Which Cowboy Revolver? We Test Three 357 Magnum Guns
Here are single-actions in the popular Sheriff’s Model, Gunfighter’s Model and Artillery Model configurations. Each is a special edition and a departure from standard fare, especially the middle length.
We recently tested three single-action traditional-style revolvers in the popular 38 Special/357 Magnum chambering to find which revolver would be best for Cowboy Action Shooting. We also considered the merits of each as a trail gun. While some may scoff, there are many single-action revolvers in use for home protection, including protecting the homestead against predators, so we had to consider this role as well. The three revolvers were from Traditions Performance Firearms: the Sheriff’s Model, the Liberty Model, and the Frontier Model. The qualifying difference between the three revolvers are their barrel lengths, though in this test, they are vastly different overall. The longer the barrel, the greater the weight of the revolver as well. The barrels were 3.5, 4.75, and 5.5 inches long. While we liked the 5.5-inch barrel the best based on balance, point, and fast-paced accuracy, the gun itself was the roughest revolver tested as far as the trigger action went and the only one that gave trouble. It wasn’t difficult to get it up and running, but this just isn’t welcome in a new revolver. On the other hand, the Sheriff’s Model was a fun gun to shoot, but not the most practical. We cannot recommend it for CAS competition, but it makes a good recreational handgun and perhaps even a personal-defense revolver for those skilled with the single action. The 4.75-inch-barrel Liberty revolver was the most accurate revolver and was well finished with beautiful laser engraving. It was more accurate than the longer-barrel revolver from the benchrest but not as easy to get a fast hit with on the action course.
When you choose a single-action revolver for Cowboy Action Shooting, a sense of style and history are important. Reliability and good value are also important. When considering the single-action revolver, the 7.5-inch barrel length is regarded as too large and heavy by most shooters. A shorter-statured shooter may find the muzzle in his boot tops in a conventional holster. The fit, finish, and barrel length and balance, then, are important. For recreational use, one may be as good as the other. The greatest accuracy, velocity and handling advantages are more important in a handgun to be used in CAS competition. Considerations other than accuracy, such as heft and fast handling, are important. The speed of the draw is important. The so-called Tall Draw with a long-barrel revolver isn’t as fast as with the shorter handguns. This fact gave birth to the original SAA that came to be known as the Gunfighter’s barrel length. The barrel was cut right to the ejector rod, and this resulted in a 4.75-inch-barrel revolver. The compromise 5.5-inch barrel length was often called the Artillery revolver and issued to cannoneers. The short 3-inch-barrel revolver was called the shopkeep’s or, more popularly, the Sheriff’s Model. We tested all three to determine which has an advantage.
The caliber wasn’t difficult to choose. While the 45 Colt, 44-40 and 38-40 may be more authentic to the time period, the 38 Special is the superior cartridge for competition today, we believe. The larger calibers are sometimes smoky when downloaded. The 38 Special responds well with Cowboy Action loads. If you desire, the 357 Magnum cartridge may be loaded for use as a trail gun or as a defensive handgun. Anyone who uses the SAA revolver well in CAS competition would be a formidable opponent in a home-defense situation.
For ammunition, we chose three loads, one in 38 Special and two in 357 Magnum. We used a handload consisting of the Magnus cast bullets 200-grain RNL ($49.10 for 500 bullets from MagnusBullets.com) and enough Titegroup powder for 720 fps. This is an outstanding load with plenty of bearing surface for accuracy. It hits the steel plates hard. Next, we used the Black Hills Ammunition 357 Magnum 158-grain cowboy load ($30.30/50 rounds from AmmunitionToGo.com). Loaded to 805 fps on average, this load offers the ease of loading of the full-length Magnum case but is loaded to 38 Special velocity. Finally, we used the Federal 125-grain JHP as a general-purpose 357 Magnum load to determine how the pistols perform with Magnum loads. It costs $21.30/20 rounds. While Cowboy Action guns are seldom fired with full-power ammunition, for Gun Tests, Magnum loads were an important part of the evaluation equation.