My favorite .38-caliber revolver is the Colt Navy! It is perfectly balanced to be accurate and smooth in operation. I do not like slow loading of cap-and-ball pistols and cleaning messy black powder fouling. 

When I saw this Uberti 1851 Navy Conversion Wild Bill revolver chambered in .38 Special, I had to have it. This beautiful version is named after the famous Wild Bill Hickok. He is known to have carried a cap-and-ball .36 Navy for protection and dueling.
 

Table of Contents

Video
History
My Impressions
Specifications
Range Time
Pros & Cons
Conclusion

Video
 

 

HISTORY

 

Uberti 1851 Navy Conversion Wild Bill .38 Special revolver
Colt started recycling its cap-and-ball firearms in the late 1860s, converting them to breech-loading cartridge-firing guns. (Photo: Ben Philippi/Guns.com)


Did you know that recycling was popular in the 1870s? During the late 1860s, William Mason and Charles Richards were employed by Colt firearms and worked to convert existing cap and ball revolvers to breech-loading cartridge-firing guns. Cylinders were drilled out, ejection rod attached, and a loading gate added to allow inserting of cartridges. 

Their patent of 1871 was a brilliant idea by Colt to compete with Smith & Wesson without coming up with a new model. Hundreds of existing cap-and-ball Navy and Army revolvers were converted by Colt.
 

Uberti 1851 Navy Conversion Wild Bill .38 Special revolver
This gun will add class to any cowboy's outfit. (Photo: Ben Philippi/Guns.com)


In July of 1865, James Butler Hickock faced off with Davis Tutt in the Springfield, Missouri, town square over a gambling debt. Hickok used his .36 Navy cap-and-ball revolver. Before many witnesses, Hickock rested his pistol across his forearm and took careful aim. Both men fired at once from 70 yards. Tutt missed, but Hickock’s ball impacted Tutt in the chest, fatally wounding him.  
     
Colt also manufactured new pistols as conversion revolvers. Beretta-owned Uberti made this .38 Special Navy as a modern shooting replica. It is very similar to Wild Bill’s .36 cap-and-ball handgun. 
 

Related: Uberti 1873 Review – Silhouette Shooter's Dream Gun
 

MY IMPRESSIONS

 

Uberti 1851 Navy Conversion Wild Bill .38 Special revolver
With its simple yet artistic design, Uberti's Wild Bill conversion revolver is certainly eye-catching. (Photo: Ben Philippi/Guns.com)


Two features of this pistol impress me. It is beautifully designed and balances and shoots accurately. This is uncommon. This is no “plastic fantastic” wonder 9. When I pick up the revolver, I notice that it is heavy. Its distinctive octagonal barrel is over 7 inches long and makes the gun nose-heavy. 

However, this is not an accident. This forward weight adds to its pointability and aids in accuracy. I believe that modern handguns like the 1873 Peacemaker, Model 1911, and others lost this well-known feature from the 1860s.  
 

Uberti 1851 Navy Conversion Wild Bill .38 Special revolver
The distinctive octagonal barrel measures 7.5 inches. (Photo: Ben Philippi/Guns.com)


This pistol is beautiful! Uberti has color case hardened the receiver, accenting the simple action with gorgeous swirls of black and blue. The cylinder is nicely roll engraved with nautical ships at sea. White polymer grips complete the look of ivory made popular at the time.
 

Uberti 1851 Navy Conversion Wild Bill .38 Special revolver
You can just make out a roll-engraved ship on the cylinder. (Photo: Ben Philippi/Guns.com)


Cocking the hammer rotates the cylinder and produces a clockwork clicking sound. The trigger pull is amazingly light and crisp. As with any single-action pistol, one must cock the hammer between shots. This is gracefully accomplished one-handed with the Uberti. It makes me look good!
 

SPECIFICATIONS

 

  • Barrel Length: 7.5 inches, full octagon                      
  • Weight: 2.8 pounds  
  • Receiver: Color case hardened steel                        
  • Grips: Simulated ivory
  • Roll-engraved cylinder                                                  
  • Caliber: .38 Special   
  • Capacity: Six rounds
  • Trigger: 2.5 pounds, single action only                    
  • MSRP: $867.99
     

RANGE TIME

 

Uberti 1851 Navy Conversion Wild Bill .38 Special revolver
Pull the hammer to half-cock and open the loading gate to expose the cylinder chambers. (Photo: Ben Philippi/Guns.com)


Loading the Colt conversion is simple. Pull the hammer to half-cock and open the loading gate to expose the cylinder chambers. Today I am shooting my reloaded ammo with powder-coated 158-grain lead “lipstick” bullets. Spinning the cylinder produces a soothing clicking sound as I check that each chamber is loaded. 

Close the gate and cock the hammer. Notice the rear sight is a simple notch on the top of the hammer, which lines up with the front brass sight. Nothing complicated, and it is a useful throwback to the cap-and-ball design. I am amazed at how accurate the pistol is on steel, soda bottles, and pop cans.
 

Uberti 1851 Navy Conversion Wild Bill .38 Special revolver
The front brass sight and simple notch rear are surprisingly accurate. (Photo: Ben Philippi/Guns.com)


The pistol seems at home here in Arizona. Its long barrel prevents fast drawing as seen in the movies. Rather, it is gracefully smooth in its presentation. Kick is mild and I have no problem hitting steel center as well as making a head shot and rotating the steel swinger. Reloading is slow. Bring the hammer to half-cock, point the muzzle up, and pull the ejector rod back for each chamber. 

The Uberti Colt makes you appreciate each shot fired. It is nice that I can load six rounds safely without fear of accidental discharge. Uberti replicated Colt’s wise decision to retain the half-cylinder stop notches. This allows the hammer to be lowered between the chambers safely. Therefore, if the gun is accidentally dropped on the hammer, it will not set off a round. 
 

Uberti 1851 Navy Conversion Wild Bill .38 Special revolver
This revolver seems to balance better one-handed and had no problem watering the desert with root beer from my 2-liter targets. (Photo: Ben Philippi/Guns.com)


Next are the 2-liter root beer bottles. Now, I fire with one hand and notice that the pistol balances much better this way. Could it be possible that Colt designed the cap and ball and this conversion pistol to be fired from one hand? My marksmanship indicates that they did. No problem hitting the soda bottles and the long-range milk bottle steel plate. Sometimes I learn things while shooting an accurate retro firearm!
 

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Good looking, authentic, and well made
  • Surprisingly well-balanced and pointable 
  • Excellent trigger and very accurate at short range
  • Uses clean, modern .38 Special ammo
  • Can be carried safely with six rounds

Cons:

  • A bit heavy
  • Slow to reload
  • Sights a bit primitive and non-adjustable
     

CONCLUSION


This is one of the few guns that I own and will not part with. Holding it imparts a magical feeling that must be experienced. It is solid, well-built by Uberti, and inspires confident marksmanship. 

With a simple, honest design, its single action means reliability. It only holds six shots, which forces you to make each shot count. Is it a self-defense gun? Just ask Wild Bill Hickock! 

revolver barrel loading graphic

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