The Colt Model 1873 Single Action Army, also known as the Peacemaker, and its myriad of modern-day clones, is the most enduring handgun design anywhere. It is the gun that helped “win the West” and made “all men equal.” Now in its 142nd year of existence, an original Colt SAA—or even a currently manufactured Colt SAA—is still a highly sought after handgun by enthusiasts who enjoy of this timeless combat firearm.
However, it’s not often you’ll see the new-production Colts in a gun shop, and when you do, their prices range anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 or more. Once a working gun for working people, Colt SAA revolvers are now the purview of collectors and are too valuable to see the service that they were originally designed for. Fortunately, due in large part to the continuing popularity of classic Western dramas still being shown on cable and satellite TV, and of course the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS), there are a large number of Colt SAA clones available, including those made by Ruger. These replicas of the SAA allow enthusiasts to own a mostly historically accurate (or at least functionally similar) handgun at an affordable price and actually use it for many of the tasks that the original Colt was designed for. The Bounty Hunter from European American Armory (EAA) Corporation is one of those replicas.
While Italy has been the leader in supplying replica Western arms, they are not the only source. Weihrauch of Germany makes the Bounty Hunter revolvers for EAA, and together they have done a pretty fine job of providing the market with good-quality, affordable clones that are just begging to be taken out and shot.
EAA sent me a blued, 4½-inch-barreled, .357 Mag Bounty Hunter to evaluate. Other models are available in .44 Mag and .45 Colt, and the company also offers versions in .22 LR and .22 WMR built on the same full-sized frame. Depending on caliber, barrels are available in 4½-, 4¾-, 6¾- and 7½-inch lengths. While my test revolver had all blued steel, EAA also offers Bounty Hunters with blued barrels and color-casehardened frames as well as those with a bright nickel finish.
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The blued Bounty Hunter is well executed. It features traditional fixed sights, oil-finished walnut grips and, important for modern users, a transfer bar safety system. The transfer bar system prevents a round from being discharged unless the trigger is held to the rear as the hammer strikes the transfer bar. This means that the Bounty Hunter, unlike original Colt SAAs or certain clones, can be safely carried with the cylinder loaded with six rounds. There is no need to keep an empty round under the hammer. There is a “resting notch” position that the hammer must be drawn back to when loading and unloading. It allows the cylinder to rotate to the proper position for loading or ejecting. When in this position, the cylinder charge holes rotate to a position in the center of the charging gate recess.
To carry the Bounty Hunter, I used an El Paso Saddlery Crosshair open-top concealment belt holster. The Crosshair features a tension screw for adjusting the fit and retention as well as 1½-inch belt slots, which work well with heavy-lined trouser belts. The holster’s flat-back construction helps hold the bulk of the gun away from the body. Hand boning, part of the retention system, assures the gun fits properly. Available in plain black or russet, with floral, basket, border or fishtale stamping as additional options, the Crosshair carried the Bounty Hunter comfortably and in a position that allows easy concealment under a jacket or coat.
Firing revealed a positive and properly timed cylinder lockup, with no evidence of cylinder drag etching a line in the bluing. When cocked, the cylinder locks up tightly, with little perceptible wobble.
I picked two representative loads in .357 Mag and .38 Special from Federal American Eagle. Both loads are capped with 158-grain bullets, the original weight used in both calibers, and it’s the weight most likely to shoot closest to the point of aim. The .38 Special used the original-style lead round-nose (LRN) bullet. The .357 Mag load was topped with a more modern 158-grain jacketed-soft-point (JSP) flat-nose bullet.
If you have never handled an SAA-type revolver, I think you are in for a nice surprise. While SAAs are slow to load and unload by modern double-action revolver standards, and certainly by semi-auto pistol standards, there is still some fight left in the old girl. The Bounty Hunter’s weight of 43.2 ounces, combined with its “plow-handle” Colt-style grip, allows the gun to roll gently upward with recoil, all the while staying under control.
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I started out by shooting the .38 Special load first. Rated at 770 fps, my chronograph showed the actual velocity from the 4½-inch barrel running between 734 and 748 fps. At the top end, this yields 196 fpe at the muzzle—still powerful enough for self-defense (yes, I know the round-nose slug is less than ideal). There was no recoil. It was like shooting a .22, but with more noise. The rounds easily stayed on target even when shooting rapidly. At 30 feet, my groups averaged close to 1.5 inches, centered slightly low and to the left of the point of aim. All rounds ejected easily or simply fell clear when the gun was held directly vertical.
I then moved up to the .357 Mag rounds. Federal’s ballistics tables rate this load as having a velocity of 1,240 fps. This time the tables were a bit short of the velocities shown on my chronograph, which ranged from 1,245 fps to 1,257 fps and yielded 554 fpe at the top end. While the muzzle rise was noticeable along with the muzzle blast, the natural roll and gun weight kept the experience from being painful at all. With the .357 Mag load, I was able to produce a 2.5-inch average group size at 30 feet. Again, this group was slightly low and to the left of the point of aim. While I knew I was shooting a round generating almost three times the energy of the 158-grain .38 Special, it just didn’t feel like it, and the Bounty Hunter was still reasonably controllable. The testing caused me to think.
It’s too bad for the frontiersmen of the 1870s that smokeless powder and modern metallurgy skills didn’t allow the .357 Mag to be available in those days. What a great combo that cartridge would have been back then. Flatter shooting with more kinetic energy than other pistol rounds available in the day, it would have given folks in the Old West extended range and power when facing large, angry animals or large, angry men. It’s nice that today’s “frontiersmen” and shooting enthusiasts can take advantage of this combo today by matching up a handgun like the EAA Bounty Hunter and a great lever-action carbine like the Henry Big Boy .357. If the .357 doesn’t provide enough oomph for you, especially if you live in some place like Alaska, where those large, angry animals also tend to be hungry, then bump up to the .44 Magnum version if you wish, and consider nickel plating for protection against the weather. (One tip about nickel plating: It is a great finish when done properly, with much more eye appeal than stainless steel, and provides excellent rust resistance. Do not, however, let a nickel-finished gun soak for a long period in Hoppe’s No. 9 or a similar solvent. Hoppe’s can peel the finish away after long-term exposure. You can use it; just wipe it off the nickel surfaces when done.)
Any downsides to the EAA Bounty Hunter? Yes, there are a few that are relatively minor. The first is the issue with the sights. All SAA-type revolvers are prone to this issue. If I were to keep this piece, I would either find a competent gunsmith to bend the sight slightly to fix the windage issue or simply use “Kentucky windage” and hold the gun slightly to the right of the point of aim. There are three fixes for elevation. The easiest fix is to find a load whose velocity matches up with the sights and stick with that particular round for important uses. Or you can have the gunsmith file the front sight down a bit, or apply “Kentucky elevation” and hold the sights a bit high. In any event, the sights were only slightly off. Shots fired without Kentucky assistance would likely still be effective.
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The only other issues are cosmetic. With an MSRP of $480, the Bounty Hunter is inexpensive but not exactly cheap. For that price, I felt that the walnut grips could match up better with the frame. There were portions that stood proud above the frame near the base of the grip. Other cosmetic issues deal with informative markings on the gun itself. German law may require these marks, but they still slightly affect the overall appearance. The cylinder has the markings “.357 Mag” and “Weihrauch” stamped in, which detracts from the nice bluing on the cylinder. The barrel also contains the “Ruger warning” about reading the instruction manual first in a font that could be smaller. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s noticeable. Also, there is some mismatching of the blue color between the triggerguard and grip frame (which is made from a non-ferrous alloy), and the steel of the rest of the frame, barrel and cylinder.
Even with these minor issues, the Bounty Hunter is a good buy for those looking for a Colt clone to actually shoot and wear outdoors. It is a fun shooter to take to the range, and it has enough solid utility to wear around the ranch or in the backwoods. If you are looking for a single action like that, take a look at the EAA Bounty Hunter line.
For more information, visit http://www.eaacorp.com or call 321-639-4842.
This article originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of GUNS OF THE OLD WEST®, print and digital subscriptions to GUNS OF THE OLD WEST are available here.