by Wiley Clapp - Tuesday, December 18, 2012
When Single Action Army revolver No.1 left the old plant on the river in Hartford, it had a barrel that ran some 7 1/2 inches from forcing cone to muzzle. In time, other guns came along with shorter barrels, most commonly 5 1/2 or 4 3/4 inches. These three lengths served the interests of handgunners about 99 percent of the time. One of the three lengths worked well for most shooter’s since 1873, when all of this Peacemaker business began. In the so-called “first generation SAA” period, which was basically before World War II, Colt was willing to fill special orders for other lengths. We know of a handful of guns made with extra-long barrels, some of them the Buntline Specials. And we also recall a larger quantity of Sheriff’s or Storekeeper’s Models with no ejector rod assembly on the lower right side of the barrel. I always wondered what the Frontier handgunner used to poke out his empties when equipped with one of these guns. Most likely, it was a pencil or plain old stick. Most of these guns, however, were one of the three standard barrel lengths and that remains true to the present.
Longer-barreled guns enjoy an advantage in sight radius and ammo performance, as well as balance. The gun with a muzzle-heavy feel cocks quickly when the shooter hooks that big hammer with the thumb and sweeps the muzzle down. But the same guns are at a disadvantage when it comes to deployment quickly from the holster. An old timer once noted: “…takes a heap of liftin’ to get a cavalry Colt outa the leather.” Most shooting—rather than collecting—uses of the SAA revolver are in various types of cowboy shooting games. There are also a number of hardy Westerners who still enjoy going heeled with the traditional sixgun.
Why not use a traditional Peacemaker (or quality clone) with a slightly shorter barrel that takes a shortened version of the ejector rod housing? This gives you ease of carry and draw, positive extraction and enough muzzle heft to handle well. A recent survey of pictures of actor Gene Barry in the old TV Western “Bat Masterson” show him using just such a gun. And at least one common reference on the SAA pictures a Bisley set up in this way. The guns are becoming more popular all the time. I have three in my assortment of SAAs. I got interested in this type of gun over 30 years ago and the late George DiLeo made my first one back then. Working with an almost wrecked Great Western, George came up with a nifty little .38 Spl. sporting one-piece black mesquite grips.
More recently, I obtained one of those Lew Horton Specials made by USFA, a really handsome gun with a full-blue finish and a short 3 3/4-inch barrel with ejector rod. I have some special plans for grips on this one. However the gem of my snubby SAA collection came from the original maker. At my request, Colt’s Custom Shop took a production 5 1/2-inch gun and re-fitted it with a new 4-inch barrel and ejector rod. The result is a shooter’s delight—accurate, quick to handle and just plain cool. This is not some special deal they did just for me. It is one of the first items on the list of Custom Shop options.
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