Ruger Blackhawk Flattop .44 Special from Lipsey's Guns
By Rick Ryals
The Ruger Blackhawk was introduced in 1955 and was initially chambered in .357 Magnum. The original Blackhawk was a midsize frame revolver for the .357 chambering and weighed 38 ounces. It was constructed of chrome-molybdenum steel with a one-piece aluminum alloy grip frame and trigger guard. The original barrel length was 4-5/8, with several different barrel lengths offered over the years.
Other chamberings added over the years included .44 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .45 Colt and .30 Carbine. The first of these was the then new .44 Magnum in 1956, using a larger, heavier frame with a 6-1/2 barrel length. 7-1/2 and 10 barrel lengths were subsequently introduced. This larger frame size was also used for .41 Magnum, introduced in 1965, and .45 Long Colt, introduced in 1968.
The Super Blackhawk was introduced in 1959 specifically for the .44 Magnum. Nevertheless, the standard Blackhawk continued to be offered in .44 Magnum through 1963.
Although the Ruger Blackhawk outwardly resembled the Colt Single Action Army revolvers, Bill Ruger had introduced design changes to improve strength and reliability over the older Colt revolvers. Coil springs were used throughout, instead of flat springs. Other internal parts, such as the sear and cylinder bolt, were made thicker and stronger. The strength and durability of Ruger single actions has become legendary. Many reloading manuals contain high pressure load data sections for .45 Colt Ruger Blackhawks.
The original Blackhawks are affectionally known as "Flattops." This name was derived from the flat shape of the top strap. Later models featured protective ears on each side of the adjustable rear sight. The original Blackhawk Flattops are highly prized by collectors and the mid-size frame versions are often used for custom conversions.
In 1972 Ruger ceased production of the Old Model single action revolvers and in 1973 the New Model Blackhawk was introduced. The New Models use Ruger's transfer bar ignition system. This is perhaps the safest single action trigger ever conceived, as the hammer cannot contact the firing pin unless the trigger is pulled. Thus, the New Model Ruger single action revolvers are safe to carry fully loaded, with six cartridges in the cylinder.
The New Model Blackhawk was produced in only the large frame version and weighed a minimum of 40 ounces. Calibers include .357 Magnum, .30 Carbine, .327 Magnum, .41 Magnum and .45 Colt. Over the years, various barrel lengths have been offered, including 4-5/8, 5-1/2, 6-1/2, 7-1/2 and 10-1/2. Barrel rifling for all calibers is six grooves. Twist rate for .357 Magnum and .45 Colt is 1:16, while .30 Carbine and .41 Magnum calibers use 1:20 twist.
Metal finish is available in both blued and stainless steel. Early models had walnut grip panels, but this was recently changed to laminated wood or black plastic. Convertible models featuring interchangeable cylinders have also been offered for .357 Magnum/9mm and .45 Colt/.45ACP.
Currently catalogued Ruger Blackhawks are offered with a blued steel finish in .30 Carbine, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Special and .45 Colt calibers. A stainless steel frame is offered in .327 Federal Magnum and .357 Magnum calibers. The convertible models are available in blued steel.
Blued steel models come with black plastic grips, while stainless models come with rosewood finished, laminated wood grips. Barrel lengths include 4-5/8, 5-1/2, 6-1/2 and 7-1/2. Weight ranges from 38 ounces to 48 ounces, depending on barrel length. All feature adjustable rear sights with a 1/8 front sight blade mounted on a ramp.
The Ruger Blackhawk that is the subject of this article is a Lipsey's TALO exclusive. It is a stainless steel Flattop model in .44 Special caliber. In addition to the flattop configuration, it is built on the mid-sized frame, as were the Old Model .357 Magnum Blackhawks. One difference between this and the Old Model flattops is that the special has a steel grip frame, whereas the original Old Models had aluminum grip frames.
The grip on the Blackhawk Flattop is very similar to that used on Ruger's New Vaquero revolvers. It has a slim feel in the hand, similar to a Colt SAA. Another similarity to the New Vaquero is the indexing pawl that helps align the cylinder with the loading gate.
The checkered black plastic grips contrast nicely with the stainless steel frame. An old style black Ruger eagle medallion adorns the grip panel near the frame. The stainless steel is satin finished. The serial number is on the right side of the frame, with the model and caliber designation on the left side of the frame. The Ruger warning message is on the bottom of the barrel.
The barrel length is 4-5/8, overall length is 10-3/16 and the weight is 40 ounces. The rear sight is adjustable for windage and elevation and the front sight is a 1/8 black blade mounted on a stainless ramp. Overall it is a very handsome traditional looking single action revolver.
The trigger pull exhibits a small amount of creep before breaking at around 56 ounces on a RCBS trigger pull gauge. 56 ounces (3.5 pounds) is decent for a modern production gun. Ruger has recently improved its triggers, long a sore point.
At 40 ounces, this flattop revolver is a good compromise between portability and sufficient weight to mitigate recoil. It has excellent balance and feels good in the hand.
The .44 Special cartridge is a fine, yet under appreciated, cartridge. It is the cartridge from which Elmer Keith developed the .44 Magnum. The Magnum quickly overshadowed the Special and pushed it to near obscurity. Keith chose the .44 Special rather than the .45 Colt for his heavy load experiments, because the cylinder walls of the .44 are slightly thicker.
The SAAMI pressure limit for the .44 Special is 15,500 psi. Current factory cartridges are loaded somewhat below this, presumably in deference to the older .44 Special revolvers still in use. Factory 240-250 grain loads are catalogued at around 750 feet per second, although I have read that many do not even reach 700 fps. As anemic as this sounds, it is not far behind the renowned .45 ACP, which pushes a 230 grain bullet at around 850 fps.
Within SAAMI limits, at least four handloading manuals show that 240 to 250 grain bullets can be driven between 850 and 1000 feet per second. Thus, even within SAAMI pressure limits, the .44 Special is a potent handgun cartridge for personal defense. In strong revolvers like the Ruger, it is also capable of handling handloads pushing 250 to 300 grain bullets between 900 to 1200 feet per second. While load data within SAAMI limits is readily available, over pressure (+P) loading data is not as readily available.
Fortunately, Handloader magazine No. 236 from August 2005 contains an article by Brian Pierce that gives .44 Special load data for three different pressure levels. The first level is for standard pressure loads up to 15,000 psi. He also details a second level for pressures up to 22,000 psi and a third level for pressures up to 25,000 psi. The article goes on to list the makes and models of revolvers for which each pressure level is suitable.
The Ruger mid-size frame revolver will handle any of the loads up to 25,000 psi. In contrast, the maximum pressure for the .44 Magnum is 36,000 psi, so these are a considerable step down from magnum level loads. Although the Ruger .44 Special Flattop revolver is a strong one, the cylinder walls are not quite as thick as those in .44 Magnum revolvers. Nevertheless, +P loads make the .44 Special a potent round. It is fully capable of achieving most of what we need a handgun to do in the field.
This Ruger Blackhawk Flattop, like other Ruger firearms, is an incredible value. The 2011 MSRP of the model reviewed here is $699. For comparison, a Colt nickle finished Single Action Army revolver carries a 2011 MSRP of $1490. I believe the Ruger revolver is more gun for the dollar. It is an extremely durable, reliable, well made and good looking revolver at a very reasonable price. You can get an imported Colt clone in the price range of the Ruger and some sell for a little less. However, when I laid my money on the counter I chose the American made Ruger.
If you are interested in a high quality Ruger single action .44 Special revolver, Lipsey's is currently listing several variations, including both Flattop and Vaquero models. (Visit www.lipseysguns.com) Both blued and stainless steel frames are available. Barrels are offered in 3-3/4, 4-5/8 and 5-1/2 lengths. These are all limited production models, so get your order in soon.
Copyright 2011, 2012 by Rick Ryals and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.