Review: Traditions 1873 Sheriff — A Modern Sheriff’s Model

By Wilburn Roberts published on in Firearms, Reviews

The Colt Single Action Army was introduced in 1873 after much development, and the addition of key features including a solid top strap and chambering for the .45 Colt cartridge—there have been other calibers. The original revolver was intended to give troopers an edge against aboriginal tribesman. One requirement was that the revolver be effective against Indian war ponies at 100 yards. However, civilians and lawmen needed a faster handling revolver. Something more handle-heavy than barrel-heavy, and which might be drawn quickly from a well-fitted holster was needed.

Traditions Sheriff's Model Revolver left profile

The Traditions Sheriffs Model is one attractive revolver!

Colt introduced the 5.5-inch barrel revolver, which remains a good compromise, and finally the Gunfighter’s Gun, the 4.75-inch barrel revolver. There had been various short barrel revolvers modified by gunsmiths, including Colt Navy revolvers with barrels as short as two inches. The loading gate was deleted, but these early concealed-carry revolvers sometimes had carefully regulated front sights included for serious use.

The Colt Single Action revolver was introduced with an ejectorless short barrel about 1882. The barrel lengths encountered include the 2.5-, 3-, and 4-inch length. Early versions used the same frame as other Single Action Army revolvers, but later versions used a special frame without the ejector rod opening. These revolvers were sometimes called house guns or the shopkeeper’s model. It was only later that the term Sheriff’s Model was coined.

Many western lawmen carried the SAA, and it was often worn under a suit coat. There was always some type of backup, and it may have been an older revolver such as the Colt 1860 that had been cut down or a double action .38 caliber revolver. The Sheriff’s Model was as expensive as any SAA, perhaps more so, and would have been carried as a primary handgun or town gun. Relatively few originals exist, and there are many fakes.

Two Single Action Army Revolvers

Sheriff’s Model, above, compared to 4 ¾-inch barrel revolver, below.

The type survived through the second and third generation SAA revolvers. Most were purchased as collectibles and not carried. The majority of folks using a SAA for a field gun continue to use one of the longer barrel revolvers. It should not be surprising that more than a few carry a SAA for personal defense and keep one at home ready.

If you appreciate blue steel and walnut, more than combat Tupperware, you will appreciate the SAA. A person who appreciates the type and fires the SAA, often may give a good account of themselves in home defense. I have been firing a modern version of the Sheriff’s Model that I find an excellent handgun for cowboy action shooters, collectors, handgun enthusiasts of every type, and outdoorsmen.

This is the Traditions SAA Sheriff’s Model. Traditions has a good reputation for quality firearms at a fair price. The Sheriff’s Model illustrated is one of these. The revolver is made in Italy. This revolver offers a practical difference compared to the original Sheriff’s Model.

Case being removed from the cylinder of a revolver

Most spent cases simply fell out of the cylinder.

The 3.5-inch barrel revolver features a functional ejector rod assembly. It works best with the muzzle upward to give the cartridges a little assist, but overall the ejector rod works well. I have fired original short barrel SAA revolvers, and they are handle-heavy for the most part. This revolver is very well balanced. It is similar to the Smith and Wesson Model 27 3.5-inch barrel revolver in heft.

The frame is nicely finished in case hardened steel and the cylinder, frame, barrel, and ejector rod are nicely blued. The grips are dark walnut. The action is single action only—cock the hammer and press the trigger to fire. The revolver is loaded by placing the hammer on half cock and then opening the cylinder latch and inserting a cartridge into the chamber one at a time. It is a six-shooter.

The ignition is a modern transfer bar type—another improvement over the original SAA revolver. This type of action features a bar that prevents the hammer from contacting the frame mounted firing pin unless the trigger is pressed completely to the rear. When the trigger is pressed, the transfer bar rises to allow the hammer to smack the transfer bar. The transfer bar then strikes the firing pin. The trigger action is smooth and crisp and locktime is quite fast with this modern revolver. I own several Pietta revolvers, and I have enjoyed the best luck with each.

Rocking K Belt Slide holsters

The Rocking K Belt Slide is well made of good material and makes for good packing.

I am a fan of many revolver cartridges. For personal defense, the .45 Colt is perhaps the most proven. The big pumpkin ball tumbles when it hits, at least with the original 255-grain load, and makes for emphatic effect. However, another favorite is the .38 Special. The Special, when properly handloaded with hard cast bullets, is a great outdoors cartridge. The .357 Magnum has plenty of penetration and offers good protection against biped and quadruped threats.

I am leading up to my plan… I ordered a Traditions Sheriff’s Model with the stipulation that my first choice was .45 Colt, but I would be happy to take the .357 Magnum. As it turned out, the .357 Magnum revolver arrived. After some thought this should have been my first choice.

The .38 Special is a very practical practice and small game cartridge, and with the strongest loads, it will prove effective in personal defense. There are even shotshell loads available for dusting off reptiles and rodents. The .357 Magnum is available with excellent personal defense loadings offering real power. With heavy-loaded hard-cast SWC bullets, the .357 Magnum is well suited to defense against the big cats and small bears. Let’s look at the projectile launcher itself.

Sheriff's model compared to 4.75-inch barrel SAA pistol

The shorter Sheriff’s Model is well balanced and has a distinctive look.

The Sheriff’s Model is well balanced. The handgun isn’t barrel heavy nor handle heavy like the original Sheriff’s Model. A combination of a relatively heavy barrel, rigid cylinder base pin, and a hand-filling handle make for a comfortable handgun to handle and fire. Even with the heaviest loads, a combination of good weight and a plow-handled grip make for pleasant firing.

The fixed sights consist of a long cut out in the top of the cylinder and a fixed front sight. As delivered, the sights are sighted properly for the most popular .357 Magnum loads. The 125-grain JHPs fire to the point of aim at 25 yards while the 158-grain loads are slightly high. The 158-grain loads are sighted for 50-yard use.

Initial firing was done with Winchester’s .38 Special 158-grain load. The firing was so much fun, I went through a box in short order—even loading and ejecting each cartridge one at a time per each cylinderful. This is labor intensive but also a labor of love. Most of these cartridges were fired at range bric-a-brac, including branches and dirt clods. The results were satisfying.

Caliber stamp on a revolver

The .357 Magnum was not around until 1935, but it is a good fit for the modern SAA.

Moving to the Winchester .357 Magnum 158-grain JHP things got interesting. I set down to my Bullshooter’s rest and fired the pistol at a long 20 yards. I was rewarded with a neat cluster of five shots in 2 ½ inches. All this from a load clocking an honest 1215 fps! Next up were handloads.

I have developed a fire breathing loading for occasional use that develops 1600 fps from a 4-inch barrel GP100, using a combination of H110 powder and the Hornady 125-grain XTP. This load clocked 1490 fps from the Traditions revolver’s short barrel. Five cartridges were enough; if the need is there, I will field these loads. Next up was another combination using H110 powder but with the Hornady 180-grain XTP for 1100 fps. This is a good choice for defense against larger animals and deadly accurate.

Most of us will put the Sheriffs Model to more mundane use, and so will I. I simply like to see just what any handgun can accomplish with proven loads. The handgun is fast from leather and quite accurate. I do not think I would be out of the running at Cowboy Action Shooting with the Sheriff’s Model and enough practice.

I would work up a handload using the Magnus hard cast SWC at about 800 fps for this chore. I hope you detect my enthusiasm for this handgun. While well suited to serious use and cowboy action shooting, this is one fun revolver!

Specifications and Features

Traditions SAT73005
.357 Magnum (accepts .38 Special)
Single action only
3.5″ barrel
6 rounds capacity
Color case hardened frame
One-piece walnut grips
Fixed blade sight
Made in Italy by Pietta

Are you a fan of old revolvers? How about cowboy action shooting? Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (1)

  • D. Davenport

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    Thirty years of cowboy action shooting says a lot about my love of single action handguns and the Colt 45 is the “big thumper” of the bunch. However, most prefer the 38 cal. With that being said, anyone who carries a single action hand gun for self defense isn’t serious about self defense. There is nothing a single action can do that a double action or semi-automatic can’t do better.

    Reply

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