Russian Revolution

Ivan Fell In Love With S&W's Top-Break Revolver
And Made It Over In Their Own Image
208

Of all the foreign-made replica revolvers, the Navy Arms’ 3rd Model .44 Russian is the very best in fit and finish in my opinion. It shoots darn accurately and close to the sights and is not too far off cosmetically from a real Smith & Wesson.

Did I say it was a beautiful? No, it is uglier than a barnyard dog, but it’s exactly the way the Russians wanted them in the 1870s. But this replica is beautifully made. The polish and bluing are very well done, the grips fit the frame nicely and timing and function are just right. It even has Russian writing atop the barrel rib. A friend’s Russian wife said it literally is inscribed, “The 3rd Russian Gunmaking Factory.” Whatever that means, Navy’s 3rd Model .44 Russian is actually manufactured by A. Uberti in northern Italy. They’ve long worked closely with Navy Arms and were instrumental in getting the entire replica arms industry established.

At top is original S&W Schofield, middle is an original S&W 3rd Model Russian and
(bottom) a Navy Arms 3rd Model Russian. S&W felt the Russian changes made their
graceful design look clumsy.

In The Beginning

Back in the 1870s Smith & Wesson developed the Model No. 3 large frame, top-break revolver, but if they were going to make money on it, some government contracts had to be forthcoming. The US Army ordered a measly 1,000 of them in Smith & Wesson’s .44/100 caliber. That didn’t help Smith & Wesson’s finances overly much, but then the Russians appeared. They not only bought Smith & Wesson revolvers in quantity, but paid in gold. With such leverage they were able to get Smith & Wesson to make some changes.

Their first change was very good — so good we American handgun shooters should still be grateful to them. The Russians wanted the outside diameter of the bullet to fit inside the cartridge case. Sounds pretty simple, but before that, metallic handgun cartridges such as S&W’s .44/100 and the .44 Colt had bullets whose full diameter was the same as the outside diameter of the cartridge case with a slightly reduced shank fitting inside the cartridge case. The bullet lube was outside, too, unprotected and could pick up dirt. The .22 LR is
still made that way.

Anyway, when S&W reduced the bullet to fit inside the cartridge case it was .429″ in diameter. They called this round the .44 Russian, and thereafter named their own .44/100 the .44 American. The Russian cartridge proved far more accurate and their way of designing handgun cartridges stuck. We still do it that way. This all happened circa 1872.

Navy Arms’ re-creation of the Smith & Wesson 3rd Model Russian is a faithful and beautiful rendition with a few modern improvements. The sawhandle grip of the Navy Arms 3rd Model .44 Russian allows the shooter a solid grip the instant the revolver is grasped.

TThhee bbaarrrreell llooggoo oonn tthhee NNaavvyy AArrmmss 33rrdd MMooddeell ..4444 RRuussssiiaann ((bbeellooww)) iiss eevveenn wwrriitttteenn iinn RRuussssiiaann.

Good Isn’t Pretty

Uglier than a barnyard dog? Because the Russian’s were spending so much money, they asked for many changes. The first S&W No. 3s were graceful handguns and fit the American eye. The Russians made them ugly. They asked for a large hump or knuckle at the top of the grip frame to keep the revolver from rolling in the hand during recoil. They wanted a large screw on the top strap over the cylinder. It retains the cylinder stop, and was made large so the revolver could be dismounted for cleaning without a screwdriver.

The Russians also wanted a large spur hanging off the triggerguard. There are many debates about what purpose this spur serves. Some say
it is to keep the revolver from slipping through a waist sash. Others say Russian cavalry doctrine called for troops to charge with their revolvers cocked but with their trigger finger lying on the spur instead of on the trigger. Whatever it was originally meant for, if you wrap your offhand index finger around the spur, the gun sure is steady in your hands. These changes so altered the basic looks of the No. 3 the company’s owners even began to complain.

Navy Arms chose the Smith & Wesson 3rd Model .44 Russian to replicate. I have an original in my collection and can compare the two. Perhaps replicate isn’t exactly the proper word, but neither is clone. The two guns are similar on their exteriors, but not exactly the same. Neither are their internals, but wh really cares? For instance the Navy Arms’ .44 cylinder is 1.50″ in length, but the original 3rd Model’s is 1.424″. Their cylinder diameters are the same at 1.67″. The Navy Arms’ version is also deeper as measured from top of topstrap to bottom of frame at the front of the triggerguard. The measurements are 2.47″ as opposed to 2.42″ for the original.

One incorrect dimension many chroniclers, including myself, have pointed out is the new gun’s 7″ barrel. Standard length for original S&W 3rd Model .44 Russians was 61⁄2″. Nonetheless, several Smith & Wesson collector’s books point out early 3rd Model .44 Russians were fitted with leftover 2nd Model .44 Russian barrels, which indeed were 7″ long. So this discrepancy is not such a big deal after all. Also it should be mentioned Smith & Wesson 3rd Model .44 Russian barrels had front sights forged integral with the barrel, those on 2nd Models were pinned in place. Again, the Navy Arms 3rd Model .44 Russian has a pinned front sight.

Not all the .44 Russian revolvers Smith & Wesson produced in the 1870s went to Russia. The company did not feel it was economically feasible to make one model for export and another for domestic sales, so they sold the Russian military revolvers on the American commercial market with markings in English. Although they may have looked somewhat odd to the American eye, they did see use out West. During the James’ Gang’s famous 1876 Northfield, Minnesota Raid, both Cole and Jim Younger were packing either 2nd or 3rd Model S&W .44 Russian revolvers and another was found under the corpse of gang member Charlie Pitts. New Mexico lawman Pat Garrett, who shot Billy the Kid, was known to have a S&W 3rd Model .44 Russian, but didn’t use it the night he shot the Kid.

Navy Arms’ 3rd Model .44 Russian is a single-action revolver but operates unlike the run of the mill single actions. It is a top break, meaning once the barrel latch is lifted the barrel will swing downwards. As it does so, a cam lifts the extractor star upwards and ejects any cases in the chambers. Loaded rounds are inserted and the barrel raised until the latch snaps in place. The hammer must be cocked for each shot.

Duke’s Navy Arms 3rd Model .44 Russian is not only accurate but hits very close to point of aim.

Whatever the original purpose for the spur on the .44 Russian’s triggerguard,
Duke feels it helps steady the revolver in two-handed shooting.

The main benefit of Smith & Wesson’s singleaction design over Colt’s in the 1870s was the Smith & Wesson ejected all empty cases simultaneously and was instantly ready for a reload.

Two-Hand Gun

One thing the modern shooter notices immediately is the Navy Arms Russian makes a darn poor handgun for one hand shooting. That hump at the top of the grip frame is located precisely so your thumb has a hard time getting around it to the hammer spur. That said, this is a very fine handgun for two handed shooting. I engaged in an afternoon of plate shooting with some friends who all packed Colt SAA types. They smirked when I brought out my clumsy looking .44. We all learned pretty quick shooting the Russian two-handed gave up nothing to the Peacemakers. In fact, once the hand grasps the saw-handle grip of the Russian it is locked in place by the hump at the top of the frame. There need be no shifting of the hand as the revolver is brought into line of sight. Then with the offhand operating the hammer, it is just as fast to fire as Colt type single actions.

Original Russians have either full nickel-plate or full blue finish. On both the hammer and trigger guard were color case hardened. Navy Arms only offers a blue finish Russian, but it does have the color case-hardened hammer and trigger. Another feature Navy Arms copied just about perfectly was the tiny nub of a rear sight. With my 55-year-old eyes, I had to have a special set of glasses made to see handgun sights and even with them this sight is barely visible. Coupled with the round blade front, it surprises me I can hit anything with either an original Model No. 3 or the replicas.

Two things I’m not crazy about, but one which might be a benefit in the long run, is a fairly large barrel-cylinder gap. Mine runs .012″. It doesn’t disturb me too much, because when shooting black powder, there is some ease so fouling doesn’t cause the cylinder to bind prematurely. As things stand now about three dozen black-powder rounds can be fired before cocking the hammer feels a bit tight. A squirt or two with any spray cleaner frees it up for another few dozen rounds. The other thing this particular revolver gets poor marks for is its seven pound trigger pull, which I weighed five times with a digital gauge.

Handloads used in Duke’s Navy Arms 3rd Model .44 Russian have
original-style roundnose bullets.

Handloads used in Duke’s Navy Arms 3rd Model .44 Russian have original-style roundnose bullets (above, left). At left is Lyman 200-grain No. 429478 and at right is Lyman No. 429383 weighing in at 250 grains. (above, right, left to right) First there was the .44 Russian in 1872. Then in 1908 came the .44 Special and finally came the .44 Magnum in 1956.

Great Shooter

OK, the Navy Arms Russian is a nicely made handgun and reasonably authentic, so how does it shoot? Considering a heavy trigger and the pathetic excuse for sights, it shoots pretty darn good. All my test shooting has been at 50′ from a sandbag rest and five-shot groups run from a bit over 1″ to a bit under 3″ depending on the load. Thus far my handloads have contained only two bullet designs, both cast
by myself. Lyman’s No. 429478 (discontinued in the 2004 catalog) is a 200- grain roundnose. The heavyweight is= also by Lyman, numbered No. 429383, weighs 250 grains. Original .44 Russian factory loads used bullets ranging from 246 to 275 grains. With the sights as they came from the box, those 200- grain bullets hit about point of aim when driven to 730 to 760 fps. The 250grainers printed about 3″ high.

Some time back I set about putting together a collection of Old West handguns, and, where possible, adding a replica to the originals. That was so the replica could be used for live firing instead of the valuable originals. The one I was least excited about was the S&W 3rd Model .44 Russian, and the same was true of its Navy Arms copy. That was because they were just so ugly. But ugly is as ugly does, and I developed a sincere affection for the Navy Arms 3rd Model, and especially so for its little cartridge. Modern shooters might consider them oddballs, but I’ve always been one of those myself.

S&W 3RD MODEL RUSSIAN
Maker: A. Uberti, Italy
Uberti-USA.com

ACTION TYPE: Single action,break-top revolver
CALIBER: .44 S&W Russian
CAPACITY: 6
BARREL LENGTH: 7″
OVERALL LENGTH: 12″
WEIGHT: 40 ounces
FINISH: Blue
SIGHTS: Fixed
GRIPS: Walnut

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