Stag horn was often seen on knife handles, but few, if any, 19th century cowboys ever had stag grips on their revolvers. Wood was most common; ivory and mother of pearl were favored by professionals— ivory because it was porous and less prone to slip in the hand (especially with rough checkering), while mother of pearl was more for dressing up an engraved gun and was offered by just about ever major gun-maker in the 19th century.
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So how did stag grips become popular?
Mostly because of movies; stag was distinctive and set a star’s gun apart from the rest. Real stag was used at first, but by the time we were watching Matt Dillon outdraw a gunman every week in the opening sequence of Gunsmoke, or Bat Masterson swing into action with his nickel-plated, stag-gripped Colt, the material of choice was a synthetic (molded plastic) sold under the name Franzite. It looked like real stag on camera, was rugged enough and, if damaged or broken in a scene, was easily replaced with another cheap pair of Franzite grips.
Today, real Franzite grips are expensive, if you can find originals (see the Hollywood’s Guns, Hats & Holsters feature in this issue to see an original pair of Franzite grips). Real stag is equally expensive and hard to work with for fitting, though skilled grip fitters can do it easily. The look is pure movie Western and very 1950s, but stag, real or imitation, will do what it has always done: really dress up a six-shooter!
There are various styles of imitation stag horn for knives and pistol grips alike, and for the latter, Brownells offers excellent Single Action Army stag-like grips for just $40 (you can order by item number 100-005-016WB).
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Brownells also has imitation stag to fit Ruger Vaquero and Bisley models, too. Depending upon your Colt or other make of Single Action Army revolver, the switch from wood to stag only takes a few minutes, but be sure to check with Brownells when ordering, as the grips can be under sized for some reproduction single actions and third-generation Colts.
To try out these grips, I added them to a Colt Sheriff’s Model that originally came with factory walnut grips and was later fitted to hand-carved ivory with the Colt medallion. Now the Brownells stag grips have given the Colt a 1950s makeover. For more, visit brownells.com.
This article originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of GUNS OF THE OLD WEST, print and digital subscriptions to GUNS OF THE OLD WEST are available here.