinder already machined with the appropriate recesses. The Judge doesn’t.

Modifying your Judge for moonclips will cost money, take time, and, frankly, with something like the Raging Judge (and it’s extremely high-pressure .454 Casull chambering), I just didn’t feel that shaving away some of the cylinder would have been the best idea. It might work, sure, but I didn’t want to modify the revolver if I didn’t have to. It works great with the powerful .454 Casull as-is, and I didn’t want to rock that particular boat.

I contacted Steve Crawford at Ranch Products to ask him what he thought of the idea of using moonclips in the Raging Judge. He thought it’d work fine so long as I could find a thin enough moonclip. Most are just too thick; if you load up some .45 ACP rounds in a conventional moonclip the cylinder won’t close. There isn’t enough space between the back of the cylinder and the frame.

What we would need would be a thin enough moonclip that it would take up no more space than the thickness of the rim on a .45 Colt cartridge — and that includes the space occupied by the rear rim of a .45 ACP round. Some quick calculations told us that we’d need a moon clip no thicker than 0.02″.

The second problem would be to find a six-shot moonclip that fits the Raging Judge, with its extremely thick cylinder walls. Steve makes moonclips for the Governor, and the Governor has a six-shot cylinder, but that six-shot moonclip didn’t quite work. The spacing on the Raging Judge’s chambers is a little further apart than other revolvers, because the chamber walls are thicker. (They use more steel to handle the much higher pressures of the high-power .454 Casull round). So the six-shot moonclip was close, but no cigar. However, the Governor also uses two-round partial moon clips (essentially 1/3 of a six-round moon clip). And that worked out just great. The spacing between the chambers was a near exact fit for the Raging Judge.

Why the Raging Judge? Why not a regular Judge? That’s a good question, and the answer is — safety. Okay, it’s not inherently safe to go shooting a different caliber out of a gun that wasn’t designed for it, so it seems odd to bring up safety as a concern. But you have to worry about it because the .45 ACP is a much higher pressure cartridge than the .45 Colt.

The standard Judge is built to handle the .45 Colt, which (according to SAAMI) has a peak pressure of 14,000 PSI. The .45 ACP is a ballistic twin to the .45 Colt, offering comparable performance, but in a smaller package. That means it has to generate higher pressure. How much higher? A lot.

The standard .45 ACP cartridge utilizes a full 50% more pressure than a .45 Colt, at 21,000 PSI. If you go to .45 ACP +P, it’s even more of an increase at 23,000 PSI. To me, it seems pretty risky put a 21,000 or 23,000 PSI cartridge into a chamber that was only built around a 14,000 PSI cartridge. For that reason, I think running .45 ACP in a regular Judge is a really bad idea and I wouldn’t consider it.

The Raging Judge, however, is built much tougher — tough enough to handle the 65,000 PSI delivered by the .454 Casull. The steel is heavy and thick, the cartridge walls are much beefier than a regular Judge. To me it was obvious that the Raging Judge could handle anything that the .45 ACP could throw at it, whether regular or +P pressure. Or more, as it turns out.

So I had a moon clip that had the proper spacing, but was too thick. A few minutes with a flat-face grinder resolved that issue, yielding a thinner clip that measured about 0.019″. It gets a bit flimsy at that thinness, so it’s not a robust solution, but it works. It held the cartridges securely, they fit, they headspaced properly, and the cylinder closed and locked up.

Firing it was effortless; it worked exactly as you would expect and hope. But there’s a problem. It turns out that firing .45 ACP out of a .45 Colt (or .454 Casull) chamber, results in a big drop in velocity. How much? Well, to find out, I tried to use the same ammo (or as identical as I could get) in both chamberings.

Hornady Critical Defense. Hornady makes Critical Defense in .45 Colt and in .45 ACP. Both use the same 185-grain bullet, and they’re rated on the box at nearly identical velocities (900 and 920 fps). I fired them both back-to-back; the .45 Colt version threw its 185-grain bullet at an average of 1,002 fps. The .45 ACP version, which should be equally powerful, only managed 887 fps. That’s a pretty big dropoff. What gives?

I dug into it a little further by comparing .45 ACP from of a native .45 ACP firearm, and also out of the Raging Judge. And yes, the velocity dropoff was substantial. As an example, I shot 230-grain CCI Blazer Brass .45 ACP out of a 4.6″-barrel Glock 21, and out of the 6.5″-barrel Raging Judge. You’d think the Judge’s longer barrel would produce higher velocity, but just the opposite happened.

The Glock 21 delivered 831 fps and 353 ft/lbs of energy. The same ammo from the Raging Judge mustered only 705 fps, for 254 ft/lbs. Curious. So then I tried a different brand, Academy’s Monarch Steel 230-grain. I fired this from a 3.8″-barrel Glock 30, it delivered 752 fps (and 289 ft/lbs of energy). Same ammo in the Raging Judge with moon clips managed only 634 fps, and 205 ft/lbs of energy.

Why was it so awful? Well, it largely comes down to the old adage about there being “no free lunch.” Optimal performance is obtained from a cartridge when it’s used in a firearm that’s designed for it. When you put a cartridge in a different chamber, you can expect different (usually worse) performance. In this case, I believe the drop off is because the Raging Judge’s chambers are so very long (to accomodate the almost 1.4″ long case of the .454 Casull).

The .45 ACP is relatively short, with a case length of just just under 0.9″. So there’s a half an inch of chamber where there’s effectively free space all around the bullet, when using a .45 ACP in a .454 Casull chamber. That’s area where the gunpowder gases can blow by the bullet instead of building up pressure behind it. Now, with a little forward progress the bullet will seal the chamber, but until that happens, there are expanding gases that are “lost” by escaping around the bullet while it’s in that extended-case chamber.

All of which raises a question: how does the Governor handle it? Well, apparently, the same way. One of my viewers was kind enough to run the exact same test (.45 Colt Critical Defense against .45 ACP Critical Defense) in his Governor, over a chronograph. From the same firearm, similarly-loaded ammo delivered significantly different velocities. From the .45 Colt, he got an average of 863 fps (306 ft/lbs) but from the .45 ACP it only delivered 704 fps (204 ft/lbs). The Governor has a shorter chamber (2.5″ vs. the RJM’s 3.0″) and a shorter barrel (2.75″ vs. the RJM’s 6.50″) so I didn’t expect the results to be the same, but it’s interesting to see that the same issue affects the Governor, and to perhaps an even more significant degree.

If the theory of gas blow-by turns out to be accurate, it’s possible that running .45 ACP might actually not be dangerous in something like the regular Judge, if that blow-by results in lowering the effective pressure from the 21,000 stated load down to something that the Judge can handle. I wouldn’t know how to measure that to know what is necessary, but if that’s what’s happening, the pressure excesses may not be nearly as much as they seemed, and that may potentially mean that it’s not as dangerous as it might initially seem. But…yeah, I’m not gonna be the guinea pig to find out. Don’t try this at home, kids.

Speaking of velocity — since .45 ACP does work, what about higher velocity variants? What about .45 Super? What about (dare I say it) the mighty .460 Rowland? Well, heck yeah…I had to try it. I have a box of Underwood .45 Super that’s rated at 1100 fps on the box. It loaded and fired fine, and delivered a surprisingly high 1,061 fps. That was quite impressive, and delivered a healthy 575 ft/lbs of energy — that’s right up there with 10mm.

And .460 Rowland? It’s an ultra high pressure cartridge, at 40,000 PSI — it’s almost twice as much pressure as the .45 ACP. However, it’s still below what the Raging Judge is rated for, so … yep, I loaded up some Underwood .460 Rowland ammo. It’s rated on the box for 1400 fps. They fired fine, and they were definitely snappy; recoil was substantial. It felt like a Glock 29 firing 10mm ammo. Consider that the Raging Judge weighs 72 ounces, and normally soaks up recoil extremely effectively, so feeling that much kick was a bit of a surprise. The velocity was pretty good at 1,231 fps on average — not quite up to the 1,400 rated on the box, but still really quite good, and the kinetic energy was 774 ft/lbs, right up there with the hottest of 10mm loads. Except, of course, that this was a bigger and heavier bullet that was delivering that much energy. It doesn’t come close to the .454 Casull, but it still packs a heck of a wallop.

Bottom line, can you run .45 ACP out of the Raging Judge? With an appropriately thin moon clip, yes you can. It will work, and it will expel a bullet. The ammo will be quite a bit less expensive than .45 Colt, and easier to find in stores, so it might seem like a reasonable solution for cheap plinking ammo. But the tradeoffs are that you’ll get less performance than you would have from .45 Colt ammo, and perhaps incur a notable decrease in accuracy as well. Plus you’ll have to deal with acquiring, grinding, and managing 1/3-cylinder moonclips. And loading means snapping cartridges into moonclips and may involve needing a tool to extract the spent shells from of the moonclip.

Is it worth it? Meh. For that amount of hassle, you might want to just start reloading .45 Colt, so you can make up your own ammo and slash the cost, while incurring none of the hassles or performance loss. Then again, if the dreaded zombie apocalypse does arise and ammo disappears from store shelves, it sure is nice to know that your Raging Judge can handle at least three more calibers than you thought it would!

comments

  1. avatar Mannie says:

    Wanted: A .454 Casull Raging Circuit Judge carbine!

  2. avatar jans says:

    Isn’t the SAAMI pressure measurement CUP rather than PSI?

    1. avatar Sian says:

      SAAMI can be measured in either. CUP is the old way and is a pain in the ass. PSI is measured with piezoelectric transducers.

  3. avatar Paul McCain says:

    Geeky gun goodness!!

    Interesting, thanks.

    1. avatar Max says:

      This article makes me want to OC a Raging Judge…

  4. avatar Chris. says:

    See now what I think the Raging Judge needs is a quick detach Full Choke for that .410; (thinking something like the Hornady Lock N Load Bushing system) —

    1. avatar Mannie says:

      That’s part of why I want a Raging Circuit Judge carbine. The .45 colt carbine has interchangeable choke tubes, including a straight rifled choke that kills the spin from the rifled barrel — makes .410 useful at small game distances.

  5. avatar Ralph says:

    A very cool experiment.

  6. avatar Sian says:

    Any advantage to reloading for this with 45 auto rim brass? I’m thinking no.

    1. avatar Southern Cross says:

      That’s one way to avoid the hassle of moon clips (I couldn’t remember the caliber designation). In addition to the propellant gas blowing past the bullet in the chamber, what about additional velocity loss from the cylinder/frame gap?

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        How much does the cylinder/frame gap on a revolver cost in terms of performance?

        10-20 pct?

        1. avatar TruthTellers says:

          Depends on the size of the gap, but it’s not anywhere near 10%.

    2. avatar TruthTellers says:

      The rim on .45 AR is just about .025″ too thick to be used in Raging Judges and Governors. Even if the .45 Auto Rim could fit, It would be better to use .45 Colt anyway as it has a longer case and thus higher velocities and is probably easier to reload.

  7. avatar Geoff PR says:

    How about cutting a ‘cylinder shim’ from fired brass to take up the empty space in front of the .45 ACP?

    1. avatar nick yockim says:

      Not a good idea. I tried it with a colt army and it pushed the shim into the cylinder gap and locked up the gun, Hell of a time getting it apart. Nice try but do not do it!

  8. avatar VaqueroJustice says:

    Didn’t taurus used to sell moon clips for the judge ?
    Has anyone tried .45 auto rim in a judge or raging judge ?
    Instead of moon clips, I’m told that silicone O rings can be placed in the extractor groove of
    a .45acp to hold them in a .45 colt chamber, might be worth trying.

    1. avatar TruthTellers says:

      I wouldn’t swap brass for silicone to headspace a round and expect it to not fracture under the recoil.

      Besides, who prefers silicone inserts to the “natural stuff” anyway?

  9. avatar Former Water Walker says:

    Interesting experiment. I don’t see the point but isn’t the raging judge for killin’ and not for plinkin”? Like 2 legged and 4 legged critters…

  10. avatar TruthTellers says:

    ShootingTheBull410 forgot one caliber the Raging Judge can also shoot: the .45 GAP.

  11. avatar percynjpn says:

    Very interesting, as usual.

  12. avatar Kk in wa says:

    I was recently looking this up while drooling over the s&w wondering these same issues. The blow-by being my main source of wonder, so awesome and informative article.

    I still wonder how much the difference of weight of the projectile vs. muzzle energy matters at such a weight for short ranges (before the air has much chance to take its toll). It really doesn’t matter much, given the use case of in expensive fun and training on controls.

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