I’ve always wanted a pair of matching “cowboy guns.” By matching, I mean a six-shooter and a classic lever-action rifle, chambered in the same caliber. Ideally, that caliber would be .45 Colt. Childhood dreams? Maybe. Or perhaps just because.
When we decided to do some stories and videos on these classic guns, we quickly looked to Uberti for assistance. Since 1959, they’ve been passionate about making replicas of historical cap and ball and centerfire revolvers along with a slew of lever-action rifles. Located right near the Beretta headquarters in the Gardone Val Trompia village in the Italian Alps, the company is the place to go for old western firearms.
We decided to take a look at the Uberti Cattleman 1873 Patron six-gun. It’s a classic design, but to add icing to the cake, we were able to borrow a “matching” 1873 rifle in the same caliber and finish. Let’s take a look at the revolver today. We'll give the rifle some attention in it's own review.
It’s a Looker…
The firearm itself is patterned after the legendary 1873 Colt Single Action Army revolver (SAA), often referred to as the Colt Peacemaker. Even if you haven't shot this kind of old school revolver, you'll be intimately familiar with its looks—it's been in just about every western ever made. Just as there have been myriad Colt SAA models over the years with various barrel lengths, finishes, grips, and chamberings; there are also a plethora of Uberti 1873 models available.
As for this model, "El Patron" means "the boss," so take from that what you will. Undeniably, what really makes this gun stand out is its finish:
A Bit About Case Hardening
Want to know a historical science tip? I guess you could put this one in the metallurgy category, but that’s a bigger word than I want to digest today. You know those beautiful guns with case-hardened finishes? The steel is a mesmerizing swirly pattern of colors including blues, greens, yellows, and possibly mauve, although I hate to mention that one in a respectable firearms publication.
Anyway, the process of case hardening is both cosmetic and functional. Steel with lower carbon content is softer and more malleable – better for forming into parts. High-carbon steel is hard and durable, but potentially brittle. The case hardening process takes regular steel and creates a high-carbon steel shell on the exterior. A side benefit of the process is that the steel looks fantastically gorgeous with all those colors mentioned before. Since we’ve come this far, you might as well know how it’s done.
The classic method called for stuffing the steel parts into a box with ground up bones and charcoal, then heating them for an extended time. The carbon from the other materials works its way into the steel surface, thereby creating a “case-hardened” outer layer. You can also do this process using leather, hooves, salt, and urine, but the charcoal and bone method if far less gross. When it reacts with the metal, its the organic compounds mixed with the carbon that produce that rainbow of colors. This kind of finish also offers corrosion protection, similar to bluing.
The El Patron model shown here features a case-hardened receiver and hammer. The appearance is stunning. If the stainless finish is your thing, I get it, or even shiny nickel. As for me, I’ll take this classic case hardened, blued, and wood model any day.
The Uberti 1873 Cattleman El Patron Revolver I tested had a 4.75-inch barrel, but you can also order a 5.5-inch version. It’s available in two calibers: .45 Colt like the one shown here, and .357 Magnum. I just couldn’t see testing one of these not using a period-accurate caliber, so I went with the heavy and slow .45 Colt or .45 Long Colt as it's sometimes called. If you don’t care for the case-hardened look, you can order an El Patron with a stainless-steel finish for a few bucks extra.
The sights are old school, as you’d expect and want on a replica revolver. The front sight is a quarter-circle steel blade with a rounded top. The blued finish presents as a black post when sighting. The rear sight is a groove in the top strap of the receiver.
You can’t sight through it when the hammer is down, only when it’s cocked and ready to fire. While the groove cut is rounded like a half pipe (so you don’t slice your hands) there’s a sharply-squared rear notch that presents a crisp and precise sight picture. While “groove rear sight” and precision shooting don’t appear to coexist, the notch makes it work beautifully and you can shoot with precision.
The cylinder itself is blued. Each chamber cut into it is numbered so you can keep track of which is which. They should all be identical, but we’re dealing with machined parts, so if there is a tiny bit of accuracy variance from one to the next, you can identify the more or less accurate chambers.
The grips are walnut and evenly checkered on both sides. The front and backstraps are smooth blued steel. One detail I appreciate about this six-shooter is the mating of wood and steel. The joints are seamless, and you won’t find gaps or ledges where they don’t align perfectly.
How It Works
As a true single-action revolver, there are no speed loaders available for it – you have to stuff this with bullets one at a time the old-fashioned way. (Some folks like to use revolver speed strips to reload a gun like this and to keep ammo organized in a pocket, but it takes a lot of practice)
A loading gate on the right side (also case hardened) flips open to expose one of the chambers in the cylinder. When the hammer is at the half-cock position, you can freely rotate the cylinder to add cartridges one at a time. Be sure to check out our video on single-action operation below:
How to Load a "Cowboy Style" Single-Action Revolver
When firing, you’ll have to cock the hammer for each shot. As a single-action, the trigger only does one thing: it releases the cocked hammer to strike the cartridge base. When you re-cock the hammer, the cylinder rotates clockwise, aligning the next cartridge under the hammer. This makes for a typically light, crisp trigger pull.
Unloading is a similar process. With the hammer at half-cock, open the loading gate to expose the chambers. When one is lined up, just press the ejector rod under the barrel to push out each spent cartridge, again, one at a time.
Load Five or Six?
For safety reasons, most original six-shooters like this one should be loaded with only five cartridges, even though there are six chambers in the cylinder. That’s because, on original guns like this and true-to-history replicas, the firing pin is fixed on the hammer. If there is a live cartridge in the chamber under the decocked hammer, a sharp blow or drop can cause the revolver to fire. Or the hammer could catch on something and be pulled back and released—not far enough to rotate the cylinder, but potentially enough to set off the primer under it.
This is why it’s always a good idea to “load one, skip one, and load four more.” As our video above illustrates, this method leaves the gun with five shots loaded and an empty chamber under the hammer.
The Uberti 1873 Cattleman El Patron Revolver adds a hidden, modern safety feature. If you look closely at the firing pin on the hammer, you’ll see that it’s not a welded-on piece.
Inside the hammer is a trigger safety that only locks the firing pin into position when you depress the trigger. When the hammer is just resting in the closed position, the firing pin is recessed a bit into the hammer body, thereby decreasing the risk of inadvertent discharge. Of course, it’s still a good idea to load five, but I appreciate this extra safety feature that doesn’t detract from the original appearance of the gun.
Shooting the El Patron - Range Test
Unlike modern service pistols, classic revolvers have a well-rounded backstrap as opposed to a straight surface. For me at least, that translates to an entirely different recoil sensation, as the gun tends to roll a bit in the hand with heavier loads. Add to that the slow and heavy nature of .45 Colt and you’ll find that this revolver doesn’t beat you up – at all. At the range, you’ll have no trouble putting lots of rounds through it with little or no ill effect on the hands. Your biggest problem will be shelling out the cash for all that .45 LC ammo, which can be a bit expensive.
I shot two different types of .45 Colt ammo through this revolver. Federal’s semi-wadcutter hollow-point is a 225-grain, all-lead bullet. It’s about the same weight as a standard .45 ACP round and rated for similar speeds. I also tried out the 200-grain Blazer jacketed hollow-point ammo. I set up a chronograph 15 feet down range and fired a bunch of rounds to get some averages.
The Federal averaged just over 813 feet per second from this pistol. As for the lighter Blazer projectiles, they averaged 869.7 feet per second under the same conditions.
As for accuracy, the sights shot darn close to point of aim at 25 yards with both ammo types. I didn’t do formal bench shooting with this pistol, because it seemed more appropriate to shoot tin cans off a fence post on some dude ranch. Not having access to the OK Corral, I did do enough 25-yard plinking to establish that five-shot groups in three inches at that range, give or take, were the norm.
I loved this gun. The nostalgia of it is a big attraction, but what really makes it a keeper is the quality of construction. It not only looks the part but is machined beautifully too. Let’s just say it got plenty of attention at the range.
The Uberti 1873 Cattleman El Patron Revolver carries an MSRP of $619 for the case-hardened models. If you want stainless, you’ll pay a bit more at $759.