June 2006

Cowboy .38 Specials: EMF Is Our Pick, Ruger Gets A Buy Nod

EMFís Great Western II is one of the best single actions weíve tested in a while, and Rugerís 50th Year wheelgun also hit the bullís-eye. But Taurusís Gaucho missed the mark, in our opinion.

Those who are most serious about Cowboy Action shooting tend to favor lighter-recoiling firearms so they can cut their times down, never mind that bigger guns like .45s tend to be more authentic, especially when stoked with black powder. Not that it takes any less skill to do well with lighter recoiling equipment, but it can give an edge, or so we’ve been told. This means .38 Special loads in handguns and rifles, and probably 20-gauge shotguns. How much benefit does a .38 Special offer over, say, a .45 Colt? There’s a huge difference in recoil, even if the .45 shoots only light cowboy loads.

To find out more, we gathered a trio of .38 Special single-action six-shooters to see how well they’d do for us, and to find out how much we liked ‘em. All were .357 Mag-capable, and all had 4.75-inch barrels. The guns were a Ruger New Model 50th Anniversary Flat Top Blackhawk ($583), a Taurus Gaucho M38SA ($499), and from EMF Co., a resurrection of the old Great Western revolvers, the Great Western II “Californian” model ($450). We tested with three main types of ammo, Black Hills Cowboy loads, Federal 110-grain JHP .357 Mag, and with a modest handload in .38 Special cases that approximated Cowboy loads. Here’s what we found.

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