“The single-action revolver is a lousy weapon to defend yourself with,” says the Tactical Operational Expert all decked out in his camo outfit that makes him look like he was just spewed up by an overfertilized tree.
“But,” you say, “that’s exactly what it was invented for well over a century ago and that’s mainly what it’s been used for ever since.”
“Maybe back in the days of open carry,” the TOE reluctantly admits. “But how do you conceal a big-bore six-shooter?”
“Start by cutting the barrel down,” you answer, “just like they do double-action revolvers meant for concealed carry.”
“And speaking of six-shooters,” he interrupts, “how are you going to fight off 40 mercenaries armed with automatic weapons with only six shots?”
You think of the old Texas Ranger adage, “One Riot, One Ranger,” but you say, “I don’t figure that’s a self-defense situation I’ll ever find myself in.” You wonder how often the TOE fights off 40 mercenaries armed with automatic weapons.
“And cocking the hammer for every shot?” he carries on incredulously. “That’s so slow.”
Yeah, like Bat Masterson and John Wayne and Billy The Kid. You don’t bother to tell him, because you’ve seen him shoot and you’ve seen his scores, that with a two-hand hold and left-thumb cocking you can shoot your single-action revolver about as fast as he can shoot his semiautomatic pistol and with considerably more accuracy. So you just shrug.
“Haven’t you noticed this is the 21st century?” he asks.
You look at your watch.
“You need to keep up with the times,” he advises without much patience.
You think back to Billy The Kid and wonder just how far criminal psychopaths have actually advanced since the century before last.
“And just show me where you mount a laser beam and blinding white headlights and battery packs on that cowboy gun. Not many gunfights are choreographed on Main Street at high noon these days,” he concludes decisively.
“I feel pretty safe with my cowboy gun,” you say as he sucks on a rubber tube connected to what looks like a camo-clad hot water bottle attached to his back, turns on the heel of his tactical basketball shoes and jangles noisily away toward the next firing station.
You gently pat the custom Ruger .45 snug in its holster on your hip with all chambers loaded with big lead bullets and smile. You figure you can take care of yourself alright, even if you should run up against the TOE’s evil twin brother in a dark alley some night.
Sam Colt patented his idea for the revolver in 1835-36, but it wasn’t until 1873 that he started producing the legendary Peacemaker –- the .45 Colt Single Action Army. Introduced with a long 7½-inch barrel, it was soon followed by more concealable shorter-barreled versions, including the classic 4¾-inch Sheriff’s model.
The plow-handled grip of a single-action lends itself to a fast and secure draw. Starting from an open or concealed position, individuals who spend some time practicing with a single-action can easily draw, fire and hit their target in ¼ second or considerably less in many cases. This is plenty fast enough when you consider that the average reaction time of the bad guy will be about ½ second or longer. He’ll be dead before he realizes he’s about to be shot.
As for dependability under stress, it might be noted that when Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, who always carried two guns, was closing in on Bonnie and Clyde, he chose as his primary handgun a .45 Colt Single Action Army, with a semiauto 1911 relegated to the position of backup gun.
George Patton went to war with a brace of Colt single-actions on his hips. And Elmer Keith, who invented the .44 Magnum cartridge and was responsible for the double-action Smith & Wesson Model 29 that first chambered it, always kept a single-action .45 Colt within reach for personal protection.
Bill Ruger introduced his Colt-look-alike version of the single-action in 1953 and found immediate success. The New Model Ruger introduced in 1973 featured a transfer-bar safety that allowed six-shooters to be safely loaded with six rounds for the first time -– on every Ruger manufactured since then, there is no longer a need for the traditional practice of leaving an empty chamber under the firing pin, which had made six-shooters into five-shooters.
Today, single-action revolvers are made in a wide enough range of calibers to encompass rimfire plinking on the one hand and elephant hunting on the other. Somewhere in the middle are models best suited for self-defense and concealed carry. The original chambering of .45 Long Colt in the old short-barreled Sheriff’s configuration is still pretty much the standard, though the traditional .44 Special and modern .357, .41 and .44 Magnum loadings are highly effective as well.
The single-action revolver, with its flowing lines and sensuous steel surfaces, has always been a darling of proud owners, firearms engravers and custom gunsmiths such as Gary Reeder of Flagstaff, Arizona. Reeder works primarily with new Rugers, but by the time he’s finished with a gun about the only thing left from the Ruger factory is the part with the serial number on it. Reeder makes his own cylinders, barrels and most internal parts, reshapes grip contours and performs any number of other precision operations that make his single-actions shoot better, handle better and look better than just about any six-shooter you might imagine. The gun you carry day in and day out should be a source of pride even if nobody else ever sees it.
A single-action revolver aka Cowboy Gun works just as well for carry and defense as a cop gun, military gun, TOE pistol-du-jour, criminals’ current weapon-of-choice according to mass media’s halfwit theorists, or any other handgun with which the owner has made himself deadly familiar. Knowing the level of training attained by most bad guys, and the number of shots that will likely be needed to conclude any impromptu meeting with one, I’d be more than happy to take a single-action 45-caliber six-shooter up against an 18-round 9mm anytime.
It’s as true today as it was in the 19th century when some irreverent but insightful shootist first said it: “God made Men, Sam Colt made them equal.”