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Old West DA Revolvers

H. K. Uriah, SASS #74619

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There were a more than a few DA revolvers made back in the day. What do folks think was the best one made, and or/what is your favorite?


Here's my thoughts on a few that I happen to have...


1. Colt 1877, aka Lighting or Thunderer depending on caliber. Mine's a Lightning. I think this is nifty little gun. Perhaps best described as a slightly miniaturized DA Peacemaker. Has a decent DA trigger pull, and it also easy to operate in SA mode. Well known to be somewhat fragile, so should be used with caution, if at all.


2. Colt 1878 DA. More of a full sized DA Peacemaker, but with some very real differences in grips, and shape of hammer. DA trigger pull is smooth, but heavy. Very difficult to operate in SA mode. Available in the same calibers and barrel lengths as the SAA. I have 2, one in .44-40 the other in .45 Colt


3. S&W New Model 3 DA. Top break action allows for quick reloading. Has a great DA trigger, very smooth and not terribly heavy. In fact, a better DA trigger than many modern revolvers, in my opinion. Shape of hammer and grips allow for fairly easy SA operation, and SA trigger is really light and crisp. Mine is a .44-40, and I have seen others in .44 Russian. I do not know what other calibers they may be available in.


4. Colt 1892(and varients), .38 Long Colt. This is the DA revolver that the Army replaced the SAA with. Notorious for being inaccurate and underpowered for combat. Mine is a model 1894. I have run about 6 rounds of factory Remmington ammo through it, and got a surpringly good grouping. I'd guess that with careful handloading and the use of hollow base bullets could make this a very accurate revolver. (But I doubt you could safely come up with a load as stout even a standard .38 Special) Same basic design as a modern DA revolver. Hammer configuration allows for fairly easy SA operation, and SA trigger pull is similar to what you'd get in a modern wheelgun. DA mode is not bad. Not fantasstic, but not bad. I'd call it, "good."


5. Russian 1895 Nagant Revolver. Okay, this is the weird one. Among other things, you can actually use a silencer on this revolver do to is strange design. DA trigger pull is... about as heavy as a hippopotomus, but still surprisingly smooth. Easy to operate in SA mode, and SA trigger is surprisingly decent. (Made in both SA and DA versions, the DA version, with the removal of one small piece, can be converted to the SA version, making is SASS legal.) In spite of it's many oddities, is a fun gun to shoot.


There were of course, several others, but I have limited my comments to ones that I actually own.


My opnion of the best of the lot, the S&W hands down. When all is said and done, the others just aren't as good. In spite of that though, I think my favorite of the bunch is my Lightining. It's just a cool little gun.


Anyone else care to offer thoughts on the matter?

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I think the 1877 Colt is the prettiest, but due to it's fragility, the least practical.


The 1878 is rugged, well balanced and has an ecellent DA trigger. Great Gun.


The S&W Model 3 DA has a good trigger too, but heavy. The top break action is high on cool.


My S&W is the Frontier Double Action in .44-40...absolutely top notch sixgun.

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Colt lightning revolvers were made starting in 1877 until 1909, Colt maade 166,849 of them... mine in 38, 3 inch nickel looks great and I shoot it. never had any problems with it, I think people are giving them a bum rap about breaking down all the time, evidently they were a good seller or Colt wouldn't have made them for 32 years and sold over 166,000....Irish Pat sass 19486

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The Colt production run for the 1878 Colt Double action for was for a shorter lenght of time and they only made 51,210 of them.. You can see what the public wanted and where they spent their money, Irish Pat, sass 19486, Life NRA, Colt Collectors Asso

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I forgot to mention that with the exception of the 1894, I do shoot all of these guns from time to time with no problems. I just have not had the 94 long enough to make any use of it yet. That'll change as soon as I can make it change.


I have used all of them as a main match revolver (in SA mode) once or twice at local shoots, and in DA mode at some local Wild Bunch matches.


I have had some accuracy issues with the Lightning, even using .360" bullets is not enough to engage the rifling. But, I recently picked up some hollow base bullets, and accuracy has greatly improved. I am eager to try it again in the future with this new load. Time will tell. :)

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Howdy HK


You know what my favorite is. My S&W 44DA chambered for 44 Russian.


S&W 44DA


It had a couple of problems when I bought it, but a local guy was able to put them straight. He also installed a new front sight for me.


New Front Sight


I love shooting this thing. It is probably my favorite 'funky old gun'. With a full charge of FFg and a 200 grain Big Lube bullet, it is a pussy cat. I have been able to shoot it in three very lenient CAS matches so far. What fun! Like all the S&W Number Three revolvers, it performs great with Black Powder. Not like the modern replicas which do very poorly with Black Powder. Yes, the double action trigger pull is better than some of my modern Smiths. I don't find it heavy at all, it is a pleasure to shoot. The grip frame is basically the same as a modern round butt K frame S&W. Mine has an early SN, I have not lettered it, but I suspect it was made in the early 1880s.


They were also chambered in 38-40 and 44-40 with a slightly longer cylinder. I'm sure the cylinder on yours is about 1/8" longer than mine. It also came in a version called the 44 Double Action Wesson Favorite. These were lighter than the standard guns because of various weight reducing cuts on the frame and barrel. This model is quite rare, only about 1000 were made.


A few are said to have been chambered in 38 Colt and 38 S&W. This one is the coolest I have ever seen. I saw it a few years ago when it was up for auction. Beautifully engraved, this one was sold to Teddy Roosevelt just before he charged up San Juan Hill. Unfortunately, it was a little bit out of my price range.


TR Pistol

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.....I have had some accuracy issues with the Lightning, even using .360" bullets is not enough to engage the rifling. But, I recently picked up some hollow base bullets, and accuracy has greatly improved. I am eager to try it again in the future with this new load. Time will tell. :)

Your Lightning may be an early model, chambered for the original .38 Colt load with an outside-lubed bullet. Like the .22 LR, it used a bullet the same diameter as the outside of the case, with a short section at the base (heel) reduced in diameter to fit inside the case. The bullet would be about .375-.377", and, if Colt's practice holds, the barrel groove diameter is even larger.

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