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Exclusive: Traditions 1873 WheelGun

Exclusive: Traditions 1873 WheelGun
This .357 Magnum ‘Rawhide’ Is Fit For The Field.

That Sam Colt, he was quite a man. Deserving of: “God made man, but Sam Colt made them equal.” Colt’s Paterson tipped the scales in favor of the bearer. History writes the dangerous and intrepid Warrior of the Plains credited the Paterson with firing “as many times as the fingers on a man’s hand.” Colt’s “six-shooter” cartridge revolvers would prove much deadlier in the hands of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Sam was much more an outstanding business presence in young America than gun designer. He was also possibly a bigamist, and perhaps the author of a plan freeing his murderous brother John. C. Colt from the noose by having John’s cell burned down and a body found totally unrecognizable. John was supposed to have died from a self-inflected wound delivered by a smuggled knife. But he may have been sipping rum and coke in South America. Fact? Rumor? We will never know the truth.

Sam’s father, Christian, sent the lad a-sailing on the high seas, and young Colt, the story goes — and it could be spun of fictional yarn — carved a working model of a revolver from a wooden tackle block. This “pepperbox design” rotating cylinder did not immediately shake the earth. But in time Colt would have a 20-year monopoly on handguns bearing his name. He left the saltwater life in only one year, going on to live, finally, as royalty in a palatial Italian-style villa with Turkish-like domes named Armsmear (meadow of arms) set amidst Hartford, Connecticut beauty. Colt died of gout, so the records show, on January 10, 1872 at the age of 47. He had managed to accumulate a wealth which would mark him a billionaire today.

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The basic matte blue finish and simple handle scales belie
the fact this gun delivered consistent 2″ groups at 25 yards!

Copies Can Be A Good Thing

Colonel Colt never said he invented the revolver bearing his name. But it was he who made the design so famous it could not die. And so we come to the grist for this mill, the 1873 (Single-Action Army) revolver through Traditions Performance Firearms of Saybrook, Connecticut. Original 1873 Colt revolvers fetch the price of a down payment on a nice car, while today’s dollar puts the affordable Traditions replica revolvers in the bargain class, especially for a product that will last many lifetimes with reasonable care.

There are two series. The dashing Frontier and plain, but to my eye, beautiful, Rawhide. Barrel lengths run 4.75″, 5.50″ and 7.5″ in either choice. One source noted a 12″ barrel as well. The Frontier is Lone Ranger exciting, but I am not Kemosabe, so I selected the Rawhide to wring out. It caught my eye immediately at the 2014 Shot Show: blue-black matte finish and tough as its name. The Frontier comes blued, nickel, or color-casehardened frame, barrels blued or nickel with grips checkered walnut, smooth walnut and white PVC. The Rawhide series is more cowboy-carry — simply uni-color with smooth walnut stocks. Calibers are: .357 Magnum/.38 Special; .44-40 (.44 WCF); .45 Colt and .44 Magnum in the Frontier. Add .22 Long rifle and .22 Magnum cylinders in the Rawhide.

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Tripe K’s holster held the gun in place with the classic thumb loop
of rawhide. Sometimes 150 year old technology still works fine.

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Sam offered a nifty tip for storing cartridges for long periods in
leather loops — wrap each one in a bit of plastic wrap. While it
slows a reload down (doesn’t really matter with a field gun like
this), it does keep verdigris at bay.

Nicely Done Too

Exterior—absolutely polished, uniform, no-blotches in the blue-black matte finish on the Rawhide. I think this finish is good for thwarting rust corrosion. No tool marks on the Rawhide, and the Frontier the same. Metallic parts were precise on both revolvers. Screwless one-piece grips blend perfectly to frame. Pretty is one thing, but a firearm is for firing, and so I, first of all, “wiggled” the cylinder. Zero play. The hammer function was, sharp and sure and cycling precise. My attempt at measuring cylinder gap with micrometer-gauged metal inserts was not totally successful — perhaps as little as 0.002″; but no more than 0.004″ on the test model. Slightly radiused cylinder mouths promote holstering. Everything about both revolvers pointed to steel-frame durability in a timeless design.

Replica dimensions I believe are true, but if not exact, close enough to the Colt Single-Action Army style to please any dedicated fan of cowboy movies. Shooting the Rawhide certainly provided the feel of “the old west.” Timing was “dead on.” I wanted a lube I could “insert” into working parts and M-Pro 7 did this with its “hypodermic nozzle.” Thumb the hammer back and cylinder-lock/ hammer-lock are matched. The Rawhide pointed great; shoots great; handled great with fine balance.

The weight of around 2.75-pounds promised good recoil management in the .357/.38 Special I tested, with overall length of 9.5″ by my measurement from muzzle to heel of grip. I had on hand a wide range of .357 Magnum ammunition from several companies, including Federal Premium .357 Magnum Hydra-Shok with 158-grain HSJHP bullet; Remington Golden Sabre .357 Magnum JHP with 125-grain bullet: Winchester Super-X .357 Magnum with 158-grain JHP bullet; Hornady .357 Magnum 140-grain FTX LEVERevolution; Buffalo Bore Heavy .357 Magnum with 180-grain hardcast bullet (which the Rawhide loved), plus an array of .38 Special.

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Sam chose the .357 chambering as being a good combination of low recoil
and adequate power. Being able to use .38 Special loads is nice too.
Traditions also offers other calibers, like the .45 Colt.

The Caliber Makes Sense

Why .357 Magnum in the Rawhide? Strictly personal application. All the calibers are excellent. One of my most enjoyable outdoor pastimes is exploring for its own sake as well as discovering good game habitat. I’m wont to pack a .30-30 Marlin Texan or .32 Special Marlin half-magazine on these treks, ammo in belt loops. Add a handgun to have a second firearm along. And when handgun only is sufficient, the revolver alone will do. I swapped out rifle ammo for .357 with the Rawhide in mind for exploration-scouting. Others will put this revolver to work in Cowboy Action shooting, hunting, personal protection and just plain fun punishing empty beverage cans. Tip: dress each cartridge tightly with plastic food wrap if they will reside in leather belt loops for long periods of time to prevent corrosion. The covering slips right off for loading. Not fast, but keeps ammo clean in the field.

Anyone who believes Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, Kid Curry, Bat Masterson, or any other lawman or outlaw carried his 6-shooter with five shots has been sleeping too long in the cabbage patch. My research has never uncovered any old-timer suggesting five rounds in a 6-shooter for serious, even life-threatening, situations. Nonetheless, it has been a practice in modern days to tell about how these “men of the Old West” packed six-shooters with five rounds, hammer on an empty chamber.

Regardless of that bit of history: Always load keep an empty chamber under the hammer when a drop-fire can occur with a firing pin resting close to a primer! However, both the Frontier and Rawhide are fitted with transfer safety bar systems to prevent drop-fires. I believe this feature in no way detracts from the old-time charm of the single-action revolver. There is no excuse today for handguns (where functional) to lack this safety device.

I was in for two surprises — sight picture and trigger function. The front sight is an original style fixed blade. The rear sight is a full-length notch in the topstrap of the revolver. The resulting sight picture is square notch rear/post front. I found the six o’clock hold at 25 yards ideal, and up to 50 yards, which is as far as I shot, there would be no trouble putting a bullet spot-on. That is with hot .357 Magnum ammo.
Lighter .38 Special loads hit a little low, even at 25 yards. But “hot” .38 Special +P tacked into the same .357 cluster. The trigger was a shock. It did have some creep. But I treated it as two-stage, taking up the minor slack and then enjoying a clean break at 2.65-pounds on the test gun. There are many modern guns today with two-stage triggers. They simply may not be so-named.

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The “transfer bar” safety in the Traditions Rawhide revolver allows
safe carrying of six rounds, unlike conventional SAA designs

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The Triple K holster fit well with the Lawrence belt. The Traditions 1873
“Rawhide” is a basic, no frills SAA and Sam found it ran just fine.

Shoots Great Too

Whereas once I had trouble keeping handgun projectiles clustered within a Matanuska Valley, Alaska-raised watermelon, today an edible target on the trail at close range is frying-pan-bound. My education happened this way. Along a path leading from house to shooting range, I spied a good-sized diamondback rattler poised within inches of a strike. I do not war on snakes of any breed, but school was about out and kids would be tromping along that path right by the rattler. My friend, a retired SWAT team commander, said, “It might be wise to shoot this one.” I replied I would eat the meat and make a headband, no trick at all with a little vegetable glycerin to make the skin pliable. But I knew taking the head off to preserve both meat and skin with the replica .45 Colt in my hand had two chances — slim and none. My friend said he would give it a try. Pow! Perfect shot. My training began that day.

The Rawhide’s best group in my hand at 25 yards from a rest ran 1.5″ inches center-to-center for five shots, which proves nothing. Far more realistic was 2.0″ to 2.5″. Secure this six-shooter to remove all human error and I’d bet it would put a cylinder-full of bullets into an inch at 25 yards, ammo dependant.

I had plans for the Rawhide, but no holster. That was remedied with a stunning Triple-K Cheyenne style Plain 114 walnut oil western rig in fine leather with strap-down and hammer thong made in San Diego, California. Perfection in design, workmanship and function, with an exact fit for the Rawhide. I attached the holster to a belt I have long used with cartridge loops accommodating .30-30 and .32-Special rifles.

With protective plastic wrap, .357 Magnum ammo fit perfectly in this Lawrence leather belt from Portland, Oregon. A friend had run across two abandoned homestead ruins in northern Wyoming. I’m “fixin’” to see both to study how the occupants kept warm, got water, preserved food — and lived in general. Inside I will wear a hospital mask, imperative to avoid Hantavirus.

Suggested retail prices in the Traditions catalog for the Rawhide tested here is $470.00. There are so many sub-models of the Frontier a single price is impossible to list; however, we’re looking at about $100 more than the Rawhide. Both Colt-style revolvers are made 100 percent in Italy by F. LLI PIETTA — Giuseppe with sons Alberto and Allesandro — a 50-year old company. Bravo, Giuseppe, Alberto, and Allesandro — keep it up.
By Sam Fadala
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