The original Colt Frontier Six Shooter 44-40 (bottom) as owned by Buffalo Bill. It is an elaborately engraved gun manufactured in 1889. The Cimarron Buffalo Bill tribute revolver (top) shares a similar pattern of engraving, a black-powder-style frame and is chambered in 45 Colt.
William Fredrick “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1847-1917) was a highly respected cowboy, soldier, U.S. Army scout, contract buffalo hunter and genuine frontiersman long before he became the most recognizable celebrity on Earth at the turn of the twentieth century with his famous “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” show. While he was an outstanding showman, Cody was no pretender. He was the genuine article, a top-rate hunter, an excellent shot, displayed bravery in the face of extreme danger, was loyal to our country and loved the western U.S. and even founded Cody, Wyoming.
For just a brief insight into his principles and genuine character, Cody was a huge supporter of individual rights regardless of creed or race, which is hugely revealing about who and what he was, especially considering the era that he lived in. Regarding the many employees from hugely different backgrounds and cultures that participated in his shows, he always paid them fairly and equally regardless of race, gender or personal background. He was a true friend. This in part explains why he was so loved and respected by his employees and loved as an entertainer!
These consecutively numbered “pair” of Cimarron Firearms Uberti-manufactured Buffalo Bill revolvers performed flawlessly throughout many shooting sessions.
As expected, guns were important to Cody, which he used throughout his remarkable life in battle, hunting, as a showman and exhibition shooter. One of his most famous guns was a Colt Frontier Six Shooter 44-40 with serial number 129108 that was manufactured in 1889. That gun features a 4¾-inch barrel, black rubber stocks with an eagle and meticulously master engraved. I had the opportunity to personally examine and handle that sixgun in 1986 and it is a truly stunning sixgun. Cimarron Firearms Company is offering a tribute to Buffalo Bill with a sixgun that is tastefully laser engraved in a pattern that is similar to Cody’s original Colt Single Action Army (SAA) revolver.
For today’s purposes, two consecutively numbered sixguns were ordered from Cimarron Firearms, which are currently in stock and readily available. They are only offered with 4¾-inch barrel and chambered in 45 Colt. While both guns were fired and tested, gun No. XXX22 was the primary test revolver.
In addition to the Helfricht-style elaborate scroll and vine engraving pattern, the back strap is adorned with the signature of “William F. Cody” in vintage script-style engraving. Additional features included the so-called black-powder frame with a set screw securing the base pin that was used by Colt from 1873 through 1896 when the cross-slot-style base pin retention system became standard.
Incidentally, the set screw is oversized with knurling that allows it to be turned with the fingers, which can be very handy in the field when a screwdriver is not available and the cylinder needs to be removed. The frame and hammer are case colored, while the cylinder, barrel, ejector housing back strap and trigger guard are finished in fire blue (aka charcoal), which is attractive and serves to make the engraving more visible when compared to hot tank-style bluing. The stocks are European one-piece walnut. Overall, the fit and finish is very good, especially considering its modest price, resulting in a handsome sixgun!
The timing of both Buffalo Bill tribute revolvers was excellent and the chambers lined up properly with the loading trough.
The action is the original Colt SAA pattern with a traditional three-position hammer. As such, it’s always best to carry the gun with five cartridges and with the hammer down on the empty chamber. Generally, the best method to load five cartridges is to load a round, leave the next chamber empty, load four cartridges and then bring the hammer to full-cock position and then lower it on the empty chamber. This method will allow the lockwork to function properly and will not put a ring around the cylinder from the bolt dragging. Since the chambers are not countersunk, the empty chamber is easily visible from the side that serves as a second safety procedure.
Incidentally, it is not recommended by this shooter to use the hammer safety notch. This will help prevent possible damage to the trigger sear in the event the gun is dropped or the hammer receives a hard impact. In this manner, the single action is among the safest of all handguns. It should be noted that the hand spring is coiled piano wire, rather than the leaf-style spring used in original Colt SAA’s. But again, function and basic design is identical. (Note: for importation purposes, the base pin is the “Swiss Safety-style” that features dual notches to engage the base pin retention screw. When the forward notch is engaged, the gun will not fire.)
The barrel is the standard 1:16-inch twist and the groove diameter slugs at .4505 inch, while the bore is .4425 inch. The cylinder throats measured .4515 inch, which is a good combination for accuracy. The barrel cylinder gap measured .006 inch and the forcing cone is cut around 11 degrees. The timing is good with the bolt lifting and then dropping properly in the approaches and the hammer has minimal fore and aft play when it is in the full-cock position. The cylinder locks solidly with minimal side-play and each chamber ranges properly (as checked with a range rod kit from Brownells). The chambers align properly with the loading trough when the hammer is in the half-cock position for easy loading and unloading. There is a bit more cylinder end-shake than I would like to see, but it is certainly within specifications and the cylinder features a Colt SAA 1st and 2nd generation-style full-length bushing that allows easy correction of end-shake. The trigger pulls on both guns broke cleanly and at exactly 3 pounds 10 ounces.
The lockwork of the Cimarron Firearms Uberti revolver closely resembles the Colt SAA, but there are small design changes.
Uberti SAA revolvers are often referred to as being “the same size as the Colt SAA,” however, that is not correct. While they appear similar at a glance, the outside diameter of Colt cylinders is 1.650 inches, while Uberti revolvers measure around 1.670 inches (depending on the polisher at the factory). The measurement from the axis of the bore to the center of the base pin is the same. This results in notably greater steel just over the bolt notch, which is the weak link so to speak, and that feature translates into greater strength. Modern Uberti revolvers are made with European steels that are the equivalent of U.S. 4140 chrome-moly and boast of a 35 Rockwell on the C scale. They are strong and tough. I recommend limiting handload data for Uberti SAA pattern revolvers produced during the past 30 years to 23,000 pounds per square inch (psi), which is the same pressure as +P 45 ACP cartridges. Incidentally, Uberti offers select models with 45 ACP cylinders and the factory recommends the use of all 45 ACP cartridges in those guns. When the 45 Colt is loaded to 23,000 psi, it offers notable performance gains over the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) specification standard pressure 45 Colt loads that are limited to 14,000 psi.
Brian developed 45 Colt handloads that offered top-notch performance.
Time was taken to break-in the barrel that consisted of firing one jacketed bullet, the bore was cleaned using Lyman Butch’s Bore Shine solvent, followed by a light coat of synthetic oil being wiped in the bore before the next round was fired, which was repeated 20 times. After a few fouling shots, the Cimarron sixgun was ready for accuracy testing with factory loads from Black Hills, Blazer, Buffalo Bore, Garrett Cartridges of Texas, Hornady and Remington. As can be seen in the accompanying factory load table, accuracy was good, with group sizes ranging from 1.90 to 2.70 inches at 25 yards.
The cylinder diameter of the Uberti measures 1.670 to 1.672 inches outside diameter, which is larger and stronger than the Colt SAA.
Moving to handloads, 265-grain cast bullets from RCBS mould No. 45-250-FN pushed to 855 fps using 7 grains of Accurate No. 2 powder consistently produced five-shot groups from 1.20 to 1.70 inches at 25 yards. For a light load intended for casual practice and cowboy action shooting, the 250-grain RNFP Cowboy from Rim Rock bullets was pushed to 730 fps using 5.2 grains of Hodgdon Titegroup powder. Accuracy was respectable with select groups measuring 1.80 to 2.25 inches. Both of the above loads are within SAAMI pressure guidelines. For those who may want a more powerful +P-style load for hunting or general use, 11 grains of Hodgdon Longshot powder pushed the 285-grain Keith-style SWC from RCBS mould No. 45-270-SAA to 1,059 fps and is below the 23,000 psi pressure limits. Groups consistently hovered around 2 inches.
Modern Uberti SAA revolvers are well-made, reliable, accurate, handsome and modestly priced and the Cimarron Buffalo Bill tribute gun is a fitting shooter for a truly outstanding American classic. Also, with a moderate manufacturer’s suggested retail price of just $1,168.70, it is a practical shooter.