COLT'S BIGGEST SNAKE, THE ANACONDA
In 1907, the events were set into place to change handgunning dramatically . It would be forty-eight years before the handgunning public in general would feel the impact, but the basis was laid in those days long before the War to End All Wars. Two things happened shortly after the turn of the century. A new cartridge, the .44 Special was introduced and it was chambered in a magnificent, new sixgun, one that perhaps has never been equaled. That new revolver was the first Smith & Wesson N-frame and it was appropriately named the New Century. It is also known as the First Model Hand Ejector and more lovingly as the Triple-Lock.
This beautiful old sixgun got its latter name by the fact that it locked its cylinder in three places: at the rear of the cylinder, and at the front of the ejector rod, as is normal on all Smith & Wesson sixguns, plus it had an extra latch in front of the cylinder. These old Triple-Locks are often referred to as being the equal of a fine Swiss watch in their fitting. The only factory revolver to ever come close to being fitted as well as the New Century is the modern Freedom Arms revolver be it in .454 Casull, .45 Colt, .44 Magnum, or .22 Long Rifle.
The New Century did not last long. It was judged too expensive to produce and after only 15,375 of these fine $21 sixguns were produced, they were replaced by the .44 Hand Ejector Second Model in 1915. Gone was the third locking feature as well as the enclosed ejector rod all resulting in a munificent saving of two dollars!
By the 1920's, the enclosed ejector housing was back in the 1926 Model or Third Model Hand Ejector. It lasted until the start of World War Two. Then the final phase of the .44 Special Smith & Wessons came about in 1950 with the 1950 Target Model. All four of these beautiful .44 Special sixguns were used by experimenters to hot-rod the .44 Special from its moribund factory load of a 246 grain round-nosed bullet, a very accurate but puny 750 feet per second load, to a rip-snortin' handload using a 250 grain Keith bullet at 1200 feet per second.
Elmer Keith, was one of those who extolled the praises of the ".44 Special Magnum" for three decades and his articles, as well as others, can be found in the pages of THE AMERICAN RIFLEMAN from the mid 1920's to the 1950's. Keith's bullet was a semi-wadcutter design and though he did not invent it, he certainly `modernized' it and made it popular. Other experimenters who pushed the .44 Special were Gordon Boser, who later went off on another track and created his own Magnum, the .401 Boser Special; Ray Thompson, who designed one of the all time best bullets for the big .44, the Lyman/Thompson #431244, a 255 grain gas checked semi-wadcutter; and John Lachuk, who took the experimenting to the point of stretching the Special into a longer .44 cartridge using rifle brass and chambering in the Colt Single Action.
In 1956, Smith & Wesson stunned the shooting world with the introduction of the .44 Magnum. Keith asked for a 250 grain bullet at 1200 feet per second. He got much more, a 240 grain bullet at 1450 feet per second. For Keith it was love at first sight. He retired his fine Colt and Smith & Wesson .44 Special sixguns and carried a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum daily until his stroke in 1981.
The other two of the big three sixgun manufacturers at the time, Colt and Ruger, were caught off guard by the introduction of the .44 Magnum. Smith & Wesson already had the frame size necessary for the new forty-four. They simply specially heat-treated their 1950 target, added a full length cylinder and bull barrel to help dampen recoil, and the first .44 Magnum was a reality.
Ruger got wind of the new cartridge with the story going that a discarded .44 Magnum casing was found in the trash and they knew something was afoot. Three of the 1950-ish .357 Blackhawks, which had smaller frames and cylinders than the present .357 New Model Blackhawks, were chambered for the new .44 Magnum. Barrel lengths were 4 5/8", 5 1/2", and 7 1/2". These were displayed at the NRA Convention and Keith told them the frames and cylinders were too small but he would like to have the short barreled one and use it with .44 Special loads. He was to pick it up before going back to Idaho after the convention. Obviously, in those pre-'68 Gun Control Act days guns were much easier to transfer and transport.
When Keith stopped to pick up the Ruger .44 Special sixgun he found that it had already been packed up and he was promised that it would be sent to him. Bill Ruger decided to proof test it back at the factory and it blew up. Just imagine what those three original .44 Magnum Rugers would be worth today! As a result, the .44 Blackhawk with a larger and longer cylinder and frame was soon on the market often beating the Smith & Wesson to the dealers shelves.
Meanwhile back at Colt, the premier sixgun was the newly introduced Python. What had started as a deluxe .38 Special target pistol was transformed into what many will still say is the finest .357 Magnum available. The Python was built on the old .41 frame, too small for the .44 Magnum. Colt had the proper sized frame for the .44 Magnum in their New Service. But the manufacture of this large sixgun was stopped before World War Two and the machinery was moved to the parking lot to make way for war-time production. After the war, it was found, naturally, that the machinery was a rusty mess as a result sitting in the New England weather for four years.
In 1956, Colt re-introduced the Single Action Army in .45 Colt and .38 Special, shortly to be followed by the .357 Magnum and the .44 Special. Colt decided that the Single Action Army, the Model P, frame was too small for the .44 Magnum. John Lachuk had chambered numerous Colt Single Actions for his wildcat .44 which turned out to be dead-ringer for the .44 Magnum and on a couple of occasions I have fired another .44 Magnum Colt Single Action put together by Dick Casull that handles the .44 Magnum perfectly. Casull, of course specially heat-treated the frame and made the cylinder for the latter .44 Magnum Colt.
Smith & Wesson and Ruger both had a .44 Magnum on the market in 1956. Colt decided to ignore it. Sixteen years later, in 1972, Colt looked at the .44 Magnum again. Colt Single Action serial number GX9234 was built in .44 Magnum. With a larger frame, longer cylinder and longer grip frame, it looks much like the El Dorado, Seville, and Abilene single actions that came along later. One gun was made, the project was shelved and Hartford continued to ignore the upstart .44 Magnum .
By this time Dirty Harry movies had arrived and everyone seemingly had to have the gun that Clint Eastwood used as San Francisco cop Harry Callahan. Prices on Smith & Wesson .44 Magnums soared out of sight. Ruger Super Blackhawks also became hard to get as would be Smith & Wesson purchasers switched to the single action Ruger so they could at least have the proper cartridge if not the proper sixgun.
The time was ripe for the manufacture of other double action .44 Magnum sixguns. Colt ignored the demand. Ruger and Dan Wesson did not. By the 1980's both Dan Wesson and Ruger had double action .44 Magnums available and the black market prices on the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum plummeted. Many of those who paid double price to get a .44 Magnum now found that they had a gun that was available for less than the retail price. There is a moral in there somewhere.
Now we are in the 1990's. After thirty-five plus years of the .44 Magnum, after it has been produced by Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Great Western, Dan Wesson, Seville, Mossberg, Uberti, Thompson/Center, Marlin, Winchester, M.O.A., Desert Eagle, Pachmayer, Rock Manufacturing, Freedom Arms, Hawes, Astra, Llama, etc., etc., etc., finally we have a Colt .44 Magnum. The new sixgun that took three plus decades to arrive is the double action Anaconda. It is big. It is .44 Magnum. And it is Colt.
Yes, a new snake has joined the pit in Hartford. The Cobra, the Diamondback, the Viper, and the King Cobra have all had their fangs pulled and are no more, but the newest and biggest snake joins the Python and it promises to be the deadliest of them all.
I'm not sure what the normal gestation period of snakes are but surely this one was a long time coming. Even after the birth announcements were sent out to one and all, the new snake refused to arrive. And when it did, something was radically wrong. After thirty-five years, the Colt .44 Magnum arrived and it would not shoot. Remember those early articles and how some gunwriters tried to make it sound like everything was O.K. " So what if it doesn't shoot at least we have a .44 Magnum marked COLT." Even Colt knew they had real problems and they stopped shipping Anacondas . Talking to John Nassif of Colt in early 1991, I learned the problem was barrels. The .44 barrels just would not perform.
Whatever the problem was, it has obviously been taken care of and Anacondas are once again being shipped. When my test gun arrived, the first thing I did was look down the barrel and it is beautiful! It looks incredibly smooth at least to the naked eye and seemed to communicate to my shooting soul "Trust me, I will perform". It does! No doubt about it. But let's not get ahead of the story.
The Anaconda will be available in four-, eight-, and hopefully, ten-inch barrels later. Right now my test gun is a fifty-two ounce six-inch barreled stainless steel double action sixgun. That is not very heavy for a 1990's .44 Magnum when one considers the weight of the Dan Wesson and Ruger Super Redhawk .44 Magnums. It is in fact, only five ounces heavier than the original forty-four, the six and one-half inch Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum.
The Anaconda is available in stainless only, and I do hope they offer a blue model, maybe even the old Colt Royal Blue? It looks like the healthy offspring of the marriage between a stainless Python and a King Cobra with the barrel being pure Python, albeit larger in diameter and the rest of the gun definitely is descended from the King Cobra. Except for the King Cobra-shaped trigger guard, it is a strikingly handsome sixgun even better looking than either of its parents.
On the left side of the barrel is found two lines containing "COLT ANACONDA" and ".44 MAGNUM" and on the right side of the barrel we find "DOUBLE ACTION REVOLVER" and "COLT'S PT.F.A MFG.,HARTFORD, CONN.U.S.A" What! No liability warning? That has to be worth a whole lot in itself. Thank you Hartford!
The stainless finish on the Anaconda is as good, and in many cases better, than that found on most stainless steel handguns. The entire gun is nicely polished, almost looking like a gun ready for bluing. The exceptions are the flattened off top of the frame and barrel, and the hammer and trigger which are a non-reflecting dull grey.
Sights are strictly King Cobra style which means the adjustable rear sight is white outline style and the ramp style front sight has a pale red insert which is even harder for me to see in sunlight than the red insert material used by that other double action gun company. When, oh when, are we ever going to go back to sights the way they were meant to be? Black! I will admit that at least the red insert fills the rear sight nicely. And at least Colt uses two pins to fasten the front blade to its base. No rocking loose here.
The double action pull is not bad but could certainly stand the gentle touch of a custom gunsmith. The single action pull feels exceptionally good to me just as it is. The face of the trigger has three longitudinal serrations and I would like to see these left off and the Anaconda offered with a smoothly polished trigger with no rough edges. But again, a job any competent gunsmith can do.
Grips furnished on the Anaconda are finger groove rubber and are too small which is quite strange as a stainless Python I received a number of years ago had a pair of rubber grips that were so large I could not get my hand around them. Smaller is better than bigger when it comes to handgun grips but I would much prefer a set of fancy wood grips and my Anaconda has been equipped with Skeeter Skelton style stocks from BearHug Grips.
When using the factory stocks I made it through a long string of full house loads numbering over two hundred rounds before the raw spot on my palm made me reach for the Chimera shooting gloves.
For test-firing the Anaconda for accuracy on paper, at least to begin with, I wanted to use a scope as my eyes work pretty well with black sights and pretty poorly with red inserts. Plus I wanted the testing to give a true picture of the Anaconda and the ammunition not my eyesight.
So into my parts box I went and came up with a B-Square mount that I have used on the .357 Python in the past. This is a mount that clamps on the barrel using the ventilated rib and definitely was not designed to stand up to .44 Magnum recoil. If it would fit I decided to install it and use it as long as it would hold up.
The B-Square mount clamped on perfectly, snugged up tight and I then went looking for some rings that would fit. The only ones I could find were of the 30MM size and they were attached to a Tasco Pro-Point, a non-magnifying red dot scope. This would work. I didn't need magnification, only clarification. It was also snugged down solidly and I fully expected it to shatter or blow or something before very many rounds were run through the .44 Anaconda but I would use it as long as I could.
Three hundred full-house and above rounds later the B-Square mount was still tight as it was before a single round was fired and the Pro-Point was still in perfect shape. I don't believe B-Square will recommend this practice and using electronic scopes on .44 Magnums is expecting an awful lot, but it worked. At least in this case and for 300 rounds.
The Anaconda was given a workout as few sixguns have ever received. Factory loads from 180 grain jacketed hollow points to 330 grain cast bulleted heavy hunting loads were mated up with handloads with both jacketed bullets from 240 to 300 grains and cast bullets from 240 grains through 300 grains all to feed the latest snake.
The Anaconda never hesitated, never stuttered, never skipped a beat. No matter what I fed it, it asked for more. Some .44 sixguns will shoot jacketed bullets or cast bullets exceptionally well; others will shoot lightweight or standard weight, or heavyweight bullets exceptionally well. The Anaconda does it all. It can't tell the difference between a cast bullet and a jacketed bullet. It can't discern if it is being fed lightweight bullets or heavyweight bullets. Give it anything and it spits out nice tight little groups consisting of .44 caliber holes closely spaced together.
The accompanying chart gives the data for thirty-three different loads fired at twenty-five yards and eleven of these loads then fired at fifty yards. By the way, at fifty yards the red dot on a Pro-Point scope is larger than the three-inch black aiming bull. The data lists the best four-out-of-five shots as well as the group size for all five shots. This gives the shooter the benefit of the doubt as it is difficult to maintain concentration for this many .44 Magnum rounds especially in light of the fact that I had fired 500 .44's each of the two preceding days. I was tired and my concentration was suffering as a result.
My personal criteria, as I have mentioned before, is a great shooting sixgun will put five shots in one-inch at 25 yards. That is with me behind it. With someone else it should do even better. Of the thirty-three loads tried, the Anaconda put one-third of them in the magic one-inch neighborhood. That is fantastic performance. And perhaps even more important is the fact that there was not a single bad group. Every load tried is listed here and the worst groups are in the two-inch category. Many sixguns won't even come close to this with their best groups!
There are so many excellent results, It would take several pages to talk about them and the chart will speak for itself anyway. Let me just point out a couple of loads. The Federal 180 grain jacketed hollow point load put four shots into five-eighths of an inch at 25 yards, five shots into one-inch while at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, namely heavyweight cast bullets, the same results were obtained with RCBS's new cast bullet design. The 300 grain gas-checked #44-300SWC duplicated the Federal 180 jacketed bullet perfectly. The 180 did it at 1652 feet per second, while the 300 grain cast bullet over 21.5 grains of WW296 did it at 1336 feet per second.
At fifty yards, using the large red dot, not a 2X or 4X scope, the same RCBS 300 grain bullet put four shots into one and one-eighth inches and all five shots into one and three-eighth's inches. It just doesn't get any better than this!
The Anaconda had performed so well with the B-Square clamp-on mount and Tasco Pro-Point installed it was decided to see what could be done with iron sights both as to grouping and handling without the extra weight. I found the Anaconda handled quite well as to recoil and fired eighty rounds as fast as I could load and fire taking time only to aim quickly. The finger groove grips give a great deal of control and security but will begin to chew the palm of the this shooter's hand within twenty-five rounds.
The big question in my mind was the use of the front sight with its red insert. I no longer have the eyes of a twenty-one year old, nor a thirty-one year old, nor a forty-one year old, nor a .....However, I did pick up new shooting glasses the day before testing the Anaconda with open sights. I take my guns into the the office of my eye doctor and I sight out the window as he holds different lenses in front of my right eye. A slight correction was needed this time to bring the sights into clearer focus and I was ready for the Anaconda.
With iron sights at 25 yards, the following results were achieved for five shots aiming at the Lyman/Petersen two-inch orange square with a one-half inch black border:
Switching to 50 yards and using the same aiming point, the Federal 240 jacketed hollow points went into three and six-tenths inches and the excellent Black Hills 300 grain jacketed hollow point delivered five shots into three and one-tenth inches. I was happy with my new shooting glasses and the Anaconda. The latest snake was a long time coming. I'd say it was worth the wait.
COLT ANACONDA .44 MAGNUM
GROUPS FIRED AT FIFTY YARDS:
Now that the .44 Magnum Anaconda has been firmly established, the second Big Snake has arrived this time in .45 Colt caliber. I have been shooting it for two days and found it to be just as accurate as its more powerful brother in fact......... Well that is another story for another time.