Colt Single Action Army BB gun: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Colt Single Action Army BB revolver
The new Colt Single Action Army BB revolver is gorgeous!

Colt Single Action Army BB revolver box
They even got the box right!

This report covers:

• Here it is
• Very realistic!
• Cartridge-fed
• Action is authentic
• Things that differ
• Overall — a good job!

Here it is
This is the surprise I wanted to show you last Friday. I was asked to hold off, but then the decision was made to let me run the blog today. The Colt Single Action Army BB revolver is here — or will be pretty soon. This is the airgun I’ve been waiting for since Wulf Pflaumer, one of the owners of Umarex, first told me about the impending arrival of the Walther Lever Action rifle. I was at his sister’s home in Maryland when he told me about the soon-to-arrive lever-action rifle. I was already a huge fan of several of his action pistols, so we had a great discussion about realistic airguns.

When he asked me what gun I thought would be most well-received next, I answered the Colt SAA. Ever since the departure of the Crosman Single Action Six in the 1970s, airgunners haven’t had a hog leg to shoot, and the recent popularity of cowboy action shooting made this gun a cinch. See the Single Action Six here.

It has taken 15 more years to realize this dream, but it’s finally here. And what a gun it is! Umarex USA sent me the artillery model (5-1/2-inch barrel), which is blued. Mine has synthetic ivory grips that are perfectly colored. And please understand that when I say, “mine,” that is exactly what I mean. No one is getting this gun from me!

For those wanting more bling, a nickeled version of the gun will also be available. Of course, Colt fanciers will tell you that the range of models will potentially be quite broad. There should also be a cavalry model (7-1/2-inch barrel) a 4-3/4 inch barreled gunfighter’s model and a Shopkeeper’s gun that lacks the ejector housing and has a 3-inch barrel. And let us not forget the famous Buntline Special with its 12-inch barrel!

And, when all is said and done, there should also be some guns that have an aged finish similar to the 1911s they put out in 2014. Most first generation SAAs look like that today, anyway.

It doesn’t have to stop there. Can the Bisley model be far behind? Or the flattop, with its adjustable target sights? Will there be a black powder frame that has a cylinder pin screw instead of a spring-loaded cross pin? Given just the three finishes and 5 standard barrel lengths of the version that’s before me now, that’s 15 models, plus however many variations of the flattop and Bisley they care to make.

Very realistic!
This is a highly realistic copy of Colt’s SAA, and I ought to know. I was a stunt gunfighter at Frontier Village amusement park in San Jose, California, in the 1960s and ’70s and handled Colt SAAs every day. This 33-oz. CO2 revolver balances exactly like a .45 Colt with the same barrel length. The finish is all blue, which is correct for a first-generation gun. I owned a 1903 Colt SAA that came from the factory with a blued frame. The color case-hardened frame is better known and seen more often today — but this one is also true to the prototype firearm.

The CO2 cartridge fits inside the grip, and for years it was the thing that troubled engineers the most. Crosman had put theirs under the barrel of the SA-6 where it was somewhat hidden but also not true to the lines of the prototype firearm. The grip was the only place to put it. A headless Allen screw is used to push the CO2 cartridge into the piercing pin; and, when the cartridge is installed, the screw is invisible! This small detail will make a huge difference to those wanting faithfulness in the copy.

Colt Single Action Army BB revolver grip
The CO2 cartridge fits inside a regulation Colt SAA grip. I knew you would want to see this. Notice the Allen screw is below and flush with the bottom of the grip.

Colt Single Action Army BB revolver bottom
Here’s a view of the screw from the bottom of the gun. When the cartridge is installed, this screw goes below flush with the grip bottom.

Colt Single Action Army BB revolver hammer
The hammer even has a vestigial firing pin.

This is a BB revolver, and each BB is held inside a realistic cartridge that’s similar in size to a loaded .357 Magnum cartridge. But there’s a twist. This brass cartridge accepts the BB in its hollow base rather than in a plastic simulated bullet. That’s where a primer would normally go. I will show you this in detail in Part 2.

Another thing I’ll do in Part 2 is show how to load the cartridges into the cylinder, for this revolver is an authentic single-action. I can see some folks getting a rude lesson in revolver operation when they’re confronted by a design that accepts rounds only one at a time. No speedloaders here! There’s a procedure to loading a single-action and I’ll show it. Yes, additional cartridges will be available

While the revolver does have an authentic and working spring-loaded extractor rod and housing, it shouldn’t ever be necessary to use it. Since there’s no internal pressure to speak of, the brass cartridge case never swells and extraction is as simple as pointing the muzzle straight up while the cylinder’s turned. The cases drop out on their own.

Action is authentic
The action of this revolver is old-school authentic. The hammer controls everything, and the functional loading gate is just there to enclose the right rear of the cylinder. None of this “New Model Ruger” silliness where the loading gate controls the action. However, instead of the 4 clicks of the hammer (there are really 5 in a revolver that’s timed correctly) this one has two that each sound like a double. Ca-clunk — ca-clunk! Colt owners may fret.

Also the cylinder doesn’t spin freely on its axis like the firearm. It feels like the hand bears on it with a lot of spring pressure, so advancing the cylinder takes some effort.

Things that differ
As realistic as this gun is, there are several other things a Colt owner will notice right away. The first is the hammer. It never sits down flush to the frame. The offset seen in the first picture, which looks like the hammer is back on the safety notch is as low as the hammer ever gets. When the gun fires it does go down all the way, but it rebounds to this position after the shot.

This revolver has a safety! It’s hard to see, but on the bottom of the grip frame, just in front of the triggerguard there’s a sliding safety catch that shows a red dot when the safety is off and a white dot when it’s on. Agatha Christie would be so proud!

Colt Single Action Army BB revolver safety
It’s difficult to see, but the Colt SAA BB revolver does have a working safety!

The front sight is lower than the front sight on a firearm. It looks like a sight that someone has regulated for their personal shooting.

Finally, the cylinder base pin doesn’t remove from the gun. The spring-loaded base pin catch is just for show — it doesn’t move. And, really, there’s no need to remove the cylinder, so I don’t find this to be a shortcoming.

Overall — a good job!
I think single-action fans are going to like this BB revolver. The hammer cocks even easier than a tuned SAA firearm, so quick-draw can be practiced. The gun spins just like the firearm, and the 4-3/4-inch gunfighter model was always the best for that.

I foresee the creation of a BB-gun component to cowboy action shooting, where more money is spent today than in IPSC. This revolver will be perfect for that, and we already have the Walther Lever Action rifle to go with it. Maybe a youth component? Or one you can do at home?

Umarex USA sales manager Justin Biddle expects this gun to hit the retail market in February. Let’s hope it does.

Colt Single Action Army BB revolver left
Colt SAA BB revolver.

The art of collecting airguns – Part 6

by B.B. Pelletier

Happy New Year!

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

This report is being written to satisfy a promise to blog reader Kevin. Last Thursday, I took my new Ballard for its first shoot at the range. The experience parallels shooting a brand new pellet gun, so I think there’s something to be learned from my experience.

My Marlin Ballard turned out to be a special order factory-made rifle.

A very good friend gifted me the authoritative book on Ballard rifles by John Dutcher of Denver. Mr. Dutcher looked at the photos of my rifle and said that he thought it was a special order factory-made gun. I’d thought it was a Union Hill No. 9 rifle with some custom touches, but he knew that the rifle was more likely made purposely as a special order. John Lower of Denver had ordered many such rifles in the 1880s, because buying them in volume got him a better price.

I called Mr. Dutcher and had a long conversation with him. He convinced me to take the rifle apart to view all the serial numbers because he thought the buttstock would probably not be the same as the rest of the rifle. He thought that it was most likely a restock by Marlin, or at the very least a restock by a Marlin stockmaker. The job is just too good to be from an outside stockmaker.

TAKE THE GUN APART! I was scared — like an apprentice gem cutter about to cut his first valuable diamond. What if I slipped with the screwdriver and buggered a screw slot?

Well, according to Mr. Dutcher’s book, all the screws on a Ballard are both handmade and flame hardened. They don’t bugger easily. Let me tell you what handmade means. It means that even after 120 years on the gun, each screw comes out of its hole as if it has been oiled. There are no burrs on any of the threads. The gun came apart like opening a safe from the 1890s.

Under the forearm, the serial number is on the barrel.

The frame serial number is the only one that can be seen with the rifle assembled.

Ballard rifles even serial-numbered the wood. This is the forearm that rests against the receiver.

The Ballard is unique in that it has a two-piece breechblock — split vertically. Each block half is serial-numbered.

There are no numbers on the butt, where there should be. Dutcher was right! The rifle has been restocked.

It took guts to do this, but the rifle was easy to disassemble.

The buttstock was tight on the tailpiece of the receiver, even after the stock bolt was removed, it took several hundred pounds of force to ease the buttstock back off the tailpiece. That quality stock-fitting isn’t seen anymore! To get the butt back on, the stock bolt had to be helped by judicious tapping with the heel of the hand.

On to shooting: What’s the load?
Right off the bat, I discovered that Winchester had changed the specification of the .38-55 cartridge that Ballard invented. They shortened the case by over a tenth of an inch. I’m thinking the length of their 1894 rifle frame made that necessary. Until 1896 or so, Ballard was the only .38-55 on the market.

Unfortunately, all I was able to obtain were the shorter cartridges. They work just fine, but they’re not the perfect fit in the Ballard chamber. My good friend Mac cast some 255-grain Ballard bullets that came from the mold at 0.381 inches. I still don’t know the Ballard’s bore size, but these bullets are overbore for sure. I finger-lubed then with SPG, a well-known black powder bullet lubricant. By finger-lubing, I mean that I applied the grease to the bullet with my finger and made no attempt to get all the grease grooves perfect. The bullets were loaded and shot as-cast.

I searched for the lowest-pressure smokeless powder loads because I didn’t want to fight the mess of black powder or one of the modern equivalents. I settled on Hodgdon 4198, which has been a wonderful black powder substitute for me. The lowest load I could find was 18 grains, so I backed that off to 16 grains and loaded up 40 rounds. Standard Russian large rifle primers finished the load. They’re very reliable and cost half what American primers cost.

On the range
The day was blustery, with a 12 o’clock wind blowing from 25-35 mph. It wasn’t a day to shoot groups with anything. I shot off my MTM rifle bench and rested the rifle in an MTM Predator rifle rest.

Despite the wind and a new unproven load, the Ballard rifle showed its pedigree.

It took three rounds to sight in at 100 yards. Then, I shot the first group of five from this rifle. Five rounds sailed through a group measuring 1.947 inches center-to-center. That was with peep sights in a windstorm with an untried load! The bull I selected was far too large for 100-yard work. It was almost as large as my front aperture post. I put up a smaller bull, made a slight adjustment to the rear sight and shot a second group that measured 1.879 inches c-t-c. This rifle can shoot! By the way, I out-shot a .219 Donaldson Wasp and an 8mm Mauser, both of which were scoped! They were fighting the wind even more than I was. (Instead of shooting 10 shots per target, I did only 5 because it was my first time out with the rifle.)

The very first 100-yard group from the Ballard after 3 sighters. This rifle wants to shoot.

The second Ballard group was at a smaller, more well-defined target. It’s smaller than the first. Three rounds are in a tight hole in the center.

On to the pistol range
I also brought out some of my .45 Colt revolvers for a tryout on the range. I was on the 15-yard range and found that I couldn’t hold the gun one-handed the way I prefer. However, in a two-handed rested hold, the beautiful Colt SAA I was given by some blog readers last summer proved it can shoot.

Isn’t she a beauty?

She can shoot, too. I just need to get back into the swing of shooting handguns.

I had a wonderful time at the range. It was the first time in many months that I’d shot firearms. It was a lot like shooting a new pellet rifle and looking for that ideal pellet. But, with these guns, there were the added complexities of finding the right loads, too.