When the cowboy-shooting bug bites you, you get it bad. I have had it for over 40 years with no sign of a respite. I love handling, loading, unloading and firing these revolvers. I do not own a single original example. For the most part, they are too valuable to fire and too expensive to obtain. I use a number of modern replica revolvers of outstanding fit, finish and performance. Many of the early guns were closer to iron than steel in the material used and the modern revolvers are designed to offer good performance and to stand up to the rigors of Cowboy Action Shooting.
Among my favorites is the Traditions Frontier 1873 Single Action revolver. I call this style of revolver the Single Action Army sometimes, but I often just refer to the revolvers as the Peacemaker. If I happen to be firing one in .44-40 WCF, I call it a Frontier Six Shooter. If you prefer, call it a hog leg or Old Loudmouth—it all fits.
Pietta makes the Traditions revolver in Italy. I have enjoyed excellent luck with this maker. The revolvers are among the best-balanced and fastest-handling handguns of all time. The Single Action Army was the most powerful, accurate and rugged revolver in the world. The original Colt 1873 was delivered to the cavalry with a 7.5-inch barrel revolver, chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge. The cartridge was designed to give troopers the ability to stop aboriginal warriors with a single shot, but also to drop a war pony at 100 yards if need be. They performed as designed.
Later, lawmen and cattle drivers adopted the revolver. The original barrel length was deemed unwieldy for most uses. The 5.5-inch barrel length is a great balance preferred by many. Accuracy is nearly as good as the long barrel, but the shorter tube handles more quickly from leather. However, lawmen working in town wanted an even shorter barrel cut off—even with the end of the ejector rod.
The 4.75-inch barrel proved to be among the fastest handling and best balanced. I have always preferred this length and the .45 Colt chambering. As for the Traditions revolver, the 1873 balances as well as any cowboy gun. The blue finish is as good as any revolver, regardless of the cost. The case-hardened receiver was a necessity with the powerful new .45 Colt cartridge back in the day, and looks gorgeous today.
The colors are bright, lively, and very well done. The grips are walnut and checkered for good adhesion. I carefully considered these grips, as smooth grips and the old Eagle and Shield grips are traditional. For those engaged in Cowboy Action Shooting, the checkered grips are the best thing going. They offer good adhesion and abrasion, but do not detract from the excellent hand fit of the plow-handled grip design. These are a one-piece design with no screws. They really do feel like plow handle, and that is a timeless and ergonomic design. The fit of the backstrap to the receiver is excellent without overlap.
The sight picture was sometimes a problem with old revolvers with only a groove in the front strap. However, the Traditions revolver sights are a square notch rear and round front sight. They are well done and offer a good sight picture. The front of the cylinder is radiused, which looks good and aids in holstering the handgun. Barrel cylinder gap is tight. The trigger action is crisp and light at about three pounds. Timing and lockup leave nothing to be desired.
The primary departure from the original cowboy revolver is that the Frontier 1873 features a transfer bar ignition. Original revolvers and many made today demanded that the revolver be carried with an empty chamber under the hammer. The hammer-mounted firing pin would rest on the primer of a chambered cartridge. The transfer bar system uses a frame-mounted firing pin. As you cock the hammer, a bar rises and comes between the firing pin and the hammer. The hammer falls and strikes the bar, transferring energy to the firing pin and the primer, firing the revolver.
When the handgun is at rest, the bar is below the firing pin. However, unlike some modern renditions, the Traditions revolver allows loading while the revolver is at half cock. While I load all of my single-action revolves with five rounds out of habit, and a well-developed desire not to perforate myself, the transfer bar system is a good change.
As for caliber choice in these revolvers, it is all up to individual preference. I have the greatest respect for the .44-40 WCF, but ammunition supply is more difficult. If you are primarily interested in CAS, the .357 Magnum makes the most sense. You may use a mild-shooting .38 Special such as Winchester USA loads in competition. Recoil is modest and accuracy good. If you have the need, the .357 Magnum is certainly a formidable defense cartridge. As for myself, I prefer the .45 Colt. This is the first with the most, the real deal and a great all around defense, boon-docking and packing cartridge.
I rounded up an eclectic supply of ammunition from HPR, Hornady, and Winchester to test the revolver. The majority of cartridges fired were the Winchester. Recoil was mild and powder burned clean. The 250-grain bullet strikes to the point of aim. Single-action revolvers are sometimes problematic and good sight regulation is appreciated. The revolver handles quickly, and I fired a 50-round box of Winchester loads in fast order.
Firing at small objects at known and unknown range, the load and gun combination proved accurate. The HPR load is unusual—loaded with a clean 250-grain FMJ bullet. Accuracy was good and leading was never an issue. I also fired a quantity of the Hornady Critical Defense load. Designed for the Taurus Judge, this load jolts a 185-grain FTX bullet to over 900 fps. Quite a few CAS shooters keep their single-action revolvers on hand for personal defense. After all, they are completely familiar with the revolvers so who am I to criticize their choice? At seven yards, this load struck just below the point of aim. Accuracy was good.
With several hundred rounds through the Traditions revolver, my impression is good. The 1873 is well made of good material, accurate and well suited to CAS shooting. The revolver is also a fine recreational shooter, and if need be, would save your life. This is a lot of gun for the money.
Do you own any single-action pistols? How does Traditions stack up as a cowboy gun? Share your thoughts, experiences or impressions 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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