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.
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.
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.
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.
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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