Guns of the Old West: 2/2008
Title: EMF GREAT WESTERN II .45 COLT
By: Mike Beliveau
And the best news is That Eagle Grips once Again has SAMBAR STAG!
I've had a love affair with stag grips since I was a kid watching Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke. I'm in my 50s now and I haven't outgrown that infatuation yet. I hope I never do because, when it comes to grip materials, the only thing that gives stag a run for its money is ivory. And that race is neck and neck.
For most of this past decade, being a "stagaholic" hasn't been easy. The best stag for grips comes from Sambar deer. These are Asian deer that can weigh up to 600 pounds, which puts them in the same size class as an American elk. However, Sambar antlers are far superior to elk antlers for grip making. That's because Sambar antlers have a massive beam with only three tines, and they are incredibly dense.
Most Sambar stag comes from India. Even though the stag used for grip making came from the antlers shed by the deer each spring, Indian authorities feared poachers were killing Sambar for their antlers. So India banned the export of Sambar antlers on September 29, 1988.
Since then, grip makers eked along with stag that was already in the country. Of course, that didn't last long, so they started experimenting with antlers from other large deer like elk and European red deer. It is tough to make good grips out of elk. The antlers are big enough, but they can be pretty porous compared to Sambar antlers.
However, if the material is carefully selected, you can get a good set of grips from elk. Red deer antlers also produce excellent stag. This is my second choice if Sambar is unavailable. Sambar stag is still the best and, for a limited time, it is available again.
At the SHOT Show this year, I stopped by to see Raj Singh at the Eagle Grips booth to ask what was new. Raj floored me when he said he had managed to get a shipment of new Sambar stag out of India. Raj said this was a one-time opportunity, so he bought as much as he could. But when this supply runs out, there won't be any more coming.
Needless to say, I was all over that. The first thing I did when I got home from SHOT was to Fed Ex my .45 caliber Great Western II revolver to Eagle Grips for a set of stag grips. Certainly I could have simply ordered a set of grips and fitted them myself. I've fitted grips to most of my sixguns, but if you're getting a set of stag grips, I recommend you don't do it yourself. Eagle Grips will custom fit grips to your gun.
Stag is difficult do-it-yourself material. It is very hard, which makes it very labor-intensive to fit. More importantly, each slab of stag is unique. You'll be much better off allowing Eagle Grips to ensure that your stag grips are fitted in a way that takes full advantage of the figure of your particular slabs of stag.
When it comes to stag, Raj is a perfectionist. In addition to their other lines of grips, Raj personally ensures that every set of stag grips meets their highest standards. That's because stag is his favorite material. When I mentioned to him that I preferred ivory grips, he said, "Mike, a blind grip maker could make a decent set of grips out of ivory. Ivory does what you want it to do. But each piece is stag is different. And you can only do what that piece of stag will let you do."
The grips Raj put on my Great Western II are gorgeous. I've known some grip makers to fit a lovely stag panel to the right side of a sixgun, and then put a very plain piece of stag on the left side. I suppose the theory is that no one will see the left side when the gun is holstered. I think that's a bad practice, and I'm happy to say Eagle Grips doesn't operate that way. They carefully select their raw stag slabs looking for roughly equal amounts of figure in both panels.
Eagle Grips offers three grades of stag, priced from $250 to $350 a set. The Standard Grade is mostly ivory colored with a little Stag bark figure. The next level up is Select Grade with correspondingly more bark. I chose the Ultimate Grade for the Great Western II. The additional $100 is well worth it in my book. The grips on my gun have bark covering about 75 percent of each panel and they provide a very secure grip.
These grips really complement the Great Western II. This pistol from EMF is my favorite Italian clone. It is as close to a Colt as you will ever see from Italy. The genuine bone color casehardened frame and hammer rival anything coming out of Hartford, Connecticut. Deep blues and purples predominate in a rich pattern that covers about 80 percent of the base metal with color. In contrast to the washed-out colors on some clones, this looks more like a 1930's vintage Colt. The balance of the steel is beautifully polished and blued.
Like most Italian reproductions, the Great Western II came from the factory with one-piece walnut stocks. The crew at Eagle Grips installed anchor studs so the pistol could use two-piece grips, which I personally prefer.
As soon as the pistol returned home, I took it out to the range for a quick check. The trigger on this revolver broke cleanly at 3.25 pounds, and the action was silky smooth right out of the box. This is one of the few single-action revolvers that didn't need an action job to be acceptable. It is made right, inside and out.
One of the things also made right are the sights. While most replicas copy the hard-to-see sights of Colt's first generation of SAAs, EMF wisely went with the thicker front blade and wider, square notch found on second generation Colts. And my middle-aged eyes applaud that direction.
The combination of excellent sights, a crisp trigger and very secure grips allowed me to shoot 1.5- to 2-inch groups offhand at 15 yards with both Winchester .45 Colt Cowboy Ammunition and Black Hills ammo. After that performance I was confident enough to take it out the next day to a Cowboy Action Shooting match and shoot it with my black powder handloads.
At the match I carried the Great Western II in a custom rig made for me by Circle Bar-T Leatherworks. The rig consists of two Mexican Double Loop holsters and a money belt-style cartridge belt. The cartridge belt has 30 bullet loops, which is plenty. Even though I shoot .45 Colt pistols, my 1873 carbine is chambered for .44-40, so I use the old John Wayne trick. I fill half the loops with .44-40 shells and the other half with .45Colt ammo, and I put a .45-70 rifle round in a center loop to separate them.
This rig is dyed a rich chocolate brown, and the belt is very soft and light, so it is comfortable to wear all day long, even during a hot and humid summer's day. And thanks to the stag grips, I had a firm hold on the pistol all day, despite the sweat and the inevitable black powder lube residue. Though I had two misses to blow my clean match, neither of those misses came from the Great Western II. It performed as well as it looked.