Gun Review: Colt “Peacemaker” Single Action Revolver

Arizona attained statehood in 1912. The Copper State retained a frontier ambience right into the mid 20th Century. To honor its past and proclaim its devotion to both the Second Amendment and Art. II, § 26 of Arizona’s state constitution (“The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the State shall not be impaired”), the legislature recently named the Colt “Peacemaker” revolver Arizona’s official State Firearm. So why’d the Colt get the nod . . .

Colt employee William Mason designed the Single Action Army Revolver for US Ordnance Department trials. He fitted the gun with percussion revolver lockwork that came to maturity about 1850. It was still in use in contemporary Pocket, Belt and Holster revolvers.

The official report of the Ordnance Board recommended the Colt “to officers of the Army and Navy, guides, hunters and all who travel among dangerous communities as the best weapon to be carried on the person that has ever been devised.”

In 45 Colt chambering, the revolver was standard issue from 1873 until it’s replacement by a Colt double action revolver in 1891. Government contracts accounted for just over 37,000 units of a total production of 136,000 pieces within that time frame. The Colt remained in production until 1941 and the beginning of  the Second World War.

“First Generation” Production totaled 357,859 revolvers. The revolver remained popular among hunters, experimenters, explorers and police officers. Prompted by Western movies and television series, the company produced Second Generation Colts from 1956 to 1975. Guns produced after 1975 are deemed “third generation.”

Although first generation revolvers encompassed at least thirty calibers, 45 Colt caliber weapons were by far the most common, followed distantly by 44 WCF, 38 WCF, 32 WCF and 41 Long Colt.

Among enthusiasts, the revolvers produced between 1920 and 1940 and early second-generation revolvers are considered the best in terms of finish, function and overall shootability—though current production revolvers are much improved over early third generation examples and appear equivalent to the best of earlier guns.

This review focuses on the Colt Single Action Revolver made in 2010 with the 5 ½” –barrel “Artillery”  configuration. In practice, this length is marginally easier to shoot accurately than the 4 ¾” model and delivers somewhat less user-accessible accuracy than the 7.1/2” “Cavalry” model.

Action integrity, fit and finish are excellent, exhibiting perfect timing and a very desirable three pound trigger release. Unlike most earlier revolvers, the 2010 model has ideal cylinder throat and barrel/forcing cone measurements promising (and delivering) optimum accuracy. Like a good militia, the sights are well-regulated; the modern revolver is equivalent in accuracy to the best historic Colts and modern “clones” I’ve shot.

Compared to other 19th century revolvers, the Colts were considered quite robust, easier to repair and usable—even when some of the delicate lock parts were out of tune or a broken leaf spring prevented normal operation. It is not unusual to find Colts from the earliest years in completely functional condition.

Historically, they respond well to normal use and tend to crater if subjected to fanning or racing the action in a reckless quest for speed. High volume shooters often spare their traditional Colts by using the modern Ruger Single Actions or the Uberti/Cimarron near-copies that are less expensive and utilize coil or wire springs in place of the smaller action springs.

The owner’s manual for new Colts advised that the revolver will lose monetary value if the owner loads it—or even move the hammer. Obviously, it will lose even more value if actually fired.  With the correct loading and handling procedure, the cylinder bolt will drop within the lead of the cylinder notches and prevent a dragline around the circumference of the cylinder.

To load the revolver, you draw the hammer to half cock, open the cylinder gate and place the first round in the chamber. Then you manually rotate the cylinder, skipping one chamber, and loading the next four rounds in sequence. You draw the hammer to full cock and lower it all the way—visually confirming that the firing pin protrudes above the empty chamber.

While the revolver was designed with a safety notch to allow loading of all six chambers, it’s generally deemed insufficient to prevent accidental discharge if the hammer receives a heavy blow.

Most of my shooting is done from 25 yards in multiples of  five-round strings following the general practice of leaving an unloaded chamber under the hammer. I have yet to use the revolver from the bench or with a two-handed hold. My off-hand results—coupled with experience with other revolvers of the type—tell me that the Single Action Revolver is capable of producing groups of two inches or less at that range.

Loads consist of commercial cast 250 grain round nose flat points sized .452 and a swaged .454-inch Hornady 45 Colt bullet both loaded to the factory equivalent, mid-800 feet per second range over a charge of Alliant Unique. The great majority of my shots stay within a spread of 3.5 to four inches.

The Single Action Army has won much praise for the configuration of its grip; it tends to align along the axis of the wrist and arm contributing instinctively to point shooting. I find it very easy to make center mass hits on the B27 silhouette target at across-the-room distances drawing from the holster at a safe speed and shooting from low point.


The plow handle grip tends to roll upward when the revolver is fired, moderating felt recoil. This is desirable on modern, magnum caliber revolvers and to some extent with the larger bore Colts.

Target shooters deplore the tendency as it forces them to re-acquire their grip with each shot and militates against consistency. Target shooters also insist that the long hammer fall of the Colt detracts from accuracy when compared to short throw double action revolvers or semi-automatics.

Both complaints may be valid for the shooter locked into other types of revolvers but neither is valid for the shooter who is acclimated to the Colt revolver. I used to shoot the NRA Short Course matches with a similarly configured Ruger Single Action, regularly scoring on the dividing line between Expert and Master.

In short, the Colt Single Action Army revolver is fun to shoot and easy to shoot well. Whether original or a reproduction, it’s a piece of history that proves its worth both aesthetically and ballistically. Even without examining the role the gun played in Arizona’s decision to elevate it to official status, it was a worthy choice.

33 Responses to Gun Review: Colt “Peacemaker” Single Action Revolver

  1. avatarJOE MATAFOME says:

    Great review Mike, I’m looking into buying a few of the first generations to add to my collection.

    • avatarjames says:

      i know someone who has a before 1890 gold model for sale

    • avatarBrock says:

      07/14/2014. I have a first generation Colt Single Action 32-20 caliber with original elk stag grips in absolute mint condition. It has been in my family for four generations. It originated out of Northern New Mexico in late 1800s. If interested contact me at amaxey@realtracs.com and I will get you px and more info.

      Brock

  2. avatarBobG says:

    Love the single actions. One of mine is a Colt Peacemaker; it is a Bisley model in 38-40, manufactured in 1894. Still shoots just fine, but the grip on the Bisley is a little strange to get used to.
    My other singles are a Blackhawk in 45, and a Super Blackhawk 44 mag.

  3. avatarVigilantis says:

    I love me some thumb busters.

  4. avatarJim Farmer says:

    Though I remain an ardent double-action revolver user and owner embracing the
    classic Smith and Wesson K and N Frame .38 Specials and .357 Magnums, I will
    always be inspired by the historic, venerable, and versatile Colt Single Action Army
    Revolver Model 1873. Whether called Peacemaker, equalizer, hog-leg, etc. the old
    Colt Single Action Army revolver defined law, security (including homeland security),
    and protection for the free thinking autonomous individual. And it no doubt still does
    today for a remnant minority. Of course, self sufficiency is anathema to the modern
    “nanny state” of socialism, dependency, and victimhood! The early and original users
    of this famous six shooter no doubt would despise and detest what America has
    descended into since the corrupt crooked legacy of Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), Ted
    Kennedy, the Earl Warren Supreme Court and their ilk which undermined morality,
    free thinking, courage, etc. since the decade of the 1960′s and beyond!

  5. avatarAce says:

    The Colt Single Action Army, I am going to get one from 1873, the first of the Colt S.A.A’s. (In 45. caliber.) All in original parts. W/ 7.5 inch barrel.

  6. avatareverett walker says:

    That is a valuable item. A friend just cleaned up an 1877 -made cavalry model. It is not in working order but even in that condition, it is worth several thousand dollars.

  7. avatarPaul says:

    The 1873 .45 Long Colt 7.5″ Cavalry model is alive in well in a modern safe configuation. It is called the Ruger New Vaquero.

  8. avatarJessie says:

    Wondering how much a colt 45 peacemaker 5 1/2 inch barrel is worth?

  9. avatarlon gardner says:

    Im am trying to found any information on a colt 45 long colt centennial from 1871 to 1971 of the NRA it is the 100 year anniv.

  10. avatarRony says:

    I would like to buy a 1873 colt peacemaker in good condition.
    If someone wishes to sell one please let me know.

    • avatarw.kline says:

      Have one w/7.5 in barrel, oak grips, .45 cal all matching sn 56580 in 10%+ condition $6000 firm. Inc 3 rounds.

    • avatarJenny pilkey says:

      I’m wanting to sell my 73 its in great condition and not asking a crazy price

      • avatarCapsalis Rony says:

        I will be happy to by it.
        In what condition is it ? CAN I still shoot with it ?
        How much do you want to sell it ?
        Thanks for your reply
        Rony

    • avatarpat howell says:

      I have an 1873 Colt .38 wcf Bisley revolver. It’s in fair condition. Rifiling is worn pretty smooth in barrel but action and cylinder are pretty tight. All serial numbers match. Priced at $1,800.00 I can send pictures to your e-mail if desired.

  11. avatarJill says:

    when did they stop production of the peacemaker? or do they still make them?

  12. avatarSilver Bullet says:

    Lon,
    Didnt know exactly what type of information you were looking for re: centennial edition. I own one of these Colts. It is a fine gun, made well, as are all second gen Colts are. With presentation case.
    Mine is case hard and nothing else fancy except the medallion on the grip. Mine is unfired and unturned.
    Prices range from a low of about $1200 all the way up to around $2800 depending upon overall condition although I dont think I would consider selling mine even for $2800.
    Ask me how hard it is to keep from shooting it…lollol
    I do get by shooting my 4.5 Sheriff’s model, Vaquero and that keeps me happy. I do shoot Buffalo Bore’s hot loads in some of my firearms but not in .45 Colt. I dont have anything in .45 Colt that is beefed enough to stand the pressures. Now my 45/70 octagon barrel Marlin lever gun, that’s another story.
    You may also realize that the .45 Colt round can easily be loaded to far exceed the performance of the much touted .44 mag.
    Hope this helps.
    Silver

  13. avatarMike t says:

    I have a first generation colt single action converted to .30 carbine in the late 60′s. Still carry it in the hip w/out a holster with loading gate open to keep it in position..a few of them were converted to different calibers because the .45 long colt caliber was then not available.This was used during the Philippine insurrection. Im a revolver shooter in IPSC dicipline but this gun has been with me since my younger days im 66 yrs old now.

    • avatarCapsalis says:

      Hello, I live near to Paris (France), I am 63 years old, I am also a pistol shooter and I am still making competitions in national and European level. I have been in the French national team for 7 years. I have several revolvers and pistols but I always dreamed to have an original Peacemaker Revolver but it is nearly impossible to find it here in France or the very few one’s who exist are very expensive.
      Can you send me a photo of your revolver?
      Do you want to sell it ? If yes, how much do you want for it ?
      Bets regards

      • avatarMichael says:

        The serial # is 42133 and I believe it was manufactured in 1878 and was found in Balangiga Samar, Leyte . Must have been used in the Spanish American war in that area. When I got hold of it in the 60′s I did not realize the value of the gun and I had it rechambered to .30 carbine. Ammunition in that caliber was easy that time..
        I might consider selling the gun but I believe it is impossible to ship it to you. The price would be $4000.

      • avatarMichael says:

        I have the pictures but I don’t know how to send it

  14. I am in search of an 1873 peacemaker, single action , colt 45/22magnum pistol, nickle silver with pearl handles, not long barrel, one that does not cost more than 1500 hundred dollars.

    I am search for an 1873 colt 45/22magnum single action short barrel, pistol only, with nickle silver and pearl handles that does not cost an arm and a leg somewhere in the price range of 1500 hundred dollars, i have researched prices for awhile, please email me, if you know of a seller, that would fit my price range, i would love too hear from you guys.

  15. avatararlene says:

    I am looking for a colt 45 single action peacemaker around 1879. Please email me do not want junk great condition.

  16. avatarThe Virginian says:

    My Grandfather and Grandmother owned Evaluators Limited after WWII and sold guns to the military and law enforcement. My father just passed away and I received all of his guns. One of them is a 1st Generation Colt Single Action Army ser# 357,5XX chambered in .357 Magnum. It is in the original box with the reciept and a test target with 5 shots on it fired from 15 yards at the factory and signed by the shooter. The pistol has pearl grips and appears new, except for a small chip in one of the pearl grips. It’ll never be sold by me, but does anyone have an idea on value? Thanks

  17. avatarJoseph P. Cannon says:

    I need some help with my Colt revolver. I bought it at a gun show in Texas, supposed to be an antique Colt Peacemaker. Got home to Virginia and found the hammer was broken, a hammer piece and the firing pin were epoxied together. Then I find it’s not a Colt but a knock-off. I got taken. Does anybody know where I might find a gunsmith to fix it. contact Joe Cannon, jpc8904@yahoo.com

  18. avatarBret Schmerker says:

    This review hit all the points. I’m looking at the problem of how to specify an SAA in .45 for SASS competition, essentially an updated build of the 1890 Flat Top Target SAA. Driftable-for-windage rear sights had been allowed under the rules of several major target-pistol competitions of the 1890′s prior to being adopted as USGI for the Caliber .45″ Model of 1911 autopistol and its 1922 National Match upgrade. Would the 7-1/2″ barrel (as in the original Model of 1873), or the 5-1/2″ (used on civilian models prior to the Model of 1873 Alteration of 1896) be the most appropriate for an action-shooter with full-power .45-40-255 black-powder loads? 1890 target front sight as delivered by Colt, or GI front sight as would probably have been required for the 1904-1909 National Matches (the record has them restricted to the .38′s that proved unable to stop charging Moros in the Philippines)? Do fill me in on a follow-up discussion, and thanks in advance for the findings.

  19. avatarMike Cumpston says:

    I don’t keep up with CAS regulations but would not be surprised if they banned the flat top driftable sights even though they are period correct. They also ban (or banned) double action revolvers that were actually quite common in the early cartridge era.
    I don’t see what kind of mischief this sort of sight could do to the game but there is a definate slipperly slope-(more like a free-fall plunge) when it comes to equipment races ruining formerly enjoyable shooting sports. You have to draw the line somewhere to keep gamesmen from sticking scopes and laser sights on their cowboy guns.

  20. Just found this site, a great one for us loving the Colt Revolvers. I am from Sweden and do have a Colt 45 SAA Centennial from 1971, never shot and in absolute new condition. I love it and it will never leave me until I die…
    Regards from Yan Goran Wrambeck, Helsingborg, Sweden

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