Blessed Are The Peacemakers: Top Reasons To Still Own A Colt SAA

by Tommy Grant

We take a look at the Colt SAA, or Single Action Army, and discuss the top 5 reasons to still own one today.

In 1872, Colt submitted a .45-caliber revolver to the U.S. Army for test and evaluation. In 1873, it was accepted, and one of the greatest firearm legends was born. The Colt Single Action Army (SAA), also known as the Peacemaker, was most generally offered in three barrel lengths. The short 4¾-inch barrel is often referred to as the “Gunfighter,” the 5½-inch-barreled version as the “Artillery Model,” and the longer 7½-inch-barreled version as the “Cavalry,” or standard model.

The revolver enjoyed immense popularity well after World War I, but after World War II Colt tried to retire it. Television Westerns and Bill Ruger’s introduction of the Blackhawk in 1955 forced Colt to bring back the SAA, and in 1956, the second-generation Colt SAA was born. By 1974, sales had once again fallen off, and Colt killed the SAA for a second time.

But shooters would have none of it. Colt began building them—though in limited quantities—again. Over its 150-year history, the Colt SAA has been chambered for more than 30 cartridges.

A new SAA has a retail price of $1,799—you can buy three Glock pistols for that price. And you might wonder what place an antique firearm like the Peacemaker has in this modern world of plastic pistols with electric sights that folks like to carry with the barrel shoved down in their pants toward their junk. That’s a good question, especially for the handgun that probably originated appendix carry. (Since the Colt SAA revolver’s hammer must be cocked before it can be fired, it’s much safer to carry one shoved in your pants behind your belt buckle.)

Here’s five reasons you should own a SAA.


Recreational Shooting

There are a lot of practical applications for firearms, and shooters often justify a firearm purchase with them. However, I think one of the most practical applications for the use and purchase of a firearm is to experience the fun of shooting it. Shooting recreationally is enjoyable, and in this fast-paced world filled with the stresses of employment, parenthood and inflation, a little enjoyment can go a long way.


When my son was younger, he really enjoyed shooting all the new guns I got to test. I was always surprised that the guns he enjoyed shooting the most were lever-action rifles and single-action revolvers. Though he never directly communicated it to me, I believe the enjoyment he found was partly due to their Old West connection, but even more so since he had to interact with the gun—shuck the lever or cock the hammer—to make the gun work.

And therein lies a large portion of the appeal of the single-action revolver: You have to thumb that hammer back before you shoot, and that action is appealing. It sort of has that ready, set, go feel. I have several single-action revolvers in addition to my Colt SAA. Some I use for specific and practical chores, but most often I shoot them just for the fun of it.


Most handgun competitions of the day revolved around semi-automatic pistols and, on occasion, double-action revolvers. Modern handgun competitions are fast-paced endeavors that also often include a good deal of athleticism: shoot here, run there, jump that and shoot some more. Not everyone likes to play the run-and-gun game. Fortunately, there’s a specific competitive organization that not only recognizes this, but they also require single-action revolvers.


The Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) is an organization formed to preserve and promote the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting. SASS was formed in 1987 and serves as the governing body for the sport. SASS members share a common interest in preserving the history of the Old West and the love of competitive shooting. The matches are exciting, and many of the competitors take as much pride in the period costumes they wear as they do in their shooting.


Another sport where the single-action revolver like the Colt Peacemaker is prominent is in mounted shooting. The Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (CMSA) is an equestrian sport where .45-caliber single-action revolvers firing blank ammunition are used to bust balloons as the competitor negotiates a riding course. And, in the CMSA events, you must wear Western attire.



Handgun hunting continues to gain in popularity, but most modern handgun hunters are using semi-automatic handguns … some even suppressed. But back in the day, the single-action revolver was the handgun most often used for hunting. Today, the Ruger Blackhawk is probably the most popular single-action hunting revolver, mostly because it comes with adjustable sights. This gives it a distinct advantage over the fixed-sighted Colt SAA.

This advantage is partly because the sights on the Ruger Blackhawk are much easier to see—some even come with fiber-optic front sights—but also partly because the sights on Colt SAA revolvers rarely point—when the sights are aligned—to the bullet’s exact point of impact. This isn’t a good thing with a handgun that will be used for hunting, especially at ranges extending out to 25 yards or so. Hunters want precise shot placement. For most recreational, competition and self-defense applications, the point of aim/point of impact is close enough for, as they say, government work.


To correct this, you can do one of three things. First, you can find a different load that strikes more closely to your point of aim. Second, you can have a gunsmith slightly bend the front sight or minutely rotate the barrel to correct for windage. And you can file down the front sight to correct for elevation. (It’s been my experience that most Colt SAA revolvers shoot a bit low with full power loads.) Of course, you can also just apply Kentucky windage and hold off the target the appropriate amount to get the desired hit.

The best thing about using the Colt SAA for hunting is that they are available in either .357 Magnum or .45 Colt, and there are a host of powerful big-game loads for both cartridges from Buffalo Bore ammunition.


I get flustered when folks declare a single-action revolver like the Colt Peacemaker unsuited for self-defense. After all, it was used in the world’s most famous gunfight in Tombstone, Arizona, in 1881 at the OK Corral. It was carried up San Juan Hill by the Rough Riders, and it was a favorite of the famous Texas Ranger Frank Hammer. He liked it so much he nicknamed it “Old Lucky.” General George S. Patton used a Colt Peacemaker to shoot Captain Julio Cardenes, who was a thug in the Pancho Villa gang. The Colt SAA revolver has a long history of winning gunfights.


But does that make it a great handgun for personal protection? Well, yes and no. It’s just as effective at stopping a bad guy today as it was when Bat Masterson and U.S. Marshal and manhunter Bill Tilghman relied on it. One well-aimed shot tends to end a gunfight quickly, and as John Wayne’s character John B. Books said in the movie The Shootist, “Most importantly, you gotta be willing.”

Granted, if you’re looking to purchase a handgun for self-defense, there are a lot of better options today than there were in 1873 when the Colt SAA was introduced, or, in 1901, when the movie The Shootist was set. However, if you have a Colt Peacemaker—and if you can shoot—it can serve well as a self-defense handgun. Would I choose it over a 1911 or a Glock? No. But oddly, and at the same time, if I was going to try and stop a pissed-off grizzly, I’d rather have a SAA in .357 Magnum or .45 Colt than I would a 1911 or a Glock in 9mm Luger.

And, as logic would dictate, if it’s a good choice for a toothy critter like a bear, then it would also be a good choice for a human intent on causing death or serious bodily injury. From the holster at 10 yards, I can generally hit an 8-inch plate two times with a Colt Commander in .45 Auto in about 2.8 seconds. Comparably, armed with a holstered Colt SAA in .357 Magnum, I can get the same two hits in about 3.3 seconds.

Finding Your Inner Cowboy

Though it’s been alluded to throughout this article, I do believe that one of the best things you can do with a Colt SAA revolver is find that connection to your inner cowboy. Yeah, I know, some folks like to wear cowboy boots, and others like to wear cowboy hats. I like both, and though I don’t wear slip-on boots as much as I used to, I’m almost always wearing a brimmed hat. Both are, in my mind, a symbol of the American pioneering and rebellious spirit that shaped this nation … and embodies everything that makes Americans, Americans.


But nothing—not boots, a hat, or even the lever-action rifle—can tether you to that cowboy spirt that formed this nation like the Colt SAA. If you’re a pro-Second Amendment patriotic American, who likes guns and likes to shoot, then I can’t imagine you not liking Colt’s SAA.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the July 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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