Traditions 1873 Revolver—Cowboy Action, Cowpoke, Self Defense

Traditions 1873 revolver in half-cock position

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.

rear notch sight on a Traditions Model 1873 revolver
The rear sight notch is superior to early cartridge revolvers.

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.

Traditions Model 1873 revolver right side

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” href=”” target=”_blank”>.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.

Winchester 45 colt 250 grain cartridge
Winchester’s traditional lead load is accurate. The composition is hard to resist leading.

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.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (12)

  1. Purchased the Traditions Rawhide series in .45 Colt with the 5.5″ bbl over a year ago. Have put about 500 rounds through it so far, a mixed bag of factory stuff as well as my hand loads. My particular specimen is accurate usually printing groups under 3″ at 25 yards off hand. For the price I paid, $399.99+tax, I was shocked at the trigger. It is very smooth and breaks at about 3 .lbs. My favorite and most accurate hand load is CCI large pistol primer, 35 grains of FFFG Goex, and Hornady’s 255 grain lead flat nose. This load is powerful and accurate. I bought this revolver because I needed a new trail gun when I hike. I have no complaints so far.

  2. Have any of you had issues with the firing pin moving forward and not allowing the cylinder to rotate with rounds in the chambers. Other than that I love both of mine in 4.75 in barrels.

  3. I’m thinking that having been born in the USA, and with the blood of authentic mountain men and assorted cowboys and crooks running in my veins and in my relatives, I can somehow explain to myself why I feel such an attraction to the work of art Mr. Colt built. If there’s a more beautiful handgun built, I haven’t seen it. Like another icon-the 1911 .45 ACP -one immediately recognizes it in a crowd. I can’t hold one without thinking of the fantastic history behind it, and its huge part in settling our country. Back in the day, any man armed with this gun, and a companion Winchester ’73 rifle in a in matching caliber, was damned well armed. He would be today too.

    1. We are brothers! The guns are only part of the story, the man behind them even more so. No wonder so many Texas Rangers carried these guns well into the 1950s.

  4. I’m a big fan of the Bounty Hunter line, made in Germany by Weihrauch (never heard of this maker before I bought one) and imported by EAA. The prices are very reasonable and they are made with all the quality you would expect from a German gunmaker.

  5. plus, s/a shooting is a low stress, non threatening, safe way to introduce non shooters to shooting. i live in mass., which despite being where “the shot heard ’round the world” was fired at concord, is sadly now full of mindless anti shooters. i have found that the historical, low tech, non black gun aspect of s/a shooting is an effective antidote.

  6. after a full career out of the u.s. when i returned i returned to the shooting that i enjoyed as a kid and in the army. i ended up with a bunch of ruger, heritage single actions, plus a bond arms derringer. im not a cas guy and have no connection to our west (sadly) but with some gray hair i savor my pleasures at a slower pace, i.e. i sip my whiskey and shoot single action, but never at same time lol. i urge gun newbies, shotgunners, ak and ar enthusiasts to get at least a heritage 22, if you cannot afford a ruger, and discover s/a shooting for its fun and teaching moments.

    1. Sir,

      Thanks for reading!
      My son is a Captain in the Army and he too enjoys single action revolvers very much. They are a peaceful way of spending an evening!


  7. I’m not a cowboy shooter myself, although I’ve watched a few cowboy action shooting exhibitions, and I don’t own any cowboy guns. The oldest guns I own are a couple of early 1900’s shotguns and an M1 Garand built in 1943.

    Having said that, I’m glad there are people out there who are perpetuating the shooting arts and firearms of the Old West. No other country on Earth had a period like the old West or the kinds of larger than life heroes and villains who lived there. I’ve prowled through plenty of ghost towns in Montana, California and Utah, and it’s amazing just to sit there and imagine the days when they were boom towns.

    1. Yeah, I agree to an extent they did although not with the scope of America.

      Too bad Australia lost that and are a nation of disarmed victims now.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.

Discover more from The Shooter's Log

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading