Review text and images by Mark Ormerod.

The classic Colt Single Action Army ("SAA") was introduced in 1873, and remains in production today.

Although S&W produced more big six-guns during this period, many of them went to overseas military contracts. While the S&W offered faster reloading and arguably greater accuracy, the Colt won advocates in the West for power and reliability. In its most common chambering of .45 Colt and .44-40, it offered a power edge over the S&W .44 Russian round plus the solid frame Colt tended to be sturdier under harsh usage than the S&W top-break automatic ejection pattern.

No less a luminary than Theodore Roosevelt noted in the 1890's "Every ranchman carries a revolver, a long … Colt or Smith & Wesson, by preference the former". Although the S&W top-break design was supplanted by hand ejector revolvers in the early 20th Century, the basic SAA design continues to be the basis of the most powerful modern single action hunting revolvers made today.

Just as he did later with the M29 and "Dirty Harry", Clint Eastwood's "Blondie" - "the Man with No Name" helped set the Colt SAA or "Peacemaker" as a cinematic icon of the old west.

Tanaka Single Action Army "Detachable Cylinder".

The Tanaka SAA's as previously mentioned in my look at the limited edition "Fast Draw Special" or FDS (now no longer in production) are highly sought after - being seemingly produced in limited runs compared to their other, modern revolver replicas. Once a run is sold out - normally in the space of a few weeks - the models are then near impossible to find.

In each run, Tanaka normally produces 3 sizes of SAA - the Cavalry (7½ inch barrel), Artillery (5½ inch barrel) and Civilian (4¾ inch barrel). The naming convention of the Cavalry and Artillery almost certainly comes from the historical practice of shortening and re-issuing weapons. From 1895 onwards the longer 7½ inch models - used by U.S. Cavalry in the Indian Wars - were recalled, reconditioned and shortened to 5½ inches for use by rear-echelon troops and artillery men. The term Civilian refers to the fact that the shorter 4¾ barrelled models were largely sold to a non-military audience.

Tanaka's latest production run features the usual 3 sizes of model - in both a black finish and a silver "nickel" one. Historically the longer models – especially the Cavalry - seem to be even harder to find than the shorter Civilian ones - with many of their limited runs (such as the FDS) being released only in the short iteration. The model we're looking at here is the black Cavalry edition. Anecdotal evidence from the two Civilian type "detachables" also on site suggests that the findings of this review apply - although with an obvious reduction in both accuracy and power due to their much shorter barrel length. This particular run of SAA’s only includes variants with fluted chambers.

I opted for the Cavalry model - I've always liked the SAA's - as they are much more consistent in terms of power and accuracy than Tanaka's double action offerings. As good as their shorter models are I wanted to investigate the alleged better accuracy and power that the longer Cavalry model's barrel was supposed to confer, to give me a piece both suitable as a CQB arm and for aimed medium range shots. As with all Tanaka revolvers the chamber doesn't employ shells - but instead has a series of 6 holes (there is no internal BB reservoir in the SAA's) and an internal gas space in the chamber. A full charge of propane gas is good for 65+ shots in any weather. The lack of any internal BB storage gives the SAA this large gas reservoir. The model uses the tried and trusted SAA version of the Tanaka PEGASUS system which has been found to be much more consistent than the configuration found in double action models.

There are currently 3 versions of the PEGASUS system. The original excellent version found in the SAA's (which we've come to nickname PEGASAA), the original double action revolver PEGASUS with fixed hop (or PEGASUS 1) which suffered from power inconsistency between shots due to poor sealing between the reservoir and the barrel and the improved PEGASUS system (popularly dubbed PEGASUS 2) found for example on the Redhawk, S&W M16, S&W M66 & and S&W M500 at the time of writing. This offers both an adjustable hop plus an improved seal fixing the sometimes 100+ FPS discrepancies seen in the past on some PEGASUS 1 replicas.

The hop-up on the SAA remains fixed.

Out of the box (which features the Artillery version on a dark blue background) you get the SAA itself, some 0.2g BB's, the usual Tanaka gas loading tool, chamber removal tool and the manual. The finish on the gun itself is superb and hard wearing - the frame, hammer, trigger and chamber are compound metal whilst only the outer barrel is ABS. As a result the piece weighs in at a satisfying 755 grams. Colt trademarks are present and correct on the outer barrel and frame and there is only an extremely small piece of text – saying ASGK / Tanaka - on the bottom of the frame. The side of the outer barrel reads :


Whilst the top of the barrel reads (and the ugly seam line present in older models is no longer present) :


On the left hand side of the lower frame are the standard 71,72 and 1875 patent marks with the distinctive Colt horse. There is no safety catch on the SAA and if the hammer receives a sharp knock whilst it is in the un-cocked position the gun will discharge gas and fire. A more cautious user than myself may, as a precautionary measure, wish to replicate the real steel practice of leaving one chamber empty with the hammer down on it to prevent accidents.

Interestingly the Nickel edition is listed as having the same weight as that of the black version - and in this case, Tanaka have dropped the "heavyweight" from the black model's description. Previously, the silver Tanaka's have been a lot lighter than their black counterparts - far too light for my tastes they feel plastic and toy like. The supplied grips are somewhat disappointing - being black and plastic although not unpleasant to hold. Given the wealth of replacement grips available on eBay or from the likes of Hogue and Ajax this is easily remedied and you can see the obvious visual improvement that I got when I installed a pair of walnut Hogue's on mine.

The latest version of the SAA shares a modification with the FDS - in that the integral 12 round magazine which was housed in the ejector rod tube has been replaced. Older models allowed you to depress a screw on the tube to allow this to pop out. A more realistic working replica ejection rod has been installed instead surrounded by a spring. This allows 6 rounds to be pushed into the tube (rather than the 12 in the original magazine). The ejector rod can then be used to click each of the extra rounds into the chamber as spaces become available. Whilst the capacity has been reduced from 18 to 12 - the realism and looks of the piece have been considerably improved.

Before we move onto how the Cavalry shoots its worth mentioning this production run's unique selling point - the detachable cylinder. By depressing the catch on the lower frame and pulling forward the cylinder pin, the cylinder can be completely removed from the frame. This offers three distinct advantages over earlier models - firstly its easier to load BB's and gas - with no need to use the gas loading tool (although this is still provided if you wish to avoid removing your cylinder to gas up). The second is that it makes cleaning and maintenance of the replica easier. Thirdly, it gives you that all important sense of realism. One concern that I had about the removable cylinder was that it might introduce possible seal inconsistencies (as occasionally happens on some PEGASUS 1 revolvers) but thankfully, this is not the case. Removing and replacing the cylinder is a little fiddly the first few times but remarkably quick and easy. The large gas reservoir means I can normally remove the cylinder just once at the start of the day to give it a full charge.

The SAA gave us an average result of 350 FPS with 0.2g BB's at 15oC with Propane – whilst not the 400+ reported elsewhere it is still extremely pokey. Accuracy is definitely improved over the shorter barrelled models allowing me to hit a human sized target at stock AEG range. As I'm a skirmisher, not a target marksman I really can't report on groupings or its suitability for that. Its certainly an eminently skirmishable piece - the extra accuracy provided by the longer barrel extending its suitability beyond pure CQB. The power certainly means that your target will feel your shot. The ideal weight of ammunition with Propane is 0.3g - 0.36g - lighter ammo consistently hooks up from the fixed hop badly. Using heavier BB's gives a good consistency of shot and helps to minimise the effect of wind. Whilst the power drops slightly in cold weather the SAA still remains skirmishable - unlike my previous experience with the Tanaka M29 series.

The sights on the SAA will take a little time to get used to if you're solely familiar with modern ones. Whilst the fore blade on the barrel is large the rear sights are little more than a simple groove. For reactive snap shooting this isn't an issue as you're relying on instinct rather than aiming but for longer considered shots you'll want to spend some time getting acquainted with them and learning to line the rear sights up with the vertical half way point on the fore blade. The trigger pull is very short, light and crisp - with the cocking action of the hammer doing most of the work. If the hammer is half cocked the chamber can be rotated to facilitate loading with the cylinder in place.

Whilst we've touched on the comparative rarity of the SAA models it is also prudent to mention the lack of first or third party parts and accessories. Given the finish of the piece - plus its high power to begin with - a lack of high flow valves / springs etc isn't particularly problematic. By its nature the internal mechanism is simple and generally unlikely to fail (there's simply not as much to go wrong or as much strain placed on anything compared to a GBB gun). From time to time metal outer barrels and replacement hammers and triggers do show up but they are extremely few and far between with none of the HK web retailers stocking any at the time of writing - or indeed having stocked any over the past few years. Hartford Japan are the main manufacturers of these accessories - however they only ship to domestic addresses within Japan. The only currently available accessory is a hop-less tight inner barrel. Real grips and holsters of course do fit and it goes without saying that the range and availability of both are virtually endless. It has been stated that real steel trigger / hammer parts will also fit - although in the U.K. obtaining these is both dubious and difficult.

So there we have it - another excellent SAA from Tanaka - with the Cavalry model offering a greater degree of accuracy and power than the shorter models. Aside from the disappointing grips supplied the Detachable Cylinder run is an excellently built and looking series with a great new innovation. Whilst some people might prefer the higher capacity offered by the older magazine, the extra realism and cosmetic improvement by adapting the ejection rod from the FDS is also nice to see. The SAA offers an exceptionally well built and reliable revolver platform for anyone looking to take up the challenge of skirmishing with a 6 shot single action replica. Whilst the extra 6 shots stored in ejection tube help facilitate reloading, it is still a fairly skilled and slow process. Half cocking the hammer and rotating the cylinder whilst you attempt to push the extra rounds home under fire is definitely not for the faint hearted. If it isn’t broke don't fix it seems to be the motto with this model - offering a couple of refinements to the already excellent SAA formula. As with all Tanaka SAA's however, you are advised if you want one to pick it up as soon as possible before it becomes permanently out of stock.

Model : Tanaka SAA Detachable Cylinder Cavalry Black
Weight : 755 grams
Length : 329 mm
Power : 350FPS with Propane, 6mm 0.2g @ 15oC
Capacity : 12 rounds
Hop : Fixed

Mark Ormerod.

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