Army Armament R45

As the title says, this is a review of the Army Armament R45 airsoft pistol. I found this pistol when browsing a European supplier’s website and I immediately had two questions; who are Army Armament and what the Hell is an R45?

A bit of research soon answered the second question; this is an unlicensed replica of the Detonics Combat Master pistol and it appears to be a close copy of the Tokyo Marui Detonics 45. I still haven’t been able to answer the second question. I believe that Army Armament is a Chinese company and that they produce only airsoft replicas, many of which appear to be based on TM designs. There is an Army Armament FaceBook page, but it says nothing at all about the company, its history or even where it is based.

I’m not sure why so many Chinese Airsoft manufacturers are so coy about giving company information, but this does seem to be a common thing. Some research suggest varied experiences with replicas from this manufacturer. Some people seem perfectly happy, others complain about poor quality and reliability. And that seems like a good reason for a review. The Army Armament R45 is certainly very cheap, but is it any good? Let’s take a look…

Real steel background

The Detonics Combat Master began as an attempt to design a pistol small enough for concealed carry but capable of chambering the powerful 45 ACP cartridge. 1911 enthusiast and engineer Patrick Yates bought three cheap 1911 pistols from a pawn shop in the early 1970s and hacked them around to create a prototype of a much smaller version of that pistol.

Although it looked a lot like a scaled-down 1911, the Combat Master is actually quite different in design. The most obvious visual change is that rather odd-looking, sloped slide with the rear sight set just to the rear of the trigger. It may look a little strange, but this was done for a sound reason – the 1911 is single action only so, depending on how you carry it, you may need to cock the hammer before firing. The sloped slide makes it very easy to run your thumb down the back of the slide until it hits the hammer. The redesigned slide here just makes it much easier to cock the hammer quickly.

Detonics Combat Master

There are other changes too. The grip-safety has been removed as has the barrel-bushing – the barrel is cone-shaped so it always locks in the same position when it’s in-battery. Inside, there are multiple recoil springs, placed one inside the other and the hammer can be de-cocked to a half-cock position for safe carry. From the outside, this may just look like a smaller 1911, but it’s actually a thoughtful re-design – only the slide stop, manual safety, magazine release, trigger, sear and disconnector are identical to those on the 1911.

Sales of what became the Detonics Combat Master began in the late 1970s. The original Detonics company went out of business but the rights to manufacture the Combat Master passed first to New Detonics (in 1986) and then to Detonics Defense (in 2007). When it first appeared, this was a popular handgun as one of the few compact pistols chambered for the .45 ACP round. However, the appearance of baby Glocks and other large-caliber compact pistols in the 1990s led to a decline in sales and, as far as I know, this is no longer manufactured. The Detonics Combat Master was featured in the television show Miami Vice in the 1980s when it was used by lead character Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) as a back-up pistol. 

Sonny Crockett with Detonics Combat Master

The Army Armament R45

The Army Armament R45 is an airsoft, Green Gas-powered blow-back replica of the Detonics Combat Master. It finished mainly in black with a chrome trigger, hammer and polished metal outer barrel and brown plastic grips. This is a mainly metal replica including the magazine (only the grips and some internal parts are plastic) and it weighs-in at a convincing 700g. The outer barrel is threaded. This replica has no markings whatever. All controls function as per the original


Calibre: 6mm

Magazine capacity: 15 BBs

Propellant: Green Gas

Barrel length: 75mm (2.95″)

Weight: 700g (1.54lbs)

Overall length: 175mm (6.89″)

Sights: Notch and post, non-adjustable.

Packaging and presentation (2.5/5)

The Army Armament R45 looks slightly lost in a card box that is obviously sized for the larger AA R31, a 1911 replica. All you get in the box is the pistol, a single magazine and a slim user manual written entirely in Chinese.

Visual accuracy 7/10

This is a good visual replica of the Detonics Combat master pistol. It is finished in black with brown, plastic, wood-effect grips. The size, proportions and the location of all controls precisely match the original and things like the strange curved shape of the ejection port are accurately replicated. The outer barrel is polished metal, matching the look of the original and the hammer and trigger are chromed, something that can be seen on many Detonics pistols.

There are no markings here. None. Not even something identifying this as an airsoft pistol and nothing to show the Army Armament logo.  

Overall, other than the lack of markings, this is a good visual replica of the Detonics Combat Master.

Functional accuracy 14/15

The slide and magazine releases and the manual safety work here as they do on the original and the slide locks back when the last BB is fired. If you pull the trigger and gently lower the hammer, it falls to a half-cock position, just as on the original.

Disassembly is done as on the original – drop the magazine, move the slide back until the cut-out is level with the rear of the slide release and then push the release out to the left. The slide can then be removed.

To remove the barrel assembly, compress and remove the recoil spring assembly and remove it from the slide. The barrel assembly can then be removed from the front of the slide. The outer barrel replicates the odd cone-shape of the original and there has even been an attempt to replicate the double recoil spring on the original – this has two springs, one inside the other.

Overall, this is a good functional replica of the original.

Problems with the R45

Before I get to the usual stuff about shooting, I first need to talk about problems with my R45. Within less than fifty shots, it started misbehaving. With each shot, there was a puff of gas out of the lower rear of the slide and the muzzle. Power dropped noticeably and the slide wasn’t moving far enough to the rear to push a fresh BB into the hop-up. If I manually racked the slide, the pistol would shoot, but a full magazine would allow only around four shots before it was empty. It was clear that I had a leak or a feed problem somewhere, but precisely where?

An examination of the magazine revealed no obvious leaks or broken parts and taking off the slide and looking at the loading nozzle also showed no signs of damage. Next, I removed the loading nozzle and blowback unit from the slide – fortunately a simple matter of removing the small hex screw key that holds the rear sight in place and a larger hex screw on the rear of the slide.

With everything disassembled, there were no obvious problems – I suspected a crack in the loading nozzle, but there don’t seem to be any issue there. Which is, of course both good and bad – it’s good to find nothing damaged, but then I don’t know why it isn’t cycling properly. I lubricated everything thoroughly and put it all back together and seemed to be working as it should – it shot with a notably sharper “crack,” there was no apparent loss of gas and the slide cycled correctly and locked back on empty.

Around twenty shots later, the same problem reoccurred. A puff of gas onto my hand as I shoot, a subdued “phfft” rather than a crack and I only got around seven or eight shots before it ran out of gas. This is not impressive. I disassembled again. I checked the magazine, feed system, blowback unit and loading nozzle carefully and again, I can find nothing wrong. I soaked the main firing valve, the fill valve and the transfer lip with silicone oil and left them overnight. I then reassembled and it worked perfectly. No leaking gas, good power and thirty or more shots per fill. Two hundred or so shots later, it is still working correctly    

Shooting 35/45

Almost all my shooting with this replica was done after the problems noted above were addressed. Before you shoot the R45, you’ll need to fill it with gas. I was happy to note that this happens completely without any loss of gas, something I rarely see in most other airsoft replicas. Then, you have to load BBs. To do this, you must hold the follower down while you add BBs through the wider part of the opening in the front of the magazine. You can squeeze in up to fifteen BBs.

The magazine latches positively and to prepare for shooting, all you need to do is rack the slide. Just as on the original, the manual safety can only be applied when the hammer is fully cocked, though you can drop the hammer to a half-cock position. Pulling the trigger has no effect with the hammer in this position and it must be fully re-cocked to fire. It may be worth noting that the sloped rear slide really works – your thumb naturally follows the top of the slide before it meets the hammer and this is much easier than cocking a 1911 replica.

The sights are simple and rather small, just like the originals, and they lack white dots or any other from of aiming aid. Neither sight is adjustable – the rear sight is retained in position by a small hex-head screw, but loosening this does not allow any adjustment of the sight. Hop-up adjustment is done via a toothed wheel under the barrel (arrowed below) and the slide must be removed to access this.

The trigger is very light and with virtually no take-up. When it’s working correctly the R45 shoots with a sharp crack that isn’t especially loud though the fairly hefty metal slide does give good recoil effect. The short grip allows space for just two fingers and there is no pinky-rest extension for the magazine.   

Power is reasonable. I ran six shots from the R45 over my chrony using 0.2g BBs. The results were;







Nothing startling here, but perfectly respectable for an airsoft replica with a barrel that’s under three inches long. The slim magazine does not hold a great deal of gas. I found that I couldn’t shoot much more than two full magazines (30 shots) from a single fill without power dropping noticeably.

Ten shots, freestanding, six metres, 0.25g BBs.

Accuracy is fair for a replica with such a short barrel with groups generally around 1.5 – 2 inches. Mine shoots a little to the right but using 0.25g BBs and adjusting the hop-up means it’s spot-on for elevation.  

When it’s working, this is a pleasant replica to shoot. Blowback is fairly strong and accuracy is good enough for satisfactory target shooting at six metres.

Quality and reliability 10/15

Overall, I am conflicted about this replica. It managed relatively few shots out of the box before I started having problems. It now seems to be working correctly but, given that I didn’t actually find anything wrong and fix it, I’m concerned that it may happen again. Set against those issues, the finish looks fine and the R45 isn’t showing any other signs of distress or wear. It was noticeably dry out of the box, but I lubricated it before I began shooting.

This makes an interesting contrast with another compact airsoft replica I reviewed recently, the Tokyo Marui Glock 26. The TM replica is around three times the price of this one, but it works flawlessly and it shoots very nicely indeed. If you are short of funds, it may be worth taking a chance on the R45. But, if you can afford it, the TM Glock 26 provides a much better (and totally reliable) shooting experience.

Overall Impression 7/10

I really like the fact that this is a hefty replica. At over one and a half pounds in weight, this feels pleasingly heavy for such a small pistol. Despite the problems I had, it generally appears to be well-made and finished and it’s nice to see a replica of a relatively little-known pistol. In many ways, I really like the R45, but I’m not convinced about its long-term reliability and, for me, there is nothing worse than a replica that won’t shoot reliably.  


At first glance, this seems like something of a bargain. It’s less than one-third the cost of, for example, a TM replica and well under half the price of, for example, a WE Tech replica. Despite that, it doesn’t feel particularly cheap. In fact, it feels well-made and hefty and the finish seems reasonable. However, I had problems with shooting mine almost from the start. I’m fairly experienced in terms of working on airsoft replicas, and I just couldn’t work out what was wrong with this one.  

It now seems to be working perfectly but these problems mean that I have concerns about its long-term reliability. This is my only experience with an Army Armament replica so I certainly can’t say that the same problem is likely to affect other replicas by this manufacturer or even other R45s. What I can say is that my slightly disappointing experience with the R45 means that I won’t be rushing to buy anything else made by Army Armament.

There are good things about this replica, and you may be lucky to get one that works well. However, on the basis of my experience, I would be cautious about recommending the R45 despite its low price.

Total score: 75.5/100

Pros and cons



Seems fairly well-made and finished

Good weight

Good visual and functional replica


Reliability issues

Not a particularly accurate or powerful shooter

Related posts

Tokyo Marui Glock 26

Umarex Colt Single Action Army revolver


It has been a long wait for a replica of the iconic Colt Single Action Army revolver which not only looks right but is also a capable shooter. No surprise then that when Umarex launched a replica of the Colt SAA in 2015 there was a great deal of interest from both replica collectors and shooters. Was it worth the wait? Pistol Place contributor Adrian gives us the lowdown…

Real Steel Background

A detailed description of the history and development of the Colt Single Action Army revolver has been written by Steve and may be found in the Classic Guns section (a link to which is provided at the end of this review).

Arguably one of the most famous pistols of all time, the Colt Single Action Army — also known as the “Peacemaker” or simply “Colt .45” — was first adopted by the United States Army in 1873. Along with the Smith & Wesson Model 3 “Schofield” it was to replace another pistol made by Samuel Colt, the Model 1860 percussion revolver.

Various models were produced in what would become known as the “First Generation” of these pistols (1873 – 1941) including the “Cavalry” model with a 7 ½ inch barrel, the “Bisley” with a 5 ½ inch barrel and the “Civilian” or “Gunfighter” with a 4 ½ inch barrel. The CO2 replica presented here is the 1873 “Artillery” model, also with a 5 ½ inch barrel, but distinguished from the Bisley in that the latter featured a wider trigger and hammer spur and different shape grips.


The Umarex Artillery Model

An interesting point is that whilst all true “Single Action Army” or “SAA” revolvers were chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge, a “Colt Frontier” model was also produced chambered in .44-40 Winchester making it compatible with another famous gun introduced in 1873, the Winchester lever-action rifle (source: Wikipedia and World Guns).


Packaging and Presentation 3.5/5


The pistol is presented in a sturdy and rather attractive cardboard box, printed to look like wood, along with the Colt logo, a picture of the gun and basic technical information. On the underside of the box are more detailed specifications given in a tabular format.

The gun is prevented from moving inside the box by a sheet of bubble wrap, comes with six “cartridges” and a detailed manual in English, French, Italian, Polish, German, Spanish, Russian and Turkish. The manual covers safe usage, technical data, operation and basic maintenance. Instructions on how to disassemble the pistol and an exploded diagram are not given.

I opted for the “blued” version and the finish is superb. Both “Nickel” and “Antique” versions are also available, each with different colour grips.


Nickel and Blued — a pair of exceptionally fine pistols! Photo courtesy of John Beattie

Visual Accuracy 9/10

Visual accuracy is excellent, the only real differences being the hammer sits slightly proud when in the rest position, the front post is slightly less prominent and there is a smaller head on the screw below the hammer.


Image above courtesy of


The Umarex replica, CO2


Image courtesy of – please note the lack of a screw to the rear of the base pin on this model and the metallic brown of case-hardened steel

There are also an additional pair of small screws diagonally opposite each other either side of the cylinder and a couple of extra pins, one of which is to hold the dummy firing pin in place. This last item is in fact the same as on the original except that the pin or rivet would not be visible.


Detailed, accurately placed markings are included, although these appear in a more prominent white than would usually be found


The only other real difference on the right-hand side is there is only one pin instead of two between the cylinder and the trigger. A Colt logo, as this is a licensed version, has been included. The calibre is noted along with a pentagon “F” (for the German market) followed by the serial number. This would normally have been located on the underside, just forward of the trigger guard, often with two identical numbers being stamped: one for the grip frame and one for the cylinder frame.


Image courtesy of


Whilst having done my best to do justice to the beautiful finish, you really have to see the pistol for yourself in order to appreciate the various shades of blues, purples and browns which the gun exhibits in the correct light


Similarly, the backstrap exhibits a soft metallic brown colour. The grips, although plastic, have a lacquered walnut appearance and in my opinion look very good indeed


Basking in evening sunshine! Neither the safety switch nor the piercing screw are at all obtrusive; the text on the butt reads “Licensed Trademark of Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC”

Operational and Functional Accuracy 14.5/15

The weight and feel of the gun complement its visual appearance perfectly. With the shells removed there are no extraneous rattles nor movement from any loose parts; it feels solid and realistic in the hand. This is what is known as a “solid-frame” revolver (source: World Guns), as against to the “top-break” mechanism of, for example, the Webleys and “hinged-frame” of Smith & Wesson.

CO2 is loaded by gently easing-off the left-hand side plastic grip panel. The grip is held in place by a metal clip and a small plastic tab, molded as part of the grip at the top, which fits into the frame. At first I thought Umarex had been a bit mean by not including an Allen (Hex) key in order to tighten the CO2, but then noticed the tool for the job very cleverly hidden inside the grip panel. An excellent idea! This key is not only convenient, it is easy to use and you are less likely to overtighten the CO2 capsule which on insertion seals perfectly.


No Allen keys required! The CO2 capsule seats and seals perfectly; the tightening screw is recessed within the grip and not visible when shooting

The technique for loading a “cartridge” is one I have not seen before in that each is loaded by pressing a 4.5mm BB into the base as against to the front of the shell. The shells are made of metal which may well be brass; they certainly look the part!

Identical to the original, the hammer is then moved to half-cock, the loading gate opened and each shell dropped into the cylinder. As with the Nagant M1895 and Webley Service revolvers, the cylinder rotates in a clockwise direction as viewed by the shooter. I usually like to shoot five shells at a time and the proper way to do this is to skip loading the second shell which results in the hammer resting on an empty chamber when it is again lowered after inserting the fifth shell. This was how they were originally advised to be carried as there was no drop-safety fitted in the late nineteenth century.


Photo left – the gate open and the hammer at its first-cock position allowing a cartridge to be inserted; right – full-cock with the locking lug again engaged with the cylinder

In his article “Classic Handguns – The Colt Single Action Army Revolver” Steve notes four “clicks” when operating the hammer. With this replica there are three distinct stages; the first where the indexing lug drops into the frame allowing shells to be inserted, the second where the lug reappears but does not yet quite engage the cylinder and the third where the revolver is now at full-cock with the cylinder having completed its movement and the indexing lug again fully engaged. All in all very realistic indeed!

As mentioned above, the hammer at rest stands slightly proud when compared to the original, and although it is fitted with a “firing pin”, this is in fact purely for show as CO2 is released by the base of the hammer striking a valve which is hidden from view inside the frame. A working ejector rod is provided in the tube running along the right-hand side of the barrel, although this is not actually required on the replica.


Photo left – the ejector rod is fully functioning; right – there is a safety switch fitted to the underside of the frame

Shooting 34/40

My gun has a muzzle energy reduced to below 2 joules for markets within South East Asia including Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand, whereas others (e.g. for Europe and the United States) have up to 3 joules as specified on the box. Whilst mine shoots at a reasonably consistent 325 +/- 5 fps, this is not representative of the muzzle velocity as designed and so I asked Marc, a fellow member of the Umarex Boys Club (UBC), if he would be so kind as to share his observations shot using both Nickel and “Antique” revolvers purchased in the UK and a selection of appropriate 4.5mm BBs.

Barrel length is 5 ½ inches on the Artillery Model, although you could argue that the “effective” barrel length here is in fact 7 inches as the BBs are loaded into the base of the shell.

Marc’s results were as follows:

Antique SAA

Umarex Steel BB’s: (5.4grain)             404.6 fps – 400.6 fps – 398.1 fps

H&N Copper Coated Lead BBs: (7.4grain)         348.7 fps – 347.6 fps – 342.4 fps

Gamo Lead Balls: (8.18grain)             330.1 fps – 326.6 fps – 325.1 fps

Nickel SAA

Umarex Steel BB’s: (5.4grain)             394.1 fps – 391.6 fps – 385.7 fps

H&N Copper Coated Lead BBs: (7.4grain)         344.3 fps – 340.6 fps – 334.6 fps

Gamo Lead Balls: (8.18grain)             318.9 fps – 315.6 fps – 313.1 fps

It was then time for Marc to shoot a few targets, each with the gun semi-rested on a sandbag. Six targets of six shots each were fired from both guns using Umarex Steel and H&N Copper Coated Lead BBs; he chose to discontinue using the Gamo Lead Balls as, although grouping reasonably well, they proved to be the least accurate, shot low and tended to make the barrel dirty. The targets presented below are the best of those shot.


Marc’s Nickel revolver


Then the “Antique


Marc reports that fliers were evident from the Antique version, but not the Nickel; until he swapped the shells and they disappeared altogether!

I have also shot a few targets, this time off-hand, obtaining results similar to those of Marc including the occasional flier. Although I feel Marc’s are more representative of what a good shot should be able to achieve with the full-powered version, I have still included a couple of mine as illustrated below; with one very lucky one indeed, even more so as I did not check to see where the shots were falling – just had to show it!


The “Man in a Fedora” was shot one-handed: five red (most out of character!) followed by the blue (more like it for me, although still very pleased)


My latest to date – a slightly wider spread, shot off-hand using a two-handed stance and Daisy BBs; targets were shot left to right, red then blue, top then bottom with an overall mean of 35/50 for five shots

In the preceding photo, the cartridge which appeared to give the odd flier was put aside after sequence #4 and then used, loading individually each time, for the lowest target (sequences #7 and #8 scoring 41 and 36 respectively). A couple of days previously I had shot a total of six UBC six-yard competition targets each with five shots one-handed and five two-handed, obtaining a mean score of 65/100. POI is about one and half inches above POA.

Based on all these results, I think it is fair to say that one to one and a half inch grouping can be expected — but perhaps not every time — at a range of six yards (5.5m), admittedly with the occasional flier which both Marc and I agree may well be down to the experience of the shooter, not the gun!

Similarly, Marc has reported that more practice has resulted in similar groups to those he shot before, from both guns, but with fewer fliers. He also notes that the sights take a while to get used to, especially the ones on the “antique” version which can be a little more difficult to see in low lighting. He has had up to 90 good shots per capsule of CO2; I have experienced slightly less at around 75 to 80. The pistol is relatively quiet; more so, for example, than my Webley Service Revolver, 6mm CO2.


Marc’s “Antique” Colt .45

I should just like to add that this is an extremely comfortable pistol when shot using one hand as the wide heel of the grip tends to pivot itself into the palm of your hand. Certainly, what cannot be stressed enough is the realism (and fun!) of listening to those three clicks as you draw back on the hammer.


Nickel version fitted snugly within a “Johnny Ringo” holster made by John Beattie; a link to John’s exceptional work is given at the end

Quality and Reliability 14 / 15

First impressions are extremely good and I have every reason to believe this pistol will prove to be durable and reliable, hopefully on a par with my Umarex S&W 586 in the UK which is now over ten years old. The quality and overall finish is remarkable, even though some sort of high quality alloy will have been used instead of the steel of the original. Some wear is noticeable, particularly where the pistol interfaces with the holster, but this only tends to give the gun an even more authentic appearance.

Neither an exploded diagram nor field-stripping instructions are provided, but based on its smooth operation and reassuring heft I think it is fair to say this is a very well made pistol indeed.


Time for a hand of cards… PIPAS perhaps? Information as to PIPAS and other various unique and exciting UBC competitions may be found by following the UBC link below

Overall Impression 15 / 15

As a show piece alone it is quite beautiful, but together with the realistic operation and accuracy it is without doubt a worthy addition to any gun collection. Umarex have certainly done justice to the original in the form of this exceptionally fine replica of a quintessentially American revolver… the legendary “Peacemaker” or “Colt .45”.

Total 90 / 100


At home in its holster, this one made by “The Horse Shoe” leather shop in Northern Thailand

Review by Adrian. Adrian is also a moderator for the Umarex Boys Club Forums.

Related pages:

Classic Handguns: The Colt Single Action Army


Pistol Leather website

Classic Handguns; The Colt Single Action Army Revolver

The Colt Single Action Army is indelibly associated with the romance and adventure of the Wild West.  Sitting through countless cowboy themed television shows and Saturday afternoon matinees in the 1950s and 60s meant that every small boy (and even some discerning small girls) became familiar with the SAA, even if most of us didn’t know what it actually was.  Whether we called it a “Peacemaker”, “Colt 45” or just a “six-shooter”, for a whole generation, the SAA was simply the “cowboy gun”.  It somehow looked right and the evocative and distinctive click, clack, click, clack of the hammer being cocked became a kind of aural shorthand for manliness, excitement and danger.  Sadly, the idea that every cowboy carried a Colt SAA is not historically accurate – S&W top-break revolvers for example, were more numerous on the frontiers of America in the late 1800s.  However, in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, when many cowboy movies and television programmes were being made, Colt SAAs were more readily and cheaply available than most other guns of the frontier period and so were most often used as props. For this reason the Colt SAA will always be the pistol most people associate with the Wild West.


The cast of the Maverick television show demonstrate their Colt SAAs, circa 1957

However, in addition to fuelling adolescent cowboy fantasies, the Colt SAA was also an important handgun.  It may not have been the first revolver or even the first handgun to use a self-contained cartridge but it combined these things in a simple, rugged and enduring design which provided reliable firepower to very large numbers of people.  Few would argue that this handgun, which has remained in production almost continuously for over 140 years, is worthy of the title “classic“.


Who was that masked stranger?  It was Clayton Moore actually, wearing unfeasibly tight trousers and dual-wielding a pair of 7½” Colt SAAs in the 1955 Lone Ranger television show.


Up to the late 1700s and early 1800s, most handguns were single-shot, muzzle loading designs which used sparks from a piece of flint to ignite black powder.  There were multi-barrel pistols, but on most, pulling the trigger fired all the barrels simultaneously.  Reloading was slow and cumbersome and even a light shower of rain could render a pistol incapable of firing.  However, in 1807 a patent was accepted for the percussion cap.  This was a small copper cap filled with percussion sensitive material such as mercury fulminate or potassium chlorate.  If the percussion cap was struck by the hammer of a pistol, it produced a small explosion which was then used to fire the main charge.  Percussion caps were reliable and less prone to failure due to damp than the flint/black powder system.  A number of muzzle loading pistols were produced which used percussion caps, but most were still single-shot designs.

In 1830, a young American, Samuel Colt, was sent to spend some time as a seafarer.  The 16-year-old lad was interested in firearms and pyrotechnics (one of his most prized possessions was his Grandfather’s flintlock pistol).  His ability to produce spectacular explosions and fireworks had made him very popular with his friends at school, until one of his experiments led to a fire which resulted in his expulsion. Looking for a suitable career for his son (and presumably one which would keep him as far as possible away from explosives), Samuel’s father decided that seafaring might provide a safe outlet for his son’s interests and enthusiasm. Samuel joined the small brig Corvo, sailing between the US and Calcutta.  Legend has it that Colt spent time during the voyage examining the ratchet and pawl mechanism used to control the ship’s steering gear and pondering whether a similar mechanism could be used to index multiple barrels in a handgun?  He later claimed that he whittled a prototype pistol with revolving barrels from wood while on the ship to confirm that this was possible.


Colt Paterson revolver

Colt returned to the US in 1832 and began refining his design.  In 1836 he registered a patent for a “revolving gun”.  This incorporated a revolving cylinder (rather than the rotating barrels of his first prototype) and used percussion caps to ignite the powder charge in each chamber of the cylinder.  In 1836 Colt formed the Patent Arms Manufacturing company in Paterson, New Jersey and began manufacture and sale of the five-shot Colt Paterson pistol, which is claimed to be the first practical revolver.  Initially the Colt Paterson was offered in .28″ calibre though it was later upgraded to .36″.  Sadly, it didn’t prove very popular in any calibre.  Each pistol was hand-made, which meant it was expensive compared to other contemporary handguns and it proved to be fragile and unreliable in use.  Colt was forced to sell the company and abandon manufacture of this revolver in 1842.

However, some people saw the possibilities inherent in the concept of a revolver.  Captain Samuel Walker of the Texas Rangers was one of these.  He contacted Colt to discuss ways of improving the Colt Paterson design (one of his suggestions was that a larger projectile would make the pistol capable of killing not just people, but horses too, an important consideration for the Rangers who often found themselves fighting mounted opponents).  In 1846, the Walker Colt appeared.  This massive (it weighed four and a half pounds) six-shot pistol was a clear improvement on the first revolver.  The design of the internal mechanism was simplified to make it more reliable and the new pistol was chambered for a .454″ (11.5mm) bullet. This was still a percussion cap design where black powder, a percussion cap and a bullet had to be separately loaded into each cylinder. When it appeared, the Walker Colt was the most powerful handgun available, and it would remain so until the introduction of the .357 round in the 1930s.  The Walker Colt also used a number of machine-made parts (an innovation in 1846) which meant that parts were more uniform and could safely be interchanged between pistols.  The Walker Colt proved to be much more reliable and its use by the Texas Rangers provided positive publicity.  Commercial success followed and Colt was able to build his own firearms manufacturing plant.


Clint Eastwood as The Outlaw Josey Wales with a pair of Walker Colt revolvers

Colt continued to evolve and refine his designs, supervising the production of a number of percussion cap revolvers up to his death in 1862.  However, another important innovation appeared in the early 1860s: the centre-fire cartridge.  This was a self-contained cartridge where a charge of gunpowder and a bullet were mounted in a brass casing which also incorporated a percussion cap in its base.  The centre-fire cartridge allowed much faster reloading and was virtually impervious to rain and damp.  Unfortunately for the Colt company, Smith & Wesson held the patent for the bored-through revolver cylinders required to use this new cartridge, and Colt wasn’t willing to pay royalties to a competitor.  However, the S&W patent expired in 1869 and the Colt company immediately began work on the design of a new revolver using the .45″ centre-fire cartridge which could be offered to the US Army.

Like all previous Colt revolvers, the new design was single action only but it allowed the loading of up to six centre-fire cartridges via a loading gate on the right side of the frame.  It also incorporated an ejector under the 7½” barrel to remove spent cartridge casings (early cartridge cases were prone to distort on firing, often jamming them in the chamber).  For the first time on a Colt revolver, the SAA included a top-strap on the frame to provide additional strength to deal with the power of the .45″ round (the new pistol was originally to be called the “Colt Strap Pistol“).  Colt entered the new design into the US Army trials in 1873 and it was adopted as the M1873 and used as the main US military sidearm until its replacement in 1891 by a Colt double-action revolver.


7½” Colt SAA from 1875

The Colt Single Action Army revolver also proved massively popular as a civilian weapon.  It was rugged, reliable, easy to repair if it did fail and its machine-made internal parts could be interchanged between weapons.  Best of all, Colt’s hi-tech manufacturing process meant that it was also cheap: the SAA cost just $17 when it was launched on the civilian market.  This compared very favourably to the $40 – $50 asked for the Colt Paterson pistol in 1836, though the US Army paid just $13.50 for each of their first batch of SAAs.

Other versions followed including the Flat-top Target with a decent notch rear sight and the Bisley Target Model with a longer grip, wider hammer and trigger and a rear sight which was adjustable for windage.  However, although these later developments were in many ways more practical, especially as target shooters, none could match the rugged simplicity of the original SAA.


Between 1873 and 1941 (when production of what became known as the “first generation” SAA finally ended) more than 350,000 Colt SAAs were produced in more than thirty different calibres, though .45″ was the most popular.  In addition to the 7½” “Cavalry” version, two other barrel lengths were commonly offered: The 4¾” “Civilian” and the 5½” “Artillery”, though numbers of SAAs with different barrel lengths were also produced including a compact version (known as the Banker, or Storekeeper) with a 4″ barrel and without the under-barrel ejector rod.  A number of finishes were offered including blued and colour case hardened though limited numbers with nickel, gold or silver plating or other unusual finishes were also produced.  Standard grips were either black hard rubber or walnut though other exotic woods, ivory, mother of pearl and staghorn were also used for grips on special models.  The huge interest in the Wild West promoted by movies and television led to Colt re-introducing the SAA in 1956 (the “second generation”).  In 1975 the third generation SAA was introduced, and this version remains in production to the present day.


All versions of the SAA are single action only and all have a delightfully light (around 3lbs) pull and a crisp and consistent release.  When you compare the profile of the SAA to any modern handgun, it looks kind of odd.  The grip has an elegant if rather unusual curve.  Sit it beside almost any modern semi-auto pistol and it just doesn’t look as if it will fit your hand.  And yet it does.  Perfectly.  The SAA will comfortably fit most hand sizes and it’s a natural pointer with great balance.  Hold an SAA, look at the target and you’ll find that the pistol just naturally follows.  Which is lucky, because the sights (especially on first generation models) are rudimentary.  The tall foresight is lined up with a V shaped groove in the top of the frame.  Windage adjustment is done by bending the foresight in the required direction.  Elevation adjustment is done by either filing down the foresight, or squeezing it in a vice to make it taller.  Not that the lack of accurate sights was a major issue – this isn’t a target pistol, it’s a hard-working, blue-collar gun designed to hurl a large bullet in the approximate direction in which it’s pointed.  The SAA is also lefty-friendly.  Because there is no manual safety or cylinder release on the left side of the pistol, it can be used comfortably in either hand.  And the loading gate on the right is especially easy to use for lefties.


But though it may not have provided pinpoint accuracy, if you did hit something with a Colt SAA you were going to do some serious damage.  Those soft, .45″ bullets travelling at over 900fps caused horrific injuries.  Remember all those movies and television shows where the good guy would get shot in the left arm?  And he would either ignore this or perhaps pause briefly while he or his adoring girlfriend tied a handkerchief round the wound before he continued to battle the bad guys?  Well, I’m afraid you can forget about that.  Getting hit in the arm with a round from a Colt SAA might tear the arm off altogether or at least shatter the bone so comprehensively that you’d be left permanently disabled.  If you got hit in the body or chest, you’d be left with a baseball-sized exit wound and very little time to explain that you’d come for the man who shot your Pa.  This gun had stopping power long before that term was invented.


Of course the SAA wasn’t perfect.  The sights were basically useless and accuracy (especially with early cartridges) was poor.  Adequate if you were trying to shoot the hombre with aces up his sleeve on the other side of a poker table, less so if you were trying to hit a man-sized target at anything over 20 feet.  One story, apparently true, describes two cowboys, both armed with Colt SAA’s who got into a heated argument while standing on opposite sides of a double bed. Both emptied their revolvers at each other from a range of a few feet. When the smoke cleared, it became clear that both had missed with all their shots so they went for a drink instead.

Distorted cartridge cases were difficult to remove, even using the ejector rod; you might wonder about that given that cowboys in movies and television shows from the 50s and 60s never had any trouble emptying out their used cartridge cases – this was because the reduced charge used in blank shells didn’t tend to distort the cases.  The SAA had no manual safety and no drop safety, but it was provided with a half-cock position for the trigger, which allowed the gun to be carried safely.  Sort of.  After a number of US Cavalry troopers and civilians shot themselves or their horses while galloping with a half-cocked SAA, it was decided that it was safer to load with just five cartridges and keep an empty cylinder under the hammer.


Jessie James’ Colt SAA

The Colt SAA has become one of the most collectible handguns from the Wild West period.  Very large sums indeed are paid for examples with well-documented provenance.  A Colt SAA with the serial number 1 was sold at auction in 2009 for $862,500 (at the time this was the highest price ever paid for a historic handgun).  Another SAA which belonged to outlaw Jessie James went to auction in 2013 with a starting price of $400,000.  Even first-generation SAAs in only fair condition and with no particular history sell for $3000 – $5000.  So, for many people, replicas are the only way to enjoy the SAA experience without spending a great deal of money.

Colt SAA Replicas


Marushin removable shell 6mm SAA

There have been a number CO2 and gas-powered replicas of the Colt SAA over the years (there have also been several spring powered versions, but really?  Don’t bother!), but none have been ideal both as replicas and as shooters.  Hahn/Crosman produced a range of CO2 powered SAA replicas from the 1950s to the 1980s.  All shot pretty well, but they looked slightly odd due to the CO2 cartridge being located under the barrel.  Tanaka produced a beautiful gas-powered SAA replica using their Cassiopeia system in the early 2000s where compressed gas was stored in the removable shells. Unfortunately, these proved to be unreliable and shot with all the power and authority of a gnat breaking wind.  They were also discontinued fairly quickly due to concerns in Japan that they could be converted to fire real cartridges.  Tanaka responded with a redesigned SAA using their Pegasus system and Marushin have also produced a removable shell SAA replica. These are beautiful-looking replicas, though neither are particularly satisfactory shooters.


Umarex Colt SAA

It wasn’t until 2015 that we finally got a decent Colt SAA replica which was also a reasonable shooter. Umarex released a CO2 powered Colt SAA with removable shells and a 5½” barrel. It’s generally a decent visual replica of the original and is now available in 4.5mm, 6mm and .177” pellet shooting versions and in a range of barrel lengths (though not, strangely, the popular 4¾”). If you want an SAA replica that you can also enjoy shooting, this is currently the only option.


For me, the Colt SAA is one of those replicas which no collection should be without.  Whether you are interested in the history of this iconic handgun or you just want to practice your quick-draw technique, the Colt SAA does it all. It’s surprising and perhaps a little disappointing that there is only one current SAA replica that both looks reasonably like the original and shoots well, but at least we do now have the Umarex Colt SAA. It’s not the perfect replica, but at least it does give those of us who are interested in handguns the opportunity to experience a little of that SAA magic.


Umarex Colt SAA review