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The Colt Frontier Scout

By Justin Bulling
  •   7th Aug, 2020 Aug 7, 2020, 1:18 PM
  •   3 Comments
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Anyone with even a passing interest in firearms would be familiar with the Colt Model 1873 Single Action Army (SAA) Revolver. Developed as Colt’s first solid frame centrefire revolver, it was adopted by the US Army in 1873 along with the .45 Colt cartridge, and remained in service until 1892.

 

From the beginning it also became very popular in the civilian market. It sold well and in October 1874 prominent Cincinnati firearms dealer Benjamin Kittredge & Co. released advertisements for the SAA calling it  “The Peacemaker”, an unofficial nickname that is widely used to this day.

 

The Colt SAA features a solid frame with a single action mechanism and a hammer-mounted firing pin. Loading is done by placing the revolver in half cock to allow the cylinder to spin and opening the loading gate on the right rear of the cylinder. The gate is controlled by a detent spring that retains it open or closed. This exposes one chamber at a time for loading.

 

Extraction of fired cases is also done one chamber at a time using the spring-loaded extractor rod mounted below and to the right of the barrel. The original military issue SAA had a 7 ½” barrel, but multiple barrel lengths have always been available.

 

A steel frame .22LR “Peacemaker” version of the Frontier Scout, the only model to have that name. (Photo courtesy 22 Matt from Rimfire Central Forum.)

 

During its production life the SAA has been chambered in over 30 cartridges. The second most popular during the early days (behind the .45) was .44/40 which allowed owners to use the same cartridges in both their revolvers and their rifles. Revolvers in .44/40 were marked the Frontier Six Shooter.

 

Apart from a short break during World War 1 when Colt was busy with military contracts, the SAA was made continuously until 1941 when once again war production took precedence. When the war ended in 1945 Colt was flush with funds but found that the original tooling for the SAA was worn and obsolete.

 

“Colt’s Frontier Scout also sold well and gained a reputation for accuracy with the barrels made on the same tooling as those of the .357 Magnum Python - known for excellent finish and tight tolerances.”

 

The company began concentrating on producing more modern firearms and announced that SAA manufacture would not be recommenced. There were some protests, but it seemed that like a lot of classic firearms the Peacemaker was no more.

 

The late 1940s saw the introduction of television in the US, and in the 1950s Western programmes like The Lone Ranger, Rawhide, Bonanza and Gunsmoke became immensely popular, as was any remotely western themed retail product.

 

The original 1875 drawing awarding the patent to William Mason, Colt’s chief engineer at the time.

 

In 1953 this demand saw an emerging gun maker, Bill Ruger, introduce the “Single Six” a .22 rimfire single-action revolver roughly patterned on the SAA. In 1955 he introduced the similar but larger Blackhawk centrefire revolver chambered in .357 Magnum initially, and soon after a strengthened version in .44 Magnum was released.

 

Both these new Rugers featured a loading system similar to the Colt, the main difference being adjustable sights and coil springs. About the only mechanical problem likely in the Colt was a broken spring and the coil springs eliminated this problem.

 

The Rugers sold well as did most of the company’s new and innovative firearms, and Colt’s management began taking notice. In 1956 they re-introduced the SAA to compete with the Blackhawk. Now known as second generation guns, they show no substantial differences from the originals.

 

COLT’S RIMFIRES ARRIVE

At the same time Colt also introduced a .22LR version called the Frontier Scout which was approximately 7/8 the scale of a SAA. This first rimfire model featured an aluminium frame and an integral backstrap and trigger guard, along with a steel barrel and cylinder, and black composite grips.

 

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The loading gate and ejector lever were also aluminium. Barrel length was 4 ¾”, but the rear sight was just a fixed groove in the frame like the original.

 

Weight was 24oz (680g) compared to 42oz (1191g) for a 5-1/2” barrel SAA. Capacity was the same six shots as the Peacemaker. Apart from a subtle design change where both trigger and cylinder stop are pivoted on a single pin, the working parts are the same as the original with flat springs throughout.

 

A frame-mounted firing pin replaced the SAA’s hammer mounted pin although shooters were still advised to carry the weapon with an empty chamber under the pin, just like the original. The aluminium frame was not surface treated and the contrasting aluminium and blue finish was called “Duotone” by Colt.

 

“...in the 1950s Western programs like The Lone Ranger, Rawhide, Bonanza and Gunsmoke became immensely popular, as was any remotely western themed retail product.”

 

At the time of its release the Colt sold for US$45.50 compared to $57.50 for the Ruger. Colt’s Frontier Scout also sold well and gained a reputation for accuracy with the barrels made on the same tooling as those of the .357 Magnum Python - known for excellent finish and tight tolerances. Two common criticisms were the two-tone finish and that the guns were too light.

 

In 1958 Colt introduced a “Midnight Blue” finish as an option with a black spray-on coating on the aluminium. That year also saw a 9” barrel Buntline Scout and the options of walnut grips and .22 Magnum chambering.

 

In 1962 the frame was changed from aluminium to “Zamak”, an alloy of zinc and aluminium. This added 6oz to the weight, bringing it up to 30oz (850g). The black coating became standard and the model was named the Frontier Scout ‘62. Plastic faux stag antler grips became standard, but unfortunately neither the coating nor the grips proved to be durable.

 

.22 MAGNUMS INTRODUCED

From 1958 until 1964 the Frontier Scout was available in either .22LR or .22 Magnum. The .22LR chambered guns (marked .22LR) were .223” groove diameter and had the muzzle faced flat. Magnum chambered guns were .224” groove diameter with the barrel marked .22 Magnum and had a rounded muzzle crown.

 

The .22LR cylinder has a recessed rear face while the magnum cylinder is flat. It is suggested that these differences were intended to assist assemblers at the factory, ensuring they used the correct barrels with the two types
of cylinders.

 

There were two changes in 1964. As the steel barrels could not be screwed too tightly into the alloy frames there had been instances of them coming loose. A cross pin was introduced to solve this. The other was the introduction of a dual cylinder option with the magnum only model dropped.

 

Different cylinder designs make them easily distinguishable; .22LR at left, Magnum at right.

 

The .22LR chambered guns were still marked .22LR but the dual cylinder guns had .224” barrels and were simply marked .22 cal with the same rounded muzzle crown. To change cylinders the hammer is drawn to half cock and the cylinder pin screw removed, followed by the pin itself.

 

In 1971 the revolver was re-engineered and given a solid colour case hardened steel frame with an alloy grip frame. A fixed sight version was called the Peacemaker .22 while an adjustable sight model was called the New Frontier. Several different barrel lengths were available and they were made until 1982 when a cross bolt hammer safety was added. Production ceased in 1986.

 

JUSTIN’S OWN

My own revolver, a Frontier Scout ’62 dual cylinder model, was advertised as “poor condition” with a faulty action and a broken grip. At a price of less than $200 however, and with my knowledge of Colt revolvers (from Italian made percussion clones) I knew I had little to lose.

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It came with the .22LR cylinder installed. The .22LR cylinder and the barrel are missing much of their bluing but the Magnum cylinder is in good order. A lot of the black coating on the Zamak frame has worn off, and the grips were taped up with Leukoplast - the left one fell to pieces when I removed it! And one other thing - the action was locked solid.

 

I disassembled the gun and found it caked with red dust internally with no lubrication in evidence. The springs had a coating of surface rust and the detent for the loading gate was jammed in its hole. After a good clean and dressing all the surfaces with oil and fine steel wool I degreased and cleaned the parts again, then lubricated and re-assembled them.

 

Justin’s Frontier Scout with the .22LR cylinder installed (the .22 Magnum cylinder to the left), along with his replacement grip panel.

 

The action was tight and as smooth as silk with the classic four clicks I had read about that are often said to spell C-O-L-T. The bore was given a scrub with a bronze brush and when patched out also looked pristine. But before I tried it, I had to organise the grips.

 

I fashioned a walnut replacement grip from an old Winchester 1892 stock. The fit is not perfect but it’s serviceable. You learn from your mistakes and I am now confident I can fashion some grips that will fit perfectly and look the part. I was keen to see how this little Colt would shoot.

 

Some forum posts I had read said that the dual cylinder guns do not shoot that well with .22LR. The gun also has a simple groove in the top strap as the rear sight and a reasonably short 4-3/4” barrel, so I wasn’t overly confident about its accuracy.

 

With the hammer at half cock Justin uses the ejector rod to push out a spent case. Although the gun had been neglected by its previous owner it turned out to be a straight shooter.

 

Rather foolishly my first shots were in a .22 military trainer club match with 12 shots at 25 metres required in two minutes. As the “one round at a time” ejection and loading takes as long as it takes, my shooting had to be fast and furious.

 

I didn’t know where it would shoot so I planned to fire one or two shots and then adjust my aim accordingly. The target was a rapid fire pistol target with a 45 x 90 white X bull label in the centre. Using Federal standard velocity ammo my first shot clearly went through the X bull as did the second and third.

 

Despite the slow extraction and loading process I managed to get all 12 shots off and a respectable score. Not only does it shoot exactly to point of aim at 25 metres, it is very accurate.

 

This little revolver is a keeper and I plan to restore it by Cerakoting the frame, hot re-bluing the barrel and cylinders and making some nice, properly fitting grips. Now I just need a full-sized Peacemaker to go with it!

 

Justin

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