U.S. Firearms .45 Colt Shopkeeper


by Jared Schmidt

photography by Jared Schmidt

October 17th, 2008




Regular readers need no introduction to U.S. Firearms’ fine products. Recently they teamed up with Lew Horton Distributors to make a special series of Single Action Army revolvers in .45 Colt with 3” to 3 ½” barrels. They are called the Sheriff’s and Shopkeeper’s model respectively. Lew Horton is well known among Smith & Wesson aficionados for their special run of short barreled N frames. Particularly 3” .44 Specials and Magnums which have almost a cult following among devoted revolver enthusiasts.

Colt made a Sheriff’s model starting in the last quarter of the 19th century, which is the standard SAA sans the ejector rod with the frame smoothed on the side to preclude the attachment of one. They were offered with barrel lengths ranging from 2” up to about 5.5”. The USFA product with the same name comes standard with a 3” ejectorless barrel to remain true to the original. Looking at their recent online catalog, the Sheriff’s model is also offered in 2”, 3.5” and 4” barrel lengths. Extraction is accomplished either by gravity, which is a viable option in a revolver with chambers as smooth as are most U.S. Firearms’ are, or by using a stick or wooden dowel to punch out the empties.

The Shopkeeper’s model which is the subject of this article is of the same idea of a short fast handling sixgun, but it has the addition of an ejector rod. The ejector rod in my opinion makes it a much more appealing choice. It has a 3.5” barrel which is as short as you can go and still get some extraction on the fired cases. The barrel being 1 ¼” shorter than the shortest standard S.A.A. makes a marked difference in the handling characteristics of the piece. Since I am not known for carrying a wooden dowel around in my pocket I decided that the Shopkeeper was the one for me.

Finish options offered are the Rodeo, Rodeo II, Cowboy, and SAA. The Rodeo is finished with a matte blued finish and is an excellent choice for a working sixgun. The Rodeo II has a matte nickel finish which would be idea if you planed on using it in a wet or humid environment. The Cowboy and SAA are two of the company’s premium finishes. The Cowboy has a rich blue all over, frame included, that the factory calls “Dome Blue”. The SAA is the most traditional looking of the revolvers. Doug Turnbull applies his gorgeous case color to the frame, with the remainder of the revolver finished in “Dome Blue”. Most of the revolvers offered now come with the sides of the hammer polished like the 2nd and 3rd generation Colts.

Fit and finish on my revolver is near perfect. The polishing is done correctly leaving no rounded corners with the flats remaining flat. The bluing is very rich and even, with exquisite case coloring on the frame. Throats measure .452” and chambers are tight as they should be. Timing was excellent with the bolt dropping in the leads, the cylinder locks up with no carry up, and at half cock the chambers line up with the loading gate. Fitting between the grip frame and main frame are almost seamless. Out of the box the action was heavy but smooth and the trigger pull was about 4#. I added a leather washer under the mainspring and installed a wire bolt and trigger spring from Wolff. This reduced the effort to cock it and dropped the trigger pull to a crisp 2.5#. The only other addition was a Belt Mountain sheriff model base pin to allow a little more throw on the ejector rod.

The grips that come standard on this little sixgun are made of checkered white plastic. They are very well fitted and feel good in your hand, but leave a lot to be desired aesthetically. I decided that the grips needed to be special on such a nice revolver so I dug through my stash of wood and selected a nice figured piece of black walnut. The grips ended up a little thinner than factory at the bottom and a touch thicker at the top, which feels perfect in my hands. I also made them one piece so a screw wouldn’t take away from the natural beauty of the wood.  

The proof is in the shooting, and the revolver preformed admirably. The sights are thicker and more visible than a vintage Colt, which to my eyes is a good thing even though I have friends who prefer thinner front sights.  I have tried close to a dozen different loads with bullets ranging in weight from 240 to 280gr. All loads tried hit dead on for windage and ranged from hitting right on top of the sight to 3” low for elevation. That is excellent sight regulation for a fixed sight revolver, and seems to be a common attribute to USFA products. Favorite loads are a commercial cast 250gr RN ahead of 6.0gr Red Dot, 255gr Keith SWC cast from an Idea 454424 mold ahead of 8.0gr of Unique, and a 280gr SWC cast from a custom mold also loaded with 8.0gr Unique. Groups at 25 yards average in the 2” to 3” range. It is not uncommon for 3 shots to be touching which leads me to believe the revolver is capable of much greater accuracy than I am able to show. Shooting offhand out to 50 yards an 8” x 10” steel plate is in grave danger.

There was some concern that the ejector rod would be too short and thus be useless, but that concern proved unfounded. With the revolver held level and the ejector rod worked smartly the cases would clear the ejection port. When pushed in slowly it would move the case about ¼” which was plenty to get a fingernail under the rim. If the sixgun is held with the barrel up at a 45 degree angle, like I usually do for unloading, most cases readily dropped out of the chambers. Only a stubborn few required a light tap from the ejector to dislodge. Reloading time was a little slower than with a 4 ¾” barrel but only slightly so. As mentioned above, the revolver has a very good feel in the hands. It is very lively and quick pointing with less weight out front. I am a huge fan of the 4 ¾” SAA which got its reputation for being handy and quick from the holster. For up close and swift shooting I think that the 3 ½” might be a shade better. Recoil and muzzle flip were no more noticeable than with the longer barrel. As expected in several hundred rounds fired no malfunctions or problems have presented themselves.

From what I understand they made 50 of each of the four finish options in both Sheriff’s and Shopkeeper’s trim. So that is 200 of each series, 400 total. If you want one you better hurry, I am sure they won’t last long.





Jared Schmidt

NOTE: All load data posted on this web site are for educational purposes only. Neither the author nor GunBlast.com assume any responsibility for the use or misuse of this data. The data indicated were arrived at using specialized equipment under conditions not necessarily comparable to those encountered by the potential user of this data.  Always use data from respected loading manuals and begin working up loads at least 10% below the loads indicated in the source manual.



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Click pictures for a larger version.


USFA Shopkeeper .45 Colt.



 One-piece black walnut grips made by the author.



Belt Mountain Sheriff’s Model locking base pin.



 Shopkeeper next to 4 ¾” Rodeo.



50’ group shot offhand with an Ideal 454-424 mold.



 2.3” 25 yard group shot using a 255gr RCBS Keith mold.



 2.6” group shot at 25 yards using custom 280gr SWC mold.