January 10, 2022
By Rick Hacker
There’s an old saying that “Everything old is new again,” and while it might be a cliché, it certainly applies to some of the traditional shooting techniques many of us were taught or learned on our own years ago. However, there are some that, for one reason or another, have not been passed down to a new generation of shooters.
This certainly is true when it come to single-action shooting, firing those 19th century-inspired revolvers that feature ergonomically pleasing plow-handled grips and graceful high-profiled hammer spurs. Firing a shot by first cocking the hammer and then pulling the trigger sounds like a simple procedure, but there are a few subtle techniques that can make your single-action shooting much more effective.
During the years of the wild and wooly western frontier, if you packed a single-action sixgun you either learned these techniques or very often you didn’t live long enough to get a chance to learn them. Today things are a bit more civilized, but knowing a few single- action shooting techniques are still very much a part of being a more proficient pistolero. And the advent of newer single-action designs with built-in safety features that didn’t exist a half-century ago only adds to the complexities of what is basically a very simple handgun design.
So to hopefully make your sixgun exploits more enjoyable—whether cowboy action shooting, hunting or just plain plinking—here are six secrets for successful single-action shooting:
1. After loading a Colt Single Action Army or one of its clones, always bring the hammer to full cock before lowering it all the way back down. Lowering the hammer from the half-cock or loading notch position will prematurely raise the bolt against the cylinder wall, and the next time you cock the gun, you could very well put a visible scratch on the cylinder.
2. Owners of Ruger New Model Blackhawks and similar single actions that require the loading gate to be flipped open for loading can avoid needlessly scarring up their cylinders by manually indexing the cylinder flutes to line up on either side of the topstrap before flipping the loading gate closed. This will result in the bolt rising directly into the cylinder notch, rather than on the side of the cylinder when the bolt is closed, as the gun will already be locked into battery.
3. Fixed-sight Colt-style single actions have a tendency to shoot to the left. To move the bullet’s point of impact to the right while still keeping the front sight blade centered in the fixed rear sight top strap groove, after removing the cylinder and ejector rod housing, put the barrel in a padded vise and—with the barrel facing away from you—carefully move the frame clockwise very slightly. Sometimes just a fraction of a degree is all you need.
4. Fixed-sight Colt-style single actions also have a tendency to shoot high. The old-timer’s trick was to aim only with the bottom half of the front sight on single actions with 4.75- or 5.5-inch barrels and to keep only the top third of the front sight showing on sixguns with 7.5-inch barrels.
A more permanent solution is to add a higher front sight if you want to lower the point of impact, or to file the front sight lower to raise the point of impact. In other words, alter the front sight in the opposite direction that you want your bullet to hit.
Both of these solutions are best performed by a qualified gunsmith. It should be noted that these techniques should not be performed on first-generation SAAs or other collectible single actions, as altering their original front sights can negatively affect their values.
5. Never underestimate the importance of a good action job. Assuming the gun is already properly timed, sometimes all it takes is the replacement of the mainspring and trigger spring with kits offered by firms such as Wolff Gunsprings.
This can also be accomplished by taking a few coils off of the mainspring of Ruger single actions or carefully filing down the sides of the flat mainspring on SAAs and their clones. Some old timers also used to simply secure a small piece of leather between the mainspring and the frame to lighten the hammer pull.
6. Traditional Colt single actions and their clones, which incorporate exposed fixed firing pins, should be carried with only five chambered rounds, with the hammer resting over the empty sixth chamber. This avoids an accidental discharge if the gun is dropped.
A good way to ensure that the hammer is lowered over an empty chamber when loading a sixgun is to load the first round, skip a chamber, and then load the remaining four rounds. Next, with your finger off the trigger, fully cock the hammer and then lower it over the empty sixth chamber, which will have rotated into place.