The U.S. Ordnance Board has always invited side-arm manufactures to pit their designs against the competition to determine which firearms are best suited for combat. The Colt Single Action Army (SAA) seemed like a shoe-in after the Civil War because the Army liked the Colt Model 1860 percussion revolver. The Remington 1858 cap-and-ball revolver was also popular with the Army, but the days of loose powder and ball were ending. By 1870, technology had evolved, and Smith & Wesson had an edge, and Government orders. S&W sold the Army on the Model 3 revolver in 1870, which was the first self-contained metallic-cartridge-firing sidearm in U.S. service. Cartridges today are taken for granted, yet back then, cartridges were cutting-edge weaponry. The Army tweaked the Model 3 design and landed on a variant of the Model 3 called the Schofield revolver chambered in 45 S&W, also called 45 Schofield.
We decided to take a look at four modern replicas of single-action revolvers that were introduced between 1870 and 1875 and do our own abbreviated version of sidearm trials circa 1873. We looked for accuracy, point of aim, trigger weight, ease of use, and smooth actions.
Our entrants included a third-generation Colt SAA, which is descended from the original Colt SAAs used by the Army; an Uberti Outlaw Army, which is a replica of the Remington Model 1875; an Uberti 1873 No. 3 Top Break Model, which is a near clone of a Smith & Wesson No. 3 Schofield revolver and another revolver adopted by the Army; and finally a 21st-century newcomer from Taylor’s & Co. called the Drifter, which is similar to a traditional SAA revolver but with upgrades.
All of these revolvers are full size with either a 7- or 7.5-inch barrel. They all are chambered for 45 Colt, have fixed sights, six-round capacity, and are single action only. You need to cock the hammer then squeeze the trigger to make these old-timers go bang. The firing pin is built into the hammer, so the safest way to carry these revolvers is with the hammer resting on an empty chamber. The Schofield and Outlaw have a hammer-safety block that is activated when you cock the hammer back until you hear the first click. The Taylor’s uses Uberti’s retractable firing-pin safety system used in Uberti’s 1873 Cattleman II revolvers. The Colt uses late 19th-century technology that relies on the user’s common sense rather than a manual or built-in safety.
The Taylor’s, Colt, and Uberti Outlaw are similar in that they employ a right-side loading gate and ejector rod to load and unload the revolver one chamber at a time. The Uberti 1873 No. 3 is a top-break design that allows the user to flip a latch and rotate the barrel and cylinder away from the frame to eject all the empty shells at the same time. You can see right away that the Uberti/S&W Schofield has an edge with the ability to load and unload more rapidly than the other revolvers. With the other revolvers, the shooter loads and unloads one chamber at a time. Tedious at best, and we imagine nerve-racking when in a gunfight. While the Schofield has the advantage in loading and unloading, the original Schofield fired the 45 Schofield/45 S&W cartridge, which is shorter than the 45 Colt. The cartridge used a similar bullet weight as the 45 Colt, and on average, the velocity was 100 fps less. The 45 Schofield is also compatible with 45 Colt guns, so back in the day, the Army used the 45 Schofield cartridge in Colt SAA revolvers. Unfortunately, the 45 Colt could not be used in guns chambered for 45 Schofield. This was the downfall for the S&W Schofield revolver’s wider acceptance. The Army preferred the power of the 45 Colt cartridge, and the Army had plenty of 45 Colt ammo on hand, so the Schofield was dropped from the ranks. Luckily, Uberti’s modern take on the Schofield revolver chambers it in 45 Colt, so the Uberti is not an exact replica, but it is close enough for Government work.
We decided to test both 45 Colt and 45 Schofield ammunition. For the 45 Schofield round, we used Choice Ammunition 200-grain RNFP (Round Nose Flat Point) lead Black Hi-Tek. The non-toxic Black Hi-Tek coating encapsulates the lead bullet, replacing standard dry lubricant. Hi-Tek coating has been used for years in other countries and shoots cleaner than bare lead. We can attest that the Choice Ammunition loads do shoot cleanly. This ammo is made in Montana. For 45 Colt rounds, we used a 250-grain RNFP Lead Hi-Tek Black from Choice Ammunition, a 255-grain RNFP from Hornady’s Cowboy line, and 250-grain LFN loads from Sellier & Bellot. Those cartridges rounded out the low-velocity cowboy-action-shooting-style loads. The modern 45 Colt load was a SIG V-Crown cartridge loaded with a 230-grain JHP bullet.
For accuracy testing we used our range bag as a rest and thumbed away at targets set at 15 yards. Our first impression was that some of the front-sight blades were thin and hard to see. We understand the adage “aim small, miss small,” but we needed to concentrate to be surgical with Outlaw and Schofield. All revolvers shot to point of aim, which can be a hurdle for some fixed-sight revolvers.
The triggers were the next characteristic that left an impression. The Colt had the worst trigger of the bunch, yet was the most expensive. The Taylor’s trigger and action were silky, and the Outlaw and Schofield started to smooth out after repeated firing.
The third thing were the grips. The Colt and Taylor’s were typical SAAs with flat sides that flared out toward the bottom of the grip. We thought the Colt grips were toothy enough so the gun didn’t slip in our hand during recoil. The Taylor’s grip was smooth. The Outlaw had a fatter and rounded grip that filled our hands without it feeling too chunky. The Schofield grip was small, like a grip on a compact revolver.
For fast shooting, we used a Thompson Targets B27STOP Upper Torso Life Size Silhouette target ($7/5; ThompsonTarget.com), which features a T-shaped head and chest zone highlighted in bright red. We fired single hand and two handed, using our support hand to cock the revolvers. Two-handed hold dramatically increased speed. We pushed ourselves on speed and found we could get lead downrange fast and accurately when we aimed for center of mass. The head shots took a little more time and finesse.
All in, we had fun with these modern renditions of late 19th-century revolvers, and we appreciated the workmanship as well as mixing old technology with new. These may have been vintage pieces, but we never felt undergunned had we needed to use them for home defense. Here’s what else we discovered about these new-antique revolvers.
Gun Tests Grade: A
The Drifter is similar to an original Colt SAA revolver except for the barrel and the mechanism. The barrel on the Drifter is octagonal, not round. It also uses a retractable firing pin, allowing a user to safely carry it fully loaded. That rubbed the fur of SAA traditionalists on our team the wrong way, but they soon got over it once they fired the revolver. The barrel, cylinder, grip, and trigger guard were a deep blue and contrasted nicely with the case-hardened frame. The grip was one-piece walnut with a smooth finish. Maybe a bit slippery in recoil, but we thought it was well suited for throwing lead downrange fast.
|Action Type||Revolver, single action, hammer fired|
|Overall Length||13.0 in.|
|Barrel Length||7.5 in.|
|Barrel Twist Rate||1:16 in. RH|
|Sight Radius||8.5 in.|
|Overall Height||5.5 in.|
|Maximum Width||1.6 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||42.5 oz.|
|Weight Loaded||47.7 oz.|
|Cylinder Gap||0.010 in.|
|Frame Finish||Case hardened|
|Frame Front Strap Height||2.1 in.|
|Frame Back Strap Height||3.4 in.|
|Grip Thickness (Maximum)||1.5 in.|
|Grip Circumference (Maximum)||6.0 in.|
|Front Sight||Fixed blade|
|Rear Sight||U-notch top strap|
|Hammer Cocking Effort||2.2 lbs.|
|Trigger Pull Weight||2.3 lbs.|
|Trigger Span||2.7 in.|
|Safety||Retractable firing pin|
|Made In||Italy (Uberti)|
The Drifter exhibited a very slick action. Cocking back the hammer was buttery, and the trigger break was crisp. It took about 2.2 pounds of effort to cock the hammer. We did note that the Drifter had three distinct clicks, whereas a Colt has four clicks. This is one of the characteristics that separate Italian-made SAA clones from original Colt SAAs. It also makes the Drifter’s action feel slicker, in our view.
The retractable firing pin uses a rod located inside of the hammer. With the hammer fully forward, the firing pin floats free in the hammer, exerting no pressure towards the chamber. With the hammer at full cock, the sear shifts into position to engage the firing pin. When the trigger is pulled from a fully-cocked position, the sear engages the firing pin, locking it in the forward position until the trigger is released, thus firing the cartridge. This system allows the user to fully load six cartridges in the revolver and safety carry the revolver. This set up also allows Taylor’s and Uberti to keep the classic lines of the original Colt hammer in lieu of going to a hammer safety or transfer-bar design, a la Ruger. You can slightly move the firing pin with your finger as it floats in the hammer.
Balance with the Drifter was near perfect, as it is with most Colt SAA clones. Another modern update to the Drifter included a slightly thicker blade front sight, and the rear sight groove was machined out more, so the sights presented larger, more like a modern pistol.
Loading the Drifter requires the user to thumb the hammer back to the half-cock position, which allows the cylinder to freely rotate in clockwise rotation. Then open the loading gate, which exposes each chamber.
Without a doubt, the Drifter was the most accurate of the revolvers tested. Average-group size for all ammo was 1.95 inches. The crisp trigger and more modern sight set up definitely helped with accuracy. Our best group measured 1.1 inches with 45 Colt Choice Ammunition loaded with a 250-grain RNFP bullet. We averaged 1.32-inch groups with this ammo. Fine shooting in our book. The least accurate 45 Colt load with the Drifter was the Hornady Cowboy. Our best group measured 2.1 inches, and we averaged 2.36 inches. Still, that is good accuracy and will knock down steel desperadoes and cacti if Cowboy Action Shooting is your game. The 45 Schofield, while shorter in length than the 45 Colt, still had a bit more recoil with the 200-grain RNFP meandering at 839 fps. The smallest group measured 1.80 inches. Speaking of speed, the Drifter was the fastest revolver to operate at speed. Again, the function of the sights, slick action, and fine trigger made it easy to master the Drifter.
The Drifter had a 0.010-inch cylinder gap, which is slightly large, and we expected lead splatter, but did not experience any. The larger gap also contributed to the Drifter having the lowest velocities of all the guns.
We used the ejector rod only on some of the Sellier & Bellot and Hornady cases. All the other cases fell free from the chambers.
When shooting fast we did notice the grip was a bit slick and curled in our hand under recoil, even with some of the low-velocity loads. With the hotter SIG ammo, we noticed more recoil and muzzle flip. The SIG self-defense ammo grouped, on average, 2.23 inches, making it quite capable of defending the fort.
Our Team Said: The Drifter was an easy SAA to master quickly, with great balance, bigger sights, crisp trigger, hammer safety mechanism, and slick action. Think of the Drifter as a new Old West revolver with Old West aesthetics meshed with modern features. The Drifter should definitely be on your short list when considering a 7.5-inch-barreled six-shooter.
45 Colt Range DataTo collect accuracy data, we fired five-shot groups from a bench using a rest. Distance: 15 yards with open sights. We recorded velocities using a ProChrono DLX digital chronograph set 10 feet from the muzzle.
|SIG V-Crown 230-grain JHP||Colt Single Action Army||Taylor’s & Co. Drifter||Uberti 1873 Top Break||Uberti Outlaw|
|Average Velocity||912 fps||784 fps||846 fps||750 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||425 ft.-lbs.||314 ft.-lbs.||366 ft.-lbs.||287 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||1.70 in.||2.41 in.||2.13 in.||1.57 in.|
|Average Group||2.15 in.||2.70 in.||2.23 in.||1.78 in.|
|Hornady Cowboy 255-grain RNFP||Colt Single Action Army||Taylor’s & Co. Drifter||Uberti 1873 Top Break||Uberti Outlaw|
|Average Velocity||782 fps||679 fps||738 fps||648 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||346 ft.-lbs.||261 ft.-lbs.||308 ft.-lbs.||238 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||3.22 in.||1.55 in.||2.10 in.||1.22 in.|
|Average Group||3.29 in.||1.91 in.||2.36 in.||1.26 in.|
|Sellier & Bellot 250-grain RNFP||Colt Single Action Army||Taylor’s & Co. Drifter||Uberti 1873 Top Break||Uberti Outlaw|
|Average Velocity||890 fps||843 fps||809 fps||808 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||440 ft.-lbs.||395 ft.-lbs.||363 ft.-lbs.||362 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||0.95 in.||2.53 in.||1.82 in.||2.88 in.|
|Average Group||1.31 in.||2.68 in.||2.03 in.||3.24 in.|
|Choice Ammunition 250-grain RNFP||Colt Single Action Army||Taylor’s & Co. Drifter||Uberti 1873 Top Break||Uberti Outlaw|
|Average Velocity||888 fps||823 fps||846 fps||788 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||438 ft.-lbs.||376 ft.-lbs.||397 ft.-lbs.||345 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||1.71 in.||2.02 in.||1.10 in.||1.87 in.|
|Average Group||1.92 in.||2.17 in.||1.32 in.||1.92 in.|
45 Schofield Range DataTo collect accuracy data, we fired five-shot groups from a bench using a rest. Distance: 15 yards with open sights. We recorded velocities using a ProChrono DLX digital chronograph set 10 feet from the muzzle.
|Choice Ammunition 200-grain RNFP||Colt Single Action Army||Taylor’s & Co. Drifter||Uberti 1873 Top Break||Uberti Outlaw|
|Average Velocity||883 fps||839 fps||839 fps||822 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||346 ft.-lbs.||313 ft.-lbs.||313 ft.-lbs.||300 ft.-lbs.|
|Smallest Group||1.60 in.||1.64 in.||1.80 in.||2.75 in.|
|Average Group||1.76 in.||1.77 in.||1.82 in.||2.77 in.|