To me, there’s something special about using a Colt 1873-style revolver. Part of it, of course, is the connection to our Old West history, cowboys and gunfighters, and all those John Wayne movies I watched as a kid. But there’s also a simplicity and a functionality to the 1873 and its single-action operation I find very attractive, as well as how good the revolver feels in hand, the weight, and the fine balance.
So, when firearms wholesaler Davidson’s announced it had teamed up with Italian gunmaker Pietta to create an Exclusive 1873 single-action revolver in two calibers? I wanted one to use and review.
Pietta is known for its authentic historical firearms reproductions. In addition to 1873 handguns, Pietta manufacturers black powder revolvers, historical long arms like the .50 caliber Smith Carbine, plus several modern shotguns and one modern rifle.
Davidson’s regularly partners with various gun makers to develop and sell special, “Exclusive” firearm offerings, found in the company’s Gallery of Guns. As it has done for years, Davidson’s Exclusives offer everything from historical firearms like the Pietta to firearms with a special Davidson’s-only features including finish and calibers.
Offered in both .357 Magnum as well as the more traditional .45 Colt, Davidson’s Exclusives 1873’s feature a deep blued finish on the frame, cylinder, and barrel. The revolvers are nicely accented with high-polished brass trigger guards, front straps, and back straps.
The Exclusive 1873 sights are the open and fixed, with a notch at rear and a blade at the front. These 1873 models feature the traditional four-click hammer and both chamberings have 4.75-inch barrels.
I requested a model in .357 Magnum, in part because I had some new Black Hills ammunition in that caliber I wanted to try out.
Many books have been written about the Single Action Army Revolver, developed by Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company and accepted by the U.S. Army in 1873 as its duty sidearm. It’s been variously called the SAA, the Model P, the Peacemaker, and the M1873.
A Single Action Army has been carried by Wyatt Earp, General George S. Patton, and too many other famous people to even begin a short list.
If the Single Action Army is not the most famous handgun in the world, certainly in the United States? I have no clue what would take the top spot. It really has to be the 1873 with that four-click hammer, the large front sight, and that Old West look American’s have come to love.
Including this American.
To test the Exclusive 1873 single-action for function and accuracy, I used three brands of .357 Magnum ammunition: Aguila firing a 158-grain semi-jacketed soft point bullet; Black Hills Ammunition’s new Honey Badger 127-grain hunting and self-defense round; and, Winchester’s Super X Personal Protection launching a 125-grain jacketed hollow-point bullet.
I chronographed ten rounds of each on my RCBS AmmoMaster Chronograph with the muzzle approximately five feet from the unit. The rounds averaged: 1,183 feet per second (fps) for the Aguila; 1,376 fps with the Black Hills Honey Badger; and, 1,447 fps with the Winchester Personal Protection.
At what I consider a basic self-defense distance of five yards, the Davidson’s Exclusive 1873 put all three brands of rounds wherever they were supposed to go, usually with a five-shot group of one inch or better. Too easy, I decided, so I backed up another five yards.
At ten yards and shooting offhand, my best group was with the Black Hills Honey Badger, which placed five shots at 1.15-inches, with four of those shots touching and scoring a very impressive .45-inch group.
The Winchester pegged a five-shot group at 1.67-inches, with the first four shots grouping at .91-inches. Yes, I pulled shot number five, to the left.
The Aguila averaged right at two inches for five shots strings.
Now the rear sight on the Davidson’s Exclusive 1873 is not exactly what most shooters would consider stellar. Open and fixed, the rear sight is cut into the top of the frame, and the rear notch and front blade can be hard to pick up in low light and when the target itself is dark.
At 20 yards and firing from a rest, my best groups were 2.25-inches with the Honey Badger and 2.65 inches with the Winchester. The Aguila was at least three inches and frequently closer to four inches.
Some of that is the sights, some of that was me and some no doubt the ammunition.
The single-action trigger on the Davison’s Exclusive 1873 broke, on average, at a crisp 3 pounds, 9 ounces of trigger pull, according to my Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge.
The Exclusive 1873 loaded easily. I half-cocked the hammer and opened the gate on the right side of the cylinder, and was ready to load.
Unload? Half-cocked and gate opened, and then I tipped the revolver with the rear facing the ground. Frequently, my empty brass dropped out, one at a time of course, as I spun the cylinder. Other times, I pushed down on the ejector rod under the barrel to pop out the brass.
Cleaning the Exclusive 1873 was very simple. I depressed the cylinder pin retainer screw located on the left side of the frame and just forward of the cylinder and pulled out the base pin.
With the gate opened and the hammer half-cocked, the cylinder rolled out. At that point, I had easy access to the barrel and the individual cylinders for cleaning.
There is one thing I would change. I’d give the hammer spur serrations a little more depth for a better purchase for the thumb when cocking. The current hammer spur certainly functions, but the minimal depth of the serrations means they can easily become clogged with dust, etc., and purchase is reduced.
If you buy an Exclusive 1873, you might also want to purchase a kit to re-blue the finish in places. I carried the Exclusive 1873 a good deal this past fall on numerous hunts and shot it frequently. Between drawing it out of the holster and the abuse it took when I was crawling through the West Texas underbrush to get into position for shots, plus the general knocking around the revolver experienced, the finish wore through on several small spots.
Of course, that gives my Exclusive 1873 a well-earned look, too.
I carried the Exclusive 1873 literally for weeks during fall hunts, and I used what turned out to be the perfect holster for me: Galco Gunleather’s SAO Strongside/Crossdraw Belt Holster, secured to a Galco SB2 Casual Holster Belt 1 ½.” The holster went on my left side of my belt and provided a trouble-free draw, plus allowed easy access to the revolver while sitting.
I also used a Glaco 2X2X2 Ammo Carrier to hold six rounds of .357 Magnum on the right side of my belt. Very handy!
Davidson’s Exclusive 1873 will be available through 2021, and upcoming models will have slight variations and additions to the features, including finish options. If you one, your FFL will have to contact Davidson’s and place an order. The first two shipments of the Exclusive 1873’s that Davidsons received from Pietta sold out almost immediately. So, put in your order soon.
Specifications: Davidson’s Exclusive 1873 Revolver
Caliber: 357 Mag. (as tested—also available in 45 Colt)
Capacity: 6 rounds
Gun Type: Revolver, Single Action
Finish: Deep blue
Barrel Length: 4.75”
Overall Length: 9.2”
Weight: 40 oz.
Sights: Fixed rear, bladed front
Grips: Two-piece, brown checkered polymer
Features: High-polished brass trigger guard, front strap, and back strap; Four Click Hammer; Made by Pietta, Italy.