Big Bore Belly Guns Part III

Choices for today

This pair of Ruger Vaqueros have been turned into belly guns chambered in .44-40 and .45 Colt.

Local gun shops are great places to find BBBGs and two worth looking for are the out-of-production Smith & Wesson L-Frame .44 Specials. The Model 696 is an all-steel, five-shot, heavy-barreled .44 Special while its companion Model 396 Mountain Lite is the lightweight version. Due to its much lighter weight, mine is equipped with finger-grooved rubber grips for controllability. Both are fed diets of factory loads or handloads using the Speer 200-grain Gold Dot JHP.

Taurus also offers or has offered several versions of BBBGs with my most-used being the 3″ stainless steel Model 441. My five-shot Model 441 has been tuned to perfection by Bill Oglesby and also fitted with high visibility sights consisting of a V-notch rear sight paired with a large bead front sight. This is my office gun, always in easy reach while I am working at the computer. It’s loaded with the same ammunition used in the Bulldogs and S&W .44 Specials.

Head For The Hills

Most of the belly guns described thus far are mainly for every day carry, however, there are some BBBGs that are exceptionally comforting when traveling off the beaten path in sagebrush, foothills, forests and mountains. Ruger offers what is probably the most powerful factory-produced double-action BBBG — the Alaskan Model with a 2-3/4″ barrel and chambered in .454 Casull. It is definitely a handful and the finger-grooved rubber grips are highly appreciated. If one does not need the extreme power of the .454, it is also offered in .44 Magnum. Ruger just recently began offering two new .357 Magnum Big Bore Belly Guns in the 3″ GP-100 and the smaller sized 2-1/4″ five-shot SP101. The latter is a handful especially, however, if ever needed in a serious situation the recoil will not be noticed. A third BBBG is their high-cap belly gun, the eight-shot, 2-3/4″ .357 Magnum Redhawk.

My friend, the late Larry Kelly of Mag-na-port, was also a pioneer in offering Big Bore Belly Guns. In the early 1980s he began offering Combat Mini-Magnum Conversions on S&W double-action sixguns such as the Model 29/629.44 Magnums, Model 25 in .45 Colt, the .41 Magnum Model 57 — in fact, any N-Frames! Barrels were cut from the frame end as well as the muzzle end, resulting in a 2-1/2″ to 3″ barrel length. After the barrel was cut, it was given a special deep-dish crown, fitted with a new Baughman-style front sight and Mag-na-ported. For easier handling, the grip frame was round-butted and fitted with Pachmayr Compac grips. This conversion is still offered by Larry’s son Kenny — now successfully heading up Mag-na-port — and he also offers this conversion on the Colt Anaconda.

Gary Reeder offers a full line of double-action BBBGs such as the Alaskan Survivalist chambered in .44 Magnum or .45 Colt, the aptly named Urban Survivalist in .44 Special, and Da Brute, which offers the largest calibers in any BBBG, namely .475 and .500 Linebaugh. He also offers his own original cartridges, the .500 GNR and .510 GNR. Gary is willing to make any double-action BBBG based on a Ruger Redhawk or Super Redhawk in any chambering that is safe. He starts with the basic Redhawk or Super Redhawk. However, the original cylinder is replaced by a brand-new custom five-shot cylinder.

Bill Oglesby turned this Taurus .44 Special into a very efficient five-shot belly gun.

Single Action Big Bore Belly Guns

As discussed earlier, Colt has offered the Sheriff’s Model sans ejector rod in all three generations. However, it is no longer cataloged. USFA also offered an excellent nickel-plated Sheriff’s Model but this is also a dead end as they have now closed their doors. However, all is not lost as a custom sixgun-smith can turn a standard model into a Sheriff’s Model by shortening the barrel, removing the ejector rod housing and cleaning up the side of the frame that has the receptacle for the ejector rod. EMF offers their Great Western II in a 3″ Sheriff’s Model chambered in .45 Colt or .357 Magnum.

Cimarron Firearms’ 3-1/2″ Thunderer comes complete with the ejector rod in .45 Colt, .44-40, .44 Special and .357 Magnum. The Taylor’s & Co. version is the stainless Runnin’ Iron in .357 Magnum and .45 Colt.

Freedom Arms has the finest factory-produced single-action sixguns ever and their Model 83 was at one time offered with a 3″ barrel without an ejector rod in .454. They currently offer the Model 97 in .45 Colt or .44 Special with a 3″ barrel, ejector rod and round butt. Buffalo Bore has standard-pressure Heavy Loads for both cartridges with 240- to 255-grain Keith-style bullets at 1,000 fps. A short-barreled Model 97 chambered in either caliber with Buffalo Bore loads will handle most situations whichever arise this side of Alaska.

Gary Reeder also offers custom single-action BBBGs such as the Backpacker in .45 Colt or .44 Magnum and the Ultimate Back-Up in .41GNR. Just as with his double-actions, Gary can make anything that is safe using a five-shot cylinder on a Ruger Blackhawk platform. Gary turned Diamond Dot’s 7″ Schofield Model .45 into a 3″ Border Special complete with engraving and mastodon grips. Ruger from time to time has offered shorter-barreled sixguns mostly through selected distributors.
However, I have had a couple Vaqueros, both .45 Colt and .44-40, converted into BBBGs by shortening the barrel and fitting them with Birds-head grip frames. Two other favorite single action BBBGs are a Ruger Blackhawk converted to .44 Special with a 3″ barrel and a .44-40 Italian replica single-action given the same treatment, except in .44-40 by Milt Morrison. Both are very easy packing little-big .44s.


All this brings us down to the task of actually choosing a Big Bore Belly Gun from all the many options. I could certainly get by with any of the single- or double-action sixguns discussed. However, what would be my best choices?

We actually have two categories to consider. One is a sixgun that would be used primarily for self-defense while traveling in civilization, while the other would be for utilization far from the beaten path where it might be needed against tough, nasty four-legged critters that bite, scratch, gore or stomp. For the first category from the used gun list, I would go with a .357 Magnum 2-1/2″ S&W Model 19/66. It is easy to conceal, very portable, sufficiently powerful with a large list of ammunition options. Looking at the new gun market, my choice would be the relatively new 3″ version of the Ruger .357 Magnum GP100. The Ruger GP has been offered for several decades in 4″ and 6″ versions and has proven itself to be utterly reliable and virtually indestructible.

For traveling foothills, forests and mountains, I would go with something larger depending upon just where my feet would take me. There are larger cartridges offered than the .454. However, in my golden years this is the upper end of my ability to handle a sixgun well. This leaves me with the choice of the Ruger Alaskan 2-3/4″ chambered in .454 and fitted with rubber finger grooved grips that I find absolutely necessary for handling the power of the cartridge in this relatively-small sixgun. This same gun has also been offered in the easier-handling .44 Magnum.

Life is full of trade-offs. For me, the longer barrels are much easier to shoot. However, the shorter barrels are much easier to pack and definitely quicker into action. As in so many cases, we pay our money and we take our choice — and choice is highly subjective.

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