Compromise Part V: The Ruger Blackhawk

Versatility Beyond Reason

These 5-1/2" Ruger Blackhawks in blue and stainless
steel also have auxiliary cylinders in .45 ACP.

In 1955, Bill Ruger went from his .22 Single-Six single-action revolver to a full-sized single-action with his .357 Blackhawk. Basically the same size as a Colt Single Action, the Blackhawk utilized the coil spring action of the Single-Six along with a flat-topped frame with a fully-adjustable Micro rear sight matched up with a ramp front sight on a 4-5/8″ barrel. A longer 6-1/2″ barrel was soon offered and then, very rarely, a 10″ version. They never did offer the standard Colt SAA 5-1/2″ and 7-1/2″ so I had to make my own, which I did several times over the years. The .357 Blackhawk immediately became popular with outdoorsmen and Elmer Keith reported Ruger planned to soon offer it not only in .44 Special but .45 Colt as well. As often happens, something occurred to derail “soon.” That something was the .44 Magnum’s arrival in late December 1955.

It may be a .44 Magnum, however this Blackhawk performs
exceptionally well with .44 Specials

A New Revolution

At the NRA Show in 1956, Ruger displayed three .44 Magnum Blackhawks in barrel lengths of 4-5/8″, 5-1/2″ and 7-1/2″. At least in the beginning of the .44 Magnum, Bill Ruger’s prototypes were in the three standard Colt SAA barrel lengths. However, when he went to production, the standard barrel length was 6-1/2″ and very rarely were 7-1/2″ and 10″ versions offered. No 5-1/2″ versions were ever cataloged. Keith looked at the prototypes and told them the cylinder was too short to accept his loads and the frame was too small for the pressure of the .44 Magnum. He did tell Bill Ruger he would like the short-barrel version to use as a .44 Special. Bill told him to pick it up at the end of the show; however, it got packed up too quickly for this to happen and subsequently Keith was proved correct as Ruger decided to do more testing. One of those first .44 Magnum Blackhawks blew up with a proof load.

Ruger went back to the drawing board and, as Keith had suggested, increased the size of the frame and cylinder. In the process, the idea of a .44 Special on the original .357 Magnum Blackhawk died and when Ruger brought out a .45 Colt Blackhawk in 1970, the .44 Magnum-sized frame was used. It would be over a half-century before a .44 Special Ruger Blackhawk arrived.

In 2005 Ruger brought out the 50th Anniversary Model of the .357 Blackhawk. Since the .357 has been on the larger frame since 1972, it would have been quite easy for Ruger simply to use this for the special occasion. I’m certainly glad they did not. Instead, Ruger went retro and the Anniversary Model, although it is built with the New Model transfer-bar action, is otherwise a dead ringer for the original .357 Blackhawk.

It is not only the same size as the 1955 Blackhawk, it also went back to the original Colt Single Action grip frame, known as the XR3 frame, which had been lost with the “improved” XR3-RED grip frame. This frame arrived with the change to the Old Model Blackhawk in 1962. Now finally, the stage was set for a Colt SAA-sized Ruger .44 Special. I talked to the then-president of Ruger about this and he didn’t say yes but he also did not say no.

The Compromise Single Action does not have to be a big-bore — this is a .32 Magnum.

Take The Long Way

It finally did happen but in a slightly roundabout way, thanks to Lipsey’s. Ruger actually began doing what they had intended to do more than 50 years earlier. The .44 Special Flat-Top New Model Blackhawk was first offered in an all-blued steel sixgun with the choice of 4-5/8″ or 5-1/2″ barrel lengths. Just before the 2009 SHOT Show, Jason Cloessner of Lipsey’s called to inform me they would be offering a special run of Rugers. In itself this is not unusual as Lipsey’s is a distributor that has offered many special editions of several firearms manufacturers over the years.

But this one was special; make that really special. Jason had called to thank me for doing everything I could to keep the .44 Special alive and more importantly, to let me know one of my very special “Special” dreams have come true. Ruger through Lipsey’s would be producing and offering 2,000 .44 Special Flat-Top Blackhawks in 2009. The .44 Special has been a sixgun connoisseur’s cartridge for well over a century and even today some sixgunners still say, “Why a .44 Special when the .44 Magnum is available?” Only those whose heart is in tune really understand.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Ruger offered not only the .357 and .44 Magnum Blackhawks, they also offered .41 Magnum and then later in the early 1970s, the .45 Colt. None of these were ever cataloged with a 5-1/2″ barrel and the latter was the only one offered routinely with a 7-1/2″ barrel length. The original .45 Colt Blackhawk Old Model was only in production from 1970 to 1973 with a total output of just over 23,000 units.

In 1973 all Ruger Blackhawks were changed to the New Model. The New Model replaced the three screws on the side of the frame with two pins and a transfer bar safety was added to the action. There was now a piece of steel between the hammer and the firing pin preventing any negligent discharge. The advent of the New Model action was a great step forward for single-action safety. There are several gunsmiths who can tune a New Model Ruger Blackhawk to absolute perfection.

Handy, Hands Down

It has been more than 65 years since I purchased my first Ruger Single Action and many more have been added over these all too quickly passing years. A few years back, I set about the task of coming up with 5-1/2″ Compromise Ruger Single Actions. All four of the original chamberings, .357 and .44 Magnum, .41 Magnum and .45 Colt, were used to build this handiest of single actions.

To come up with the .44 Special, I went in two directions. Custom Gunsmith Ben Forkin built several for me using both Ruger .44 Magnum and Colt .44 Special New Frontier barrels on the original-sized crane. All of these were finished with case colored frames and hammers. Ruger liked the idea of a .44 Special New Model Flat-Top so well they became a catalog offering. I also have .44 Specials in both blue and stainless steel finishes.

Lipsey’s and Ruger did not stop there and we soon had a Convertible New Model Flat-Top Blackhawk. Not only is the 5-1/2″ offered in both blue and stainless versions, but with two cylinders, one in .45 Colt and the other in .45 ACP. It could easily be argued that this is the most versatile of Ruger Perfect Packin’ Pistols.

When we try to shoot shorter cartridges in the longer cylinders such as .38 Special and .357 Magnum, we never know how good the results will be until we try. The old .44 Magnum Flat-Top Blackhawk I had cut back to 5-1/2″ also handles .44 Special superbly. Add in the abovementioned 45 Colt/.45 ACP and I have 10 cartridge options in 5-1/2″ sixguns. There is nothing that cannot be handled with one of the choices.

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