May 30, 2017
Everybody reading this magazine probably knows the sage advice of loading a six-shot Colt-type single-action revolver with only five rounds and carrying it with the hammer down on the empty chamber. But perhaps not everyone knows why.
The original Colt 1873 single-action revolver, a.k.a. Single Action Army (SAA) or Peacemaker, has its firing pin built into the hammer. It's what I call a hard fit, wherein the firing pin is solidly fixed in the guide hole of the hammer.
Aside from a little bit of "slop," there is no movement of the firing pin; consequently, if the revolver's cylinder is fully loaded and the hammer is manually lowered, the firing pin actually rests on the primer of the loaded centerfire cartridge.
As has been proven over the 143-plus years that the design has existed, if the revolver is dropped on the hammer or if the hammer is hit hard enough by other means, the cartridge can fire accidentally.
Several gunsmiths have offered solutions, some of which have been quite successful. Most have resulted in a mechanism that visually does not look like the traditional Colt design. Uberti's fix is to make the firing pin retractable but still look like the traditional design.
Here's how it works. While at rest, the firing pin floats free in its guide, exerting no pressure towards the chamber. With the hammer at fullcock, the sear shifts into position to engage the firing pin once the trigger is squeezed. When the trigger is pulled from the fullcock position, the sear engages the firing pin, locking it in the forward position until the trigger is released.
When I asked my contact at the company about the design, he said: "Uberti has been developing this idea since the early 2000s (that is, for at least 10 years). The goal was to make the revolver accessible in large quantities to the American market and add a new way to avoid having customers inadvertently lower the firing pin on a loaded primer.
"Previously, the issue had been partially solved with the Ruger-like transfer-bar system of the Beretta Stampede/Uberti Horseman model. This, however, was deemed unsatisfactory by Uberti President Dr. Giacomo Merlino due to the serious compromise the system has from a historical-authenticity standpoint. Ditto with the quarter-cock safety wedge of the standard Cattleman, which added moving parts as well as a visually anti-historical element to the gun's hammer.
"So Dr. Merlino set out to devise a system that would have few moving parts, make the hammer look 100 percent historically authentic, and meet resellers' expectations regarding single-action design.
"The testing and development involved more than 10 iterations — 14 to be exact — after which the present system was chosen as the best from both design and production standpoints. Essentially, the Cattleman's existing internal bar was lengthened by 1cm, approximately, to reach the firing pin, and the wedge was done away with (net result: one less moving part). There's nothing that the user has to activate or deactivate, and unless he or she is told that this system is in place, he or she wouldn't even know it.
"The result is that the firing pin is locked in the forward position (its free-floating 'run' is only 1.5mm, approximately, thereby being practically undetectable) when the trigger is pulled. Dr. Merlino liked this system for its absolute simplicity and effectiveness. The design does away with the first click of the traditional C-O-L-T cocking 'ritual,' although this was viewed as a very small price to pay to make the gun more widely available and more historically authentic from the outside. Remember that the Ruger Vaquero, by far the most popular cowboy revolver in the U.S., has a firing mechanism that looks and functions in a manner not at all historically authentic — although nobody seems to complain about it!"
Before I get to other features of the 1873 Cattleman II, I want to point out that Uberti clearly states, "The safest way to carry a single action is with the hammer resting on an unloaded chamber. This is true even for the Uberti retractable firing pin design. But in the case of the Uberti design, the risk of accidental discharge is reduced: the firing pin is not locked into the firing position unless the trigger is squeezed.
The 1873 Cattleman II is a typical traditional single-action revolver in that it has fixed sights, a six-shot cylinder, and walnut grips. The grips are one piece just like on genuine 1st Generation Colt SAAs.
That's interesting to me because these days a lot of single-action revolvers come with two-piece grips, which are less costly to fit to a gun's frame. The one-piece single-action grip doesn't have a lot of room for "slop," and the stock has to fit inside the grip frame very closely.
It has to be pretty precise, and as we all know, precision usually comes at additional cost. The fit of my 1873 Cattleman II is very good all the way around, including the grips.
The Cattleman II can be had with a blued barrel, casehardened main frame, and brass trigger guard and grip frame or blued barrel, casehardened main frame, and blued steel trigger guard and grip frame.
Available barrel lengths are 4.75, 5.5, and 7.5 inches, and calibers offered include .357 Magnum, .44-40, and .45 Colt. MSRPs are $549 for the brass trigger guard and grip frame and $559 for the blued steel trigger guard and grip frame. My gun is chambered for .357 Magnum and has a 5.5-inch barrel and the brass trigger guard and grip frame.
At Home on the Range
Serious handgunners know that a quality-built single action can be just as accurate as a quality double-action revolver or semiautomatic pistol. Some exceptional ones are even more accurate than those other types.
The 1873 Cattleman II I fired for this report isn't what I would call match-grade accurate, but it certainly did not disappoint. With all five of the factory loads fired, the overall average 25-yard accuracy for a total of 25, five-shot groups was 3.05 inches. The most accurate load in my sample gun averaged less than 1.50 inches.
The test loads I fired in these sixguns ranged in muzzle energy from 500 to 550 ft-lbs. Some of the loads are designed for personal defense, and some would be good medicine for filling the stewpot with game up to and including whitetails.
There's no arguing that the classic look of the single-action sixgun is enhanced by its sleek, graceful lines. Having an authentic-looking single action that's been reengineered to be safer is a win-win situation.
Sleek lines, great fit and finish, excellent accuracy, and a unique approach to the concept of safety — the 1873 Cattleman II has it all. Uberti's fresh take deserves consideration.