American Handgunner 45th Anniversary .45

Cimarron Frontier .45 Single Action

It was a Tuesday night in December 1954. I specifically remember the day as every Tuesday I took the bus to town to pay my paper bill. My paper route had 100 customers, and on Friday night I collected $0.45 from each. The following Tuesday the Beacon Journal got $30, and I had $15 for myself. This particular night I spent a dollar of that $15. It cost me $0.50 to ride the bus both ways, and it was my habit as I walked back to the bus stop to check the newsstand.

There on the magazine rack at the newsstand was the January 1955 issue of a new magazine called GUNS. I could hardly get the second $0.50 out of my pocket fast enough. Finally, a magazine totally devoted to firearms.

Fast-forward 21 years. I was still reading GUNS every month. The magazine had a tremendous impact on my life (and still does), but now the second wave appeared. Forty-five years ago, American Handgunner’s first issue was published. You might say I grew up with GUNS and matured with American Handgunner. Being as I am now in the early years of my ninth decade, it could be said I really matured! Every issue I learn something from our highly qualified staff of writers. It’s not unusual for an issue to cover such diverse ends of the spectrum as black powder sixguns and semi-automatic 9mm pistols. I’ve read almost 300 issues of American Handgunner and learned something from each one.

Forty-five years is a very significant run, especially in this day and age. So how does one celebrate such a milestone? His Editorship, Tom McHale, made a magnificent decision. The best way to celebrate anything is to mark the occasion with a special gift. It didn’t take long for Tom to decide that something should be a .45, so we began discussing just what would be appropriate. It didn’t take us any time at all to agree on a .45 Single Action chambered in a truly American cartridge, the .45 Colt.

The decision was made to go with Cimarron Firearms with one of their Frontier Models, and as I told his Editorship I would place a barrel length of 43/4″ at the top of the list. We also decided to cook up something a little special for this Cimarron. First, the good folks at Cimarron sent the .45 for me to look over and to shoot. Then came the most significant step. Once I finished my part, I would then send it to the masters at Baron Engraving to appropriately commemorate and celebrate such an anniversary. So, first let’s take a look at this very special to be .45 sixgun.

Cimarron Transformation

When one has been a gun writer as long as I have, coming up on 55 years, you learn some things. One thing I have learned is there is a vast difference when it comes to working with various firearms companies. Some are easy to work with, some difficult, some almost impossible. Cimarron Firearms is at the top of the list. Mike Harvey of Cimarron Firearms and I go back together a long way — almost 40 years. Mike was working in a bank when he started the long road to coming up with truly authentic replicas by purchasing a small importer of replica guns known as Allen Firearms. He changed the name to Cimarron and moved his headquarters to Fredericksburg, Texas, where I first made contact with him. I was the first writer to have the privilege of spotlighting Cimarron Firearms (CFA) more than 35 years ago. Over the years Mike has worked diligently to have Italian replicas constantly updated and improved as to fit and finish and quality of steel. Today’s replica single actions are well made and very good-looking; let’s say very authentic looking sixguns.

Those of us who have a little, or a lot, of gray in our beard remember well the poor quality of both Spaghetti Westerns and Italian replica sixguns of 50 years ago. Clint Eastwood went from the TV screen to Italian Westerns, which improved immensely as Eastwood took over the production. Improvements in the Spaghetti Westerns continued until they reached the apex with one of my favorite movies, The Outlaw Josie Wales. That took care of the movies.

For me, even more important was also seeing replica firearms begin taking a giant leap forward in both quality and authenticity. It didn’t take place overnight and much, probably most, of the credit goes to Mike Harvey. The replica industry started first with percussion sixgun copies, my first was an 1858 Remington, and then cartridge firing duplicates. These early copies were lacking in authenticity and they were easy to spot in the Spaghetti Westerns as many of the Colt Single Action copies had something never offered by Colt, namely brass grip frames. The bluing was also substandard, and the case coloring followed the same pattern. Mike Harvey worked exceptionally hard to convince the Italians to turn out quality firearms. He has definitely succeeded, as over the years the bluing, case coloring, quality of steel, the fitting and the dimensions have all improved to the point at first glance it is difficult to tell Cimarron Firearms offerings from the originals. We now have quality replicas of almost every Colt, S&W and Remington single-action sixgun, both percussion and cartridge firing, as well as exceptionally well-made Winchester-style leverguns. And this brings us to the .45 at hand.

Cimarron Frontier .45

I must say when I picked up the Cimarron Frontier .45 from my FFL holder, Buckhorn Gun, I was most favorably impressed. The case-hardened frame exhibits extremely attractive blues and grays, and the hammer is also case colored instead of having bare steel sides. The hammer is flush with the top of the frame and not sticking up or below. The bluing is deep and metal-to-metal finish is as it should be with no sharp edges. The leading edge of the cylinder has the black powder camphor between the flutes. The one-piece walnut stocks are also well fitted to the grip frame and do not have the reddish look of so many grips found on replicas in the past.

This is a traditionally styled single-action, which means there is no transfer bar. Safe carry requires the hammer to rest on an empty chamber. It does have the Swiss-safe type safety consisting of a cylinder base pin with two notches on the front. For normal use it is placed in the rearward notch while engaging the front notch allows the base pin to protrude far enough through the back of the frame to prevent the hammer from going forward enough for the firing pin to hit the primer of a cartridge. The action is quite smooth, and the cylinder locks up tight with no end shake or side-to-side movement. There is no over-travel on the hammer and the hammer and trigger come together just as the hammer stops its rearward movement. The barrel to cylinder gap is barely perceptible. The sights are easy to see as they are not of the pinched variety but rather a square notch rear sight matched up with a non-tapered front sight.

Range Results

Now it was time to shoot. As I write this, it’s January, so instead of my sturdy shooting bench, solid pistol rest, and good lighting, it was necessary to go to the indoor range that has none of these shooting aids. This makes the results even more exceptional. With Black Hills 250-grain .45 Colt FP and their 230-grain .45 Schofield load as well as the CCI Speer 230-grain Trailblazer, groups at 20 yards all measured right at 1″. For my eyes it shoots right on for windage and low for elevation, which means the front sight can be filed to accommodate a chosen load. The good news is it is a shooter. This is no surprise as I’ve yet to have a Cimarron sixgun which wasn’t.

Once my part of this project was accomplished, the .45 was shipped to David Miles of Baron Engraving to be properly embellished. The color case hardening was left as is while the frame screws were fire blued and the barrel, ejector rod housing, trigger guard, backstrap and cylinder were all treated to scroll engraving with gold bands on the cylinder and “American Handgunner” engraved on the barrel all resulting in a most attractive, one-of-a-kind .45 Single Action. To top off the project, my grip maker of over 50 years Tony Kojis of TK Grips crafted a beautifully fitted and finished set of curly maple grips for this one-of-a-kind sixgun. Tony specializes in single-action grips and he is a master craftsman.

This special sixgun will go to one fortunate reader as the 45th anniversary issue giveaway gun, so be sure to enter. That person will face a big decision: “Do I shoot it or keep it as is?” My vote is predictable. Sixguns are made to be shot, and as beautiful as it is, it should be used and passed down generation to generation, say every 45 years?

Heidi hard at work on the Cimarron Frontier .45.

This cylinder is in the process of being transformed to … stunning.

A Baron Engraving Masterpiece

By Tom McHale

Heidi Roos sits at her workbench awaiting the next project. One might think the Senior Engraver, with 18 years of experience (11 of those with Baron Engraving), would open the next project box to find a complete firearm, ready for the pas de deux of art and engineering. No, it’s not to be. Instead, Heidi opens a box to find a pile of parts that will eventually comprise a Cimarron Frontier .45 Colt single-action revolver.

To complete the engraving process, it’s a necessity for an in-house gunsmith at Baron to break each firearm into its individual components, so each can be designed, handled and engraved separately. No small part of the skill of quality engraving is developing the ability to envision the final product and how the planned design will flow from part to part, completing a cohesive work of art on the re-assembled firearm.

While every project is different, it’s not unusual for Heidi to spend a week or more on just one gun, and it’s also common to invest a day or more pondering the final design before putting pencil to paper for the rough design. That’ll change throughout the process as the gun speaks to the engraver during the work. Drawing on inspiration from previous masters like Lewis Daniel Nimschke, who worked the second half of the 19th century, she’ll lean on her preference for the classic American Scroll design, made popular on these shores through a simplification of Victorian, almost Edwardian, techniques.

Knowing this handgun will be color case hardened, Heidi considers application of extra deep and bright cuts, so the design will clearly show through the darker and colorful finish. Gold plating will also look beautiful on this one, so she’ll hand cut those areas for later plating with 24-karat gold.

While every project is a challenge to ensure a design is comprehensive and coordinated across the collection of parts, a single-action revolver like this one requires even more three-dimensional vision and attention to detail. Lots of round, cylindrical and partially spherical areas are tricky to navigate with the graver tool. Then there’s the barrel. When in the vise, she can only see one side, but the overall pattern has to match perfectly on each side of the relatively narrow tube. A .45 Colt may look large at the fiery end, but there’s not much workspace on the exterior of the barrel.

This special .45 features a personal touch like no other. At Baron, only one engraver touches any given firearm. As writers and painters are recognizable by their individual style, Heidi can spot engravers by their scroll work. This one is uniquely hers. If you’ve got a sharp eye, you’ll find “H. Roos” on this revolver, but we’re not telling where it is. It’s part of the mystique.

For more info:,, TK Grips (208-484-5325),

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