In warfare of the day, horses were an important part of the equation. In many of the battles on the plains, more horses fell than men. The revolver served alongside the saber for cavalrymen. These men often fought as dismounted troops.
No matter how intriguing the history of the firearm, I want to see how it performs first hand. That is what this report is about. The Colt SAA was designed around 1872 and delivered the next year. Colt designed a new revolver and chambered it for the most powerful handgun cartridge of its day.
Colonel Benet of Army Ordnance wanted his men to have the best possible cartridge. An important consideration was the ability to drop an Indian war pony at 100 yards. The standard .45 Colt loading used a nominal 250-grain bullet over 40 grains of black powder. (There were other combinations.) This loading generated 900 fps from the Colt’s standard 7 ½-inch barrel.
Besides many thousands of civilian and overseas sales, the revolver was purchased by the U.S. Army in over 37,000 examples by 1890. These revolvers were delivered with one-piece wood stocks and a nicely blued finish. I was curious as to how these revolvers met the need for 100 yard accuracy.
An original SAA, while quite expensive, might also be well worn. A modern clone seemed the best test mule. A Pietta revolver in .45 Colt with a 7 ½-inch barrel is well finished with a blue grip frame, cylinder, ejector rod and barrel, and case hardened hammer and frame. The revolver uses a modern transfer bar system that allows carrying six cartridges. The Pietta locks up tight and seems well made of good material.
|Ammunition||Velocity||Group in inches|
|Winchester 250-grain||707 fps||2.6 inches|
|Fiocchi 250-grain||715 fps||2.0 inches|
|Handload –Unique Powder|
|250-grain Magnus hard cast||860 fps||1.9 inches|
|250-grain Magnus hard cast||900 fps||2.25 inches|
I have fired the revolver extensively at ranges of up to 25 yards with good results. It will group five shots into 2 ½ inches at 25 yards with good loads. While hard cast bullets do not lead, and deliver good accuracy, original conical soft lead bullets are well suited to personal defense. Testing shows that they tend to tumble in media. For this test, I was leaning toward handloads. Initial testing showed some of the following results at 25 yards.
The handload was more accurate than the factory ammunition, but statistically that did not mean much. There are factory loads geared toward defense use, with 185- to 225-grain bullets, which are quite speedy. However, a light bullet sheds velocity more quickly over a long range. The problem would be trigger press, sight picture, and the human element.
A difference between the modern revolver and the original is sight regulation. Most revolvers were sighted to strike high at 25 yards to give troopers a fair chance of connecting at longer range. Today, we like revolvers sighted to strike to the point of aim at 15 to 25 yards. The Traditions revolver is well regulated in that regard.
Calculations showed that a 250-grain bullet at 900 fps and striking 2.5 inches high at 25 yards would be about 7 inches low at 100 yards. The handgun holding a 2.5-inch group at 25 yards should group into 10 inches at 100 yards—but it isn’t always that simple. Some handguns fall apart after 50 yards, others hold their accuracy better than expected.
I began at 50 yards with a realistic shooting position, keeping my back against a heavy post and setting the revolver between my knees in a solid sitting position. (Be aware of cylinder flash!) I fired three full cylinders of 250-grain handloads at the plate at 50 yards and connected with each. I was feeling pretty good about my combination.
At 100 yards, using the PPC shooters trick, I held on the neck and carefully pressed the trigger. After firing a cylinder, I began the long walk to the target. I had struck the target five times. The group was about 8 inches below the point of aim and measured 9 inches. Next, I tried another long-range handgun trick.
Since the hold over obscures the target, it is best to hold the front sight high—providing you know how high to hold, which means fieldwork. Also, the front sight will subtend several inches of the paper at 100 yards. Holding at the middle of the target, the front sight was raised as high as possible. I kept my concentration on the front sight and carefully pressed the trigger.
Recoil wasn’t a real factor but keeping the sights aligned and working the trigger becomes tiring at this level of concentration. I fired three cylinders at the target. The 15 shots were clustered near my point of aim and fell into a 16-inch group.
I fired well over 120 cartridges that day. These experiments confirm that the .45 Colt is plenty accurate for 100-yard antipersonnel and anti-warhorse work. The 250-grain bullet retains a degree of authority as well. While the practical merits of the shooting are debatable, the fun factor was huge. The good ol’ Peacemaker has legs and can be useful at longer range than most would credit it.
What’s the longest distance you have shot a pistol for groups? Are you a fan of the Single Action Army pistol? Share your answers or questions in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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