Colt Single-Action Army

Colt .45 Caliber Single Action Army (SAA)  Revolver. Superstar of the Old West, Hollywood, and beyond.
1873 Lonestar Colt Single Action Army revolver

You've seen them in the TV Westerns and on the big screen.  They are such a major part of our history and culture that many of us may just take them for granted and hardly notice any more.  Those ubiquitous pistols are more than likely the legendary Colt Single Action Army, or SAA .45 caliber revolvers that won the West.  That's not just a figure of speech, but an actual allusion to the frontier six shooter that settled us from the lawlessness of the late 19th century into these modern times.  If you've been to New Mexico in recent times, you'll notice that it's a lot safer and more mild than it was in the 1870s, when lawless violence was commonplace.  
That's why it's nicknamed the "Peacemaker."  The SAA was used by soldiers, lawmen and outlaws alike, which would give us a possible reason for givng the SAA another nickname, the "Equalizer".  Outlaw Henry McCarty/William Bonney, aka "Billy the Kid" and General George Custer and his troops, and any number of lawmen, cowboys and just about anyone else on the frontier used the Colt SAA revolver.  As Samuel Colt used to say; "God made them all. Colt makes them equal."  Production of the Colt SAA was stopped several times, but was restarted repeatedly because of public demand.  The most favored among collectors are the "first generation" (1873-1941) SAA revolvers.  These Colts are identified by serial number, and associated with the inspectors names.  Often, you may hear references to an "OWA Colt" which means it was inspected by Orville W. Ainsworth, or the "Nettleton" Colt.  It is still made even now, especially since the increased popularity of shooter action clubs and quick-draw competitions.  One of the most notable of these is  "SASS" or Single Action Shooters Society, which not only promotes clean, good old "Code of the West" values and safe practices in their competitions, but requires its members to adopt the identity of "characters", and to dress and act the part.  This makes for a very attractive and fun pastime.

Working with the Colt Manufacturing Company, the US Government held firerarms trials  in 1873, and selected the SAA Colt .45 as the standard military issue service revolver, using it until 1892.  The fully self-enclosed metal cartridges were a vast improvement over the old cap and ball system that they replaced.  The .45 caliber rounds were compatible with many of the lever-action rifles, which made the revolver even more attractive.  The advent of the self-contained cartridges allowed the user to shoot in all kinds of weather and other adverse ocnditions--something you wouldn't dare try with old paper percussion cartridges and caps.  The SAA was originally chambered for a large variety of ammunitions sizes, including a Smith and Wesson .44-40, but the most successful was the .45 caliber.  Some shooters--usually portrayed in movies--take advantage of the rapid-fire method of operation by "fanning" the hammer, by keeping the trigger pulled and repeatedly tripping the hammer by hand.  This is not considered good for the revolver, even unsafe,  and is more for show than for practical use.  There may be exceptions to this idea, but generally it's not commonly practiced.  Though the SAA is a six shooter, it is common practice to keep only 5 rounds in the cylinder, and keep the hammer on the empty chamber, to prevent a bump or a jolt from accidentally discharging the pistol.  This has been a common practice of Colt SAA owners since the first models debuted in 1873.  It's still a good idea.

The Colt SAA has a number of different barrel lengths, from the standard  4.75", 5.5" and the Artillery Model with a 7.5" barrel.  Someone may try to tell you about the legendary "Buntline Special", a custom SAA Colt with a 12" or 16" barrel.  Not only would this be impractical, but would be pretty hard to "spin."  By "spin" I'm referring to the old gun trick where you whip it out of the holster and spin it with a flourish before firing.  You've probably seen it somewhere.  While there have been replica "Buntline" pistols produced for show, there is no evidence that a real Buntline even existed in the late 1800s, and not even the Colt company can confirm the existence of such a firearm.  Buntline was the name of an author who supposedly presented five special long-barreled Colt SAA pistols to a number of famous personalities, including Wyatt Earp.  There are many stories--many of them second-hand claims--arguing the existence of the Buntline, but until someone produces a real one, dating back to the 1880s, I won't believe it.  In the course of all the controversy over the Buntline, it was inevitable that they would eventually make one.  Why miss out on a marketing boon like that?  You can get a "Buntline" now, but no such thing ever existed in Wyatt Earp's time.  That is, unless someone can produce one, dating back to the late 1800s.

Colt Single Action Army SAA revolver

As with all other firearms, a number of improvements were made o the original.  In this case, there was the introduction of the new smokeless powder cartridges, numerous cailber variations, small mechanical improvements, and changing the length of the cylinder to accept longer (higher velocity) cartridges.  The SAA was also made famous for its "loading gate"  that allows easy loading and unloading of the pistol.  Newer versions can have the cylinder completely and quickly removed for loading and unloading.  Some shooters keep spare loaded cylinde rs, in much the same way that you would keep a spare loaded clip with a semi-automatic.

Colt SAA .45 revolvers in different finishes

Officially, there are three generations of Colt Single Action Army revolvers.  The first, fr om 1873, when the pistol was being tested and developed for the Army, lasting until the end of the production run in 1941, though not officiall y , since there were still "pre-war" and "post-war" Colts made during this time.  The second generation would be your true "post-war" Colts, with the third generation starting in 1974, and having a vague ending period, which really has not ended.  So far as anyone can tell, the Colt SAA (not cheap either!) still being produced are not officially being called the "4th" generation, but are just a continuation of the 3rd.  You can't produce a legend for over a hundred years and keep it a secret.  There are a number of other companies, worldwide that produce their own versions of the famous Colt SAA.

While produciton of the SAA was stopped and restarted several times, its popularity has suffered little.  Demand remains strong for the legendary revolver, and it has a large coterie of dedicated enthusiasts.  Some of the newer SAAs being produced are faithful to the original 1873 in appearance as well as feel and accuracy.  In addition to the classic nickel-plate and blued finishes, there is an old-style case-hardened finish.  Customized engraved SAA Colt models, many of them presented to famous personalities like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, are an entire category of art unto themselves.  Fine gunsmithing and engraving are skills that are not common, as they once were.  There are also a large selection of choices for grips, from plain wood, to metal, ivory (on the old ones) rubber, carved or otherwise embossed or even jeweled.  A lot of true fans really love their SAAs, which makes it the quintessential favorite American revolver of all time.  While the West has already been "won," there is a patriotic element to the legendary, all-American pistol that still wins over the hearts of the West.

Firearm Type: Single-Action Pistol
Nation Of Manufacture: USA
Manufacture Dates : 1872-1940
Variations: Civilian/Gunfighter, Artillery, Cavalry, Lonestar, Bisley, others
Ammunition: .45 ACP, .44 WCF, others
Wars: American Frontier (Indian) Wars, Spanish-American War
Recent Prices at Auction for Originals: US $800-$14,000

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Interested in an authentic replica Colt Single Action Army SAA Revolver ?
We have many different finishes and models. We also have Blank Firing Colt SAA replicas.