Cowboy “Double” Action

Home On The Range With
Classic Big-Frame Revolvers
Of A Bygone Era

Buffalo Bore’s Heavy Duty 158-grain +P Outdoorsman load can seriously push the capabilities of this S&W Model 15.

I never got bit by the Cowboy Action bug—even when it seemed to be the hottest thing going. Maybe it’s because I don’t look all that good in a Resistol and Nocona boots (not from lack of trying, you understand). I do like single-action sixguns, however. Not quite as much as double actions, but as much as any responsible adult should.

When it came to using either type, for years I was overly concerned with laying hands on the hottest +P or magnum stuff I could find—hoping to get as much bump as possible. After all, I reasoned, what’s the fun of lighting off something if it doesn’t try to climb out of your hands with every shot?

After years of cheerfully seeking out such abuse, I guess something approaching an epiphany came to me when I was shooting some fairly serious .41 Magnum factory loads out of a 4-inch N-Frame. Normally, that wouldn’t have been a problem, except for the fact I hadn’t shot a magnum-class revolver in awhile and it was about 20 degrees F. The result? It flat-out hurt with every shot. I remember thinking to myself, “You’re trying to hit a tin can at 40 yards, not stop a running boar.” In short, what was supposed to be fun, wasn’t anymore.

Maybe it’s a natural progression. As I got older (not so much smarter), I discovered it’s almost as fun to hear a 210-grain lead bullet at 700 fps ring a gong as a 240-grain JHP at 1,200. Yep, I’d started using Cowboy Action-specific ammo for a large part of my paper-punching and plinking, as well as smacking steel. And even though I’ve yet to get near one of those Western movie set-type SASS courses, things started getting enjoyable again. But I wanted to combine my new-found infatuation with Cowboy loads with something cool. Or at least a touch different than a Peacemaker or Winchester 1873 clone.

Doug Fee (above) lines up on target with a Colt New Service .38-40 (once billed as the .38 WCF).
Other oldies during our “Cowboy” range session included (below) an S&W .44 Triple Lock .44
Special and a New Service Target in .44 Russian.

Fortunately, I found it. Reading our esteemed sixgun authority John Taffin’s musings on vintage, large-framed Colt and S&W double-action revolvers made me realize there was a significant “missing link” in my shooting background.

I’d always fancied myself a revolver guy, but with the exception of a pre-war .38 Special M&P, I realized I’d somehow missed out on banging away with the Golden Oldies John is so enamored of—S&W Triple Locks, Colt New Services, and the 1917 “enlisted” variants of from both companies.

Since a shooting buddy of mine, Doug Fee, just happens to have several of those big American classics on hand, it didn’t take much convincing to get him to trot a couple out to the range, with the stipulation that I would round up as much ammo as I could lay hands on. Doug’s guns were an eclectic lot, including a Colt New Service in .38-40, a New Service Target in .45 Colt, and a Flattop New Service in .44 Russian. All three sported 7-1/2-inch barrels. Our pair of S&W Triple Locks—both in .44 Special—each had shorter 6-1/2-inch barrels. One of the Smiths had been chromed (!) somewhere along the line of various owners. This decorative scheme got some amused commentary from Thomas Mackie and I at the range, until Doug said, somewhat defensively, “Hey, it’s a real good shooter.”

Our partial “by the box” Cowboy Action menu included (from left) .38-40, .44 Russian and .44 Special.

A Colt New Service in .38-40 produced gratifying results at 25 yards

To obtain the Cowboy Action ammo needed, I’d rounded up a pretty good manifest of Black Hills and Ten-X loadings, which included .38-40, .44 Special, .44 Russian and .45 Schofield. We planned to run the Schofield load in our .45 Colt New Service, but we did step briefly out of the Cowboy category by bringing along a box of 255-grain Winchester Super-X .45 Colt ammo, which, not surprisingly, turned out to be the chronograph champ of the day, averaging 871 fps. This may give you some indication of the refreshingly cavalier attitude Cowboy Action types have toward mere velocity. From what we saw overall, the Black Hills stuff was a bit faster, but still posed no danger of running afoul of Cowboy Action “speed limits.”

The results? The Ten-X and Black Hills 180-grain .38-40 offerings clocked 726 and 819 fps respectively from the Colt. The versatility of the .45 Colt chambering allowed us to run some .45 Schofield ammo out of the .45 New Service. Schofield loads included 165 grains (Ten-X) and 230 grains (Black Hills). From them, we got 607 and 747 fps respectively. From the 6-1/2-inch barrel of Doug’s .44 Special Triple Lock, the Ten-X 200-grain LFP load averaged a docile 609 fps, but shot to point-of-aim at 25 yards.

This .44 Special S&W Triple Lock shows a lot of honest wear, but there’s nothing wrong with the bore!

Black Hills’ .45 Schofield load proved itself a first-rate performer from a .45 Colt New Service.

Bumping Up an Old Favorite

Cowboy Action loads are designed—for the most part—to provide less bump in “over .40” handgun calibers. But Buffalo Bore’s Heavy Duty .38 Special +P Outdoorsman adds serious muscle to what a lot of folks still consider to be the revolver cartridge. Featuring a 158-grain hardcast Keith semi-wadcutter rated at 1,250 fps from a 6-inch barrel, this one surely lives up to the “Outdoorsman” billing, being highly reminiscent of the old .38-44 load for S&W’s N-Frame Outdoorsman revolver introduced back in the early 1930’s.

From my 4-inch S&W Model 15, I averaged around 1,130 fps, and got consistent 2-1/4- to 2-1/2-inch groups at 25 yards. Buffalo Bore says this one is OK for alloy lightweights, although for comfort, I’d just as soon stick with a steel K-frame or its equivalent. This is a powerful proposition and could just about qualify as a “transitional” step between the .38 Special and the .357 Magnum, much as the old .38-44 did. Is it an optimum item for bear emergencies? I don’t think so—that type of situation would be better handled with a 1-ounce shotgun slug (s). But if you ever anticipate having to make your .38 Special handle more than it should—or when deep penetration is needed—this thumping SWC concoction seems ideal.

Shooting Facilities provided by:
Angeles Shooting Ranges,
12651 Little Tujunga Road
San Fernando, CA 91342
(800) 499-4486

Black Hills Ammunition
P.O. Box 3090
Rapid City, SD 57709
(605) 438-5150

Buffalo Bore Ammunition
366 Sandy Creek Rd.
Salmon, ID 83467
(208) 756-3434

Ten-X Ammunition
8722 Lanyard Ct.
Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730
(909) 946-8369

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