USFA’s Gunslinger SA .45 Rich in History, Lots of Fun
by Phil W. Johnston
To say that I love a good single-action (SA) is one of the great understatements of the day. I thought it best to lay this out right off the bat because when I opened this black box and opened the soft bag, I suspect that my eyes glazed over as I whooshed back to 1873.
Before we get too deep into this beautiful single-action, it might be good to take a look at the company that brings quality like this to our front door. United States Fire Arms Mfg. Company (USFA) set up shop in 1995 in Hartford, CT. The address is 445-453 Ledyard St., and the modern production facility, complete with state-of-the-art CNC machinery resides in the same building that served as Colt’s original armory.
There have been Colt clones galore over the years and some of them have been at least as “good” as some of the originals. Most of these were built overseas and shipped to the US or constructed here from imported parts. In the case of USFA, however, these gems are made entirely in the USunder the same old blue roof, for that matter. After working with this sample for several days, I secretly wonder in fact, if Sam isn’t putting his two cents in from a corner once in a while.
I’ve been interested in USFA for quite some time, but after spending some time in their Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show booth, to say that I was hooked is indeed, a great understatement. The biggest question seemed only to be “which one?” After looking over several new single-actions, I kept coming back to the “Gunslinger,” a 4-3/4 inch .45 Colt single-action that looked like it may have come out of a drawer in a home not far from the Little Bighorn battleground. Or did this one keep folks safe while they moved West to start out on a new life? I’ve yearned for a great old Colt, but the wait seems over.
Not only are the USFA firearms built in the famous old building, but they began their serial numbering sequence where Colt left off when the 1st generation faded out of production, around 55,000. In that light, USFA single-actions look, feel and function exactly the same as the original Colt that inspired it. Available chambered in: .32 WCF; .38 WCF; .38 Special; .44 WCF; .44 Special; and .45 Colt, it seemed a no brainier to me when I ordered this Gunslinger in .45 Colt.
Available with 4-3/4, 5-1/2 or 7-1/2 inch barrels, I love the look of a barrel that is about the same length as the ejector housing. I’m not alone here, either. It seems that Bat Masterson liked it equipped about the same with the exception of nickel plate. R.L. Wilson has a photo of one of Masterson’s orders dated March 18, 1885 in his beautiful book, COLT: An American Legend.
USFA claims in their catalog that when they exhibited a similar Gunslinger in a local gun show, several informed folks tried to get the old gal by making offers way out of line. Obviously they thought they were looking at an old Colt that had slugged its way through the West. It’s that convincing.
Featuring a genuine browning or patina process that USFA says only improves with use, the process is a time-consuming layering routine that took years to develop. While the exterior looks like it’s 100 years old, the gun is new in every other way. Believe me, it’s brand new!
While it’s possible to customize one of these with everything from real ivory grips to custom engraving or a special serial number, I elected to leave it bone stock, including the black, checkered rubber two-piece grips. Marked with the “US” script rather than the rampant Colt, the grips look right in spite of the marking. And it feels like a Colt all the way.
If the grip markings don’t sport the Rampant Colt, the rest of the markings are pretty much as they should be. The patent dates on the left side of the receiver read “PAT. SEPT. 19, 1871” on the top line with “JULY 2-72.” and “JAN 19-75.” The caliber marking is on the left side of the barrel with the address in the proper location on top of the barrel. The address reads U.S.F.A. MFG. CO and HARTFORD, CT. U.S.A.
In every light this USFA Gunslinger is as Sam Colt wanted it to be. Missing the vertical screw that locks the cylinder base pin into the frame as it was on Serial Number 1, this one has the spring-loaded pin running horizontally through the frame as it appeared in the Colt line around SN 144,000. This gun also operates exactly like the original.
Typical of a vintage single-action, there is a safety notch on the hammer that comes up as the 1st of four clicks as the arm is cocked. Still, no sane individual would carry a live round under the hammer unless action is right around the corner, so to speak. With this design, it’s possible to hit the hammer hard enough to break the sear out of the notch in the hammer, forcing the integral firing pin downward onto a loaded cartridge directly underneath the hammer.
We’ve all seen the ad that suggests that old timers may have stuffed a $5 bill (they’d never be entirely broke, then) into one of the chambers, but I don’t think it was done much. When I tried it, a.) the bill got slightly burned after five rounds, and b.) it also tended to work its way forward in the chamber with each shot, too. I think I’d simply load five all the time and put the empty chamber under the hammeralways.
Sights are also exactly as they were. Up front is the rounded blade that clears leather and clothing well, while the rear sight is of the “pinched frame” variety, consisting of a lengthy cut in the topstrap pinched in the back to form a pretty sharp square notch. Very nearly bulletproof in design, the system has been working nicely for quite some time.
At this stage of the game I’ve got to use shooting glasses to clear up open sights, but once they were in place the old sight system really didn’t look too bad. In fact, with the glasses on, I found it quite easy to keep the shots in a 3-inch target at 25 yards. In fact, several times I managed to keep four of five shots in one big group. This speaks well about the caliber as well as the revolver. More on the range work in a few minutes, however.
It has been said that it’s not easy to put a great trigger on a single-action revolver. It’s also been said that the hammer fall is so heavy that it’s hard to get one shooting well. I don’t really believe this stuff because my old Freedom Arms .454 Casull will sometimes account for a 2-inch group at 100 yards and the trigger is pretty darned good, too. This trigger is good, too. I used a new-fangled Lyman digital trigger machine to check this one and five pulls averaged 3 pounds, 8.4 ounces. I think this trigger would tickle Bat Masterson as well. There is no take-up with little creep to boot. Good job here!
I managed to come up with three factory loads to run through this gem, and I stepped up to my Dillon press to come up with a 4th load. Typical of the way I look at guns, I did all testing at 25 yards while seated on my BR Pivot bench with the revolver rested on Dog-Gone-Good sandbags. I used Champion shooting glasses to clear up the sights, too.
Over the course of several days I managed to come up with 20, 5-shot groups that averaged a hair over 3 inches. Each load accounted for a group or two that had four rounds grouped in one ragged hole with the “extra” shot about 1-inch away. I suspect that the shot that was “out” probably happened as the shooter was admiring the tight group downrange! At any rate, this rig will shoot into 3 inches at 25 yards and it shoots right on, to boot. That’s nice when the rig has fixed sights, too.
The factory loads tend to generate about 340 foot-pounds (FP) of energy, and they’re designed for fun and target work. All three of them generated a nice bit of smoke and that’s fun, too. My handload of a 260-grain cast bullet (sized .452-inch) loaded over 8.6 grains of Unique and a WW primer left this rig doing 946 feet-per-second (fps). The Keith-style wadcutters did a nice job cutting paper downrange, and this load managed just over 515 FP of instrumental energynot quite enough for deer hunting, but it’s getting close. I wonder. . . .
Carrying a suggested manufacturer’s retail price of $912, looking like the find of the century, I’d call this price a bargain. Over the past 30 years I’ve worked with a bunch of guns and typical of most writers, these come and go routinely. Because of my love for a good single-action revolver and the .45 Colt load, I’ve got to admit that I’m going to hate returning this rig. It’s fun to shoot and it’s almost as much fun to look at.
@ 15 feet
Group @ 25 yds.
Group @ 25 yds.
Group @ 25 yds.
|Black Hills 250-grain
Lead round nose FP
Lead SWC HP
|260-grain Keith Style CSWC .452-inch 8.6-grain Unique WW LP primers
|Remington 250-grain Lead Round Nose
|* Four 5-shot groups due to shortage of ammunition.
||United States Fire Arms Mfg. Co.
445-453 Ledyard St.
Hartford, CT 06114
||4-3/4 inch tested, 5˚ and 7˚ optional
||Two-piece hard rubber grips
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