Traditions Frontier 1873 Long Barrel Revolver

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms

Among the most enduring icons of the American West is the Single Action Army. This revolver is second to none in historical appeal among American shooters. Used by Wyatt Earp, Frank Hamer, and Lawrence of Arabia, the Colt .45 was the gunfighter’s gun of the century.

Today, the primary use for the single-action revolver is in cowboy action shooting. However, most of us will own the revolver simply for personal enjoyment.

Traditions revolver laying on holster with a box of Winchester ammunition

The Traditions revolver is well made of good material and handles quality ammunition well.

Just the same, the SAA will serve for home defense or hunting if you understand the revolver well—and you can shoot. I have enjoyed excellent results from the Pietta manufactured Traditions revolver. After packing mostly the 4 ¾-inch Gunfighters Gun, I recently decided to obtain a 7 ½-inch barrel .45. I looked no further than the Frontier 1873 revolver.

The Frontier 1873 revolver is well finished with a blue grip frame, cylinder, ejector rod and barrel, and case-hardened hammer and frame. The Frontier 1873 uses a modern transfer bar system that allows carrying six cartridges. Just the same, I adhere to the old rule: Load one cartridge, skip a cylinder, load four cartridges, cock the hammer and lower on an empty chamber. The Pietta locks up tight and seems well made of good material. I have fired the revolver extensively at close range and ranges of up to 25 yards with good results.

Ammunition Velocity 25-yard group in inches
Winchester 250-grain lead 707 fps 2.8 in
Winchester 225-grain PDX 860 fps 2.0 in
Fiocchi 250-grain lead 715 fps. 2.0 in
Hornady 185-grain Critical Defense 1140 fps 2.4 in.
HPR 250-grain JHP 755 fps 2.25 in.

Cowboy action loads are loaded to less than 800 fps as all that is needed is for them to reach the target. The personal defense loads are loaded hotter. These loads are comfortable to fire in the SAA with its recoil-dampening long barrel. A handloader may increase the power accuracy and economy of the cartridge. A hard cast 255-grain SWC at 900 fps is a decisive load.

Case hardening on Traditions revolver

Traditions’ case hardening is nicely done.

Old West Lore

I am a student of Old West history. It is more than interesting, it is pertinent. People fight and kill over the same things today but on a much larger scale. History is sometimes difficult to research, and there have been wrongs done by tall tales. Some have committed linguistic exhumations of history and found there is much truth in the legend. While some of the tales of the Old West had an imprint of insincerity others ring true.

These men lived by an imperative that involved hard choices. Some of the research I have done in police work and history is as enjoyable as licking honey off of a razor but must be done. I have to move beyond the classroom and into the field. I guarantee an authoritative narrative in this research. As an example, I often read tales of journalists or so-called experts of deduction that are not qualified to investigate. Someone does their work—it is the forensic scientist who is best qualified to solve historical questions.

Some crime writers do not know the difference between the skinny and the stinky when it comes to a cadaver. (Skinny bones, stinky flesh) I have taken the logic ladder approach when researching Old West history. First, I ask could it have happened? Then I ask did it happen? I use proven techniques to research these things. As Louis Pasteur said, ‘Fortune favors those with a prepared mind.’ This avoids bumcombe. The topic may not be worth the proscenium arch, but I find it important.

Winchester .45 Long Colt ammunition

The Winchester 250-grain load has been in continuous use for over 100 years with minor changes in the powder charge.

The Frontier 1873

The .45 Colt was intended not only to drop an enemy but his horse as well. More horses than men were killed in a number of battles in the west, not only against the Indian but against rustlers and outlaws. One of the requirements of the SAA was that it be capable of dropping an Indian war pony at 100 yards. Part of my rationale for the long barrel SAA was to test this requirement.

The power of the .45 Colt, even with a modest load, wasn’t in question. The original 250-grain conical bullet load with 40 grains of black powder would generate 900 fps. I tested the HPR 250-grain JHP—a modest load at 750 fps. As I often do, I set up a line of water jugs to test penetration. The water jugs are six inches wide so penetration is easily evaluated. This load sailed through seven jugs and stopped. That is 42 inches of penetration! As a comparison most 230-grain JHP .45 auto loads penetrate 12-16 inches in the same medium.

Expansion was modest. I was impressed. Those that state a small bore will do the work of a heavy caliber simply must not understand physics. By improving ballistics to a 250-grain flat point SWC at 900 fps the .45 Colt becomes a formidable long-range handgun. This isn’t the gun to load hotter—that is why loading manuals have the RUGER ONLY section. But for what it will do, it is impressive, and remains a light and fast handling combination.

As for my 100-yard experiments, that is a story for another time. But suffice to say the Frontier revolver will stay on a man-sized target at 100 yards in the hands of those that practice.

Do you shoot single action revolvers or Cowboy action? Share your experiences or opinion of the 1873 Frontier in the comment section.

SLRule

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 Shooter’s 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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Comments (11)

  • Stewart

    |

    I have read half a dozen books that all claim about the same thing;
    The 40 grains of black powder behind a 255 grain pure lead bullet in the old balloon head cases generates more than 1000 FPS! One of them even claims to have shot 100+ year old antique ammo of that type and reliably choreographed it’s average at +1,050 FPS!
    Recoil was stiff enough that the Army required service ammo to have only 26, or 28 grains of black powder in their ammunition, depending on weather it was .45 LC, or .45 Schofield brass, then demanded that the new ammo have a slightly smaller rim that could be used in either weapon. I have heard that this load was supposed to generate over 850 FPS? (Again according to some books?)
    Is there a reliable way to find out by experimentation what was true and what if conjecture?
    They all also state that it is impossible to duplicate such black powder loads in modern cases because there is less volume to play with.
    I have two questions for those here;
    1. As a shooter of the 45 long colt in a modern S&W Model 25 revolver, what is the maximum safe smokeless powder lode with a 255-265 grain jacketed slug?
    2. If I exclusively thumb cock it, can I used that gun in Cow boy matches, just for the fun of it and see who well I do?
    Sincerely,
    Stewart.

    Reply

  • JR

    |

    I recently purchased a Uberti, stainless, 1873 El Patron Cattleman, competition model, in .357. I chose .357 so I wouldn’t have to add another caliber to my ammo inventory but I think a Uberti in .45 Colt may be in added in the future.
    This Uberti Cattleman is meticulously constructed, accurate, and a pleasure to shoot.

    Reply

  • TJK

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    Howdy Bob,
    I’ve been shooting 7 1/2 in. Ruger Vaqueros In CAS for about 17 years. I shoot Gunfighter class, and I find the 7 1/2s balance nicely for single hand shooting. I use the same load for pistol and rifle, a 200 gr. bullet with 5.6 gr. of Tite-Group. I get a little over 900 fps from my 7 1/2s, and haven’t tested my rifle, but I can make 100 yd. shots without elevating my sights. I enjoyed your article, and I think single actions don’t get enough credit these days.

    Reply

    • Bob Campbell

      |

      Thanks for reading! Glad you enjoyed this. Yes, the Single Action is an awesome revolver!
      Bob

      Reply

  • Tom peterson

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    Just curious. If carring SA Army with transfer bar for defense, why load 5 instead of 6? That extra she’ll might come in useful. I understand why 5 for CAS but not for self defense. Respectfully submitted.

    Reply

    • Bob Campbell

      |

      Tom,

      Thanks for reading!

      I load five from habit and tradition. It keeps things straight if you have an older SAA revolver that isn’t safe for six. If you are carrying the transfer bar gun for defense use then by all means use your own judgment. They are rated safe for six@
      Bob

      Reply

  • Big Swamp Will

    |

    I use a pair of the 7.5″ Traditions Frontier 1873s in .44 Rem Mag for Cowboy Action Shooting. In that caliber you can load down to a weak .44 Special and up to something that will drop a bison. Very versatile gun.

    Reply

  • Bob Campbell

    |

    Sir
    Thanks for reading.

    Used original term from Sam Clemens day, sometimes found as Buncombe, originally a name of a town of some bad repute.
    Bunkum is modern and perhaps vulgarized term.

    Bob

    Reply

  • cj

    |

    If you want to get a great insight into the “Colt” pistols and how they almost did not become a reality. (Samuel had a hard time getting his pistols to be accepted) Read “Empire of the Summer Moon” by S.C. Gwynne. He has excellent history of the Colt pistols and how the Texas Rangers chose to use them after the Army turned them down. Bad news for the Commanche and Quanah Parker the infamous war chief,

    Reply

  • Vincent LaVallee

    |

    Bob, I have been an owner of Ruger revolvers for over 50 years. My 357 Mag 6,5″ Blued Ruger I bought in 1965 and it looks very good and operates perfectly still today. I use to quick draw with it, besides shooting practice, A few years ago I had it upgraded for the very problem you mention in your article – too be able to load all 6 rounds with safety! Now it cocks differently and loading the ammo is different as well, as far as the hammer goes.

    I also bought another Ruger 45 Colt 5.5″ Flattop that shoots 45 ACP with a separate cylinder. This one is all steel. Both have a pearl grip (not ivory!). Both have been fabulous. the357 Mag revolver is very accurate, even 100 yards when I use to go hunting with it.

    I have come a long ways since my introduction to guns in 1965, and have learned awful lot about ammo over the years. Between my two handguns, I can shoot 357 mag, 38 special, 45 ACP and 45 LC ammo, so I have a stash of all four. I have shot a lot in the past 3-4 years ever since I bought the 45 Ruger. This includes Cowboy rounds, which I never really use in any quantity, and the very powerful Buffalo Bore LC ammo. I cap out using The BB ammo up to the 1214 ft. lbs. load, which is almost as powerful as all but the top two 44 Mag ammo.

    As for the 357 Mag Ruger, I can shoot any 357 Mag ammo in it with no problem, and since it is a bit longer, there is less recoil, but the more powerful ammo is louder than the high power 45 LC.

    I have created a Microsoft Excel file with ballistics and links where to buy online over 300 handgun ammo and 35 rifle ammo. I update this regularly and send it out once a month to those who wish to receive it and purchase ammo they desire online. Of course, I created it for my own use, so the 4 calibers I mentioned earlier that I have and use are more heavily populated! I use this to buy ammo all the time. Sometimes I want the lowest cost, sometimes the most powerful, and sometime the best bang for the buck with high power. Or sometimes I am looking for a bullet type in one of my calibers.

    So, if have interest in this free file, I will send it out to you. This is NOT for smart phones, and would be a bit of a stretch on tablets as well, but doable. It is best viewed and used on a real computer. I have a small following already whom I send to each month, all mainly from this site. To reach me, just email me at vlavalle @ix .netcom.com.

    Vincent

    Reply

  • Scott W. Hicks

    |

    Hello Mr. Campbell,

    Did you perhaps mean “bunkum”, rather than “bumcombe”?

    (A minor quibble, to be sure).

    Thank you for the informative article.

    Pietta firearms certainly have their appeal.

    Reply

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