The Chiappa 1873 10-shot represents an effort to bring an affordable single-action plinker to the market. Using a cast zamak-alloy frame, they look and feel like the old .45 Colt Peacemakers without being as expensive to buy. Depending on the model they retail anywhere from just under to just over $200. These revolvers are available in the US and come with either a 4.75-, 5.5- or 7.5-inch barrel, the last with adjustable target sights.
To me, the main appeal was practicing with inexpensive rimfire ammunition and enjoying the light recoil – in style! To that end, I obtained a highly decorated belt and holster set from Old El Paso Saddlery to ensure I had the complete package. I also obtained belts and holsters from El Paso for the kids and adult shooters which looked great functioned flawlessly.
Single action revolver grips are usually fairly good fit for smaller hands, their triggers don’t require much reach, so I also planned to use them for teaching new shooters. To that end, I also got a more utilitarian set of holsters – one each long and short in left and right hand configuration – and adult and child size gun belts with cartridge loops. This way, a person can run the more precise long gun with the string hand and the lighter, shorter gun with the weak hand.
Single-action, gate-loading revolvers are among the most hardy repeating gun designs. Sequential ejection enables the use of imperfect ammunition and brings the full impact of the ejector to bear on one empty casing at a time, and since the ejector rod goes into the casing from the front, even rimless ammunition can be used. With the cylinder fixed in the frame, alignment with the barrel usually remains good, even after a steady diet of hot loads. With rimfire ammunition the guns should last for many generations. Single-action triggers are generally quite decent, but loading may be slower than with break-open or side-swinging cylinders. Recent models, like this pair of Chiappa SAA1873s, hold 10 rounds each, which should be sufficient for a fairly high rate of fire for a short time.
I headed to the range with high hopes and a brick of Federal 40-grain ammunition. The long-sight radius and crisp trigger should produce good practical accuracy, and the longer models with a 7.5-inch barrel should yield a very respectable velocity. Normally, the 40-grain CCI Velocitor manages about 1,250 feet per second and the 33-grain CCI Stinger zips out at 1,350 fps.
The shorter revolver with fixed sights was test fired first. I discovered that the substantial gap between the cylinder and the forcing cone caused a louder than expected report. Despite good balance and a decent trigger, the best groups I could get were well over 2 inches at a distance of 25 feet. The problem with these entirely acceptable groups was their location – 3 inches down and one to the left of the point of aim. With a groove in the top strap for the rear sight and a fixed blade for the front, there was not much that I could do to reconcile the point of aim with the point of impact. The front sight could be filed and repainted to raise the point of impact, but I wouldn’t try to bend the casting for fear of breaking it. This revolver can still be used for point shooting, but aimed fire might require a bit of Kentucky windage.
The longer model with the 7.5-inch barrel shot much better. A minute with a flat-blade screwdriver adjusted the target rear sight to correct zero. At 25 feet, all 10 rounds shot consistently and fit into a 1-inch circle. Success?
Unfortunately, two issues plagued this sample. First, it actually jammed during loading. To load, the hammer should be placed at half cock, which enables the cylinder to spin freely. Opening the loading gate exposes the chambers. Half way through this process the cylinder would stop rotating. To get it to rotate further, I had to put the revolver on full cock, carefully lower the hammer (sometimes on a live round) and only that would free up the cylinder for the completion of the loading procedure. The other problem was the amount of misalignment between the forcing cone and the chambers. This caused lead shavings during firing. Outdoors, this could have been overlooked given the excellent accuracy, but indoors I found small chunks of lead hitting the lane dividers, which bounced off into my face. Though not very fast by the time they reached me, these bits were annoying.
It’s possible that minor gunsmithing would resolve these issues, but the cost of that would quickly add up. My reluctant conclusion is that the budget single-action revolvers are hit and miss in terms of quality. ASJ