If you’re not completely new to the world of handguns and you’ve seen at least a couple of western movies, I’m sure you’ve already heard of single-action revolvers before. Apart from wild horses, vaqueros, sheriff stars and longhorns, single action revolvers are one of the most popular symbols of the Wild West times, which is the reason why they are sometimes referred to as Old West revolvers. It's generally agreed that the most popular SAO revolver is the Colt Single Action Army. But what are the best single-action revolvers? And how should you carry them? Well, let's find out.
Single Action Revolvers - the background
Although single action revolvers look very classy, they are quite large and difficult to conceal, which is one of the reasons why they have slightly faded in popularity, at least when it comes to everyday concealed carry. The CCW laws of today are much stricter than those of the Old West, so you can't walk into any bar looking like John Wayne just like that anymore. But if you think they have fallen out of use completely, you’re terribly mistaken. These guns are timeless and they still enjoy a special place in the hearts and firearm collections of every real gunslinger. Moreover, SAO revolvers are a big hit at every single CAS (cowboy action shooting) competition and there are plenty of modern day cowboys who carry a single-action revolver on a daily basis.
And they definitely deserve the spotlight. So, without further ado, let’s have a look at how single-action revolvers work, what (dis)advantages they come with, and, most importantly, what the best single-action revolvers are. As a cherry on the top, I’ll also show you the very best cowboy holsters, which are designed specifically for the most iconic six shooters.
What is the difference between a single and double action revolver?
Before we get to the most popular six shooters, let’s have a look at the main difference between single and double action revolvers. Simply put, a single-action trigger performs just a single action, dropping the hammer, which fires the round and a double-action trigger performs two actions in one trigger pull - cocking the hammer and then releasing it.
To give you a more elaborate answer, a single action revolver operates like this. The revolver’s hammer is cocked manually, which can be done either with the thumb of the firing or supporting hand. Consequently, the revolver’s cylinder advances to the next round, locking the cylinder in place and aligning the chamber with the barrel. When the pistol’s trigger is pulled, the hammer is released, which fires the round in the chamber. If you want to fire again, you have to cock the hammer manually (unlike double-action guns). And that’s exactly what “single-action” stands for, the trigger only performs a single action, that of releasing the hammer.
popular single action calibers
The very first Colt Single Action Army prototypes (commonly known as the Peacemaker) were chambered in the .44 S&W American cartridge. However, the initial tests proclaimed the pistol superior to any other, which meant a stronger, .45 Colt caliber cartridge would be required when the six-shooter entered mass production. Ever since then, the Colt SAA in more than 30 different calibers as well as various barrel lengths.
When it comes to the most common single-action revolvers of today, most of them rely on the use of the .22 LR (Long Rifle) and .45 Colt cartridges. But you’ll also find plenty chambered in the .357 Magnum or .38 Special. And if you’re lucky, you’ll also stumble upon the much less common .44 WCF (.44-40 Winchester) and the odd .44 Special.
Western stand-off - TOP 5 single action revolvers
Now that you're a bit more familiar with single-action revolvers, let's have a look at the list of the most popular ones. Our list will mainly contain revolvers carried by the most (in)famous Wild West gunslingers, but there'll also be enough room for more modern designs.
#1 - Colt 1873 Single Action Army
This is undeniably the most iconic revolver ever producer, by Samuel Colt himself. You might know it under a couple of other names too - SAA, Model P, Peacemaker and M1873. This six-shooter was introduced back in 1873, but two more generations have been released since (in 1956 and 1976). Looking back to the old days, this pistol was carried by the infamous Tom "Black Jack" Ketchum and it can be spotted in a vast number of western books and movies. It comes in many barrel lengths, the most frequent being 7.5 inches. The revolver also comes in many different calibers, the most notable being the .45 Colt cartridge.
#2 - Ruger Vaquero
Although the second six-shooter looks like it was first fired in the Wild West, it was actually introduced in 1993 by Sturm, Ruger & Co.. Design-wise, it comes in blued steel, case color, or gloss-stainless finish and it is available with wood, hard rubber, ivory, or black micarta grips. It became extremely popular thanks to Cowboy Action Shooting competitions. The Ruger Vaquero is available in a number of barrel length's, the most popular being 5.5 and 7.5 inches. When it comes to the caliber, most models are chambered in .45 Colt or .44 Magnum.
#3 - Uberti cattleman
The third epic-looking single action on our list was developed by A. Uberti, Srl., an Italian gun manufacturer, and it was introduced quite recently, in 2002. However, the revolver's looks certainly don't give away its your age as it's pretty much a Colt SAA clone. This six-shooter resembles the iconic Old West revolver in both appearance and functionality. Most frequently, the Cattleman is available in a 5.5 inch barrel length and chambered in the .44-40 Winchester cartridge. In the states, it's distributed mainly by Uberti USA.
#4 - Taylor's 1875 Army Outlaw
The next popular single-action revolver was introduced by Taylor's & Company and it's a copy of the very famous Remington 1875. Back in the Old West times, the Remington 1875 was one of the few guns that could compete with the power of the Colt SAA. The pistol is considerably sturdier and heavier than Colts, but also extremely reliable. The 1875 model was made popular mainly by Frank James, who became an outlaw after the Civil-war. The Taylor's edition of the 1875 comes with a 5.5 and 7.5 inch barrel and it's most frequently chambered in the .45 Colt caliber.
#5 - Smith & Wesson Model 3 - Schofield
The Smith & Wesson Model 3 is a single-action, the top-break revolver. From 1870 to 1915, it was produced by Smith & Wesson, but due to its popularity, both S&W and Uberti introduced a reproduction of this exceptional handgun. Quite many versions of the S&W 3 have been produced since 1870, the most notable being the Schofield model. The original S&W Model 3 came with 7 inch barrel, but a 5'' version became available later on. Caliber-wise, this six-shooter was originally available in the .44 S&W American and .44 Russian cartridge, but it was later produced in the .45 Schofield (S&W) caliber as well.
Best cowboy holsters + other gear
It's not only the classic six-shooter that a proper cowboy needs. A solid cowboy holster is of equal (if not greater) importance. Not only does it make for a huge part of the real western look, but it's meant to keep your single-action classic always at the ready. Let's first have a look at the best available cowboy holster for your single-action revolver and then I'll show you how to complete your cowboy outfit with other western gear.
This custom leather holster is a must have if you want to look like a real cowboy. It's the best cowboy holsters for single-action revolvers on our offer. it comes in a unique basket-weave finish and it's a great match with any western gun belt. The western holster will deliver a glove-like fit when paired up with any of the magnificent six-shooters on our list, up to 6.5'' long barrel. With a bit of practice, it delivers unbelievably quick draw and easy reholstering. You'll never lose any stand-off or cowboy action shooting competition if you get this holster.
Leather speedloader pouch
A speed loader pouch is another must for all the cowboys out there. No matter if you carry your six-shooter on a daily basis or only take it to cowboy action shooting competitions, I'm sure you'll find the extra ammo very useful. The pouch features a closed-top design, which increases its safety. it takes in a speedloader of up to 6 rounds, chambered in .38 Special or .357 Magnum caliber. If you'd like to see more of our speedloader options, click here.
Western gun belt w/ ammo holders
Any lover of single-action revolvers needs a gun belt. It's got that Old West look and anyone who wants to look like a real cowboy should get one. The belt comes with a set of cartridge holders in the central belt area. The ammo loops are made of elastic material, taking in cartridges of various sizes. The belt also features a massive, yet very elegant brass buckle. The gun belt will perfectly accommodate your holster and allow you to carry your gun with great stability. Pick your new six-shooter, get a western holster, and finish of your cowboy look with this unique western gun belt.
It's true that we are living in an age of semi-automatic pistols and the need for deep concealed carry has never been greater. This doesn't mean, however, that we should completely abandon single-action revolvers. These guns have such a long history and they still have plenty to offer. They are a hit of any Cowboy Action Shooting competition and their firepower and accuracy can hardly be matched by any double-action revolver or pistol. The list above includes the 5 most popular, best looking, and, most importantly, powerful single-action revolvers currently available in the market. If you pick any of these western revolvers, combine it with our cowboy holster and the rest of western gear on our offer, you'll achieve a real cowboy look that even John Wayne himself would envy you.