Classic replica air pistol review: Crosman Wild West revolvers

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In 1958 Crosman produced their first Colt Single Action Army replica.  They were so nervous about the reception the new pistol might receive that they created a new company just to sell the gun, so that if it flopped, the Crosman name wouldn’t be tainted by association.  In the event, it was a huge success and over the next twenty-five years Crosman went on to sell very large numbers of a range of Wild West revolver replicas while establishing themselves as a leading player in the replica air gun market.  But, are the Crosman Wild West revolvers actually any good?

Background  

In the 1950s, America went Wild West crazy.  There had always been an interest in the frontier period, but television, books and movies about the Wild West and its characters suddenly seemed to be everywhere.  By 1959, there were more than 30 Western series on prime-time US television every week and seven out of the top ten rated shows were Westerns (Gunsmoke ran for more than 20 years, longer than any previous prime-time drama series).  Movies also made extensive use of the Wild West setting.  To name just a few of the best from this decade: The Gunfighter, (1950), Only the Valiant (1951), High Noon (1952), Shane (1953), River of No Return (1954), The Far Country (1955), The Searchers (1956), Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), The Big Country (1958), Rio Bravo (1959) and The Alamo (1960).

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Many theories have been put forward to explain the sudden interest in the old West.  Most consider the growing uncertainties and fears of Communism and the burgeoning cold war and have suggested that this promoted nostalgia for a period when good and bad appeared to more clearly defined.  Whatever the reason, interest in the Wild West spread outside the borders of America and there could hardly have been a small boy in the English speaking world and beyond who didn’t play Cowboys and Indians at some point in the 1950s and 60s.  As part of this fascination, one gun came to be associated with the period more than any other: The Colt Single Action Army revolver.  Colt had ended production of the SAA in 1940 after a sixty-seven year production run, but such was the interest in all things Western that it was re-introduced in 1956.

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The Crosman Arms Company Inc. (later to become Crosman Air Guns) was founded in 1925 by members of the Crosman family, who also owned the large and very successful Crosman Seed Company.  Crosman produced several moderately successful pneumatic pump air rifles, but the effects of the Great depression limited sales and by 1940 the company had just six employees.  The flamboyant and mercurial entrepreneur Philip Y. Hahn (who was related by marriage to the Crosman family) had been involved from the beginning, but left in 1930 following disagreements over the direction the company should take.  However, in 1940, Hahn bought the company from the Crosman family for just five thousand dollars and set out to revitalise its range.  Sales were slow during World War Two, but in the post-war years Hahn identified a growing market for recreational target shooting airguns, especially models using the new compressed CO2 cartridges.  The interest in the Wild West in the 50s prompted Hahn to consider the production of replicas of guns from that period (Crosman hadn’t produced any air guns which were replicas of firearms until then), using zinc alloy die-cast mouldings, powered by 12g CO2 cartridges and shooting BBs (all previous Crosman guns had been pellet shooters).

Crosman had previously produced only high quality, powerful pellet shooting air guns, and there was a degree of nervousness in the company about an association with what some people might see as more toy-like BB shooters.  To avoid possible problems, it was decided to market the new Wild West replicas under a different company name, and the P. Y. Hahn Mfg. Co. Inc. was established specifically to produce and sell the new BB shooting Hahn “45” revolver and the Model 166 repeating rifle.

Hahn “45” Revolver (1958 – 1970)

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Advertisement for the Hahn “45” from the May 1959 edition of Popular Mechanics

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The Hahn “45” was a full-size replica of the Colt Single Action Army made from die cast zinc alloy and it weighed and balanced almost exactly like the original.  The firing valve and CO2 seat remained fixed in place inside the cylinder, but the outer metal part of the cylinder revolved to bring each BB in line with the barrel.  A CO2 cartridge was stored under the barrel and tightened by turning a thumb wheel under the front of the barrel.  Piercing was done by firing a single shot.  The Hahn “45” stored up to 18, 4.5mm BBs (six in the cylinder chambers and twelve in a spring-fed tubular magazine).  A rather flimsy black plastic cover was used to conceal the CO2 cartridge, and these were often quickly lost or broken.  The trigger was single action only and the hammer had a half-cock position, just like the original pistol.  Grips were plastic but provided in a distinctive imitation staghorn finish.

Hahn used extensive advertising to promote the 45, including appearances by Dee Woolem, the National Fast Draw Pistol Champion and self-proclaimed “fastest gun alive“. The Hahn “45” was an immediate and spectacular success and Hahn went on to offer a high-quality leather cowboy style rig incorporating a pouch for CO2 cartridges to promote the use of the new replica in increasingly popular fast-draw competitions.

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Dee Woolem demonstrates his fast-draw action

When it became apparent that the new replica wasn’t going to be an embarrassment to Crosman, it was sold under Crosman branding between 1963 and 1970 as the “Crosman 45“.  Although provided in Crosman packaging, the Crosman 45 is identical to the original Hahn “45” and even includes “P. Y. Hahn Mfg. Co. Inc” text on the castings.

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Crosman Single Action 6 (1959 – 1969)

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Following the success of the BB shooting Hahn “45”, Crosman released a .22″ pellet shooting version, the Single Action 6 (SA6) within a year.  Concerns about linking the Crosman name with a replica had obviously disappeared and the SA6 was identified as a Crosman product from the start.  The SA6 is mechanically similar to the Hahn “45”, and uses some of the same castings and internal parts though is does not have the spring fed magazine for additional rounds.  Instead, up to six pellets are loaded one at a time, skirt first into the front of the cylinder through an opening on the right side of the frame.  Pellets are retained in the cylinders by a spring which runs round the inside of the revolving part of the cylinder.  The SA6 has a 4.25″ rifled barrel and is a weighty, well balanced pistol and was provided with black or white imitation staghorn grips.  Four different versions of the SA6 were produced during its ten year production run, but the differences are minor and mainly involve changes in markings.

cb97b770aaa75e14636b6d2d8669e66e Crosman Peacemaker 44 .22″ (1970 – 1976)

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The Crosman Peacemaker 44 in .22″ calibre is mechanically virtually identical to the SA6, though it is claimed to be less powerful.  The principal visual difference is that brown, wood-effect plastic grips have replaced the imitation staghorn versions on the SA6.  The Peacemaker 44 is of all-metal construction and is still a weighty pistol, though many people feel that the quality of fit and finish is not as good as seen on the SA6.  Three different types of Peacemaker 44 were made between 1970 – 1976, but the differences are minor and mainly involve changes in markings.

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This picture shows my .22″ Peacemaker 44 after restoration.  As on many examples, the flimsy plastic CO2 cover has been lost at some point and I painted a few CO2 cartridges black to use with this replica.

Crosman Frontier 36 (1970 – 1975)

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The Crosman Frontier 36 is essentially a Crosman rebranding of the original BB shooting Hahn “45”, with some detail changes and price cutting measures.  For example, the hammer no longer has a half-cock position, grips are brown, wood-effect plastic and this version is less powerful than the original.  Otherwise, the Frontier 36 is functionally identical to the Hahn “45”.  On some versions, the hammer and trigger are polished rather than the more common black.

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Crosman Peacemaker 44 .177″ (1976 – 1981)

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The Peacemaker 44, .177″ is similar in construction to the previous .22 version, except that it has a plastic outer cylinder.  This plus some other detail changes make it much lighter than the .22″version.  On some versions, the left grip includes a gold coloured Crosman medallion.

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Crosman Model 1861 Shiloh (1981 – 1983)

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The Crosman Model 1861 Shiloh is a replica of the Remington Model 1861 Army revolver.  While it’s visually similar to the original, it isn’t as close a replica as the other Crosman Wild West revolvers are to the Colt SAA.  It also introduces some new features.  The Model 1861 is the first of this series of Crosman replicas to feature a manual safety, with a crossbolt type safety below the cylinder. The CO2 cover is a hinged section underneath the barrel, in the position occupied by the loading lever on the original firearm.  The CO2 tightening screw beneath the barrel is much bigger on the Model 1861 and this replica is able to shoot both .177″ pellets and 4.5mm BBs.  Finally, more parts are made of plastic on this replica including the CO2 cover and the cylinder.  The sights on this replica are also similar to conventional notch and post sights, which helps to make this one of the most accurate of all the Crosman Western replicas.

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Specifications

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Function and shooting

I have owned three of these Crosman replicas: A Peacemaker 44 in .22″ calibre, a Peacemaker 44 in .177″ calibre and a Model 1861 Shiloh, so information on shooting and use are mainly based on my experience of these models.

A commonly held view is that the earliest of these Crosman Wild West replicas are the best in terms of fit, finish and power.  My experience certainly seems to confirm this.  My favourite was the oldest in my collection, the Peacemaker 44 in .22″ calibre.  It felt sturdy, hefty, well-made and it was reasonably powerful and shot with a very satisfying bang.  In contrast, the later Peacemaker 44 in .177″ and the Shiloh felt notably lighter and more “plasticky” and neither was particularly more powerful or accurate though both used less CO2.

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The brass firing valve in all models is fixed in position and the outer cylinder (which holds the pellets and/or BBs) rotates round this.  As the outer cylinder indexes it lines up one of six air galleries with the firing valve outlet.  Each gallery leads to one of the pellet/BB seating areas in the front of the cylinder.  It’s a simple layout (other than the stem seal on the firing pin, there are only three O rings in the whole CO2 system) and robust, though not especially efficient.   The action is fairly simple with a leaf hammer spring and a coil trigger spring and the single action trigger pull is wonderful, one of the best I have come across in a replica.  When buying any older replica, it’s sensible to assume that seals and O rings may need to be replaced and that some level of fettling may be required and the Crosman Wild West replicas are no different in this respect.

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The sights on the original SAA are rudimentary and only visible when the hammer is cocked and they’re nicely replicated here.  A V-shaped groove is cast into the rear upper frame and this can be lined up with the narrow front post.  A bit.  Sort of.  Because of the sights, the Crosman Wild West replicas are never going to be tack drivers.  And even if you could contrive some sort of mounting, you really don’t want to fit any of these with a red-dot or anything like that.  Live with it.  Jesse James did…

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Loading CO2 is simple – just loosen the thumb screw under the front of the barrel, insert the CO2 and tighten.  On my Peacemaker 44, .22″, the CO2 seal was an O ring inside the brass CO2 chamber which sealed against the shoulder of the CO2 cartridge.  On the .177″ version and Shiloh the CO2 seal was a conventional face-seal.  All sealed without leaks.  Once tightened, the CO2 isn’t pierced until you cock the hammer and fire a shot.  It’s best to do this without pellets loaded because the piercing shot is very low power, and you’ll likely end up with a pellet stuck in the barrel.

BB shooting versions are loaded by pouring BBs into the under-barrel, spring fed magazine.  As the cylinder turns, these are fed into the chamber openings in the cylinder.  Pellet shooting versions are loaded by turning the cylinder until one of the chambers lines up with the opening on the right side of the frame, in front of the cylinder.  One pellet is then pushed into the chamber, skirt first, until it engages with the internal spring.  Then the cylinder is turned and the next pellet loaded.  Using chunky man-fingers to load the pellet shooters is a slow and cumbersome process which I found even more difficult with .177″ pellets – the larger .22″ items just seemed easier to load.  The Shiloh  can also be used to fire 4.5mm BBs which are loaded in the same way, though I have no idea why you’d want to do this given that shooting steel BBs through a rifled barrel is never going to give good accuracy and can actually damage the barrel.

Once you have CO2 and pellets/BBs in place you’re ready to fire.  The hammer cocks with a smooth and satisfying “snick”, and the pistol nestles in your hand perfectly.  You line up what pass for sights in the general direction of the target and pull the trigger (which is short, light, consistent and all-round great).  The first thing you’ll notice is the sound.  Early versions of these guns are loud.  Really loud.  Loud enough to leave your ears ringing after an extended shooting session.  Personally, I like this.  I have also owned a couple of Tanaka 6mm Colt SAA replicas.  They were gorgeous – beautifully made and finished, but they lacked power and when you pulled the trigger, they went “fip“.  When I pulled the trigger on my .22” Peacemaker it went “KA-BOOM“.   I know which I prefer, but if your spouse, family, pets or neighbours object to sudden loud noises, you may want to consider carefully if you really want one of these.

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Six shots, six yards, free-standing, Peacemaker 44, .22″

OK, so you have shot off six pellets, your startled cat has run up next-door’s tree and you can see your wife’s lips moving but you can hear only a low drone over the ringing sound in your ears (hmm, maybe I can live with that…).  Then you look at the target.  And you’re probably going to be a little bit disappointed. Because, despite their rifled barrels, none of the Crosman pellet shooting Wild West rplicas are especially accurate.  My .22″ Peacemaker grouped at around 1½” – 2½” inches at six yards and my .177″ Peacemaker grouped closer to 3″ at the same range.  My .177″ Shiloh was a little better, giving groups of around 1½”.  Overall, no better than most BB shooters really.  I have seen claims of much better accuracy with these replicas, so perhaps the barrels on the versions I owned were worn? All I can really say is that in my experience these are  not particularly accurate and the basic and non-adjustable sights make things even worse.

Power is reasonable.  On a chilly November day in Scotland, my .22″ Peacemaker chronoed at an average of 230fps for a six shot string. In the same conditions, my .177″ Peacemaker averaged at 290fps and the Shiloh at around 300fps.  I believe that you can expect around 270-290fps from an SA6 in good condition and around 320-350fps for the Hahn “45” and the Frontier 36.  CO2 consumption varies.  My .22″ Peacemaker gave no more than 36 shots from a single CO2, with the last two notably losing power.  The Shiloh and .177″ Peacemaker were a little better, with 40 – 50 shots per CO2 depending on temperature.

Reliability

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Working on any of the Crosman SAA replicas is simple – four slotted screws hold the two halves of the cast body together – when these are removed and the pistol is laid in its left side, the right-hand casing can be lifted off, leaving the cylinder, valve, hammer, trigger and indexing mechanism in-situ.

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The CO2 seating and firing valve in the Crosman Wild West replicas is an elegantly simple design.  There is no pipework – everything is contained in a brass housing in the centre of the cylinder which remains static while the outer part of the cylinder revolves.  There are only four seals in the whole design: one O ring seals the outlet part of the valve into the main body and another seals outlet tube into the body of the pistol.  On early versions the CO2 seal is another O ring which seals against the neck of the CO2 cartridge, on later versions it’s a conventional face seal.  Finally, there is a face-seal on the firing pin, contained within a brass housing.  All O rings are easily replaced, though the face seals need more specialist equipment to replace and are best left to an experienced airgunsmith.

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Metal outer cylinder and brass valve from my Peacemaker 44, .22″

The hammer spring is a steel leaf which can be placed in three alternative positions to vary tension.  The trigger, hammer and indexing mechanism is also admirably simple, especially if compared to more modern revolver replicas.

Problems with these replicas are mainly related to age and use.  O rings and face seals degrade and must be replaced.  Hammer springs break or lose their elasticity and must be replaced.  On the Peacemaker 44, .177″ and the Model 1861 Shiloh the plastic outer cylinder is prone to wear on the drive teeth which affects indexing and will eventually cause the pistol to fail altogether.  All models benefit from lubrication of the trigger, indexing and hammer mechanisms.

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Wear on the plastic cylinder drive teeth on a Shiloh

Overall, the Crosman Wild West replicas with metal cylinders are robust, well-made and well engineered.  With regular lubrication and seal replacement, these will go on shooting almost indefinitely so there is no need to be put off by the idea of buying a replica that might be more than fifty years old. I would be a little more cautious about buying an example of the Peacemaker 44, .177″ and the Model 1861 Shiloh versions with plastic cylinders – the plastic indexing teeth on the cylinders can wear, and if this happens your replica won’t be much use other than as a wall decoration.

Conclusion

They don’t make ’em like this any more.  No, really, they don’t!  The early Crosman Wild West pistols are heavy, well-engineered, crude, loud, inaccurate and use more CO2 than you might expect.  And they’re wonderful.  They really do handle and balance like the original.  If the sights are useless, well I guess that’s just how it was back in the old West.  I think that most people would enjoy handling and shooting an SA6 or a Peacemaker 44 in .22″ calibre.  I haven’t tried the Hahn “45”, but I believe that it’s similar too.

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Polished SA6 with pearl grips.  I want one of these!

The newer versions are more frugal with CO2, quieter and the Shiloh is certainly more accurate.  However, I don’t really care for these new models so much.  They’re generally much lighter than the early versions and use more plastic in their construction.  Compared to my .22″ Peacemaker which I used regularly, my .177″ Peacemaker and Shiloh spent most of their time gathering dust at the back of the gun cabinet.  In my opinion, the later versions don’t have the accuracy to compete with more modern pellet shooting replicas and lack the character and fun factor of the early all metal models.

So, find yourself a decent Hahn “45”, an SA6 or a .22″ Peacemaker 44 and one of those quick-draw rigs, set up a target featuring a mean hombre in a black hat and I think you’ll have plenty of fun.

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Related pages

Classic Handguns: The Colt Single Action Army revolver

Technical article: Repairing and refurbishing a Crosman 44 Peacemaker

Classic replica air pistol review: Crosman 38 revolvers

Classic replica air pistol review:The Marksman Repeater

Umarex Colt SAA

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Classic replica air pistol reviews

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