Test Proves Enduring Value Of 12-Year-Old EMF Classic
Photos & Story
by R.K. Campbell
During the past few months I have reviewed several of the modern versions of the Uberti-type revolvers. These high-quality revolvers are clones of the revered Colt Single Action Army (SAA).
When handling, firing and photographing these guns, it has been obvious that the quality of the new revolvers is a shade better than anything Uberti offered in the past. Uberti revolvers have always been serviceable, but the popular and ever-growing sport of Cowboy Action Shooting has demanded a more durable revolver. Those preferring a handgun that is faithful to the SAA template will choose the Uberti over practically any other.
We have reviewed and tested several revolvers marketed under various names that are manufactured by Uberti. This includes the Beretta Stampede and the Navy Arms Gunfighter. I thought it appropriate to include a review of one of the longest serving and best known suppliers of Cowboy guns in America: EMF. For many years EMF has imported the Uberti brand in different configurations, as evidenced by multi-page ads in the pages of Shotgun News.
It is of interest that the borrowed EMF revolver featured in this review is between 12 and 14 years old. Despite the general tightening of quality of the Uberti line in recent years, the revolver tested is by no means rough in comparison. In fact, the fit, finish, case hardening, and all particulars are impressive, with excellent bluing and flawless fit of the one-piece walnut grips to the frame. The pistol is quite nice as issued, with little in the way of complaints. The pistol is even stamped with characteristic Colt patent stamps, making this pistol a genuine reproduction of a popular Colt pistol.
Early SAA revolvers in .45 Colt were generally accurate and reliable, although the same may not be said of other calibers. Problems with barrel, throat, and cylinder dimensions plagued even the popular .44-40. The Uberti/EMF guns seem free of this problem, with most of them accurate enough for general use and the occasional gun extremely accurate. In the guns that are less accurate, a bit of experimentation in loads and the use of soft lead hollow-base bullets often brings them in line.
I am a fan and heavy user of hard cast bullets, and believe they are the best all-around projectile for big bore revolvers that are properly constructed and in good condition. Just the same, for certain uses in the occasional hard-to-feed revolver, softer lead bullets, closer to the original, perform better. They will expand to take the rifling better even if the cylinder and barrel are not a perfect match.
I have owned more EMF guns in .45 Colt than any other caliber, but have also enjoyed good results with these handguns in .38-40, .44-40 and .357 Magnum calibers. In fact, while the .357 is not in keeping with authenticity, this caliber is perhaps the most versatile and useful for all-around shooting. I said shooting, not hunting or personal defense use, and there is a difference. In Cowboy Action, light recoil is an advantage. With a number of .38 Special loads, recoil is slight and accuracy high.
As an example, I have tested a 7°-inch-barreled "Deluxe" revolver from EMF in .357 Magnum that produced 1.25-inch 25-yard groups with Winchester's white box USA brand 150-grain .38 Special. This is an inexpensive item, but very accurate in almost any handgun you care to choose.
The soft hollow-base bullet grips the rifling well, has plenty of bearing surface, and exits a 7.5-inch barrel at just under 800 feet-per-second (fps). If you need more, well, the Magnum can oblige. Winchester's 145-grain Silvertip Magnum load exits the same gun at just under 1,400 fps and will cluster five rounds into 2 inches at 75 feet. Recoil is not abrupt at all and the plow-handled grip of this revolver absorbs recoil well. For the Cowboy shooter, the .357 is not a bad choice.
As for myself, I have a deep respect and great affinity for the .45 Colt cartridge. It is a classic cartridge with many good characteristics. Frontal diameter and bullet mass are among these good traits. The EMF revolver illustrated here is chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge. The fit and finish of this gun is excellent, and has not been dulled by several years of carry and use.
The trigger action originally broke at a clean 4 pounds, and the owner reports after several years of use it has settled into a rather nice, crisp 3 pounds. The sights are well-regulated for 250-grain loads, striking dead on the target bull with a six o'clock hold at 15 yards. The owner has not touched the sights, so this is a pleasant happenstance.
I have fired this revolver a good bit, using Black Hills 250-grain Cowboy loads predominately. This load breaks perhaps 800 fps from this revolver's 4-inch barrel, and strikes to the point-of-aim as desired. At 25 yards, I have fired several 2°-inch groups; all we can ask. The 4-inch SAA is the true gunfighter's gun, and I have to admit this revolver leaps into the fray rather more quickly than some of the longer barrel variants. While I appreciate the 5°-inch barrel revolver, this shorter revolver is indeed quite quick on the bead.
Even better, this revolver packs quite easily. An advantage of the older action type is that the loading gate can be opened while the gun is carried butted against the trousers, allowing the gun to be carried without a holster. With the barrel angled against the hipbone, this is quite a comfortable carry. It would not work with a longer barreled handgun, at least not in this appendix position. A drawback to the original SAA-type revolver is that only five rounds may be safely carried. I don't think this is a real disadvantage to the Cowboy shooter. Simply remember the old "five beans under the wheel" rule.
Cock the hammer and lower the hammer; the hammer is now resting on an empty cylinder.
Legend has it that real cowboys sometimes carried a C Note in the empty cylinder, but considering that money was larger in those days this is questionable. Just the same, it is good to keep that cylinder empty for peace of mind. Five 250-grain .45s will do the business with up to five mad gorillas!
While I have relied upon .45 Colt ammunition from Black Hills for much of my work with this handgun, I have also used hand-loads loaded up on RCBS dies. I obtained a supply of .45 Colt brass from Starline and used cast bullets almost exclusively. The results have been good, and will be reported in depth at a later date.
I have been able to safely jolt the Oregon Trail/Laser Cast 250-grain SWC to well over 950 fps with excellent results. On the other hand, out of curiosity, I loaded a number of experimental loadings with Hodgdon HP 38 and the Hornady 250-grain JHP. I approached 1,000 fps and the groups turned in were around 2 inches at 25 yards. Overall, this cartridge has excellent versatility and can make use of modern jacketed bullets if we desired. But the standard hard-cast lead bullet is hard to beat.
The bane of Cowboy guns is that they are played with more than they are shot and this leads to premature wear, according to many gunsmiths. The EMF .45 illustrated has been used, but not abused. It has been fired in the field and occasionally dry-fired, but for the most part used conservatively, and it has given yeoman service for over a decade.
I think more of these revolvers are in everyday use than many of us realize. It is not unusual for one of my friends to produce a Uberti .357 or .45 and tell me it is his car gun, and sometimes the 4-1/2 inch guns are carried in the belt. It is easy to see why the SAA guns remained so popular after the introduction of the large, heavy double-action swing-out cylinder revolvers. The single-actions are light, handy and offer a sweet trigger.
I haven't fired a new EMF gun, but I have examined a few in shops. The fit and finish is uniformly good, but if they are significantly improved over the examples I have used. Well, they have done a neat trick!
948 Sandy Creek Rd.
Dale, TX 78616
EMF Company Inc.
1900 E Warner Ave.
Suite 1-D, Dept. GWK
Santa Ana, CA 92705
Black Hills Ammunition
PO Box 3090, Dept. GWK
Rapid City, SD 57709