Freedom Arms Model 97

A super-premium single-action
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I was at the SHOT Show a few years ago and was visiting with Bob Baker, owner of Freedom Arms, homebased in a scenic mountain valley in Western Wyoming. If you’ve paid any attention at all to the shooting world, you likely know Freedom Arms essentially single-handedly wrote the book on high quality single-action revolvers. Or perhaps I should better say, they wrote the book on the best single-action revolvers you can find — period.

A single-action revolver is a juxtaposition of history, gut-feelings and “been there, done that” panache, offering a combination of self-confidence, mechanical trust and just-plain good fun. Factor in a revolver sporting peerless craftsmanship, striking design touches and a degree of mechanical exactness almost impossible to imagine and you have a Freedom Arms revolver.

In this case, the revolver is their Model 97, a “90%” sized version of their bigger Model 83. Since the first Model 83 was introduced in, oddly enough 1983, the passing of some 40 years has simply honed Freedom Arms’ penchant for quality, detail and real-world performance. The Model 97 was introduced in 1997 and has since steamrolled its way to becoming what might just be the most-favored bespoke quality field revolver out there. If you’re serious about what you’re doing in the wilds, and have the sense and good taste to demand the best, you likely have a Freedom Arms revolver on your hip.

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Compelling Components

All this fuss about quality means we have to talk about just why that’s the case. Unlike “big factory” produced guns, the small crew at Freedom live, work and breathe what they do. Since it’s a small shop, everyone knows what everyone else is doing — and what they should be doing. I’m sure strong peer pressure and a personal commitment to doing the very best work possible keeps FA at the top. Picture a single gunsmith laboring alone in his shop painstakingly building top quality custom guns. Now expand the vision with modern machinery, up-to-date production methods, unerring quality control and Bob Baker overseeing it all personally and you can get an idea of what goes into your Freedom Arms revolver.

The sum of the parts being greater than you can imagine, each gun built is tested, targeted and — only once all the boxes are checked — sent to the client. These are special order guns, so you call, talk to an experienced staffer and between the two of you, your dream gun comes alive. If you’re wanting a big bore boomer capable of taking anything up to and including elephant, you can get it. The Model 83 can be had in a wide range of calibers, including the almost unstoppable .500 Wyoming Express, .454 Casull, .475 Linebaugh and all the way “down” to the .357 Magnum.

The Model 97, on the other hand, is handier, call it more svelte, easier in the hand and a delight to carry. Barrel lengths can be anywhere from 3.5″ like our sample gun (a special order) to up to 10″ for some calibers. Available in .45 Colt, .44 Special, .41 Mag., .357 Mag., .327 Federal (a great caliber for this gun!), .224-32 FA (a proprietary caliber developed by FA), .22 LR (shoots like a rifle, as they all do) and the .17 HMR. All of which means you can get your dream gun in a caliber suited precisely for what you need it for.

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The ejector rod button runs in a cam slot in the housing against the barrel.
Accuracy is simply phenomenal, with Roy getting 2" to 3.5" groups at
50 yards with Black Hills ammo.

The Bisley-style grip makes for comfortable single-action shooting
even with full-house loads. Roy had Freedom Arms add the icon of
his house to the backstrap for a true custom.

Tech & Spec

Keeping in mind these are true, full-custom revolvers, prices start around the $2,800 range and go up from there depending upon your choices of barrels (even an octagonal option), caliber chosen, sight options, crowns, action work, sling swivels and/or studs, dovetails and more. You can even opt for your name or initials on the back strap (I had them put our home’s logo, a sort of leaping gazelle, on mine), jeweled hammer and trigger, matte finish and other options that tempt gloriously.

My gun has a rounded butt and attractive synthetic grips, weighing in right at 34.5 oz. empty. All their models are made of stainless steel so weather on the trail isn’t an issue. The models all have a sliding transfer bar in the hammer so they are perfectly safe to carry fully loaded — five rounds in the 97. You can also get a fitted .45 ACP cylinder for the .45 Colt, which I plan on doing later for this gun. Cylinder conversions run between $435 to $600 or so depending on options and caliber. Round-butting runs about $295 and I recommend it heartily as it really changes the feel. If you have smaller hands, it tends to make things more comfy and tidy.

A small but particularly handy feature is the fact the ejector rod button runs in a cam slot in the housing. This cam holds the button against the barrel, out of the way, until you push it. It’s then cammed down and you can run the ejector rod. Very handy. One small issue with the really short barrels like our test gun is the fact the rod doesn’t quite eject the empty cases completely. So if you have a stout load or sticky case, you get it started then pick it out. This isn’t a gun you speed load with anyway so I think it’s a moot point when balanced by how handy it makes the gun to carry.

A nice touch too is the fact you can get a special serial number ($295) just for your gun. So a name and year, a favorite dog’s name or just about whatever you can think up can really help to personalize your dream gun.

The hand-fitting really shows when you cock the gun. There are two distinct “clicks” going from half-cock to full cock. You need the half-cock to rotate the cylinder to load and unload. The trigger is smooth-faced and my gun breaks very cleanly right at 3.2 lbs. or so. The thing that consistently astounds me is the fact the cylinder has no play either when the hammer is down or at full cock. I’m not saying it “doesn’t wiggle very much” — I’m saying it’s locked tight as a drum with no fore-and-after or rotatable movement at all. It’s as if the cylinder is a machined part of the frame. Simply amazing workmanship.

The cylinder-to-forcing-cone gap is 0.0015″ on my gun. That, my friends is one and a half thousandths of an inch. Most factory revolvers hover in the 0.004 (excellent) to upwards of 0.010″ range. Gas escaping from this gap is essentially non-existent and has no effect on velocity. I’ve never seen this sort of mechanical accuracy on anything other than on a very few custom revolvers from the likes of Hamilton Bowen’s shop and a rarified few others. But Freedom Arms does it gun after gun.

The total result of all this work is a gun “just so” in every respect. I assure you won’t be disappointed when your dream gun arrives. When I got mine there was never a moment of “Oh, I wish that was nicer” or “Gee, if only the action was smoother.” Nope, not anything.

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This group, shot with Black Hills cowboy ammo, is just a bit over 2".
That wouldn’t be bad for any revolver at 25 yards — except this
was shot at 50 yards! Photo: Roy Huntington

Using CCI “Big 4” shotshells loaded with No. 4 shot, excellent shot
spread and penetration at five yards showed this combo would be
deadly on rats and snakes as needed. A perfect tool for a field revolver.
Photo: Roy Huntington

Shooting

The Model 97 simply begs to be carried. In the right caliber for your needs, you can also tailor the load to fit your desires exactly. There are also options of every sort in factory ammo today, from Buffalo Bore’s heavy dangerous game loads, to lighter-bulleted defensive loads and the gamut in between. The shorter cylinder of the Model 97 means you’re limited to bullets up to around the 300-grain range. But, you can also balance that with the fact virtually any heavy load you can dream up can be safely fired in a Freedom Arms revolver. I’ve shot some pretty nasty 300+ grain heavy .45 Colt loads in mine (can you say 1,300 fps or so?) and while recoil was very definitely attention-getting, the gun shrugged it off and, in actuality, due to the Bisley-like grip shape, was controllable and not that ugly.

Shooting “cowboy” type loads like a 200 or 250 hard cast lead in the 750 to 850 fps range is a grand delight. One nice thing about big bores is they virtually always shoot great, even with modest loads. Factor in the penchant Freedom Arms has for perfection and the inherent accuracy of many calibers, their revolvers have become legendary for good reasons.

Using Black Hills cowboy ammo (a 250-grain RNFP at about 725 fps from my gun), I got 2″ to 3.5″ groups at 50 yards. Accuracy at 25 was almost too good to believe and if I did my duty, using my EyePal aperture stick-em on my glasses, ragged one-hole groups were possible, call them 0.85″ to 1″ or so. I have some experience shooting Model 83s at 100 yards and groups in the 3″ range or better are very possible. They are honestly only limited by how well you can see the sights and squeeze the crisp trigger.

This sort of performance is one of the most compelling reasons to treat yourself. While most stock single-actions shoot in the 2″ to 3.5″ range at 25 yards, the innate accuracy of the Freedom Arms guns is addictive. I find myself pushing to see if I can hit a 6″ steel round I have at 100 yards and, lo and behold, even with this compact gun I can do it at least once or twice in each cylinder. You have to try it yourself.

The 97 makes a fine trail gun, truck gun, hunting gun, target gun, ATV, Tractor or Gator gun, bear defense gun in a pinch and even a personal protection gun if it was called upon to do so. It’s as close to a do-everything handgun I own, and I value the fact I can chamber dinosaur defense loads, plinking loads or even CCI shot cartridges, all in the same compact revolver.

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Final Thoughts?

I’d like to quote Freedom Arms’ own website so you can hear just how they think:

“We realize that purchasing a Freedom Arms firearm goes beyond ownership of just another firearm. It’s an investment.”

Exactly. Overbuilt guns, near-perfect tolerances, engineering and quality control standards the envy of any gun company, allows cartridges to reach their maximum levels of power and accuracy. They tailor each gun/cartridge/barrel/cylinder for the exact cartridge it’s shooting. Then they line-bore things to assure absolute perfection in barrel/cylinder alignment.

I think Freedom Arms says it best when summing up what they do: “Dedicated to maintaining the stringent standards needed to achieve uncompromising quality and reputation, the craftsmen at Freedom Arms power the success of our product line.”

Take a few minutes and check out their website and enjoy being introduced to Freedom Arms. But keep your checkbook handy, I warn you!

FreedomArms.com

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