Fit, Finish of Beretta Stampede Makes It Ideal Cowboy Gun
Photos & Story
by R.K. Campbell
When Beretta introduced the Stampede revolver, it was not their first revolver, but the only one likely to see use in America. Beretta flirted with a double-action revolver design much earlier, but I have never personally handled an example. The Stampede is another example of the Single Action Army (SAA) clone gun, designed to mimic the handling and feel of the Colt SAA.
Beretta made no bones about the ultimate sales target in their introduction of the Stampede. It is designed to offer an affordable version of the Colt SAA revolver, what we often call the Cowboy gun, to the many adherents of Cowboy Action shooting. They have succeeded admirably and with more than a little style. The Stampede is quite a revolver, certain to provide surprise to our friends who do not read Gun Week and keep up with current events.
The first time I beheld this beautifully finished revolver, with its charcoal blue finish, case-hardened receiver, and the unmistakable Beretta emblem on hard rubber grips on a single-action revolver, I was impressed. This was more of a shock to the learned eye than when I first beheld Smith & Wesson's variation on the 1911. After all, 1911 clones are numerous. So are SAA clones, but few indeed are of the high quality or fit and finish offered in the Stampede revolver.
As many of you know, Beretta acquired Uberti and a significant tightening of quality and the introduction of new models has followed. As for quality, I have examined Uberti revolvers as much as a decade ago that were of excellent quality in all particulars. On the other hand, I have seen brass frame guns even in Magnum calibers that were anything but first class revolvers.
I think the situation existed in that some importers wished to be able to sell single-action revolvers on the cheap while others wished to offer a well-finished, quality product. Uberti simply obliged either. That is only my opinion, but the revolvers were available in many finishes, and in numerous price ranges as well. EMF has long offered quality revolvers with good fit and finish, and we will cover several of those at a later date.
With Uberti under the Beretta umbrella, it was a simple matter for Beretta to introduce a single-action revolver. The Stampede differs from many single-action revolvers in that it features a transfer bar ignition similar to that found on the Ruger single-action revolver. There are variations found in the Uberti line that include a type with a simple hammer safety that blocks the hammer from falling when the gun is on half cock and others that require the gun to be carried with only five rounds in the cylinder for safety.
The Beretta system is the safest of the lot and the only version that I can recommend carrying fully loaded with six rounds. This alone makes for a good marketing and practical point in favor of the Beretta. I adhere to the old rule, five rounds in the cylinder, with all of my Colt-type revolvers, but the Ruger system is certainly easier on the shooter and more popular with corporate lawyers-and safety experts.
The Stampede is loaded in the following manner: the hammer is eased back to the half cock notch. Next, the loading gate is swung open. The cylinder is indexed to allow that a cartridge be loaded one at a time into each cylinder. When the cylinder is loaded with six rounds, the loading gate is closed and the hammer eased to the fully lowered position.
For those with other types of revolvers or who wish to carry five rounds in all their single-action revolvers, the following regimen is adhered to. The gun is placed at ready in the previously described fashion, but the loading sequence is as follows: load one, skip one, load four, cock the hammer and lower the hammer. The hammer will now be resting on an empty chamber. This is the manner in which I carry all of my single-action revolvers.
The Stampede is available in several popular calibers and barrel lengths. Soon, a bird's head version with a small grip suited for shooters with small hands will also be available. A 3-inch "Sheriff's Model" is in the works. For the purposes of my review, I used a .44-40-caliber Stampede with 4-3/4 inch barrel.
I have become a fan of the .44-40 for several reasons. The cartridge is a mild and accurate big bore. However, there are cautions in choosing this cartridge. Older guns were notorious for cylinder and barrel throat dimensional incompatibility. The differences were such that in some cases, accuracy was practically impossible. In others, a good gunsmith could cut the cylinder or replace the cylinder and give you a good accurate revolver. This is true to an extent with the .45 Colt as well but to much lesser degree.
In modern production, this is simply not a problem. There were some problems with early Ruger revolvers in this caliber, but by and large you can now count on both .45 Colt and .44-40 guns to be equally accurate in a quality revolver from our best makers. An advantage in either is that a modern gun is covered by a factory warranty. If you purchase an old Colt that needs work, well, it won't come cheap. (Collect Colts. Shoot Ubertis!)
I have previous experience with a high grade Uberti type in .44-40 with a 5°-inch barrel, and felt that the 4-inch Beretta would be an interesting counterpoint. The shorter gun is the "gunfighter's" gun and is rumored to be faster from leather and quicker on target. This is true at close range. The 4-inch gun looks right, and the rich finish of the Stampede is on a par with any "Deluxe" model offered by a number of importers of the Uberti.
The casehardening is especially attractive. The transfer bar ignition does not use a hammer mounted firing pin, the energy of the hammer is transferred to a bar that touches a frame-mounted "floating firing pin." If you wish the authentic SAA appearance, this is the only departure from the Colt, and a reasonable one.
The action of the Beretta is quite crisp in all particulars. The loading gate is smooth in operation and with the gun at half cock, the cylinder spins freely. The locking bolt is perfectly timed as the gun did not exhibit the tell tale ring around the cylinder found on a poorly timed gun. The trigger broke at a very smooth 3° pounds, surprisingly crisp.
To work this handgun out, I used several handloads and factory ammunition. I have enjoyed loading the .44-40 very much, using RCBS Cowboy dies, a new introduction that works just fine with the semi-bottlenecked .44-40 Winchester Center Fire. I have managed to accumulate perhaps 300 Starline cases, and they have survived numerous loadings. Legend has it the .44-40 is thin in the neck and doesn't last long. Starline cases are more rugged than that but take care in handling.
The .44-40 is more difficult to load than the straight walled .44 Special. That being said we might say, "Why the .44-40 at all?" My first .44-40 was obtained because the gun was sold out in .45 Colt. This one was ordered in .44-40 because I like it. It is different, accurate enough with proper loads, and historically accurate.
The first loads fired came from among our premier ammunition crafters, Black Hills. Their .44-40 load breaks about 770 feet-per-second (fps), adequate for informal practice and Cowboy Action shooting. We were delighted to find the Stampede exhibited good sight regulation.
The 200-grain Black Hills bullet struck dead on the point-of-aim at 15 yards. This is highly unusual for an original type and not common in earlier replica sixguns. Recoil is mild, as to be expected, and the revolver handled well in rapid fire. We could not resist firing the Stampede as quickly as we could cock the hammer and press the trigger. We were rewarded by hits in the black of a silhouette target to a long 25 yards. It is not out of the question to strike man-sized targets well past 75 yards with this mild-mannered handgun.
When firing as many as 150 rounds at a session, there was no binding of the cylinder or stiff operation. Many revolvers of this type are tightly fitted, making for good accuracy, but it was found that after a number of rounds are fired, powder fouling affects rotation. The Stampede is free from this defect.
I settled into a range session to test the accuracy potential of the Stampede. I found that the little gun is quite accurate. Firing the Black Hills loading, I was able to place five rounds into 2 inches, firing offhand, at 15 yards. This is more than adequate for any reasonable task. Several of my handloads using the Hornady "cowboy" bullet grouped into 2 inches or so when bench rested at 25 yards, with the average just a bit larger. The Hornady bullet is a great bullet for older revolvers.
The original bullets were soft and so is this bullet, well-suited
to Cowboy Action velocity of around 800 fps. It will take older
bores well if you have an original gun. The problems with large
cylinders and small throats are lessened to an extent with this
softer, accurate bullet. It features a dry lubricant that will
not lead the barrel as long as velocity is kept below 900 fps.
Leading is not a bad thing; all guns lead, and that thin leading
is an aid in accuracy. Excess leading is another matter!
All who fired the Stampede found it a pure pleasure to use. Remarks on the fit and finish were uniformly positive. The transfer bar ignition was noticed by some shooters and ignored by others. Traditional shooters who prefer the half cock notch and loading the gun while the revolver is on half cock and the loading gate open will appreciate the Stampede's traditional loading. (The Ruger is loaded while the hammer is down and the gate open.)
But the modern shooter who demands the most in safety will also appreciate this action. I see nothing to garner a complaint from either type of shooter. The Beretta Stampede offers solid modern performance, just as it was intended to do, with a traditional appearance sure to please any Cowboy fan.
I was able to extend my loading program with the .44-40 considerably. After some experimentation, I found that some powders are not well-suited to the .44-40, giving poor ignition in the bottlenecked case. I discovered this cartridge demands a heavy crimp of the bottle necked case. Standard deviations (SD) between shots of as much as 75 fps have been recorded with loads that performed well as far as accuracy, and this seems to be par for the course.
My moderate charges of Red Dot and Unique, two old favorites, were sufficiently accurate for any purpose and delivered SDs of 18-30 fps, a considerable improvement. Attempts to reach higher velocity often increased the SD considerably. I have settled upon the Hornady Cowboy swaged bullet and the Oregon Trail cast bullet for most of my use. Heavier bullets can be loaded, but not loaded properly, as the base of the bullet will stick into the powder area, and since this is a bottleneck there is a possibility the bullet lube will gather powder.
Also, a correspondent informed me that a previously published load using the Oregon Trail bullet and #2400 powder produced about 200 fps less velocity in his gun. My powder supply is several years older than his, and the burn rate of #2400 is different in the modern version. That being recognized, it is probably best to appreciate the .44-40 for what it is, a mild big bore with many pleasing characteristics.
If we really need more power we should go to the .44 Special or the .44 Magnum. To hot rod the .44-40 is to defeat its purpose. The .44-40 has been involved in countless actions over the years, even seeing military service with our Canadian friends, and the power of the cartridge is well respected. It has also taken game that we would not think would be included as fair game for a cartridge of its modest power level. But marksmanship and a big bore bullet with adequate penetration can work wonders!
Overall, I find the Stampede a wonderful single-action revolver. The fit and finish of this revolver is the drawing card, it is simply among the nicest single-action revolvers of any make ever offered, and at an attractive price. It is accurate, smooth in operation, and with the recent improvements in the line, far more reliable and durable than any previous Colt clone gun.
And then we have the conversation value of a pistol with the traditional Beretta finish and emblems in a Cowboy configuration. This is a great handgun, sure to bring a smile to the faces of many hardened handgunners. And that is what it is all about!
I have previously mentioned a holster from Murphy Leather that gave excellent service with another SAA-type revolver. I used the Stampede in this holster and found that I could draw the gun quickly, and that the Murphy holster, although now several months old, appears as new. This is a holster that will remain on hand for yeoman service with any number of SAA-type revolvers.
A second holster that I especially enjoyed comes from Madison Saddlery. This holster is an outstanding rendition of the original Mexican Loop holster. It is a double loop design, and mine was delivered with edging and embellishment in the Western tradition were present. I like this holster very much. For those who demand authentic designs, executed in the original style, this is a good choice.