A Working Man’s No. 5

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For Fans Of Keith’s Legendary Single Action,
Lipsey’s Offers A Ruger Bisley .44 Special

By Payton Miller

Serious sixgunners (like John Taffin) have long been enthralled by Elmer Keith’s legendary No. 5, a heavily customized flattop Colt SAA/Bisley “hybrid” in .44 Special with a 5-1/2-inch barrel.

The original featured carved ivory stocks, world-class engraving, an oversize, hourglass-shaped base-pin head, elevation adjustable front sight and windage-adjustable rear. The base pin itself had a pivoting latch to secure it in anticipation of Elmer’s heavy .44 Special loads (which were to pave the way for the later .44 Magnum). When it was completed, Elmer wrote it up in the April 1929 American Rifleman.

In 1999, this milestone sixgun was lovingly commemorated and accurately replicated by a “Who’s Who” collaboration of custom sixgun talent, including Hamilton Bowen and Doug Turnbull.

About a year or so later, I was lucky enough to get to handle it after being warned—in no uncertain terms—not to even think about thumbing the Bisley-style hammer back. There was no question but what I was holding was easily the equivalent of several house payments in a nice neighborhood. It was flat-out gorgeous.

Recently, I was intrigued when I discovered Ruger, in concert with Lipsey’s—a Louisiana-based distribution powerhouse—has an affordable semi-facsimile. In fact, Lipsey’s Jason Cloessner describes it as a “Working Man’s No. 5.” This is about as good a “working description” for it as you could ask for. Ruger, however, goes by more prosaic terminology, calling it the “Model 05235—New Model Blackhawk Bisley.”

Naturally, it doesn’t feature the custom bluing, ivory stocks, engraving and hours and hours of hand fitting either the original or the 1999 repro had. But it’s a bombproof, accurate Ruger single-action with an evocative, singular appearance, a sensible chambering (the .44 Special is still as good as it ever was) and its price tag won’t force you into a second mortgage.

The Bisley-style grip and hammer configuration distinguishes the
5-1/2-inch New Model Blackhawk Bisley .44 Special (top) from an
older, “pre-transfer” bar 4-5/8-inch Blackhawk .41 Magnum (bottom).
The .41, incidentally, has benefitted greatly from improvements by
Hamilton Bowen—notably, a taller front sight for heavy loads and
an oversize base pin with a locking screw.

All six are OK. This Bisley Blackhawk’s strong points include
Ruger’s transfer-bar system permitting hammer-down carry on a
fully-loaded cylinder, excellent adjustable sights, and a 5-1/2-
inch barrel—an excellent compromise between carryability and
ballistic efficiency.

Since we were obviously working in an Elmer Keith theme, we decided to use a couple of Buffalo Bore’s stouter 44 Special offerings. They consisted of a 200-grain lead free TAC-XP, a 255-grain semi-wadcutter Keith Heavy and a 200-grain Hard Cast Wadcutter. On the more sedate side we also shot Federal 200-grain SWCHP and Ten-X 200-grain RNFP.

This range of factory offerings gave us velocities ranging from 1,193 to 619 fps. And one of the stouter offerings—Buffalo Bore’s 255-grain SWC Keith Heavy—is so close to .44 Mag recoil territory that I, for one, can’t really tell the difference.

Anything else I would want to do to this quintessential working revolver? Well, the trigger pull was really clean and light at 3 pounds, so no complaints there. But the grip panels—at least for my medium-sized hand—should be a bit fatter and better fitting (I believe Taffin made a similar observation).

The Bisley-style hammer is nice and low-slung, but not that low slung as to markedly increase the speed of repeat shots. I do think more hand-filling grip panels would help, but well, so what? This gripe would probably only concern a dedicated Cowboy Action competitor (which I’m not), but if speedy thumb-cocking isn’t really an issue with you, you may as well go with a standard “high-rise” Blackhawk hammer configuration. Unless, of course, you’re simply enamored of the Bisley-style hammer profile—which I am.

The adjustable sights, incidentally, are excellent, and have enough elevation range to handle anything you’re likely to run through a .44 Special. All in all, it’s pretty tough to beat the description of “A Working Man’s No. 5.”

Shooting Facilities provided by: Angeles Shooting Ranges, 12651 Little Tujunga Rd., Lakeview Terrace, CA 91342, (818) 899-2255, www.angelesranges.com.

Louisiana distributor Lipsey’s has an exclusive on
this Ruger Bisley .44 Special with 5-1/2-inch barrel.

Best 25-yard groups were obtained with Buffalo Bore
255-grain Keith HC (shown) and Ten-X 200-grain RNFP.

A Faster Fall?

If you’ve been used shooting double-action revolvers, striker-fired autos or 1911s for 25-yard accuracy testing, reacquainting yourself with the comparatively long hammer fall of a traditional single-action revolver can be a bit of an adventure. When I was shooting my Ruger Single-Six 40 years ago, I don’t recall this being as much of a problem. But since then, sessions with single actions have been fewer and farther in between.

Obviously, a uniform hold plus “follow-through” (holding your sight picture through the shot) are even more critical with a traditional single action. But during my first session with the Blackhawk Bisley, I found myself thinking I might be able to do better (in terms of tight groups) if the ignition time was just a tad faster.

So I decided to try an extra-strong 26-pound Wolff hammer spring in hopes of proving my deteriorated single-action skills (plus vision “geezer-ization”) weren’t totally to blame for the OK-but-unexciting results I was seeing.

The 26-pound Wolff spring wasn’t needed to guarantee primer
ignition, but it sped up lock time. However, it shouldn’t be
viewed as a substitute for a consistent hold and proper
follow-through.

Groups with Ten-X ammo shrunk down (below) once a heavier
Wolff spring was installed.

In trying to figure out the degree to which the Wolf 26-pounder affected my target results, I tried the easy-shooting 200-grain Ten-X Cowboy Action stuff and noticed a fairly significant “before and after” difference, however, I would be careful about crediting any improvement solely to the heavier spring (I could’ve simply been shooting better the second time around). But I think a heavier spring is worth investigating if you’re having trouble.

It’s funny. Most serious single-action shooters I know of (usually Cowboy Action guys), will go for a lighter spring and slicker cocking, wanting just enough poundage to ensure reliable ignition, generally around 17 to 19 pounds. Folks opting for a heavier spring often cite hard primers as a reason. Or maybe there’s more single-action shooters trying to speed up the big old hammer than I know about.

New Model

Blackhawk Bisley
Maker: Sturm, Ruger & Co.
411 Sunapee St.
Newport, NH 03773
(336) 949-5200
www.ruger.com
www. lipseys.com

Type: Single-action revolver
Caliber: .44 Special
Capacity: 6
Barrel length: 5-1/2 inches
Overall length: 12 inches
Weight: 45 ounces
Sights: Ramp front, fully adjustable rear
Finish: Blue
Grips: Black laminate
Price: $655 (Lipsey’s exclusive)

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