A Colt Buntline Special Find

29

This photo shows the difference between a Colt Buntline Special with 12" barrel compared
to a standard Colt SAA with the vastly more popular 43/4" barrel.

Upon entering the door of a recent Montana gun show, I thought, “My money is safe. There will be nothing in here that trips my trigger.” Having walked no more than 10 feet and inside of five minutes, I was nigh on broke.

What got my wallet was a pristine 2nd Generation Colt Buntline Special .45 still in its dilapidated original box along with instruction pamphlet. For younger readers who might read this and not understand; a Buntline Special is a standard Colt Single Action Army except it wears a 12″ barrel. I am no great fan of Buntlines having owned a 3rd Generation one back in the 1990s. I purchased this one because Colt Buntlines are moderately rare — especially 2nd Generation models. And this one was in like new condition. Truthfully, I couldn’t tell for sure if it had ever been fired. It will have been by the time you read this.

Early 2nd Generation Buntline Specials had a separate serial number for their barrels.
This is Duke’s number BB318. Colt started the numbering with BB100.

Buntline’s Fables

In a nutshell here is the Buntline story. Back in the 1870s a “Dime Novelist” with the pen name of Ned Buntline reported he had special ordered Colt SAAs with 16″ barrels and shoulder stocks and presented them to western law officers of note. Among those was Wyatt Earp. Whether this actually happened is a topic of debate. The Colt factory doesn’t have a record of Ned Buntline ordering anything — although they made special Colts with extra-long barrels and shoulder stocks on special order.

In the mid-1950s, with the advent of television, western shows were all over prime time. I for one loved them. Cheyenne was my favorite but Have Gun Will Travel was another good one, Maverick was entertaining and gave James Garner his start. Another one well remembered was about Wyatt Earp as portrayed by Hugh O’Brian. His Colt Buntline also got plenty of airtime.

It was the popularity of those TV westerns that nudged Colt back into reintroducing the SAA in 1956. Naturally, the company capitalized on the popularity of the Wyatt Earp TV show by introducing their “Buntline Special” in 1957. The one I found at a Montana gun show was made during that first year judging by its serial number.

Colt also gave the 12" barreled SAAs their own name of Buntline Special.

Buntlines By The Numbers

Colt did something unique, at least with their early Bunt-line Specials — they added serial numbers to barrels that weren’t matched to numbers on the frames. These numbers had a BB prefix for “Buntline Barrel” and then numbers starting with 100. Those numbers are stamped on barrel bottoms just in front of the cylinder’s base pin. Mine is BB318. According to the book Colt SAA Post War Model by George Garton, Colt produced 595 Buntline Specials with blue/case colored finish in 1957. There’s more proof mine was first year production.

Also in Garton’s informative book are basic Buntline Special production numbers for both blue/case color finish and nickel-plating. Colt made 3,994 blue/case colored Buntlines between 1957 and 1974 when 2nd Generation SAA production ended. During the same time frame the company only manufactured 65 nickel-plated Buntline Specials. All were chambered as .45 Colt.

Sales of Buntline Specials followed TV western trends. They sold best in their first three years: 595, 1644 and 277 of blue/case color. Figures didn’t reach triple digits again until 1970.

Did the extra-long Buntline barrel give super velocity to .45 Colts? Some comparative testing I did with my old 12″ barrel Buntline Special and a 7.5″ standard SAA says no. A charge of 8.0 grains of Unique with 255-gr. lead alloy bullet gave 999 fps from my 7.5″ barreled SAA and 10 fps less from the Buntline Special. Next I tried a charge of 7.2 grains of W231 with the same bullet. The 7.5″ barrel gave 937 fps and the Buntline Special beat that by only eight fps.

Obviously, the Buntline Special was a novelty sold by Colt without actual practical purpose. I’ve never been especially attracted to them but finding one from first year production still with its original albeit nearly destroyed box definitely tripped my trigger. Next I’d like to stumble on a 2nd Generation .45 with a 3″ barrel. Only 503 of those were made.

Read More Shooting Iron Articles

Subscribe To GUNS Magazine

Get More Revolver Content Every Week!

Sign up for the Wheelgun Wednesday newsletter here:

Purchase A PDF Download Of The American Handgunner July/August 2020 Issue Now!