December 16, 2019
The ongoing Outlaws and Lawmen series of single-action revolvers made by Uberti USA and imported by Stoeger pays homage to legendary names of the Old West. The bird’s head grip and 4.75-inch barrel of the Doc Holliday variation made it especially tempting, but I chose the Frank James and Jesse James revolvers in .45 Colt because I figured Shooting Times readers would be more interested in the same type of handgun introduced by competing companies during the late 1800s. Frank’s gun is a reproduction of the Model 1875 Remington, and Jesse’s gun is a reproduction of the Colt Model 1873 Single Action Army. Cowboy action shooters love both handguns, but you don’t have to participate in that sport to experience firsthand how much fun they are to shoot.
Before firing off a few rounds, let’s flip back a few pages of the calendar to the beginning of two famous revolvers.
That Was Then
The Paterson introduced in 1837 was the first successful percussion revolver built by Colt, and from there the company went on to offer numerous improved models that dominated the American military and civilian markets. And while Colt revolvers became more famous, the Remington Model 1858 New Model Army and Navy revolvers were superior in a number of ways, not the least of which was the addition of a topstrap that made its frame stronger and more durable than the open-top frame of the Colt.
Removing the cylinder of the Colt for cleaning required hammering a crude steel wedge from its frame. The cylinder of the Remington was removed by pulling its hammer to halfcock, lowering the rammer handle to expose the end of the base pin, and then pulling it forward. In those days cleaning supplies were not always at hand, so neglect and blackpowder were big enemies to revolvers. Seating balls in chambers heavily fouled by propellant residue and rust sometimes required whacking the rammer handle with a rock or big stick. The reinforced handle of the Remington took such abuse much better than the Colt. Last but not least, a groove down the topstrap of the Remington frame served as a rear sight, while the rear sight on the Colt revolver consisted of a notch on the nose of its hammer.
In 1855 Colt employee Rollin White patented the design of a revolver with bored-through chambers in its cylinder that allowed self-contained cartridges to be loaded from the rear. At that time, percussion revolvers requiring powder and ball to be loaded into chambers from the front of the cylinder followed by placement of percussion caps on nipples at the rear of the cylinder were the latest design. Not long after White departed Colt, he entered into an agreement with Horace Smith and D.B. Wesson, owners of Smith & Wesson, to manufacture a revolver featuring a cylinder with bored-through chambers. The first S&W Model 1 in .22 Rimfire was introduced in 1858. It was followed in 1861 by a slightly larger revolver in .32 Rimfire and in 1865 by an even larger revolver in .41 Rimfire. Then came contracts from the Russian government for more than 60,000 revolvers chambered for the .44 S&W Russian.
While Smith & Wesson was moving full speed ahead with the production of metallic cartridge revolvers, the Rollin White patent kept Colt and Remington mired in a rut with percussion revolvers that were becoming more obsolete with each passing day. Probably out of desperation, Remington negotiated an agreement with Smith &Wesson in 1868, allowing Remington to convert Model 1858 percussion revolvers to accept self-contained cartridges of .46 caliber. Due to a hefty royalty paid, the venture proved less than profitable for Remington, and that along with expiration of the Rollin White patent in 1869 prompted the end of converted revolver production, with only 4,575 built.
Sam Colt refused to send bags of cash to Smith & Wesson, and even after he died in 1862, the company he founded continued to ride out the storm with percussion revolvers. Expiration of the Rollin White patent caught Colt with a huge stockpile of parts, so rather than rushing a new revolver to market, the company began offering its percussion revolvers with metallic cartridge conversions designed by Alexander Thuer, William Mason, and Edmond Richards. Those were discontinued soon after the Single Action Army revolver was introduced in 1873. During three “generations” of production, it was chambered for around 30 cartridges ranging from .22 Short to .476 Eley.
Remington made improvements to its converted Model 1858 revolver and introduced it as the Model 1875 during that year. Its sturdy rammer handle was secured to the barrel, and a raceway for the ejector rod was machined into its right-hand side. The raceway was made deep enough to contain the cylinder base pin, the forward end of which extended far enough for easy grasping. The Model 1875 was available in .44 Remington, .44-40 Winchester, and .45 Colt.
This Is Now
The Uberti revolvers featured in this report are high-quality reproductions of the Model 1873 Colt and the Model 1875 Remington, both in .45 Colt. The Colt has a blued finish. The Remington is nickel-plated with a blued finish on screws, the base pin, and its latch. Synthetic grip panels are “buffalo horn-style” on the Colt and “ivory-style” on the Remington.
Jacketed bullets work fine in both revolvers, but cast and swaged lead-alloy bullets are more fun. Chamber throat diameters ranged from 0.4515 inch to 0.4518 inch, and barrel groove diameters were slugged at 0.4505 inch. The .45 Colt is commonly loaded to higher pressures for stronger revolvers, but 14,000 psi is maximum for single actions of older designs in serviceable condition and their modern reproductions. The handloads I fired in the two Uberti revolvers and detailed in the accompanying chart are the same as I use in my Colt SAA revolvers.
Like most single-action revolvers, the ejector rod tab of the Colt is on the left side of the barrel. The Remington has it on the opposite side, and while it felt a bit strange at first, it finally dawned on me that it is where it should be for a right-handed shooter. The Remington also has a lanyard ring at the bottom of its grip. Cylinder gap in both guns measured 0.005 inch, and their cylinders locked up with very little rotational looseness. There was a smidgen of endshake in the Colt, but almost none could be felt in the Remington. The timing of both revolvers was on the money.
Removing the cylinders of the two guns is the same with one exception. Thumbing back the hammer of the Colt one click frees the cylinder for rotation, while two clicks are required on the Remington. The spring-loaded base pin latch is located in the same place on both guns, and depressing it while pulling the base pin forward frees the cylinder for removal from the frame. The loading channel in the frame and its hinged gate are wider on the Remington than on the Colt.
Front sight widths are 0.095 inch for the Colt and 0.060 inch for the Remington. I found the Colt’s wider sight a bit easier to acquire when quickly transitioning from one target to the next, but I had no problem seeing the sight on the Remington. Rear sight channels in the two frames are the same width for most of their lengths, but the Remington has a wasp-waist reduction at the rear. Lateral shot dispersion at 25 yards was close to dead on the money with both guns, but the Colt shot lower, and bringing bullets into the bullseye required more front sight elevation than with the Remington.
Overall average accuracy for the Colt was 3.14 inches with .45 Colt ammunition and 2.49 inches with .45 Schofield ammo, so it had a slight preference for the shorter cartridge. It was just the opposite with the Remington as it averaged 2.83 inches with .45 Colt ammunition and 3.16 inches with .45 Schofield ammo. Best accuracy with .45 Colt ammo was 2.84 inches for the Colt and 2.39 inches for the Remington. Best accuracy with .45 Schofield ammo was 2.30 inches for the Colt and 2.84 inches for the Remington. From a practical point of view, there was not enough difference in accuracy between the two revolvers to matter. That was over an MTM Pistol Rest with the butt of each revolver resting on a thin sandbag.
Cowboy action shooting is quite popular at my gun club, and one of the members who has several practice stages set up on his property invited me to shoot the two Uberti revolvers there. When rapid-firing five-shot drills, I was more accurate and my split times were better with the Remington due not only to its 7.2 ounces heavier weight, but also because of its more balanced weight distribution. In addition to being slightly longer, the inner curve of its grip has a more gradual sweep, and that made it much more comfortable in my hand. When gripping the Colt, there was very little space between my index finger and the trigger guard, but there was plenty of room on the Remington. The trigger on the Remington is about three times as wide as the one on the Colt, and that made it kinder to my finger when shooting the heavier loads.
A longer barrel and heavier ejection rod/base pin housing adds enough weight up front on the Remington to dampen muzzle rise much more than the Colt. That made the Remington more fun to shoot with the HSM .45 Colt ammo, which pushed a 250-grain bullet beyond 900 fps. That load is a bit much for competitive shooting, but its big flatnose bullet would likely penetrate both shoulders of a whitetail deer standing 50 yards or so from the muzzle. Feral pigs beware! When shooting that load, the difference in muzzle rise and recoil between the two revolvers really sold me on the Remington. Both guns purred like little kittens when fed the HSM .45 Schofield with a 200-grain bullet moseying along at less than 700 fps.
The triggers on both guns were quite good. The Colt averaged 48 ounces with a 7-ounce variation. The Remington averaged 37 ounces with a 4-ounce variation. The wider Remington trigger makes its pull feel lighter than it actually is. Due to a lighter mainspring, the hammer of the Remington is easier to cock, and its action is much smoother. It is every bit as smooth as my Premier-grade Freedom Arms Model 83, which costs about three times as much. On a historical note, as the hammer of the original Colt is being cocked, four distinct clicks are felt and heard, but on the Uberti reproduction one of those clicks is missing. The fact that the Remington reproduction spells out “C-O-L-T” as it is being cocked probably has old Sam spinning like a top in his grave. Both triggers had a bit of overtravel, but not enough to be noticed while shooting.
Instruction manuals included with the two revolvers warn against carrying them with the hammer down on a loaded chamber. This is due to the integral firing pin of the hammer resting on the primer of a cartridge when it is in the full-forward position. With a round in the chamber, a sharp blow on the hammer could fire the gun.
I have never seen a firearm owned by Jesse James, but while visiting the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum in Los Angeles several years ago, I looked through glass at the Remington 1875 in .44-40 Winchester surrendered by Frank James to the governor of Missouri in 1882. It was accompanied by its original belt and holster. While shooting the two Uberti reproductions, I could plainly see why Frank favored the Remington.