Freedom Arms Model 1997

.45 Colt/.45 ACP
; .

Superb quality, modest weight, good power and the ability to accept iron or optical sights combine to make the M97 a winner.

We live in a rapidly changing world wherein very few things remain the same. Most of us know that the major purchases we make such as televisions, computers, and family vehicles, are long out of date before the bill is paid. With this in mind, finding anything that lasts virtually unchanged for 130 years is definitely unique. Such is the .45 Colt, which in its third century, with most loads, is identical to the original black powder load of 1873.

Sixguns in .45 Colt remained in continuous production from 1873 to 1941 in the Colt Single Action, and then in Colt and Smith & Wesson double actions. It came back in 1954 in the Great Western Frontier Single Action, was resurrected by Colt in their 2nd Generation SAA in 1956, and has also been found in several models of Smith & Wesson double action sixguns since the Model of 1950.

For longevity, it is challenged only by two other great cartridges that have found renewed life in the past decade. The .44-40, which started as a rifle cartridge in the Winchester 1873, and was subsequently chambered by Colt in their Single Action in 1878. And the .45-70, which was first adopted by the Army in 1873 in the Springfield Trapdoor, and remains exceptionally popular to this day.


Comparison of Freedom Arms Model 83 fiveshot .454 Casull and Model 97 five-shot .45 Colt cylinders.

Modern .45 Colts

For over 100 years, the .45 Colt was held to black powder level loadings simply because of the strength limits of the Colt Single Action Army. Today we have several heavy-duty loads for the .45 Colt that make it a superb handgun hunting cartridge in such modern large-framed sixguns as Ruger’s Blackhawk and Redhawk, Texas Longhorn Arms Improved Number Five, and any number of custom five-shooters built to take advantage of the .45 Colt’s large case capacity.

For easy packin’ double action .45 Colts, there is Smith & Wesson’s Mountain Gun and the light weight Tracker from Taurus. Now a whole new chapter on the .45 Colt has begun.

In 1997 Freedom Arms introduced their “90 percent gun,” the smaller, and thus easier packin’, easier shooting, Model 97. The 90 percent term comes from the fact that they are about 10 percent reduced in size from the original Freedom Arms Model 83 five-shooter chambered in .454 Casull, .357, .41, and .44 Magnums, .475 Linebaugh, and .50 Action Express. These latter are all large framed revolvers designed basically for hunting

The first Model 97 sixguns offered were just that, true sixguns with six-shot cylinders in .357 Magnum and offered with either fixed or adjustable sights and with 5 1⁄2 inch or 7 1⁄2 inch barrels. Freedom Arms was not only looking to build the finest single action .357 Magnum, but also to capture their share of the Cowboy Shooting market.


Freedom Arms new “90 Percent” gun is an ideal single-action for the outdoorsman.

Why Not A .45 Version?

As soon as the six-shot .357 Magnum arrived, many of us thought, “wouldn’t it be great if they carried out the five-shot theme of the Model 83 and offered a five-shot midframed .45 Colt?” Freedom Arms listened to these suggestions, and in 1998 the Model 97 arrived as a five-shot .45 Colt. This is the most compact single action .45 Colt ever factory produced.

For 125 years the Colt SAA in .45 Colt has been the best balanced sixgun ever offered to single action sixgunners. The .45 Colt Freedom Arms Model 97 in 5 1⁄2 inch trim is one ounce lighter than a 5 1⁄2 inch Colt SAA at 38 ounces, two ounces lighter than the same barrel length in the Colt New Frontier.

Although the feel is different, it is as much a natural “pointer” as the famed Colt Single Action. The grip shape of the M97 is longer and straighter than the Colt SAA and may even be looked upon as an improvement over what heretofore has been the finest grip shape ever for shooting standard loads.

With its light weight, the Model 97 does exhibit some recoil even with 255 grain bullets at 1,000+ fps, and will take its toll when hundreds of rounds are fired in one session. Size wise, I compared the Freedom Arms Model 97 .45 Colt with three other .45 sixguns: a third-generation Colt New Frontier, an Old Model Ruger .45 Blackhawk, and the Freedom Arms Model 83 .454 Casull.

A check with the calculator shows that the cylinder wall thickness of the .45 Colt M97 is about 50 percent that of the Model 83 .454 Casull, 70 percent of the Ruger, and 92 percent of the Colt Single Action. The M97 is slightly smaller than a Colt Single Action, quite a bit smaller where it counts than the Ruger OM .45 Colt and Freedom Arms .454 Casull. The .45 Colt mid-frame Freedom Arms revolver with its five-shot cylinder allows more metal between chambers, almost 90 percent more than a Colt SAA and, unlike the Colt with its near paper thin walls, the Freedom Arms Model 97 has the cylinder bolt slots cut between the chambers rather than underneath them exactly as on the large-framed Freedom Arms revolvers.

A quartet of fine .45 single-actions: Ruger OM with ivory grips, Colt New Frontier with ivory grips,
FA .454 with ivory micarta grips, FA Model 97 .45 Colt with factory black micarta grips.

Right Balance Of Size And Strength

The Freedom Arms Model 97 .45 Colt is stronger than a Colt Single Action or New Frontier, but, nowhere near the strength of the original Freedom Arms M83 .454 Casull. With its five-shot cylinder, I expect the Model 97 to be as strong as the Ruger .45 Blackhawk, and in fact, Buffalo Bore offers a special loading for the Model 97 with 300 grain XTP bullet loaded at 1,200 fps.

My heavy loads for the .45 Blackhawk are 300 grain hard cast bullets at 1,100-1,200 fps; but for most use with the Model 97 I will stay with 255 grain bullets at around 900 to 1,050 fps. None of my 300 grain Ruger Blackhawk loads will fit the slightly shorter cylinder of the Model 97. When bullets are seated properly they protrude through the front face of the cylinder preventing cylinder rotation.

Groups with both .45 Colt and .45 ACP cylinders were mighty fine.

Construction Details

The Model 97 is a thoroughly modern sixgun made of stainless steel, factory custom hand fitted parts, extremely close tolerances, and having a modern action with transfer bar. Unlike the Model 83, which has a safety that must be engaged by placing the hammer in the safety notch, the Model 97 has an automatic safety that places a bar of steel between the hammer and the firing pin when it is lowered.

I rarely ever put my trust in a sixgun with a safety that must be engaged but instead always carry such a sixgun with an empty chamber under the hammer. This includes the Colt SAA, all replicas, Ruger Flat-Tops and Old Models, and the full size Freedom Arms Model 83. Out of habit, and even though it is equipped with a transfer bar safety that engages automatically, I usually carry the Ruger New Model with an empty under the hammer also.

The five-shot Model 97 45 Colt will be safe to carry fully loaded with a round under the chamber and with it I am now trusting in a fully loaded cylinder since it is a five-shooter.

The Model 97 revolver adheres to the same high quality with the same painstaking attention to detail and the same precision found in the Freedom Arms full size revolvers. Model 97 .45 Colt barrels are exactly the same stock as used on the fullsized Model 83. Cylinders are line-bored. The cylinder is locked in the frame and chambered while it is in what will ultimately be the firing position.

My favorite single action, in fact probably my favorite sixgun, is a .44 or .45 with a 7 1⁄2 inch barrel. When I started shooting, Matt Dillon and Paladin rode the television screens every Saturday night and they both carried 7 1⁄2 inch Single Actions. It did not seem to slow them down at all, so I started with a pair of 7 1⁄2 inch Colt SAAs in Fast Draw as a teenager and the love of this style sixgun has stayed with me over the years.

As the calendar pages have turned, I’ve found a new benefit to the long barrels, as they make it easier to see that front sight crisply. When I was informed by Freedom Arms that the .45 Colt version of the Model 97 was to be available, I was tempted to go for the 7 1⁄2 inch length. I did not.

The Model 97 .45 carries easily in leather made for the Colt SAA or New Frontier,
such as this 1930 Austin rig by El Paso or Mexican loop by San Pedro Saddlery.

A Packin' Pistol

The trim Model 97 is just an ideal outdoorsman’s companion. This superb quality sixgun would carry easily in a belt or shoulder holster on a weekend camping trip. It should be ideal for plinking with the kids and grandkids, hiking in the Idaho mountains and forests, close range varminting, and if the chance presented itself, a deer or black bear at close range.

Because of its easy packin’ qualities, I went with a 51⁄2 inch barrel and to complete the picture, ordered adjustable sights and black micarta grips. As with all Freedom Arms revolvers, the Model 97 is all stainless-steel. No plastics, no alloys. The right side of the frame is marked in two lines with “FREEDOM ARMS” and “PREMIER GRADE.” On the left side of the barrel one finds two lines signifying “FREEDOM ARMS MODEL 1997 .45 COLT” and “FREEDOM, WYOMING U.S.A.”

Two Cylinders — Twice The Fun

To make the Model 97 even more versatile I added an auxiliary .45 ACP cylinder allowing a whole range of target and defensive loads to be used. It is often not possible to have enough sight adjustment to accommodate everything from 185 grain JHPs to 300 grain hard cast bullets in the same sixgun. However, with its interchangeable front sight system on the adjustable sighted models, the height of the front blade can be easily changed to suit your loads and shooting style.

The size of the Model 97 .45 Colt with adjustable sights allows it to fit leather made for the Colt Single Action Army. That means favorite holsters such as the 1920 Tom Threepersons or 1930 Austin from El Paso or a Mexican loop style from San Pedro Saddlery work just fine.

You Get What You Pay For

An ultra light trigger pull is not personally desired on a sixgun such as the Model 97, and the trigger pull measures out at 3.5 pounds on my RCBS Premium Trigger Pull Scale, making it just about perfect for a workin’ sixgun.

As expected from any Freedom Arms sixguns, the action is smooth, the cylinder locks up tightly, with almost no movement of the cylinder either fore and aft or side-to-side. The barrel/cylinder gap is almost imperceptible, and the entire sixgun is closely fitted.

Double action sixguns chambered for the .45 ACP round are designed to be used with full or half moon clips for reliable ignition and extraction. A single action sixgun chambered for .45 ACP headspaces on the case mouth, just as an auto pistol does. All .45 ACP rounds tested in the Model 97 with the auxiliary cylinder in place and listed in the table of loads functioned perfectly, however, ACPs with a kiss of a crimp may cause misfires in the Model 97 ACP cylinder.

The Model 97 was tested thoroughly with .45 Colt and .45 ACP loads, both factory and handloads, with more of the latter in the .45 Colt and more of the former in the ACP cylinder. Excellent groups abound with both cylinders and using both iron sights and a Leupold LER 4 power scope mounted with an SSK base and rings.

The rear sight assembly of the Model 97 removes easily by loosening two screws. It is then lifted out of its recess in the top of the frame, revealing three drilled and tapped holes. The SSK mount is put in its place and snugged down. The rear sight assembly and scope mount capability of the Model 97, as with the Model 83, are both very reliable as the sights fit in, not on the top of the frame.

Feeding The Model 97

Favorite loads for the Model 97 .45 Colt definitely include Hodgdon’s H4227 and 250 grain bullets. With RCBS’ 45-250FN, a dead ringer for the original .45 Colt bullet of the 1870s, or Oregon Trail’s 255 SWC and 20.0 grains of H4227, muzzle velocity is 1,000 fps and group size is right at one-inch at a distance of 25 yards.

When all else fails with 1,000 fps loads in the .45 Colt, reach for H4227, or save some time and try it first. This powder has never given me poor results in the .45 Colt. With the 4x Leupold in place, groups under one-inch at 25 yards were commonplace. Complete results are in the accompanying table.

I believe it was the late Skeeter Skelton who said, “The Best Semi-autos are Sixguns,” meaning quite often the best results with semi-automatic cartridges are found by shooting them in a revolver cylinder. Even though they often have to travel quite a distance up and out of a cylinder length made for .45 Colt-sized cartridge, they still seem to perform very well.

Switching to the .45 ACP cylinder, again all loads being fired both with the adjustable sights and Leupold 4x scope in play, showed this .45 Colt/.45ACP sixgun to be no slouch in the little brother department. With Winchester’s 185 grain FMC Match, four shots cut one ragged little hole at 25 yards that measured 3/8 inch. From a revolver. A single action revolver. Without moon clips.

For most of us, the Freedom Arms Model 97 will be of even more use than the larger Model 83. Thus far Freedom Arms has chambered the Model 97 as a six-shot .357 Magnum, two five-shooters, the .45 Colt, and .41 Magnum, and now the newest offering is a six-shot .22 LR with the option of an auxiliary cylinder in .22 Rimfire Magnum.

Standard barrel lengths with or without adjustable sights are 4 1⁄4, 5 1⁄2 and 7 1⁄2 inches. There will not be a .44 Magnum as the frame is deemed to be too small for the King of the Magnums. However, I for one would like to see a Model 97 chambered in .44 Special, five-shot of course. It would be the finest .44 Special ever since Elmer Keith’s legendary #5 SAA built in the late 1920s. A high quality .32-20 would be great also, or even better, a new cartridge, the “.32 FA” with a full Magnum length straight-walled case instead of the tapered .32-20 or too short .32 H&R Magnum.

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