Review: Bond Arms .45-70 Gov't Cyclops

by
posted on September 28, 2023
Bond Arms Cyclops Horman

I think it's safe to say that most, if not all, dedicated shooting sports gearheads (like me) have a bucket list of unicorn guns that they would like to shoot some day but will likely miss out on. This is usually due to the gun's rarity or exorbitant price tag. One such unicorn that has been languishing on my bucket list for a few decades now has been a derringer chambered for the .45-70 Gov't rifle cartridge.

It sounds crazy, I know! But I can still remember when I saw the American Derringer M4 Alaskan Survival model in the company's online catalog. It was a fascinating combination of small size and brutal firepower. One barrel was chambered for .45-70 Gov't, while the other was destined for either .410 bore shotshells or .45 Colt revolver rounds. As time passed, the American Derringer company faded out of the industry, and the M4 became a rarity.

left-side view single-shot pistol bond arms cyclops .45-0 govt bullet cartridge wood backgroundThis pistol’s laser-engraved embellishments include a life-size representation of a .45-70 Gov’t cartridge on the left side of the barrel. 

Even though the M4 has remained beyond my grasp, I was lucky enough to bump into Bond Arms' double-barrel pistols a few years later. I've had the opportunity to test drive a variety of Bond models since then, including the world's smallest 10 mm pistol , the rearward feeding Bullpup9 semi-automatic, the introduction of the company's budget-friendly Rough Series and the launch of the slim profile Stinger models. It's been good fun working with this company, because the guns it offers are unique and well-made.

In 2020, I had the chance to evaluate the Magnum Research 'Thunder Snub' BFR 3" barrel revolver in .45-70 Gov't. After seeing the ballistic gel test results, I started thinking about a derringer chambered in this nostalgic cartridge once again. I approached Gordon, the company’s owner, with the suggestion of building a Bond pistol chambered in this rifle round to take the place of the now all-but-extinct M4. To be clear, I am by no means the first person to make this request. Folks have been bringing it up for years. But the BFR tests provided short-barrel handgun results for the .45-70 Gov't cartridge that made the project look more promising than before. 

 

The Cyclops’ controls are the same as those found on standard-size frame double-barrel models.The Cyclops’ controls are the same as those found on standard-size frame double-barrel models.

Over the course of a series of phone conversations about pursuing this project, Gordon pointed out some of the mechanical issues that had to be considered. A primary concern was 'doubling,' which showed up with early models that were briefly offered in .44 Mag. The more intense levels of felt recoil could cause the rebounding hammer to gain enough rearward momentum when firing the first barrel that it would fall forward and touch off the second barrel. That was not a desirable result for a variety of reasons. There were also issues with cracked grips.

After mulling all of this over, I went back to Gordon with a different suggestion. What about offering a single-shot .45-70 Gov't conversion barrel? That would solve the doubling problem since there would only be one chamber to ignite. He considered the idea and came back with an even better plan for a dedicated single-shot pistol platform.

The new textured B6 resin grip is just long enough to support the little finger of the shooting hand.The new textured B6 resin grip is just long enough to support the little finger of the shooting hand.

Keeping the same double-barrel profile while omitting the bottom bore provided some other useful fixes. The single bore could be lowered a bit to better fit the large rim of the .45-70 Gov't cartridge case. This, in turn, required the firing pin port to be lowered, which would require a dedicated one-pin frame and a modified hammer.

With double-barrel frame and single-shot barrel compatibility off the table, the company's engineer went ahead and beefed up the already tank-like frame just a bit more at key stress points. The barrel's side grooves were eliminated, and the portion of the barrel that used to house the second barrel would be left as a solid piece to provide added weight to help mitigate recoil.

The company had a bit of fun with this model by engraving a monstrous one-eyed face around the pistol’s muzzle.The company had a bit of fun with this model by engraving a monstrous one-eyed face around the pistol’s muzzle.

This company has a penchant for giving their pistols colorful names, like The Texan, Mama Bear, Honey B, Rough Neck and Blackjack, to name a few. So what should this single-shot brute be called? I suggested The Cyclops, which seemed fitting since the barrel was going to 'lose an eye' as it were, and that's the name that stuck!

The Bond Arms Cyclops is a single-shot, break-action pistol with a single-action trigger. Overall, it has the same exterior profile as the company's popular Snake Slayer double-barrel pistol featuring a standard frame size, 4.25" barrel, .45 Colt/.410 bore chamber and a removable trigger guard. That means this pistol should fit into most of the holsters made for the Snake Slayer.

The 54.7-oz. 3” barrel, 5-shot BFR ‘Thunder Snub’ revolver (Top right) compared to the 28-oz. single-shot Cyclops.The 54.7-oz. 3” barrel, five-shot BFR ‘Thunder Snub’ revolver (top, right) compared to the 28-oz. single-shot Cyclops.

This stainless-steel pistol is mostly treated with the same matte finish as that of the company's other Rough series pistols. The exception to this being the barrel’s polished flats. The Cyclops features the same fixed-sight system as other standard-frame models and the same controls, including the left-side barrel-release lever, a push-button crossbolt safety and a grooved hammer spur. The barrel hinge sports a removable screw, which implies that this pistol may have additional caliber-conversion barrels in the future.

The thumbnail notch on the left side of the barrel, used for extracting spent cartridges, also serves as a witness hole-type loaded chamber indicator. A small portion of the cartridge rim is visible through it. The company took advantage of the added flat spaces on the single-shot barrel to add a fairly extensive amount of laser engraving.

The B6 resin extended grip is slim, light and ideal for use in the field.The B6 resin extended grip is slim, light and ideal for use in the field.

The left side of the barrel displays a life size representation of a .45-70 Gov't cartridge and the rifled bore. The flat muzzle is laser engraved with a face that bears a striking resemblance to Ray Harryhausen's highly stylized, stop-motion animated Cyclops monster seen in the fantasy adventure movie, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). The right side of the barrel says, "Bond Arms Cyclops 45-70." Finally, when the barrel swings open, the words “Verify Clear” are engraved just below the chamber.

Bond Arms provides their customers with durable laminated hardwood grips that are both good looking and comfortable to work with. Unfortunately, laminates can crack when subjected to exceptionally stout recoil. To address the issue, the company has developed a new textured B6 resin extended grip. I worked with this new grip for the first time with the slim-profile Honey B Stinger RS, and it proved to be both tough and comfortable. It was just as useful with The Cyclops.

The laminated rosewood Jumbo grip provides a longer, wider profile to that rolls back nicely to help mitigate felt recoil.The laminated rosewood Jumbo grip provides a longer, wider profile to that rolls back nicely to help mitigate felt recoil.

As expected, the Cyclops exhibited the same attention to proper fit and detail as other Bond pistols I've worked with, which is to say, top-notch. The single-action trigger of this particular gun exhibited a short, clean trigger stroke, which broke with 6 lbs. 7 ozs. of pull weight. It operated flawlessly throughout the course of testing. A few of the spent cartridge cases of the hotter rounds were a bit sticky, but most were easily pulled from the chamber. The pistol weighs in at 28 ozs., unloaded, with the B6 grip. That may sound fairly heavy for a derringer, but it's not all that much gun when considering the cartridge it fires.

stack of 6 ammunition boxes bullets .45-70 govtA total of seven .45-70 Gov’t. loads were tested ranging from black-powder equivalents to high-performance hunting loads.

The range test of the Cyclops was as much about ammunition selection as running the gun. As mentioned in a previous article about the .45-70 Gov't cartridge, today's ammunition selection is surprisingly diverse. Options range from rounds designed to replicate 19th-century blackpowder loads to souped-up T-Rex slaying hunting loads.

As a result, recoil will vary significantly, depending on the ammunition selected. This is why I took the time and put off completing this evaluation for several weeks so that I could round up seven loads from various trusted manufacturers. The goal here was to cover a relatively broad segment of the .45-70 Gov't spectrum of currently available cartridges. It's also a selection that seemed to be a good fit for this gun.

arrow pointing to crack in grip wood split closeup detailThe author learned for himself why the Cyclops is shipped with a B6 resin grip instead of laminated hardwood.

Here are two things to keep in mind as we move into the range results. First, firing rifle cartridges from snub-nose handguns will produce results that are not indicative of such cartridge's performance potential when fired from its native platform. Simply stated, one should not make any decisions about whether or not any of these loads are suitable for hunting with a rifle based on how they performed when fired through a 2.15" rifled bore.

Secondly, felt recoil is subjective. Levels that are perceived by one person as is too much may not be all that bad to someone else. All I can do here is report on my own experience and let folks decide for themselves just how much enough may be. That being said, I've shot a fair share of wrist-bending handguns over the years, including the big-bore Bond pistols. This has led to the development of my unofficial, rule-of-thumb felt-recoil scale, which seems to be relatable to most other shooting sports enthusiasts. The levels roughly range from Mild (.22 LR pistols) to Moderate, Stout and Intense with the scale topping out at Painful. In the case of The Cyclops, felt recoil started at the upper end of Stout and went up from there.

Black hill's cowboy load accuracy target colored circleBlack Hill’s Cowboy load was an ideal balance of power and performance.

Testing also included two different grips for the pistol. Some shooting was conducted using the factory installed B6 resin grip. It’s hand-filling, nicely textured and a great fit for use as a walking-around grip. The thinner profile and light weight will carry nicely for use in the field. For the extended bench-rested sessions, I found the company's laminated hardwood Jumbo grip to be a better fit. Its larger, wider and more rounded shape was better for working off the bench. I suspect that those with larger hands will prefer this grip as well.

Three of the .45-70 Gov't loads tested took home the 'One-Hit Wonder' award, meaning one shot was enough to convince me to stop shooting that particular round due to the Intense or Painful level of felt recoil it generated. I shoot for enjoyment, and I’ve found Stout and some at the lower end of the Intense level to be enjoyable. But the upper end of Intense is no fun, and the Painful category is, well, self-explanatory.

fiocchi field dynamics ammunition box with target diamond colored shapes accuracy groupAlthough this Fiocchi load looks less energetic on paper, it was still a handful with plenty of muzzle flash.

Underwood's Xtreme Hunter 225-grain fluted copper solid is one of the fastest loads in this caliber with a sizzling listed rifle muzzle velocity of 2,445 f.p.s. for a muzzle energy of 2,987 ft.-lbs. It yielded impressively intense recoil. The one shot I got across the chronograph clocked the bullet at 1,530 f.p.s. for a muzzle energy of 1,170 ft.-lbs. The B6 grips were installed at the time and were no worse for the wear.

Fort Scott Munitions offers a 300-grain TUI load, which launches a solid copper conical bullet designed to tumble on impact. It's listed at 1,763 f.p.s. for 2,071 ft.-lbs. of energy. The one round fired left the Cyclops traveling at 1,069 f.p.s. for 761 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy. It was intense enough that I stopped there.

Hornady subsonic ammunition box with target colored shapes accuracy groupHornady’s Subsonic load was the ‘softest’ shooting load of the test set which contributed to tighter groups.

The round that left the most lasting impression was the Buffalo Bore 500-grain hard-cast lead flat point (8NBPE). It has a listed velocity of 1,250 f.p.s. for a muzzle energy of 1,735 ft.-lbs. This is a relatively slow speed, and the bullet is only 95 grains heavier than the typical 405-grain weight. The only shot fired flew along at 862 f.p.s. for 825 ft.-lbs. of energy.

This round's recoil crossed the Painful line. My wrist made some crunching noises as it was massaged after, and it formed 2”-long hairline cracks in the Jumbo grip the pistol was fitted with at the time. I've only managed to crack a Bond laminated grip one other time before this (read about it here), and the physical sensations were quite similar. But it’s a testament to the toughness of the Jumbo grip that it remained intact for several more rounds and was still usable at the conclusion of the testing. In short, I look forward to working with each of these three rounds again sometime in the future, but I’ll be firing them from something with a shoulder stock attached.

Remington core-lokt box ammunition bullets accuracy shown on target colored shapesThe Remington Core Lokt load is a commonly available load that is also a good fit for this platform.

The other four cartridges fell into the Stout and lower end of the Intense level of the felt recoil scale. They include Black Hills Cowboy, Fiocchi Field Dynamics, Hornady Subsonic and Remington Core Lokt loads. This ammunition could still be a handful but it was more enjoyable than uncomfortable. Here are the velocity results for 10 rounds fired next to a LabRadar chronograph along with the 7-yard bench rest accuracy results for three five-shot groups fired with each load: 

accuracy table graphic numbers ballistic data gun testing cartridge .45-70 government self defense bond arms cyclops gun review

The good folks at Bond Arms did a great job of bringing the impressively big-bore Cyclops to market. It was a terrific feeling to finally scratch this bucket list experience off. It was certainly an enjoyable opportunity to be a part of the conversation along the way. As is the case with Bond’s other break-action pistols, this one is built to last. And for those who are looking for a unique handgun shooting experience, this is the gun for you!

Now that a single-shot version of the platform is in production, additional caliber options that have not been a good fit for the double-barrel models can be considered. The company is now taking orders for a .44 Mag version. What might be next after that is anyone's guess. Perhaps .50 GI or a 10 mm Mag., which would be a terrific option. I’ve still got my hopes up for a .41 Rem. Mag. caliber conversion barrel because, as this pistol proves, shooting sports wishes can be granted. But for now, I'll be happy to keep holding on tight to the .45-70 Gov't version.

Bond arms cyclops single-shot pistol action open showing cartridge in chamber battery

Bond Arms Cyclops Specifications:
Manufacturer: Bond Arms bondarms.com
Action Type: break-action, single-shot, centerfire handgun
Chambering: .45-70 Gov't.
Barrel: 4.25" stainless steel
Rifling: six-groove, 1:20" RH twist
Frame: stainless steel, matte-finish
Trigger: 6-lb., 7-oz. pull (as tested)
Sights: fixed
Capacity: one-round
Overall Length: 6.75"
Height: 4.5"
Width: 0.97" (frame); 1.28" (grip)
Weight: 28 ozs. unloaded
Accessories: owner's manual
MSRP: $699

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