Best Modern & Classic Cowboy Guns of 2024

April 24, 2024
Modern Cowboy Guns

The iconic firearms that defined the era are some of the most enduring symbols of the Old West and the American frontier during the 18th and 19th centuries. The people of the frontier—soldiers, cowboys, law enforcers, and outlaws—were defined by the guns they carried.

During this period, firearms such as the single-action revolver, lever-action rifle, and double-barrel coach gun were common. Renowned manufacturers such as Colt’s Manufacturing Company, Winchester, Remington, and Smith & Wesson rose to prominence, shaping the landscape of American firearms.

Today, many of these classic designs are still available. Some are faithful reproductions of Old West originals, right down to their original chambering. Others are modern interpretations, combining classic actions with modern materials, sights, and accessory rails. Here’s a breakdown of the classic and modern cowboy guns available on today’s market and the original firearms they are based on.

Colt Single Action Army Revolver

Colt Single Action Army Revolver

Few guns are as emblematic of their era as the Colt Single Action Army. Known under many names, such as the Peacemaker, the SAA, the Model 1873, after its year of introduction, or simply the Colt .45. This classic cowboy gun is the quintessential “six-shooter” and the firearm most commonly associated with the Old West, if not the entire 19th century.

The original version of the Colt Single Action Army was produced from 1873 to 1941 by the Colt’s Manufacturing Company in a wide variety of configurations. Standard barrel lengths included ranged from 4¾” for the Civilian model to 5½” for the Artillery model and 7½” for the Cavalry model. Some were fitted with custom barrels, such as short-barreled “Sheriff’s Model” versions with 3 or 3½” barrels, or the 12” “Buntline Special” mythically attributed to Wyatt Earp.

The Single Action Army is often called the “Colt .45,” named after its most famous caliber, the .45 Colt. However, the SAA was available in several calibers. Historically, around 30 different chamberings were offered, with 8 being produced in substantial quantities. The following five were available during the original 1873-1941 run:

  • .45 Colt
  • .44-40 (.44 Winchester Center Fire or .44 WCF)
  • .38-40 (.38 Winchester Center Fire or .38 WCF)
  • .32-20 (.32 Winchester Center Fire or .32 WCF)
  • .41 Colt

From 1956 to 1974, Colt produced Single Action Army revolvers in three additional calibers, bringing the SAA to more modern revolver cartridges:

  • .357 Magnum
  • .38 Special
  • .44 Special

Although the original SAA had a six-shot cylinder, loading them with only five rounds was common practice. This technique, known as the Cowboy Load, means filling one chamber, skipping one chamber, then filling the remaining four. When done correctly, the firing pin rests on an empty chamber, eliminating the risk of an unintended discharge when carrying the gun holstered.

Classic and Modern SAAs Today

Shooters looking to own and shoot a Single Action Army revolver don’t have to look for one of the original Old West guns to get an authentic experience. Numerous manufacturers offer clones and reproductions across the entire price spectrum.

Uberti 1873 Single-Action Cattleman

The most affordable and attainable SAA clones still manufactured today are the 1873 Single-Action Cattleman series of revolvers by Uberti. These Italian-made firearms are based on the original 1873 design with minimal alterations.

Uberti offers the Cattleman in various finishes and barrel lengths. Available chamberings include the classic .45 Colt and .44-40 and more modern choices, such as 9mm, .45 ACP, and .22 LR.

Modern Colt Single Action Army

Colt continues to produce and offer the Single Action Army using the original, unmodified 1873 design but with modern steels and materials. The current SAAs are the fourth generation, first introduced in 1994. Colt currently lists the original three barrel lengths on its catalog: Civilian (4½”), Artillery ( ½”), and Cavalry (7½”).

Each model is available in seven calibers. Three are classics: .45 Colt, .44-40, and .38-40. The remainder are modern calibers: .44 Special, .357 Magnum, .45 ACP, and 9mm. The .357 Magnum versions can also accept .38 Special and .38 Special +P ammunition like any other .357 Magnum revolver.

Ruger Vaquero

The Ruger Vaquero is a modern take on the classic single-action revolver, first introduced in 1993. There are two generations of the Ruger Vaquero: the original, which was produced from 1993 to 2005, and the “New” Vaquero, made since 2005 and still produced today.

Original Vaqueros are often called “Old” Vaqueros by shooting enthusiasts. The main difference between old and new models is the frame size. Old Vaqueros are based on the Ruger Blackhawk and feature a slightly larger frame.

Current-production models are built on a smaller frame, bringing it closer to the Colt original in overall size. Both are available in different finishes, grip types, and calibers, including .45 Colt, .357 Magnum/.38 Special, 9mm, and .45 ACP.

The Vaquero’s construction and integrated safety features make the Vaquero a true modern cowboy gun. Unlike the original Colt SAA, it features a more modern transfer bar safety, blocking the firing pin until the trigger is pulled. This system makes it safe to load all six chambers instead of relying on the Cowboy Load.

The Winchester Rifle

The term “Winchester Rifle” is broad, referring to various classic cowboy guns mainly produced in the late 19th century. The most well-known of the Winchester rifles include the following:

  • Winchester Model 1866. Popularly known as the “Yellow Boy” due to its brass-colored receiver, it was the first Winchester rifle and introduced the essential principles associated with the name. It was a rugged rifle with a lever-action mechanism, a tube magazine under the barrel, and a loading gate on the side of the receiver. This type of rifle was once known as a “repeater” because it allowed the shooter to fire multiple times without reloading.
  • Winchester Model 1873. Introduced in 1873, the original Model 1873 became one of the most popular and widely produced firearms of its era, earning its nickname: The Gun That Won the West.
    Initially produced in .44-40 and three barrel lengths (20”, 24”, 30”), Winchester later offered the rifle in .38-40 and .32-20 due to their popularity in handguns like the SAA. It allowed cowboys and shooters of the era to shoot the same ammunition in their rifle and handgun; for instance, by pairing a .44-40 Model 1873 with a “companion” .44-40 Colt Single Action Army.
    The companion gun principle endures to this day, with pistols and pistol-caliber carbines that accept the same magazines, such as the Glock 17 and Kel-Tec Sub-2000.
  • Winchester Model 1892. Designed by legendary gunsmith John Moses Browning, the Model 1892 was a smaller version of his earlier, large rifle-caliber Model 1886 design. Although the Model 1886 was by no means unpopular, the Model 1892 was the first Browning-designed Winchester rifle to reach one million units produced. The total production count reached 1,004,675 rifles until it ended in 1941 due to the company shifting focus to the WW2 war effort.
    Part of the reason for the Model 1892’s popularity was its action, which was considered one of its era’s smoothest and easiest to use. The ‘92, as it was often called, was chambered in the most common Old West handgun cartridges, such as .44-40, .38-40, .32-20, and .25-20.
    Another component of the Model 1892’s popularity was Western movies and TV shows of the 1950s and 1960s. The most well-known example was The Rifleman, starring Chuck Connors. Every episode famously began with Connors’s character, Lucas McCain, firing 12 rounds from his ‘92 in less than five seconds.
  • Winchester Model 1894. Earlier Winchester rifle models were designed to accommodate blackpowder ammunition, which restricted a bullet’s maximum velocity.
    The Model 1894, also known as the Winchester 94, was the first repeating rifle engineered to endure the higher pressures of the more potent smokeless powder. Its original chambering was the .30 Winchester Center Fire (.30 WCF), which is better known and still manufactured today as the .30-30 Winchester.
    In its 24-inch barreled configuration, the Model 1894 could propel a 160-grain bullet at 1,950 to 2,000 feet per second, giving it an accurate and flat-shooting trajectory. The Model 1894 became one of the most widely produced lever-action firearms in history, with over seven million rifles made.
    Former U.S. President Calvin Coolidge is famously known to have received the millionth rifle in 1927. The Model 1894’s ammunition, the .30-30 Winchester, became the world’s most common lever-action cartridge.
    The rifle and its .30-30 ammunition quickly became staples for North American hunters. They were considered appropriate for hunting all types of big game, from deer to bear.

Modern Winchester-Style Rifles

Classic and Modern Winchester-Style Rifles Today

Today’s market has no shortage of classic and modern lever-action rifles. Most are variations or modern takes on the Winchester rifle design. Many of these modern cowboy guns integrate contemporary conveniences, such as accessory rails for scopes and optics, plastic furniture, or compatibility with detachable box magazines.

Modern-production Winchester Rifles

Winchester continues to make many of its iconic rifles today, including the Model 1873, the Model 1894 (under the Model 94 product name), and the Model 1895.

Both classic and modern chamberings are available in a variety of barrel lengths. For example, the current Winchester Model 1873 is available in .44-40, .45 Colt, and .357 Magnum/.38 Special.

The Model 94 includes full-length, short rifle, and carbine variants, as well as a Trails End takedown version that can be easily taken apart and reassembled for backpacking. All versions of the Model 94 accept .30-30, .38-55 Winchester, and .450 Marlin.

The current Model 1895s are available in either .30-06 Springfield, .30-40 Krag, or .405 Winchester, all of which are historical cartridges introduced at or before the turn of the 20th century. Of these, .30-06 is still widely available.

Marlin Rifles

Marlin Firearms produces a range of classic and modern cowboy guns in various configurations based on Winchester designs. Classic designs include the Trapper, Classic, and Guide Gun series with steel receivers and wood furniture.

More advanced interpretations include the SBL and Dark series. They feature modern conveniences such as adjustable sights, stainless finish, black plastic furniture, muzzle brakes, and even Picatinny rails and M-LOK mounting points for tactical devices.

All Marlin rifles are available in a range of classic and modern calibers, including .357 Magnum/.38 Special, .44 Magnum/.44 Special, .30-30 Winchester, and .45-70 Government.

Rossi R92

Based in Brazil, Rossi produces a range of classic and modern firearms. The Rossi R92 series is a modern reproduction of the Winchester Model 1892.

The Rossi R92 is available in many barrel lengths, chamberings, and configurations. Most are with classic steel and hardwood furniture with 16” or 24” barrels. Some are more modern interpretations of the Model 1892 design, with enlarged loops and a Picatinny rail.

The Triple Black is recognizable by its black Cerakoted receiver and black polymer furniture, whereas the Grey Laminate version features polished stainless steel and grey laminate wood elements.

Rossi offers its R92 rifles in various calibers, including .454 Casull/.45 Colt, .45 Colt only, .44 Magnum/.44 Special, and .357 Magnum/.38 Special.

The Coach Gun

A coach gun, also known as a messenger’s gun, was initially designed in England to protect stagecoaches against highway robbers. They were typically double-barreled, break-action shotguns, most commonly in a side-by-side configuration and chambered in 10 or 12 gauge.

Coach guns could be differentiated from traditional hunting shotguns by their shorter barrel. A coach gun’s barrel length tended to fall between 18” and 24”, whereas hunting shotguns were often 26” or longer. Many coach guns were traditional shotguns that had been cut down or fitted with specially made shorter barrels.

Despite its original association with the United Kingdom, the coach gun became an integral part of the guns associated with the Old West. Like in its original British setting, coach guns in America were primarily intended for stagecoach self-defense.

Many famous and infamous figures of the era have used or were said to have used coach guns. The best-known example is Doc Holliday, who is said to have used a 10 gauge coach gun to kill Tom McLaury at the O.K. Corral Shootout. The gun was affectionately referred to as a “street howitzer” in reference to its large bore diameter and extreme effectiveness at close range.

While the exact manufacturers and model names for Old West coach guns varied, their simple and rugged nature made them broadly equivalent to one another. While most were American-made, many were European designs, typically imported from the U.K. or Belgium.

Examples of specific makes and models produced at the time include the following:

  • Colt Model 1878
  • Remington Model 1889
  • Charles Parker Model 1878
  • J. Stevens & Co. side-by-side shotguns
  • L.C. Smith No. 3 shotgun
  • British shotguns by gunmakers like William Moore & Co. or W.W. Greener
  • Various lower-quality, unmarked shotguns produced by gunmakers in Liège, Belgium

Classic and Modern Coach Guns Today

The coach gun of the Old West has never truly disappeared or gone entirely out of fashion. Even with more modern shotgun designs, such as the lever-action and pump-action shotguns pioneered by John Browning, the classic double-barrel has endured.

Today, shotguns with a barrel length of 18” to 20”, close to the legal minimum limit, are associated with modern tactical and self-defense shotguns. If you prefer double-barreled designs to pump-actions or semi-automatics, the Old West-style coach gun is a widely available and affordable option.

Stoeger Coach Gun

The Stoeger Coach Gun series is one of the best-known modern takes on the classic cowboy-era coach gun. Produced in Brazil and sold in the United States by Stoeger Industries, the Stoeger Coach Guns can be ordered in various configurations suited for modern-day gun owners.

While they remain suitable for home defense or hunting, Stoeger designed the Coach Gun with Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) competitions in mind. To comply with CAS regulations, it lacks automatic ejectors and includes modern mechanisms, such as automatically engaging the safety when opening the action.

Available gauge options include 12 gauge, 20 gauge, and .410 bore, each in either 20” or 24” barrel lengths. Stoeger Coach Guns can be ordered with either the traditional double triggers (one for each barrel) or a competition-oriented single trigger, alternating between each barrel after each shot.

Cimarron 1878

The Cimarron Firearms Company, based in Texas, is an importer and producer of firearms specializing in Old West gun reproductions. In addition to various Winchester and Old West-era New Haven Henry rifles, Cimarron produces a faithful reproduction of the Colt Model 1878 shotgun, the Cimarron 1878.

Like the original Colt it is based on, the Cimarron 1878 is a traditionally designed double-barrel shotgun. It features a full stock, a Schnabel-style forend, wood furniture, twin triggers, and exposed hammers. Cimarron offers the 1878 in two barrel lengths: the original 28” hunting barrels and 20” barrels reminiscent of the Old West-era coach guns.

Both versions accept 12 gauge shells up to 3” in length, making the Cimarron 1878 compatible with most commercial 12 gauge ammunition available today, from standard birdshot to modern self-defense slugs.

Pedersoli Model S707 “Wyatt Earp”

Davide Pedersoli & C., based in Italy, was founded in 1957 to produce premium-grade reproductions of various historical firearms. While Pedersoli guns are faithful recreations of their original designs, they are manufactured using modern materials and technologies, such as CNC machining, to guarantee performance.

Although the company is better known for its rifle and handgun reproductions, the Model S707 or Wyatt Earp shotgun is part of its cartridge shotgun line and is the only coach gun in the catalog. It is a traditional side-by-side shotgun chambered in 12 gauge and manufactured from traditional walnut and case-hardened steel.

While it isn’t based on any specific shotgun made in the Old West era, the Pedersoli Wyatt Earp features Colt 1878-style hammers and an easy-to-actuate opening lever. It comes fitted with 20” barrels capable of accepting shells up to 3” in length. The name “Wyatt Earp” is engraved on the right side of the receiver, and, due to the nature of case hardening, each shotgun has its own unique weathering pattern.

Shop Classic and Modern Cowboy Guns at IFA Tactical

IFA Tactical carries a large selection of firearms, from faithful reproductions of Old West gun designs to modern takes and reinterpretations. Shop at our Sterling Heights, MI store and find the classic and modern cowboy guns of your dreams, complete with ammunition and accessories.

Our store carries firearms and ammunition from the world’s most trusted gunmakers, including names that have been around since the Old West, such as Colt, Winchester, or Smith & Wesson. Our selection also includes products by some of the most respected modern cowboy-style gun manufacturers, such as Henry Repeating Arms, Heritage Manufacturing Company, Marlin Firearms, Cimarron, or Rossi.

Need help or suggestions? Don’t hesitate to contact us and ask our friendly staff any gun-related questions you might have.

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