Why You Want a Single-Action Revolver (Even If You Don't Know It Yet)

It's the epitome of old-school cowboy cool, but the SA wheelgun remains a solid choice for shooters and hunters today.

posted on July 28, 2022
Jahn SA Revolver Lede

Everyone has seen them in Western movies, old photographs of cowboys and lawmen, and resting in lighted glass cases in museums, but it’s surprising how many folks have no experience with one of the finest handguns of all time, the single-action (SA) revolver. I showed off a fine Tyler Gun Works-tuned Ruger Vaquero fitted in sheep horn grips to three friends at the range the other day. I’d categorize these men as a firearms connoisseur, a gun enthusiast and a utilitarian gun owner, respectively. The connoisseur knows guns, reads about them, once worked in a gun store, and continues to seek out quality shooting instruction. The enthusiast likes guns, hunts when he can, and appreciates a variety of good firearms. Our utilitarian owns a select few, mostly made up of hunting guns and one or two for personal defense.

Even though they vary in experience and tastes, they were all thoroughly impressed with the feel, quality and accuracy of the good ol’ single-action sixgun. How impressed? Well, I'll tell you in a minute, but it really shouldn't have been a surprise. The SA revolver's pedigree is impeccable.

The single-action revolver is a time-tested and battle-proven design that goes back to Colt’s Paterson, known as the first practical, commercial revolver. It revolutionized the bloody fights between Texas Rangers and fierce Comanche warriors.

The SA is simple in function. You cock the hammer each time you desire to fire the gun. It’s an old design, but by no means outdated. A wide array of sizes, grip frame shapes and chamberings is offered by multiple manufacturers, from the tiny 17 HMR and .22 long rifle to massive .460 and .500 S&Ws. Single-action revolvers are available at prices to fit any shooter’s budget.

“But single-actions aren’t accurate,” some say. Don’t believe that old fairy tale! I’ve got some that will cut a single ragged hole with six shots … if I do my part. These guns are plenty accurate, and that’s across the board from a variety of makers.

The SA is a great gun for beginners. One reason why is that the unique grip fits a variety of hands. I’ve started my daughters out shooting smaller framed revolvers in .22 LR. The guns are fairly lightweight, and the plow handle grip is easy for their small hands to hold. A friend of mine taught his wife to shoot a handgun using my 44 Super Blackhawk. I sent them to the range with a variety of guns to try and she favored the big single-action over all others!

An important safety note for beginners: Some single-actions must be carried with an empty chamber under the hammer. Read the owner’s manual, call the manufacturer, or consult an expert if you aren’t sure about whether yours requires this carry method.

The SA’s universally friendly “plow handle” grip is only one of many grip handle styles like the Bisley (Colt and Ruger designs), or the 1860 Army and others that offer changes in the grip’s shape, angles and length that can be tailored to meet larger hands or heavy-recoiling guns.

The cowboy cool factor has to weigh in here when discussing the single-action revolver. Think about it. John Wayne’s wheelgun, ivory stocks yellowed from age, hanging from his hip as he swaggered across the screen. Matt Dillon’s stag-gripped 7.5-inch SA holstered in his buscadero rig as he boldly stepped into the dusty Dodge City street, ready to take on the bad guy at the beginning of Gunsmoke. And let’s not forget about real life lawmen who wore single-action revolvers, especially in the decades from the late 1800s to the 1950s and 60s. It’s a legacy from Frank Hamer, Will Wright, U.S. Marshals Heck Thomas, Bass Reeves and countless others who swore oaths, pinned on badges, and staked their lives on their guns.

Few firearms can rival the single-action revolver when it comes to customizing with tasteful engraving or fitting fine stocks of figured woods, horn, antler and a variety of other eye-appealing materials. The graceful lines of the single-action revolver just lend itself to such indulgence. Give the SA a try, I think you’ll like it. My three “test subjects” sure did. After shooting mine, two of them ordered themselves a brand-new single-action revolver!


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