Book Review: Single Action Sixguns by John Taffin


by Jeff Quinn

Photography by Jeff Quinn

November 8th, 2005




I like guns.  A reader about a month back wrote in criticizing me, stating that I had never met a gun that I did not like. Of course, he was ill at me for not writing more bad reviews, but in a way, he was right. If a gun functions and is reasonably accurate, I will try to find a use for it. I like drilling holes in far away targets with a good AR-15. I like speed-shooting bowling pins with a good auto pistol. I enjoy busting rocks with a  Barrett Big Fifty. All of these weapons are good tools, properly used, but they are merely tools.

However, those who know me well know that my first love is the single action revolver. No gun stirs the soul like an old Colt Single Action Army or an old Ruger Flattop. There is that special feel to the action, thumbing back that big hammer, and sending lead downrange. Others who love the single actions know what I mean, and those who do not, are really missing out. A Glock is a good weapon, but it has no soul. An AR-15 is one of the better weapons of its type in the world, but it has an empty black hole where its soul should be. The single action revolver has a soul. You can feel it. The only other weapon to even come close is an old Winchester, and the souls of these two are connected. They are connected to our past; our history.  A man who can pick up an old Colt Single Action Army, slowly thumb back the big hammer, and feel nothing, is in danger of losing his own soul. There is nothing else like it.

It is understandable then that the news of the release of John Taffin’s latest book; Single Action Sixguns, brought me great delight. This is his fourth book, as I recall, and the only one dedicated entirely to the single action revolver.

John Taffin is the preeminent  gun writer of our time, writing regularly for publications such as American Handgunner, Guns, and  Shoot! magazines. He is the authority on single action revolvers, and he has the heart of a teacher.  For many years, he was a math teacher by trade, many of whom I am convinced have no heart at all. However, his writing style and skill show through as a man who loves the subject of his work, and loves to share this knowledge with others.  John Taffin knows single action revolvers better than any man alive, and his passion for these weapons clearly is felt in reading this book. He is a man of the highest integrity, a friend, a brother, and a fellow Shootist. Here is just one paragraph from the beginning of this book:

"Pick up a large seashell and hear the ocean; pick up a single action and hear and feel history. Just holding an old Colt single action conjures up visions of the Earps and Doc Holliday at the O.K. Corral, Theodore Roosevelt in the Dakotas, and Lt. George Patton with Black Jack Pershing in Mexico. We can hear bugles in the afternoon, smell bacon and beans cooking over a campfire, feel the dust from the hooves of a thousand cattle, and taste steak and a big slab of apple pie washed down with hot coffee at the Irma Hotel. A sixth sense takes over and Matt Dillon, Paladin, Rooster Cogburn, all become real."

I wish that I could write like that. Good stuff. I can taste that apple pie just from reading those words. There are many more. Single Action Sixguns is filled with not only hundreds of factual statements and descriptive detail, but with the feeling that the reader can almost hold the gun in his hand as Mr. Taffin describes the sixgun. Not only is the book filled with good information, it has numerous fine quality photographs of the sixguns being described. The pictures shown here do the photos no justice. For the internet, we have to reduce the quality of the pictures to make them downloadable on a dial-up modem. The photos in the book are studio quality, and they alone are worth more than the price of the book.

In Single Action Sixguns, John Taffin covers every aspect and nuance of the single action, from the early cap-and-ball percussion guns to the most modern of single actions. He covers the old Smith & Wesson single actions, the early Colts, Remingtons, and others. Mr. Taffin writes not only of the guns, but of the men who influenced their design and evolution. He writes of Elmer Keith and Major Schofield; of Bill Grover and Hamilton Bowen. He writes of Bill Ruger and his extensive line of Ruger single action revolvers. Several sections of the book are dedicated to the descriptions and photos of grip styles and materials. Gunleather is covered extensively.  Single action sixgun customizing is covered in detail, with the works of many custom gunsmiths listed. These men are artists with the single action revolver, and their talents are laid out for all to see in this book. 

There are chapters covering the single action sixgun sports, such as Cowboy Action Shooting. There are sections devoted to handling, concealing, loading, and shooting the single action. Mr. Taffin’s favorite handloads are listed for many of his sixguns.  This book is 336 pages of art and prose that could turn Gaston Glock into a diehard single action sixgun fanatic. There are more variations of old Colts than a person could ever encounter in a lifetime, along with pictures and descriptions of the most modern of single action hunting revolvers, such as the custom five-shot Rugers and the wonderful Freedom Arms revolvers. This book is destined to become the definitive work on the single action revolver; a reference for gunsmiths, collectors, shooters, and all those who love the art, the history, the function, and the feel of the single action revolver. It is hardbound and printed on heavy art-quality paper, with 350 color photographs. The forward to the book was beautifully written by my good friend Terry Murbach, wherein he artfully sets the stage for the theme of the book.

I most highly recommend this book to any handgunner or history buff. The author will gladly send to you an autographed copy postpaid for $44 regular mail or $48  by Priority Mail. The pictures alone are worth twice the price, and it will be a book to treasure for a lifetime

For an autographed copy, send a check or money order for $48 to:
          John Taffin
          Single Action Sixguns
          PO Box 45072
          Boise, ID  83704

If you prefer to order your autographed copy online using a credit card, you can order it directly from the Shoot! Magazine website by clicking here:

Jeff Quinn

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