Review text and images by Mark "Blondie" Ormerod.

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

Although S&W produced more big sixguns 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 chamberings of .45 Colt and .44-40, it offered a power edge over the S&W .44 Russian round. Futher 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 "Fast Draw Special"

Tanaka have widely respected reputation as making the best Airsoft revolver replicas available with their SAA series being widely respected even by "real steel" shooters. They have appeared in a wide variety of iterations - essentially varying in length - the Cavalry, Artillery and Civillian. Their latest release - the "Fast Draw Special" is based on the shortest of the family - the "Civillian" and seems to take its cue from a Hartford modified Tanaka - the "Hartford Fast Draw Custom" but more of these parallels later.

So out of the box what do you get ? The revolver itself, a spare hammer spring, some 0.2g BB's, manual, gas loading tool and a tool to help with removal of the chamber.

The SAA itself has to be one the most impressively finished guns "out of the box" I've ever seen. The frame, chamber, trigger and hammer are metal - and the grips with the trademark colt medal - are real wood and on an even par with aftermarket ones such as Ajax. This piece shouts quality at you- with the only ABS being the outer barrel and external frame. Colt trademarks on the frame and barrel are all present. There is no safety nor are there any ASGK or Tanaka markings anywhere on the revolver.

So the obvious question is how does it shoot ? The answer is as well as you would expect a Tanaka to. Initially - whether due to packing oil or dirt - it appeared hopless - but it quickly settled in - giving a consistent grouping out to around 60 feet. The piece comes with a spare hammer spring - initially it is fitted with the low power "fast draw" one - making the hammer very light to cock. As the name suggests - all the Tanaka "SAA's" are single action only - requiring you to cock the hammer manually before firing. Given that you loose a great degree of accuracy firing double action due to the heavy pull - I'm not sure anyone would particularly miss it. The cocking action is crisp and smooth and the trigger pull delightfully light - much lighter than their M29 and certainly anything Marushin produce.

The second hammer spring is a much sturdier piece of metal and once installed - by simply removing the screws and the gun's grips, the SAA's hammer, although still smooth and easy to cock, becomes noticeably stiffer and slams home with much more force. With the "fast draw" spring installed FPS is consistent in the range of 290-300 FPS with a 0.2g BB. With the replacement spring FPS rises to 400-410. With 0.3 (or heavier) ammo grouping is excellent with only an occasional varience in hop - approximately 1 shot in 12 will "drop" - and appears more consistent in power and level flight than with their M29.

One "feature" that seems common to Tanaka's - and is present here - is that under rapid fire - the power seems to drop. With a second or 2 between shots this doesn't occur - this is definitely a piece that rewards careful considered shots. If you're "fast drawing" this isn't particularly an issue - as if you're in close range the power loss won't be duly noticable. It is also possible to "feather" the hammer rapidly western style by keeping the trigger depressed in and pulling back the hammer and letting it go - although what long term impact this will have on the gun is unknown. Part of the attraction of airsoft shooting for me is the discipline of careful aiming rather than blatting away - especially if the gun in question is limited in terms of the ammunition it can hold. I'd like to take a moment to mention the Hartford "Fast Draw Custom" which I've alluded to several times. There have been a number of "customised" SAA's - made by the likes of Hartford and Sheriff based on Tanaka SAA frames, but like a native English speaker in a Sergio Leone western they're very hard to find - as indeed are custom parts. The Hartford "Fast Draw Custom" had a number of features which Tanaka have clearly borrowed from and some upon which they have improved. The main similarity being both the inclusion of a weaker "fast draw spring" and a replacement high power one and the removal of the standard SAA "18 round" loading tube from the charging rod (more of how this affects capacity later). The Hartford custom featured a "custom" pin - which included the gas charging tool - although practical the standard SAA base pin cosmetically looks better and is of course more authentic. The grips on the Hartford were also inferior and lacking colt trades - as was the platic looking silver outer barrel. The final difference is that the Hartford features a fatter "fast draw" trigger and an adjustable hammer (which gives either a reported 6fps increase or 20 fps decrease depending on how it is set).

The SAA featurs an older interation of Tanaka's PEGASUS gas system - but older doesn't mean poorer. Like the new system once you know how it is easy enough to load. To load gas the metal catch which covers the real steel chamber is flipped open and the gun "half cocked". In this mode the chamber can be rotated to expose the gas chamber and using the standard Tanaka loading tool the piece can be charged up. The catch is closed the gun decocked once this is complete. A single charge of Green Gas is good for 65 plus shots.There are 2 ways to load BB's - either half cock the gun and "press" them into the 6 chamber holes (there is no internal BB resevoir unlike, for example, in an M29) or (and this is more fiddly) push them into the hole at the base of the pin and spin the chamber while holding the gun with the barrel pointing up. You will either need to push each one in again - or if you're feeling particularly masochistic you can use the replica discharging rod to push them in. Up to 7 rounds can be pushed into the hollow part of the rod and are held in loosely by the spring - but be aware they rattle and can fall out as the chamber revolves - so you really do have a true 6 shot revolver (13 potentially if you take the "cack-handed" route).

So, in conclusion, Tanaka have produced a gorgeous looking (and working) revolver that is aesthetically authentic as well as (a big plus for me being a huge fan) very close to Clint's famous Peacemaker. If you're looking for a western style revolver its worth paying the extra bucks for this over a "normal" SAA - particularly with the ability to swap hammer springs for differently rated sites, lovely metal work on the frame and chamber not to mention the high class grips. Not only is the best looking SAA I've seen "out of the box" - I'd even go so far as to suggest its the nicest looking revolver full stop.

Mark "Blondie" Ormerod.

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