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Colt style SA: Theoretical use of the half cock notch as a safe carry option.


"Big Boston"
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Caveat: Outside of the box (SASS Rules) discussion. 

 

I believe we all understand that part of the game is that most of use own more than one pair of cowboy revolvers, and they usually vary in style. I like to think I'm disciplined to the point that one - skip - four and hammer down on the empty chamber is pretty much engrained. I also have Rugers so the last step is to rotate the cylinder so that the hammer is down on the empty chamber. That is the Cowboy way, I embrace and accept that. as law.

 

My hands are as old as I am, my thumbs are fat and are arthritic. For the most part that only adds time, but every so often the hammer slips when I'm cocking the hammer and if I'm using a Ruger, it means that when #5 should go bang, it doesn't. I have to cock and pull the trigger a few times before I get the bang I want. That's just how it is. 

 

Then I acquired a few Colt SA style cowboy guns and I noticed a bit of a difference. If my thumb slipped and the gun did not cock, a second pull on the hammer worked just as the Ruger, except the last round went bang, no need to go round the Mulberry bush  to get a bang.

 

As this was during a match I didn't give it any more thought. But this did get recorded into my brain. What was different was that the trigger would get caught in the half cock notch and pulling the hammer back again to the cock position just completed the original attempt to cock. In a Ruger the second attempt or re-cock also results in a rotation of the cylinder. In the case of the Ruger the transfer bar blocked the gun from firing and in the Colt SA style revolver the half cock notch blocked the gun from firing. My trigger finger discipline is good, I've never had a bang on a hammer slip.

 

For cowboy competition, this was a convenience and a advantage to using my Colt SA style guns.  

 

And again, my brain interfered by asking the question; Why does the Colt allow for the re-cock without rotating the cylinder? It all has to do with the mechanics, how the action operations are timed. Basically the bolt is controlled by the hammer on cocking, but when the hammer falls, the hammer does not operate the bolt. The bolt slips past the bolt. In essence the operation of the bolt is reset as the hammer falls and is ready for the next rotate and cock sequence. But on a slip, the half cock notch stops the hammer before the reset can happen. Good, question answered. 

 

However it did get me to thinking, on most hammer guns, the half cock is used as a safety, like in most lever guns as well as with the 1897 shotgun. 

 

So I had to try it. There is a little quirk,  you have to pull the hammer back to full cock and then lower the hammer to have the trigger engage the half cock notch. IMHO almost as safe as hammer down on an empty chamber. But if loading six, a bunch safer than relying on the safety notch. and in the case of some of the clones with three clicks, the only option for safe carry unless equipped with a transfer bar. 

 

In half cock, fully cocking is just a one click operation, a fairly quiet click, and the gun is ready to fire. As simple as this is to use, I've never heard this type of "safe" carry described or used. Not an option for SASS, but was it an option "back in the day" on the trail or on duty? 

 

BB

 

 

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Howdy Big,

 

I'm sure that folks actually loaded 6 and used the half cock notch when they were expecting trouble. However, it has long been recognized that this is an unsafe practice for every day carry, especially if the gun were dropped. I have also heard that one can carefully index a fully loaded cylinder with the hammer down and the firing pin located between cartridge rims like the safety notches/pins on percussion revolvers.

 

I have never tried either and havens plan to try. 

 

Rev. Chase

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6 hours ago, "Big Boston" said:

In half cock, fully cocking is just a one click operation, a fairly quiet click, and the gun is ready to fire. As simple as this is to use, I've never heard this type of "safe" carry described or used. Not an option for SASS, but was it an option "back in the day" on the trail or on duty? 

 

BB

 

Colt revolvers have a "Safety Notch", so do the Winchester rifles.   Some carried their guns this way if they had 6 in the cylinder, or a round in the chamber.   They did not carry at "Half Cock".   As "going off half cocked" was a real thing.    

 

With Rugers, many cowboy gunsmiths, as part of an action job or an upgrade to a short-stroke will cut a half cock notch, in order to eliminate the "Ruger-go-round".   As you noted, sometimes if your thumb slips off before fully cocked the gun will be half-cocked instead, and you can recover by pulling the hammer the rest of the way back.  

 

Not a great way to carry. 

 

 

 

 

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I've had several used real Colt SAA hammers rebuilt where the safety notch and half cock notch are broken away.  The tops of triggers break off. I consider Colt parts better than Uberti or Pietta.   Just that new Colt parts are expensive if they can be found at all.  Rifle triggers and hammers are a lot stronger than Colt SAA's. 

 

I'm not going to risk it. 

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NO!!  The Half-Cock notch on Colt pattern guns was never intended as a "Safety" notch nor as a "Safe to Carry Six" method.  The half-cock was simply a method to unlock the cylinder for rotation to load the gun.  The Half-Cock notch on Colt Pattern guns is also quite thin and fragile.  Carrying six with the Half-Cock notch is a fools errand. 

 

Carry six up with the hammer down and the Firing Pin trapped between Cartridge rims is a much better, although not fool proof option.  The only really safe six-up is the Transfer Bar.

Edited by Colorado Coffinmaker
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The Colt "safety notch" is not safe at all. There are many documented cases going back to 1874 of a Colt SAA firing when the hammer was hit by something causing the notch to sheer off. By the 1880s it was common practice to only load five unless trouble was expected.

 

This is from a book printed in 1894.

 

Handwriting Font Writing Paper Paper product

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The 1874 manual from the US Ordinance Department said to load six and lower the hammer to the safety notch. There were many documented fatal accidents caused by this practice but the 1898 manual still said to load six and use the safety notch. I don't have access to a Colt manual from the same period to see what Colt's official stance was.
Many period articles of that same time period showed that civilians quite often chose to only load five. It was common enough practice that an Arizona Ranger was wounded because he thought his opponent was out, as he had shot his five. The ranger exposed himself and got shot for his trouble. This was in the book Gun Notches by Tom Rynning, captain of the AZ Rangers.

 

Wyatt Earp told Stewart Lake that the Colt should only be loaded with five rounds. I assume he learned from his past mistakes because when he was a lawman he was sitting in a saloon and his revolver slipped out of the holster and hit the floor. The impact caused the Colt to fire. The bullet went through Wyatt's coat but missed everyone else. A few years later Sheriff Behan (Wyatt's rival in Tombstone) suffered the same embarrassment while in his office. Billy Breckenridge thought they were under attack but quickly realized what happened. Billy resolved then to only carry five.

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With A Colt SAA chambered in either .38 WCF or .44 WCF there is not enough room for the FP to be securely held between the rims touching the cylinder face.

And a bump will cause Cylinder to rotate enough to put a round under the pin...

 

Jabez Cowboy

 

 

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16 hours ago, Colorado Coffinmaker said:

NO!!  The Half-Cock notch on Colt pattern guns was never intended as a "Safety" notch nor as a "Safe to Carry Six" method.  The half-cock was simply a method to unlock the cylinder for rotation to load the gun.  The Half-Cock notch on Colt Pattern guns is also quite thin and fragile.  Carrying six with the Half-Cock notch is a fools errand. 

 

Carry six up with the hammer down and the Firing Pin trapped between Cartridge rims is a much better, although not fool proof option.  The only really safe six-up is the Transfer Bar.

You're right Coffinmaker, but I think the term "half cock" is being used wrong here. There's four clicks on the Colts/clones and  to me the Half Cock is the the second click and loading notch. I think the OP should have said the "first click" which is the safety notch. I'm not sure how safe it is but I wouldn't trust it.

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