moon was bright in the gunmetal colored sky of the Arizona
It was a “Smugglers Moon” and the small group of
prohibition agents and customs mounted inspectors waited in the
arroyo about 50 yards north of the border fence, about a mile
west of Nogales.
This is where their “snitch” said the load of illegal
“hooch” would be coming through.
Among the contingent of federal officers was a crusty old
Customs man known as LaVista Bill.
Bill scanned the fence and saw some movement by a big
The lookout for the “rumrunners” edged up to the
fence slowly, looking all around.
In his right hand was a big pistola and in his
left a pair of wire cutters.
He deftly clipped the five-strand barbed wire fence
separating the U.S. from Mexico and stepped through the gap.
He moved forward stealthily about 10 yards than turned
and gave a low whistle.
figures appeared out of the gloom and a soft “glug, glug”
noise could be heard as the liquor sloshed about inside the
4-1/2 gallon jerry cans the cargadores carried in their
In the rear of the line of 10 smugglers was the head contrabandista,
he carried in his hands what looked like a rifle or scattergun.
Slowly the whole group came through the downed fence onto
United States soil.
The federal officers in the arroyo waited silently, guns
held tight in their hands.
Bill carried a Winchester Model 1907 rifle in .351
Winchester S.L. with a special 10-round box magazine.
At his side was a big Colt New Service Target
Model revolver in .45 Colt.
The big six-gun rode in a high-ride holster designed by a
prohibition agent over in El Paso name of Tom Three Persons.
Bill knew when the smugglers came to within 10 yards of
their position they would have to identify themselves and the
shooting was likely to start.
He also knew that a large truck waited up on the border
road for this load of booze and that one of the gringo
smugglers had a “Tommy Gun”.
They’d have to watch their backs too if the contrabandistas
decided to fight.
was the time.
“İ Parase cabrones, no se moueve; somos
Despite the order to stop and not to move, the lookout
immediately raised his gun and fired at the direction of the
The cargadores, some of whom had pistolas
stuffed in their waistbands, dropped their load of hooch and a
few ran south as others drew their guns and fired blindly
towards the officers.
their targets silhouetted in the bright moonlight, the
prohibition agents and customs officers picked their targets and
opened up a fusillade from the protection of the arroyo.
Contrabandistas pitched to the desert sand.
LaVista Bill intended to stop the hombre bringing
up the rear.
He snapped off two fast shots and sent one smuggler
sprawling, but when he took a bead on the outlaw in the rear and
pressed the trigger, nada!
“Dern, this automatic” he muttered, “I shoulda kept
my old 95 Winchester lever-action!”
As quickly, as the thought went across his mind, his
right hand clawed for the big Colt New Service and freed it from
contrabandista in the rear was keeping up a hot fire with
what must have been a Winchester lever-gun.
Bill cocked the hammer of the Colt and let the post front
sight settle on his target and started his squeeze on the
trigger, just like at the shooting range.
The smuggler dropped his rifle and crumpled to the
“Adios pendejo”, LaVista Bill growled as the
remaining smugglers ran back into Mexico, leaving their downed compadres
for the officers.
In the distance, a motor rumbled to life and the sound of
tires on gravel faded off into the distance.
foregoing little war story was typical of the action U.S.
authorities working the Border saw during the years of
Prohibition in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Over in El Paso it wasn’t unusual for officers to
become engaged in a gun battle an average of once every 17 days!
When you got in a gunfight in those days, there was no
call for backup on your portable radio and a SWAT team racing to
assist you, it was you and the bad guys and you shot it out.
For that reason officers wanted a reliable handgun that
fired a big bullet.
The Colt New Service was just such a gun.
few weeks ago, I walked into Russ Elmore’s gun shop in
Greenwood, Indiana, and Russ said, “Hey Bill, hang a right and
look into that first display case”.
Knowing Russ I immediately complied and there under the
lights of the glass cabinet was the nicest Colt New Service
Target Model I’d ever seen.
Even better, it chambered my favorite, the .45 Colt.
Russ conceded that the big Colt had been refinished, but
the job had been done so well that it looked like a factory
He removed it from the case and handed it to me.
I pulled back on the cylinder release latch, swung out
the cylinder and looked down the heavy, slightly tapered,
The bore was perfect.
So too were the chambers in the cylinder.
I “clicked” the cylinder back into place.
The Patridge front sight was set into a housing not much
wider than the 0.12” blade.
The sight could be moved up or down by the use of two
screws in the right side and front of the sight base.
The rear sight was mounted in a dovetail and was a rather
low-riding square-notch blade, which could be moved laterally
for windage by loosening a set screw on the upper surface of the
sight and then turning a screw on the right side of the frame to
the left or right.
Five graduation marks were cut into the top strap to help
in sight alignment and the top strap and rear sight were sand
blasted to a matte finish.
massive hammer was polished bright on the sides and finished so
nicely that the rivet holding the firing pin in place was barely
The hammer spur was nicely checkered.
I cocked the hammer slowly and heard the “click” as
the bolt snapped up into place.
The blued trigger was smooth-faced and the single-action
pull was an incredible 3 pounds.
The double-action pull was long and butter smooth, having
a weight of not more than 8-9 pounds.
Like all Colts of that era, the trigger return had just a
slight hesitation before returning the trigger to its rest
This revolver couldn’t have seen much use, the walnut
grips were fully checkered and there was no visible wear or
The silver “Rampant Colt” medallions shone brightly.
The front and back straps of the grip frame were
checkered, making for a very secure grip.
A lanyard ring was affixed to the revolver butt.
I liked the heft of the big revolver and did not feel its
40-ounce weight to be excessive.
New Service was introduced by Colt in 1898 and was their first
Its somewhat blocky appearance was streamlined and
enhanced in 1905 and that design remained mostly unchanged until
production ceased in 1944.
All total, some 356,000 were produced in a myriad of
During the years in was manufactured, the New Service was
chambered for everything from the .38 Colt Short and Long
cartridges, all the way up to the .476 Eley.
The most popular calibers included .38 Special, .357
Magnum, .44 Special, .44-40, .45 ACP and .45 Colt.
Barrel lengths ranged from 2” to 7-1/2”, with fixed
or adjustable sights, and round or square-butt configurations.
Of course back then you could special order almost
anything, from exotic barrel lengths, to ivory and pearl grips
or hand engraving.
Even the names given some of the guns were confusing.
I have a reproduction of a Colt 1936 catalog that shows
two almost identical New Service models with adjustable sights
and one has stamped on the barrel Shooting Master and the
other says New Service Target.
The 1925-era revolver I got from Russ Elmore’s gun
shop had been stamped simply New Service .45 Colt.
I noted the most distinguishing difference between this
revolver and the ones from 1936 pictured in the catalog, was the
cylinder release latch on the older 1925 gun was the L-shaped
variety that is a sure thumb gouger.
U.S. Military adopted the New Service in 1909 chambered for the
.45 Colt cartridges.
It replaced the Model 1892 Colt in .38 Long, which had
earned a bad reputation for stopping power during the Philippine
Insurrection and in later years fighting Moro tribesmen and “Juramentados”
The Model 1909 was replaced in 1911 by the Colt
Government Model semi-automatic in .45 ACP; however, the New
Service chambered to fire the .45 ACP load was back in 1917 to
help arm American Expeditionary Forces shipping off to France to
fight with the Allies in WWI.
The big New Service was also a favorite with law
Both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the New York
State Police carried the New Service for many years chambered
for .45 Colt.
Surplus 1917 Models in .45 ACP were among the first issue
revolvers of the U.S. Border Patrol, which was organized in
A notorious young Border Patrol Inspector named Charles
Askins hired on in 1930 and was a great fancier of the New
He carried adjustable sighted models in .45 Colt and
.44-40 while on patrol in the New Mexico desert and had a 2”
barrel .45 with all the cut-back trigger guard and other
features of a “Fitz Special” that he used in plainclothes
PI Askins later became the Border Patrol firearms
instructor and talked the USBP into adopting the New Service in
.38 Special as standard issue.
This heavy-duty sidearm was so rugged that its service
life extended from the mid-1930’s all the way up in the
large framed New Service was one of Colt’s first revolvers
chambered for the hot .357 S&W Magnum, that was introduced
In the New Service Target configuration it was very
popular with target shooters and hunters.
The Target and Shooting Master versions had a large
following at Camp Perry, especially in .38 Special and .44
In those days hand-fitting of revolver actions was the
rule and skilled craftsman at the Colt factory made sure each
and every revolver had a crisp single-action pull and a silky
double-action that is almost impossible to duplicate today
outside of a custom shop.
Russ didn’t have any problem with me putting some rounds
through the New Service, so I took it along with me to a Cowboy
Action Shooting (CAS) Match to do a little target work and
As I was already shooting my “Peacemakers” in .45
Colt, I had plenty of ammo on hand.
To shoot the New Service Target I decided to use Winchester
Cowboy loads in their distinctive blue box.
This load with its 250 gr. bullet has been a favorite of
mine and is very accurate in all the firearms I used it in.
It was no different with the New Service.
set up a box to use as a target stand and attached some
self-adhesive Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C oval shaped
targets to the front of the box.
One of the CAS stages had a big oak barrel on the firing
line that I used for a bench and I brought along my sandbag
From a range of 25 yards, shooting single-action, I had
no difficulty keeping my shots in the oval bulls-eyes.
As you can see in the photo, one 5-shot group measured
just a little more than an inch and the rest ran 2-3 inches.
No doubt the gun was clearly capable of out-shooting the
shooter, who was already a bit tired from a full day of shooting
the Cowboy way.
I did a little plinking at some of the steel CAS targets on the
stage and as I shoot “Duelist” (one-handed) anyway, that’s
the way I shot the big Colt.
With its smooth DA trigger pull, I had no trouble
clanging and knocking over the steel targets at anywhere from 5
to 25 yards.
The gun was easy to control in rapid fire due to the
checkering on the grip panels and the grip frame.
It did note that after about 25 rounds, my hand was
starting to feel the effects of the sharp diamonds pushing back
into my palm when I touched off one of those thumb-sized
I believe some nice ivory eagle or steer-head grips would
be my choice for this revolver and possibly a grip adapter, if
they still make ‘em for the old New Service.
Colt is mostly out of the DA revolver business.
They came out in the early 90’s with the large frame
Anaconda, that chambered big rounds like the .45 Colt and .44
Magnum, but it, like most of the other Colt six-guns, has faded
I sure would like to see Colt make a comeback in the
As Smith & Wesson is now doing with their
Heritage Series, bringing back look-alike revolvers, made on
modern frames, but made to look like the .45 Hand Ejector or
Model 1917; wouldn’t it be grand to see Colt come out with a
modern look-alike of the New Service, Officer’s Model Target,
Police Positive, and others?
now it’s decision time.
Do I take the New Service back to Russ’ shop or do I
rummage through my gun safe for some traders, break the piggy
bank, search under the couch cushions for loose change…hey
Honey, you got a few extra bucks?!
Colt New Service Target Specifications
.45 Colt (Also available in other calibers such as
.357 Magnum, .38-40, .44 Special, .44-40, and .45 ACP).
5-1/2” (6” and 7-1/2” and others on special order)
10-3/4” with 5-1/2” barrel.
40 ounces with 5-1/2” barrel.
Windage adjustable rear blade and elevation adjustable
front, Patridge or bead available.
Checkered walnut with Colt medallions, front and
backstraps of grip frame also checkered.
Blue, top strap and rear sight matte finished to reduce
Large .45 frame, extra smooth double action,
checkered hammer spur and smooth trigger (checkered trigger was
Prairie, MN 55344
Paso Saddlery Company (Holsters)
Paso, TX 79901
Ammunition (.45 Colt)
N. Shamrock St.
Alton, IL 62024-1197
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