Regular readers know that I've been a reloader for two decades, and a shooter for five decades. I have a passing familiarity with ammunition, and shooting. I've loaded a lot of ammunition for my own use and I have some guns that have never fired a single round of what we call "factory" ammunition.
When I began Cowboy Fast Draw shooting two years ago, I considered the ammo to be a bit... odd. Basically, a .45 Long Colt case, drilled out to accept a shotgun primer, we stuff a wax bullet in the case mouth, drop a shotgun primer in the primer hole, and use the impulsive power of the shotgun primer to propel the wax bullet toward the target.
To say that the cartridge is a specialty cartridge and a low powered unit, is to put the bite on understatement. It's still dangerous, and no one wants to be shot with one, but it certainly isn't standard ammo. At the distances we shoot, it works just fine and it's very safe with just a minimum of preparation and training.
At a statewide sanctioned shoot, one of the rules is that the host supply the ammunition. The nickeled, specially produced cartridge brass is the ne plus ultra of the game, but they are expensive. At 80 cents per piece, it's not too bad to buy 50 or 100 pieces of brass and shoot the same ones for years. 100 cases will cost you 80 bucks, but they won't wear out, like regular cartridge brass. Keep them clean and you'll shoot them for years. Indeed, I"m still shooting the very first cases I ever bought, and by my estimation, we've used about 20,000 pieces of wax in those same two years.
Again, at a sanctioned shoot, the host supplies the ammo, and buying 10,000 cases will set you back about $8,000. That is certainly beyond the reach of many clubs, and some rather creative solutions have been tried. Believe me, I've tried them. So far, those solutions have been less than satisfactory. While it is not impossible to drill a standard .45 Colt case to accept a shotgun primer, While you basically drill a 1/4 inch hole, then you have to bevel a recess to that the primer sits flush with the case head.
I've done that as an experiment, and the reject percentage was high. Without very precise equipment, it's just not worth the hassle, so many of us use the standard CFDA cases. But, at a state-level match, it requires a lot of ammo, and if the cases aren't perfect, it leads to concerns.
So, now let's talk about the guns. We use single action revolvers that mimic the firearms of the 1880s. The Ruger New Vaquero dominates the line. It's a durable, strong action and has quite a following. Indeed, PawPaw has five of them, and they all work just fine. THIS IS NOT A CRITICISM of Ruger. But, in an attempt to make their guns as durable and safe as possible, they've added some bits and pieces that we don't find on the original Colt revolvers, or the Colt clones.
Below is a diagram of the standard Ruger action. The mainspring pushes a strut, which pushes the hammer, which strikes the transfer bar, which hits a spring-loaded firing pin, which (hpefully) hits the primer. And there's the rub. As fast as we push our revolvers, things wear and as the accumulation of wear, usage, and the inevitable grit that gets into things, we start to see light primer strikes. Again, this is not a hit on Ruger. The New Vaquero is a fine revolver.
In contrast, the Colt mechanism is fairly simple. It has its issues, but the firing process is simpler. The mainspring pushes the hammer, which has a hammer-mounted firing pin. The firing pin goes through a hole in the breech-face, which strikes the primer. It's pretty simple, and my Ubertis have this system. As a result, I can confidently shoot ammo that a Ruger NV might not shoot.
During a lull before one match with a fellow I respect and josh with, I noticed that he was inspecting the supplied ammo and making a small line of rejects on the ammo table. His very experienced, calibrated eyeball had led him to reject ammo for a variety of reasons.
I decided to get into his head. "Push that ammo over here." I asked him. "I'll use that in the match."
My hand-judge, a very experienced shooter from Texas asked me, "Are you going to shoot his rejects?"
"Absolutely," says I. "Matter of fact, if you've got one with a june-bug in it, give me that one first. I don't mind shooting june-bugs."
The hand-judge laughed and gave me a cartridge.
I won that match 3-1.