Single-Action Revolvers: Best Buy Is Ubertis Cattleman 1873

We take a look at single-action 45 Colt revolvers from Colt, Ruger, and Uberti to find the best choice for cowboy action shooting, recreation, hunting, and personal defense.

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In this installment, we test a trio of revolvers from Uberti, Colt, and Ruger in stainless steel, antique or original finish, and nickel plating. We included a Bisley grip frame and two barrel lengths to give readers a broad range of choices if they’re interested in 45 Colt single-action revolvers of the traditional style with fixed sights.

45 colt single action revolvers

The test handguns were the Uberti 1873 Cattleman Old West No. 355131, a Second Generation Colt Single Action Army 45 Colt, and a Ruger Vaquero Bisley No. 5129. Part of our interest was how the longer barrel of the Colt, at 7.5 inches, compared to the 5.5-inch tubes on the others when drawn from leather. Also, we were curious how the Ruger Bisley performed with some pretty stiff loads when pitted against the standard plow-handled grip frame of the Colt and Uberti. For wheelgun aficionados, the comparison of a Colt Single Action Army (SAA) to any of its derivatives always creates interest, and in this case, there’s a 2nd Generation SAA that many seek out ahead of more-modern-production versions.

Cowboy Action shooters are thought to have the most interest in single-action revolvers, but there are many more SAA-type revolvers sold than there are cowboy shooters, even considering that such competitors need two guns in action and often have one in the shop as well. Folks love single-action revolvers for recreational shooting, for hunting, collecting, and even for personal defense. Yep, if you take the National Rifle Association Handguns 101 course, you will see the list of reasons for owning a handgun, and single-action revolvers fit into every niche, including collecting. As an example, one of our raters has a great deal of law-enforcement experience, and the first time he arrested (on personal time) a lawbreaker at gun point, he used a Colt Single Action Army.

45 colt single action revolvers

With all of these factors in mind, we went on a bargain hunt, checking gun stores, online sources, and pawn shops to find lightly-pistols in good testing condition. We did not wish to pay too much for the Colt, but we knew we would spend more than a thousand dollars because of their scarcity. And we wanted to pay just a percentage of the new price for the other revolvers. To our thinking, $100 is real money, so if we could find a shooter and save that cash, then we’d have a bargain.

Range Data

45 Colt Fiocchi Cowboy Action 250-gr. LRNFP 45LCCAUberti 1873 CattlemanColt SAA 2nd Gen.Ruger Vaquero Bisley
Average velocity755 fps790 fps723 fps
Muzzle energy316 ft.-lbs.346 ft.-lbs.290 ft.-lbs.
Smallest group2.2 in.1.8 in.1.8 in.
Average group2.8 in.2.3 in.2.2 in.
45 Colt Hornady Critical Defense 185-gr. FTX 92790
Average velocity980 fps999 fps970 fps
Muzzle energy394 ft.-lbs.409 ft.-lbs.386 ft.-lbs.
Smallest group2.4 in.2 in.1.7 in.
Average group2.9 in.2.5 in.2 in.
45 Colt Buffalo Bore 3E/20 255-gr. SWC Standard Pressure
Average velocity960 fps990 fps974 fps
Muzzle energy522 ft.-lbs.555 ft.-lbs.537 ft.-lbs.
Smallest group1.9 in.1.9 in.1.7 in.
Average group2.4 in.2.2 in.2.1 in.
To collect accuracy data, we fired three five-shot groups with each loading from the Brownells.com Bullshooter shooting rest atop a solid benchrest. Distance, 25 yards. We recorded velocity for each load with the Competition Electronics Pro Chrony 15 feet from the muzzle. Ammo sources: Fiocchi 45 Long Colt 250-grain Cowboy Action load ($28.49/50 from SportsmansGuide.com), Hornady 45 Colt 185-grain Critical Defense ($18.42/20 from SportsmansGuide.com), and the 45 Colt Buffalo Bore 255-grain semi-wadcutter ($39.09/20 from CheaperThanDirt.com). Also, we used the Black Hills 250-grain cowboy load on the action course ($38.97/50 from VenturaAmmunition.com).

45 colt ammunition

For a thorough evaluation, our shooters fired the three revolvers on a general shooting course and then for accuracy from a solid benchrest. On the action course, shooters drew the revolvers from standard belt holsters and fired at targets at 5, 7, and 10 yards. We also fired offhand at 15 yards to test accuracy and handling. The ammunition used in the general firing course was the Black Hills Ammunition 250-grain cowboy load. This loading is designed for low recoil and good accuracy.

When it came to benchrest accuracy, we were able to properly line up the fixed sights and fire three loads. These included the Fiocchi 45 Long Colt 250-grain Cowboy Action, Hornady’s 45 Colt 185-grain Critical Defense brand, a personal-defense loading, and the 45 Colt Buffalo Bore 255-grain semi-wadcutter, an outdoors and hunting load. The three single-action revolvers completed the test without any type of problems. Even after firing 50 cartridges, cylinder rotation never slowed. The hammers cocked smoothly, and the trigger action was consistent. The ejector rods worked as designed, and the cylinders rotated smoothly. Here’s what else we found:

Uberti 1873 Cattleman Old West No. 355131 45 Colt, $400

GUN TESTS GRADE: B+ (Best Buy)

We really liked the Uberti 1873 single-action revolver. The revolver is designed to look as if it had been used hard for many years. The finish isn’t a lack of blue, rather, it appears well worn. The grips are plain walnut. The Uberti exhibited the best trigger of the test. The revolver’s accuracy, while good, was not as good as the other two revolvers. Cowboy Action Shooting doesn’t demand great accuracy, but it demands fast handling.

Uberti 1873 Cattleman Old West No. 355131 45 Colt

ACTIONSingle action
OVERALL LENGTH11 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT5.5 in.
MAX WIDTH1.6 in.
CYLINDER6 rounds; fluted steel
WEIGHT UNLOADED39 oz.
WEIGHT LOADED42 oz.
BARREL LENGTH5.5 in.
FRAMESteel
FRONT STRAP HEIGHT2.1 in.
BACK STRAP HEIGHT3.4 in.
GRIPSWalnut
GRIP THICKNESS (max)1.5 in.
GRIP CIRCUMFERENCE (max)6 in.
SIGHTSFixed
SIGHT RADIUS6.5 in.
TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT3 lbs.
SAFETYNo manual safety
WARRANTYNone
TELEPHONE(800) 264-4962
WEBSITEUberti-USA.com
MADE INItaly

Uberti 1873 Cattleman Old West No. 355131 45 Colt

We bought this revolver used but in very good condition, saving about a hundred dollars off the price of a new pistol listed online at MacksPW.com for $500. It lists for $489 on the Ubertiwebsite. The revolver is manufactured by Uberti. Models of this type have been offered by several importers, including Cimarron. The Rooster Edition, by Cimarron, features the same finish and also a set of John Wayne-style grips. The revolver features a popular finish variously called the Original, Distressed, or Antique. The finish is intended to provide the appearance of a handgun that is more than 100 years old. While the intent isn’t to fool anyone, the pistol has the well-worn look of a period revolver or one that may have appeared in a Wild Bunch movie. The revolver even has patent dates engraved in the receiver, a nice touch. It is an attractive finish for those who like this type of revolver. For others, only a bright new nickel or highly polished stainless revolver will do. The finish doesn’t affect function, and it certainly has its place.

Uberti 1873 Cattleman Old West No. 355131 45 Colt

The grips are simple wooden slabs. The grips are not aged with the metal finish, but if the user prefers, aging them is simple enough to accomplish. The Uberti features a 5.5-inch barrel, among the most popular original barrel lengths, and the standard groove rear sight and half moon front sight. The revolver features the original type action (Old Model), wherein the firing pin is mounted on the hammer and there is a positive half-cock notch. The revolver is loaded by placing the hammer on half cock, opening the loading gate, and loading the cartridges into the chambers. The Uberti cannot be carried safely with six cartridges in the chambers. The hammer must be lowered on an empty chamber. This is accomplished by loading the revolver in this manner: load one, skip one, load four, cock the hammer and lower the hammer on an empty chamber. This is the only way to safety carry a loaded single-action revolver with the original action. Some shooters adopt this carry even with the modern transfer-bar single-action revolvers, such as the Ruger. This is certainly reasonable, particularly for the shooter who owns more than one single-action revolver. If you own a Ruger and a Uberti, just load each with five rounds, and there is no question you are safe.

Uberti 1873 Cattleman Old West No. 355131 45 Colt

The action of the Uberti is smooth enough. The feel is different than the other two revolvers as far as operating the action. The hammer is easily cocked. The trigger action breaks at a crisp 3.0 pounds. We could not have asked for a better trigger action. This is a revolver that seems intended for efficient use in Cowboy Action shooting. We have no idea how many rounds were fired in this revolver before we purchased it, but the piece seemed tight and locked up well. The grip frame is the original grip type; today there are SAA-type revolvers with extended grip frames and transfer-bar ignition as well. Most of us prefer the original for general shooting.

We carried the revolver in a Galco Wheelgunner holster ($59.20 from Brownells.com). The Wheelgunner is an excellent field holster and incorporates a hammer thong for proper retention. We drew without the thong applied in this case. Retention is good due to the fit of the holster, but the Wheelgunner should be deployed with the thong attached to the hammer for outdoors use.

Uberti 1873 Cattleman Old West No. 355131 45 Colt

The Uberti is an easy gun to like. The cylinder indexed tightly and the hammer was the easiest to cock. The revolver, like all plow-handled single-action revolvers, was comfortable to fire and use, so results on the shooting course were good. The revolver recoils, the thumb contacts the hammer and cocks it for another shot, and you are back on target. While the 4.75-inch-barrel versions are faster from leather, the 5.5-inch barrel makes for a fast-handling revolver that offers excellent pointability and accuracy offhand.

All our shooters praised the Uberti’s trigger. Loading and unloading the revolver was not difficult. Recoil was modest with the Cowboy Action load, and the personal-defense loading was not difficult to control. Fired off the benchrest, the Uberti jolted us with the Buffalo Bore load, but we were getting a lot of horsepower at nearly 1000 fps. The Uberti kicked more than the Colt, but only by a small margin, likely because the Colt was slightly heavier. The Ruger was very comfortable to fire off the benchrest, even with the Buffalo Bore load.

colt 45 7.5 inch barrel

Our Team Said: Though the Uberti was the least accurate of the three revolvers, it was accurate enough for most purposes. We rated the Uberti down based on accuracy, and fit, which did not equal the other handguns. The action was not as tight as the Colt, but it was certainly useful. However, in the end, based on its low price and good performance, we rated the Uberti the Best Buy of the test. Short of handling heavy hunting loads and delivering long-range accuracy, the Uberti was comparable to the other revolvers and qualifies as a bargain.

Colt Single Action Army Second Generation 45 Colt, $1240

GUN TESTS GRADE: A

The Colt Single Action Army was well finished, felt good in the hand, was quite accurate, and it is a collectible handgun as well. The nickel plating is attractive and has lasted for decades without blemish. The Colt is a great gun and is Our Pick. However, the Uberti offers practical accuracy and handling that are more than good enough for CAS shooting and most pursuits at a fraction of the price of the Colt.

Colt Single Action Army Second Generation 45 Colt

ACTIONSingle action
OVERALL LENGTH13.5 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT5.5 in.
MAX WIDTH1.6 in.
CYLINDER6 rounds; steel
WEIGHT UNLOADED43 oz.
WEIGHT LOADED46 oz.
BARREL LENGTH7.5 in.
FRAMESteel
FRONT STRAP HEIGHT2.1 in.
BACK STRAP HEIGHT3.4 in.
GRIPSSimulated mother of pearl
GRIP THICKNESS (max)1.5 in.
GRIP CIRCUMFERENCE (max)6 in.
SIGHTSFixed
SIGHT RADIUS6.5 in.
TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT5.5 lbs.
SAFETYNo manual safety
WARRANTYNone
TELEPHONE(800) 962-COLT
WEBSITEColt.com
MADE INUSA

Colt Single Action Army Second Generation 45 Colt

This revolver is the second generation of Colt production, between the original lots and the current production run. The Second Generation was in production from the 1950s to the 1970s. The 2nd Generation is generally regarded as superior to the later Colts because it was built on the same machinery, more or less, as the first-generation revolvers. The senior rater involved had tested both first- and third-generation revolvers and did not like them as well as this revolver.

Colt Single Action Army Second Generation 45 Colt

The Colt figured heavily in this shoot-out. It is the original action, the same as the Uberti and all new-production Colts as well. However, this revolver, made in 1973, features a tighter action that required more force to cock but which is very tight. The single-action trigger press is crisp at 5.5 pounds. Manipulating the revolver was not difficult. The nickel finish was flawless, very well done and without blemish after 45 years.

Colt Single Action Army Second Generation 45 Colt

The grips are a synthetic material rather than the original Colt grips. They are well done and attractive, and these aftermarket grips, while useful, lowers the price of the Colt to collectors. The Colt was drawn from a Galco Single Action Outdoorsman revolver holster ($103 from GalcoGunleather.com). While the barrel is 2 inches longer than the other revolvers, the piece came out of the holster quickly, and while slightly slower than the other revolvers on the draw, the Colt points well and came on target quickly. In the firing tests, the Colt did well.

Colt Single Action Army Second Generation 45 Colt

In the end, the Colt demonstrated the tightest group in the firing course — we hesitate to call a test of single-action revolvers a combat course — and overall gave the best showing. The 7.5-inch barrel exhibited good balance and a good natural point. Recoil seemed the least of the test, probably because of the gun’s greater length and weight.

Our Team Said: Fired from the benchrest, the Colt gave credible results but was the second most accurate revolver, behind the Ruger. Also, it got a demerit for the bright nickel finish. In common with the stainless-steel Ruger and other revolvers we have tested, on the firing range the Colt’s front sight glinted in the sunlight. This wasn’t a problem during one overcast firing session, but it became an issue when the clouds parted. The front sight glint could be cured with a dab of nail polish, and that didn’t seem to be worth a half-grade ding. If you’re looking for authenticity and reliable function, spend the money for a real Colt.

colt 45 7.5 inch barrel

Ruger Vaquero Bisley No. 5129 45 Colt, $550

GUN TESTS GRADE: B

The Bisley did exactly what it was supposed to do. The grip frame and trigger helped in accurate deliberate fire. The Ruger was the most accurate revolver tested. We liked the appearance, and the finish certainly cannot be faulted. The well-polished stainless finish was evenly applied, the sights were well regulated, and the trigger action felt fine. But the Ruger was the least handy in rapid-fire offhand shooting and was slowest coming out of the holsters.

Ruger Vaquero Bisley No. 5129 45 Colt

ACTIONSingle; reverse indexing pawl
OVERALL LENGTH11 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT5.6 in.
MAX WIDTH1.6 in.
CYLINDER6 rounds; beveled high-gloss stainless steel
WEIGHT UNLOADED41 oz.
WEIGHT LOADED44 oz.
BARREL LENGTH5.5 in. long; 1:16 RH twist, 6 grooves; high-gloss stainless steel
FRAMEHigh-gloss stainless steel
FRONT STRAP HEIGHT2.1 in.
BACK STRAP HEIGHT3.4 in.
GRIPSSimulated ivory
GRIP THICKNESS (max)1.6 in.
GRIP CIRCUMFERENCE (max)6 in.
FRONT SIGHTBlade, fixed
REAR SIGHTIntegral top groove
SIGHT RADIUS6.5 in.
TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT4.5 lbs.
SAFETYTransfer bar
WARRANTYNone
TELEPHONE(336) 949-5200
WEBSITERuger.com
MADE INUSA

Ruger Vaquero Bisley No. 5129 45 Colt

We found this revolver at Tombstone Tactical (TombstoneTactical.com) for $668.52, so we saved $118.52 by buying a used version from a pawn shop. The Ruger Bisley may not have been unfired, but it appeared as new. There was a light scratch on one of the cylinder flats. Elsewhere, the Ruger showed good fit and finish. The stainless finish isn’t brushed, but appeared well polished. The Bisley features 5.5-inch barrel same as the Uberti; however, the Ruger, with its massive frame, is heavier. The Ruger features white synthetic grips. They are well fitted and attractive.

Ruger Vaquero Bisley No. 5129 45 Colt

The Ruger features a modern transfer bar system with a trigger break at 4.5 pounds. The curved trigger has a different feel than the flat SAA trigger. The Ruger is loaded with the hammer down. The loading port is opened and the cylinders loaded one at a time. The hammer does not have to be on half cock for the revolver to be loaded. The transfer bar system is simple enough, and it makes for a significant improvement in safety. The transfer bar does not touch the frame-mounted firing pin unless the trigger is completely pressed. At that point, the transfer bar rises from its position, blocking contact of the hammer and the firing pin, and rises to the firing pin. The hammer then strikes the transfer bar, and the transfer bar strikes the firing pin. This system prevents the danger of carrying a loaded cartridge in the cylinder under the firing pin. The transfer-bar system should also make for greater safety in the event of a burst cartridge case head or a flowing primer. While a dedicated single-action shooter may be safe with the original system, the occasional shooter is better served with the transfer-bar system, we feel.

Ruger Vaquero Bisley No. 5129 45 Colt

The primary difference in handling between the Ruger Bisley and the other revolvers was in the grip shape. The Bisley grip was designed for target shooters and is named after the Bisley target range in England. The revolver was intended to allow a bent-wrist grip and easy cocking. While the grip accomplished this, the Bisley revolver was never as popular as the standard SAA grip. The way the Bisley sits in the hand is quite comfortable. The bore axis seems lower. The Bisley grip is well suited to target shooting.

ruger bisley

We drew the Ruger Bisley from a DM Bullard Combat holster. This holster was finished in hippo hide ($285 at DMBullard.com). When working on the action course, however, our shooters said the Ruger Bisley was not as fast and accurate as the Colt or Uberti revolvers. The grip is comfortable, but the thumb must reach high to cock the hammer. There is no easy way to get around that. The Bisley-type grip is simply more difficult to manipulate. We feel that for most shooters, it would be a second choice for Cowboy Action Shooting or personal defense. However, during the fast-shooting test, the raters found the Ruger Vaquero Bisley comfortable to fire. Recoil isn’t a consideration, even with heavy loads. The action was smooth, and the long trigger controllable. The revolver cylinder turned easily and the ejector rod worked smartly.

Moving to the bench, the Ruger Bisley came into its own compared to the action shooting test. Rather than last in line, the Ruger moved to first in results. Felt recoil was lighter as well, even with the powerful Buffalo Bore loading.

Our Team Said: The Ruger Bisley was rated down a grade based on its showing on the firing course. In our view, the standard plow-handled grip of the Colt Single Action Army types proved a better match for fast shooting. The Ruger is accurate, however, and for those taking game at modest range, this fixed-sight revolver can do the job.

The Ruger Vaquero Bisley is a nice modern revolver. If the ability to carry the revolver safely with six loaded cylinders is a requirement, the Ruger is the only revolver you need consider. If maximum untimed accuracy is important, the Ruger was more accurate than the much more expensive Colt Single Action Army.

Written and photographed by Robert Campbell, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.

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