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Thread: Dakota Revolvers - Italy’s first Colt Clone

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    Dakota Revolvers - Italy’s first Colt Clone

    Dakota Revolvers - Italy’s first Colt Clone

    The market for frontier gun reproductions formed in the 1950’s. Americans were reliving their western past through television and film. Post-war prosperity meant eager and abundant buyers for replica firearms.

    In its Frontier revolver, Great Western Arms of California had a compelling clone of the Peacemaker. But even with strong demand, price competition drove them from the market by 1961. Mail order houses like Navy Arms, Dixie Gun Works, and EMF were sourcing their replica inventory from central Europe, where the economy still lagged and manufacturing was cheap.

    The Peacemaker clone is now well established as the signature piece of any serious replica vendor’s catalog. The first European built reproduction of the Colt SAA was by JP Sauer of Germany. Sturdy and inexpensive, the Sauer clone single handedly destroyed the price environment for the American made Great Western. Sold by several US importers, Sauer and its replica would briefly have the clone market to itself.

    By the early 1960’s, the gunsmiths and job shops of northern Italy became very adept at supplying US replica importers. The business of reproduction firearms manufacture became particularly successful and organized around Brescia. There, several family shops thrived and grew into enduring, world class gun makers. Uberti and Pietta remain today. Armi San Marco, Armi San Paolo, and Jager were very successful over the 70’s and 80’s.

    Armando Piscetta and his Loano company Armi Jager started building Peacemaker clones in 1962. A small importer, Inter Continental Arms of Los Angeles, began selling it in the US. Inter Continental called it the “Dakota”.

    Jager’s early single action was significant as Italy’s first Peacemaker clone. More so, it was quite a bit better than the Sauer revolver. It was finished nice, functioned well, and still affordable. It established a reputation for quality among the Italians. The makers around Brescia would capture most replica manufacturing in a few short years.

    History of the Jager Single Action

    Early on, the pattern for Piscetta’s Jager single action was set. It was blue and color case hardened with Italian hardwood grips. It had a brass grip assembly, this with usually either more or less sweep than an actual Colt. The flamboyant brass straps are an easy to spot inauthentic touch, but the Jager revolvers were nonetheless handsome and well finished.

    Inter Continental Arms imported the Jager single action into the US with some exclusivity through the 60’s. There are lesser numbers of HEGE and Western Arms labeled Dakotas from those years floating around.

    For the first several years, the Dakota didn’t have a maker’s logo. Brescian proof marks and a “Made in Italy” script were the only indicators of origin. In 1969 some of Inter Continental’s six-guns began showing a Hammerli, Switzerland stamp. The nature of Inter Continental’s supply chain in the 60’s is an esoteric point that will remain lost to history. What can be demonstrated is the Dakota was being built in two places for a time: in Italy, by Jager, and in Switzerland, by Hammerli. Hammerli built Dakotas were numbered within the existing Jager serial range, indicating an aligned if not joint venture by the two companies to furnish the Dakota to American importers.

    Hammerli already owned a stellar reputation for target pistols. New Hammerli built six-guns made an immediate splash for attractiveness and precise build. By 1972 Hammerli was signed by Interarms to make their Virginian revolver. Hammerli then ceased building the Dakota, leaving that to Jager as before.

    Demand for the Dakota replica generally remained, though importers came and went amid roiling 1970’s economics. Inter Continental ceased business in about 1975. EMF picked up the Dakota trademark and became Jager’s highest volume importer. The Dakota revolver was also imported stateside in lesser numbers by Kassnar and Navy Arms. These guns are the same, but go by “1873" or "Frontier” model name. Odd models with “IGI” and “Italguns” importer markings (Kansas model label generally) are also Jager revolvers. By this time all guns have “ARMI JAGER – ITALY” markings.

    Sales of the Jager pattern six-gun were robust for the next decade but ultimately petered out. Cowboy action shooting was established in the 80’s. As it grew, single action shooters favored replicas with more authentic appearance. EMF dropped the Jager as its flagship revolver in favor of models by Armi San Marco and Uberti, some of which they labeled "New Dakota". Armi Jager stopped building its Peacemaker clone in about 1993, and then soon after exited firearms manufacturing altogether.

    Model Variations

    Besides its basic color cased and blued model, Jager also did runs in Sheriff, Bisley, Buntline, and Target model configuration. A catalog like this has become standard fare among replica Peacemaker manufacturers, with those model labels being easy to grasp without much explanation.

    Note that Jager’s Buntline was an ambitiously detailed reproduction. Some had ladder sights, along with a finely rendered skeleton stock.

    Around 1980 EMF also briefly imported the Jager revolver as an unfinished kit. This was in effect a second take on the old Great Western Arms kit guns (EMF having owned Great Western for a time…). Jager kits are called “Californian” models.

    Inter Continental Arms contracted with Jager for a modern, big-bore hunting revolver to compete with Ruger’s Super Blackhawk. This model was, not coincidentally, called the Super Dakota. It featured target sights, an elongated grip assembly, and chambering in a selection of modern performance calibers. These guns date from 1965 – 1970 or so. They are high quality.

    Jager offered an engraved model to its distributors throughout production years. Examples will generally conform to one of two basic patterns. Among earlier production, frames are coin finished and engraved with barrels blued. Late production engraved guns are nickel plated. Some of these late examples feature a cattlebrand pattern. In all cases, engraving was etched or machine rolled.

    A US Army commemorative was built in the 1980’s. These are cavalry style .45’s with 7 ˝ inch barrels. 1000 is perhaps the proper number to cite as built. They have their own serial range. Some but not all may have presentation cases.

    Caliber selection was typically a standard fare of .22, .32-20, .357, .38-40, .44-40, and .45. Auxiliary cylinders could be purchased with several of those chamberings to make for a convertible revolver.

    The Dakota was at times available in .30 Carbine, one of a very few production handguns offered in this caliber.

    The Dakota could be had by special order in nickel finish. It was also occasionally supplied with a steel grip assembly.

    Standard grips were walnut or a European hardwood. Grips on earlier built guns are much better looking, sometimes having an olivewood appearance.

    Dakotas from 1962 – 1968 have no safety mechanism. Revolvers from 1969 – 71 or thereabouts generally have a hammer wheel safety. Revolvers after that have a base pin safety. On Jagers, this is an odd "twist" base pin rather than the “Swiss” two notch pin that became common on Italian SAA replicas.

    Quality, Collectability, and Values

    Italian six-guns from the 70’s are to this day persistently described as cheaply made and poorly built. This nugget stands as conventional wisdom, passing to and fro among shooters when they engage in casual conversations that broach the topic.

    This piece of common knowledge was never really true, but it in any event is by now broadly distorted. The spaghetti replicas are quite good and have been from the start. They have always been steel rather than alloy (…it was the German six-guns that had a bit of alloy…). Also, they had quite a bit more hand fit and finish than was required to build them even at the time.

    These are traits of a high quality product, not junk. I was a child in the 70’s. Understandably I did not have direct experience with the revolvers then to form my own contemporaneous anecdotes. But I do recall the deep skepticism of foreign imports and low prestige of mail order guns, at least in comparison to say a “nice” Remington, SW, or Winchester. I’m inclined to say it was these attitudes that were the origin of the Italian’s “quality problem” rather than a definable pattern of defective guns.

    And such it was with the Jager revolver. It’s a good gun. Exterior dimensions are nominally larger than a Peacemaker. It’s more robust and rendered of modern steel. A Jager is without a doubt much stronger than a 1st generation Colt, inasmuch as that is a useful comparison.

    Finish quality was consistently good and often excellent. However, there were a couple inauthentic touches that nagged the Jager SAA.

    The first was, as mentioned, the brass grip assembly. These are not unattractive, although Jager never did properly mimic the Colt’s grip outline. More so, the brass itself was and is something of an affront to SAA aficionados. Peacemakers simply are not supposed to have brass grip straps. Clones with brass grip straps have always faced an undercurrent of buyer resistance.

    Perhaps the larger problem was the Jager’s assembly with metric screws and parts sized to those metric screws. Maybe it ought not mattered much for a gun that didn’t fail very often. But as cowboy shooting grew, buyers' demand for authenticity became more strident. Jager nonetheless declined to change its design. Ultimately its gun was usurped in the marketplace by more “true-to-Colt” ASMs and Ubertis.

    Jager serial numbering was strictly numerical and ascending, ostensibly starting at 1. Examples from around 1990 have serials that approach 100,000. That number is subsequently a reasonable estimate of total production over 30 years. Much of those guns are in Europe, where Jager also did good business. There they marketed blank firing sixguns in addition to centerfire and .22.

    There is no defined collector base for the Jager revolver, and no collectability premium built into current retail values. The proper ballpark for price is utilitarian rather than collectable, that of used cowboy action clones. Say $300, or $350. They can be had for a relative pittance on the classified and estate markets. Buntlines and engraved models attract common curio seekers, and will go a bit higher.


    Armi San Marco teetered and then failed in the early 2000’s for reasons having nothing to do with the overall demand for reproduction six-guns. Uberti remained as the sole Italian clone maker, but they had just been acquired by Beretta. Rather than expand to capture ASM's market, Uberti's distribution was put under tighter corporate discipline as production got directed into Beretta sales networks.

    Several mail order houses relied on Italian six-guns to anchor their catalogs, and they faced diminished ability to fulfill orders. This was an obvious void for another Brescian company to fill, and it was Pietta that did. Having not offered a Peacemaker clone before, they started by getting Jager's old forging for the Dakota cylinder frame. They updated the build with modern CNC machining, and assembled finished guns with Colt sized screws and parts. But the lineage of Pietta’s modern rendered, authentically dimensioned six-gun actually goes back to the original Dakota revolver by Jager.

    “Dakota” remains brilliantly evocative as a private label name for a six-gun. EMF owns this trademark, and used it post- Jager on revolvers by other makers. After contracting with Armi San Marco and Uberti over the 1990’s for Peacemaker clones, EMF began a long term relationship with Pietta in 2003. In its premium finishes, Pietta’s clone has since served as EMF’s flagship offering. This revolver is called the Great Western II. In utilitarian finishes, and with a brass grip assembly… this revolver is called the Dakota II.

    Make and Build details

    Company: Armi Jager (Known late as Jager Adler). Hammerli marked variant also 1969 – 1972.

    Location: Loano, Italy

    Model: Dakota, Frontier 1873, Nevada, Kansas, Pioneer

    Calibers: .22, .30 Carbine, .32-20, .357 Magnum, .38-40, .41 Mag, .44-40, .44 Mag, .45 Colt

    Barrels: 4.75, 5.5 (most common), 7.5

    Variants: Super Dakota, Buntline, Sheriff, Target, Bisley, kit, engraved, commemoratives

    Finishes: Blue & CCH, Nickel

    Years MFG: 1962 – 1993

    US Importers / Other misc markings: Inter Continental Arms, HEGE, EMF, Navy Arms, Kassnar Harrisburg (KBI), Pacific Importers, Liberty Arms, IGI Italguns

    Copywrite Sack Peterson 2012 - reproductions should not be made without permission.


    A pair of Inter Continental Arms imported Dakota .22s made in 1967 and 1966
    A pair of Inter Continental Arms imported Dakota .22s made in 1967 and 1966
    An EMF Jager Dakota .22 made in 1984. This is a well made gun, but does exhibit Jager's odd grip assembly. If it's not entirely evident in the photo, you would sense it in person.
    84jag (1).jpg
    Last edited by eddsako; 26-08-2018 at 09:22 AM.

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