The Colt Single Action Army (also known as the Model P, Peacemaker, M1873, Single Action Army, SAA, and Colt 45) is an American history icon. Immortalized by Hollywood, lawmen, outlaws, and cowboys, the pistol is a lasting symbol of the old west.
Colt designed the gun for the U.S. government service revolver trials of 1873. The military adopted it as their standard issue service revolver until 1892. The SAA uses the .45 Colt cartridge, also known as .45 Long Colt or .45LC. This is not to be confused with .45 ACP commonly used in semi automatic pistols.
Countless companies have produced their own versions of the Colt over the years. It remains one of the most copied revolvers of all time. Hollywood made the gun even more famous in the western movie genre. Famous characters like the Duke, Wyatt Earp, and the man with no name used it to bushwhack bad guys on the silver screen since movies began.
As the name implies, the gun is single action only, meaning the hammer must be manually cocked back to fire each shot. This is opposed to most modern revolvers, which are double action, allowing the shooter to continually pull back the trigger, consequently cocking the hammer. Many shooters choose to load only five rounds in the cylinder. This is due to the fact that pressure on the hammer could cause a round to go off unexpectedly. Most SAA shooters will tell you the practice of loading five rounds is highly recommended. For rapid-fire situations, it is possible to hold back the trigger and fan the hammer with the shooter’s other hand. Ed McGivern dispelled the myth of the inaccuracy of this procedure by shooting tight groups while fanning his revolver.
Colt produced many variations of the gun. Barrel lengths were available in 4.75 inches, 5.5 inches, as well as the Cavalry standard, original 7.5 inches. Colt branded the shorter barreled revolvers as the “Civilian” or “Gunfighter” model (4.75 inches) and the Artillery Model (5.5 inches). There was also a variant with a sub 4-inch barrel, without an ejector rod unofficially referred to as the “Sheriff’s Model,” “Banker’s Special,” or “Storekeeper.”
Colt also offered the Single Action Army in different calibers. To allow for cross compatibility with the Winchester, Colt produced the SAA in .44-40 and dubbed it the “Colt Frontier Six-Shooter.” Additional period calibers for the SAA included .38-40 Winchester introduced in 1884, the .32-20 Winchester introduced in 1884, the .41 Colt introduced in 1885, the .38 Long Colt in 1887, the .38 Special and the .357 Magnum in the 20th Century.
The gun’s precise ergonomic feel added to its popularity. The Peacemaker didn’t care what environment it was being operated in. In rain, snow, sand, or grit, the gun would function. This high level of reliability is just what people in the American west wanted. The SAA’s reputation for accuracy, ruggedness and reliability, as well as it’s role in history, ensured it a seat among the most famous and prolific firearms of all time.