Changeover Challenges

Why I sold my .44 Specials

Hey John Taffin, remember a couple years ago when I told you in a column I was sort of eating crow? I’ve made it no secret to me the .44 Special isn’t anything special — no better and no worse than .45 Colt, .45 Auto-Rim, even the .44 Russian or .45 S&W Schofield. And, I know to you, it is special.

Duke added auxiliary .44 Special cylinders to his Colt SAA .44-40 sixguns.

.44 Trio

What sparked the column was the fact I’d bought three Colt SAA .44 Specials shortly before writing. Two were nickel-plated of 3rd Generation manufacture (1980). They wore 4-3/4″ and 7-1.2″ barrels. The third one was 5-1/2″ barreled, blue/case colored from 2nd Generation. It was made in 1961 and lettered as an original .44 Special. We both know there are a lot of bogus 2nd Generation SAA .44 Specials about. Usually they started as .38 Specials/.357 Magnums and were re-barreled and re-cylindered with once abundant .44 Special parts. I know for I’ve done a couple this way myself. You may have also done the same thing.

So I’m sort of reneging on the helping of crow I was going to eat. Why? I’ve sold two of those three .44 Specials, keeping only the one made in 1961. Why? It’s because I’m so smart. I successfully completed one of those rare — get to have my cake and eat it too — situations. Selling those two .44s raised a bundle of cash for me but I still get to enjoy shooting several Colt SAA .44 Specials.

By switching cylinders Duke can shoot .44-40s or .44 Specials in his SAAs at whim.


How’s that? Well, we both know Colt only made one barrel for its .44s whether they were .44 WCF (.44-40) .44 S&W Special or .44 S&W Russian. By a factory spec chart, dated 1922 given to me by a long-time Colt collector, the .44 barrel dimension was 0.426″/0.427″ across its grooves. I actually slugged the barrels of all three of the above mentioned .44 Specials. All were 0.426″.

Back in the spring I was getting my favorite rattlesnake revolver loaded for warm weather. It’s a 3rd Generation “Sheriff’s Model” with a 3″ barrel. Loaded with shot loads — either my own handloaded ones or factory CCI loads — it’s perfect for a snake gun. Something clicked as I loaded it. By barrel marking, it was sold as a .44-40. I have had a .44 Special cylinder in it so long I actually forgot it was marked .44-40.

Cylinder interchangeability is one of most single action revolvers’ greatest features. Also settling in my handgun racks were two 3rd Generation Colt .44-40s. So the bright light flashed on — all I had to do was find .44 Special cylinders, ensure they fit properly in my SAA .44-40s and I would be able to shoot .44-40 or .44 Special rounds in those Colts at my whim.

Duke slugged the barrel of his .44-40 Colt SAAs. They both measured 0.426" across their grooves.

Simple But Difficult

Brilliant! Right? Actually it wasn’t quite so easy. First, I actually had to find .44 Special cylinders. Colt hasn’t made them for several years. Furthermore, while both of my SAA .44-40s had 4-3/4″ barrels, one was nickel-plated and one was blue/case colored. Oh well, this is why they invented the Internet, isn’t it? Several months passed before proper 3rd Generation .44 Special cylinders were located and purchased. Both were new/unfired and I was further lucky both perfectly fit in and timed correctly in their respective sixguns. There was one other little hitch in this giddyup — the blued cylinder just didn’t look “right” in its new sixgun. The blue/case colored Colt .44-40 had been beautifully engraved, even with gold filled lines around cylinder and barrel.

Some research with the Colt’s former owner got me the name of the engraver. It was a fellow I already knew — Brian Gouse (234 Montana St., Hinsdale, MT 59241). Brian had photos of his work so we met at a Montana gun show where I handed over the blued .44 Special. A few months later he handed it back; engraved with gold inlay and well-polished in the white. Next it was handed over to another Montanan,

Al Springer (, who blued it perfectly to match the engraved Colt. These new .44 Special cylinders and the engraving with gold inlay ate up some of the bundle of cash raised by selling two .44 Special SAAs but it was worth it.


Some uninitiated reader might be wondering why I have not gotten a .44-40 cylinder for the 1961 vintage Colt .44 Special. One reason is Colt didn’t make 2nd Generation .44-40s except for the 2002 Peacemaker Centennial Commemoratives and those were nickel-plated. The second reason is cylinders of 2nd and 3rd Generation Colt SAA production are not interchangeable short of replacing some internal parts. A custom 2nd Generation .38 Special or .357 Magnum cylinder could be rechambered to .44-40. Maybe someday.

So now, when I go down to my private steel target range for an afternoon’s plinking, it matters not which cylinders are in my .44 Colt SAAs. I’ve got both bases covered.

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