by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
- History of the Colt Single Action Army (SAA) revolver
- Buntline Special
- Sheriff’s model
- The Shopkeeper’s model
- Ace in the Hole
- Fanning hammer
- Don’t fan!
- Removable front sight
- Weathered finish
- Pellet pistol
Today we begin our look at the Umarex-Legends-Ace-in-the-Hole-revolver. This Legends airgun is different from all others because it does not attempt to copy the firearm exactly. It takes the kind of license you would expect from a person who wanted to customize his sidearm. To appreciate today’s report we’re gonna need to know some history of the Colt single action.
History of the Colt Single Action Army (SAA) revolver
The SAA came into being in 1873, two years after the expiration of S&W’s patent on revolver cylinders that were bored though, front to back. Colt started by modifying their 1860 Army cap and ball revolver to become the Colt 1871/72 open top cartridge revolver, but in late 1872 they began producing what would become the most famous revolver of all time, the 1873 Single Action Army.
The 1873 was initially offered to the military with a 7-1/2-inch barrel. Later Colt offered the revolver with a 5-1/2-inch barrel and a 4-3/4-inch barrel. Those three are the official lengths of Colt SAA barrels.
You all know the story, but did you know there is some truth to it? There are Buntline Specials that were made before 1900. Their barrels range from 12 inches to 18 inches, and several are cut for attaching shoulder stocks. In the days when these were made most manufacturers would deliver a custom barrel length for a customer’s special order.
The so-called “Sheriff’s model” SAA had a 3-inch barrel that was too short for the extractor housing to be installed. It’s a hideout gun — a friend for when things go south. It was never an officially cataloged Colt model, but Colt did produce a few — along with many gunsmiths. A regular SAA frame has a loop on the right side for the extractor housing. That was either ground off or the frame was made without the loop for the very few guns that were made by the factory. Again, it was never a cataloged item, but Colt did make some.
The Shopkeepers’s model
Now we come to the gun were are about to talk about today — the Shopkeeper’s model. Again it was never a cataloged Colt model, but there are enough of them that it has gained quasi-official status. Certainly they are being produced today. While you will read differing opinions about this one, most agree the barrel was between 3-1/2 and 4 inches long. Many say it was extractorless, but some say it can have an extractor.
Ace in the Hole
The Umarex Ace in the Hole revolver has a 3-1/2-inch barrel and a cartridge extractor, which would make it the Shopkeeper’s model. Colt never cataloged this when the SAA was in its first generation, but they did in the following generations.
But the differences don’t end there. The Ace is fitted with what can only be described as a fanning hammer. It’s taller than an SAA hammer spur and has a rounded knob at the tip. That’s to keep from digging into your hand during fanning. I know about fanner Colts, because back in the late ’60s I was a gunfighter at Frontier Village — a Western Amusement park in San Jose, California. I had a first generation Colt Bisley modified into a fanner and it had the same tall hammer spur.
I spend a bundle of money modifying a genuine steel Colt to be a fanner, and even then it was hard on the gun. DO NOT fan the Ace, unless you want to buy another one. The impact of the rapidly spinning cylinder hitting the bolt and stopping suddenly will enlarge the bolt hole in the frame of the gun — ruining it. It also ruins the bolt notches in the cylinder. My Bisley went that way and it had a steel frame! Remember that the Dukes of Hazard ruined nearly one General Lee car a week, jumping the way they did. It may look cool but it ruins iron!
The Ace copies a Hollywood gun carried by Sylvester Stallone in the movie series, The Expendables”. It’s a pure Hollywood fantasy gun, though real trick shooter, the late Bob Munden could draw, fire and hit two different targets in less than two one-hundredths of a second, using the fanning method!
I wish the Ace hammer had the Colt profile, because as tall as this one is, it’s that much harder to shoot with one hand. And one hand is the way single actions are meant to be shot! A genuine gunfighter’s SAA would have a hammer that was lowered, not raised. No real gunfighter (that survived a fight) ever fanned his gun, but several notable ones did have lowered “slip hammers”. These can substitute for the trigger, and the trigger is removed from the gun. Fanning or slipping is then the only way the gun can operate. You don’t really fan a slip gun. You thumb the hammer down until it slips out and fires the gun.
Removable front sight
The Ace’s front sight is a black plastic part held on by 6 legs that clamp onto the smooth barrel. The owner’s manual only mentions it but does not tell you why it’s removable or how to remove and replace it.
Gunfighters would sometimes file down their front sight so it wouldn’t snag as the gun was being drawn. It isn’t really much of a problem and this modification is more of a gimmick than a help, but it is historically correct. So, when you want to look really bad, rotate the front sight to the left (while holding the gun in your shooting hand) and it will come off easily. There are three grooves on the barrel that don’t go all the way through to the bore. In the movie pro gun these slots are supposed to be cuts to keep the recoil down. The front sight fits into these grooves. My gun came with two extra front sights, which I believe are for when the plastic legs break. I would just leave the sight alone.
The Ace comes with a weathered finish. This is very realistic and appropriate for an SAA that’s carried and used. I would have ordered it even if other finishes were available, which they aren’t.
The Ace is a pellet pistol that shoots from individual “cartridges”. Load up to 6 pellets — one in the base of each cartridge — and you’re ready to go. The box say the velocity is 340 f.p.s., which I assume is with light lead pellets. We will find out for sure in Part 2. Yes, the pellet barrel is rifled.
The grips are sized for the 1860 Colt Army revolver, and, as such, are about a half-inch longer than genuine single action grips. That was necessary to make the room to house the 12-gram CO2 cartridge. The grips feel smooth, tight and very good in the hand. The left panel comes away from the grip frame for installing CO2, and it has a built-in Allen wrench to tighten the piercing screw.
Each grip panel has an embossed escutcheon with an attractive silver Ace medallion. They fit tight on the test gun with no movement, yet the left grip pries off easily for CO2 cartridge exchange.
The Ace’s .177 pellet barrel is shrouded by metal, making the gun almost as heavy (1 lb. 15-3/8 oz.) as the firearm it copies (2 lbs. 2 oz.). Couple the weight with the longer grip and the revolver feels big in the hand.
Like all the Umarex SAAs, the Ace has a sliding safety in front of the triggerguard. When the gun is on Safe, the trigger cannot be cocked or lowered. The safety on the test gun is defective. I can’t take it off with my fingers. I have to pry it off with a screwdriver. I have owned several Umarex SAAs and this is the first one I’ve seen with a defective safety.
The Ace is a different air pistol. I can’t wait to test it. It does, however, beg the question of where the 4-3./4-inch barrel is.