Sunday, October 19, 2014

Handguns for Horseback and Protection from Snakes: Comparing .45 LC and .357 Mag Snakeshot

I received a couple questions on handguns for horseback from the recent post about Horses and Rattlesnakes. Dan asked what I used to shoot the rattlesnake with. I used a Ruger Single Action Vaquero with a 4 3/4 inch barrel in .45 Long Colt caliber. I also have a Vaquero in 5 1/2 inch, same caliber. The advantage of a longer barrel is a longer sight radius and therefore theoretically you can be more accurate, and the longer barrel keeps snake shot together longer than a shorter barrel therefore you have a slightly longer effective range.

I use CCI Shotshell ammunition, typically called snakeshot.

Available at your local gun shop or maybe even Wal-Mart, CCI Shotshells come 10 cartridges to a box. Don't ask me why they don't sell them in 12 rounds boxes for two complete cylinders unless they are holding to the tradition that only five cartridges are loaded in a single action revolver with the hammer down on an empty cylinder.

They have several different calibers, but mainly I use:

.38 Spl/.357 Magnum Shotshell, which has a plastic cup loaded with 100 grains of #9 shot coming out the barrel at 1,000 fet per second, and
.45 Long Colt Shotshell, with 150 grains of #9 shot (which provides for about half again as many pellets than the .38 Spl/.357 Magnum shotshell), also exiting the barrel at 1,000 feet per second.

The picture at right shows the pattern of each round tested - the .45 Long Colt Snake Shot cartridge at the top target; and the .357 Magnum Snake Shot cartridge on the bottom target. You can see the advantage of the .45 LC given the same barrel length.

Jeff asked what gun I recommend carrying for snakes and varmints. Your three basic choices for carrying a handgun while horseback are a semi-automatic pistol; a double action revolver; or a single action revolver.

While many law enforcement officers on horseback carry a semi-auto handgun, if they have to use it, it will most likely be shooting it one handed, as they will be using their off hand to control the reins of their horse. Semi-automatic's handguns are designed to function (fire a round, extract then eject an empty case, then load another live cartridge) in a pretty firm grip. Shooting semi-autos in a loose grip with a bent elbow absorbs some of the energy needed for the gun to function therefore increasing the chances of a malfunction.

Double action revolvers, where one pull of the trigger cocks the hammer and releases it firing the cartridge, is in my opinion, a better and more reliable handgun for horseback. As a Conservation Law Enforcement Officer (called Army Range Riders) I carried a Double Action .357 Magnum Smith and Wesson Model 686 revolver. While I would always prefer to have a rifle, the .357 Magnum revolver was always with me. Sometimes, if I was doing something like checking fenceline in a grazing unit, or looking for some lost cows, I would often not carry a rifle, hence the need for a reliable handgun. But a rifle was always in my truck.

With a semi-auto or a double action revolver, you have to be aware of what is called "sympatheic reflex". Applied to shooting a gun horseback, an example would be pulling the trigger and firing a round with your strong hand, then maybe your horse jumping sideways or moving where you squeeze or pull the reins with your off hand and sympatheically you also squeeze the trigger again with your strong hand index finger having an accidential discharge. It is not uncommon for people having a handgun in one hand and opening a door with the other, having an accidental discharge due to sympathic reflex.

Single action (SA) revolvers require the hammer to be cocked, then the trigger pulled to fire each round. This is a very deliberate act and unless you are well practiced you won't do this effortlessly. SA revolvers in the .45 Long Colt caliber have an advantage for training horses so you can shoot off them (more than once at least) because this caliber (and gun type) is what Mounted Shooters use, and blank ammunition are readily available.

If I could only carry one gun on horseback it would be a lever action rifle in .30-30 as Hornady makes a LeveRevolution cartridge in .30-30 with near .308 performance. If I could only have one handgun to carry horseback it would likely be a Double Action revolver in the .45 Long Colt caliber, but these are pretty scare. A Double Action .357 magnum would be next on my list, but I would not feel under gunned having only a SA revolver but it would have to be in .45 Long Colt caliber. A couple hours of dry firing and most people would be passable with a SA revolver.

In the video below, I have testing the spread pattern of .357 Magnum shotshell versus .45 Long Colt shotshell to give a visible to people on each cartridge and the shot pattern at a realistic distance using guns of the same barrel length. You should pattern test your shotshell to determine what the density of the shot pattern is as a realistic range that you would be shooting a snake. Again a longer barreled gun will hold the shot together at longer ranges compared to a shorter barreled gun. Also, each gun is going to be just a little bit different in the point of aim, point of impact for the center of the shot pattern.

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