A Magnum Single Action By: SLG


Not too long ago, I picked up a new-in-box Colt New Frontier in .22LR/.22WMR. It is a 7/8 or so scale of the famous Colt SAA’s and I thought it would make a nifty gun for squirrels. I have always been partial to the full-size New Frontier as one of my early shooting mentors used a pair of them in .44 Spl for his deer hunting. If I am lucky, a current friend and mentor of mine will have a New Frontier in 45LC waiting for me when I see him next month. In the meantime, I couldn’t resist this little gun, and so, it came home with me.

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Mostly, I intend to use the LR cylinder with it. It is quieter and powerful enough for squirrels. Since it has a magnum cylinder though, I figured I’d better test that as well. Gunmagwarehouse.com was kind enough to help me out and sent me some .22WMR ammo to shoot through my little ’70s treasure.

Though I greatly appreciate Gunmagwarehouse.com sending ammo, and I dearly love Federal ammunition, I did not have high hopes for the accuracy of the Champion ammo. This is not Federal’s most accurate rimfire ammo. That said, I am competing in Action Pistol with American Eagle 9mm, 147 gr. and for a budget line, it is incredibly accurate. Amazingly accurate. Really, really accurate. You get the point.

Before we get to the shooting results, let’s look at the New Frontier a bit. Almost everything commonly understood about the difficulty in shooting single-action sixguns applies to this Colt, maybe even more so. That is, single actions have a long lock time. They also have a balance point very far in front of the hand. Those features make it hard to hold the gun steady through the entire ignition sequence. In addition to those two factors, the littlest New Frontier has a smaller than normal size grip. Even in my small hands, the grip is too small. This makes it hard to steady the gun while getting a good trigger finger position to allow for a straight to the rear pull. In comparison, the larger grip of a Single Action Army or a Ruger Blackhawk positions my hand very well for a good trigger pull. The NF grip feels great in my hand though, and that can be deceptive if you are trying a gun on in a store or something. Todd used to mention this frequently – how the gun feels does not matter compared to how it fits you.

Single-action sixguns are also finicky and really need a consistent grip. This can be true for any gun, but I find it is magnified with the “old plow handle.” If you hold it one way for accuracy testing, and another way for field shooting, it should come as no surprise when the point of impact differs from one hold to the other. This issue is magnified in single action revolvers because the grip is so far to the rear of the gun. On most semi-autos, the grip is somewhat under the gun and not so far to the rear. Because of this, I tend to do my accuracy testing offhand. Obviously, this does not allow me to test the absolute accuracy of the gun or ammo, but it does let me know if it will shoot to my ability. For field use, shooting to my ability is really all that matters.

Most of the time, I can hold a 2″ group at 25 yards, plus or minus. A properly set up 5″ 1911 makes that easier to do than a Glock 26, but the difference isn’t actually all that meaningful. When I tested the 22LR cylinder, my results were not inspiring. I tested more than 10 loads and none of them made me smile. For some now forgotten, “good reason”, I did not test Federal’s Gold Metal Match at the time. When I went back and tested that ammo, which is my go-to ammo for accurate .22 work, it proved that the gun can shoot, just not with run-of-the-mill ammo. Silly me, lesson learned.

Because of my initially dismal experience with the LR cylinder, I set up a shooting rest to try and eliminate any shooter error that might negatively influence the WMR testing.

The Champion ammo proved to be more accurate than I had hoped! Federal is really producing good ammo these days. As long as I did my part, 5 shots stayed under 2″. As I explained above though, I find this gun relatively hard to shoot. As a result, and fairly often, I threw a shot somewhere in the group. I suspect that as I shoot this gun more, I will become better and more consistent with it. It will probably help me with other guns too.

The target pictured below was shot specifically for this post, as my other targets all had multiple groups on them and were not as easy to read. My point of aim for all shooting was 6 o’clock on the black and the gun was previously zeroed for 22LR — not too bad switching between cylinders. The slight left bias is either the 22LR zero showing its difference or possibly my grip on the small gun pushing the shots to the left. I will have to shoot it more to say for sure.

Factory single-action revolvers should never be fanned, and even regular thumb cocking fast draw work is very hard on their mechanisms. In order to withstand that kind of abuse, some serious modifications need to be made to the guns. Nonetheless, I will admit that I had to try a few “fast” draws with the little gun. I will never fan a stock gun, but I did thumb cock a few medium-speed draws. I say medium speed because I really wasn’t trying to go as fast as possible. I did this partly to protect the gun and partly because, while I know how to do it, I have not spent the time with a single action to have those skills ingrained at a very high level. Even at medium speed, I was surprised at the times I was able to produce. I drew from a drop holster and hip shot some steel at 7 yards. Low .6’s to mid .7’s were easy to pull off. I imagine with some real practice and a sturdily built gun, it would be fun to see just how fast I could get. There is nothing practical about this, but sometimes it is fun to just have fun.

I’d like to thank Gunmagwarehouse.com again for helping out with this post. If you need any magazines or ammo, they are a friendly bunch to deal with and unlike many other companies, they really like to shoot.