Three guns at 10 paces Part 1

Three guns at 10 paces Part 1

How important is barrel length?

By Dennis Adler


“Whenever you get into a row, be sure not to shoot

too quick. Take time. I’ve known many a feller to

slip up for shootin’ in a hurry.”

                                                 – James Butler Hickok

I was just finishing up a 2-day photo shoot for Guns of the Old West, so it seemed like the right time to bring out the Umarex Colt Peacemakers and get in some authentic looking photos for Airgun Experience with these three Umarex models. You have to give a little latitude for the Ace in the Hole in the shoulder rig, which isn’t officially a Colt-licensed model and not entirely authentic looking either. But it gets the job done.

In his famous July 20th, 1865 Springfield, Missouri, gunfight with ex-Confederate David Tutt, Wild Bill Hickok carefully rested his 7-1/2 inch barreled Colt 1851 Navy over his left arm and, after first being fired upon by Tutt, who missed Hickok by several inches, returned fire killing the man where he stood with a single shot through the heart at a distance of 75 paces. Just what exactly is a “pace?” Webster’s defines it as “…any of various standard linear measures, representing the space naturally measured by the movement of the feet in walking: roughly 30 to 40 inches.” Thus 75 paces across the Springfield town square was a distance of anywhere between 175 to 250 feet. Let’s call it an average of 200 feet from the muzzle of Hickok’s Colt Navy, fired from the corner of South Street, to David Tutt taking aim at Wild Bill from in front of the courthouse and the corner of Campbell Street. This was the gunfight that established Hickok’s legend as a shootist, a reputation that served him well as a lawman, giving many a man facing him a moment of clarity before reaching for a gun, but later in life prompted others to try a make a reputation by killing him. Jack McCall took the cowards way out and murdered Wild Bill in Deadwood, North Dakota Territory on August 2, 1876 by shooting him from behind. McCall eventually hung for his deed.

Wild Bill Hickok got the job done, too, as a frontier lawman. He had lived a rough, rugged life and looked older than his years. Hickok was killed at the age of 39 in Deadwood. This is a copy of the last known gun owned by Hickok, an 1860 Army cartridge conversion. The original Colt conversion is in the Adams Museum in Deadwood, South Dakota. (Hickok memorabilia from Little John’s Auction Service, vintage pocket watch from the author’s collection, reproduction of Wild Bill’s Slim Jim holster, gunbelt and buckle, recreated by Chisholm’s Trail Leather).

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Old West gunmen and lawmen lived and died by the gun. When you look at the choices many made in their revolvers, prior to the 1870s, it was more often than not a Colt percussion pistol like the 1851 Navy or 1860 Army, and from the mid 1870s throughout the remainder of the century, one of many different barrel length Colt Peacemakers.

It is not known when Hickok (portrayed here by the author in a 2011 feature from Guns of the Old West), acquired the Richards Type I revolver but it was likely 1876. His eyes were failing and he’d had a premonition he would be gunned down in Deadwood. Hickok had always erred on the side of caution, except on August 2, 1876, when he accepted a seat at the card table that didn’t allow him to have his back to the wall so he could see the comings and goings of the saloon’s patrons.

It is noteworthy that after Colt’s had established the 7-1/2 inch Peacemaker as the standard U.S. military sidearm, the company began offering different barrel lengths. Peacemakers could be ordered with barrels as short 3-inches, 3-1/4 inch, 3-1/2 inch, 4-inch, 4-1/2 inch, 4-3/4 inch, 5-inch and 5-1/2 inch barrel lengths (4-3/4 and 5-1/2 becoming available in 1875), a snub nose 2-1/2 inch barrel (beginning in 1882) and from there special order lengths of 6 to 9 inches in ½-inch increments). Colt’s added 10-inch and 10-1/2 inch barrels, as well as 12-inch and the 16-inch Buntline by the time of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Beginning in 1888, Colt’s adopted the 3-1/2 inch Peacemaker officially as a Sheriff’s Model (without ejector). Why so many different barrel lengths and how greatly did barrel length affect accuracy for a sidearm strapped on your hip? Of all the various barrel lengths available, Colt’s only considered the Sheriff’s Model, 4-3/4 inch, 5-1/2 inch and 7-1/2 inch barrel lengths as “standard,” everything else was a special order. This leaves Umarex in the position of currently offering only two out of four standard models thus far, three if you give the 3-1/2 inch Ace a wide berth.

The test gun is the 7-1/2 inch Umarex Colt hand engraved prototype for the current deluxe Nimschke engraved Peacemaker sold by Pyramyd Air. The deluxe gun or a plain nickel one will shoot the same, but there is a lot to be said for an engraved pistol. The test was shot with Meisterkugeln Professional Line 7.0 gr. lead wadcutters.

At a distance, say 75 paces, a longer barrel and longer sight radius would definitely offer an advantage (beyond that, and even closer most men hefted a Winchester to get the job done), but really up close, say at 10 paces, a shorter barrel would be no less accurate and easier to handle quickly. And that brings us to the topic of this Airgun Experience. With the CO2 Umarex Colt Peacemakers the distance is always up close. The guns are most accurate at 21 feet with smoothbore BB models and at 10 meters (33 feet or about 10 paces) with rifled barrels and lead pellets. So does a 5-1/2 inch barrel, or even a 3-1/2 inch, like the Ace in the Hole, offer much less accuracy at 10 meters than a 7-1/2 inch model?

The pellet revolvers use nickel pellet cartridges, easily distinguished from the brass BB loading rounds for the smoothbore models. Loading and unloading is one characteristic that the CO2 models share totally in common with the original .45 Colts. There is no fast way, one at a time. Reason enough that lawmen and outlaws carried more than one gun.

It is interesting that Umarex and Colt had decided to make the first Peacemaker model a 5-1/2 inch barrel length and then follow it a year later with the 7-1/2 inch, 180 degrees from what Colt’s did in the 1870s. The Sheriff’s Model wasn’t officially introduced until 1888 and that was a 3-1/2 inch barrel without an ejector. That makes the Ace in the Hole with its 3-1/2 inch barrel a Shopkeeper (technically speaking since it has an ejector housing), aside from its unorthodox movie-inspired fanning hammer and removable low front sight. Personally I can’t wait for Umarex to make this frame into an accurate Colt pistol, but until then, the Ace is a stand-in ala Stallone.

Part 1 shooting test

To get this week off the ground I am going to start with my personal favorite, the 7-1/2 inch Peacemaker, and specifically the Adams & Adams hand engraved gun I have used many times before. It is well broken in and I know almost exactly where it is going to hit with Meisterkugeln Professional Line lead wadcutters. This is a double test, one part with me firing offhand and then for absolute accuracy shooting from a bench rest.

Regardless of the slightly shorter internal barrel, the CO2 Peacemakers handle much like the centerfire models right down to cocking the hammer, aiming and pulling the trigger. The 7-1/2 inch model has been one of the most accurate CO2 pistols among both revolvers and semi-autos.

Throughout the rest of the week I will be repeating the test with the 5-1/2 inch rifled barrel pellet-firing Peacemaker and concluding with the 3-1/2 inch Ace with a full comparison and handling wrap up on Saturday. So saddle up, we’re headin’ to the target range.

Actual barrel length with the Umarex Colt Peacemakers is slightly shorter than the external barrel length. For authenticity the CO2 models have full size .45 Colt muzzles with the 4.5mm rifled steel pellet barrels recessed. On the 7-1/2 inch model the barrel is recessed three-quarters of an inch.

Let’s start by understanding that with most CO2 pistols that have muzzles sized to the caliber of the centerfire gun they’re based upon, the Colt Peacemaker in particular, the .177 caliber (4.5mm) barrel is recessed to preserve the authentic look of the pistol. Thus 7-1/2 inches is only an external measurement on the Umarex Colt Peacemaker, the actual internal barrel length is three-quarters of an inch less, as the illustration shows. Internally it is only 6-3/4 inches from the back of the forcing cone (flush to the cylinder) to the rifled 4.5mm barrel’s recessed muzzle. This remains true for the 5-1/2 inch Peacemaker, which has the barrel recessed by one-half an inch from the muzzle, for an overall length of 5.0 inches. The Ace has its rifled barrel recessed five-sixteenths of an inch, for an overall internal length just shy of 3-1/4 inches (3.2 inches, including the forcing cone). So we are starting off with slightly shorter barrels overall than the actual centerfire barrel lengths, but this should have little bearing on 4.5mm pellet accuracy at 10 meters.

At 10 meters fired offhand, I kept all six rounds closely grouped. Five of the six shots are at 0.68 inches, the sixth opened up my group to just over an inch.

10 meters and a 7-1/2 inch Peacemaker

Ammo was Meisterkugeln Professional Line 7.0 gr. lead wadcutters. Average velocity for the 7-1/2 inch model was 416 fps. Fired offhand using a two-handed hold, my best six-rounds covered 1.01 inches all grouped in the 8 and 9 rings at 2 o’clock with five of six in one ragged line with five shots at 0.68 inches. From a rested position and using one of my sighting targets (measured squares around a red bullseye), I managed to drop six wadcutters into 0.5 inches, all just a little below POA.

Shooting from a pistol rest, the Peacemaker shot a little low but nevertheless grouped all six rounds tightly into 0.75 inches. Where there were already holes in the backboard and nothing to slow the pellet as it went into the baffle box, some tore through taking the paper with them; the round cut circles in the paper (lower left trio) are where pellets hit solid cardboard leaving cleaner edged holes, a tear and most of the paper target behind.

For part 2 the target group to meet or beat with the 5-1/2 inch Peacemaker is 0.5 inches. Can you achieve the same accuracy at the same distance with a shorter barrel?

9 thoughts on “Three guns at 10 paces Part 1”

  1. I find the 7.5 and 3.5 inch barrels to be very accurate and shoot well indeed. I tried a 5.5 inch (all pellet shooters by the way) and it consistently shot high and to the left. Looking forward to seeing your results on Thursday with that model.

    • I think that is kind of specific to the individual shooter unless there is something actually wrong with the sights or the barrel. (I tested a .45 Colt copy made in Italy that was 6 inches off POA at 21 feet! Barrel was out of kilter as it turned out when I sent it back for the manufacturer to check. Next one was much better). I shoot about POA but slightly right with the 5-1/2 inch Umarex. Normally I shoot a little left because I am right handed and left eye dominant, have to work at that, too, all the time. With fixed sight guns you just have to learn to adjust POA for the pistol’s and your shooting tendencies. I have to constantly make corrections until I get into a shooting rhythm with a fixed sight gun and then its all down to fractions of an inch. Like they say nothing beats practice except more practice! Enjoy the Nimschke.

      • I am also right handed/left eye dominant and experience the same challenges, I tend to pull my shots a bit to the left. I make mental notes on POA for my fixed sight pistols which helps until I change pellets lol. Some pellet pistols are very picky as you know. I had just found the 5.5 particularly challenging I’m sure for a combination of reasons. And you’re right, just a good reason to practice more!

  2. The 7 1/2 inch Peacemaker is one of the most accurate air gun replicas around . It outshoots many adjustable sight 6 inch revolvers . At pellet ranges the shorter barrel versions can keep up . The surprise is the snubby Ace. This is possibly due to the sharpness of the sights for middle age eyes. I too am surprised that instead of starting with longer barrels and moving down in length, Umarex is all over the map. It is criminal that there is no 4 3/4 barrel version ,which would have required less effort than the ACE version . I was led to believe the ACE was to have been a limited run movie replica. I hate to break it to Umarex but what Western replica fans really want is a true Colt labeled Colt barrel replica version. It is a natural for an engraved version as well . There have been some real mis steps for Western fans . The poorly conceived Remington by Crosman , the lack of rifled barrel and Wells Fargo Schofields, as well as the lever gun . A 94 is a rifle cartridge long throw lever action . I had one for SASS shooting . Quickly went to the short throw rifles like 92,and73 Winchesters, and 94 Marlin. What bounty hunter wouldn’t want a Josh Randall Mares laig, or Lucas McCain large loop rifle? The market is there, saddle up.

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