Real treasures are very hard to find especially when it comes to yard sales. How many times have I heard of great gun bargains being found at yard sales? One of our locals several years bought an old belt with a funny looking metal plate on it. That funny plate was a Bridgeport Rig (see picture in Chapter 8) worth several hundred dollars, and that is not the end of the story. The old belt was a money belt and had several gold coins stashed inside it for who knows how many generations. The total cost for this treasure was $3! That's the good news; the bad news is one has to wade through hundreds of yard and garage sales to find anything. That totals out to working for very cheap wages.
I don't do yard or garage sales, however, until I could no long take the constant liberal slant and spin of our local paper, it was my regular habit to read the Guns For Sale section in the morning paper's want ads as well as attend all the local gun shows. Reading the paper took very little time, and even if one buys nothing at a gun show, it is always a pleasant experience to visit with other shooters. By checking the paper and gun shows, I expected to find at least one special sixgun per year. It may be a like new Ruger .357 Flat-Top or Old Model Blackhawk, or even an inexpensive specimen for re-building into a .41 Special, .44 Special, .44-40, or .38-40, or perhaps even a Colt Single Action as I found in the paper in the early 1970s under an ad which read simply, Colt Single Action .44 and Old Belt and Holster.
The address was a trailer park just outside of town, and I was rewarded by finding a 1st Generation 7 1/2" Colt Single Action with an old cartridge belt and holster just as advertised. As I handled the Colt I felt everything all sixgunners do when their spirit and soul comes in contact with such a beautiful sixgun. Except for minor pitting on the top strap, the .44 sixgun was in excellent shape mechanically and the case coloring had turned a beautifully aged gray. The left side of the barrel was marked "RUSSIAN AND S&W SPECIAL 44", dating it between 1913 and 1929 and making it one of the rarest of the 1st Generation Single Actions.
The sad part was I knew I could not afford the price of $450. Sadly, I reluctantly thanked the man for his time and left. My excitement was obvious as I told my wife all about the Colt .44 when I arrived back at home. Then the unexpected occurred. I had become so excited over the .44 sixgun, I forgot to stop at the local boot repair shop; and since she was going out to do some shopping anyway I asked her to pick up my boots. When she returned home she handed me the boots with a slight smile on her face. As I took the boots I realized they felt a few pounds heavier than normal. In the left boot was the Colt! She had gone out on her own and purchased the .44 Special; a most special sixgun, and definitely a most special wife.
After doing a little research on the Colt and finding out more about its rarity, we decided it belonged to a collector not a shooter as I was. So we traded it for all of our money back plus two Colt shooting sixguns, a Second Generation 5 1/2".44 Special and a 7 1/2" .45 New Frontier. I still have both of these Colts and that Special is really special, however I wish I still had the other one also. Over the next two decades I would never see another Colt Single Action like this one, and still haven’t.
By the early 1990s several manufactures and importers were offering replicas of the Colt Single Action. The first sixguns dating back the 1970s shot OK but with their brass grip frames they were not very authentic. During the 1980s that started to change as replicas came closer in appearance to the sixguns used in the 19th Century. Finally at a SHOT Show in the early 1990s, I found a single action with the Russian and S&W Special marking, beautifully finished with deep bluing, and very vivid case colors. This was a brand-new sixgun, a replica Single Action from a new company then known as United States Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company. USPFA’s sixguns were Italian replicas, however they were not only fitted and finished in this country, the work was done in the old Colt Armory.
At that time USPFA was a relatively new company that had taken over the old manufacturing facility of Colt Patent Firearms. In keeping with the move into this historic facility, USPFA's catalog was printed in the 1870's style and language advertising “Holster, Belt, And Pocket Pistols, Revolving Carbines, & Single Action, Central Fire, Army, Six Shot, Revolving Pistols. Also The Old Armoury Custom Shop, Ornamental Engraving & Special Guns Made To Order. All Of Our Work Is Guaranteed Highest Standard Attained.”
In talking with the USPFA folks at the SHOT Show arrangements were made to examine their sixguns in depth. To this end, three sixguns were ordered for testing and evaluation. One had to be a blued and case colored 7 1/2" RUSSIAN AND S&W SPECIAL 44. The other two were to be in .45 Colt and .44-40 with one a 4 3/4" barrel, the other 5 1/2" and one to be nickel finished. In a short time I received the 7 1/2" .44 Special, a 5 1/2" nickeled .45 Colt, and a 4 3/4" .44-40 finished with the same beautiful blue and case colors as the 7 1/2" .44 Special. All three sixguns were fitted up tightly with little or no perceptible cylinder movement either fore, aft, or side-to-side, and all were of the 1870s black powder style with a bullseye ejector rod head, and a screw through the front of the frame to secure the cylinder pin. The serial number was found in three places, in 1870s style, on front of the trigger guard behind the front screw, on the bottom of the frame in front of the trigger guard, and also on the butt. Above each serial number was the letter P. Since these sixguns were still technically imports, the hammers carried the government-mandated safeties as found on all Uberti centerfire single action sixguns.
All of these sixguns proved to be excellent shooters, however USPFA was not satisfied with offering Italian replicas; that was only the starting point. Their goal was a completely American made sixgun of all American made parts. The goal was not immediately attained but rather worked forward to in steps with each one, such as using American barrels and cylinders with Italian frames bringing them closer to providing an all American made Single Action Army and in the process their name was changed to USFA for United States Firearms. What we now have is just about the finest traditional factory built Single Action sixgun I have ever seen; and unlike other replicas, this one is All-American. It is no longer just assembled in this country with imported parts, but rather all the parts, all the finishing and fitting, everything is American made and American accomplished.
There are those who feel writers get specially selected guns so two USFA Single Action sixguns were ordered through regular dealer channels and paid for up front, so they were definitely not specially selected sixguns as writer’s samples. In fact they were custom built after they were ordered, as are most USFA sixguns, and came through with consecutive serial numbers. The sixguns ordered were a Classic Single Action, a .45 Colt with a 4 3/4” barrel, while the second sixgun was a .38-40, and instead of 4 3/4” barrel found on my old original Colt I went for a 7 1/2” barrel as more suitable for my older eyes.
It did not take long to realize these were sixguns done right. Most single actions need some work to either tune them or fit them enough to satisfy someone who has been shooting single actions as long as I have. That does not mean to say they are not usable out of the box but rather they often need such work performed as trigger pulls reduced, actions smoothed out, cylinders tightened, and grips fitted properly. Not so with these sixguns. The main frame and the hammer are beautifully case colored, while the balance of each sixgun is finished in a deep, dark color. Grips furnished as standard are checkered hard rubber with a “US” molded into the top part of the grip.
One of the first things I normally do with any sixgun is fit it with personally chosen custom stocks, usually preferring ivory, stag, or some exotic wood. On pure looks alone, the USFA Single Action Army sixguns definitely need replaced, however the grips are so perfectly fitted to the frame and feel so good in the hand I am very hesitant to change them. The Eagle Ultraivory grip panels are setting on my desk right now and they will be replaced however I'm in no hurry. If one looks at the grips on most single action sixguns the fitting leaves a lot to be desired, not so here. These grips have been fitted to the grip frame on a factory built revolver as carefully as custom grips by the Master grip makers.
One of the things I always look for in the fitting and finishing of a single action sixguns is the radiusing of the lower part of the back of the hammer and the two "ears" formed by the back strap where it screws into the mainframe on both sides of the hammer. A well-made single action will exhibit a smooth mating of the contours of all three. USFA sixguns are very nearly perfect in this area and the same careful fitting can also be found where the top of the face of the hammer meets the top strap. The fit of the trigger guard to the bottom of the mainframe is so perfectly done one can run a finger over the area and not feel where one part begins and the other ends. The same is true where the back strap meets the mainframe.The front of the ejector rod housing as well as the cylinder are both beveled which not only looks good and feels good, it also provides for easier holstering.
A sixgun can look good and feel good, however these are only two legs of a three- legged stool; it must also shoot good. Two critical measurements predict how well it will shoot and how much care was taken in the assembling of these sixguns, those two are chamber throat diameters and trigger pulls. Both USFA sixguns receive a perfect grade of 100%. I have seen chamber throats on .45 Colts as small as .449” and as large as .460”. All six chambers on the .45 Colt from USFA measure a uniform and perfect .452”. The .38-40 is also uniform and correct at .400”. Trigger pulls on both sixguns are exactly as I prefer, being set at three pounds. Cylinders lock up tight both in the hammer down and hammer-cocked position. In fact, when the hammer is cocked, the cylinders on either sixgun are as tight as those found on the single action by which all others are judged, the Freedom Arms revolver. These sixguns are simply built right.
Shooters have a choice in rear sights of a V-notch or square rear sight; Vs are more historically accurate and for young eyes; square notches are more practical and for my more mature sighting. The square rear notch is perfectly filled in by a front sight that also has a square profile rather than tapering to the top. USFA sixguns can be ordered with a choice of a spring-loaded cross pin or screw in black powder style cylinder base pin latch. I went with the more modern spring-loaded version.
Fixed sighted sixguns do not always to shoot to point of aim. Point of aim depends on the load used, how one sees the sights, and how one grips the sixguns. The ideal is a sixgun that shoots right on for windage and a little low so the front sight can be filed down to bring each individual’s sixgun and load right to point of aim equal to point of impact. Both the sixguns tested were dead on for windage with most of my loads, my grip, and my eyes. The .38-40 shot anywhere from one to three inches low and can be easily filed to hit point of aim with one particular bullet weight and load. Caution is necessary here as one must be careful to not only use the right load when filing the front sight but also to shoot as one normally expects to shoot. For me, I will get three different points of elevation depending upon whether I am resting the sixgun on sandbags, resting only my hands, or shooting offhand. The difference can be several inches.
The .45 Colt is just about perfect as it is. Not only is it dead on for windage it also shoots most of my .45 Colt loads right to point of aim for elevation. There's no reason to touch the front sight blade with a file. I can't remember ever experiencing a traditional single action in the nearly five decades I have been shooting them that came any more perfectly sighted, perfectly timed, with perfectly fitting grips, and with the desired trigger pull all wrapped up into one package. The only possible way I can see to improve a USFA sixgun is by spending some time polishing the interior parts with a stone to give that buttery slick feel to the action. .
We've taken care of every aspect of these USFA Single Action Army sixguns except how well they shoot. With the way these sixguns are put together I expected them to shoot very well and that is exactly what occurred. Both the .45 Colt and the .38-40 exhibited several five-shot groups at 50 feet that were one inch or less. My most used loads with these two calibers are 8.0 grains of Unique under 250-255 and 180 grain
bullets respectively. These two calibers, as well as the .44-40, are loaded on the RCBS Model 2000 progressive press. This is very convenient as all three use the same shell plate and by using the same powder charge it takes me all of 10 to 20 seconds to remove one die plate and substitute another. With both the .45 Colt and .38-40 loads using Unique group size was under one-inch. Considering the fact I no longer see the sights as clearly as I once did, this a remarkable performance from these two sixguns
Neither the .45 Colt nor the .38-40 chambered in traditional Single Action Army sixguns should ever be “magnumized” but rather kept at reasonable muzzle velocities. To gain the greatest slap down power with these two cartridges in Single Action Army sixguns I choose two very special bullets with wide flat noses. For the .45 Colt, the choice is RCBS’s #45-270 SWC, a Keith-style bullet that weighs out at 281 grains cast 20:1 lead and tin. With 8.0 grains of Unique, this bullet only travels around 800 fps from a 4 3/4” barrel however with this weight I would say that is plenty for most applications. With the .38-40, I go with the Gordon Boser designed Lyman #401452 he came up with more than 60 years ago for his wildcat .401 Special. In Starline’s .38-40 brass, over 8.0 grains of Unique from the 7 1/2’’ barrel of the USFA Single Action sixgun, this load clocks out well over 1,000 fps and shoots into one-inch at 50 feet. One cannot ask for more from the old .38 Winchester Centerfire.
Selected Loads For USFA Single Actions
.45 Colt Single Action 4 ¾”
Bullet/Load MV 5 Shots at 50 Ft.
Oregon Trail 255/8.0 gr. Unique 798 3/4”
Oregon Trail 255/6.0 gr. Red Dot 810 1 1/4”
Oregon Trail 255/7.2 gr. WW231 797 1 3/4”
Oregon Trail 255/18.5 gr. H4227 855 1 1/2”
Oregon Trail 250/6.2 gr. WW452AA 775 1”
Oregon Trail 250/6.2 gr. AAN100 799 3/4”
RCBS #45-270/8.0 gr. Unique 783 1 3/4”
.38-40 (.38 WCF) Single Action 7 ½”
Bullet/Load MV 5 Shots at 50 Ft.
Black Hills 180 RNFP 999 1”
Oregon Trail 180/8.0 gr. True Blue 844 1 3/8”
Oregon Trail 180/17.0 gr. H4227 824 7/8”
Oregon Trail 180/7.0 gr. WW231 883 1 3/8”
Meister 180/8.0 gr. Unique 960 7/8”
Lyman #401452/8.0 gr. Unique 1,034 1”
The standard chambering for USFA Single Actions is .45 Colt, however other choices include .32 WCF (.32-20), .41 Long Colt, .38 Special, .38 WCF (.38-40), .44 WCF (.44-40), .45 ACP, .44 Russian, and 44 Special. The latter can be marked “RUSSIAN AND S&W SPECIAL 44” as were Colt Single Actions until 1929. The .44 Russian cartridge arrived in 1871; the longer .44 Special in 1908. Pre-War Colts and Smith & Wessons were used with what was available, either .44 Russian or the then relatively new .44 Special as they were twins ballistically speaking.
The USFA Custom Shop also offers a full blue or nickel finish; walnut, pearl, or ivory stocks; and special engraving from names all the way up to full coverage scroll engraving. For those placing function over form, USFA also offers the Rodeo in both .38 Special and .45 Colt. The less expensive Rodeo is the same basic sixgun as the Single Action Army however it comes with bead blasted satin blue finish instead of the beautiful finish of the standard revolver.
United States Firearms Single Actions are not what you would call inexpensive. These revolvers are not assembly line mass-produced and either USFA has excellent machinery producing perfect parts or it takes a lot of hand fitting to produce a single action sixgun of this quality. However they have managed to keep the suggested retail price just about halfway in between a quality replica and a 3rd Generation Colt Single Action.
Remember the original Colt Single Action and then the replica both marked Russian and S&W Special 44? The original was sold, the replica is, well still a replica, but after this year’s SHOT Show I ordered not one, but two 7 1/2” USFA, both .44 Specials for testing and evaluating, one reminiscent of the old Colt with identical markings and a full blue Flat-Top Target also with a 7 1/2” barrel. USFAs are beautiful .44 Special sixguns, made as well or better as any of the 1st Generation Colts, finally finished, tight with no cylinder play either front to back or side to side, and they shoot as good as they look. Every thing positive said about the .45 Colt and .38-40 USFA Single Actions also applies to the .44 Special versions. My only decision now is what caliber or version to order next.
Great .44 Special sixguns and genuine Keith bullets belong together. I have molds from Lyman, RCBS, and NEI, all casting Keith bullets that are very close to Keith’s original design. However, for those that do not cast, Lynn Halstead of Dry Creek Bullet Works offers a 255 grain Keith that clocks out at just over 900 fps over 7.5 grains of Unique making an excellent everyday working load for the USFA .44 Special.
Selected Loads For USFA Single Actions
.44 Special Single Action 7 ½”
Load MV 5Shots/50 Ft.
Oregon Trail 240 SWC/6.0 gr. Unique 770 1 1/4”
Oregon Trail 240 SWC/5.0 gr. Bullseye 798 1 1/4”
Oregon Trail 240 SWC/5.5 gr. WW452AA 870 3/4”
Oregon Trail 240 SWC/8.0 gr. Universal 993 1 1/2”
Oregon Trail 240 SWC/7.0 gr. Unique 925 1 3/8”
Dry Creek 255KT/7.5 gr. Unique 905 1 3/8”
Lyman #429421/7.5 gr. Unique 975 1 3/4”
Lyman #429215GC/7.2 gr. Unique 1,015 1 1/4”
RCBS 250KT/7.5 gr. Unique 999 1”
.44 Special Flat-Top Target 7 ½”
Load MV 5Shots/20 Yds
Oregon Trail 240 SWC/5.0 gr. Bullseye 858 1 1/4”
Oregon Trail 240 SWC/5.5 gr. WW452AA 873 13/8”
Oregon Trail 240 SWC/8.0 gr. Universal 1,092 2”
Lyman #42924215C/7.5 gr. Unique 1,048 1 3/8”
Winchester 240RNFP 769 1 1/4”
Federal 200 SWCLHP 1,014 3/4”
Blazer 200 Gold Dot JHP 1,028 5/8”
Speer 200 Gold Dot JHP 908 1 1/8”