Uberti Reproduction Colt Model Dragoon
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- Last updated: 16/12/2016
They say it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good and so it was with the war between Mexico and the United States which, in 1847, was instrumental in resurrecting the firearms career of Samuel Colt and laying the foundations for one of the most famous names in American manufacturing history. After the demise of his Paterson venture in 1842, he was left without money or the means to continue making pistols, and for the next few years spent his time pursuing other ideas, without ever losing sight of his dream of becoming a major player in the firearms manufacturing sector. When Colt was approached by a young Samuel Walker with a request to produce an improved version of his Paterson revolver, between them they came up with the gigantic revolver which took its name from the young, ex-Texas Ranger, and the US Army ordered one thousand for use by its mounted dragoons. Sub-contracting the manufacture to Eli Whitney, the remuneration allowed Colt to establish his own factory and this time he was here to stay.
The Walker revolver, although superior to anything in its field, nevertheless had drawbacks, principally its weight – 4lbs 9ozs – and its tendency to self-destruct, particularly if loaded to its capacity of sixty grains of black powder. So Colt’s first priority when his new manufactory was up and running was to improve the Walker and in 1848 the First Model Dragoon was offered to the military. A shorter barrel and cylinder brought the weight down to 4lbs 2ozs, still a hefty piece, but along with other minor improvements it was the first in a long line of successful single action revolvers from the Colt stable.
Apart from the reduced size, the part-round, part-octagonal barrel was shortened to 7½ inches, one major improvement over the Walker was the method of securing the loading lever. A spring loaded latch was fitted to the end of the lever which located into a catch fitted under the barrel, replacing the thin under-barrel spring on the larger pistol. This spring engaged in a small slot in the lever but the heavy recoil of the pistol more often than not caused the spring to dislocate, dropping the lever, sending the plunger into a chamber in the cylinder, thus locking up the pistol until the lever was pushed back up. The shorter cylinder, still six shot but accepting a reduced powder charge, was roll engraved with a scene showing mounted troops fighting a group of Indians. First model Dragoons utilized the Walker’s oval cylinder locking bolt and corresponding notches on the cylinder, while the Second and Third models used a square bolt and notch, a feature which became standard on subsequent Colt revolvers. The first two models had square back trigger guards and the Third used a round guard. Between 1848 and around 1861, when Dragoon production ceased, some 20,000 pistols had been produced in the three variants. Standard finish on all was a case hardened frame, lever and hammer with blue barrel and cylinder. The grip straps were brass, left bare on military pistols but usually silver plated for civilian use. The one-piece stocks were walnut.
Uberti offers versions of all three Colt Dragoon revolvers in their line-up and the one we have here is a standard civilian Second model. The barrel and cylinder are the usual Uberti black rather than the blue of the originals and the finish is to a high standard, indicating good polishing before the finish was applied. The cylinder is rolled with an adaptation of the Indian fight scene, which, while close to the original, shows minor differences. The case colours on the frame, lever and hammer are darker than normal, particularly on the frame, and colours are not quite as vivid as on the nineteenth century pistols although still closer to early Colt examples than many modern reproductions. The brass straps on this example are not as highly polished as some others I have encountered and the walnut stocks have the ever-prevailing varnish found on all regular Uberti woodwork. Front sight is a small blade slotted into the barrel while the rear is the customary Colt-style v-notch cut into the top lip of the hammer.
Fit and finish are extremely good with only very minor overlaps of the wood over the straps, not unusual with most of today’s reproduction pistols. If I were being really picky there are a couple of small areas where the guy with the buffing wheel was being a trifle over zealous but you will only see it if you look really hard. The timing is almost as good as it gets, the locking bolt engaging the cylinder a fraction before the trigger sear drops into the full-cock notch, and cylinder lock up is extremely tight, with a minimum of lateral movement and zero forward/aft play. On the base of the barrel, under the rammer, are the calibre, black powder and Uberti marks, while the proof marks are on the base of the frame in front of the trigger guard and the right side of the barrel lug. Serial numbers are on the frame and barrel lug and the date code stamp is on the right side of the frame.
The knurling on the hammer gives a positive grip without being too sharp and the pistol cocks with the minimum of effort. The trigger breaks cleanly at around five pounds. The whole package is very pleasing and probably as close as you will get, colours aside, to the original Colts. So first impressions are very favourable but if your life depended on it, as it often did in the mid to late nineteenth century, then looks alone would not get the job done.
To those used to the later Navy and Army models, loading the Dragoon highlights a slightly inferior type of latch and catch on the loading lever, from the release point of view at least. While this design is a marked improvement over the Walker, it is not difficult to see why subsequent Colt revolvers were fitted with the “wing” type of catch which allows for a much easier release. That said, the sturdy rammer made loading easy and this catch does make locking the lever back in place a little easier. Initially I used a cast .454” lead ball above thirty grains of Henry Krank fine black powder, the two separated by a home-made grease cookie. Although Uberti, along with Sam Colt for that matter, do not advocate the use of any lubrication, saying that a slightly over-sized ball will provide a good seal against chain fires, I prefer to use the grease as a ‘belt & braces’ insurance. Besides which it helps to keep the inevitable fouling soft. I used Remington No. 11 percussion caps, located using the best in-line capper I have ever used – try Trevor Deary on 01603 411727 to see if he’s still making them. Whilst shooting this pistol single-handed is by no means difficult, with its loaded weight a shade under two kilos I found that a two-handed hold gave considerably more control, and putting all six shots on to a CAS-sized target of an A4 piece of paper or a paper plate is easily achievable at twenty metres.
These large pistols will I feel have a limited appeal and those that do use them will probably do so in CAS events or simply as a bit of fun. With that in mind the weight of the gun kept the recoil very manageable even with a one hand hold. Upping the powder charge to thirty five grains gave only a small increase in felt recoil with no noticeable difference in accuracy. If I shot continuously, keeping the barrel warm and the fouling soft, I could get thirty or so shots before binding became noticeable, but pausing between strings dropped this to less than twenty four shots. I did not have one misfire during the day and neither did the “spent cap in the works” syndrome, often associated with the open frame Colts, manifest itself. It is usually recommended that single action revolvers, if loaded, are carried with the hammer down on an empty chamber, but these open top Colt revolvers are equipped with a simple safety device which, although not foolproof, makes carrying a fully loaded pistol a little less dangerous. Between each nipple on the rear of the cylinder is a small pin which fits into a corresponding notch in the hammer face, locking the cylinder in place with the hammer down.
A Successful Design
Quite why Sam Colt and his successors persevered with this open top design for so long, up until the advent of the Peacemaker in 1873, can only be defended by the success of the various models that used it. Discounting the Paterson models, close to one million units were made in the pocket, belt and holster revolver configurations, of which around 2,700 were these second model Dragoons, produced 1850-51.
For my money the design comes into its own when the pistol requires cleaning. Tap out the barrel retaining wedge (this should not fall clear but be held in place by its screw) and the pistol is broken down into its three main components, barrel, cylinder and frame. Cleaning the cylinder is much like any other but I find having the barrel and frame separate makes cleaning both a little easier. The strength or weakness of this design compared to a closed frame pistol has been discussed on numerous occasions but the above production figures would lead one to believe that there are no serious deficiencies. For those looking for something more than the usual Colt Army or Remington models, but not wanting the excessive size of the Walker, one of the Dragoon models should fit the bill admirably. GM