One Solid Sixgun

Dave’s Longstanding Affair With Ruger’s Blackhawk

Dave’s first big-bore single-action sixgun was this Ruger Blackhawk
in .41 Magnum. It has shared many adventures.

I recently opened the gun safe and dug out my first large-caliber six-shooter, a Ruger New Model Blackhawk purchased some 40 years ago, for a long-overdue visit to the range to make sure the old wheelgun still had some spunk.

We had quite a chat, remembering some good old times and one or two misadventures.

The late Bill Ruger, who I knew slightly and interviewed twice, must have seen me coming because I was but a 5-year-old nuisance when his company introduced the first Blackhawk single-action revolver, chambered for the .357 Magnum in 1955.

Unbeknownst to me at the time (I was just a little kid!), there was something of a craze in progress for television and big-screen westerns. Ruger — smart businessman that he was — quickly responded by introducing the .22-caliber Single Six and followed with the Blackhawk. According to various stories I’ve read or heard, when Smith & Wesson unveiled the first .44 Magnum, it didn’t take Ruger long to introduce a Blackhawk in that caliber. In the mid-1960s, a Blackhawk in .41 Magnum appeared, and from there, the model began hosting a variety of calibers.

Dave’s two New Model Blackhawks are both winners, rugged
and reliable against Pacific Northwest challenges.

In the early days, the big revolvers were known as “Flattops” because they didn’t have the frame rise to protect the adjustable rear sight. By the time I got around to preferring loud sixguns over loud tailpipes that seemed to impress my school buddies, the Flattop models had given way to the upgraded “three screw” Blackhawk, and finally in 1973 to the New Model Blackhawk. This model was different in another way from its predecessors. Instead of drawing the hammer to half-cock to eject empties and reload, one simply opens the loading gate, releasing the cylinder and locking the internal action to prevent negligent discharges.

In my teens, I hunted with a hound man and some other guys for raccoons and occasionally black bears. One of these gents had a Ruger Super Blackhawk, which had a steel frame and ejector rod housing. It was the biggest single-action six-shooter I ever saw and handled, with a muzzle blast and recoil that was, I’ll just say, eye-opening.

First Boomer

Everything about the New Model Blackhawk impressed me, including the adjustable rear sight, the action, the use of coil springs instead of a leaf spring, the transfer bar mechanism, the solid one-piece grip frame and the cold hammer-forged barrel with six lands and grooves on a right-hand twist. Above all, it is accurate.

The New Model Blackhawk is, in my humble opinion, a stroke of genius. It’s a remarkably safe revolver, allowing six loaded chambers because of the transfer bar and frame-mounted firing pin, and I have yet to personally experience any kind of malfunction in any Blackhawk I’ve ever fired. Ruger offered a retro-fit to upgrade older models, and years ago I knew a fellow who had one and he loved it.

In the early 1980s, I had read stories about hunting with handguns by the late Al Goerg, who died in a 1965 Alaska plane crash (and whose son, Jim, became a friend of mine during my outdoor writing career). By then, I had joined the staff of a now-defunct outdoor publication and became an early advocate of big game handgunning in Washington State. When the Game Commission finally adopted rules allowing big bore handguns for big game hunting, I was one of three fellows on staff who bought guns from Ruger. The other guys opted for the .44 Magnum Super Blackhawk, but I chose the .41 Magnum Blackhawk with a 6 ½-inch barrel.

When Dave bought his first Blackhawk, he ordered a holster and gunbelt
from the old George Lawrence company in Portland, Ore. He later built the
cartridge belt in this image, but the holster is still in service.

I contacted the old George Lawrence Company down in Portland, and had them build a cartridge belt with 30 loops and a good holster. Then, I began shooting and reloading.

The Blackhawk has a good balance, and its rugged frame can handle the stoutest loads. It is easy to clean and oil, and it fits the hand well. I own two Blackhawks (the other is also a .41 Magnum with a 4 5/8-inch barrel) and I’ve fired a bunch of them in a variety of calibers. One of my pals has a .44 Magnum with the 4 5/8-inch barrel, and we’ve experienced decent accuracy with factory 240-grainers and handloads using Hornady 240-grain XTPs over 20 grains of 2400.

In .357 Magnum, the Blackhawk is as reliable a single-action sixgun as I’ve ever fired, and recently while cruising social media, I spotted an entry from some fellow about his gun in that caliber. According to his narrative, he had swapped a lever-action Winchester for this specimen, a three-screw model made in 1965. He had carried it through numerous adventures. It showed plenty of holster wear and he concluded by observing, “It’s my friend.”

When I bought my 4 5/8-incher, I got a steel ejector rod housing to replace the alloy aluminum one that came standard on the gun. My longer gun still wears the original housing and both work fine.

Dave has taken two Washington bucks with this wheelgun,
shown here with a Pachmayr grip for wet conditions.

Two Notched Tags

It took a couple of years, but I finally notched a deer tag on a spike blacktail thanks to a couple of shots from the 6 ½-incher. At the time, the gun was wearing a Pachmayr rubber grip to soak up some recoil and provide a firm grasp in my rainy Pacific Northwest.

About three years later, on the second day of the season, I took my young family for a drive up near the Cascade Crest where I’d been hunting the previous day. As we were coming back down from the mountaintop, we rounded a bend and there in front of me was a two-point mule deer buck.

My rifle was inaccessible, so I grabbed the Ruger as the buck leaped down into an old clearcut with me in hot pursuit. He was moving in a bunch of small alders. I fired twice as he tried to disappear at about 30-35 yards, and down he went. Best part of the experience was that my then-little boys were there to witness it. They had four of the widest eyes on the landscape, awestruck at what their daddy had just accomplished. I’ve taken other bucks including some genuine wall mount material, but that little two-pointer clobbered with the handgun was very special.

Five rounds at 20 yards off a rest out of the short gun
demonstrate the Blackhawk’s capability. Load was an old
200-grain half-jacket Speer hollowpoint ahead of 2400.

Lots of Calibers

In addition to all three magnums, the Blackhawk has been offered in the following: .45 Colt, .44 Special, .44-40 Winchester, .357 Maximum, .30 Carbine, and .327 Federal (which also handles the .32 H&R Magnum), plus a few convertible models: 9mm/.357 Magnum, .44 Magnum/.44-40 Win., and .45 ACP/.45 Colt.

I think what has made the Blackhawk such a success is that it is one solid sixgun, and there’s the nostalgia factor for a long ago era when single-action sixguns were commonly owned. The frame is remarkably strong, which accounts for many reloading manuals listing loads in .45 Colt that should only be fired in the Blackhawk, or a Thompson/Center single-shot.

A five-shot group out of the long gun shows the Ruger
New Model Blackhawk still has what it takes. Load was a
210-grain Nosler JHP ahead of 20 grains of H110.

Over the years, I have had different grips on both guns, including the Pachmayrs, some from Ajax, a set I personally crafted from elk antler, and lately some “Magna Tusk” panels from Arizona Custom. Regardless of the grip panels at any given moment, I know the revolver they’re on is up to whatever task comes along.

My Blackhawks have been with me on some interesting adventures. Both are pleasingly accurate with handloads, and they’ve performed in all kinds of conditions, from mid-summer heat to bone-chilling cold. They have fared well.

I believe Ruger set a standard for modern single-actions with the Blackhawk, and that’s saying a lot. I own some Colt and Smith & Wesson double-actions, and they are all excellent sidearms. Still, in the backcountry where one might run into a nasty-tempered bear, there is something comforting in being able to wrap my hand around the grip of a Blackhawk, rolling my thumb across the hammer and bringing those sights up to eye level, ready to rock.

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