It was cold enough to see my breath as I trudged up the old logging road that served as my guide through the Sierra Nevada forest that cold, clear morning many years ago. As I paused to catch my breath, I heard the unmistakable sound of hooves meeting hard ground from around the bend and knew that whatever was making that noise was coming my way. I backed off the trail to wait, and soon a big, bald-faced, chestnut mare and rider came into view. The cowboy paused to chat and informed me he was looking for strays from his free-ranging herd. Although obviously not deer hunting, he nonetheless was packing a flat-sided lever gun in a scabbard that rode under his right leg. “Can you shoot off that horse?” I asked. “Once,” he said, with a slight grin.
A great many of the gun games we play today have either morphed from or into a new but similar shooting sport. Some years back a group of frustrated southern California IPSC shooters decided to shoot their next match with Cowboy guns and from that Cowboy Action Shooting was born. As time passed, spin-offs of that sport appeared and then one day someone said “I’d sure like to try that off my horse,” leading to what would eventually be called Cowboy Mounted Shooting. Like all gun competition, the demands of each sport dictate early on what works best with respect to firearms and related equipment. Such is the case for Cowboy Mounted Shooting where single-actions have become shorter, slicker and easier to manipulate with one hand. One of the latest iterations to the single-action field can trace its origin to this new popular game, and Cimarron calls theirs the “Thunderstorm.”
Based on a Model P-frame size, the Thunderstorm offered by Cimarron Firearms is made for them by two different well-known Italian gun makers—Uberti and Pietta. The one sent me for review was from Pietta. Available in two different barrel lengths—4.75-inch and a shorter, handy 3.5-inch-barreled model—either can be had with a standard Model P grip frame or with a Thunderer grip profile, which is a grip shape first mated to the Model P’s mainframe by Cimarron’s Mike Harvey back in 1990. This is essentially a slightly enlarged birdshead design that was first seen on the Model 1877 Lightning and Thunderer revolver, Colt’s first foray into the double-action wheelgun market. One often wonders why no one thought of this combination sooner, for it makes for a truly handsome and comfortable-shooting firearm. The firearm sent me for review had the Thunderer grip.
Available fabricated from both stainless steel with a polished finish that resembles nickel plate or in chrome moly that’s been blued and color-cased—the one I reviewed was the stainless model. The metal prep and polishing on this pistol was really well done. All areas were equally well polished to a bright sheen with all seams well mated and profiles well maintained. Screw holes remained round and showed no signs of the wallowing that is often present on poorly or overly polished pieces. I was happy to find that the majority of proof marks and other stampings often found on import firearms were cleverly concealed beneath the ejector rod assembly on this pistol so as to not detract from its overall appearance. Besides its caliber designation, serial number and Cimarron Firearms identifier, there is little else visible on this pistol to detract from its uncluttered exterior. Nice touch.
One of the features of this revolver that differentiates it from other Model P-framed revolvers in the Cimarron line—and was a feature especially requested by the Mounted Shooting crowd—was the checkering on its grips. Fashioned from nicely figured walnut, the grip on my review pistol was of one-piece design and fit the straps on this piece quite well. I found the checkering pattern on this Pietta especially attractive and reminiscent of the fleur patterns found on early Colt revolvers. Pietta calls this their “Diamond Point” checkering and I could find nothing with its execution to complain about. Not only is this an attractive addition to this revolver but it adds greatly to its gripability and retention—a good thing when one’s riding a 1,200-pound mustang at a full gallop.
The other feature of this pistol unique to its model is its hammer profile. By nature of the game, Cowboy Mounted Shooting pretty much dictates that one’s pistol be fired one-handed, a feat made much easier by a properly profiled hammer. Those that routinely shoot one-handed learned long ago that a hammer with a lower profiled spur was much easier to reach with the thumb of the shooting hand than one with a higher, more conventionally shaped spur. The Bisley-shaped hammer offered on the Colt SAA as early as 1894 bore this out, as target shooters back then found that the reshaped Bisley hammer enabled the shooter to cock their revolvers (one-handed, of course) with much less disturbance to their grip on the gun. The final shape of the Thunderstorm’s hammer was the result of the testing of several different hammer profiles by world-class Mounted Shooter and 2009 CMSA overall World Champion Kenda Lenseigne, a Cimarron-sponsored shooter. This hammer has a special low, wide spur that is hand-knurled for better thumb purchase. Although I liked the looks of the checkering pattern on this hammer, I think it could have been even a little coarser than it was (at least on my example, anyway) to afford better purchase for the cocking thumb.
The sights on the Thunderstorm are conventional single-action in style, but the front blade is wide and square (not polished to an indistinguishable blob) and is coupled with a wide, square, deep rear notch for faster target acquisition.
The cylinder sports a nice beveled front edge like that found on early Colt Single Actions, which should make it easy on holsters. The front edge of the ejector rod assembly also sports a nice bevel, also reminiscent of early guns, removing another sharp edge that is hard on leather.
The ejector rod assembly on this abbreviated single-action has been appropriately shortened to match barrel’s length and, because so, shortens the ejector stroke to the extent that fired cases are only partially extracted from the cylinder. This presented no problems during later range sessions, as fired cases either fell from their respective chambers when the revolver’s muzzle was elevated or flew from the cylinder when the ejector rod was activated smartly.
To meet import requirements, the Thunderstorm comes with an extra long base pin that acts as a hammer-block safety when positioned at its most inward setting. When positioned in its second notch the revolver functions normally, but those unfamiliar with seeing a base pin sticking this far out in front of the receiver might think it was unseated and moving forward during recoil. It’s not. As it turns out, this little bit of extra protruding base pin is actually helpful when dismounting this short-barreled single-action’s cylinder, giving one just a little bit extra to get a hold of.
The action on the Thunderstorm was relatively smooth right from its box. Cimarron uses light, proprietary springs first developed for their Evil Roy series of pistols in the Thunderstorm, shipped to Italy beforehand for install by Pietta and Uberti during manufacture. This results in a light-feeling, easy-to-cock action. The timing on my sample pistol was spot-on, with the bolt dropping into place properly in each bolt-stop approach, and the gun locked up tightly on all cylinders as its hammer reached full cock. There was minimal cylinder play present and the barrel/cylinder gap measured 0.0065 inches, which is about as wide as I’d like it, but probably perfect for shooting black powder or black-powder blanks. The barrel on the Thunderstorm slugged at 0.452 inches and each chamber throat measured right at 0.4525 inches, a combination that should prove accurate with cast bullets of the appropriate size.
My RCBS Premium Trigger Pull Gauge said that the Thunderstorm released its hammer with just slightly less than two pounds of pressure, a poundage I’d normally like on my own Cowboy competition guns. I normally compete in CAS-type games with a pair of custom 50th Anniversary Rugers whose triggers have been reworked to release at about two pounds, but those hammers fall without a whole lot of trigger movement beforehand. The Thunderstorm exhibited considerable creep before release, which doesn’t contribute anything toward accurate shooting whether it would be with bullets or blanks. I would think a slightly heavier pull, without the presence of creep, would be a good setup for Mounted Cowboy Shooting – an easy fix for this pistol by a good single-action gunsmith.
Since I didn’t have any black powder blanks or a horse to shoot from, for that matter, I took the Thunderstorm out to my favorite range for some bull’s-eye work with examples of several commercial .45 Colt and .45 Schofield loadings I had on hand. From Black Hills I had their 250-grain RNFP .45 Colt load and their 230-grain RNFP .45 Schofield offering. From Winchester their .45 Colt Cowboy loading of a 250-grain LFP bullet and a more upscale carry round featuring their 225-grain Silvertip bullet.
From Hornady, a 250-grain lead-bulleted Cowboy load and from Federal a high-stepping lead, semi-wadcutter hollow point. Lastly, I had some Speer loadings of their Gold Dot Hollow Point bullet weighing 250 grains.
With targets placed 20 yards out, I fired a series of 5-shot groups off a sandbagged rest with my PACT chrono screens superimposed at about five yards in front of the Thunderstorm’s muzzle. When all the shooting was done, I was somewhat surprised to find that the Thunderstorm liked the shorter-cased .45 Schofield loading from Black Hills the best, with the average of several groups fired with it coming in at well under 2 inches. It also favored the semi-wadcuttered, hollow-pointed, carry-type round from Federal, with velocities averaging 783 feet per second (fps) from the Pietta’s short tube and groups forming at just over two inches in size. Elevation-wise, the Thunderstorm was close to point-of-aim with most of the heavier bulleted loads, but it tended to print everything put through it just slightly left of hold—nothing unusual for a fixed-sighted gun. A slight barrel turn would correct that once a chosen load was established. The Thunderstorm functioned perfectly throughout this outing, with fired cases either falling unaided from each chamber during unloading or needing just a slight nudge from the ejector rod.
Because I really don’t see Mounted Cowboy Shooting in my future, I looked at the Thunderstorm (for me anyway) as more of a hill-packing piece, or maybe even a concealed carry pistol if the mood moved me.
For concealed carry of a single-action I really like the Model PS6SA high-ride holster from Mernickle Holsters. Comprised of two pieces, its back half (I’ll call it its backplate) is formed from a laminate of two pieces of high-grade, vegetable-tanned leather into which belt slots have been cut, either two for a strong-side-only holster or three for both strong-side and crossdraw carry. This backplate is approximately 5 inches wide and contoured such to provide stabilization and support to the gun and holster. Onto this backplate is sewn the front half of the pouch, also formed from a laminate of high-grade leather that is molded to the exact contours of the piece it was built to carry. This results in a holster that provides a maximum amount of security made from a minimal amount of material. It’s designed to ride high on the belt and close in to the body, yet it allows for easy weapon access and a full-firing grip. The top of the pouch is rolled out to provide for easy reholstering and its front is cut low for quick barrel clearance.
Due to its stiff construction and wet-molding to the piece it carries, the Pietta Thunderstorm snapped in and out of the pouch with authority, requiring no separate retention device for security. Worn on a properly constructed gun belt, the PS6SA makes for a comfortable carry. And speaking of proper gun belts, the PS6SA can be ordered from Mernickle as a set that includes a matching belt and cartridge slide.
Several years ago I had El Paso Saddlery build me a custom 1920 Tom Threepersons rig to fit a special pistol I was having built. I paired their 1920 holster with one of their “Texas” 2¼-inch wide cartridge belts with 15 loops sewn centered in the back. What made this rig even more unique was that the holster and belt were made of “roughout” leather with billets, cartridge loops and safety strap fashioned smooth side out in oiled leather. This two-toned, two-textured combo was the perfect complement to my new custom pistol so I decided to have El Paso build one of their 1920 holsters, this time cut for crossdraw, made out of similar material to fit the Thunderstorm. Lined in pigskin rolled over at the top of the pouch and sewn in place to prevent separation from use and cut, like Cherokee Lawman Tom Threepersons wanted it, with an exposed triggerguard for fast and unobstructed access to a full-firing grip, the Threepersons Crossdraw holster is a well-constructed rendition of an early 20th century lawman’s design. Offered with either a hammer thong or button safety strap for security, I chose the safety strap for extra security and retention since I envisioned this as a hill-bumming holster. This time El Paso built the pouch smooth side out dyed brown and fashioned the safety strap with rough side out—a nice touch. Quality of material and workmanship was, as I’ve come to expect from El Paso Saddlery, absolutely first-rate with all edges properly burnished and all stitching straight, uniform and tight.
Although designed primarily with the Mounted Cowboy crowd in mind, the Thunderstorm could easily do duty also as a main SASS pistol, hill-packin’ companion, concealed carry piece, home defender or weekend plinker. It’s quick to deploy and easy to operate one-handed and quite cute, to boot.