Freedom Arms Model 97 review

Review: Freedom Arms Model 97 — world’s best single-action revolver?

Back in 1983 a tiny company located in Freedom, Wyoming kicked off the hyper-powerful revolver market by releasing the Model 83 in the massive .454 Casull round which more than doubled the muzzle energy of the .44 magnum.

For the next 15 years or so it was the world’s most powerful revolver before S&W released the .500 S&W and the .460 S&W.

Freedom Arms Model 97 review
The huge Freedom Arms Model 83, above, with the Colt-sized Model 97

The Freedom Arms Model 83 .454 Casull has established itself as a serious high-level competitive arm in silhouette competition, with the power and accuracy to knock down steel rams at 200 metres. It has also become the go-to gun for many handgun hunters in countries where it is allowed. 

I have held one for over 20 years on my farm licence and it is deadly medicine on pretty much anything it hits. It can produce less than 65mm (2.5”) groups at 100 metres with scope and off a solid bench. 

Simply put, Freedom Arms established itself as building exceptional revolvers. Soon the demand for a Colt-size revolver with six-shot capacity for regular calibres was clear. 

In 1997, CEO Bob Baker and the team at Freedom Arms released the Model 97 (these guys really keep it simple with model names), which is a scaled down version of their original, built to exactly the same incredibly tight tolerances and Swiss-watch quality as the Model 83 but in a package that is 10% smaller than the Colt Single Action Army, leading to its nickname as the 90% gun among some single action fans.

Freedom Arms Model 97 review
The factory’s own test target shows the Model 97 is capable of superb accuracy

These guns are amazing and expensive, but I received a better tax refund than expected so gave myself a special birthday gift by asking importer Cleaver Firearms to get me a Premier Grade 5½” .357 Magnum model. 

It was a few months before I received the gun in its simple blue cardboard box with a test target shot at 25 yards.

When you see the target, you’d think they faked it but it is real. Several years ago I spent a morning with Bob Baker at the Wyoming factory and got to watch them test-fire several guns. They truly do shoot like rifles from the bench.

I took the revolver apart to clean, lube and inspect it before firing and if anything, the tolerances were tighter than on my older .454 (which of course has now had several thousand full-size rounds through it). Everything clicks into place with a precision that only a watchmaker can truly appreciate. 

Freedom Arms Model 97 review
From a rest, the Freedom Arms Model 97 shoots as accurately as you can manage it

One fellow shooter at our local club commented that it “locks up like a bank vault”, a great description, I thought.

It is testament to the quality that can be achieved using modern equipment and talented people when it is built to be the best, rather than being built to a price like most guns need to be. 

As an example, the gap between barrel and cylinder is less than half that of another quality, major-brand .357 revolver I’ve tested. 

The fit of the wood grips to the frame is close to flawless with wood seeming to literally flow into the solid stainless-steel frame without gaps or bumps.

Freedom Arms Model 97 review
The quality is apparent from every angle, the wood-to-metal finish being particularly impressive

The famous single action clicks are there as you cock the gun, giving you that ‘real’ cowboy feel.

The sights on the Premier Grade are an easily changed, slanted and serrated front blade (Freedom Arms can supply other types or heights if you wish) and a fully adjustable rear sight that is the same rugged type used on the .454 models, so it will handle more recoil than I can handle and creates a very clean sight picture for precise shots at distance. 

The rear sight is also easily removed and other types of iron sights or a red-dot or pistol scope simply installed.

So how does it shoot? Well, I am sad to report that my aging eyes and iron sights simply cannot match the ½” (13mm) 25-yard group Freedom Arms got when they strapped the gun into a Ransom machine rest at the factory underground range.

Freedom Arms Model 97 review
Graham’s five-shot group at 25 yards. This is the most accuracy revolver he has tested, more accurate than him these days!

However, I was able to shoot the iron sights (off a bench) into some of the best groups I have ever obtained with a centrefire handgun, at just over an inch at 25 yards for five shots of full-power 158g JHP Geco ammunition.

I am still working my way through various .38 and .357 handloads and have yet to find a load that does not shoot well. 

The first cylinder-full I fired was the Geco .357 loads, just standing freehand to see if the gun functioned well, and all six rounds hit a 6” gong at 50 yards. This model 97 will shoot far better than I can!

The trigger is simply the crispest and overall best trigger I have ever used on any handgun. It breaks so cleanly at right on 2½ lbs (1.13kg) every time, it is a joy.

The well-designed grip shape of all Freedom Arms guns causes hard-recoiling rounds to roll up rather than straight back, making the gun a pleasure to shoot, especially with mid-power loads. With target-type .38 rounds it is almost like a large, noisy .22.

Freedom Arms Model 97 review
The design manages recoil very well so unsupported shooting is also accurate

You probably think that I am a bit of a Freedom Arms fan boy and perhaps not as critical as I could be. I will admit to the fan-boy accusation, however if I don’t seem critical enough it is because what I see in this pistol, as well more than 20 years of experience with this brand, shows me that the quality is definitively there.

I do, however, have two gripes with this Model 97 and with all Freedom Arms products.

First, they are hard to get. You will need to call Cleavers and order one, then wait likely up to six months for it.

Second, they are expensive. You will definitely want to be ready to spend between over $6000, depending on the model and options you choose, but I maintain that even at those prices they are exceptional value.

They are a virtually custom-built gun that will last forever and outshoot any human. I see them as an investment for the future and already some of my adult kids are eying off the new one for when dad gives up shooting. They will be waiting an awfully long time for that to occur.


  • Type: Single-action revolver
  • Calibre: 357 Magnum/.38 Special (tested) plus other calibres from .22LR to .45 Colt
  • Finish: Stainless steel
  • Grips: American infused hardwood
  • Barrel: 140mm (5½ inch). Octagon barrels and different length barrels available
  • Weight: 1.13 kg (2.54lb)
  • Sights: Adjustable rear and blade front, both removable; scope and red-dot mounts available
  • Price: Approx $6490 
  • Importer: Cleaver Firearms




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Graham Park

Graham is the President of Shooters Union Australia and is also a keen lover of all things that go bang. With over 40  years of experience in the firearms community and industry, Graham is well placed to share information on a wide variety of firearm related issues. He runs a cattle property and is also a well published writer, with an Australian best-selling book (health related) and many, many published articles in Australian and international media.