New 12-inch Nickel and Antique Finish Single Action Army Revolvers
Wyatt Earp and the Buntline Myth
by Dennis Adler
Whether Earp said it, or Lake made it up, Wyatt allegedly wore the Buntline on his right hip (as demonstrated by the author in the accompanying photos) though Lake never physically described Earp’s holster or gunbelt.
Since this is fact and fiction colliding we opted to have Alan and Donna Soellner of Chisholm’s Trail make a 12-inch version of their Tombstone holster based on the rig worn by Kurt Russel in his portrayal of Wyatt Earp. This is a very distinctive holster with a heavy stitched drop loop, no exposed skirt and two Chicago screws on the back to secure the belt loop to the holster.
The standard model is for a 10-inch Buntline like Russell carried in the movie, but Chisholm’s Trail now offers both 10 and 12 inch versions.
Despite Wyatt’s supposed comment about the special, that he “could jerk it as fast as I could my old one,” we found a strong side draw to be slow and very deliberate.
Worn in a cross draw rig, the Buntline draws faster and comes right around into position to fire in one sweeping motion. If Lake was making up his tale of Earp’s carry method he likely never actually strapped on a Buntline to see if a strong side draw was fast or not. And it isn’t. But is sure looks impressive.
There’s nothing like piles of black powder smoke for Wild West realism so we did part of our range test with Goex Black Dawg Pinnacle Black Powder .45 Long Colt 235 RNFP cartridges.
The smoky and hard hitting 235 grain bullets managed a best grouping from 50 feet of 1-1/2 inches center-to-center. The Black Dawg traveling down a foot of rifled steel cleared the traps of our ProChrono chronograph at a hefty average of 805 fps (feet per second).
The accuracy with the Black Dawg was particularly good considering the amount of kick that the Pinnacle black powder produces. Our second test, also at 50 feet, was done with Ten-X 165 gr. HBFP (hollow base flat point) which clocked an average of 500 fps. The Buntline shoots a little low at that range but we decided to see how well it grouped at point of aim.
The best 5-round string had a spread of just 1-1/8 inches all in the lower corner of the target at 5 o’clock. A second group fired holing over the center of the target delivered a bull’s eye and three more in the black but spread out to 3-1/2 inches due to one flyer in the 6 ring at 7 o’clock. All shots were fired using a Weaver stance and two-hand hold.
With a 12-inch barrel the Buntline is a little muzzle heavy, as might be expected, but the smooth, tuned action makes firing the gun almost effortless. The light hammer draw (we used a two-handed hold and the off hand thumb to cock the hammer as in SASS competition), and trigger make this a natural shooter for competition and target practice. For a SASS match the Buntline would really pack them in tight and fast, if you didn’t loose too much time on the clock drawing the gun!
While historic authenticity takes a back seat with the Pietta Buntline, it is a high quality gun at a very reasonable price that exhibits the fit and finish that has become typical of Pietta’s latest single actions.
The issue, though a minor one, is in the frame design which is a reproduction of the c.1896 Smokeless Powder Colt SAA frame with transverse cylinder pin latch. The original 1876 Colt Buntlines were all built on the earlier black powder frame which used a screw to secure the cylinder arbor.
Pietta chose the later Colt frame for the Buntlines simply because their other Single Action models are all based on the 1896 frame. In addition, the Piettas have a safety mechanism that is tied into using the Smokeless powder frame.
After checking to ensure the gun is empty, you cock the hammer, depress the crossbolt latch, and push the cylinder arbor further back into its second notch. With the arbor locked in this position the end protrudes through the back of the frame and prevents the hammer from fully dropping. It’s the best idea this side of resting the hammer on an empty chamber, which is what most wise cowboys did when packing a loaded six shooter on horseback.
As reproductions go the Pietta Buntline, ether in the standard blue and color cased frame finish, polished nickel, or the eye catching antique blue, are all exceptional guns for appearance, accuracy, and handling. If Wyatt Earp had ever gotten his hands on one of these, he’d probably have carried it.