Colt's Trooper

 

by R.K. Campbell

photography by R.K. Campbell

March 20, 2006

 

 

 

In 1935 you could purchase a Ford V8, read about Admiral Byrdís exploits,  or purchase a brand new .357 Magnum revolver.  The first Magnums were deluxe heavy frame Smith and Wesson revolvers.  They were and are true gems. But they were also big and heavy.  Smith and Wesson would eventually offer smaller frame guns, but the change was slow in coming.  When they did, Colt offered serious competition in the form of the Three Five Seven and later the Trooper revolver.  The Colts are mid frame guns, or as some refer to them, .41 frame guns.  They represent a size and weight class ideally suited to the .357 Magnum.  While the Smith and Wesson L frame and the Ruger Security Six are built on similar frame sizes, the Colt was for many years the only choice in a frame mid way between the .38 and .44 caliber frame.  The first Magnum revolvers offered by Colt were simply dubbed the Three Fifty Seven.  They were basically target sighted Official Police revolvers.  The larger New Service was also chambered for the .357 Magnum, but when Colt discontinued the large frame New Service after World War Two,  the Three Five Seven was the only choice.  The Trooper was offered as an alternative to the Smith and Wesson, a good solid revolver featuring a heavy barrel, adjustable sights and hand filling grips.  It was intended to compete in law enforcement sales with Smith and Wessonís Highway Patrolman. The Colt was more inexpensive, but a bit lighter.

In the rapid pace of development in police gear, the Colt Trooper eventually evolved into the revolver that is the subject of this article, the Colt Trooper MKIII.  The MKIII was seen as a modernization of the Colt revolver line.  This is the first major modification in the Colt revolver since about 1900.  The Detective Special and other popular handguns were simply versions of earlier revolvers, using turn of the century lockwork.  I have used many older Colts, including the smooth and reliable Official Police.  In service, a complaint emerged related to the lockwork.  When the Colt fired, the hand remained locking the cylinder in place while in the Smith and Wesson design, the hand dropped away.  As a result, more stress and shock was transferred to the Colt action.  Many old timers regarded the Colt as the better gun for a smooth action or for targets, but favored the Smith and Wesson for service and longevity.  I have seen my share of either worn out from hard use, but the problems common to the Colt did call for a redesign of the action if the gun were to be suitable for hard use with Magnum ammunition.  Smith and Wesson would go through similar generations.

Toward the end the 1960s, Colt introduced the MKIII series of heavy-duty revolvers.  The Official Police was the Ďbasicí gun, a fixed sight revolver chambered for the .38 Special cartridge.  The Lawman MKIII is also a fixed sight revolver, but chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge. The Trooper is the deluxe version of the MKIII series, featuring a heavy barrel and ejector rod shroud.  I have seen older Troopers in .38 Special, but to the best of my knowledge no Trooper MKIII revolvers were chambered in .38 Special.  All .357 Magnum Colts can handle the .38 Special handgun cartridge. 

During the 1960s and 1970s several revolver manufacturers adopted the transfer bar ignition system. This includes Charter Arms, Colt, Ruger, and Dan Wesson. The transfer bar ignition features a firing pin mounted in the frame.  The hammer can reach it only when the trigger is pressed fully to the rear.  The main springs of the Colt were coil type rather than the older flat type found in practically any other revolver. They are manufactured from stainless steel.  Colt designed the action with specially heat-treated parts for maximum long service life. These guns survived from 1969 to about 1982, when the MK V was introduced. The MK V features a longer mainspring and shorter hammer fall, but greatly resembles the MKIII.  The MKV series introduced the big bore Anaconda, Coltís first big bore since the New Service. 

The Trooper MKIII featured in this report is part of my personal collection.  When I began using the revolvers I really never thought I would one day be writing about the Trooper MKII in the past tense, but there are no Colt .357s in current production.  That is a shame, but life is long and perhaps we will see Colts again in this popular caliber.  If we do not, well, there are still used revolvers to be found, albeit at high and increasing prices.  My gun is well worn, even the grips show a bit of wear that I find charming. 

The Trooper balances well.  The handle holds the hand well away from the receiver, allowing the Trooper to have as low a bore axis as any revolver may.  This results in lower felt recoil than many similar revolvers.  The Trooper is not a custom grade target revolver, but it incorporates many of the touches popularized by custom revolvers in the 1930s and after World War Two.  The Trooper has a purposeful, businesslike appearance that many find pleasing.  For those that appreciate a fine revolver, the aesthetics of the Trooper are pleasing as they are a fine mix of traditional Colt and new, highly engineered performance.  The balance is good and the gun clears leather quickly. As for accuracy, few if any shooters can shoot right up to the accuracy potential of this revolver.  I have taken carefully rested shots at man-sized targets at well over one hundred yards and connected with dull regularity.  This type of shooting is a stunt. What counts is the ability to manipulate the weapon quickly, making a hit on a larger object quickly at moderate range.  This means the K zone of a silhouette target at twenty-one feet or so or the vital area of a deer sized animal up to fifty yards.  The Trooper will deliver if we do our part.  I have worked up several loadings that give brilliant accuracy in the Colt, including a number of target type .38 Special loads that give an average 1-inch dispersal for five shots at 25 yards.  This is good enough for any sort of small game hunting.  I have fired a number of full Magnum loads that will print into 1.5 inches at 25 yards,  but on occasion  I have fired brilliant groups quite smaller.  My Magnum loads are safe but they are indeed full power loads that should be used with discretion.  If you subject your pistol to this type of pounding on a regular basis, be prepared for a major overhaul.  (Cylinder and Slide Shop, Fremont, Nebraska, does excellent work of this type on Colt revolvers.)  Since my revolver is a four inch barrel variant, I realize that I need to use lighter weight bullets in order to obtain maximum expansion.  This means 110 grain JHPs for small game and 125 grain bullets for most of the rest.  However, for maximum efforts, and with careful loading, you may jolt a 140 grain JHP of good design such as the Hornady XTP practically as fast as the 125 grain JHP.  The 110-grain bullet offers considerable obstacles such as a lack of bullet pull and reliable ignition with heavy loads, but works well in the 1,300 fps range.  The 125-grain JHPs are best around 1,350 to 1,375 fps.  (Yes, more is possible but why stretch the envelope?)  My favorite 140-grain JHP load will broach 1,380 fps.  With excellent accuracy!

I have included a load table that gives my results with various loads. I did not fire these groups in one day, nor one month or even a single year but over a period of many months.  I think the results speak for themselves. There are other handguns that may be prettier than the Trooper and even more that are more expensive,  but there are non more suitable for all around use.

As a defense revolver---

The Trooper action feels different than any other Colt and takes some getting used to.  The action is smooth and it must be remembered to pull the Colt straight through, without Ďstagingí the action at the rear.  With proper technique trigger compression is smooth and good results are obtained.  I know that it is all the fad to shoot a 100 round combat course with an underpowered semi auto and look at the small group. Sure, thatís nice.  But the Trooper is about drawing the gun, centering the target, and giving the target or threat a heavy blow that stops the action immediately.  You will be tired and perhaps a little sore after firing a sixty round revolver qualification with a Magnum revolver but you will have accomplished something!  The Colt is capable of extremely difficult shots.  In the case of a threat with a small part of the body exposed, or if the need to answer fire at long range exists, the Magnum revolver is unquestionably among our better choices.  Likewise, the Magnumís reputation for effect against light cover is tremendous. 

I like the Trooper.  It feels right and it looks right, a not to be overlooked component of shooting enjoyment.  Here is a revolver with real performance.  This is a piece of history that can save your life.

Loadings Tested

(Guns differ and so does powder burn rate in different lots of powder, even within the space of a few years. Therefore, we have not listed the powder charge.  Work with an established loading manual, work with the beginning charges, and find your way to an accurate load.  Most will be just below maximum. The .38 Special loads are for .357 revolvers only in the high end versions.)

Bullet Powder Velocity (fps) Group Size (inches)

Handloads

     
.38 Special      
Winchester 110 gr.  JHP W-W 231 912 1.8
Hunterís Supply 125 gr. RNL HP 38 750 2.0
Rim Rock 160 SWC Unique 805 1.0
Rim Rock 160 SWC Unique 990 1.5
Oregon Trail 180 gr. FP #2400 901 1.5
       
.357 Magnum      
110 grain Winchester JHP #2400 1253 2.0
110 grain Sierra JHP W-W 296 1333 2.2
Sierra 125 grain JHP H110 1345 1.75
Sierra 125 grain JHP H110 1380 1.5
Hornady 125 gr. XTP IMR 4227 1250 1.0
Hornady 140 gr. XTP   1380 1.25
       

Factory Loads

     
.38 Special      
Winchester 125 grain JHP Personal Defense   955 2.0
Anderson Ammunition 148 grain WC   767 0.8
Anderson Ammunition 158 grain SWC   812 2.25
       
.357 Magnum      
Hornady 125 gr. JHP/XTP   1321 1.0
Winchester 145 gr. Silvertip   1305 1.5

R.K. Campbell

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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

The New Service .45, top, was a good revolver but large and heavy. The well-balanced Trooper .357 is a more modern revolver.

 

 

For perspective, the Trooper is compared to a FM compact 9mm. The big Colt is more suitable for buffaloing and fighting against felons behind cover.

 

 

It is a shame that Colt no longer manufactures quality double action revolvers, but perhaps the last chapter is not yet written.

 

 

The trooper is considerably different in appearance than earlier Colts and takes some acclimation.

 

 

The Colt trigger compression is a short, no nonsense pull that requires some getting used to.  It is usable but not as smooth as comparable Smith and Wesson types.