Choosing favorites is not always easy. Sometimes I can pick one favorite while other times it will be several. With that in mind we herein look at “Taffin’s Top Replica Single Action Sixguns.” Please note they are replicas, not clones — the latter is a biological term and until we can get steel sixguns to reproduce themselves it’s the wrong terminology.
The early copies of the Colt Single Action revolvers were somewhat lacking in authenticity. In fact, all those early “Single Actions” were fitted with brass grip frames such as had originally only been found on cap and ball revolvers. The original Colt Model of 1873 was always fitted with a steel grip frame. With the coming of Cowboy Action Shooting and also the diligent work of several importers, both the authenticity and quality of replica sixguns and leverguns have improved tremendously. Actions are much smoother, finishes look more authentic, instead of the very poor quality case coloring found in the 1970s. Dimensions and shape are also held very closely to what they were in the 1870s. Most importantly, grip frames on Single Action Army replicas are now steel.
Navy Arms Model #3 Russian with Eagle Grips UltraIvory grips compared
to an original.44 Russian from the 1870s.
This pair of stainless steel Cimarron .45 Model Ps have been fitted with
Buffalo Brothers faux ivory grips.
oday’s Single Action Army replicas are so well finished one has to look carefully to make sure they are actually foreign “Colts” and not domestic versions. I am particularly fond of the 71/2″ copies when chambered in .45 Colt, .44-40, .38-40 and .32-20 which were the top four chamberings of the original single actions. However, in this piece I’ll be looking at other replica single actions. Before the 1873 Peacemaker arrived, Colt offered both Richards and Richards-Mason Cartridge Conversions on their 1860 Army percussion revolvers by fitting new cylinders and loading gates. These were followed by the 1871-72 Open Top. All of these revolvers were topless, that is there was no top strap. All of these are now, or have been, available as replicas and they make a most interesting shooting connection with the past. Because of their construction definitely use standard loads only!
Two of my favorite replica Single Actions are a mismatched pair somewhat out of the ordinary. These Ultimate Single Actions are from American Western Arms (AWA) and deviate from the norm in they are fitted with octagon barrels, one in 71/2″ and the other 10″. They have also been tuned by master single-action sixgunsmith Jim Martin, who also fitted them with one-piece mesquite grips. To add icing to the cake these .44-40 sixguns are also fitted with .44 Special cylinders, allowing a lot of room for experimentation. With either cylinder, both of these sixguns are excellent shooters.
In the movie Tombstone Kurt Russell, as Wyatt Earp, uses a 10″ Buntline Special with a special medallion on the right grip frame. This sixgun was provided by Cimarron Firearms and since the movie, has been available to shooters. For me the 10″ balances much better and handles much easier than the 12″ Colt Buntline Special. It also shoots exceptionally well. In fact, I have probably experienced at least 100 replica sixguns in the past 35 years or so, and I have yet to find one that doesn’t shoot well. This speaks very well of the Italian firearms industry.
Replica Cartridge Conversions compared to an original from the 1870s.
Most importers are now offering stainless steel Single Action Army replicas, however it was Cimarron Firearms which led the way. Why stainless steel in a traditional single action? As an outdoor finish it’s pretty hard to beat stainless steel. Also I like to shoot black powder loads, and although cleanup is not as tedious as some would have us believe, it still requires more care than when using smokeless powder loads. Stainless steel is not only easier to clean, it also makes it easier to see the places that remain to be cleaned.
Cimarron is importing Uberti-manufactured stainless steel Model Ps in .45 Colt in the three standard barrel lengths of 43/4″, 51/2″, and 71/2″. I have been shooting a pair of 71/2″ .45s for nearly 10 years now. My almost perennial complaint about all replicas is the grade of wood used in the stocks. The grips are just about perfect as to shape and size and they are well fitted to the frame, however the color and finish is just not quite right.
For my pair of 71/2″ stainless steel Cimarrons I selected antique faux ivory stocks from Buffalo Brothers. One is fitted with stocks with a Longhorn steer skull on both sides, while a double Mexican Eagle decorates both panels of the other. The combination of polished stainless steel and antique ivory is most pleasing to the eye and the carving on the grips provides a comfortable non-slip surface for the hands.
Replicas of the 1875 are available in blue or nickel plating; these are by
EMF and Navy Arms respectively.
More than two decades ago Navy Arms gave us the first Smith & Wesson replica, with the Schofield Model. These Top-Breaks hearken to 1875 when the originals were chambered in .45 S&W, a shorter cartridge than the .45 Colt. Today’s versions are mostly chambered in .45 Colt, however .45 S&W/Schofield ammunition is available from Black Hills, and Starline offers brass to allow more authentic shooting of this excellent sixgun. My pair is fitted with Buffalo Brothers grips.
The Schofield was the beginning S&W replica. Next came the New Model Russian chambered in, what else, but the historic and magnificent .44 Russian. The Navy Arms New Model Russian — or Model 3 Russian — is a faithful copy of the original, finished overall in a deep blue-black finish set off with a case-colored hammer, trigger guard and locking latch. Factory stocks are smooth European walnut, however while quite comfortable do not add anything to the appearance of this fine replica sixgun. This was however quite easily corrected with a pair of Eagle’s UltraIvory grips which, when combined with the dark finish of the .44 Russian, provides an appearance which is quite striking.
All original .44 Russian brass is of the folded head, or balloon style originally used with black powder. I believe the manufacture of this brass stopped either just prior to or shortly after World War II. Now 60-plus years later, Starline offers solid head .44 Russian brass for ammunition companies as well as reloaders. Black Hills was the first to offer modern .44 Russian ammunition, with a 210-gr. load clocking right at 750 fps.
The first S&W single-action replica was the Schofield Model, here fitted
with Buffalo Brothers grips.
Replica single actions fitted with 1860 Army grip frames: USPFA .44 Special in
Tombstone Leather holster flanked by a Cimarron original finish .44-40 and a
second USPFA chambered in .45 Colt.
Cartridge-firing, big-bore sixguns arrived shortly after the end of the Civil War. First came the Smith & Wesson American Model #3 in 1870. Colt followed with the 1871-72 Open-Top and then the Single Action Army in 1873. Remington followed with the Model 1875 two years later, with a large contract of 10,000 pieces for the Egyptian government. The 71/2″ 1st Model 1875s were chambered in .44 Remington, however it was joined by both the .45 Colt and .44-40 in 1878 and both of the latter are available today in replica form.
The Remington Single Action Model 1875 looks much like a Colt but there are differences. The grip frame of the Remington is part of the main frame, resulting in a more solid and possibly stronger sixgun. The triggerguard is brass, separate from the main frame, and it does not form part of the front grip strap as on the Colt. The Remington achieves its unique appearance from a web under the barrel running from the end of ejector housing to the front of the frame, and the cylinder pin also runs all the way to the end of the ejector tube.
Navy Arms was the first to offer the 1875 replica and I acquired a pair of 71/2″ nickel-plated versions more than a quarter-century back. These were chambered in .45 Colt and .44-40. I had both of them fitted with rifle style front sights with a gold bead and used the latter for spotlighting jack rabbits when it was still possible to get a permit to hunt our southern desert.
In later years I have added a third .45 Colt 71/2″ Remington 1875 from EMF, another excellent shooting sixgun which has been fitted with Texas Star checkered faux ivory grips from Buffalo Brothers. We not only have replica 1875 Remingtons available but we also can enjoy shooting the 1890s version which has a more streamlined web under the barrel. A pair of these in .45 Colt with 53/4″ barrels and Buffalo Brothers antique-looking, faux ivory grips, complete with age cracks, are most attractive and good shooting pair of single actions.
Enjoy today’s excellent classic sixgun copies and don’t let the fact they’re not “real” stop you. They’re very real — and any old-west cowboy would have been proud to own one.
By John Taffin