A Half Century With Sixguns

Ruger Single Actions

The year was 1953. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, known to everyone as Ike, is inaugurated president on Jan. 20; Stalin our enemy, then our “friend” in World War II, and then our enemy again as the Cold War unveiled, dies in Russia; and a very young Queen Elizabeth II ascends to the British throne. The use of monthly payments for car purchasing increases dramatically; the average car sells for $1,650, gas is 20¢ a gallon, a color TV is $1,175 and a new house is just less than $10,000. The Yankees beat the Dodgers in the World Series and one of the all-time great Western movies arrives with Alan Ladd as Shane. I am a freshman in high school, and Bill Ruger modernizes the single action.

Before Colt resurrected the Single Action Army in 1956, even before Great Western began replicating the Colt in 1954, Ruger was ready to take advantage of the demand for single actions brought about mainly by the showing of old “B” Westerns on the relatively new medium of television. People wanted Colts, but they were expensive so was the ammunition. Ruger wisely brought out a single action with a grip frame identical to that of the Colt Peacemaker, however, the rest of the gun was down-sized to be more in line with the .22 it was chambered in. Ruger not only provided a modern single action with coil spring operation, but he also chambered a cartridge everyone could afford to shoot.

In 1955, Ruger used the same grip frame and coil spring action, found on his .22 Single-Six to build a Colt-sized single action not only with adjustable sights, but a massive flat-topped mainframe as well. He called it the Blackhawk and it first arrived chambered in .357 Magnum. Outdoor Life featured a full-sized picture of the .357 Blackhawk and it went up on my wall, which also had pictures of all the provinces in Canada and all the Cleveland Indians players. The top half of the sidewalls of my room tapered toward the center, so I could easily see anything on the wall while lying in bed. That Blackhawk was strategically placed to be the last thing seen at night and the first thing seen in the morning. I dreamed of the day I would have one.

Taffin’s oldest big-bore sixgun, his Ruger Flat-Top .44, is still his No. 1 favorite.

Three years after Ruger introduced his .22 Single-Six I was in a position to purchase my own. We didn’t have a whole lot when I was a kid. Today we would be classified as working poor. If there was such a thing as welfare or food stamps my folks would have refused them anyhow, and mom managed to keep a clean, dry, food-filled, loving home while my step-dad, who never made much money, made up for it by working two jobs most of the time. I doubt kids today, who have so much of everything, could even begin to appreciate how I felt with that first .22 single action. I shot it every week, then religiously cleaned it afterward and to this day the smell of Hoppe’s No. 9 still brings back many pleasant memories. I’ve since learned, at least in the climate I live in, guns do not need to be cleaned every time they’re shot anymore than my pickup truck needs to have the oil changed every time I drive. Maybe if I cleaned my guns more often I could bring back a lot more pleasant memories.

Shortly after buying the .22 Ruger, I found my first .357 Blackhawk. Bullets were cast from a single-cavity Lyman mold and loaded in .38 Special brass which was a whole lot cheaper and definitely easier to find than .357 Magnum brass. In those days there were no gun shops, at least not in my area, with large reloading sections, no catalogs to order from as far as I knew and definitely no Internet where virtually anything could be found. We made do with what we had and the Keith 358429 bullet over 13.5 grains of 2400 in .38 Special cases was a load to be reckoned with. In fact, it is actually more powerful than many of the .357 Magnum loads available today.

Just as with the .22 Ruger it is impossible to explain how much I enjoyed that first Blackhawk. Things like this can only be experienced, not totally explained. By the time I obtained it I had learned much about working leather and put together what, even if I do say so myself, was an excellent plain black rig for my Blackhawk. The drop loop belt was 2-1/2″ in width, the holster was set so the backstrap of the Blackhawk was even with the top of the belt, and I placed 12 bullet loops on the left side of the belt. I almost wished I had this outfit back as much as some of the firearms I let get away.

I’ve mentioned Boyle’s Gun Shop before and my weekly trips there with my shooting buddies. About 20 miles farther south was Shell’s Gun & Archery Farm, which was also a great gun shop with a pit excavated from the side of a hill for shooting sixguns. We managed to hit this place a couple times a month at least. It was on one of these trips, which I believe was in early 1957, I purchased my third Ruger. This time it was one of the new .44 Magnum Blackhawks, and like its .357 smaller brother is now known as the Flat-Top. Factory ammunition was definitely no fun to shoot in this big sixgun, and I was not smart enough to know that I did not have to load everything full house. I just wouldn’t consider anything except the Keith bullet over 22.0 grains of 2400. It would take several years before I would learn to shoot that sixgun and load. Today my most used load is more in line with Keith’s .44 Special load—a 250-grain bullet at 1,100 or 1,200 fps.

It took the passing of time and a few custom touches before Taffin really appreciated
the New Model Ruger such as this .45 Colt Blackhawk with Herrett’s stocks, custom
Bisley Model .44 Magnum by Ben Forkin and .38-40 Blackhawk.

A few years later my friend and I were out shooting, and I was wearing this .44 Magnum Blackhawk in another leather rig I made for myself, this time in a basket-stamped tan finish, when my friend and I were asked by a farmer to help him load a cantankerous old bull. I said would, but if that bull came for me I would shoot him. The farmer said no problem, so we set about helping him. Well the bull did come for me and instead of shooting him I jumped up (I was much younger in those days!) on the back of an old wooden hay wagon that was there. The bull came up after me and by that time I had the .44 Ruger out with a hammer back. The floor of that wagon was strong enough to hold me but not him and he fell through and was trapped. I don’t have the slightest idea how the farmer ever got that bull out of there; maybe he butchered him on the spot.

I never really cared for the 6-1/2″ barrel length on that Ruger .44, so I had it cut back to 4-5/8″ and carried it for many years in the Lawrence No. 120 Keith holster in the sagebrush, foothills, forests and mountains of Idaho. When I wanted that barrel to build a custom .44 Special I sent the Blackhawk off to Ruger to have a 7-1/2″ barrel installed. This was long before the liability warning appeared on the left side of Ruger barrels. When I wrote my first book, Big Bore Sixguns, I admitted to a 7-1/2″ single action being my favorite type of sixgun. Then when my editor at American Handgunner, Roy Huntington, pinned me best two out of three falls and forced me to pick one favorite sixgun it was no great chore to come up with this 7-1/2″ Ruger .44 Magnum Flat-Top Blackhawk, which I have had for more than 50 years as my favorite.

Over the ensuing decades, there been many favorite Rugers, the Old Model .45 Colt Blackhawk whether with a 4-5/8″ or 7-1/2″ barrel is right at the top of the list. I’ve used both the .357 Magnum Flat-Top and Old Model Blackhawks to have several gunsmiths do custom sixguns chambered in .44 Special, .41 Special, .45 Colt, .44-40, and .38-40. These are all great sixguns and will eventually be divided among my grandsons. Recently Alan Harton did a premier conversion for me, a 5-1/2″ octagon-barreled .44 Special on an Old Model .357 with a Bisley Model grip frame and Turnbull case colored frame and hammer. It is certainly one of the finest .44 Specials I have. It has taken quite a while for me to really appreciate the New Model Rugers, however, several .22 and .32 L’il Guns by Andy Horvath are treasures. I just had Ben Forkin do a matching trio of 5-1/2″ Bisley Models again with Turnbull case-colored frames and hammers in .45 Colt, .44 Magnum and .41 Magnum. Any one of these are easily top candidates for the prized title of “Perfect Packin’ Pistol.”

Bill Ruger had a great idea what he modernized single actions in the 1950s. Bill is now gone but as long as there is freedom, his single actions will be enjoyed for generations to come.

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