Colt SAA Barrel Length?


September 14, 2003, 12:11 PM
What's the more popular length for the CAS crowd, 5.5" or 7.5". Some people have told me the 7.5" barrel length is the least popular while others say it's the 5.5 inchers.

I've been looking to pick up a Colt SAA to shoot occasionally and haven't made up my mind as to barrel length.

All others variables being equal, which ones sell quicker?

What's your favorite barrel length in the Colt SAA?



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September 14, 2003, 12:46 PM
I shoot two stainless Vaqueros in 7-1/2" 44 Mag. Although I like these irons well enough, I'd probably opt for 5-1/2" if I had it all to do over again. The balance of the shorter versions just feels better to me.

Also, I believe I've seen far more 5-1/2" and shorter than 7-1/2", at least in my monthly shoots here in Oklahoma.


J Miller
September 14, 2003, 12:53 PM
Don't know squat about cas shooting, cuz I don't do it. And I cringe every time someone equates single action revolvers with cowboy action shooting.
Not all cowboys carried single actions, and not all of those who carried single actions were cowboys.

Anyway, having owned and shot SA revolvers for almost three decades I prefer either the 7.5" or 4.75" barrels.
The shorter barrels are much handier for carrying, have a good ballance for shooting, and an adequate sight radious.
The longer barrels give you a significant velocity boost, and longer sight radious, and the extra muzzel weight helps to reduce recoil.

I don't like the looks or the feel of the 5.5" barreled guns. Not sure why, except that they are enough longer that they reduce the handiness and not enough longer to do anything for the velocity and sight radious.


Old Fuff
September 14, 2003, 12:55 PM
Probably the most popular length is 4 3/4" (4 5/8" in Ruger's) 7 1/2" is the least seen. Be that as it may, the longer lengths are sometimes easier to hit with, although CAS accuracy requirements are not particularly stiff. I'd say buy which ever one YOU like best

As for historical choice, the long 7 1/2" inch guns predominated untill the 1890's, when shorter lengths became more popular. This can be confirmed by looking at old photographs.

September 14, 2003, 01:05 PM
With all due respect to Mr. Miller's opinion (to which he is entirely entitled), longer barrels giving "a significant velocity boost, and longer sight radious, and the extra muzzel weight helps to reduce recoil" nets virtually no advantage in the CAS venue. Targets are close, velocities are mandatorily regulated to under 1000 fps and the generally light loads don't result in any significant recoil to speak of.

For the record, I agree that there were enough double-action revolvers available prior to 1900 to merit a catagory for inclusion of such. But, the predominant authoritative body in this sport (SASS - Single Action Shooting Society) apparently feels otherwise and that, my friends, is an entirely different can o' worms. :D

What DOES matter, and where I do agree with Mr. Miller, is balance and comfort of the firearm. These are the variables that will matter most in your cowboy action shooting. Pick up several varieties and barrel lengths. Study grip design as well. Above all, find the barrel length and grip size/design that is most comfortable for you.


September 14, 2003, 02:45 PM
Sperbeck's Table of Comparative Ballistics Pistol and Revolver Cartridges

Back when they only had 2 loadings for 45 Colt (250 and 255 gr std vel)

250 gr MV ME
4 1/2 " 820 373
5 1/2 870 421
7 1/2 960 512

255 gr MV ME
4 1/2" 820 381
5 1/2 870 429
7 1/2 960 522

So it looks like it's mostly a power factor back in those days. Also a sighting radius for hunting deer and stuff to eat when "game warden" was a checkers monitor.

For some reason they did not use 4 3/4" for the table.

I don't like the 5 1/2" because none of the "neat" TV cowboys used it. John Wayne used the 4 3/4 and James Arness used the 7 1/2"

Also CAP guns were always the 5 1/2 while REAL guns were longer or shorter.

Mine is a 7 1/2 but I held a 12" back in '59 that just settled in on the target like a magnet.

Gary A
September 14, 2003, 10:17 PM
Some of you more knowledgeable types might correct me, but memory tells me that the 7 1/2 and 5 1/2 inch lengths were the norm until quite late in the 1880's at least. My understanding is that the 7 1/2 was the cavalry length from the Colt factory and the 5 1/2 was the "artillery" model. I don't think the 4 3/4 became common until Colt responded to the frequent special orders for the shorter length by producing a catalogued item in that length. Pretty late in the 19th century, I think. I really like the looks of the short barrels but, honestly, I always, always shoot the longer barrels better. Even the 5 1/2 is noticeably easier for me to hit accurately with.

September 15, 2003, 09:51 AM
IIRC when you ordered your guns from Colt you could specify your barrel length up to 7.5 inches (which was the standard length). More than that and you had to pay extra money per inch (like Ned Buntline reportedly did). Most folks went with the 7.5 inch guns because the longer gun had more oomph and was easier to carry and use from horseback. Plus it was the stock configuration so why change it?

The 4 3/4" guns tended to be townspeople and gunfighter's guns. Bat Masterson reportedly like his barrels the way to speed his Dodge City draw and thats probably why this length is common in CAS. The actual specification was for "the barrel to be even with the ejector housing" IIRC.

I think the 5 1/2" guns are the prettiest, but thats just me.

Johnny Guest
September 15, 2003, 11:50 AM
With all due respect, I believe ALL standard military procurement of the Colt SAA was in the 7-1/2 barrel length right up to the end of the 19th century. This would be understandable, considering the immediate predecessors, the Colt 1860 New Model Army and the 1851 Navy had lengthy barrels. The holsters for the 1860 army could be used for the SAA cartridge gun, and this was no small economic factor. As an aside, there was no specific provision for carrying extra ammunition for the cartridge revolver for many years. Many officers and cavalry troopers were photographed wearing the musket cap box on the field belt, and the local harness makers and saddlers frequently made up leather strips sewn to hang from the saber belt and hold several cartridges.

Anyhow, sometime around the Spanish-American War and the Philippine occupation, the Army brought in a large number of SAAs, had them reconditioned, and the barrels cut to 5-1/2 inch length. I suspicion that this was so they could be holstered in a similar manner to the DA .38 which had recently come into issue. The story of the inadequacy of the .38 in the islands is too familiar to be recounted here. Suffice it to say, guerilla attacks, even in garrison and base camps, were frequent enough that it was desirable for sidearms to be worn more or less constantly, not only for field duty.

Apparently, some of the first of the cut-down SAAs went to field artillery units, and this led to the nickname, "Artillery Revolver."


Jim K
September 17, 2003, 12:00 AM
Hi, guys,

"The 4 3/4" guns tended to be townspeople and gunfighter's guns."

Not sure what category I fall into, never having been in a gunfight, but all my SA's are 4 3/4". I just like that size.


P.S. The only time I thought I was going to be involved in a gunfight, I was carrying a 3" Chiefs Special .38. Turned out I didn't need it.


September 17, 2003, 11:25 AM
Wow Jim you lived in the old west? *insert non-PC age joke here* :)

I think 4 3/4 or 5 1/2 is handier and probably more practical today (unless your hunting). A longer barrel is was probably more practical back then. It gives you more stopping power if you need to put down an animal. It also makes it harder to lose the pistol if you're bouncing around in the saddle.

September 18, 2003, 07:55 AM
My favorite barrel length in .45 colt is 3 1/2" (Sheriff's model). Sometimes called the shopkeeper.
In .357, 4.6"
In .44 mag 5 1/2"
In .22RF, 7 1/2"
I think the 5 1/2" gun balances better than the 7 1/2", and is more popular in my neck of the woods.

Johnny Guest
September 19, 2003, 01:14 PM
Historical Note - -

You’d think that in an era of slow transportation and communications, it would take new firearms developments a while to disperse into the west. The “specialists” who needed efficient tools, including firearms, were fast to recognize improvements. Texas was still a pretty rowdy locale in the mid-1870s, and two very significant advances were adopted as soon as they became available: The Winchester model 1873 and the Colt Model P. It may be that the first SAAs were all the “army” length and this was what was bought. In any case, a ’73 Winchester cost a full month’s wages for a Ranger, and a Peacemaker nearly half as much. Small wonder the 7-1/2 inch barreled Colt became a trademark of Texas lawmen and lawbreakers alike.

Ranger Lieutenant John B. Armstrong went to Florida in 1877 to arrest the fugitive John Wesley Hardin, a preacher's son said to have killed 31 men. At Pensacola Junction, “Armstrong, his long-barreled Colt .45 in hand, boarded the train Hardin and four companions were on, the outlaw shouted "Texas by God!" and drew his own pistol. When it was over, one of Hardin's friends was dead, Hardin had been knocked out cold, and his three surviving friends were staring at Armstrong's pistol. A neat round hole pierced Armstrong's hat, but he was uninjured.”

Hey, you just can’t BUY product identification like that!


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