Classic Everyday Carry:
Single-Action Shorties


With the ejector rod-less single action shorties, a punch of some
sort must also be carried to remove fired cases.

Most revolver models have been offered with a rather small number of barrel length options. For instance, S&W’s Model 19 .357 Magnum was only cataloged with 21/2, 4 and 6″ barrels. Ruger’s Blackhawk .357 Magnums were available only with 45/8 and 61/2″ barrels.

When Duke carries a concealed single action shorty, it’s his 4"
Colt .38-40 in an inside-the-pants holster.

Traditional Barrel Variety

However, my all-time favorite revolver genre, single actions, have been made (inclusive of domestic and foreign makers) with barrel lengths from 2 to 16″. That longest length dated from Old West days and was sold with skeleton stocks to make them into a fanciful form of carbine. I’ve seen Uberti single-action replicas in the same form.

Standard barrel lengths for Colt SAAs and replicas have been 43/4″, 51/2″, and 71/2″. The longest was initially intended for military horse soldiers. The shorter lengths were made for fighting in more civilized settings than cavalry campaigns.

Duke’s current single action shorties. From bottom: 3" Colt .44 Spl./.44-40
Sheriff’s Model, custom ordered 3½" Colt Peacemaker .45 and custom-ordered
4" Peacemaker .38-40.

Shorty Production

And then there are the “shorties,” which usually have been produced by Colt on special order or in limited runs. Naturally, replica makers have cloned those also. In Colt’s 2nd Generation production, only 503 of .45 Sheriffs Models with 3″ barrels sans ejector rods were made. I’ve personally only seen one of those. So, when I wanted a .45 Sheriff’s Model, a U.S. Firearms Company version fit my needs. After the company ceased production, another single action fan wanted it so badly, I sold it with regrets.

Early in Colt’s 3rd Generation production, an unknown number of .44 “Sheriff’s Models” were made. Those could be .44 Special or .44-40, or there was an option of having cylinders for both cartridges. I have had a .44 with both cylinders since 1991. Also, I should mention that more recently in 3rd Generation, some .45 Sheriff’s Models have been made on custom order. In former days Colt didn’t hesitate to accept custom orders.

After the “Sheriff’s Model,” some bright marketing light at Colt determined there should be a “Storekeeper’s Model.” It was the same as the “Sheriff’s Model,” except the barrel length was 4″. As far as I’m aware, “Storekeeper’s Models” could be either .44 or .45. I once had a nickeled “Storekeeper’s Model” with both .45 Colt and .45 Auto cylinders. Kind of ironically, I bought it from a sheriff.

Why anyone would think that sheriffs or storekeepers didn’t need ejector rods is a mystery to me. Fired cases would have to be punched out of chambers with a length of rod, a nail, a pencil or whatever someone managed to carry without poking a hole in themselves.

At one time, Duke owned this very nice U.S. Firearms Company .45 Sheriff’s Model,
but its previous owner bought it back from him.

Safe Queens

Now here is Duke’s Truth. I have many Colt SAAs with 43/4, 51/2, and 71/2″ barrels and even one “Buntline” with a 12″ barrel. Their chamberings run the gamut: .32-20, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .38-40, .41 Colt, .44 Special, .44-40 and .45 Colt. Why? Because I like them and have been buying them since 1968. What do I do with them? They are all fired at one time or another strictly for recreation, as in plinking from 10 to 100 yards on paper, steel or wood. That’s it. Formerly I shot some varmints with them or packed one with me when hunting. I don’t even do that now.

Duke owned both of these Colt .45 shorties at one time.
Then he sold both but now has reacquired the ivory stocked one.

What Really Gets Used

Here is a corollary to Duke’s Truth. In my personal opinion, the most practical Colt SAAs are the Shorties. I have three right now: the “Sheriff’s Model” mentioned above, a .45 with a 31/2″ barrel and a .38-40 with a 4″ barrel. The latter two have ejector rods. They might not pop out fired cases entirely, but they at least get them out far enough they can be flicked clear with a fingernail. That’s a far better system than ejector-rod-less Sheriff’s Models.

This pattern was fired with the .45 Colt custom ordered Peacemaker
using Speer plastic shot capsules and #12 shot.

Shorty Scores

As I mentioned, in former days, Colt accepted special orders. At a mid-1990s Sahara Antique Gun Show in Las Vegas, I saw a display that stopped me in my tracks. There were a variety of SAAs with 31/2 and 4″ barrels in .38-40, .44-40 and .45 calibers, some with normal factory grips, some with factory ivory one-piece grips, some nickel-plated, some blued/color case hardened, etc. All had ejector rods! The proprietor at the table was the late Don Wilkerson — a well-known and authoritative writer about SAAs. If my memory is correct, he had Colt make six of each variation, and they were selling very well at the show. Brothers and sisters, right there, I plunked my money down on a 31/2″ .45 with ivory.

Here’s the rest of the story. A friend wanted that ivory stocked Colt badly and talked me out of it. Twenty-five years later, I traded it back from him. In those many years, he had never fired it!

Back in the late-1990s, I was contacted by another gun’riter who asked, “I’m going to sell my 4″ barreled .38-40 SAA. Are you interested?” You bet I was! I didn’t ask if it was nickeled, fully blued or blued/color case hardened. It was the latter. I hoped it had ivory stocks such as my .45 wore, but sadly it only had Colt’s standard hard rubber type. Quickly I had my friend Tom Sargis craft a pair of one-piece style stocks from fancy walnut. Then I had the late Eddie Janis of Peacemaker Specialists color case harden its hammer. What I do not know is this: Did it start as one of Mr. Wilkerson’s special orders, or did said gun’riter order it for himself? A factory letter of authentication will prove which, so I’ll have to spend the $100 for one someday.

Duke keeps .44 Special and .45 Colt shot loads on hand in warm
weather for rattlesnake control. He uses only #12 shot.

Duke’s current crop of single-action shorties are chambered
for .38-40, .44-40 and .45 Colt.

Practical Applications

As far as firing at something made of flesh and blood, I’ve used the Sheriff’s Model with a .44 Special cylinder the most. And every flesh and blood critter shot with it has been a rattlesnake around our house and outbuildings or on a neighbor’s property. Every round I’ve fired at dozens of rattlesnakes has contained shot pellets — either factory-loaded CCI shotshells or my own using their plastic capsules with #12 shot. A reader over 35 years ago told me every snake he shot with #12 shot just went limp — dead limp. After a long search, I found a 25-lb. bag of #12 shot. My experience with it matches the reader’s. If I use up more than a 25-lb. bag in my lifetime, I need to move!

Skeeter Skelton significantly influenced me growing up, and he wrote he mostly used bullets on rattlesnakes down there in the New Mexico desert. I fear turning bullets loose around my home and outbuildings with our many cats, dogs and horses about. Ricochets can travel hither and yon. Heavy doses of shot stop rattler activity right now without endangering anything else.

This is why Duke and Yvonne appreciate their shorty single actions.

Carry Options

I used to carry the Sheriff’s Model in my hip pocket, but Yvonne does lots of weed spraying in warm weather, so I gave it to her along with a Rick Bachman holster. Since she once encountered a rabid skunk, I have her load the .44 with three shot loads, two rounds with solid bullets and the hammer down on an empty chamber. When not carried, that .44 sits holstered but hidden near our front door. I once grabbed it and shot a four-foot rattler just 10 feet from the door.

The shorty SA I think makes the best carry gun is the 4″ .38-40. My belt has to be let out another notch for an inside- the-pants holster to fit, but it’s perfectly concealed under a vest or light jacket. I wore it constantly for several months just to see if I could get along with it. I did, but admittedly there are much better choices for that job.

I’m a bit abashed to admit it, but the Wilkerson .45 with its ivory grips is babied. Now, one-piece ivory grips are more valuable than most handguns, so busting mine up in day-to-day use isn’t an option. Except for fun plinking, the job of that .45 is as our downstairs door’s rattler killer. Again, it’s holstered and hidden in the summer months.

In my opinion, it’s doubtful if Colt will ever make more single-action shorties, but fine ones come over the ocean from Italy. They definitely serve a purpose.

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