It was honestly the best time of my life. We were pretty much broke, and med school kept me sinfully busy. However, the kids were young, and life was pure. The children are all grown now, and I do miss them so. But I cherish memories of shooting a rimfire single action revolver together.
The Colt Frontier Scout Rimfire Single Action Revolver
My son was maybe 10, and he had a little money saved up from birthdays and Christmas. I had a Ruger Single Six pistol I could live without. The Single Six was a great shooter, but with its adjustable sights and convertible cylinder, it didn’t exactly look the part of the classic Western sixgun. Thusly equipped, my son and I struck out for the local gun show looking for trouble.
The Colt Frontier Scout was well-used but equally well-cared for. It sat among dozens of other pre-owned handguns on a table helmed by a local gun nerd. My son and I studied it closely and retired to the corner of the show to scheme.
Once we had an accord, we approached the gent about doing a deal. At the end of the day, my Ruger and a little bit of my son’s cash made the nifty little Colt ours. Back at the house, we pawed over it. The next free weekend, we took it out to the rural farm for a test drive. The end result was some of the finest memories a guy could ever want.
Sam Colt was the only show in town for the first few years of the 19th Century revolver revolution. His radical designs were patented, and he defended those patents with near-religious zeal. While Colonel Sam was the consummate marketer and a comparably adroit showman, he was also a bit conceited.
When one of his machinists named Rollin White approached him about equipping a Colt revolver with a bored-through cylinder to accept metallic cartridges, Old Sam sent him on his way with remonstrations. He believed the Colt revolver was perfect and in no need of an upgrade.
White took a pair of Colt cap and ball cylinders that had been rejected from the production line, cut off the ends, and welded them together. The shooting version took a bit more effort, but the spark of genius was clearly there.
After Colonel Colt gave White his walking papers, the young man took his idea to Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson. Sam Colt’s narcissism set his revolver production back more than a decade.
Finally, in 1869, the Rollin White patent expired, and Colt was free to maneuver. Sam put his two most accomplished gun designers, Charles Brinckerhoff and William Mason, to work designing a new cartridge-fed revolver for the Army pistol trials of 1872.
The first production gun rolled off the line in 1873 as the “New Model Army Metallic Cartridge Revolving Pistol.”
Serial number 1 was thought lost forever until it turned up in a barn in Nashua, New Hampshire, soon after the turn of the century.
The M1873 – Colt Single Action Army
The gun was called the M1873 or the Colt Single Action Army revolver. However, in 1874 a Colt distributor named Benjamin Kittridge in Cincinnati coined the term “Peacemaker” as a marketing ploy. The end result became an integral part of Americana. The Peacemaker went on sale to American civilians two months after the revolver trials.
Those first Peacemakers were chambered for the .45 Long Colt cartridge. This straight-walled, rimmed round was immensely powerful by the standards of the day. Pushing a 255-grain hard lead bullet atop a charge of 40 grains of finely-ground black powder, the .45 LC became a recognized manstopper.
The Single Action Army handily took the Army revolver trials and served until 1892, when it was supplanted by the .38-caliber Colt M1892.
The Single Action Army revolver was available with barrel lengths ranging from 4.75 through 7.5 inches in at least five major chamberings. However, there’s something weird about the basic Colt revolver design. That graceful arching grip has no finger grooves or stippling yet still seems to fit the human form better than any Information Age plastic pistol.
The massive hammer looks like it would catch on absolutely everything, yet it doesn’t. Thumbing the hammer back manually on the draw is a natural exercise. If you do this slowly, you can discern four distinct clicks. The inimitable sound it makes when done quickly has launched many a Hollywood career.
The hammer includes the firing pin as an integral component. While it was likely safe to carry the gun with the hammer down over a loaded chamber, most sensible gunmen didn’t. You could keep a handy dollar bill rolled tightly and stuffed into the cylinder or just leave it empty. If the tactical situation allowed, the astute shootist could drop one last round in place before stepping out into the street for a showdown.
The sights consist of a generous front blade that corresponds to a groove cut into the top strap. There is a loading gate on the right side of the gun. To load or unload the weapon, you place the hammer at half cock, open the gate and cycle the cylinder by hand.
The manual ejector is spring-loaded and rides underneath the barrel. Running the gun seems a bit tedious by modern standards. However, it was lightyears ahead of the same exercise undertaken with a cap-and-ball revolver back in the day.
A Manageable Round
Recoil in .45 Long Colt is present without being unpleasant, and every copy I have ever fired shot straight and true. On several occasions, I had my kids’ college buddies out to shoot machine guns.
Invariably at the end of the day, the stutterguns would fall silent while the kids would burn through whatever .45 LC ammo I had handy for my Italian Uberti Peacemaker replica.
Even if you load your own, .45 LC is a big, heavy cartridge that is component intensive. Factory ammo cost a fortune even before the recent ammo drought. Back in 1957, Colt found the answer to mitigate the costs of running the gun.
Ruger introduced the .22-caliber Single-Six in 1953. With Western movies occupying every theater in the country, Colt realized that a rimfire version of the classic Peacemaker would reach an untapped market. In 1957, they launched the Colt Frontier Scout with a price of $49.50. That’s about $456 in today’s money.
Those early Frontier Scouts featured a lightweight aluminum die-cast frame with a one-piece backstrap and triggerguard. The remainder of the pistol was blued steel. Colt called the combination their “duo-tone finish.” The grips were black synthetic. The barrels were cut on the same machinery used on the venerable Python, so performance was outstanding.
Unlike the original centerfire Colt Peacemaker, the Frontier Scout used a transfer bar action for added safety. Various combinations of finishes, grips, and frame materials came and went until 1986, when production was discontinued. Commemorative versions included two-cylinder .22 Magnum variants as well as a 9.5-inch barrel Buntline pistol.
Our Frontier Scout rolled off the lines in 1968 and features a blued finish and walnut stocks. When appreciated alongside my recent production Colt Peacemaker in .45 LC, the family resemblance is obvious. The 1968-era workmanship is flawless, and the gun offers the same inimitable aura in a package that is much cheaper to run.
While I have myself never tried heroin, I suspect it is just a little bit like this. You can retire to your favorite shooting spot with the Colt Frontier Scout and a brick of .22 bullets and shoot stuff until hunger draws you home.
In fact, it is simply breathtaking to appreciate the pile of empty cases that remain after an afternoon at the range with this thing. Recoil is non-existent, and the gun shoots unnaturally straight. Additionally, it rides in the same holster rig that typically carries my centerfire version. In short, it offers most all of the cool at a fraction of the price.
My son and I whiled away countless hours ventilating disused beverage cans with our jointly owned Frontier Scout. Now nearly two decades after its acquisition, the gun is waiting on my son to settle someplace long enough to take it home.
I am a bit better financed these days and may scrounge up another copy for myself. It is a tangible connection to some simply delightful times.
The Colt Frontier Scout has been out of production for some thirty-five years. Vintage copies can be found at places like GunBroker, but they are typically fairly tired. With guns that are in decent shape prices seem to range from $600 to around a grand.
Up until recently, the American shooter looking for a top-flight rimfire Peacemaker at a good price was just out of luck. However, in April 2019, Ruger offered up the solution.
The Ruger Wrangler is a current-production facsimile of the classic Colt Peacemaker offered at a very reasonable price. Ruger makes extensive use of zinc and aluminum castings for the Wrangler to help keep costs low.
The gun features a 4.6-inch barrel and comes in 12 different colors. They include—I’m not making this up—one that is called “Crushed Orchid.” The MSRP is a paltry $250. I found mine on special via an online venue NIB at substantially less than that.
The Wrangler uses a transfer bar ignition system and some metal injection-molded internal parts. However, given the piddly recoil impulse of the .22 rimfire cartridge, the gun should still outlive your grandchildren.
The final MSRP is less than half that of the corresponding Single-Six, and the Wrangler is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. It is the Peacemaker simulator for the Information Age.
For more information, please visit Ruger.com.
This article was originally published in the Guns of the Old West Spring 2022 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions at OutdoorGroupStore.com. Or call 1-800-284-5668, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Discussion about this post