Competition with an SAA: The Colt Bisley and Bisley Target

Bisley in .45 Colt
Bisley Target in .32 WCF

Named for the famous British shooting competition range, the Colt Bisley was the target version of the 1873 Single Action Army revolver. Colt first offered a flat-top model of the SAA from 1890 until 1895, and dropped it to introduce a specialized Bisley model in 1894. The Bisley had a redesigned trigger, hammer, and grip frame. The regular SAA grip was designed to let the gun roll in the hand under recoil, to bring the hammer under the thumb for recocking. This was not ideal for target shooting, where one would prefer to maintain the exact same grip throughout a course of fire. The Bisley grip design eliminated the rolling of the gun, and the hammer was widened and lowered to allow easy recocking from that firing grip.

In addition to the basic Bisley model, a Bisley Target model was also offered, with a windage adjustable rear sight and an elevation adjustable front blade (the regular Bisley had the same fixed sights as the standard SAA). In total, 44,350 Bisley were sold, and 976 Bisley Targets. They could be ordered in any barrel length, but mostly were made with 7.5 inch barrels to get the longest sight radius for competition shooting. Almost any caliber could be ordered, and the Bisleys tended to skew more toward light cartridges than the standard SAA, with the most common being .32-20, aka .32 WCF. Production ended in 1912, and the last Bisley was shipped from Colt’s inventory in 1919.


  1. “The regular SAA grip was designed to let the gun roll in the hand under recoil, to bring the hammer under the thumb for recocking.” – Is this real advantage proven by experience, or only design intent?

  2. “Named for the famous British shooting competition range”
    Do you known any other serially produced revolver named in such manner (i.e. after competitions place)?

  3. The Bisley has always been odd-looking to me compared to the SAA. I’d like to fire one to see how it compares.

  4. Jim, having had the opportunity to shoot a Bisley and an SAA side by side they feel very different in the hand.
    The Bisley recoil feels noticeably more straight back.
    If I were to pick one for small game up to man size animals I’d go with the Bisley in 32-20.
    If I might have to put down a cow or a horse I’d go with the SAA in 45.
    I’ll note that the boys and girls who do fast and fancy work choose the SAA almost without exception.
    They may look similar, but they are very different beasts.

  5. Another way to adjust the point of aim side to side, besides filing sights, on guns like this with fixed sights, was to screw in or out the barrel slightly. A maybe more drastic way was to bend the front sight. The really drastic way was to take a babbit bar and whack the frame one way or another (this was still done at the S&W factory in recent times).

    Keep in mind that the Peacemaker was derived from the earlier black powder Colts. Those were intended to be fired one-handed while on horseback. Therefore, they had to be fired one handed. The practice of firing from horse back was to let the gun recoil up, re-cock, then fire as the gun came back down–a sort of chopping motion. Flipping up under recoil was a feature, not a bug.

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