In the latter 1800’s Colt offered the Single Action Army in an elegant target package that featured a vertical adjust front sight and horizontal drift rear. By the mid 20th century adjustable sights were more refined and aficionados like Elmer Keith came to favor them on single actions. Ruger put click adjustable sights on the Blackhawk when they introduced it in 1955. And so Great Western also offered adjustable sights on its sixguns.
The Great Western target model was a standard Frontier single action with the addition of Micro Sight Co. front and rear sights. The manner of this sight configuration was basically copied from Christy Gun Works, who had for some years been offering an identical Micro Sight installation for the standard fixed sight Single Action Army.
Great Western machined top straps of these revolvers flat to affix the rear Micro sight. Like Colt or Ruger single actions where the sight channel in the top strap is eliminated, Great Western’s target revolvers can properly be called ‘flattops’. Do note this is collector language rather than a catalog term.
Curiously, Great Western’s catalogs make scant reference to the target model at all. Most of the time it was listed indistinctly as a $20 upcharge for Micro Sights. Photographs of the target model are not featured in company catalogs or advertisements.
Serial ranges: They probably exist throughout the range, but most are encountered within GW9000 – 15000. This stands to reason, as this is 1955 – 56, and represents the period of highest production and greatest technical competency at the original Miner St. factory.
Calibers: Observed in .22, .38, .357 (Atomic and Magnum), .44 (Special and Magnum), .45. .22s are a a bit more common than centerfires. .38s and .357 are the most common centerfire versions. .44s and .45s are scarcish.
Barrels: 4.75, 5.5, and 7.5. 5.5 and 7.5 are most common. 4.75 target models exist in very low numbers. There is one known 12 inch Target Buntline (perhaps a singular example).
Finishes: Observed in blue, blue / CCH, nickel, and parkerized.
Grips: Plastic faux stag was standard, but they are often seen with factory grip upgrades.
Overall production / scarcity: Scarce. I extrapolate from reported serials that production might have numbered in the low hundreds.
Variants \ Oddities:
- GW5, GW6, GW9, and GW10 are known to be target model, cased presentation revolvers, .22 caliber with 4 ¾ inch barrels. They are elaborately engraved by Carl Courts and have mother of pearl grips. Though they have among the earliest of serials, I have doubts these guns were actually built in spring of 1954. I judge that serials for them were reserved, and the guns were built later, likely in 1955 or 56.
- Two target models in .44 Magnum have been observed. One, ser#13828, was auctioned on Gunbroker.com in 2013 for a robust price. It’s not my sense the number of .44 mag flattops produced would have extended into double digits.
- .45 Colt flattop target #14196 is E.C. Prudhomme engraved with pioneer scenes. This gun was probably not factory commissioned. It is featured in Prudhomme’s sampler book on engraving.
- Micro front sights for the target model consisted of a ramp and blade. The front was installed by pinning or soldering over a stub that sat in the barrel’s factory cut sight slot.
- Several different height Micro front sights were used on the target models to zero for vertical point of aim as this would naturally vary among the calibers.
- Adjustable sight Great Westerns where front sight is something akin to a gold bead on a ramp were probably modified by Christy Gun Works. These may or may not be GW factory authentic target models in the first place, with top strap and rear sight configuration probably providing the answer. On the whole, rebarreling for different lengths or front sights has been seen somewhat frequently on surviving target models.
- Some Great Westerns with Micro Sights are found without a completely machined top strap. Rather, a small slot was end-milled into the top strap, with the rear sight installed in that flat spot. In these cases, much of the top strap’s original sight channel remains, and this does have something of a ‘less than’ factory or amateur done appearance. This installation method corresponds to instructions provided by Micro Sight for installation of their sights by independent gunsmiths. Thus, Great Westerns exhibiting installation in this manner are not factory target models.