The Peacemaker Abbreviated

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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1 Response to The Peacemaker Abbreviated

Harry P wrote:
December 24, 2012

Mr. Clapp: Having been in the Midwest in the early 1960s, I was not only in a part of the country affected by TV Westerns where fast draw & walk-and-draw clubs abounded (one of the editors of Guns Magazine, then based in Chicago, was an officer in one of them that my father attended) but also one where one of the then bigger gun businesses in the area talked Colt into making a limited number of Sheriff’s Models for them in both blue & nickel finishes. Those guns were certainly unique in their day but back then, they were also quite shootable as well (today that would be heresy) and I shot one of them quite a bit. But while I liked it (who wouldn’t enjoy firing a period-correct, short-barreled .45Colt revolver), the gun did have rather odd pointing qualities associated with it. For different reasons (not the least of which were related to its different grip frame & single action mechanism), it was similar to the handfilling-and-not-barrel-pointing qualities of a 2” (Official Police frame) Colt Commando I once spent a lot of time with. Both big framed, short-barreled guns were more like driving your fist toward the target rather than placing the front sight on it. So I can see where a 4” tube (especially with the weight of an ejector rod assembly added to it) would not only provide a longer & more helpful sight radius but also the muzzle heavy feel that some feel gives them a better sense of where that front sight “is” as it is brought to bear on the objective. For the same reason that many people are attracted to 4” Heavy Barrel Double Action revolvers: their “pointabilty”(obviously a subjective term), I can see where your 4”, ejector-equipped Single Actions could offer that same sense of quickness and “muzzle heft” that a 3” Sheriff or even a 4” Storekeeper Model might not. As with several of the pieces you describe, maybe one of my Uberti replicas might be worked into this format; although they offer a compromise of sorts in a 3½” model as part of their line today.