TEXAS LONGHORN ARMS’ .44 SPECIALS

BY JOHN TAFFIN

It was in the late 1980s and the Colt Single Action Third Generation, which had been dropped, was now back but only through the Custom Shop; the .44 Special had not made it with only the .45 Colt, .44-40, and .38-40 being offered. The New Frontier was gone, in fact had been discontinued in 1982. The New Frontier, probably the best Single Action ever offered by Colt, had been advanced in 1962 as Colt's modernized version of the Flat-Top Target Single Action from the 1890s. A very few Second Generation New Frontiers were made, 255 total with 5 1/2” and 7 1/2” barrels and no 4 3/4” at all. Somewhere around 3,500 Third Generations were made, which seems like a lot compared to the Second Generation .44 New Frontiers but when compared to the 7,500 S&W Model 24-3 .44 Specials made in one year, it is still a relatively small number. It looked like the day of coming up with a modern, but traditionally styled .44 Special Single Action with adjustable sights was over.

            I had first met Bill Grover at the 1987 Shootists Holiday and he then allowed me to borrow his personal 7 1/2” West Texas Flat-Top Target .44 Special. After much arm-twisting, Grover agreed to sell me his Flat-Top Target. At the time Bill Grover of Texas was a master gunmaker offering sixguns from Texas Longhorn Arms. His Improved Number Five was the main product of TLA but I do believe the Flat-Top Target is his finest effort. If it is possible to love a sixgun it was certainly love at first sight for me and definitely at first firing of the West Texas Flat-Top Target. It took a lot of talking on my part but I finally caught Grover in a weak moment and after wearing him down he agreed to sell me his .44 Special but he quoted a price so high he figured I would back off. I didn’t. Now he felt so bad he decided to make it up to me and he not only agreed to sell me the Flat-Top but also offered, if I would send it back, to fit it with two more cylinders, one in .44 Magnum and the other in .44-40. We had already planned to meet in Texas in March for the Shootists Spring Sixgun Safari and I told him if he could get all the work done in time I would not only use the Flat-Top Target, but would try to take an animal with each cylinder. He liked that idea as it would be a first, that is, taking animals with the .44-40, .44 Special, and .44 Magnum with the same sixgun.  

            We would be hunting on our friend Frank Pulkrabek’s ranch. This is a walking hunting ranch as it is made up mostly of canyons and hills with very few roads, or even areas where a 4x4 could make it. Bill got the cylinders back to me in time for me to come up with loads and sight settings for each load. For the .44 Magnum I used Oklahoma Ammunition’s .44 Magnum loaded with 240 grain Remington Jacketed Hollow Points over 20.0 grains of #2400. These were not full house loads but would do just fine for the critters we were after.          For the .44-40, the Speer 225 grain pure lead hollow point in a copper cup over 10.0 grains of Unique was decided upon as a load that could do the job, and for the .44 Special, the then new Hornady 200 grain XTP was loaded over 18.5 grains of #2400. I found that the .44-40 load and the .44 Magnum were dead on with the rear sight bottomed out and three fourths of a turn up brought the lighter  .44 Special bullet to point of aim.

            When the Texas Longhorn Arms West Texas Flat-Top Target came back with all three cylinders, Grover also included one of his Texas High Rider Holster systems. The High Rider works with any single action sixgun and is especially handy with 7 1/2”

barrel lengths. It is worn high either strong side or cross draw and consists of a holster proper and a belt slide. The holster fits inside the belt slide and locks into place with the bottom end of a loop on the front of the holster that snaps to the belt slide. To remove the holster one simply unsnaps and raises the holster out of the belt slide.  

            At the beginning of our hunt I slipped the .44-40 cylinder in the TLA .44, tied a sock holding the .44 Special cylinder to my belt and headed out. We had not been out fifteen minutes when I spotted a Merino Ram with a large blood patch on his throat and nose and Frank Pulkrabek, who was also our guide, said we had to kill it, so up came the .44-40 and down went the ram and I had the first animal in my quest for three critters with the same sixgun but different chamberings. Turned out that he had been wounded that morning by another hunter when a bullet aimed at one animal went all the way through its intended target and just barely clipped him also. None of the other hunters knew he had been hit as Merinos have about three inches of heavy wool and it takes a long time for them to show blood.

            Changing cylinders, I left Frank to take care of the Merino and I went hiking after some other animals. After spending an hour chasing goats back and forth through the trees and brush, I finally got a shot at a wide-horned Catalina/Angora and the .44 Special did its job. His horns measured 40" wide and he made a beautiful snow white mount. Now I hiked back to the jeep, and picked up the .44 Magnum cylinder; one more to go. There was a big black and white spotted, long-haired Catalina on the ranch and Frank had told the other three hunters this was my goat and to let it go if they saw it. Turns out that that old Billy was so smart that the hands-off policy probably was not needed. I soon got on him and he ran me up and down the canyon for the next three hours until I finally figured out what was going on. I asked Bill to give me time to get back up on top and then he could come through the bottom and push him up to where I would be waiting for him.

            At 6PM, I was hidden in some trees waiting for the black and white billy. Around 6:30, here he came but he stayed in the middle of a small group making a shot impossible. I knew I was perfectly hidden, but he looked right at me! Curiosity got the best of him and he stepped out of the group to get a better look and at 75 yards the Remington .44 Magnum did its work cleanly and quickly. The third animal of the desired trio had been taken with my Three-In-One .44 WCF/Special/Magnum Sixgun. Now Catalina Goats and Merino rams are certainly not the greatest of trophies but an afternoon spent with good friends and good sixguns is definitely a grand trophy and to be savored for a lifetime. As I look at the heads on my wall I realize how really special they are now that both Bill Grover and Frank Pulkrabek have been called Home and there will be no more hunts with them.

            The West Texas Flat-Top Target, as cataloged by Texas Longhorn Arms, was offered only with a barrel length of 7 1/2” and with its all steel construction weighs in at 45 ounces. The grip frame is Colt Single Action style with one-piece stocks of figured walnut, perfectly, and I do mean perfectly shaped, with all the curves and flares in the right place. There are many single action stocks being offered but relatively few makers really understand how a single action stock is supposed to feel; this one feels right. It is not the same size as the Colt Single Action Army grip, which originated on the Colt 1851 Navy, but closer to the longer Colt 1860 Army style making it quite comfortable for shooting heavy loads.

The trigger guard is smaller and rounder than found on Colt Single Actions and the shotgun style trigger sits far back in the rear of the trigger guard. The hammer is wide and checkered and deep enough in the front to allow the thumb to slip naturally when cocking. Sights are fully adjustable with a melted Micro-style set at the rear of the flat-topped frame. The rear sight is mated with a Patridge front sight giving the sharp black sight picture that I prefer for most sixgun applications. The finish is a highly polished deep blue black and all metal-to-metal and metal-to-wood fit is excellent.

            Grover claimed that all other single actions are made for left-handers and he corrected this by making all of his single actions for right-handers by building mirror image single actions with the loading gate and the ejector housing on the left side. How does this make it right-handed? Most of us load and unload a single action by shifting it to the left hand first. Grover's guns were designed to stay in the right hand with the left hand working the ejector rod and reloading the cylinder chambers. It makes perfect sense but seems awkward to one who has used `left-handed' single actions for nearly forty years.

            The action and lockwork of the Flat-Top target consists totally of music wire coil springs. Operation is smooth and positive and the cylinder locks up tight with any of the three cylinders in place. Grover built them tight and I ran into trouble in the beginning as he made the .44-40 cylinder using Winchester brass and I loaded my original rounds with Remington brass. We then found out that Remington brass has thicker heads and would not function with the tight headspace of the Flat-Top Target designed for use with Winchester brass.  

            With two extra cylinders plus the original .44 Special this sixgun allows for a lot of experimentation. As we have seen the .44-40 dates all the way back to 1873 and was first chambered in the Winchester '73 at the same time the Colt Single Action Army was introduced in .45 Colt. It wasn’t long until Colt decided the natural thing to do was to chamber the Colt SAA in .44-40 also and it became a favorite chambering among sixgunners second only to .45 Colt, and was especially favored by those who wanted a companion sixgun chambered the same as their Model 1873 or 1892 Winchesters. Brass for the .44-40 is very thin and cylinder walls of Colt Single Actions are even thinner than those chambered for the .45 Colt as the .44-40 is basically a .45 necked to .44; diameter of the main body of .44-40 brass is slightly larger than the .45 Colt. In the past I lost .44-40 brass when reloading but since switching to Starline brass reloading has become much simpler with no cases lost. I load the .44-40 on the RCBS PRO-2000 progressive press by spraying the cases with lube first and the loading is accomplished just as easy as with any straight-walled brass using a carbide sizer; actually with the lube even easier. Here are some sample loads for the .44-40 in the Texas Longhorn Arms West 7 1/2” Texas Flat-Top Target. They are not necessarily recommended for any other .44-40s. Loads were chronographed over the PACT PC.

Load                                                                MV                  5Shots/25Yards

Speer 225 HP/10.0 GR. Unique                       1154 fps                       1 1/8"

Hornady 200 XTP/17.5 GR. #2400                 1153 fps                       1 1/4"

Hornady 200 XTP/18.5 GR. #2400                 1262 fps                       1 1/4"

Hornady 200 XTP/10.0 GR. Unique                 1149 fps                       1 1/8"

Sierra 180 JHP/10.0 GR. Unique                      1115 fps                       1"

            The .44 Special, the original chambering of the Flat-Top Target, is very dear to my heart, soul, and spirit. I am often asked what I would choose if I could only have one sixgun. Two of my favorites are 7 1/2” .44s, a Colt New Frontier .44 Special and an original Ruger Blackhawk Flat-Top .44 Magnum; with the TLA Flat-Top Target I can have the best of both worlds with not only a first class .44 Special and .44 Magnum but a .44-40 cylinder thrown in for good measure. Not only is the .44 Special Flat-Top Target a fine shooting sixgun with many loads, it is spectacular with the Keith load of a 250 grain hard cast bullet over 17.0 grains of #2400.   Here are some .44 Special loads; again these are not necessarily recommended for any other .44 Special sixgun. Note this .44 Special is a fast shooter when it comes to muzzle velocities, however it prefers to be worked hard with heavy loads. In light of this, note the group with the standard load of 7.5 grains of Unique.

Load                                                                MV                  5 Shots/25 Yards                    

Speer 240 SP/16.3 GR. #2400                        1270 fps                       1"

Hornady 240 XTP/ 17.0 GR. #2400                1485 fps                       1 1/4"

Hornady 200 XTP/18.5 GR. #2400                 1376 fps                       1 1/4"

RCBS KT SWC/17.0 GR. #2400                    1379 fps                         7/8"

RCBS KT SWC/7.5 GR. Unique                     1023 fps                       2 3/8"

            The frame and cylinder of the TLA West Texas Flat-Top Target are larger than the Colt Single Action with the cylinder being .118” larger in diameter, and in fact is even .038” wider than the Ruger .44 Magnum cylinder. Being this much larger one might expect the TLA Flat-Top to seem overly cumbersome but thanks to the beautifully shaped and sized grips it balances wonderfully well. This grip frame also handles felt recoil for me much better than the original Colt–style or the Ruger Super Blackhawk. The TLA Flat-Top Target is also, in all probability, the strongest .44 Special and .44-40 ever manufactured.

            So we have a sixgun that shoots both .44-40s and .44 Specials in one-inch or less, what about the .44 Magnum? The  .44-40 shoots one-inch groups with Hornady XTP's and Speer and Sierra hollow points and the .44 Special does the same thing with both Speer 240 jacketed hollow points and hard cast Keith bullets, but the best was yet to come. The .44 Magnum, loaded with Lyman's #431244GC bullet over 21.5 grains of AA#9 at 1,436 fps, outshoots both the .44-40 and the .44 Special in this do-it-all .44 sixgun.   Here then are some loads for the .44 Magnum in the TLA Flat-Top Target.

Load                                                                MV                              5 Shots/25 Yards

Remington 240 JHP                                          1489 fps                       1 1/8"

Winchester 240 JHP                                         1493 fps                       1 1/2"

Black Hills 240 JHP-XTP                                 1345 fps                       1 1/2"

Black Hills 300 JHP-XTP                                 1200 fps                       1 1/2"

Oregon Trail 240 SWC/8.5 GR. Unique           1215 fps                       1 1/8"

BRP 295 KT/21.5 GR. WW296                      1395 fps                       1 1/8"

Lyman #431244GC/21.5 GR. AA#9                1436 fps                         3/4"

RCBS #44-300FN/21.5 GR. WW296             1402 fps                       1 1/4"

Hornady 240 XTP/25.0 GR. WW296              1559 fps                       1 1/8"  

            Since that hunt with Bill and Frank the West Texas Flat-Top Target has been returned to TLA for the addition of a fourth cylinder in .44 Russian. Plans were made for one more trip back for a .44 Colt cylinder, however TLA closed their doors before this took place.

            For my last several hunts, not being interested in taking any long-range trophies, I have gone back to the .44 Special. I truly enjoy hunting pigs and I’ve hunted them almost as much as I have whitetail deer traveling to Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Missouri, Oregon, and South Africa for porkers. Over the years, I have used the .41 Magnum, the .44 Magnum, the .454 Casull, and the .50 Action Express, all in sixguns, but lately I’ve been more relaxed using the .44 Special going back in time more than three-quarters of a century. As we have seen, for 30 years prior to the introduction of the .44 Magnum the .44 Special was the premier hunting handgun. There were very few, if any jacketed handgun bullets in the late 1920s. There was only one choice, and that was a cast bullet. Even today handgun hunters still argue the merits of hard cast bullets vs. jacketed bullets, however seventy-five years ago whether one wanted a flat-nosed or hollow point bullet it was necessary to cast one’s own or know someone who did. My friend Glen Fryxell had sent me a good batch of Keith’s #429421 HP cast bullets and I loaded them all up with 17.0 grains of #2400 and will hunt with them until they are gone and then, since I now have both the Keith and Ray Thompson .44 molds in HP persuasion, I can cast some up more and start all over again.

            My hunting lately as been very relaxed with two good friends, Roger Bissell and Rick vonDerHeide. Rick was student of mine when I taught math, became a teacher himself, then a colleague at the same school, and his now my taxidermist also. Plus he picks me up at my door in a comfortable Suburban as we make our yearly trek to Clover Creek Ranch above Madras Oregon for Catalina goats, exotic sheep, and both “Russian” and feral boars.

On the last pig hunt I spotted two very large boars resting in the shade. As I got out of the 4x4 the smaller pig was on his feet and it was just a matter of my waiting him out, hoping for a broadside shot. The wait did not take long. The bullet went in right behind the upper part of the front leg, and as we found out later came out on the other side right through the center of the upper part of the leg on the off side. Now this was a 500-pound pig and a hollow point cast bullet at 1,200 fps gave total penetration! At the shot he stumbled and looked like he was going to run.  I did not hesitate but rather put a second shot in him at which he went over with all four feet in the air and preceded to tumble over and over and down the hill and accommodated us by coming to a stop on the dirt road.

            That was to be the end of it is far as I was concerned. There were two pigs there; I intended to take one pig and be on my way. His big buddy would have none of that. By now he was up on his feet and using his snout moving that 500-pound pig. He was not about to leave.  So I told Rick if he presents my shot I’m taking him. He did, I did, he turned around, started to run, I put a second shot in him and down he went. The “small” pig had four-inch tusks, while this 650-pounder had tusks curling around for six inches. We would later find out the .44 Special hollow point had gone through the heart of the second boar, the second shot was only two inches away from the first shot, and one bullet was perfectly mushroomed and lodged under the hide on the far side. In both cases .44 Special cast hollow point bullets performed superbly.

            In addition to the West Texas Flat-Top Target Bill Grover also offered his South Texas Army chambered in .44 Special. Since most of the manufacturing time at Texas Longhorn Arms was taken up by the Improved Number Five, which we shall look at in The New Breed of .44 Magnums in Section 6, I have to believe .44 Special TLA sixguns are very rare. Grover's South Texas Army has fixed sights and  a barrel length of 4 ¾”, and unlike the TLA West Texas Flat-Top Target, my South Texas Army has only one cylinder, that being in .44 Special. The fixed sights of the South Texas Army are Colt Single Action Army style and the grip frame, as on the Flat-Top Target, is much closer to the 1860 Army than the 1873 Army. The former grip has a slightly different angle, being a little straighter than that found on the Colt Single Action Army and it is also longer allowing room for the little finger, which no longer has to either dangle in space or be wrapped under the butt. Texas Longhorn Arms grip frames are exceptionally comfortable when shooting heavy loads in either the Flat-Top Target or South Texas Army and are stocked with beautifully shaped and fitted one-piece stocks of fancy walnut and mesquite respectively.

            The South Texas Army, with its wide hammer, deep blue finish, case hardened frame, and short barrel, carries every bit as easy as a Colt Single Action, handles heavier loads with ease, and makes an excellent fixed sighted Perfect Packin’ Pistol. Texas Longhorn arms is missed and it would be great if someone could resurrect the West Texas Flat-Top Target and the South Texas Army. 

 

 

18-1) Bill Grover, of Texas Longhorn Arms, custom-built this #SS4 .44 Special

on a Ruger Flat-Top .357 Blackhawk using a Colt Single Action grip frame.

One-piece ivory stocks are by BluMagnum.

 

 

 

18-2) Taffin shooting the "right-handed sixgun”, the Texas Longhorns Arms

South Texas Army .44 Special.

 

 

 

18-3) Grover's Pale Rider .44 Special featured an easily removed cylinder

with an ejector ratchet.

Photo courtesy of Wayne Taliaferro.

 

 

18-4)     West Texas Flat-Top Target .44 Special with case hardened frame

was specially built for Hank Williams Jr.

Photo courtesy of Wayne Taliaferro.

 

 

18-5)     Grover's Pale Rider .44 Special was inspired by Clint Eastwood's movie

on the same name.

Photo courtesy of Wayne Taliaferro.

 

 

 

18-6)     A most versatile sixgun is the TLA Flat-Top Target with cylinders for

.44 Special, .44 Magnums, and .44-40.

 

 

18-7)     Grover's version of the Colt Single Action Army was the South Texas

Army with the ejector rod and loading gate on the left side.

 

 

18-8)     The versatility of Bill Grover and Texas Longhorns Arms clockwise

from top left: Flat-Top Target, Improved Number  Five, and 4 3/4” and 7 1/2”

.44 Specials built on Ruger Old Model Blackhawks.

 

 

18-9 to 18-11) Taffin shooting the Texas Longhorns Arms West Texas Flat-Top Target.

 

 

18-12) The West Texas Flat-Top Target with three cylinders in .44 Special, .

44 Magnums, and .44-40 allows for a lot of experimenting with different loads.

 

 

18-13) Three great 7 1/2” .44s: Ruger’s Flat-Top Blackhawk, Colt's New Frontier,

and TLA’s Flat-Top Target.

 

 

18-14) Texas Longhorns Arms also offered the Texas Hi-Ride holster which

is now offered by Ted Blocker.

 

 

18-15) A classic sixgun in every way, the Texas Longhorns Arms Flat-Top Target.

 

Chapter 17    Chapter 19