Colt New Frontier .44 Special

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  • XG8D0829_gowfinal
    Out of production since 1981, for 2011 Colt has reintroduced the New Frontier to its re-emerging handgun line.
    Photo by Lowell Martinson
  • Colt NF 155_gowfinal
    Like its predecessors before it, the reintroduced Colt New Frontier wears target-quality adjustable rear sight and a full-profile front sight blade.
    Photo by William Bell
  • Colt NF 149_gowfinal
    Like its predecessors before it, the reintroduced Colt New Frontier wears target-quality adjustable rear sight and a full-profile front sight blade.
    Photo by William Bell
  • Colt NF 121_gowfinal
    Grips are on the New Frontier are well-fitted walnut with gold Colt medallions.
    Photo by William Bell
  • Colt NF 020_gowfinal
    True to form, the color casehardening on the frame of the New Frontier shows vivid and brilliant colors.
    Photo by William Bell
  • P4870_gowfinal
    First released with a 5½-inch barrel in .44 Special, the longer and shorter barreled versions and different chamberings are slated for the future.
  • 1P4870_gowfinal
    The New Frontier is a classy example of the Single Action Army with the added benefit of adjustable sights.

Gun Details
New for 2011, Colt has reintroduced the New Frontier, and their initial offering will be a .44 Special with a 5.5-inch barrel. This will be followed by a 7½-incher in .45 Colt, then a 4¾- and 5½-inch version in .45 Colt.

Although I’m partial to short-barreled single actions, I must say that the mid-length-barreled .44 Special that Colt sent me for review was one handsome, well-balanced and nicely assembled pistol. What struck me first when I unboxed this new Colt was its brilliantly colored casehardened frame. Famous for their case-coloring, this pistol didn’t disappoint, showing broad patches of blues, reds and grays throughout, which included its loading gate that was so precisely fit to the frame that its seams all but couldn’t be detected when a finger was run across them. Once I got past the coloring on the frame, I took in the remainder of this pistol’s Royal Blue exterior and found the bluing rich, deep and dark (think early Colt Python). I was extremely pleased to find that the edges and serrations on this Colt’s front sight remained square and sharp and were not overly and improperly polished, as was the case on many late Second Generation and most Third Generation Model P’s, be they SAA or New Frontier. I’ve owned several New Frontiers over the years and, of those, only one had a front sight as precise as this one, and it had been—according to its serial number—one of the first 100 New Frontiers ever produced. Proper polishing of this pistol’s exterior extended throughout, with all seams properly mated and all screw holes remaining round.

Whereas earlier New Frontiers wore an adjustable “Accro” rear sight, this latest iteration wears a similar but superior Elliason-type rear sight assembly made for them by Champion Gun Sights. Although both the Accro and Elliason are fully adjustable for windage and elevation, this newer Elliason copy has a finely serrated, full-profile sight blade (think Bo-Mar type) angled slightly backward from top to bottom to help deflect light. Its corners are ever so slightly rounded to eliminate sharp edges, and its square notch is cut wide enough to provide adequate light on either side of the front blade for proper and quick sight acquisition and alignment. Both elevation and windage screws are detented for positive and precise adjustment.

Grips on this New Frontier are fabricated from lightly figured walnut and fit the straps of this piece quite precisely. Each panel wears a gold-colored Colt medallion (earlier guns had silver medallions) and are oil-finished. Although nothing could be faulted with their fit, their finish left a little to be desired, with some sanding and filing marks in evidence. I also noted during late range sessions with this revolver that the leading edge of these grips where they met the frame was a little too proud and could use a slight bevel, as this sharp edge raised havoc with the thumb on my shooting hand during prolonged firing.

Like all unaltered Colt Single Actions, the New Frontier felt more than a little oversprung to me right from its box. I confess, though, that all of my Colt Single Actions have been extensively gunsmithed and either had their springs altered or replaced with lighter ones, so I’m more than a trifle spoiled in this area. Still, the action on this recently produced Colt was crisp and precise and was quite shootable as is. My RCBS Premium trigger-pull gauge measured the New Frontier’s single-action pull right at 3.5 pounds, with just the slightest amount of initial creep present—a nice, quite acceptable trigger for an out-of-the-box Colt. Indexing was spot-on for all six chambers, and lockup was precise and solid, with the locking bolt hitting properly on each bolt-stop approach, leaving the cylinder unmarred after numerous cyclings. A soft slug driven down this .44’s barrel revealed a bore diameter of .430 inches and individual cylinder throats also measured .430 inches, quite a divergence from earlier guns in this chambering.

Although there’s been some variance over the years, earlier .44 Specials from Colt usually had barrels with bore diameters in the neighborhood of .427 or .4275 inches (the same diameter as their .44-40 barrels) paired with cylinders with throats machined in the .432-inch range. A call to Colt’s Marketing Manager Mike Guerra confirmed that Colt had altered their bore and chamber dimensions for their .44 Specials in an attempt to get them to perform better with today’s crop of cast and jacketed bullets. I’m thinking we might see a future tightening of tolerances from Colt in other chamberings, as well.

Like all Single Actions produced by Colt during 2011, this New Frontier features a 175th Anniversary Rollmark on top of its barrel, which reads “Colt’s PT F.A. Mfg Co. Hartford CT U.S.A.—1836 * 175th Anniversary * 2011” that harkens back to the year 1836 when the U.S. Government issued Sam Colt a patent for the world’s first commercially viable revolving firearm.

This new release of New Frontiers is numbered in its own serial number range. The first New Frontier produced in 1961 bore Serial No. 3000NF (a four numeric followed by two alpha series). When re-released in 1978, serial numbers started at 01001NF (a five numeric followed by two alpha series). For this latest run of guns, the NF was moved to the beginning of the serial number followed by five numbers, the first gun bearing Serial No. NF20000.

Range Time

I put the New Frontier on paper at 25 yards with an assortment of .44 Special loadings I had on hand. That included seven commercial offerings, as well as two reloads I had previously assembled for other .44 Specials I own. Bullet weights ran from a light of 180 grains to a hefty for caliber 250 grains. Both all-lead as well as jacketed bullets were tried. This particular pistol seemed partial to the heavy-bulleted Keith SWC load from Black Hills. This was a special loading from Black Hills produced as a companion round for use in the Smith & Wesson Model 21-4 Thunder Ranch revolver built at the urging of Thunder Ranch’s founder, Clint Smith. Although not currently catalogued, it is still an offering available from Black Hills, and from the 5½-inch tube of the New Frontier, bullets were traveling some 741.5 feet per second (fps).

The New Frontier also showed a preference for the nickel-cased, shiny-projectiled Silvertip round from Winchester, producing 2.25-inch groups and velocities approaching 800fps. One of my reloads utilizing a hard cast, semi-wadcutter profiled bullet from the Oregon Trail Bullet Company, propelled by a healthy dose of IMR’s 800X powder, produced the most energy, with velocities averaging 936 fps and five-shot groups forming in the 2.31-inch range.

The New Frontier performed flawlessly during the course of two range outings, with fired cases falling freely from each chamber when its loading gate was opened and muzzle slightly elevated. The heavier bulleted rounds tended to group a mite high from the 25-yard mark even when its rear sight assembly was moved to its lowest setting, indicating the need for a slightly higher front sight blade should one be inclined to use these heavier projectiles. Cartridges using bullet weights in the 180- to 200-grain range hit appropriately to point-of-aim at 75 feet, but to be able to take full advantage of the adjustability of the New Frontier’s rear sight assembly, a slightly taller front sight (at least for this particular pistol, anyway) seems in order.

Final Notes

I applaud Colt in their re-release of this classy target revolver and in their renewed efforts and attention to its finish and detail. The New Frontier has all of the panache of the Single Action Army with the added benefit of being able to be dialed in with a multitude of loadings. It’s legal for use in SASS and can be counted on to perform a multitude of tasks—from plinking to target work to nightstand duty to the hunting of small game—and do it all with the dazzle and showiness of the thoroughbred it is. It’s not cheap, but it is a Colt. I’m sure that these new SAs will be hard to come by, so if you want one (or two) you best get on down to your local gun haunt and get your order in. Find out more by calling 800-962-2658 or visit coltsmfg.com.