Freedom Arms Model 1997 .45 Colt


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

October 23rd, 2002




For many years now, Freedom Arms has been building some of the strongest and most powerful revolvers available. They have built their reputation upon their fine model 83 five-shot revolvers chambered for the awesome .454 Casull and .475 Linebaugh cartridges, along with the .357, 41, and .44 magnums, the .50 Action Express, and the .22 Long Rifle. These are the finest built production revolvers in existence, with the power and accuracy to take any game animal on Earth. These large frame five-shooters are built with the precision and craftsmanship of fine custom revolvers, with the required strength to handle the high pressure of the Casull and Linebaugh cartridges.

While the model 83 is bull-strong and has a massive cylinder, that level of strength is just not needed for standard cartridges, so Freedom Arms answered the call for a smaller and lighter revolver built with the same care and precision as their large-framed model 83. The result is the medium-frame model 1997. The first of these were six-shot .357 magnums, and  fine sixguns they are, but Freedom is now producing a fine little five-shot in .45 Colt on the model 97 frame. Freedom has for several years offered the model 83 with a five-shot .45 cylinder, but this model 97 is a much handier, more compact revolver. The handling qualities of this little gun have to be felt to be appreciated. The cylinder length of 1.623 inches is just barely longer than that of a Colt Single Action Army revolver, and the diameter is a bit smaller at just 1.580 inches. These measurements were taken hastily with my dial calipers, and may not be the official factory specifications, but are darn close. While the small cylinder dimensions give the gun great handling qualities, the five-shot cylinder gives it more strength than the Colt and its many copies.

The model 97 has a different lockwork than the model 83, employing a sliding transfer bar that is attached to the hammer, resulting in a crisp trigger pull while allowing the gun to be carried with a full five-shot payload.  The transfer bar will only contact the firing pin with the trigger held to the rear. The factory supplied owner’s manual suggests loading only four cartridges, leaving an empty chamber under the hammer, but this gun is absolutely safe to carry fully loaded with five .45 Colt cartridges.

The Model 97 received for testing is one of the handiest, best looking forty-fives that this author has ever handled. With black Micarta grip panels and a four and one-quarter inch barrel, the little jewel weighs in at just over two and one-quarter pounds. The entire gun, with the exception of the adjustable sights and black grip panels, is finished in a satin-stainless.  The fit and finish is impeccable. The Micarta grip panels are flawlessly fitted. The lockup of the cylinder is perfect, with no movement in any direction. The barrel / cylinder gap is almost imperceptible, and would not accept even the thinnest feeler gauge available. The fitting of the fully-adjustable rear sight into the top of the frame is perfect. The fitting of the grip frame to the cylinder frame is, again, perfect. The timing of the action is right where it should be. Each chamber aligns precisely with the loading gate as the cylinder is rotated to each click. This makes for easy loading and unloading of the relatively fat .45 cartridges and empty cases.  The feel of the Freedom Arms grip is like no other, feeling somewhere between that of a Colt SAA and a Ruger Bisley, but slimmer than either. It points naturally in my hand, while giving good recoil control with the compact handgun. The ejector rod housing is cam-cut for the rod to allow the ejector button to lay tight against the barrel, while standing away from the barrel in use. The base pin is held in place with a retaining screw to assure that the pin doesn’t move under recoil.

After much fondling and admiring of the little .45, I gathered a few different loads for testing. All group testing was performed at a distance of twenty-five yards, from a hand-held rested position. The excellent sights made target acquisition easy. The trigger pull, while crisp and smooth, let off at an average of four and one-quarter pounds, which is about right for a hunting revolver. I was at first concerned that a revolver this tight would start to bind after many loads were fired, but my concerns were unfounded. The model 97 fired and easily ejected all ammunition tested, from light target ammo to relatively hot Cor-Bon defense loads. Recoil was easily managed by the excellent grip of the model 97, even with the stoutest loads tested.  Group sizes ran from the tightest of five shots turned in with Cor-Bon 200 grain jacketed hollow points, to the largest groups with some 200 grain lead roundnose Cowboy Action ammunition. The Cor-Bon groups measured just one and one-quarter inches, and the Cowboy loads, the largest group fired, was only one and five-eighths inches! This is good accuracy from any revolver, and mighty impressive for a four and one-quarter inch barreled open sighted .45 Colt. I had intended to mount a scope sight on the model 97 for accuracy testing, but it grouped so well without one that I decided to forego that project. Besides, I didn’t want to ruin the fine handling qualities of the little five-shooter with the bulk of a scope.  I am certain, however, that with more testing and a better shooter, the accuracy of this gun would be amazing.

Overall, to say that I was impressed with the performance of the model 97 would be greatly understated.  While this gun is produced in a factory in Freedom, Wyoming, it is a disservice to call it a production gun. A better term would be factory custom. The Freedom Arms revolvers, while by no means cheap, represent a great value in a high quality firearm. They are truly custom-grade handguns, at a much lower price than many customized production guns.

You can go elsewhere and buy a serviceable .45 revolver for less money, but if you are ready to own the best, check out Freedom Arms online at:

Jeff Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.


The Freedom Arms Model 97 .45 Colt, like all Freedom Arms guns, ranks among the finest production guns ever made.



With quality ammunition such as Cor-Bon's 200-grain JHPs, the Model 97 will punch little-bitty groups with almost boring regularity, whether the target is paper, steel or flesh.



Long a fan of Freedom Arms' fine products, the author was really enamored with the smaller-framed, 5-shot Model 97.



The Model 97 exhibits fit and finish that are, in a word, perfect. Grip fit and metal-to-metal fit was superb, lockup was tight and flawlessly-timed, and barrel-cylinder gap was too small to be measured by even the smallest feeler gauge.



The Freedom Arms Model 97 employs a sliding transfer bar built into the hammer, resulting in a crisp trigger pull while allowing the gun to safely carry a full 5-shot payload.



The cylinder base pin is retained by a screw. This base pin will not loosen under the heaviest-recoiling loads!



The smaller frame size of the Model 97, coupled with the smaller 5-shot cylinder, makes for a superb packin' gun. While the cylinder is barely longer, and slightly smaller in diameter than a Colt SAA, the 5-shot capacity and meticulous Freedom Arms craftsmanship leaves the Model 97 with plenty of strength for heavy .45 Colt hunting loads.



The ejector rod is cam-cut so the ejector button lies nicely out of the way when not in use. Nice touch!



With the hammer at half-cock, each chamber aligns precisely with the loading gate as the cylinder is rotated to each click. This is a very useful, and often overlooked, aid to easy loading and unloading.



The Freedom Arms Model 97 is supplied with a simple and effective locking device.



While scope mounts are available for the Model 97, Jeff thought it would be a shame to hang a scope on top of such a beautifully-sized and handy package! The performance of the Model 97 proved that a scope was unnecessary for practical applications....



Among the wide variety of ammunition tested, the best average group size was 1-1/4" as recorded with Cor-Bon's excellent 200-grain JHP load. The WORST average group size was a mere 1-5/8" using 200-grain lead roundnose "Cowboy" ammo. The Model 97 can shoot!