July 31, 2023
Bang! You just shot off the last round in the cylinder. You’re desperate to reload and, as you scramble to find more ammo, you realize the opposition is also reloading. You pull back the revolver’s top latch and the barrel falls forward as the ejector pops six spent cases out of the cylinder. The cylinder is now ready to accept your last six rounds. With the action closed, you pull, or “ear” back the hammer to cock it. As you take aim and press the trigger, you see your threat has yet to finish reloading. This is because he holds Colt’s Single Action Army. He can only load one round at a time.
George Wheeler Schofield: Does the name sound familiar? Schofield was a lieutenant colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War who received an appointment as brevet brigadier general on January 26, 1865. After the war, he served with the 41st Infantry and the 10th and 6th Cavalries. His experiences led him to modify his .44 Smith & Wesson revolver in 1870 to a large-frame, cartridge-firing revolver, which was forward thinking at that time while almost all U.S. military handguns used blackpowder, caps and balls. According to the “Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson” (3rd Ed., 2006) by Jim Supica and Richard Nahas, it was the first big-bore cartridge revolver, also.
Obvious to those who know vintage guns, the most fascinating feature of the Model 3 is its top-break action. According to “Six Guns of The Old West” (2004) author David R. Chicoine, the top-break is the “type of handgun whose barrel is hinged at the lower front of the lock-frame.” It has “a moveable latch at the top rear of the lock frame [that], when closed, fastens the barrel and frame together as a solid unit.” Smith & Wesson often numbered its revolvers according to frame size, which meant that the Model 3 was the largest top-break. Until the Model 3 went out of production, there were four fundamental variants.
Thanks to Schofield’s inventiveness, the U.S. Ordnance Board reconstructed the U.S. military in 1875 to outfit soldiers with the new Model 3 revolver in .44 S&W American (some in .44 Henry rimfire), which incorporated Schofield’s design improvements. The Board concluded that the Smith & Wesson was superior to every revolver submitted for review. The speed of ejecting spent cases and reloading was noted as its most valuable trait. Unlike the Colt and Remington counterparts, the Smith & Wesson has a hinged frame assembly that allowed the barrel and cylinder to swing down, which thrusted an ejector pinion upward to push against the rim of the cartridges and clear them from the cylinder.
The top-break was revolutionary for its time, and it intended to facilitate a reloading process among cavalries. As horse soldiers rode into battle and needed to reload, they could simply thumb back the cylinder release, allowing gravity to open the action, eject the cases and present the empty cylinder for loading. (Though only one hand was needed to open and eject cases, a second was still needed to load the cylinder’s chambers.) It was advertised that this advantage could save the lives of soldiers during frontier combat in the various American-Indian Wars.
The Model 3 revolver enjoyed worldwide success. Though the U.S. Army initially purchased some 3,000 top-break revolvers from Smith & Wesson, Russia was the company’s largest early customer. This relationship led to 2nd and 3rd Models, which featured a modified grip design, lanyard ring and a distinctive trigger spur. Both American and Russian variations were either adopted by armies or copied by armories around the world. Copies have been made by factories in Belgium, Germany, Mexico, Russia, Spain and Turkey. The top-break design became prolific, serving police and military entities in Italy, Philippines, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom in various chamberings. The Russian Empire ultimately purchased some 41,000 Model 3 revolvers, and again modified and distributed its own version of the revolver at the Tula Arsenal in 1871. The final variant was the New Model No. 3, which was produced from 1878 to 1912 chambering one of several cartridges.
Aldo Uberti started making replicas of Civil War-era cap-and-ball revolvers in 1959. He founded A. Uberti S.R.L. in Gardone Val Trompia in the Italian Alps, which is in the storied province of Brescia. Brescia is a region known for its small-arms manufacturers including Beretta, Chiappa, and Davide Pedersoli. Uberti is particularly known for its exacting replicas featuring modern materials and quality controls. Often, customer feedback suggests that Uberti revolvers are made better and have superior parts than the originals; we know metallurgy has certainly improved since the 19th century. For these reasons, Uberti’s firearms are selected by many competitors in Cowboy Action Shooting. The performance speaks to Uberti’s reputation for reliability. Italy’s passion for the Old West and skilled craftsmanship is highlighted by the fitment and beauty of its products.
On January 19, 2021, Uberti added the Hardin and Teddy replica revolvers to its Outlaws and Lawmen Series. Previously, Uberti had recognized Jesse James, Frank James, John Henry “Doc” Holliday, Bob Dalton, Bill Hickok, and William H. Bonney, alias “Billy the Kid.” The example sent to Guns & Ammo for evaluation was the Smith & Wesson-style top-break in .45 Colt called the “Hardin.”
John Wesley Hardin was an Old West gunfighter who killed his first man when he was 15 years old. He claimed it was in self-defense. Later, at age 23, Hardin was convicted of murder and sentenced to 24 years in prison. During his sentencing, he claimed to have killed 42 men. Hardin made use of his incarceration by studying law and writing his autobiography. His exaggerated and invented stories lent to his controversial public status. He was released early from prison in 1894, applied to the Texas bar and received a pardon from the Governor. He was killed within a year, however, by John Selman in an El Paso saloon on August 19, 1895. Compressing Hardin’s story into a single paragraph is unfortunate as the details of his life and death are colorful and interesting, resulting in many books written about him.
Several of the firearms used by Hardin to commit his crimes are known and documented, a few appearing at auctions through recent years. He was killed carrying a Smith & Wesson double-action Frontier, serial number 352, which was made in 1887. Nickel plated, it features hard rubber grips, a 6-inch barrel in .44-40 and was sold by Bonhams for $625,312.50 in 2021. It is also known that Hardin used a Smith & Wesson top-break revolver to kill Deputy Sheriff Charley Webb, but it was a First Model Russian. Still, Uberti indicated that the revolver used to prevail against Deputy Webb in Comanche, Texas, was the source of inspiration for configuring the limited-edition Hardin.
Though Guns & Ammo’s editors could not document that Hardin ever carried or used a Smith & Wesson Model 3, 2nd Model, with a blued and color case-hardened finish, it seems rather appropriate that Uberti selected a replica of the Model 1875-type revolver as the foundation for retelling Hardin’s story. Early Model 3s had its latch on the topstrap that was lifted to release the barrel and cylinder to swing down. The Hardin features Maj. Schofield’s one-hand-operation with the latch on the frame with a separate cylinder catch attached to the rear of the topstrap.
At first look, Uberti’s Model 1875 No. 3 Top Break, 2nd Model, presents an unusually rich, charcoal blue finish on the barrel and cylinder. The dark color stands apart against the case-hardened frame and the black grips. This handsome package retails for $1,479. This configuration stands apart from the blued or nickeled Top Break models with walnut stocks that we usually find in the Uberti catalog.
The grip of the Schofield Model 2 revolver imitates buffalo horn, which fit well in my hand. The curvature and smooth surface supports any need to use this gun in a hurry. The two black grips are secured to the frame by a screw with a brass insert, but the tight fitment makes the screw more of a secure redundancy. Typically, Uberti top-break revolvers feature walnut stocks. The option for a black set of grips with the blue and color-case finish make the Hardin a welcome addition to the brand’s lineup.
Uberti’s No. 3 Russian Top Break is offered with a 6½-inch barrel in .45 Colt, while its Model 1875 No. 3 Top Break revolvers are available with either a 5- or 7-inch barrel in .45 Colt. (One item is also available in .38 Special, which has a 5-inch barrel.) The Hardin sports the longer 7-incher in .45 Colt, which is clearly marked on the left side of the barrel.
Markings are understated, albeit lawfully necessary, and complete with a vintage-style serif font type. Underneath the barrel, for example, is the fact that these revolvers were made by “A. UBERTI-ITALY” and imported to the U.S. by “STOEGER-ACCOKEEK MD”. The left side of the barrel is stamped “SCHOFIELD’S PATS JUNE 20TH 71. APRIL 22ND 73.”
Loading & Unloading
Though it offered a functional advantage during the era of its invention, the enjoyment of shooting a top-break revolver is with opening and closing its action. Drawing the hammer back to its first cock position allows the cylinder to rotate. Thumbing the stirrup-style top stud latch back opens the action and releases the barrel to fall forward. Simultaneously, the ejector rises against spring tension, which reliably draws out the any cartridges or cases from the six chambers. Once the ejector has reached its maximum height, the ejector shroud pushes against the ejector pawl at the bottom of the frame to disengage the cam. This allows the ejector to spring back into its standard, flush position for loading. Before attempting to close the revolver, be sure to have the hammer in its first cocked position.
At The Range
Handling and shooting the Hardin revolver made me feel as if I had traveled in time back to the Old West. It was a fantastic gun to study and shoot. Performance was clean and there were no issues with reliability. The grip fit my average-sized hand comfortably and allowed for fast follow-up shots. I found that the index finger naturally rested on the frame when I wasn’t pulling the trigger, and using the hammer was relatively easy to reach. I had no issues with the pullback or follow-through.
The hammer wears checkering, which gives the thumb a slip-resistant surface to pull against. When cocked, the single-action trigger required about 6¼ pounds of pressure to shoot. Though that sounds like a heavy trigger, being single action meant that it was smooth and crisp with little take-up. Even for its pull weight, it was easy to manage a clean, accurate shot.
Accuracy, however, is challenged by sight alignment. Aligning the Hardin’s fix-blade front with the rear notch required concentration. Gunslingers of yore were used to employing a front sight that resembled a small coin cut in half. If you primarily use modern sights typical of contemporary guns, the Hardin’s will challenge your visual acuity.
Precision was not a special feature when it was time to shoot the top-break. The Hardin’s performance at 25 yards was less than desirable by modern standards, even with different ammo loads. Given the non-adjustable sights, you must apply a helping of Kentucky windage to shoot groups. I found myself modifying my aiming point when changing loads. That said, the fluted cylinder has a capacity of six rounds and will accept either .45 Colt or .45 S&W Schofield ammunition. (Historically, original revolvers chambered in .45 S&W Schofield could not fire .45 Colt ammunition, but revolvers made for .45 Colt could fire both cartridges.) For this evaluation, I managed to source Black Hills Ammunition .45 Schofield cowboy loads for comparison to .45 Colt cowboy loads. The Schofield round made me smile a lot more; it produced less felt recoil and grouped the best in the hands of three evaluators.
Uberti’s “Outlaws and Lawmen” collection continues, but only a limited number of these revolvers are made available each year. They are not only collectible for the rarity, but for the historical figures they represent. Still, these pieces from Uberti provide a wonderful shooting experience while costing thousands less than an original Schofield. Even if you are not as interested in collecting, owning a top-break Model 1875 single action is a special opportunity. Used by legends such as Pat Garrett, Theodore Roosevelt, Virgil and Wyatt Earp, these replicas are fitting investments for gunslingers and storytellers.
Uberti Hardin Model 1873 No. 3 2nd Model
- Type: Single action, top break, revolver
- Cartridge: .45 Colt
- Capacity: 6 rds.
- Overall Length: 12.8 in.
- Barrel Length: 7 in., steel, 1:16-in. twist
- Weight: 2 lbs., 9 oz.
- Grip: Two piece, polymer, black
- Finish: Blued (barrel, cylinder, trigger); color-case hardened (frame, barrel latch, hammer)
- Safety: Hammer notch, first position
- Sights: Brass blade (front); V-channel (rear)
- Trigger: 6 lbs., 4 oz. (tested)
- MSRP: $1,699
- Manufacturer: A. Uberti, Gardone, Italy
- Importer: Stoeger Industries/Uberti USA, 800-264-4962, uberti-usa.com
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