Of all the 1873 single action replicas made today, those produced by Aldo Uberti (and imported by Benelli USA) of Gardone Val Trompia, Italy, come closest to the original design, considering importation and safety requirements. But let's face it, almost every single-action, no matter who makes it or where, needs a bit of aftermarket tweaking if you are going to do any sort of serious shooting.
Barrels must occasionally be given a half-degree turn, and front sights must be filed to bring the gun on target. In addition, mainsprings are often lightened along with the trigger pull, and bolt and hand springs are frequently replaced. Other internal parts are reshaped and polished to produce a smoother action.
Cowboy action shooters especially are familiar with these routines, but so are hunters and those who rely on their six-shooters for protection. I can honestly say I don't own a "shootin' sixgun" that hasn't been given an action job, which, of course, adds to the overall cost of the gun. But now Uberti has ridden to the rescue with its factory slicked-up 1873 Cattleman "El PatrÃ³n" (Spanish for "the boss" and not referring to the tequila of that same name).
Offered in either 4.75- or 5.5-inch barrel lengths (the two most popular choices for cowboy action shooting) and in calibers .45 Colt and .357 Magnum (which also takes .38 Special ammo), El PatrÃ³n is competition-ready. It won't disappoint as a sidearm in hunting camps either. In fact, with the latter in mind, it is available in stainless steel, as well as in traditional blue and case-hardened finish with case-hardened hammer.
Right from the box, each El PatrÃ³n is perfectly timed, tuned, tested and certified by Uberti gunsmiths. The smooth, crisp, hand-honed action has been made even smoother with Wolff springs, and the trigger breaks just a tad over three pounds. In fact, my test gun averaged exactly 3.15 pounds, according to my Lyman digital gauge.
In addition, the rear sight notch has been widened to 1/8 inch, which pairs up nicely with the 3/32-inch-wide front blade. Even with my eyes, I had no trouble obtaining a quick sight picture.
Befitting a single-action of the first-generation style, the cylinder is beveled, and the spring-loaded cylinder base pin catch is the post-1898 "smokeless powder" design. But as an improvement over the originals, each chamber is numbered, an aid in competition and for determining which chambers shoot best (yes, sometimes there are differences). And the one-piece, finely checkered walnut grips are not only attractive but help anchor the gun during recoil.
For this test, I requested a blued and case-hardened version in .45 Colt with a 4.75-inch barrel. Although most cowboy action shooters prefer a 5.5-inch tube, I like the balance of the shorter barrel. And besides, I just think it looks better.
The hammer was far easier to cock than a stock single-action, and like other imported single-actions, the cylinder base pin can be moved rearward to serve as a safety, keeping the hammer's firing pin from contacting a cartridge in the cylinder (although one should always load only five rounds, with the hammer resting over an empty sixth chamber).
At the range, El PatrÃ³n shot to point of aim at 25 yards, unlike most single-actions, which typically shoot low and to the left. And the light trigger pull helped me punch out my best group of the day with Federal 225-grain semi-wadcutter hollowpoints: a one-inch, four-shot group with two shots touching, and the inevitable fifth shot that opened everything up to 1.75 inches.
The handsome one-piece checkered walnut grips help anchor the El PatrÃ³n in the hand during recoil. Hacker found that the gun pointed well and was a natural for SASS duelist competitions, although he disliked the amount of trigger creep for this style of shooting. As an aid to fast target acquisition, the rear sight notch is widened to one-eighth of an inch.
However, I noticed just the slightest amount of trigger creep--about 1/32 inch--which, frankly, doesn't belong on a tuned gun of this quality. It was not enough to be bothersome when engaged in two-handed, cowboy action-style rapid cock-and-fire exercises, but it was disconcerting when I was firing Single Action Shooting Society's duelist-style--using just one hand to cock and shoot.
And unlike other 4.75-inch barreled single-actions, the ejector rod of the El PatrÃ³n ended an eighth of an inch short of the muzzle, just noticeable enough to make me notice it.
These minor points aside, El PatrÃ³n shoots with more accuracy than needed for SASS events, and the fact that it comes with an action job saves you from that extra gunsmithing step, which can typically cost from $150 to $450. That built-in savings makes the El PatrÃ³n's price tag of $589 (for the blued version) to $729 (for stainless steel) seem like a bargain. In fact, I'm thinking about getting a pair and doubling my savings--although I hate taking all that work away from those gunsmiths.