Although the 1917 was intended for use with moon clips, they were not required except for early Colts. They had the chambers bored too long to space the short .45 ACP. In all others, you can simply drop the cartridges directly into the cylinder. The gun will fire, but since the extractor has no lip to grab, you will need a stick, disposable fingernail, or the extractor groove of another cartridge to remove the individually fired cases.
Luckily, moon clips are easy to find, and the advent of six-round full moon clips makes the original three- and two-shot styles less desirable. California Competition Works offers tools for loading empty clips and disassembling pulled cases, and you’re well advised to buy both. Loading clips is hard on the fingers and removing worn cases is virtually impossible without tools. Interestingly, a 1911 cannon can be used as a field expedient to extract them laterally.
In an unusual example of creating a cartridge around a pre-existing firearm, shortly after World War I the Peters Cartridge Company created the .45 Auto Rim specifically for 1917 revolvers. looks like, the .45 AR is a rimmed version of the .45 ACP allowing you to shoot the 1917 without clips. The first loads included 230 gr. ball as well as a 255 gr. cartridge essentially the moral equivalent of an early Colt .45. It’s appropriate, because it looks like a .45 “Short” Colt.
One of the benefits of a revolver is that you can fire bullet profiles that don’t usually feed well in a car. I shot quite a few different bullet shapes, including three 200gr soft shot bullets. loads using variations of the D&L bullet designed by Dave Lauck, including one optimized for revolver use. I fired the D&L bullets in factory cartridges by Load Up Ammunition and hand loads which I assembled on a Dillon 550.
I also fed the 1917 with a range of Black Hills bullet weights including 185g. JHP, 200 gr. SWC and 230 gr. JHP. DoubleTap provided two loads in .45 AR, a flat point FMJ and a 230 grain JHP. They also supplied my personal favorite load for the 1917, a big +P .45 ACP firing a hard 255 gr. SWC. While everything else seemed pretty quiet out of the big N-Frame, the hefty 255 rolled back the whipped long barrel.
Even considering the narrow, tapered fixed sights, I was able to fit six rounds in just under 3″ at 25 yards with my hands rested. I got about 4″ standing, shooting from a modified Weaver. Not bad for a weapon designed to be fired through a trench.