Editor’s note: The Walker is an odd gun. I’ve been wrestling with how to contextualize this review. The Walker is a modern reproduction of a piece of American History. It is a sidearm you could carry during black powder season. It is an exaggerated wild west gun that is as much fun to handle and hold as it is to shoot, maybe more. And it is a revolver capable of .357 like ballistics that you can buy without filling out a 4473. It’s all of these things, I think, which makes it so compelling. On with the review~
The Colt Walker revolver is a beast. It is a horse gun, meaning that it was designed to be carried on a saddle, not on your hip. It weighs about 4.5 pounds empty. The Walker was rumored to be the most powerful repeating handgun until the invention of the .357 Magnum. There were only 1,100 originals made way back in 1847. Shooting an originals is pretty much out of the question unless you pilfer one from a museum (we do not endorse this idea). Luckily for us, A. Uberti makes a very authentic reproduction. They sent us an example to test out and we are going to do our best to see if the claims of .357 type power are possible.
Lets talk a little history before we get to the shooting. About a decade before the advent of the Walker, Sam Colt came up with his first revolver design. This first attempt was the Colt Paterson, named after the town it was made in. The Paterson was a delicate revolver. It was chambered in .32 and .36 calibers, had a fold down trigger and was generally pretty fragile. But it was a start. Colt kept searching for a government contract that would make his company prosper. The Army found that the Paterson design was not sturdy enough for military use. But the Texas Rangers liked them.
Everything is Bigger in Texas
One of the Texas Rangers that had a Colt Paterson was Samuel Walker. He was involved in the Battle of Bandera Pass where the 10 shots (two 5 shot Patersons per Ranger) helped the Rangers to victory even though they were greatly outnumbered. But it was still underpowered. Even then, back in eighteen-digity-six, folks were arguing about caliber.
Fast forward a couple of years and the War with Mexico is just starting. Sam Walker is now a member of the US Army and wants to equip his troops with bigger and more powerful revolvers. He wants a revolver that is capable of shooting a horse out from under a rider at 100 yards. The two Sams, Walker and Colt, exchange some letters and soon the Colt Walker was born. Not sure where they came up with the name.
The Walker is a big ass handgun. It has a 9 inch barrel. The cylinders are deep enough to hold 60 grains of black powder. Its predecessor, the Paterson, only held around 25 and the 45 Long Colt originally held 40 grains of black powder as a maximum load. The Walker is a 44 caliber but uses over-sized round balls to seal the cylinder (we used .457 Hornady balls for the review). Did I mention it weighs 4.5 pounds empty? It weighs even more after you’ve carried it for a while. Not sure why.
The sights are very basic. There is a front blade and the rear sight is a V shaped notch cut into the back of the hammer. Any sight adjustment would be done with a file, and would be permanent.
The repro from Uberti sports a nice blued steel barrel, and a color case hardened finish on the frame. The grips are smooth walnut. The Uberti Walker looks and feels like it should for this price range. That’s being a bit generous, I think, as the gun is rough in spots. Yet this was a fighting gun originally, so there weren’t many aesthetic refinements then, either.
The gun has an MSRP of $449. Not bad, for what you get.
Problems with the Originals
As mentioned above the original Walkers were designed to use loads of 60 grains. There were numerous reports of them suffering from ruptured cylinders. Colt then recommended loading with 50 grains. The Dragoon model revolvers that followed the Walker where made with a shorter cylinder for this reason. There are two possible theories why the Walkers had these failures. One is the metallurgy of the time and the steel was just not up to the standards we have today. The other is that the Walker shipped with conical bullets and molds. Some have speculated that the conical bullets where loaded in backwards (they are much easier to load that way) and would jam on the forcing cone on the barrel and create dangerously high pressures in the cylinder. Whatever the cause, the ruptured cylinders forced Colt to change the guns that followed, leaving the Walker as the most powerful of the cap and ball colts (when it didn’t explode).
The other issue is a minor one. The recoil makes the loading lever drop with just about every shot. We experienced this during the review as well. As you can see in the pictures, the design on the Walker is not strong enough to keep the lever up. This was changed on all the revolvers that followed from Colt.
Since the Uberti uses modern metals, we don’t have to worry about blowing up a cylinder, at least not using round balls. I still wouldn’t load a conical bullet in backwards. But it is safe to load 60 grains in the Uberti, and we did. And, for those of you following along at home, 60 grains is a lot in a black powder pistol. While it doesn’t kick like a .44 Magnum, it does kick. Remember, we’re trying to take out horses at 100 yards.
We took the Uberti Walker to the range a couple of times to put it to use. We tested it with 30 grain pyrodex pellets, the ones designed for revolvers, and with regular FF black powder. I didn’t keep a good count on how many rounds total we fired, but it was close to 100. Everything functioned as it should until we started to get some fouling build up. But this is black powder and equivalents, and that comes with the territory. Around the 40 round mark I had to use a brush to knock some of the build up off the hammer as it was starting to bind when fired. This resulted in a misfire, until I fixed the issue then it was good for the rest of the rounds. The other thing is the action started to bind up a little. The cylinder stop was not dropping free when on half cock. A little wiggle of the cylinder would usually free everything up.
This is not a target revolver, to say the least. The fixed nature of the sights and the fact that the rear one is on the hammer, which moves, illustrates this point. The Walker shoots acceptable groups for what it is, in my opinion. From 25 yards they were around 4 inches. A 9 inch barreled revolver should do a better than that. I am sure that with some work I could find a load and bullet combination what would do better (but not much due to the sights). It will shot minute-of-Coke-can from 25 or so yards.
Here at GunsAmerica, we strive for verisimilitude. Yet try-as-we-might, we could find no one who would volunteer to let us shoot a horse out from under them. We did put up the giant piece of cardboard below, to see how well it was connecting at 100 yards. After several cylinders at the 4′ x4′ sheet of cardboard, we hadn’t scored one hit. Needless to say, I wouldn’t pull the trigger on this at 100 yards, unless I thought the Mexican and his horse might be easily scared by smoke and loud noise.
Why no hits at that distance? We’re still not certain. We were on a wide open range, one that extended out to 300 yards, and we couldn’t see the impacts. The bullets were not hitting short, and our target was a good four feet off the ground, so we were simply slinging lead into the void behind it. After 20 rounds or so, we gave up the attempt. It wasn’t worth the effort. Whatever hold-off, or hold over, or combination that it would have required would have made shooting at that distance little more than a novelty.
So is the Walker in the ballistic range of what you would expect of a .357 Magnum? Here are the numbers from our tests. These were shot using Hornady .457 144 grain round balls.
60 grains of Pyrodex pellets averaged – 1490 ft/s
60 grains Goex FF Black Powder averaged –1385 Ft/s
According to the tests done at Ballistics By the Inch, a 140 grain Cor Bon .357 out of a 9 inch barrel will travel at 1745 ft/s. So we are less than 300 ft/s slower out of the Walker with the same barrel length. But how many 9 inch barreled .357s are out there? The same .357 load out of a 4 inch barrel is 1394 ft/s. That might be a little bit of apples to oranges but the power is pretty close. If this was an episode of the Myth Busters I wouldn’t call this one BUSTED.
Still. Legend has it that Walker was killed by a Mexican lancer–as in a guy with a sharpened stick. Make of that what you will. My guess is that this group of Mexicans were wise to the Walker’s limitations. They probably danced around at 100 yards and let the soldiers empty their chambers, and then ran in and poked them with sticks. Or maybe they waited for Walker to mail the guns back to Colt, and then surprised them with the sharpened sticks. Either way, there was a lesson here, and Samuel Colt (who maintained a respectable distance from sharpened sticks) figured it out fast enough.
This is a really fun black powder revolver. I am a history nerd and it is a blast to shoot these type of guns. The cleaning and slow loading kind of sucks, but that is all part of it. Uberti makes some very nice reproductions and their version of the Walker is yet another example of the quality I have come to expect from them. Shooting a reproduction is not quite the same as an original. But the modern materials more than make up for it. You can bet that if I had a chance to shoot an original I sure wouldn’t load up 60 grains and see if I could push it to .357 levels. Let’s leave the ruptured cylinders to the past.