By Captain Kirk
I’ve been asked by many which is my favorite gun and why…and many times the answer varies, depending on how I’m feeling at the moment. But many seem surprised when they ask which is the “best” gun I own, and I tell them the Remington. Some seem to feel the Remmy was an ‘also-ran’ or copy-cat gun jumping on Col. Colt’s Bandwagon. Not so; in fact, I feel the Remington design eclipsed the Colt completely, and here’s why….
I’m going to go out on a limb a little here and explain why, in my mind, the 1858 Remington was clearly superior to it’s counterparts “back in the day” (the Civil War Era).
These opinions are mine alone, but having put more rounds through my Remington than any of my Colt replicas, I feel at least qualified to state my position.
First of all, I feel it important for the reader to know what I am comparing the Remington to. I own a beautiful little Armsport (originally Armi San Paolo) 1858 Remington, caliber .44, in stainless steel. In addition to this little beauty, I also own:
* 1851 Navy, Cal. .36
* 1860 Army, Cal. .44
* 2nd Dragoon, Cal. .44
* Baby Dragoon, Cal. .31
While not wanting to appear to be Captain of the Obvious, it is most important to note that all of the above, while having different manufacturers, are all Colt replicas. Important from the standpoint of design, that is, as all the Colts share similar design traits such as the barrel wedge arrangement, etc.
I find it important here to note that I am a huge Colt fan (despite all the soon-to-be-revealed shortcomings) as well as being a Remington fan (go figure!); I enjoy ALL cap & ball revolvers and appreciate them, warts and all. But I feel the Remington is simply a superior design, rather than being a patent-skirting copy, for the following reasons:
Basic Design: I feel the full-frame revolver is structurally much more robust than an open-frame revolver, for obvious reasons. Dropping a Colt onto a hard surface (such as rock) could break or bend the barrel wedge, alignment pins, or arbor (or all three!) causing misalignment or an opening up of the cylinder clearance. Or, if dropped the other way, it could jam the forcing cone into the cylinder, locking the gun entirely.
Barrel Wedge: It appears the barrel wedge arrangement was one of those things of which you might say, “Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!” Indeed it did. It was better than what came before it! (single-shot pistols). Now, I know that on a properly tuned Colt, you should be able to pop the barrel wedge loose with thumb pressure alone, and reset it, again, with thumb pressure using no tools, ending up with proper end gap. And I will bet you a steak dinner that on 98% of the guns you buy, you will be unable to perform this function out-of-the-box without some sort of tool. A properly fitted Colt is a wonder to behold, but they are few and far between on today’s modern replicas.
Barrel: The barrel itself on the Colt is a rather heavy, awkward arrangement, with it’s slab-sided lug (exception; the Army). The barrel on the Remington is a simple affair, threaded into the frame and thus probably replaceable by a competent gunsmith. There is no wedge or end gap setting to mess with; once the barrel is mated to the frame, you’re done.
Sights: On my Colts, the front sights are either a threaded brass rod or a dovetailed brass wedge. The brass pin looks like a drop on stone would break it easily. The brass wedge on my Army worked its way loose simply by shooting. I compare this to the finely dovetailed front sight on my Remington (also made of stainless, and by design, much more robust) and it is truly apples vs. oranges. Both fruit, but completely different, with one being clearly superior. Can you guess which one?
Speaking of sights, let’s move to the rear of the bus. The rear ‘sight’ on the Colts are tiny, vee-shaped notches in the hammer, only visible for aiming once you’ve pulled it back to full-cock. Crude and rudimentary at best; I suppose it’s best feature is that it is accessible with a file if you want to deepen it. Wear and slop in the hammer may alter your sight picture, though it would have to be a whole lot of wear.
In contrast, the groove on the top of the Remmie’s backstrap is solid, deep, and immovable. Like a rock. Strong and robust. Is it any wonder why Colt incorporated the solid backstrap and groove sight on the 1873?
Loading Lever: Now, here is where I get Colt lovers throwing things at me, as many of them feel the creeping loading lever on the Army is the finest design ever. I respectfully disagree! The creeping loading lever works quite well, until it gets packed full of dirt or sand. What’s that, you say? Would never happen in a battle? Yeah, right! And I have a bridge I’d love to sell you, too! There are reports of sheared-off pins on this arrangement, and it is not easily field-disassembled if you break one.
The standard loading levers on the earlier Colts are sloppy affairs with excess (in my opinion) side-to-side slop and very un-streamlined looks. Comparing this to the Remington’s ultra-sleek, sexy, streamlined affair is like comparing a Maserati to an older Volvo. On my Remmy, the loading lever catch is neatly dovetailed in for a nearly invisible fit & finish. I’ve been told that some of the lower-priced copies have this catch brazed onto the barrel, but I haven’t personally seen this.
Loading Ramp: One of the complaints about the Navies is that loading conical bullets is difficult due to the shallow cutout on the loading ramp. This was somewhat improved on the Army models, but the Remington shines triumphant here as well by not only having a generous arch of material removed for ample clearance of conical bullets and/or paper cartridges, but also boasts unparalleled equal access from both sides for those southpaw shooters!
Cylinder: Once again, the Remmy comes in ahead of the pack. Starting with the cylinder advance notches, these are grooves machined in the rear of the cylinder, rather than sharp, pointy teeth that can wear, round off or break. The lockup grooves on the Remmy are even, rectangular notches, rather than the oval lugs present on the Walkers, Whitneyville, and First Dragoon models, or the tapered notches on the Navy, Army, or 3rd Dragoon models. Hand-to notch clearance is easily fitted and lockup quite solid. And the Remmy has superior between-cylinder notches that make it a true six-shot revolver. I would never carry one of my Colts without the hammer on an empty chamber, even the Army with its between-chamber pins, which are fragile little things and could be quite easily sheared, in my opinion.
Speaking of cylinders, removal on the Remmy is literally a three-second affair. Cylinder at half-cock, drop the loading lever and pull the axle pin forward. A light application of finger pressure from the left side, and the cylinder drops out into your hand. Swapping this for a loaded and capped cylinder would take all of…. five seconds…although I do not recommend this for safety reasons. Dropping a loaded and capped cylinder could result in loss of life or other valuable body parts, so if you feel you must try this, put the caps on AFTER the cylinder is in place….please?
Some Remington critics lambaste the smallish cylinder pin for fouling up after several cylinders’ worth of shooting, complaining that it will seize and become very difficult to remove. To this I offer the following:
* A cavalry soldier was usually only issued twenty rounds or so, according to many of the battle accounts I’ve read, and that constitutes to only four loaded cylinders. Furthermore, few, if any soldiers carried an “extra cylinder”, making the need to remove it during battle a moot point.
* Modern shooters can avoid this scenario by either shooting a replica powder, such as Pyrodex P, which is non-progressive fouling and will not foul up even after an entire day of heavy shooting, (this much I can personally testify to, having fired over 100 rounds one particular afternoon with no trouble whatsoever) or, simply wiping down the pin and pin bore every 12 shots or so and lubing with a good bore lube or lithium grease.
Hammer: Even the hammer is better designed, in my opinion. The Colt hammer spurs jut out at a very sharp angle, digging into your thumb sharply, while the Remington hammer arches back gracefully and you don’t have to ‘stretch’ your thumb to reach it. My Remington takes a bit more manhandling to reach full-cock than say, my Army, but does so with a very pleasing audible cli-click, cla-clatch! that sounds all business. The Colts, on the other hand, seem to only make three audible clicks, if that makes a difference…
The hammer itself has a nice roller wheel on the spring end, which glides smoothly over the spring. To be fair, most of the modern Colt replicas use wheels as well, even if they were not ‘original equipment’, as on the original Walkers, Whitneyville, 1st Dragoon, and early 2nd Dragoon models.
The hammer on the Remington is a thin, slender affair that slips into a groove in the frame. The fact that it is thin appears to make it strike the capped nipple more sharply than the Colt hammer’s wide, square face, which I feel spreads out the blow over a wider area. At any rate, I’ve had far fewer misfires with the Remington than say, my Navy, regardless of cap brand.
Spring: Speaking of springs, I prefer the Remington’s method of securing the spring (and some say, adjusting the tension as well, though I’ve not tried it) with a set screw tapped into the inner grip frame. All the Colts I own have brass grip-frames, and the securing screw is on the inside, under the grip. You need to compress the spring somewhat to get the spring started, and even if you are careful not to cross-thread the brass, over time brass will wear, enlarge, loosen, and I suppose ultimately, strip, requiring a HeliCoil insert (very un-authentically HC) or tapping oversize (also not HC). Pick your poison.
While on the subject of the brass backstraps, when reassembling the Colts one must be careful to have the hammer cocked and the grip aligned before tightening the screws, and then evenly, to keep from dragging on the hammer or cross-threading the screws. More than once I’ve tightened everything down, only to have to loosen everything back up and correct a dragging hammer problem. Not to mention the fact that this brass assembly entails five screws (not including the mainspring screw) that hold it in place, of varying lengths and sizes, (naturally).
Grips: Ahh, grips. One of the most hotly argued items of contention in the Colt-vs- Remington battle! Many complain the grips on the Remmy are smallish (‘Girly’, as one shooter puts it!) and smack your second knuckle when you touch ‘er off. I came equipped with such ‘girly’ hands, I guess, so it doesn’t bother me much. In fact, I prefer the slim, svelte grip and usually curl my pinky comfortably underneath the gun butt with my thumb against the recoil shield for a smooth, solid stance. Actually, the grip on the Remmy is not much longer than the one on my Navy, as I can easily curl my pinky under that one, and my Baby Dragoon, as well. If you’re a ham-fisted guy, you might prefer the larger grip and feel of an Army, Walker or Dragoon.
The grip frame on the Remington is a solid steel, one-piece affair that is part of the frame-no alignment problems here! Which also means no screws to lose or come loose, and no brass threads to strip, either.
The wooden ‘grips’ on the Colt are more technically a ‘grip’, a one piece affair cut from a single chunk of wood, with a groove carved down the middle for the two-piece brass backstap assembly to slide into. Tough to manufacture and fit, in my opinion (having built my Army from a kit). In contrast, the Remington grips are actually two halves held together by a screw that runs through them into an anchor inset in the opposite side. Much, much better arrangement in my eyes. Easy on, easy off. Far easier to work and shape, if you need to manufacture or replace one.
Internals: As far as the internal workings, or “guts” go, there aren’t a whole lot of differences here. Any cap & ball can be tuned, timed, and trigger/hammer mating surfaces stoned and polished to make a poor gun decent, and a good one great . There are many competent ‘smiths out there that specialize in C&B revolvers, and I can tell you from personal experience, it’s not that hard to do a decent layman’s job yourself.
So, there you have it; my take on the Remington’s superiority by design. For those of you on the fence between choosing the Remington, or ‘Brand-X’, I hope this makes it a little more clear, and perhaps now you can see why I consider my Remmy my “Go-to Gun!”