Texas Longhorn Arms "West Texas Flattop Target" 45 Colt


by Boge Quinn

photography by Boge Quinn

April 3rd, 2010




Bill Grover was a complicated man. Mechanical genius and artist; gun maker and promoter; shooter and Shootist; Saint and sinner; Grover was all these and more. 

What Bill Grover was NOT was a savvy businessman. Showing an ability to tinker with guns from a young age, it was only natural that Grover establish his own shop, and the native Kentuckian founded Texas Longhorn Arms (TLA) in Texas in the early 1980s. TLA never really flourished as its founder dreamed, and the doors closed for the final time in 1998. Bill Grover passed away in 2004 after a long illness; I was made a member of the Shootists in 2004, and had attended the annual Shootists Holiday for two years previously, but since Grover had been in failing health for quite some time and was unable to travel to the Holiday the final few years of his life, I never had the honor of meeting him. I wish I had; while some vilify Grover, the men whom I most admire on this earth were close friends of the man and honor his memory. That's good enough for me, and I hope to shake Grover's hand someday.

While Grover may not have been a resounding success as a businessman, his success as a gun maker remains beyond question; the sixguns of Texas Longhorn Arms remain some of the most finely-crafted machines ever created. They are accurate, they are strong, they are durable, and they are beautiful. Their lines are perfect, as are their fit & finish. The fact that examples showing many thousands of rounds fired are still perfectly timed (as evidenced by the lack of a "drag line" or "turn ring" on the cylinder), and still lock-up like new sixguns, are testaments to Grover's genius as a gun maker.

The major claim to fame of Bill Grover's sixguns was their "right-handed" design. Grover believed that Sam Colt must have been left-handed, and built his revolvers for left-handed shooters: beginning with Colt's Paterson in 1836, the "natural" way for a right-handed shooter to load Colt's percussion revolvers was to switch the gun to the left hand and apply the percussion caps to the nipples with the right hand. This "left-handed" design carried over to metallic cartridge revolvers; all Single-Action Colt revolvers (and later Single-Action Colt-clone and other Single-Action designs such as the Rugers) are best loaded by a right-handed shooter switching the revolver to the left hand, which supports the revolver and operates the cylinder while the right hand operates the ejector rod to unload spent cartridges and reloads the cylinder. It was Grover's belief that this "left-handed" loading/unloading process was proof that Colt was a Southpaw, as a revolver designed for a right-handed shooter would have the loading gate and ejector rod on the left side of the revolver so that the gun would naturally remain in the hand of a right-handed shooter for both loading/unloading and shooting. Grover designed sixguns for the right-handed shooter; the loading gate and ejector rod are on the left side of the gun, and the cylinder rotates "backwards" or counterclockwise. It makes sense, as I've spent my life switching hands to load/unload Single-Action revolvers. I will admit, however, that when a seasoned Single-Action shooter first handles a TLA sixgun, it is awkward at first; it quickly becomes second nature as the realization sinks in that Bill Grover was right, and this is how a sixgun SHOULD be. Of course, all this is lost on my brother Jeff, who is left-handed; he's ALWAYS had sixguns "his way".

The above was meant to be a thumbnail introduction to Bill Grover and Texas Longhorn Arms. For more in-depth (and more capably-written) information, refer to the writings of the great John Taffin, who was a close friend of Grover's and was "there when it happened". In fact, Taffin's writings in GUNS and AMERICAN HANDGUNNER magazines, among others, were my introduction to the sixguns of Bill Grover way back when owning one was nothing more than a dream I knew I'd never attain. It stands as a testament to the blessings of God that I now own several Grover sixguns, including at least one of each model TLA produced, and that I can now call Taffin my friend and brother Shootist.

Another friend of mine, Stephen Webb, is an avid collector of all things Grover. Steve's collection of Grover sixguns and Grover-related objects is astounding, consisting not only of examples of all the TLA models, but also TLA prototypes that never saw full production, custom-built Grover sixguns from both the pre-TLA and post-TLA periods, and an unbelievable quantity of documents, pictures, parts and personal items of Bill Grover's. Steve is currently working on a book about Bill Grover and Texas Longhorn Arms, and he hopes to have a rough manuscript this year. I am eagerly awaiting the fruits of Steve's labor, and it has been my pleasure to help him in this regard and to create his web site, www.tlabook.com.

The West Texas Flattop Target was one of the first models introduced by TLA, along with the South Texas Army (Grover's interpretation of the classic Single Action Army), and Texas Border Special (with "bird's head" grip frame). Most often seen in 44 Magnum caliber, the West Texas Flattop Target was also produced in other calibers such as 45 Colt, 41 Magnum (at least two examples known to exist), and 32 H&R Magnum (at least one example known). The West Texas Flattop Target featured an 1860 Colt-style grip frame, most often with fancy one-piece walnut stocks as on this example, and an adjustable rear sight. Standard barrel length was 7-1/2" as on this example, but as TLA sixguns were essentially custom made to order, both longer-barreled and shorter-barreled examples are known.

As I mentioned above, owning a TLA sixgun had been a dream of mine for many years, a dream I never thought would be fulfilled. TLA sixguns are rare; production information is hard to come by and factory records have been scattered to the four winds, but estimates are that substantially fewer than 1000 revolvers were produced, including all models: the West Texas Flattop Target, South Texas Army, Texas Border Special, and TLA's best-known model, Grover's Improved Number Five. It is believed that Grover's Improved Number Five, the last TLA model to be introduced, was the most plentiful of the TLA models. The remaining models are extremely rare, and are seldom seen up for sale. Because of their rarity, and thus their resulting price tags, I thought owning a TLA sixgun would forever be nothing more than an unattainable dream.

Enter Jim Taylor. Jim is an expert marksman and hunter,  a past chairman of the Shootists, former Shootist of the Decade (an honor bestowed upon only one other individual, founder John Taffin), and a close friend and mentor who sponsored me into the Shootists. In 2006, Jim made my dream come true when he offered to sell me his West Texas Flattop Target, chambered in 45 Colt, at a more-than-reasonable price. Jim, a longtime Pastor and a true man of God, was looking to raise money for an African mission trip; he knew that I'd always dreamed of owning a TLA sixgun, so he sacrificed a very special sixgun for his friend and for the glory of the Lord. 

This sixgun had been presented to Jim by Bill Grover to use on an African safari, and was one of the last guns to come out of the TLA factory; it is almost certainly the final West Texas Flattop Target produced. Jim had Hamilton Bowen go over the internals, install a Bowen locking base pin, and tune the action. This sixgun has taken game in Africa, and has had several thousand full-power rounds put through it, but you'd never know it by appearance or mechanics: it is still beautiful, and locks-up like a new sixgun. 

Obviously, this is a "cold dead hands" gun, as it was my first TLA sixgun, and it had belonged to my dear friend and brother. If Jim outlives me, he'll see this sixgun again; and knowing Jim, he'll probably sell it again to help finance his work for the Lord.

So...thanks to Jim Taylor I'd finally acquired a TLA sixgun. But the itch wasn't quite scratched, as I still had the burning desire for a Grover's Improved Number Five someday...

Boge Quinn




Hamilton Bowen locking base pin replaces the original.



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Texas Longhorn Arms "West Texas Flattop Target" .45 Colt.



A Gathering of Grovers at Shootist Holiday 2009, held at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, NM. Left to right: Jim Taylor (the original owner) with Boge's 45 Colt West Texas Flattop Target. Boge with his 44 Magnum Number Five, his 45 Colt / 45 ACP convertible Number Five, and his "Skeeter Skelton" 44 Special (in holster). Travis Boggus with Boge's 41 Magnum West Texas Flattop Target (which was sold after the Shootist Holiday) and his 44 Magnum Number Five. Fermin Garza with his 44 Magnum Number Five and his 45 Colt Number Five. Terry Murbach with his 44 Magnum Number Five and his 45 Colt Number Five.



"Shotgun-style" trigger is set far back into the trigger guard. The trigger barely moves upon firing, with zero overtravel; this contributes to the magnificent trigger pull found on all TLA sixguns, with this example tuned by Hamilton Bowen being a cut above the rest.



Sights consist of post-cut blade front (top) and fully adjustable rear with locking screw (bottom).



One-piece stocks are fancy walnut.



Barrels are marked "One of One Thousand", but nowhere near that many were ever actually produced.



Author's sixgun, serial number T 830, is almost certainly the last Texas Flattop Target produced.