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United States Firearms
Quality And Authenticity
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos by Yvonne Venturino
Just when you get to thinking that the only interesting guns are coming from foreign factories, or you start feeling that domestic firearms manufacturers have forgotten how to craft steel into beautifully fitted and finished guns, a company comes along to give new hope.
I’m talking about the U.S. Firearms Manufacturing Company operating out of their factory in the firearms famous city of Hartford (CT). I consider their guns interesting because one and all they are reproductions of famous and historical American guns. They are also the epitome of quality, as in the parts are carefully machined, carefully polished, and then given beautiful blue and/or color case hardened finishes.
Let’s get two things straight right now before proceeding to the details of the U.S. Firearms guns I own or have shot. One is that U.S. Firearms started out in the 1990s by importing Italian parts and then having them assembled and finished in this country. They don’t do that anymore, and haven’t for several years. Anyone who has visited their booth at the SHOT Show for at least the last four years now will have seen photos of the state of the art factory they built. If you haven’t done that then order their 2006 catalog and take a look at the photos therein.
An official of another very well known gun company located near Hartford told me he had visited the new USFA facility, and was impressed. He said, “You could eat off the floors of that place it was so well maintained.” An official of USFA personally told me that they don’t even stock Italian made parts anymore, having dumped them to a parts seller. All parts in their guns are now American made.
The second item I want completely understood is that however much this article may read like a paid advertisement by United States Firearms, IT IS NOT! How many times have I heard this (or more correctly read it) on some Internet forum: “Those gun writing whores will say anything because they get all those free guns.” Hear this. WHAT I AM SAYING HERE COMES STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART. USFA HAS NEVER GIVEN ME A FREE GUN. I OWN AN EVEN HALF DOZEN OF THEIR FIREARMS AND PAID FOR ALL OF THEM. Furthermore, I don’t know the people who run the company very well, having only visited with them via the telephone or briefly at SHOT Shows. Neither have they wined and dined me at those SHOT Shows. They have asked me if I would be willing to fly back to Hartford some time to visit their facility, but at this writing I have not yet done so. I certainly will do it when the timing is correct for both them and me.
So rest assured that what you read here is precisely what I perceive as the honest truth. And that is that USFA is producing the finest single action revolvers being made in the world today. Not only do they look the part but they function as intended, and some of mine are also about the most accurate single action revolvers among the 50 or so in my gun vault.
Unlike the modern trend in gun companies where they lay out what they want to make and say, “Take it or leave it” USFA actually caters to its customers. They make standard models that can be bought off the shelf, and they offer the buyer options ranging from budget models to custom features such as engraving or grips of exotic materials.
My introduction to the new American made USFA models came first with their Rodeo model, which was built as an entry level gun for prospective new cowboy action shooters. Often “entry level” can be read as cheaply made. That’s not what it means here. The USFA Rodeo is given a budget finish; meaning a matte blue but with color case hardened hammer. Otherwise it is the same sixgun they offer with fancy blue and/or color case hardening. One in .45 Colt caliber was sent to me a few years back to use in an article. When mounted in my Ransom Pistol Machine rest it was capable of putting 12 rounds of Black Hills “Cowboy” factory loads into 2″ to 2.5″ groups at 25 yards. When fired handheld I grouped it exactly point of aim at 50 feet. I bought that one but later sold it to make room for others of their handguns.
After my experiences with that Rodeo, at the next SHOT Show I decided to give USFA a test. My order was for a single action in .44 WCF (.44-40) caliber, and I said to build it just as a Frontier Six Shooter would have come from the factory in 1880. The only thing I specified was that it wear a 7 ½” barrel and blue and color case hardened finish instead of nickel-plated finish.
Brothers and sisters, when it arrived a few months later it was 99-percent of perfect. My new single action arrived with the so-called “black powder frame” that has screw angling in from the front to secure the cylinder’s base pin. It also wore the very fine sights typical of the late 1800s, and had Frontier Six Shooter inscribed on the left side of the barrel. One item I was sure they would miss was the old cone-shaped firing pin that was standard in the Single Action Army’s early days. They didn’t. Furthermore, the frame and hammer had what can only be described as astounding color case hardening, and the rest of the gun was given a deep blue over very well polished metal.
Even the grips got my approval. Usually I throw factory made single action grips in a heap in the corner because they are far too thick, especially the hard rubber types. The USFA hard rubber grips are thin and comfortable and stay on the guns.
So what was the one percent thing that USFA missed on my “1880s single action?” Well, on MOST Frontier Six Shooters a tiny “.44 CF” was inscribed high on the left side of the trigger guard so that everyone would understand that the barrel logo meant .44 WCF/.44-40. That didn’t bother me too much, especially after I mounted it in my Ransom Rest and got 12 shot groups at 25 yards as small as 1.5″! And just like that previous Rodeo .45 this new .44-40 shot precisely to its fixed sights at 50 feet.
That started a roll which is nowhere near finished yet.
This barrel marking on a single action revolver is synonymous with a caliber stamping of .44 WCF or .44-40.
All my life I’ve been a student of the Custer Fight, aka Battle of the Little Bighorn, where Lt. Col. Custer and part of the 7th Cavalry were wiped out to a man by Sioux and Cheyenne Indians in June 1876. Therefore, at the next SHOT Show USFA knocked my socks off when they introduced their Custer Battlefield .45. In essence these single actions are built exactly as a Single Action Army .45 would have been made for cavalry service in 1876. That includes 7.5″ barrel, inspector’s stamps, and one piece walnut grips. Then USFA gives those .45s an antique finish so they look like they were built in the 1870s. They hooked me like a trout to a fly fishing lure, and I ordered mine right there at the SHOT Show. When Doug Donnelly, President of USFA, asked what serial number I wanted, at first I didn’t understand. Then he told me customers could get any number as long as it was in the same serial number range as Custer’s 7th had. Quick as a flash I retorted, “Is 1876 gone?” No it wasn’t, and I’ve got it.
My USFA Custer Battlefield .45 is all that I could have asked for. It’s finished a dingy brown, has the 7.5″ barrel, one piece grips, cone shaped firing, pin, black powder frame, and all the proper markings. Unlike my other USFA .44s this one shoots a couple inches high at 50 feet, but on for windage. As for its grouping ability, I have no idea. I can hit what I aim at with it so more than likely I’ll never mount it in a Ransom Rest.
For my next project with USFA I got even more ambitious. My vault doesn’t hold many engraved guns, and also my wife had long wanted a mate to her own .44-40 single action. So this time I ordered a pair of guns; mine with the 4 ¾” barrel length and hers with the 5 ½” length she favors. And since USFA will accommodate customers I also had her serial number be her initials. I almost forgot — these guns were also engraved with their basic engraving package which gives about 50-percent coverage.
I wasn’t about to stop at this point. A friend who had seen the fine single actions I was getting from USFA wanted to order a brace of .45s; with 4 ¾” barrels. We were informed of a price break if three guns were purchased so I jumped in too and got one just like his. All the good things said above about my other USFA single actions pertain to this .45 too. Likewise it has never been test fired for group. Why should it? I usually hit what I aim at with it.
Sixth In A Row
And finally for my sixth USFA purchase, I took a different route. Instead of a handgun I bought a carbine — a Lightning pump action repeater to be exact. Back in the 1880s when these Lightnings were first introduced their major selling point was their speed of firing — just as the name implies. Back in those days just after single shot firearms of all types had been the norm that was an important selling point, and the Lightnings were able to shooter faster than lever guns. The speed factor became less important after the advent of auto-loaders since no lever gun or pump gun was going to be a faster bullet delivery mechanism than a self-loader.
Then came the cowboy action sport. Cowboy competitors quickly realized a reliable pump gun in experienced hands could actually beat a lever gun. The original Lightnings began to disappear, prices started to rise dramatically for them, and being so old they were prone to frequent parts breakage. Many modern manufacturers soon cast an eye on the design, and today there are at least three factories in the world turning out pump action “Lightning” rifles and carbines. Only one of those facilities is located in the United States and it is USFA’s plant right there in Hartford.
USFA has had Lightning rifles available for a while, but I held out for a carbine because I already had an original saddle ring carbine in .44-40 caliber. Finally my USFA carbine arrived in the same caliber. My .44-40 Lightning carbine started out stiff, as befits a gun with much hand fitting. However, it slicked up nicely with some use. It’s also very well finished in both wood and metal regards, and will group under 2″ at 50 yards. My only heartburn with it is the rear sight. It obviously is of modern design and looks nowhere close to an original Lightning Carbine’s rear sight.
So far this article has concerned the guns that I have personally bought from USFA. That’s rightly so because those are the ones I have had hands-on experience with. But, this enterprising young company has far, far more irons in the fire than the half dozen guns I’ve been fortunate enough to purchase.
Let me state that differently. They make many more guns that I hope to purchase someday. For instance, USFA makes new Bisleys like that strange looking variant of the Single Action Army that was made from about 1896 to 1912. Another that has caught my eye is their .22 single action they have named “The Plinker.” It is a full size revolver sold complete with an auxiliary cylinder for .22 Magnums. There is even another version called the “.22 Target” with adjustable — but traditionally styled sights. And now even a 12-shooter!
Another intriguing USFA single action is their Omnipotent. In shape it is a knock-off of the Colt 1878DA, but in order to make it acceptable to SASS (Single Action Shooting Society) rules the Omnipotent fires in single action mode only. It’s a full size revolver chambered for all the regular cartridges and available with fixed or target sights and a variety of barrel lengths. There’s even a “Snubnose” version with barrel lengths as short as two inches. That one would be a hoot to get my hands on and fire with black powder handloads. USFA has even introduced a Model 1911 — beautifully made and finished just as they would have been produced in 1911.
And while on the subject of ammunition it should be noted that USFA offers most of the Old West calibers. Even such oddballs as the .44 Colt and .41 Colt can be had. You can even get an extra .45 ACP cylinder for your .45 Colt if you desire.
That brings me to another point. These USFA single actions are about the most accurate single action revolvers I’ve ever machine-rest tested. There’s a good reason for that. They not only have good barrels, but their cylinder chamber mouth dimensions also match the barrels. For instance, all my .44-40 USFA sixguns have a .427″ barrel groove diameter, while their cylinders uniformly have .428″ chamber mouths. Conversely, I have owned other single actions of a very well known brand that have .427″ barrel groove diameters, but cylinders with .425″ chamber mouths. I’ll let you guess which combination will give the most precision. Most makers of .45 caliber single actions over the past four decades have fitted their guns with .451″ barrel groove diameters but with .456″ or larger chamber mouths. That is a poor arrangement. My two USFA .45 caliber single actions likewise have .451″ barrel dimensions, but their chamber mouths are about .452″.
Now here’s the bad news. None of USFA’s single actions or pump action rifles and carbines are inexpensive. They are quality made, hand fitted pieces of machinery that rightfully belong in long gone era. A handgun manufacturer once tried to impress me by having one of their workmen (Note I didn’t say craftsman!) assemble a handgun from several buckets of parts. It went together and functioned perfectly. That stunt also didn’t impress me one bit. I grew up on finely made and finished guns. I still want them. There are plenty of cheap guns about; both of foreign and domestic manufacture. I want quality and I want choices, so when I spent my money on firearms there are only a select few modern manufacturers that get it. One that has gotten a fistful of my cash in the last few years is United States Firearms Manufacturing Company.
I can’t give any better recommendation.