Equipping for disaster

Colt Single Action Army Model 1873

By Blaise Uriarte

The Basics:


The “peacemaker”, “hog leg”, “gun that one the west”. No firearm in history is as ubiquitous and iconic as the Colt model 1873 Single Action Army. Designed in 1872 to replace cap and ball percussion revolvers, this large frame single action handgun entered military service and production in 1873. Barring a few short breaks, this firearm has been produced by Colt since that time.

This firearm is forever a part of the American identity. Used by hero and villain alike, immortalized in fiction; and carried by the likes of Wyatt Earp, George S. Patton, Theodore Roosevelt and countless others. This design has been often imitated, but few other manufactures can match the quality of a true Colt.

This particular version is a 4 ¾ inch barrel, Nickel plated, third generation (new production), with the composite colt double eagle grips. All SAAs feature fixed nonadjustable sights, and six shot cylinders.

The Ammo

The SAA series is available in several cartridges, but this one is chambered in the .45 Colt (.45LC, or .45 Long Colt). The .45 Colt cartridge originated with the SAA in 1873. At that time, it was typically a 255grain lead bullet, with 40 grains of black powder. This yielded velocities of approximately a thousand feet per second, making it a formidable cartridge for the time.

Modern loads are typically 250 or 255 grain bullets, traveling at 800-900FPS. Of course there are plus P loads, which push the cartridge to near .44 magnum level performance, and there are also reduced recoil “Cowboy action Loads”. All and all it is an incredibly versatile cartridge, and an excellent one to reload for.

Since this gun does not have an extra stout frame like some Rugers do, you do not want to fire +P loads through it.

The Range Test


Having always been fond of westerns and American History, I had always wanted one of these. I can tell you that this piece of Americana doesn’t disappoint. The fit and finish is top notch, and I have never felt a factory single action revolver with a smoother action out of the box.

Operation of this gun is simple. The hammer is pulled to the half-cock notch (the second click) to allow the cylinder to spin free, than it is loaded from the loading gate on the right hand side of the cylinder one cartridge at a time. Unloading is done the same, except the ejector rod is used to remove the spent cases. This gun is polished to the point where the ejector rod was hardly required for unloading.  

As this is a single action pistol, you must cock the hammer each time to fire a round. It is also worth noting that the firing pin is fixed to the hammer, and as a safety precaution one should carry the hammer down on an empty chamber if you were carrying it.

Test ammo was Fiochi 255 grain FMJ, and Hornady Critical defense. The Fiocchi loads are traveling at 750FPS, whereas the critical defense loads are going 920FPS per the manufacturers.  


Above is a six shot group with the Hornady critical defense at 10 yards. A very respectable group, especially considering the slim profile iron sights on this gun.


Above is a about a 20 shot group at 10 yards with the Fiocchi ammo. All and all I have to say this pistol is quite accurate. Recoil is a bit hard, but still manageable.

The Pluses

This is a beautiful firearm, a work of art even. The nickel plated steel is like a mirror. One major plus is this firearm is intrinsically valuable. Colt,s are well known to appreciate in value, of course firing them can hurt that value.

From a tactical standpoint, the revolver is extremely durable and robust. It is simple and cannot jam unless it breaks. The .45LC is a very versatile round. Loads range from light targets, to shot shells and everything in between.

The Minuses

In the day of lightweight high capacity polymer handguns, most shooters don’t give a second look at a single action revolver. The gun is hefty weighing in at over two pounds, capacity is extremely limited, and rate of fire and reloading is very slow.  Plus the Colt SAA cannot withstand +P ammunition..


I don’t think anyone buys a Colt SAA for self-defense, or tactical shooting. It is an antiquated design, but that is precisely what I personally love about it. Even with standard .45LC loads, it is formidably powerful, and very reliable, but ultimately it is simply the charm of the gun and its history.

For self-defense or tactical situations there are certainly firearms available that offer more advantages over this old cowboy gun. Could you use this for self-defense? Or in a survivalist scenario? Sure. You could certainly do worse.

Categories: Equipping for disaster

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