My wife Dot and I were traveling from Freedom Arms and on our way to Yellowstone stopping over to spend the night in Jackson Wyoming. The next morning, looking for a place to eat before hitting the road, we ran into a bunch of other folks doing the same thing with the result being a line stretching out to the boardwalk. Standing in line to eat when there are so many restaurants in this country is one of my least favorite things to do so my wife says, "Why don't you go over to the gunstore and look around while I keep our place. I'll get the table and I know what you will order anyway." Across the street to the Bitter Root Trading Company I went to spend my waiting time looking through the racks of old Winchester and Marlin leverguns; Sharps rifles and carbines; and then over to the pistol case to look at the Colt Single Actions and Bisley Models. By the time I got to the end of the showcase, a sixgun on the bottom shelf caught my eye. It also caught my checkbook. When I returned to my wife at the breakfast table, I had a small package under my arm. It contained a beautiful 7 1/2" Colt New Frontier .44 Special.
The Fabulous Fifties were over, and it was the beginning of a new era, one some called a breath of fresh air. Little did we know what would soon be coming in the 1960s. For now, we had a new president, a young dynamic president to replace the grandfatherly Ike. To honor the new president and new optimism, one firearms company decided to bring out a new sixgun. In late 1961 (only two were made in this year), Colt brought forth the New Frontier in honor of John F. Kennedy's New Frontier. Within two years, rifle shots would ring out in Dallas, Camelot would be gone, and a specially engraved New Frontier would never be presented to JFK.
Our country's innocence was gone never to return again, but the Colt New Frontier would remain in production for the next two decades. Colt flat-topped the frame of the Single Action Army, added an adjustable rear sight mated with a radically sloping ramp-style front sight, and brought forth one of the most beautiful sixguns to ever come from the Hartford factory. Just as with the Colt Single Action Army that gave birth to the New Frontier, the new sixgun carried a deep blue finish on its barrel, cylinder, and grip frame topped off with beautifully mottled colors on its case hardened main frame.
In the production of the 1st Generation Colt Single Action Army sixguns from 1873 to 1940, a few target models, both Single Action Army and Bisley, were produced consisting of a slightly flat-topped frame, a windage adjustable rear sight by drifting and locking in place, and a front sight that could be adjusted up and down. During the 1920s, Elmer Keith tried to interest Colt in modernizing the Colt by flat-topping the frame and adding fully adjustable sights. He even offered the loan of his custom sixguns including his famous #5 but Colt would not listen. Had they been open-minded, Ruger may never have materialized. Keith's #5, built in the mid-1920s, was a 5 1/2" Single Action chambered in the cartridge of time, at least for reloaders, the .44 Special; and the grip frame of the #5 was created by mating a Bisley back strap with a Single Action trigger guard. Its influence today can be seen in the Freedom Arms and Ruger Bisley revolvers. The frame was flat-topped and carried a fully adjustable rear sight mated with a post front sight with a bead. Keith called it The Last Word as he considered it the finest possible sixgun to ever been assembled. It was definitely the last word in single actions in the 1920s.
In 1962, a Colt Single Action Army cost a relatively expensive $125, while the New Frontier, was even higher at an unreachable, for me, $140. This at the same time that .357 and .44 Magnum Ruger Blackhawks were going for less than $100 and the superbly crafted and blued Super Blackhawk in .44 Magnum was selling for $116. Our local store had a New Frontier .44 Special that I drooled over quite often but with college tuition, three hungry kids, and a wife who stayed home with them, there was no way. Had I been able to look into the future, I would somehow have borrowed the money and bought the Colt. Today it would be worth no less than ten times the original price. I keep reminding myself, always remember, Colt Single Actions rarely ever go down in value.
The Colt New Frontier began with serial number 3000NF, which stayed in the Colt plant. The last of the 2nd Generation New Frontiers was in the 72XXNF serial number range, which gives us a total of slightly over 4,000 New Frontiers from 1961 to 1974. Four calibers were made in this first run of these Colt Flat-Top Target sixguns, .45 Colt, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, and .44 Special.
According to Colt expert Don Wilkerson, the .38 Special is the rarest followed by the .44 Special. Wilkerson gives the following production figures for the 2nd Generation New Frontiers. Less than 100 .45 New Frontier Buntlines were also produced.
Production By Barrel Length
Caliber 4 3/4" 5 1/2" 7 1/2"
.38 Special 0 39 10
.44 Special 0 120 135
.45 Colt 85 520 1,020
.357 Magnum 78 795 1,305
In 1978, The New Frontier went back into production with the 3rd Generation Colt Single Action Army. Serial Numbers began at 01001NF, using five digits instead of four. In the last, and according to Colt, final run of New Frontiers, calibers were .45 Colt, .357 Magnum, .44 Special, and .44-40. All of the 2nd Generation New Frontiers were standardized with a finish of bright blue except for the case hardened frame. Third Generation New Frontiers can be found in full blue and nickel finishes also including nickel-plated Buntline New Frontiers in .45 Colt, .44 Special, and .44-40. The .44-40 was available in the short barrel length of 4 3/4" but I do not believe any .44 Specials were offered in this length.
Wilkerson gives the following figures for 3rd Generation New Frontiers
Production By Barrel Length
Caliber 4 3/4” 5 1/2” 7 1/2”
.45 Colt 1,106 57 7,407
.44 Special 0 783 2,761
.44-40 519 0 1,046
.357 Magnum 0 0 509
All 3rd Generation figures are for blue/case-hardened models except the .357 Magnum was offered only in a nickel-plated version. Approximately 25 full blue finish .44 Special New Frontiers were produced as well as 60 in .45 Colt, all with 7 1/2” barrels. Basically production of the New Frontier ended in 1982, with a small number being assembled in 1983, and an even smaller number, 66 in 1984 before they disappeared altogether.
Take a very close look at any 3rd Generation New Frontier before buying. Some of the later ones were hastily thrown together and will require some expert gunsmithing to bring them up to standard. My Breakfast Special, a 3rd Generation New Frontier .44 Special purchased before bacon, toast, and hashbrowns in Jackson was dropped off at Munden Enterprises before ever being fired. Bob Munden performed his action magic replacing springs and smoothing the action, then it was off to his gripmaker, Mike Wallace. I asked to be surprised as to choice of wood, and I certainly was breathtakingly so. When the .44 Special arrived back here in Idaho it wore heart-stopping one-piece grips of walnut that fit my hand perfectly. Wallace is part of a select group of men who understand what single action grip-making is all about.
The Colt New Frontiers maintain the beautiful looks, feel, and balance of the Colt Single Action Army with the added advantage of adjustable sights. It is a rare fixed sighted sixgun that shoots to point of aim and when it does it is normally for only one load. The New Frontier's sights allows for any reasonable load to be dialed in. The New Frontier makes an excellent hunting sixgun, especially with a 7 1/2” barreled .45 Colt or .44 Special, and it will get the job done up close on deer and black bear sized game. They are not Magnums, but the .45 Colt will easily handle loads using 260 grain Keith style bullets at 1,000-1,150 feet per second, while the .44 Special uses the same style bullets of 250 grains at 1,200-1,250 feet per second.
Jacketed bullets are normally an expensive and unnecessary option with the .45 Colt and .44 Special at these muzzle velocities, however Speer still catalogs their original 'jacketed' .44 bullets which consist of a copper cup with a lead core. These are offered in both 225 grain hollow points and 240 grain flat points with the former getting the nod for .44 Special use at 1,100 feet per second. I would like to see the same design offered in .45 caliber. The short barreled New Frontiers in both .44 and .45 caliber make excellent Packin' Pistols easy to carry and relatively lightweight when compared to .454 Casulls and Ruger .44 Magnums. With heavy .44 Special and .45 Colt loads, one can handle anything up close except the big bears.
I can only think of two easy improvements to the New Frontier that could have been done by Colt. First, as with almost all sixguns, they cry for custom grips. I cannot understand why Colt would produce such a beautiful sixgun, and then fit it with stocks made out of some of the plainest walnut available. I wish they had also used a different front sight with a flat black post front sight instead of the glare gathering sloping ramp front sight. The Colt high front sight does go well with one of my favorite sixgun shooting pastimes, namely long range shooting at small rocks on yonder hill. The secret to this style of long range shooting is not holding over as one does with a scope sighted rifle or pistol, but simply holding up enough front sight with the intended target perched on top. This is only for fun shooting at inanimate objects not for hunting! Misses don't count on the former, they can be really messy on the latter.
Loading for the Colt New Frontier for me at least is normally pretty traditional. I see no advantage, actually a disadvantage in using jacketed bullets in the non-Magnum big bore New Frontiers except for the above mentioned .44 225 grain hollow point by Speer. I say this as pressures with jacketed bullets are higher than I care for to obtain the desired velocities. The .44 Special and .45 Colt literally beg for cast bullets and are at their best with hard cast, Keith semi-wadcutter bullets.
Today, 3rd Generation Single Action Armies are cataloged in .45 Colt, .44-40, .44 Special, .38-40, .357 Magnum, .38 Special, and .32-20, however, Colt says New Frontiers are gone forever. For now, New Frontiers seem to be readily available at gun shows and the really good news is that they are not regarded as highly by collectors as the Single Action Army so prices are usually quite a bit lower; several hundred dollars lower in my area. Perhaps someday Colt may consider it reasonable to not only return the New Frontier, but also modernized with coil springs and brought back for all of us single action sixgunners. The frame and cylinder size is too small for a .44 Magnum, however it should make a dandy .41 Magnum in addition to .357 Magnum, .44-40, .38-40, .32-20, and of course, .45 Colt and .44 Special.
Selected Loads For the Colt New Frontier .44 Special
Bullet Load Barrel Length MV
Lyman #429421 7.5 gr. Unique 5 1/2” 964
RCBS #44-250KT 7.5 gr. Unique 5 1/2” 1,014
RCBS #44-250KT 17.0 gr. #2400 5 1/2” 1,154
RCBS #44-250KT 7.5 gr. Unique 7 1/2 1,067
RCBS #44-250KT 17.0 gr. #2400 7 1/2” 1,208
Selected Loads For the Colt New Frontier .45 Colt
Bullet Load Barrel Length MV
Lyman #454424 18.5 gr. #2400 5 1/2” 1,151
Lyman #454424 20.0 gr. H4227 5 1/2” 1,040
H&G Keith 8.0 gr. Unique 5 1/2” 920
H&G Keith 9.0 gr. Unique 5 1/2” 982
H&G Keith 10.0 gr. Unique 5 1/2” 1,032
Lyman #454424 18.5 gr. #2400 7 1/2” 1,165
Lyman #454424 20.0 gr. H4227 7 1/2” 1,085
H&G Keith 8.0 gr. Unique 7 1/2” 981
H&G Keith 9.0 gr. Unique 7 1/2” 1,000
H&G Keith 10.0 gr. Unique 7 1/2” 1,090