by Steve Ostrem
For a handgunner going afield to hunt large game, the tool of choice has traditionally been a large caliber revolver. Thanks to the efforts of both factory R&D and the developments of custom gunsmiths through the years, we now have big shiny 5 and 6 shooters in calibers from .44 all the way up to .500 available from a variety of sources. And what about those marvelous single shot pistols like the Contender, chambered in everything from .17 to .500? Any way you look at it, handgun hunters have never had it so good. That is, unless you happen to prefer automatic pistols. Well, things have changed. Now, with the .460 Rowland conversion system, the auto loader aficionado can have the power of a .44 Magnum in his or her pistol and hunt right along side the big boys without feeling undergunned.
While the .460 cartridge is not the only way to get a more potent load into an automatic pistol, I believe it is far and away the most practical. Of the many calibers tried in the 1911, the .460 comes out pretty much at the top in terms of bullet weight and energy. The 45 Super, basically a beefed up 45 case, comes close, (within 300 fps), and is a very tempting alternative. The only problem for me is the fact that the 45 Super case is the same length as the standard 45 ACP and the potential of putting Super ammo into another 45 that is not set up to take it would always be there. The fabulous 44 Auto Mag and the Wildey pistols are certainly up to the task, but they are big, expensive, and hard to find. So is the Auto Mag ammunition for that matter. The great Desert Eagle chambered in .44 Magnum or .50AE has more than enough energy for most hunting applications, but after lugging a chunk of iron that large and heavy around all day, (assuming you are able to find a holster for it), your thoughts will tend to wander toward finding something in a lighter format. The great thing about the 460 conversion is that adds only a little length to the gun due to the highly effective dual port compensator on the barrel, and that is all. The basic pistol remains unchanged and gains only a couple of ounces, again due to the compensator.
460 Rowland next to 45 ACP (center).
What it all boils down to is the 460 Rowland gives us is 7 or 8 rounds of 44 magnum level performance in a proven pistol design without excessive recoil that the average person can carry all day without feeling weighed down. No special equipment is required other that what comes in the kit, so everything else: the firing pin, extractor, magazines etc. all stay the same and no alterations need to be made to the gun. To change the gun back to 45 ACP you simply remove the conversion unit and put the original parts back in the gun. The ammo can even be loaded on regular 45 ACP dies, so there is nothing new to buy if you already reload for that round. All in all, it’s a pretty elegant solution.
The conversion kit consists of the barrel with compensator, a 24# Wolff recoil spring, a full length guide rod and recoil spring plug, and an extra strength firing pin spring. The one we are putting into the Springfield has a standard style barrel included. If you have a newer Colt with the enhanced slide, there is a kit available containing the correct barrel with the narrower hood to fit it. Both styles can be had in blue or stainless to match your gun.
Kit includes barrel with comp and bushing, 24# recoil spring and two piece rod. Also included but not shown, are bushing wrench and extra strength firing pin spring.
Clark Custom does not recommend using this conversion on some pistols because of hardness and heat treating issues. They definitely do not want you to convert any of the original military GI pistols, as most of them were spot heat treated only and could easily be damaged by the high intensity 460 round. Those original guns are getting to be too valuable to risk anyway with all of the collector interest in them, so trying this conversion on one of them would not make a whole lot of sense any way you look at it.
Other guns not suitable for the conversion are: Those made by IAI in the Philippines, AMT, Auto Ordnance, and Charles Daly. If you’re not sure about the suitability of your pistol, the best bet is to contact Clark Custom and let them decide.
The pistol I used to test the conversion kit is a standard Springfield Armory .45. Clark Custom advertises their kit as a drop-in, and it did indeed drop into my slide. The fit was surprisingly good. In fact, the barrel went in like it had been made for my slide. With the slide installed on the frame there was no perceptible play anywhere and the lock up was right on the money. With manufacturing tolerances being what they are, not all guns will enjoy a perfect fit like this, and it is possible a bit of fitting might be required on an extra tight gun. In other words, your mileage may vary. Odds are, however, the fit of this conversion barrel will be a big improvement over what came on the gun originally.
The barrel bushing was also a tight fit to my slide and I was grateful for the wrench that was included in the kit. The 24 pound recoil spring made assembly interesting, and it took me a couple of tries to get it installed. I found it easiest to put the slide, with barrel and recoil plug installed, upside down in a padded vise to free up both hands for the task of wrestling the recoil spring into place. The full length spring guide is a two-piece style, and I found it easiest to start the spring with the base of the guide rod from the rear and the other half of the rod from the front through the plug. This way you can push the spring into the slide and over the front of the rod which helps to keep the spring from escaping. When the ends of the two rods meet you can screw them together and the spring will be captured for final assembly on the frame. If you’re used to shooting a comp gun you know the drill already. The heavier spring just makes it more fun. If you aren’t familiar with this alternative form of assembly just take a minute to read the instructions; and by all means find a padded vise or some means of securing the slide while you do this. It will save you lots of frustration!
Recoil system ready for insertion.
Easing the 24 pound spring into the slide with front of rod as guide. Note the white knuckles!
After the unit is installed and ready to go, it is a good idea to work the slide back and forth while observing the barrel at the front of the ejection port to make sure the barrel is unlocking properly as the slide moves rearward. There should be no hesitation or dragging on the barrel lugs as you pull the slide back slowly. We want to be sure that the locking lugs and their recesses will not damaged by the increased recoil. The compensator does a fantastic job of minimizing the stress on the pistol and the shooter to be sure, but the gun is still coming back faster and harder than a 45 ACP normally will and checking for proper function will insure your pistol will not suffer any increased wear and tear. Once you touch off a round or two of 460 ammo you’ll understand what I’m talking about. While we’re at it, now is the time to do something about those cracked grips, that loose front sight, or anything else that isn’t quite right on the gun. The 460 Rowland safely takes the 1911 pistol right up to the edge of the power envelope, but at this increased level of performance anything that is not right will not last long.
Two types of ammunition were obtained for the tests from Georgia Arms, found at www.georgia-arms.com . The 185 grain load is rated at 1550 feet per second, with 987 foot pounds of energy. The second load, a 230 grain bullet going 1350 feet per second, generates a mere 931 foot pounds! The standard 45 ACP 230 grain hard ball load is usually around 800 Fps with delivering energy in the neighborhood of 330 foot pounds. A standard 44 Magnum loading will usually feature a 240 grain bullet traveling at between 1300 and 1400 fps for around 900 to 1000 foot pounds. As you can see, both 460 loads are well into the realm of the 44 Magnum and leave the standard 45 ACP round far behind. With ammunition and assembled pistol in hand, it was time to go to the range. I wasn’t sure just what to expect as I racked the slide; the extra power recoil spring reminding me that this was no ordinary load I was about to shoot. I noticed I was gripping the gun more tightly than usual as I prepared to touch off the first round, and while trying not to think too much about anything but the sights and the trigger pull, managed to get the first shot downrange in the general vicinity of the intended target. Wow! Not only did the compensator reduce the recoil to a manageable level, it also kept the gun from rising and twisting in the hand like a normal 45. The remaining rounds were quickly dispatched toward the target tearing some fairly impressive holes in the dirt forming the backstop. The gun was really easy to shoot as the recoil came straight back without excessive muzzle rise, and best of all, no pain in the shooting hand! Make no mistake, when the gun goes off you are aware that you are shooting a very powerful cartridge. But the recoil is controlled in a way that makes shooting the 460 entirely comfortable.
With the first magazine out of the way, all doubts were erased and I spent the rest of the session blazing away happily and making the dirt fly behind the target. No tingling palms, no shattered nerves and shaking hands like when shooting my .500 Linebaugh, (or even a short barreled 44 Magnum for that matter). There was only regret when the ammo supply ran dry. (I only had 100 rounds for the test…until I get them reloaded!) Throughout the testing the pistol tended to print a little high at most ranges, and an adjustable sight would be a definite plus for this caliber. For hunting I would consider it to be mandatory to allow proper sighting in. After all, there’s no sense having all that performance if you can’t put the bullet where it needs to go.
Average group at 25 yards with 6 o’clock hold.
Adjustable sights would be a good idea.
I must say that I came away totally impressed. Here, in the palm of the hand, was a normal sized pistol that hit like a magnum and could do it quite rapidly 7 or 8 times in a row. This cartridge is fully capable of taking whitetail deer and other medium size game, and with the correct bullets, it will do anything the 44 Magnum with the standard weight 240 grain bullets will do. Not bad for a simple conversion that costs much less than a new handgun and uses bullets and dies you probably already have on hand anyway. Clark Custom has a real winner here, and gives the handgun hunter who prefers automatics an option that really works.