"Sam Colt was left-handed, that's why the Colt Single Action has the loading gate on the right side!" This is one of the first things I heard from Bill Grover as I met him for the first time at The 1987 Shootists Holiday. I didn't have the heart to tell him that Sam Colt died in 1862 and probably had nothing to do with the design of the 1873 Colt Single Action, the famed .45 Peacemaker.
Even if Sam didn't design the Colt, Grover's point is well taken. The Colt Single Action is definitely made for a left-hander. I know that I personally always load and unload my Single Action Colts, Rugers, etc., by switching them to my left hand. Bill Grover took care of what he considered a mistake of history by offering his line of Texas Longhorn Arms Single Actions made for right-handers. By reversing the Colt, and placing the ejector rod and loading gate on the left side, it is natural for a right-hander to open the loading gate with his right thumb, and eject empties and load new rounds with the left hand, the sixgun never leaving the right hand. Natural it may be but it is hard for this shooter to break a 50-year habit.
In addition to the Improved Number Five of the last chapter, Bill Grover first offered his "right-handed" Single Actions in three standard models, The West Texas Flat-Top Target, which just as the name implies is a target-sighted single action sixgun; The South Texas Army, a fixed sighted Single Action which looks quite a bit like a mirror image of a standard Colt SA; and The Texas Border Special which is a 4” barreled Sheriff’s or Storekeeper’s Model style sixgun.
Each Texas Longhorn Arms sixgun is marked "One of One Thousand" as there were to be only 1,000 of each made during the initial production. My first test Texas Border Special was serial numbered B-44 to match its .44 Magnum chambering. All three models were available in blue, blue with a case hardened frame, nitre blue, nitre blue with a case hardened frame, or antique nickel finish; and in .32-20, .357 Magnum, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, and .45 Colt, or any other center-fire sixgun chambering desired
What made the Texas Longhorn Arms sixguns different from the Colts other than the obvious moving of ejector rod and loading gate to the left side? I spent a few hours back in the 1980s with Bill Grover asking the same question and it was an absolute pleasure to see his eyes light up and know that here was a man who really cared about building a top quality sixgun. What then made the TLA sixgun worth its then $1500 retail price tag? Each sixgun was completely fabricated of 4140 steel, with all coil springs, and a spring loaded firing pin set in the frame. The cylinder locks into place with a double locking on the bolt, one coming from the bottom, the other from the top. Grover maintained that a properly timed TLA sixgun would stay properly timed if it was handled correctly. This means no line around the cylinder from the drag of the locking bolt.
For a better esthetic quality, a number of cosmetic features were added to the Texas Longhorn Arms Single Actions. All trigger guards are rounded with the trigger also rounded and set far back in the trigger guard and contoured like a shotgun trigger. The three frame screws do not protrude all the way through the frame, leaving the left side of the sixgun clean for engraving. Also all screw slots line up together, a feature that takes a great deal of careful fitting.
As with the early Colts, Grover fitted each of his sixguns with one-piece grips of walnut or fancy woods. At The Shootists Holiday in 1987, he had samples with ivory, curly maple, and pecan. Grover took special care to see the grips fitted correctly, both on the gun and in the hand. No slab-sided feeling here. The grips are curved in the right places and feel like they belong in the hand.
Each TLA sixgun is fitted with a large base pin, something custom gunsmiths have done for years on Colt SAs, plus the pin is held in place with a screw at the front of frame rather than the spring loaded "modern" set up which fails so often with heavy loads. For better handling, the grip straps on The West Texas Flat-top Target and The South Texas Army have been extended by 3/16 of an inch, allowing more room for the little finger. I really appreciate this feature! Each sixgun is fitted with a low wide hammer deep cut in front of the spur to allow for ease of cocking with no need to change the grip when cocking the hammer. Tolerances were kept very close with barrel/cylinder gaps held at .0015"-.002", and the serial numbers, were are all hand stamped with original style Colt stamps.
Originally I had my choice of two guns for an extended time of testing after shooting both at the Shootists Holiday, a 5 1/2” South Texas Army in .45 Colt, and a 4” Texas Border Special in .44 Magnum. I chose the .44 Magnum for a number of reasons. I was fascinated with the round butted, easy carrying big bore sixgun; I've always wanted a .44 Magnum in a Colt Single Action; and most importantly, the little Border Special shot closer to point of aim without filing down the front sight than the .45 Colt South Texas Army. I do file the sights on my guns but not on borrowed test guns.
Shooting a .44 Magnum in a short barreled, 38-ounce sixgun is normally not a very pleasant experience. Since the barrel was marked ".44 CALIBRE", I re-checked with Bill Grover specifically to make sure that it was really intended to fire full house .44 Magnums and not just .44 Specials. Loading the cylinder for the first time with factory .44 Magnums, I prepared myself for an unpleasant experience and as the little sixgun went off I was pleasantly surprised to experience no pain. The little .44 really roared and bucked, but it did not punish.
The reason for the lack of pain is the fact The Texas Border Special was fitted with a round-butted grip long before they became popular on Ruger Vaqueros and custom sixguns. This not only makes a sixgun easier to conceal, it takes the sting out of .44 Magnum loads. This is a no- nonsense, traditional defensive single action sixgun, that one would not be afraid to bet one's life on. It packs very easily in a hip holster or even behind the belt. The specially designed hammer makes cocking for the first shot very fast and is easy to get to for repeat shots although I would think a load of a 250 grain bullet at around 900 fps would be much better as a defensive proposition than a full house .44 Magnum.
Single action sixguns are my passion with great single action sixguns being my consuming passion and if the single action sixgun just happens to be chambered for the .44 Special, even better. The .44 Special first saw the light of day in 1907 and the Colt Single Action, the reigning single action of the time, actually the only single action of the time, was soon offered in .44 Special but only a little over one tenth of one per cent of all the pre-War Colt Single Actions were chambered in .44 Special. There were enough of them that experimenters like Elmer Keith, Gordon Boser, and John Lachuk through the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's could tailor loads that gave 1200 plus feet per second with a 250 grain Keith bullet and .44 sixgunners extolled the virtues of their load when compared to the upstart .357 Magnum. The question, of course was finally settled when the .44 Special evolved into the .44 Magnum and we had the bullet of the Special at the muzzle velocity of the .357 Magnum.
By the mid-1950's, both Colt and Great Western were producing traditional single actions and both would offer .44 Special but only rarely. I've seen only one .44 Special Great Western and fortunately it was reasonably priced. Both of my original 2nd Generation Colt Single Action .44 Specials were acquired before they became collector's items for which I and my checkbook are very grateful. I once winced at paying $125 for a Colt Single Action 2nd Generation .44 Special. Now they are running $1500-$2000, or more.
Beginning in 1962, the New Frontiers was offered as Colt's Flat-TopTarget Single Action with a very few 2nd Generations and quite a few 3rd Generations being produced; however like all good things, they came to an end in 1984. It looked like the day of coming up with a modern, but traditionally styled .44 Special Single Action with adjustable sights was over. Then Bill Grover let me borrow his personal West Texas Flat-Top Target with a 7 1/2” barrel and chambered in .44 Special. After much arm twisting, and the fact he desperately needed to put a new front porch on his place, Grover agreed to sell me his Flat-Top Target. Bill Grover was not just a fine gunsmith but a master gunmaker and I do believe his Flat-Top Target was his finest effort. It was certainly love for me at first sight and definitely at first firing. When I finally caught Grover at the right time, he not only agreed to sell me the Flat-Top but also offered, if I would send it back, to fit it with two more cylinders, one in .44 Magnum and the other in .44-40. I agreed to meet Bill in Texas for a hunting trip and take three animals, one each cylinder, 44-40, .44 Special, and .44 Magnum.
For the .44 Magnum I chose 240 grain Remington Jacketed Hollow Points over 20.0 grains of #2400. Not full house loads, these would not be suited for really big game but should be fine for a Corsican Sheep or Catalina Goat at close range. The .44-40 was loaded with the Speer 225 grain pure lead hollow point in a copper cup over 10.0 grains of Unique,, and for the .44 Special, the then new Hornady 200 grain XTP was loaded over 18.5 grains of #2400. These loads are not necessarily recommended for any other sixguns but this one. I found that the .44-40 load and the .44 Magnum were dead on with the rear sight bottomed out and three fourths of a turn up brought the lighter .44 Special bullet to point of aim.
When the Texas Longhorn Arms West Texas Flat-Top Target came back with all three cylinders, Grover also included one of his Texas High Rider Holster systems. The High Rider works with any single action sixgun and is especially handy with 7 1/2” barrel lengths. It is worn high either strong side or cross draw and consists of a holster proper and a belt slide. The holster fits inside the belt slide and locks into place with the bottom end of a loop on the front of the holster that snaps to the belt slide. To remove the holster simply unsnap and raise the holster out of the belt slide.
Our Shootists Spring Sixgun Safari was held on the ranch of my dear friend Frank Pulkrabek outside of Kerrville Texas. (A few short years later Frank was killed by a drunk driver as he was taking hunters back to the San Antonio Airport. He is missed greatly.) At the beginning of our hunt I slipped the .44-40 cylinder in the TLA .44, placed the .44 Special cylinder in a sock, tied it to my belt and headed out. We had not been out fifteen minutes when I spotted a Merino Ram with a large blood patch on his throat and nose and the guide said we had to kill it, so up came the .44-40 and down he went and I had the first animal in my quest for three critters with the same sixgun but different chamberings. Turned out that he had been wounded that morning when a bullet aimed at one animal went all the way through its intended target and just barely clipped him also. None of the other hunters knew he had been hit as Merinos have about three inches of heavy wool and it takes a long time for them to show blood.
Changing cylinders, I left the guide to take care of the Merino and went hiking after some other animals. After spending an hour chasing goats back and forth through the trees and brush, I finally got a shot at a wide-horned Catalina/Angora and the .44 Special did its job. His horns measured 40" wide and he made a beautiful snow white mount. Now I had to hike back to the jeep, and pick up the .44 Magnum cylinder.
There was a big black and white spotted, long-haired Catalina on the ranch and that old billy was plenty smart running me up and down the canyon for the next three hours until I finally figured out what was going on. Grover was with me now and I asked him to give me time to get back on top then come through the bottom to drive him up to me. At 6PM, I was hidden in some trees waiting for the black and white billy. Around 6:30, here he came. I knew I was perfectly hidden, but he looked right at me! Curiosity got the best of him and he stepped out of the group of several goats to get a better look and at 75 yards the Remington .44 Magnum did its work cleanly and quickly. The third animal of the desired trio had been taken with the Three-In-One .44 WCF/Special/Magnum Texas Longhorn Arms Sixgun.
The West Texas Flat-Top Target as offered by Texas Longhorn Arms has a 7 1/2” barrel and weighs in at 45 ounces. The grip frame is Colt Single Action style, although slightly longer, with one-piece stocks of figured walnut. There are single action stocks and there are single action stocks; some feel like a piece of a 2x4. These stocks are perfectly, and I do mean perfectly shaped, with all the curves and flares in the right place. There are many single action stocks being offered but very few makers really understand how a single action stock is supposed to feel. This one is right!
The trigger guard is smaller and rounder than found on most Colt Single Actions and the shotgun style trigger sits far back in the rear of the trigger guard. The hammer is wide and checkered and deep enough in the front to allow the thumb to slip naturally when cocking. Sights are fully adjustable with a melted Micro-style set at the rear of the flat-top frame. The rear sight is mated with a Patridge front sight giving a sharp black sight picture that I prefer for most sixgun applications. The finish is highly polished deep blue black and all metal-to-metal and metal-to-wood fit is excellent.
The action and lockwork of the Flat-Top target consists totally of music wire coil springs. Operation is smooth and positive and the cylinder locks up tight with any of the three cylinders in place. Grover not only built them “Right”, he also built them tight and I ran into trouble in the beginning as he built the .44-40 cylinder using Winchester brass and I loaded my original rounds with Remington brass. We then found out that Remington brass has thicker heads and would not function with the tight headspace of the Flat-Top target designed for use with Winchester brass.
Brass for the .44-40 is very thin and cylinder walls of Colt Single Actions are as thin as those chambered for the .45 Colt as the .44-40 is basically a .45 necked to .44. The following loads are for use only in the Texas Longhorn Arms West Texas Flat-Top Target or similar sized large frame single actions. Groups for all loads were shot at 25 yards and clocked over a PACT chronograph.
Test-Firing The TLA 7 1/2” Flat-Top Target .44-40
Load MV Group
Speer 225 HP/10.0 GR. Unique 1,154 1 1/8"
Hornady 200 XTP/20.0 GR. IMR4227 1,047 1 5/8"
Hornady 200 XTP/18.5 GR. H4227 1,060 1 3/4"
Hornady 200 XTP/17.5 GR. #2400 1,153 1 1/4"
Hornady 200 XTP/18.5 GR. #2400 1,262 1 1/4"
Hornady 200 XTP/10.0 GR. Unique 1,149 1 1/8"
Sierra 180 JHP/10.0 GR. Unique 1,115 1"
Lyman #42798/10.0 GR. Uinque 1,144 2 1/2"
The .44 Special, the original chambering of the Flat-Top Target is very dear to my heart, soul, and spirit. I am often asked what I would choose if I could only have one sixgun. That would be a terrible situation to be in but if pressed I often leaned towards either a Colt New Frontier .44 Special with 7 1/2” barrel or an original Ruger Blackhawk Flat-Top .44 Magnum also with a 7 1/2” barrel. Now I have the best of both worlds with not only a first class .44 Special and .44 Magnum but a .44-40 cylinder thrown in for good measure. Not only is the .44 Special Flat-Top Target a fine shooting sixgun with many loads, it is spectacular with the Keith load of a 250 grain hard cast bullet over 17.0 grains of #2400.
Test-Firing The TLA 7 1/2” Flat-Top Target .44 Special
Load MV Group
Oklahoma Ammunition 215 SWC 1,067 1 1/2"
Speer 240 SP/16.3 GR. #2400 1,270 1"
Speer 225 HP/16.3 GR. #2400 1,348 2 1/2"
Hornady 240 XTP/ 17.0 GR. #2400 1,485 1 1/4"
Hornady 200 XTP/18.5 GR. #2400 1,376 1 1/4"
RCBS KT SWC/17.0 GR. #2400 1,379 7/8"
RCBS KT SWC/7.5 GR. Unique 1,023 2 3/8"
The crowning glory of the Texas Longhorn Arms West Texas Flat-Top Target is the .44 Magnum. Here we not only have a sixgun that shoots both .44-40s and .44 Specials in one-inch or less, it does the same thing with the .44 Magnum. I was happy with the .44-40 shooting one-inch groups with Hornady XTP's and Speer and Sierra hollow points; I was overjoyed with the .44 Special doing the same thing with both Speer 240 jacketed hollow points and hard cast Keith bullets. What then do you think I felt when the .44 Magnum, loaded with Lyman's #431244GC bullet over 21.5 grains of AA#9 at 1436 feet per second, out-shot both the .44-40 and the .44 Special? Let's call it experiencing sixgun perfection.
Test-Firing The TLA 7 1/2” Flat-Top Target .44 Magnum
Load MV Group
Oklahoma Ammunition 240 JHP 1,453 2"
Oklahoma Ammunition 240 JSWC 1,376 1 1/4"
Remington 240 JHP 1,489 1 1/8"
Winchester 240 JHP 1,493 1 1/2"
Winchester 250 SXT Black Talon 1,416 1 3/4"
Black Hills 240 JHP-XTP 1,345 1 1/2"
Black Hills 300 JHP-XTP 1,200 1 1/2"
Bull-X 240 SWC/8.5 GR. Unique 1,209 1 1/8"
NEI 260 KT/10.0 GR. Unique 1,216 2 1/4"
BRP 295 KT/10.0 GR. Unique 1,157 1 3/4"
BRP 295 KT/21.5 GR. WW296 1,395 1 1/8"
Lyman #431244GC/24.0 GR. H4227 1,423 1 1/2"
Lyman #431244GC/21.5 GR. AA#9 1,436 3/4"
Lyman #431244GC/25.0 GR. WW296 1,473 1 1/2"
RCBS #44-300FN/21.5 GR. WW296 1,402 1 1/4"
Hornady 240 XTP/25.0 GR. WW296 1,559 1 1/8"
Since those first three cylinders were fitted to the West Texas Flat-Top Target I have returned it to Texas Longhorn Arms for the fourth cylinder, the original .44 chambering found in Smith & Wesson’s #3 Single Actions, the .44 Russian. The Russian and Winchester Centerfire .44s were contemporaries and the Special and Magnum just naturally followed the Russian so it seemed quite appropriate. Then when Black Hills and Starline resurrected the .44 Colt it seemed like it would also be natural to add a fifth .44 cylinder. Unfortunately the best laid plans of mice and men really do ofttimes go astray and the doors of Texas Longhorn Arms closed before the .44 Colt cylinder could become reality.
TLA 7 1/2” Flat-Top Target .44 Russian
Load MV Group
Oregon Trail 225/4.0 gr. Red Dot 828 1 3/8”
Oregon Trail 225/4.0 gr. TiteGroup 800 1 1/4”
Oregon Trail 225/4.0 gr. WW231 818 1 1/2”
Grover's other right-handed single action was the South Texas Army with fixed sights, a barrel length of 4 ¾”, and most often found offered as a .44 or .45 Colt. Unlike the TLA West Texas Flat-Top Target, my South Texas Army has only one cylinder, that being in .44 Special. Everything we have said about the Flat-Top Target is also true of the South Texas Army except it has Colt Single Action Army style fixed sights. Both of these sixguns have grip frames much closer to the 1860 Army than the 1873 Army. The former grip has a slightly different angle, being a little straighter than that found on the Colt Single Action Army and it is also longer allowing room for the little finger, which no longer has to either dangle in space or be wrapped under the butt. Texas Longhorn Arms grip frames are exceptionally comfortable when shooting heavy loads.
TLA 4 3/4” South Texas Army .44 Special
Load MV Group
Black Hills 240 SWC 825 1 1/2"
Bull-X 240 SWC / 5.5 gr. 452AA 860 2 3/8"
Bull-X 240 SWC / 6.5 gr. 452AA 966 2 1/2"
Bull-X 240 SWC / 11.0 gr. HS-7 997 1 5/8"
Bull-X 240 SWC / 7.5 gr. Unique 968 1 3/8"
Hornady 240 SWC / 6.0 gr. Unique 803 1 7/8"
Speer 225 JHP / 8.0 gr. Unique 1,083 2 1/8"
SPeer 240 SWC / 6.0 gr. Unique 823 1 1/2"
BRP 245 Keith / 6.0 gr. Unique 895 1 3/4"
BRP 245 Keith / 7.5 gr. Unique 1,030 1 3/4"
Lyman #429421 / 7.5 gr. Unique 929 2 1/2"
Lyman #429360 / 7.5 gr. Unique 968 1 3/8"
Lyman #429215GC / 8.5 gr. Unique 1,139 1 5/8"
Grover's original plans were to build 1,200 Improved Number Fives in .44 Magnum with 5 ½” barrels. After testing the original I ordered serial number K44, which I now have, and also purchased an identical Improved Number Five chambered in .45 Colt. The plan of 1,200 .44 Magnums never materialized, nor did the 1,000 each of the West Texas Flat Top Target and South Texas Army. In addition to his Texas Longhorn Arms models, Grover also built a few other custom guns. Two of these for me were both .44 Specials using Ruger Old Model frames. One of these is a 7 ½” with custom fancy walnut grips by Charles Able and the other a 4 ¾” Packin’ Pistol with a Colt Single Action grip frame fitted with one-piece ivory grips by BluMagnum. The long-barreled sixgun is serial number JT1. The Packin’ Pistol .44 Special is one of seven. The first for Skeeter Skelton was SS1, mine is SS4. SS2 belongs to Bart Skelton, Bob Baer has SS3, Jim Wilson SS5, Terry Murbach, SS6, and Grover has SS7. There will be no more. Both of these sixguns fit in my Very Special Sixguns category.
I never like trying to identify “my favorite sixgun”, however several years ago I referred to my favorite type of sixgun, that being a 7 ½” adjustable sighted big bore single action. The TLA West Texas Flat-Top Target and custom .44 Special on an Old Model Ruger frame are very special sixguns in my favorite category.
While they can still be found occasionally at gun shops, shows, and auction sites, we will probably never see the production of Texas Longhorn Arms sixguns again. It would be wonderful if someone with plenty of financial resources would underwrite the return of the Improved Number Five, the South Texas Army, the West Texas Flat-Top Target, and the Border Special. I can at least hope. Now that Bill Grover has gone Home it would be a fitting tribute to him to have his sixguns returned to production.