Picking My Perfect Packin’ Pistol

Freedom Arms Model 97

By Mark Hampton

Freedom Arms Model 97 in .45 Colt makes an ideal carry gun for many outdoor
activities like camping, fishing, backpacking or working around the farm.

Our own John Taffin coined the “Perfect Packin’ Pistol” moniker, and he’s been on the trail of one ever since. And I have to say, he’s right about it. Unless it’s light and handy, you just don’t have it on hand. It never fails; you bump into wily coyote or other vermin when you’re not carrying your favorite sidearm. I was doing some chores around the farm the other day on the tractor and had a coyote stand there — and watch me work! If I would only have been carrying a handgun, and I know better! This wasn’t my first mishap. Then my wife and I were checking some of our property’s fence that had suffered considerable damage due to an ice storm. A few of the tree limbs had fallen on the wire and we were repairing the devastation. Way yonder, as we say here in Missouri, on the backside of our property, a big bobcat bounced out in front of us. With my quick wit, all I could do was throw the hammer. That didn’t work out, so I thought, okay, I’ve had enough.

I called my friend Bob Baker of Freedom Arms and told him to send me something I could pack all the time, and I mean all the time, when I was at the farm. I wanted to wear it on the tractor, riding around on the Polaris Ranger, fixing fence, taking a morning hike, you name it, and I wanted to be packin’. This gun wouldn’t be equipped with a long barrel, like I usually prefer, and equipped with only iron sights. This particular gun would not be a hunting handgun per se, but an easy packing rig I could carry at all times. After Bob listened to my criteria he said he’d be sending something he thought I’d like.

For comparison purposes: the FA Model 97 in .45 Colt is somewhat smaller and lighter than
the custom Mag-na-port .44 Magnum, Ruger Super Redhawk, shown at top with a 5″ barrel.

Compact Powerhouse

Sure enough, when I opened the box, I knew this little gun had a secure place, and a new home. Inside the box was a shiny Premier Grade Model 97 in .45 Colt, just what the doctor ordered, compact and easy to carry. The Model 97 is not new by any means, but was first introduced back in 1997 in .357 Mag. A couple of years later, Freedom Arms chambered this mid-frame, single-action revolver in .45 Colt to the delight of many.

This stainless steel single action is somewhat smaller than the Freedom Arms Model 83 you see typically chambered in the mighty .454 Casull. I couldn’t wait for a range session with rounds procured from Winchester, Double Tap and Buffalo Bore ammunition. Good gosh, DoubleTap produces 18 different rounds, nine standard and nine +P heavy stuff. Buffalo Bore manufactures six +P offerings, and Big Red also makes a ton of different .45 Colt ammo from personal defense rounds like their Supreme Elite Bonded PDX1 all the way “down” to Cowboy Action. There is no shortage of quality ammo in a wide variety of different bullet weights for a multitude of applications.

Freedom Arms revolvers are well-made, quality firearms, easy on the eyes and will deliver
decades of pride of ownership for any shooter. Can you say “Swiss Watch”?

With an abundance of factory ammunition available, you don’t have to reload unless you want to.
Accuracy from the short-barrel .45 Colt is more than acceptable for a trail/hunting gun (this is a
25-yard group). Mark feels the gun is much more accurate, but was hampered by the Express-style
sights he had installed.

Recoil?

At the range I discovered not only did those beautiful winewood, round butt grips look good, they felt wonderful. Now I wouldn’t want to shoot those heavy .45 Colt +P 325-gr. rounds from Buffalo Bore all day long, but they are manageable. The smooth grips are not abrasive and make shooting even heavy rounds more comfortable. This gun is light, tipping the scales at a measly 33 ounces. Realistically, I am going to be carrying this revolver much more than I will shoot it, so I’m fine with the weight. Obviously there is recoil involved with this light five-shooter and short barrel, but it is manageable.

The ammunition I gathered from DoubleTap, Buffalo Bore and Winchester all performed at a level you would expect from a 3½” revolver. There were not any malfunctions nor surprises. Barrel length on the Model 97 comes standard in 4¼”, 5½” or 7½” but I wanted something really compact, so I chose the non-standard length. If I would have chosen this gun for strictly hunting purposes, I would have easily gone with the longest barrel available.

For a gun of this nature I thought the express sights would be fine for its intended purpose. Sight alignment is quick, and even my aging eyes can still see them fairly well. The gold bead front sight was beneficial and easy to acquire and the accuracy I obtained from these sights is more than acceptable. Back in my younger days when I followed a pack of hounds chasing wild boar, these sights would have been wonderful, especially when most of the shooting was an up-close-and-personal matter. Heck, this gun would have been perfect for some of those encounters with big mean hogs.

I liked the way this gun handled at the range. The trigger broke around 3½ pounds, which I consider just fine from a revolver for this purpose. The Model 97 is truly a modern single action, with the transfer bar situated directly in front of the hammer, moving slightly up and down. The safety engages when the hammer is fully forward and the trigger is released.

Mark found Purdy Gear’s leather among the finest he’s ever used. Here are her Pancake
(below) and IWB (above) ideas. Elegant, I’d say.

Impeccable Workmanship

This mid-frame single action had extremely tight tolerances and custom hand fitted parts, just as you would expect from Freedom Arms. The revolver is all stainless steel, and the action was silky smooth — much like the larger Model 83 I’ve shot in .44 Mag. and .454 Casull. I get bored pretty quick with target shooting at the range, so I made a quick trip to the farm where I busted some rocks on a pond bank. Not that much more exciting than punching paper but not so monotonous. The more I shot this revolver, the more I liked it. Getting familiar with a gun before you see real action is essential. I want to be ready when I see the next critter appear unexpectedly.

The fluted cylinder is easy on the eyes and better yet, can be interchangeable with a .45 ACP cylinder. This adds yet another dimension to the shooting applications. Incidentally, the barrel/cylinder gap was almost non-existent. The front sight can also be interchangeable on the adjustable-sighted models. This is a nifty option when going from .45 ACP defensive rounds to heavy .45 Colt bison busters.

Carry Gear

The next piece of equipment almost as important as the gun was the holster. After all, if I’m going to be packing this firearm around all the time, I must select a carrying option both functional and comfortable. I met Karla Van Horne of Purdy Gear at the most recent SHOT Show, and fell in love with her leather products. Karla makes some of the most aesthetically pleasing and functional holsters I’ve ever seen, and not just for cowboy-action events. These custom holsters are available in a wide variety of options for the most demanding ergonomic considerations, or a specific activity. Karla also makes shoulder rigs, cartridge belts and a bunch of other neat accessories.

Now I’m all fixed for the next varmint to stand there and watch me plow a food plot, check a fence, feed catfish or take a morning stroll. The Freedom Arms Model 97 will be an ideal handgun for fishing trips, camping, hiking or any other outdoor fun where peace of mind is welcome. Who knows, I just might take a deer with this revolver at close range. Whatever the situation, it’s going to be nice knowing I have a real packin’ pistol on my side, and it’s put together by real Americans, right here in the good ol’ USA.

So, Mr. Taffin, I seem to have found my Perfect Packin’ Pistol. What’s yours?

For more info:

Freedom Arms
Ph: (307) 883-2468
https://americanhandgunner.com/company/freedom-arms-inc/

Purdy Gear
Ph: (706) 692-5536
https://americanhandgunner.com/company/purdy-gear/

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