Carry 'Em With Six!

Traditions Engraved Single-Action Sixguns

The .45 Colt (left) and .357 Mag. (right) Traditions engraved Single Actions.
The Traditions match up well with this carved leather holster from El Paso Saddlery.

For more than a century, savvy sixgunners went by the “load one, skip one, cock and lower the hammer on an empty” rule. Safety required this standard practice for the entire run of 1st Generation Colt single actions from 1873 up to the eve of World War II, the 2nd Generation run from late 1955 to the early 1970s, and the 3rd Generation from the mid-1970s to the present time. This also included the Colt New Frontiers. Great Western arrived in 1954 with a replica of the Colt, and the empty chamber action remained. Ruger brought out their first single action with the .22 Single-Six in 1953, followed by the .357 Blackhawk in 1955 and the .44 Mag. Blackhawk one year later. All of these Rugers and the Super Blackhawk of 1959 still had the basic “empty chamber under the hammer” action.

Ruger changed all this in 1972 with their New Model action. Up to this point, to load or unload a single-action sixgun meant the loading gate was opened, the hammer placed on half cock and the cylinder rotated for loading and unloading. With the New Model action the opening of the gate releases the cylinder which could then be rotated — and all the while the hammer stayed in the down position. The difference was the Ruger now had a transfer bar which only moved up into firing position when the hammer was cocked. This allowed a single action to be carried safely with six loaded chambers for the first time.

With the coming of the replica Colt single actions the original action was maintained, but some were fitted with a flimsy safety of a sort which cammed into place when the hammer was placed in the so-called safety notch. I would never trust this safety or the safety notch. Another solution was a longer base pin with two notches which allowed it to be pushed backwards, locked in place and then the hammer could not go forward and contact the primer of a cartridge. This certainly worked, but one could be in a world of hurt trying to get the base pin to disengage and move forward to allow the gun to fire in an emergency. I would never use this “safety”!

The engraving on the Traditions Single Actions is well carried out and attractive.

John was able to get these tight groups with the Traditions Single Action and had a lot of fun doing it!

Best Of Both Worlds

In the past few years Traditions has blended the old with the new. Their single actions now have the traditional Colt action of opening the loading gate, putting the hammer on half cock and rotating the cylinder. However, at the same time they have a Ruger-style transfer bar which allows the carrying of a fully loaded cylinder safely. If one looks at the current Traditions transfer bar Single Actions it is easy to see the trigger is farther forward than on traditional Colt actions. Everything else looks like Colt-style. Now in addition to the transfer bar action, Traditions is also offering exceptionally good-looking laser engraved single actions. The engraving is more than 80 percent scroll-style coverage and is quite attractive. If one is looking for an engraved sixgun at a very reasonable price, the Traditions Single Action, fully engraved, with one-piece grips can be purchased for much less than you’d expect.

Our test guns from Traditions, both engraved, consisted of a 43/4″ nickel-plated .45 Colt with one-piece walnut grips and a blued .357 Mag. Bill Tilghman Model with a 43/4″ barrel and one-piece ivory-style grips. Bill Tilghman was one of the three famous U.S. Marshals — along with Chris Madsen and Heck Thomas — in the Oklahoma territory in the last quarter of the 19th century, later serving in the oil fields in the 1920s. The movie You Know My Name with Sam Elliott told of Tilghman’s later years. He was murdered in 1924 more than 10 years before the .357 Mag. arrived, so his Colt was a .45.

The .357 Mag. Traditions shot quite well with the HSM (top) and Hornady (bottom) .38 Spl. loads.

Hands On

Both test guns exhibited light hammer strikes on factory ammunition, and the transfer bar on the .45 Colt model broke. They were returned to Traditions for repair and came back performing flawlessly. The .357 Mag. was test-fired with both .38 Spl. and .357 Mag. loads while the .45 Colt version fired both .45 Colt and .45 Schofield rounds. I did not intend to shoot these sixguns this much, but they were so enjoyable I could not resist!

Both guns shot about 6″ low with my hands and eyes and also about 2″ to 3″ left with most loads. Both of these are easy fixes. Filing the front sight will bring the elevation up to point of aim and turning in the barrels will correct the windage. I have a barrel vise that mounts into the trailer hitch on my 4×4 pickup to perform this task.

The most accurate loads in the .357 Mag. Traditions with .38 Spl. loads was the Hornady 140-gr. XTP-JHP at a very mild 646 fps and a group of 7/8″ for five shots at 20 yards; this was followed by the HSM 158-gr. RNL at 826 fps and a five-shot group of 11/8″. Switching to .357 Mag. loads, the most accurate load was the HSM 158-gr. JHP at 915 fps and a group of 7/8″ while four different loads gave me 1″ accuracy. These four loads and their muzzle velocities were the Black Hills 158-gr. JHP at 1,162 fps; HPR 125-gr. JHP, 1,168 fps; SIG SAUER 125-gr. FMJ, 1,339 fps; and the very potent HSM 180-gr. “Bear Load” consisting of a flat-point gas-checked bullet at just over 1,100 fps. My favorite turkey hunting load consisting of the Black Hills 125-gr. JHP+P at just over 1,300 fps grouped its five shots in 1 1/8” as did the HSM 158-gr. Lead SWC at just under 1,200 fps.

Switching to the .45 Colt Tradition Single Action, my best results were with the full-length .45 Colt loads with the most potent standard pressure load available. One of these was the Buffalo Bore 255-gr. Keith, with velocity at 935 fps and a group of 11/4″. Once the original problem with light strikes/transfer bar were solved, both of these sixguns proved to be easy handling and accurate. A few minutes working with the sights would bring them each to point of aim with the chosen load.

Traditions has managed to maintain the historic look and balance attributed to the original Colt Single Action while making it safe to carry with 6 rounds. Add in the attractive engraving and nicely fitted one-piece stocks and it is easy to see just how far Italian replica single actions have come in the past half century. These particular revolvers are by Pietta and are some of the nicest looking replicas I have seen yet.

Buffalo Bore’s 255-gr. Keith load is John’s choice for use in the .45 Colt Traditions Single Action for serious use.

Going Long

While we are on the subject of Traditions Single Actions, I recently had a chance to try out one of their Pietta-manufactured .45 Buntline Specials. Just as with the engraved Traditions Single Actions, this one operates like a Colt for loading and unloading while having a transfer bar safety at the same time. With a 12″ barrel and one-piece walnut stocks, it’s exceptionally attractive. The blue finish is excellent, wood to metal fit is near perfect, and the lockup is as tight as I have ever seen on any factory produced revolver. When the hammer is cocked the cylinder locks up tightly — and I do mean tightly — and there is absolutely no side-to-side movement nor end shake.

The Traditions Buntline Single Action was test-fired with three loads. The Black Hills 230-gr. .45 Schofield clocked out at 810 fps with five shots in 1″, Black Hills 250-gr. .45 Colt went 830 fps with a 7/8″ group, and the HSM 250-gr. .45 Colt load clocked out at 820 fps and puts five shots in a tight 5/8″ group. This is exceptional performance from this .45 sixgun and even pretty good shooting on my part.

Purchase A PDF Download Of The American Handgunner May/June 2018 Issue Now!