The Colt Single Action Army .45 Colt Sixgun

 

by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

December 8th, 2006

 

 

 

There have been thousands of pages of text written about the most famous revolver ever built; the Colt Single Action Army. Interchangeably called the "Peacemaker", the Colt is recognized the world over as the sixgun of the American West. First introduced in 1873 with the .45 Colt cartridge as the new sidearm for the US Army, the Single Action Army was a big hit with soldiers and civilians alike. In its early years, it was contemporary with big revolvers from Smith & Wesson and Remington, but in the United States and its untamed western territories, the Colt was king. There was good reason for this. The sixgun was handy, rugged, powerful, and simple to use. It could ride in a holster all day, everyday, in bitter cold or blazing heat, blowing sand or drenching rain, and when needed, it would work. It could be called upon to dispatch a rattler, bag some meat for supper, or to protect a cowpuncher from an ornery bull. More importantly, the big Colt was called upon to resolve many distasteful social situations, serving lawbreakers and peacekeepers equally well.

For about 133 years now, the Colt Single Action Army revolver has served gallantly all who have called upon it to do so.  Production has been interrupted from time to time, with the Colt being pronounced obsolete on many occasions. However, it has refused to die. The Single Action Army has been copied more than any other revolver ever made, with countless importers of foreign copies over the last few decades.  The Colt even fathered the highly successful Ruger single action revolvers, which are basically the Single Action Army design with improvements to increase strength, durability, and ease of manufacture. Besides the current crop of imported Colt copies, which vary in quality from excellent to not-so-good, the Colt copies from the American made U.S. Firearms are very good, high quality revolvers (see our previous articles on the USFA Rodeo, Flattop Target, and Gunslinger models). Also, although I have yet to test one, the new single action from STI promises to be of exceptional quality. Hopefully, you will see a review of that sixgun on Gunblast very soon.

Regarding the genuine article, the first one hundred years of the Colt Single Action Army were those of high quality sixguns, with quality of those produced in the late 1970s and later varying somewhat. I have seen both very good and relatively poor examples of the SAA that were built in the last thirty years.  However, all of the sixguns coming out of the Colt factory for the last couple of years that I have seen and handled have been very good guns.  I have also not seen much press at all on the genuine Colt lately in the paper magazines, so I thought that a review of the SAA would be timely.

I have always loved the Single Action Army revolvers, whether they be Italian copies, the excellent USFA guns, or old originals. There is just something about the Peacemaker that stirs my soul like no plastic-framed high tech laser-sighted wonder pistol can ever do. There is a place for a good high capacity nine millimeter pistol, and I own a few, but I do not sit and fondle them for hours, gently thumbing back the hammer, if they even have one, like I do on a Colt.

I recently purchased a brand new Colt Single Action Army revolver chambered for the grand old .45 Colt cartridge, and it is the subject of this review. It wears a four and three-quarters inch barrel, which is perfectly balanced for fast work from a proper holster. The sixgun is finished in Coltís polished blue with a color case hardened frame. The sides of the hammer are polished in-the-white, and contrast nicely with the blued/ case-hardened sixgun.  The Colt showed up wearing a set of checkered plastic pony and eagle grips, which look good and offer a secure grip on the sixgun, but after checking the timing and a couple of dimensions of the new Colt, I boxed it up and sent it off to Eagle Grips for a set of Sambar Stags, which were the subject of review about a week ago. At the time of that article, I had been shooting the Colt a bit, but had not completed my accuracy testing of the weapon.

The chamber throats on the Colt measured a consistent .4545 inch, so while the gun was off to be fitted for the stags, I ordered some properly sized Keith type bullets from Frank at Mt. Baldy Bullets. The ones that Frank sent are the RCBS 270 SAA mold that is a modified Keith style made specifically for the Single Action Army revolvers. Mt. Baldy casts their bullets from virgin alloy that is mixed to their own specifications, and it makes for a very high quality bullet; not too soft and not too hard, just right. They are known for accuracy, and that is why I used nothing but the Mt. Baldy bullets for all of my accuracy testing. When the shooting began, I knew that I had made a wise choice.

On a good day, when the light is right and with a solid rest, I can shoot some pretty good groups. However, it seems as those days arenít as frequent as they once were, and I wanted to know just how good this new Colt could shoot, not how well I could hold it. Therefore, I placed the Colt into my Ransom Rest, and went to work on sending some lead downrange. I had just completed our new Gunblast shooting range, moving from an open field to up between two ridges. On the new range, I have good wind protection for rifle work, and have permanent target frames set in concrete at 25, 50, and 100 yards. For longer work, I still have to head up to the 300 yard range, but for anything up to 100, the new range is perfect. The accuracy testing was done at 25 yards. It was an overcast day late in the afternoon and the light was failing, but with the Ransom Rest, none of that mattered. After aligning the rest, I did not even need to look at the sights, or at the target.  I made no special effort to work up a load specifically for the Colt; there was no need to. Using my standard charge of IMR Trail Boss powder, the Mt. Baldy 270SAA bullet, Starline cases, and CCI 300 primers, the Colt proceeded to place the bullets on target in very tight clusters. I have to admit to being a bit surprised, as I did not expect the sixgun to perform as well as it did. The exact charge of Trail Boss used  is purposely not listed, as it is over the maximum load recommended by IMR, but it is perfectly safe in a modern Colt. It pushes the 270SAA bullet, which weighs in at just under 280 grains with Frankís alloy, to about 730 feet-per-second., with excellent consistency. The new Colt would group time and time again into less than one and one-half inches for five shots at twenty-five yards. Many groups went into less than one inch. Pictured is the best group of the day, which is six shots just under one inch.  Keep in mind that this ainít me shooting, but this is the accuracy of which this gun is capable. With a little load tuning, it might even do better, but I am perfectly happy with the results so far!

The Colt Single Action Army revolver is the definition of the classic sixgun. The four and three-quarter inch  forty-five weighs in at just under two and one-quarter pounds, balances perfectly, and points naturally. The trigger pull on the new Colt was crisp, but a bit heavy to suit me at just over four pounds, so I placed a small plastic shim under the hammer spring screw, bringing the trigger pull down to two and three-quarters pounds. The SAA is very well-fitted and tight, with a barrel/cylinder gap measuring four one-thousandths of an inch (.004). While the base pin was plenty tight, I changed it out for a Belt Mountain pin, just because the latter is much easier to grasp for removing the cylinder for cleaning. 

A good sixgun needs a good holster rig, and there are many good ones on the market, and a like number of cheap junk rigs. One of the better ones that I have seen in a while is from a relatively new maker; Barranti Leather Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Now, Pennsylvania doesnít seem like the most likely place to pick up a good leather rig, but Mike Barranti turns out some fine work. The holster pictured here is one of the all-time great designs for a single action revolver, the Tom Threepersons design. Mr. Threepersons was a western lawman who designed this holster as a very practical and comfortable way to carry a side arm. Threepersons was a Cherokee Indian, a rancher, a rodeo cowboy, and a lawman who worked from Alaska to Mexico, spending much of his career along the US/Mexican border in the early part of the twentieth century.  He knew about gun fighting, and holster design. The bottom is closed for good protection, but the trigger guard and hammer are exposed for quick access. The holster has a removable retention strap, but Mike will build it with a hammer thong if preferred. The holster is dyed Saddle Tan in color, with the calf skin lining and ammo loops on the belt left natural for contrast. It is certainly a beautiful rig! Now, here is a good thing that I like about Mike; he listens to his customer. You would think that all custom leather makers would do so, but it just ainít true. For several years, whenever I would order a new rig, I would always specify twelve cartridge loops on the right side, as I am left handed.  Seems like it would be simple to do. However, the belt would always arrive with the cartridge loops in the back, where they are hard to reach, and tend to lose the ammo when sitting down in a chair or truck seat. The Barranti rig arrived with twelve cartridge loops on the right side, just as I asked. As you can see in the pictures, the cartridges are in a very handy position to access without looking or struggling to reach. Thanks Mike! The cartridge belt is double thick for rigidity. Also the tooling is very attractive, and the whole rig is hand-stitched.  This rig just reeks of quality. It is built of top grade materials by a true leather craftsman. It is nice to see good quality hand work these days. This Barranti rig is worthy of hauling around the finest sixgun available, and I am proud to own it.

To state that I am well-pleased with the quality of this new Colt would be an understatement. I am very happy to see that Colt is once again producing sixguns worthy of the name. The genuine Colt is not cheap; it never was. However, it is still as good of a value as it ever was. One hundred and thirty years ago, a man would pay about a monthís wages for a new Colt Single Action Army. For most of us, it will cost about half that now. I donít know what the MSRP on the new Colt is, but locally they sell for about $1300, and I have seen new ones at the Tulsa Gun Show selling for about 100 bucks less. For a few years, I could not recommend buying a new Colt SAA without first closely examining the sixgun. After shooting this one extensively, talking to friends who have handled and shot a few new Colts, and fondling several others (Colts, not friends), I can now comfortably recommend buying a new Colt revolver to anyone looking to purchase a new single action. I have seen and handled several new Colt SAA revolvers in the past few months, and they were all of excellent quality. This new Colt that I have here is as good as any SAA being produced anywhere, and much better than most. It is delightfully accurate, well-built, and perfectly balanced. One more very important thingÖÖitís a Colt.

Look at the various options on the SAA and other Colt products online at:  www.coltsmfg.com.

To order the Mt. Baldy bullets, go to:  www.mtbaldybullets.com.

To order a Barranti Leather Company holster rig, click on this link.

Jeff Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

The Colt Single Action Army .45 Colt Sixgun.

 

 

 

 

Author at the new Gunblast Shootin' House, feeling very much at home with his new Colt SAA.

 

 

 

 

As always, Mt. Baldy Bullets proved to be an excellent choice.

 

 

 

 

Belt Mountain #5-style base pin adds a touch of distinction, as well as being easier to grasp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Colt .45 proved to be capable of fine accuracy right out of the box.

 

 

Mike Barranti of Barranti Leather Company is turning out some of the finest sixgun rigs available.