By Mike Cumpston, American Handgunner
The traditional Single Action Army Revolver attracts an unusually sophisticated cadre of enthusiasts. The cultural /historical elements are a strong factor and have kept the Cowboy Action Shooting game one of the fastest growing shooting sports, longer than metallic silhouette shooting or even IPSC held the title. Of equal importance is the excellence of a short list of custom pistolsmiths and artisans who have worked with the design. The custom work and restorations done by Hamilton Bowen, Alex Hamilton, Doug Turnbull and Dave Clements are preternaturally fine, and these craftsmen have freely shared the elements contributing to optimum accuracy, function and longevity in this classic revolver.
The result is a goodly proportion of the SAA market can tell immediately if a given “clone” conforms to the structural and cosmetic parameters of the old Colts and quickly determine if the revolver exhibits optimum function and accuracy. The standards separating a Single Action Army made to shoot rather than “made to sell” are pretty tightly drawn, with the lesser quality arms mostly abandoned by the consumer.
With this in mind, we examine a pair of Cimarron/Uberti Model Ps chambered for the .32-20 and .38-40 cartridges. By happy coincidence, we have a selection of first generation, smokeless frame Colts for informal shooting comparison. There is no firm consensus about why or when the .32 and .38 entered the WCF line. The .32-20 seems excessively small for a general game cartridge and the nominal .38-40 is a step down from the original .44 WCF to .40″. Most, but not all sources, date both rounds to 1882 in the Winchester ‘73 and 1884 in the Single Action Army. The availability of reproductions in these Winchester Center Fire calibers stems from the tradition-minded element of the Cowboy Action Shooting game.
Left to Right: Cimarron Model P in .32 WCF, Colt .32 WCF 1918, Colt .38
WCF 1902, Cimarron Model P .38 WCF.
Mike fired overlapping 25-yard groups from the Colt and Cimarron .32-20’s
putting ten rounds into 4.2″. The handling qualities of these two revolvers
are nearly identical as is the sight regulation.
Vintage .38-40’s are noted for the haphazard relation of their cylinder and bore
dimensions. This 1902, in spite of oversized bore, shot reasonably well.
These bore-diameter Lyman flat points were undersized for the Cimarron
.38-40 chamber mouths but provided good off-hand accuracy at 25 yards.
A load of 4.3 Grains of the current Alliant Unique averaged 1,005 fps from the Cimarron .32-20 with the 115-gr. flat point bullet. This should make a very fine small game load. Early .32-20 revolver level factory loads drove a 100 gr. lead bullet at about 1,050 fps from a 6″ revolver barrel. (WHB Smith, Book of Pistols and Revolvers)
The Cimarron revolvers exhibit fine metal and wood to metal fit, even polish and blue, and a color case treatment attractive as many originals. The Italian markings are well hidden. The Cimarron address line and calibers are correctly located on the barrel and the traditional 1871 and 1872 patent dates are left-front on the frame. The frames are of the black powder type, and the U-notch/blade sight pictures are the same as on our original Colts. Front sights are extra tall to allow regulation of elevation, and both of our revolvers are well sighted for windage.
The Model Ps avoid transfer bars or the Rube Goldberg hammer attached safeties of earlier imports by employing a base pin that can be seated deep to block complete hammer fall. The revolvers have “bullseye” ejector rod heads. The overall appearance is entirely compatible with the 19th century guns. In recent years, the finish and metallurgic integrity of Uberti action parts and springs have undergone vast improvement. The most breakage-prone part, even on the best of the commercial and custom single action army type revolvers, is the traditional hand spring. The Cimarron employs a coil, spring/plunger arrangement — clear evidence the revolvers are intended for sustained use.
Straight from the box, both revolvers had deceptively rough actions —deceptive because they smoothed out during the first shooting session. Initial trigger pulls of just over three pounds settled in at about two and a half during the initial break-in. Both revolvers show favorable chamber/bore measurements with the .32 WCF going .313/.311″ and the .38 measuring .404/.400″.
Full cylinder lock-up occurs just as the hammer reaches full cock. The bolt of the .32-20 engages the lead of the cylinder notches while the cam side bolt leg on the .38-40 is a bit short causing the bolt to drop at the back edge of the lead. Both revolvers are free of lateral cylinder play, but the .32-20 cylinder has minor but perceptible end-float. None of these factors detract from basic function or accuracy.
Johnny Bates supplied the .32-20 Colt from 1918 and a selection of .38-40s.
The lower revolver left the factory in 1920.
The Cimarron .38 WCF provided decent “combat accuracy” with black powder loads. Barrel fouling was easily removed and the fouling did not interfere positive functioning in any of the revolvers.
The Cimarron reproductions and the original Colts provide the same sumptuous,
carnal sensation whether firing smokeless or black powder loads. Great fun!
Cimarron 5.5″ revolver with period coins looks right at home.
Next, Shooting the .32-20’s
Johnny Bates has a 1918 vintage Colt with ejector rod length barrel in his collection. The bore is perfect, with chamber/barrel throat measurements of .314/.314″. I filed the front sight of the Cimarron into close register with the Colt and overlapped a 5-shot string from each firing “duelist” at 25 yards. The load was Winchester Western 115-gr. lead flat point. The cluster from the Cimarron went 3.6″ and the Colt, in spite of the oversized chamber/bore dimensions and shorter barrel, came in at an even 3″ giving an aggregate of 4.2″.
My off-hand groups using smokeless loads in both revolvers fall consistently between 3″ and 4″. The sight picture, heft, balance and shooting sensation with these smallbore revolvers are virtually identical. I used RCBS Cowboy Action dies optimized for lead bullet loads and encountered no problems loading 115-gr. Oregon Trail .313″ flat points in Winchester and Starline brass. The 5.5″ Cimarron got higher velocities with smokeless loads while the Colt produced consistently greater speed with the black powder loading. From the Cimarron, my Swiss FFFg load group went 4.6″ from a clean bore, with the next group through the fouled barrel expanding to an even 6.0″.
The Cimarron .32-20 should make a very useful small game shooter. With that in mind, I installed a round wire trigger bolt spring from Wolff, reducing the trigger pull to a pound and a half. Cylinder lock-up remains firm and trigger reset is positive. My “duelist” groups shrank to a bit under 3″. This was with my favored load of 4.3 Unique and the Oregon Trail flat point. Sitting on the ground with my back rested and using my knees for a rest, I was able to keep five of these in 3.6″ at 50 yards. Eight 5-shot bench groups at 25 yards produced a best group of 1.4″ and none exceeded 2″.
Johnny Bates, caught up with the single action mystique, put on his
Elmer Keith Hat. It’s all part of the fun of shooting single actions.
This Old Colt was producing 10″ spreads until Bates cut an 11-degree forcing cone and fiddled with the b/c alignment. This 1920 vintage Colt has a badly pitted bore but unusually good cylinder throat and barrel measurements.
The Cimarron .32-20 produced “duelist” groups ranging from 2.7″ to 4″
and a best 25 yard bench group of 1.4″. The load is 4.3 Unique with
a 115 gr. Oregon Trail flat point.”
The Cimarron .38 WCF from the bench at 25 yards. The load is 7 grs.
Of Unique with the 173-gr. Lyman flat point.
Generation one single action Colts in .38 WCF are noted for the random nature of their cylinder/bore measurements. The 1920 revolver went .400/.400″ but had a deeply pitted bore. Despite the favorable measurements, this revolver shot patterns rather than groups until Bates applied an 11-degree forcing cone and did something with the bolt to improve alignment. He then shot a best group of 2.75″ from the bench.
The 1902 chamber mouths went .400″ with a groove-to-grove barrel diameter of about .405″. It was otherwise, tight and well timed and had a reasonably good bore. Contrary to expectations, given the unhappy measurements, it shot very well. Duelist groups were in the 5″ range.
The Cimarron Model P shot a bit better. Off-hand clusters went 3.8″ and a best bench group of 2″. Bates was able to get 34 grains of Goex and Swiss FFFg into the solid head cases with about 1/8″ compression. The Goex and Swiss loads produced duelist groups of 4.8″ and 4.9″ respectively. Bates had tumble-lubed the bullets and put a small amount of bore butter over the chambered rounds. That the fouling in the .40 caliber bores remained soft was probably more a function of the prevailing humidity than the bore butter.
Oddly enough, the vintage Colt shot low and left with smokeless loads and low right with black powder. The Cimarron shot everything to the same zero. The nominal .401″ bullets dropped from the Lyman #40143 mould at an even .400″ and were undersized for the chambers of both the 1902 Colt and the Cimarron. Even so, the on-target results are comparable to what I generally get with most center fire semi-autos and revolvers with barrels shorter than 7 ½”.
Variations on the Model P include the full spectrum of barrel lengths ranging from short store keeper models to 12″ Buntlines. Finishes include stainless steel, standard blue and color-case, fire blue and case treatment and the “Original” finish with a patina of age. Any of the Model Ps can receive the “Frontier Sixshooter” treatment that includes true bone/charcoal casehardening of frame and hammer.
Photos By Mike Cumpston and Johnn Bates