United States Firearms Co. Pre-War Single Action Army


by Mike Cumpston

photography by Mike Cumpston

September 30th, 2003




In recent years, shooters searching for a pure-form Single Action Army revolver are confronted with several options and their attendant compromises and complications.  The potential buyer must choose among the mechanically and cosmetically evolved third generation Colts, increasingly expensive first and second- generation revolvers or the plethora of Italian replicas.  

It was early 2003 and I had been shooting a number of original Colts belonging to shooting partner, Johnny Bates.  I was inclined to start looking for my own second generation Colt when a conversation with premier revolversmith, Hamilton Bowen, changed the equation entirely.  Bowen had been using the USFA revolvers as a favored basis for his custom single actions, replacing the Italian lock work with domestic parts. Now, not only are the frames and barrels produced domestically, but the company has abandoned the brittle action parts in favor of high quality American components. Current examples Bowen had examined exhibited perfect fit, finish and timing as well as careful attention to barrel/chamber measurements. Bowen summed it up in this wise:  “There is really nothing that needs to be done to them.”

This tipped me over the edge and I called Geno Paesano at United States Firearms.  All USFA products except the basic CAS Rodeo Revolver are built to order with an expectation of delivery in about 12 weeks.

Mine would have the “civilian” 4 ¾” barrel length Single Action Army with the “Pre War” finish.  I debated ordering the revolver in .44 Special but settled on .45 Colt.  It is a pleasant shooting round in its standard loading and is the cartridge most associated with this revolver.  The Pre War model is so named to evoke the period between 1920 and 1940 when the first generation single actions reached the apex of fit and finish.   Paesano told me that the revolvers are fired and regulated at 12 and 25 yards and that the standard trigger pull ranges from 3.5 to 4 pounds.  These specifications and overall performance are identical to those of the less expensive Rodeo model.  The color case hardening and “armory blue” are applied by Turnbull Restorations.

The order was finalized on June 9, 2003 and completed on September 16.  Unboxed and removed from its velvet sock, it caused a general intake of breath at Leo Bradshaw’s GunRoom.  The overall metal work was nothing short of perfection and the color casehardened frame, gate and hammer showed a brilliant pattern from all aspects.  Leo, a noted dealer in collectibles, pronounced the carbon blue to be true to the Colts of the late 19th Century.

The trigger pull weighed in at 3 pounds 12 ounces to 4 Pounds on my RCBS trigger pull gauge and a Houston Cartridge Co. 250 grain Round Nose Flat point measured exactly .452” after I tapped it through one of the chambers.  Timing/carry-up is perfect with the bolt dropping precisely in the lead of the cylinder notches. The cylinder exhibits no end float or lateral play.

Six five-round groups with two different loads averaged out at 2.55” from the bench at 25 yards.  This corresponds to some recently published ransom rest groups from a USFA Rodeo.  The two loads, separated by 50 feet per second in velocity, hit exactly to my point of aim; unusual for a fixed sighted revolver, and evidence that the factory sight regulator knows and cares what he is about.

Load Velocity / Energy Spread (10 Rounds) Standard Deviation
7.5 Unique, 250 RNFP 814 / 368 41 13
8.0 Unique, 250 RNFP 878 / 428 36 13 (12.5)
8.0 Unique, Dry Creek 265 KT 882 / 458 2 (5 rounds) 2 (1.6)
8.5 Unique, 250 RNFP 930 / 480 80 24
PMC 250 CAS (Factory Load) 781 / 339 68 19

My hand loads are traditional in nature; the goal being to duplicate expected .45 Colt performance with economical and readily available components. Eight grains of Unique and the machine cast 250 grain RNFP bullet seems to be optimal in this respect though none of my loads varied much in demonstrated accuracy or point of impact.

The aspect of revolver shooting that gives me the warm fuzzys is hitting reasonably well from the traditional “NRA”,  “Duelist” or “ Off-hand” stance My early best effort five round string at fifty feet printed 2.4” with the best 4 in about one inch.  My worst efforts will go un-remarked but after I had made some progress with trigger control, I shot a couple of reasonably nice consecutive targets at 25 yards. The first landed 6 rounds in 2.7” wide by 4” tall.   Emboldened, I invested ten rounds in a target that came out 3.7” tall by 5.6” wide.  

The USFA Pre War's handling characteristics are indistinguishable from first and second generation Colts, and the trigger pull seems to be in the middle range of those encountered in the originals. The sights of course, are of the Twentieth Century pattern - wider and a bit easier to use than the old narrow blade and notch used before about 1920. Cylinder diameter and chamber wall thickness is minimally larger than three generations of Colt and exactly the same as an Uberti .45 we had on hand.  Nevertheless, the cylinder from a .45 Colt made in 1910 fit and functioned very well, displaying very little end-float and a slightly wider cylinder gap. The grips are hard rubber serially numbered and bearing the trademark “US” cartouche. We found that Colt grips matched the frame exactly except for the location of the retaining pin hole.

The United States Firearms Single Action Army, American made in the old Colt factory at Hartford, is a near-perfect rendition of the traditional Peacemaker. The reviewer would have to go far afield to find any aspect of the item to criticize.  The only complaints to emerge are that the revolver lacks a rampant pony on the grips and the left side of the frame and that it is very likely better than the original.

For  information about the full product line, custom work and engraving visit the United States Firearms site at: ww.usfirearms.com.

The Gunblast article by Jeff Quinn on the USFA Rodeo is recommended, and for an excellent pictorial overview of the Single Action Army Revolvers, the author recommends  Classic Colt Peacemakers by “Doc” O'Meara.

Mike Cumpston


(Ed. Note: We are pleased to welcome our friend Mike Cumpston to the Gunblast.com team. Read more about Mike on the About Us Page.

Boge Quinn)


NOTE: All load data posted on this web site are for educational purposes only. Neither the author nor GunBlast.com assume any responsibility for the use or misuse of this data. The data indicated were arrived at using specialized equipment under conditions not necessarily comparable to those encountered by the potential user of this data.  Always use data from respected loading manuals and begin working up loads at least 10% below the loads indicated in the source manual.

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Click pictures for a larger version.


USFA's "Pre War" Single Action Army is an exquisitely-executed reproduction of the classic Colt SAA.



USFA's Pre War SAA is all but indistinguishable from the venerable (and expensive) Second Generation Colt.



The USFA Pre War, true to the First and Second Generation SAAs, features removable cylinder and firing pin bushings. These are desirable features should the gun develop burrs around the firing pin aperture or require removal of end float.



Cylinder diameter of the USFA Pre War was slightly larger than First through Third Generation Colts. This is NOT a sign that that it is OK to shoot higher-pressure loads in the USFA Pre War. The difference in measurements is so small that a 1910 vintage cylinder fits and functions in the USFA gun.



The USFA Pre War is capable of good accuracy, as can be seen in these photos.



Author's favorite holster for the Pre War SAA is this Johnny Bates fleece-lined unit.



The USFA Pre War Single Action Army is a near-perfect reproduction of the original Colt. If anything, it is better than the original!

Pocket the several thousand dollars' difference in price and enjoy shooting one of these fine examples of the gun maker's art.