Chiappa SAA 1873 .22LR Long Barrel Revolver
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- Last updated: 08/11/2023
Ed Jackson goes back to basics and tests the Chiappa SAA 1873 .22LR Buntline Long Barrel Revolver
Chiappa Firearms is an Italian company that is still family-owned to this day. It was founded in 1958 in Brescia, which for those that don’t know, is an area that is steeped in history when it comes to manufacturing firearms. In fact, I was lucky enough to get an invite from the UK Importers, Raytrade UK, to visit the Chiappa factory in Brescia back in 2019, where I got the opportunity to walk the factory floor, looking at all their latest machinery and the manufacturing processes that they use. Of course, no trip would be the same without a visit to the range, where I sampled no less than 24 of their guns! The selection included various versions of the Rhino revolver in 9mm and .357, a FAS 6007 .22LR target pistol, M9 and 1911 semi-auto .22LR pistols, a Colt-type Single Action Army (SAA) 1873 Regulator revolver in .38 special, a Double Badger combination gun in .243 and .410, a PAK-9mm pistol, RAK-9mm rifle, MFOUR-22 rifle, M1 Carbine in 9mm, a Winchester 1887 lever-action shotgun, a Spencer rifle in .45 Colt, an Enfield muzzle-loader, Alaskan lever-actions in .44 and .357, a Ridge Runner, and an 1886 lever-action in 45-70.
As you have probably gathered from that list, Chiappa produces quite an array of firearms, including historic replicas of American firearms, lever-actions (rifles and shotguns), single-shot BPCRs (black powder cartridge rifles), muzzleloaders, airguns, rifles, handguns, signal guns, and blank firers.
The Buntline was a long-barrelled version of Colt’s legendary 1873 Single Action Army (SAA) revolver. Here, on test, we have a reproduction from Chiappa that’s chambered in .22LR, but that’s not all, as the eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed the ‘coat-hanger’ attached to the pistol grip, which as most of us know, is required to ensure that the length of the pistol meets the minimum requirement for a Section 1 firearm here in the UK. This Chiappa is therefore classed as a ‘Long Barrel Revolver’ (LBR).
First impressions are off an amusingly proportioned revolver that on the face of it, could be a real challenge to shoot, but maybe a lot of fun, too. On closer inspection, it was clear that this was a demo gun, as there were some scratches running around the cylinder, most likely caused by improper handling. In the hand, the revolver feels spot-on, and all the controls are well-weighted, giving the impression of a well-put-together firearm. The whole pistol wears the same black finish, and it is well-applied throughout.
As touched upon earlier, the revolver’s overall length comes in at 24”, to meet the legal requirements here in the UK. Of course, the steel barrel really stands out, and so it should, measuring 17mm in diameter and 12” long! Look closely and you will find ‘Chiappa Buntline 22LR’ engraved on the left-hand side.
Positioned on the lower right-hand side of the barrel is a manually operated, spring-loaded ejector rod that’s housed within a small tube. It is secured by a single screw and is flared along its length, allowing it to mate to the barrel perfectly. It then merges seamlessly with the font of the Chiappa’s frame. A perfectly proportioned, half-moon finger tab sits in a runway that guides it along its correct path, pushing a small pin into each chamber, in turn, to help the shooter remove empty cases and unload the revolver. In use, I found that you must be deliberate in your operation of this tab, to ensure that the pin follows its full range of motion with enough energy to eject an empty case the first time, every time.
Look to the rear of the Buntline and you will see a well-sized hammer with a knurled spur, for plenty of grip, and being a single-action revolver, the shooter must cock this manually between shots. Importantly, there are three positions that the hammer can be in – closed, half cock and full cock. When in the closed position, the cylinder cannot rotate, and pulling the trigger does nothing. For maximum safety, the hammer is traditionally left in the closed position on an empty chamber.
Pulling the hammer back into the ‘half cock’ position allows the shooter to load the firearm, as the cylinder is now free to rotate. Look to the rear/right of the frame and you will find a hinged loading gate. Opening this will give you access to the rear of the steel-lined alloy cylinder and its six chambers, and you can then insert a round into each one, rotating the cylinder by hand each time. It is at this point that you can decide if you want to leave one of them empty. I never felt the need to do this, as once loaded, I planned on shooting all six straight away! With the pistol loaded, and your target in sight, you can then pull the hammer to the rear (full cock), which rotates the cylinder accordingly. You are now ready to shoot.
The trigger itself shows a small, curved blade, and due to the revolver’s ergonomics, you will find that your trigger finger sits at the top of it, in contact with the frame. This is a little weird, and I found that my finger basically runs along the frame as the trigger is pulled to the rear. This is not a problem, it’s just how it is. The pull itself is actually quite pleasant and fairly predictable, although coming in at just 2 lbs 15 oz (average), you need to make sure you are ready!
Chiappa has fitted a decent set of sights to this LBR, with a basic polymer blade secured up at the muzzle by a single screw, and an adjustable unit at the rear that sits in a groove that runs along the top of the frame. All you need is a flat-head screwdriver, and you can alter the elevation and windage. Also, you will be pleased to hear that there are some markings to help guide you when making adjustments, which is a nice touch! I must note, however, that even with the screw tightened fully, the front sight still moved a tad. Saying that, this is a demo gun that has been knocked about a bit, plus I am sure you could pad the base of the blade out, allowing you to tighten it down more. At the end of the day, however, they were very effective in use, probably due to the long 14” sight radius, and I didn’t have to adjust them at all!
This Buntline uses an alloy frame, and the cylinder is secured within it by a removable rod that sits to the rear of the ejector rod housing. To remove the cylinder, you need to depress a spring-loaded button that looks like a screw, and at the same time, pull out the rod from the centre of the cylinder. Now, with the loading gate open, the cylinder will fall into your hand from the right-hand side of the frame, giving you easy access to the six chambers and the barrel for cleaning. Easy, right?
As per the original Colt 1873 SAA, it goes without saying that the dimensions of the pistol grip are very small, and that means one-handed shooting, which could be seen as quite daunting given the length of the barrel! Have no fear though, as this fun gun actually balances remarkably well, and in use, I found that the weight of the muzzle pushes the rear of the grip into your palm in a very natural way, providing you with positive control over the revolver. In addition to this, the black polymer grips include some pretty aggressive chequering, ensuring the Chiappa remains under control in all conditions.
Of course, it is a shame about the silver rod at the base of the grip, but it must be there. The only positive is that if you want to adjust the balance slightly, I am sure you could attach some weights somehow!
I headed down to the firing line and positioned myself roughly seven yards from the target, and using some Winchester sub-sonic ammo, I got right into it and tried printing my first group, which ended up measuring around 2.2”. It did take me a little while to get used to holding the Buntline steady and to figure out how to get the best out of the trigger, but this is why I enjoy shooting, and it was great to see steady improvement. This was evident when I switched to some SK match ammunition, leading to a group measuring just over 1”. Before long, I achieved a PB that measured 0.892”, and the fact only one shot ruined that group, meant that I was pretty sure this ‘little’ Chiappa Buntline was capable of some decent accuracy in the right hands!
While printing groups, I got the opportunity to load/unload the gun multiple times, and although some people may find this process a bit tedious, I actually found it quite therapeutic, as it gave me time to think about what I would try next to further improve my groups.
When I requested to test this LBR, I was really looking forward to experiencing the fuss-free, simplistic type of shooting that comes with a revolver like this. No additional accessories were required, just some safety specs, ear pro, and .22LR ammo! On the range, shooting the gun was addictive, especially when you got into a rhythm with it. Yes, it’s fairly basic, but that’s the attraction, and given the low asking price of £325, what’s not to like?