There are firearm designs that are too good to die.
It isn’t a difficult chore to compare modern self-loading handguns and AR rifles to the good guns of the past and realize the modern pieces come out on top in a tactical sense.
But, just the same, there are many older firearms that accomplish most chores with style and panache.
There are guns in the safe that are used more than others, and often enough this use is disproportionate to their actual ability. I am never happier than when firing “cowboy guns.”
A solid advantage is that the same cartridge may be chambered in both the rifle and the revolver.
There is nothing wrong with a revolver in one caliber and a rifle in the other, but a setup that takes the same cartridge is a charming combination to many of us.
And when you compare the cartridges chambered in these firearms to the modern 9mm and .223, those who feel that one-shot, one-hit is the primary requirement may not be behind the curve at all.
A Match Made in Heaven
The .32-20, .38 Special, .44-40 or .45 Colt will provide a day’s enjoyment, firing hundreds of cartridges without producing eddies in the arm or a sore spot for a day or two.
The combination of efficiency, economy, accuracy and historical significance is practically unequaled.
Add the ability to use the cartridge in both a revolver and a lever-action rifle and you have a cartridge that clearly deserved its status in the Old West.
I am at the point where every firearm and cartridge doesn’t have to have a well-defined task. Some are owned for historical or recreational value.
The .32-20 is versatile, and while there are better choices for deer-sized game, the .32-20 has taken game that we might find better suited to larger cartridges.
The .44-40 is arguably the best of the old “dash” or Winchester Center Fire rifle cartridges.
My choice for handgun and lever-action use, however, is the .45 Colt.
Why I Love the .45
I like the cartridge for its power in the handgun and economy (with handloads) in the rifle.
As for accuracy, when firing any firearm for accuracy, the most important variable is the person behind the sights. Light recoil is an aid to keeping the gun steady.
There is no good reason to knock yourself off of the bench at the range.
If factory performance were the sole criteria for choosing the .45 Colt, I would probably pass, but I am a handloader and you should be as well.
A hard-cast lead bullet at 700 fps may be fired all day in comfort.
Bump that same bullet up to 1,000 fps and you have a game taker or a load capable of personal defense to 100 yards if needed.
(The 260-grain Keith style .45 is ideal.)
Alternately, for home defense and running away pests, the SIG Sauer V Crown jacketed hollow point is a fine choice, accurate and capable of good expansion.
The Colt and Winchester Backstory
West of the 98th Meridian—where the line bisected Kansas and out to the Sierras—was labeled the Great American Desert in geography books well into the 19th Century.
Cowboys lived in the dramatic grinding reality of the day. They herded cattle, mended fences and rescued strays in all types of weather.
Rustlers and Indians were a concern. While many cowboys chose the .45 Colt revolver or the .44-40 rifle, the .44-40 combination was very popular.
The .32-20 and .38-40 have merit, but were less popular. I have enjoyed vintage revolvers but my present favorite is a new Colt SAA with 4¾-inch barrel.
(I began with a .32-20 handgun and rifle, but traded up.) I have nothing against using museum pieces for hunting and shooting, but the Colt is a fine handgun.
My Winchester 1892 is also a modern carbine. It is manufactured in Japan, not Connecticut, but represents a high point in Winchester’s quality.
In the Old West, a good shot that knew his rifle well could take game we might think too heavy for the WCF calibers.
Today, the .45 Colt will do the same, but I have better hunting rifles.
The level of power available, coupled with good penetration, will take deer and boar cleanly with good shot placement at modest range.
On the frontier, the frontiersman made do with what he had and was probably a good shot that knew his rifle well.
Colt and Winchester Advantages
The fast handling of the Colt revolver is well known. The Single Action Army points like a finger and the plow-handled grip frame is comfortable even with heavy loads.
The rifle may be loaded a bit hotter than the revolver. Much of this improvement was possible because the Winchester 1892 rifle is a strong action.
In manipulating the rifle, leverage is excellent due to the relatively short cartridges that the Winchester 1892 chambers.
The 1892 features a solid bottom receiver. The bolt recesses and the twin locking bolts are designed for strength.
The receiver walls are thick and the rails and slots are also made of good steel. Vertical and longitudinal support is good.
Each locking bolt is held strongly against the bolt when the rifle is locked.
As for the revolver, the good design with a solid locking base pin keeping the cylinder firmly in place has excellent accuracy potential.
It will not take the same loads safely that the Ruger Blackhawk will, but then again, it is lighter and easier to pack.
A 260-grain bullet at 1,000 fps is as hot as I go in the revolver, and then only occasionally.
Sights and Accuracy
The rifle is useful as issued with its original sights. Eyesight isn’t what it used to be, however, and I have added a set of XS sights.
The aperture rear sight and bold front sight are a big improvement over the original buckhorn sights, even for those with 20-20 vision.
The rifle offers excellent accuracy potential to 100 yards for those that are able to account for drop—but then 50 yards is more reasonable.
The .32-20, .38-40 and . 44-40 have rolling cartridge case shoulders that are more difficult to handle in handloading.
I like the straight-walled .45 Colt. I am primarily a revolver shooter and the hard-hitting .45 Colt is a favorite.
A shooter primarily counting on the rifle just may opt for the .44 Magnum. But then there isn’t much I cannot do with the .45 Colt inside of 50 yards.
A tip-in handloading – original bullets used an alloy that was one part tin for 20 parts lead. A bullet that is similarly soft enough to slug up, but hard enough to limit leading, is best.
Sometimes, hard-cast bullets do not provide the best accuracy;, others may be brilliantly accurate.
I have enjoyed good results with Matt’s Bullets and a modest charge of Titegroup, Winchester 231 or Alliant Unique breaking about 1,100 fps gives good accuracy in the rifle.
It isn’t difficult to work up a load in the revolver that gives 900 fps, a useful improvement and well suited for field use.
For some applications, the Hornady XTP is a choice. This bullet offers excellent accuracy potential and expands even at modest velocity.
The JHP bullet is crimped normally, the SWC bullets are crimped over the driving band instead of the crimp groove for proper feed in the lever-action rifle.
The Ideal Combination
There are other combinations that work well. As an example, a good deer hunting rifle is the Classic 1894 Winchester.
Mine is perhaps 55 years old and is quite accurate loaded with the Hornady LeveRevolution loading.
When carrying this rifle, I may carry the Colt SAA or I may deploy the Colt Python .357 Magnum. Then there is the .22 caliber combination.
I own a Colt SAA .22, but I do not yet own a Winchester .22 lever action—it is one step at a time. I do own a Henry rifle.
If there is a more accurate . 22 lever-action, I have not yet seen it.
The final choice is up to you.
What’s your go-to handgun and rifle combination? Let us know in the comments below.