Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter .44 Magnum Revolver

By Chuck Hawks

Ruger Super Blackhawk
Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.

Sturm, Ruger & Company has, in the last 50 years, become the biggest manufacturer of sporting firearms in North America. Starting in 1946 when Bill Ruger patented a .22 autoloading pistol with a silhouette and feel similar to the famous Luger pistol, but based on a modern and much more reliable design, Ruger built a firearms empire based on good design, modern manufacturing techniques, and high quality products at a reasonable price. "Value" is a good one-word summation of Ruger firearms.

In 1953 the Single Six .22 single action (SA) revolver was introduced, and became a best seller. The Single Six was quickly followed by the justly famous Blackhawk .357 Magnum revolver. When the .44 Remington Magnum cartridge was introduced in 1956, the Blackhawk was immediately adapted to the new cartridge.

However, the Blackhawk was not the optimum vehicle for the powerful .44 Magnum cartridge. Realizing that, Bill Ruger set out to improve the Blackhawk, and the result was the Super Blackhawk, then and now the top of the line Ruger SA revolver.

All of the 3-screw (or "Old Model," as they later came to be called) Ruger SA revolvers, including the Single Six, Bearcat, Blackhawk, Super Blackhawk, and Old Army, are based on the same simple design. They use music wire coil springs throughout and their reliability has become legendary. They were, and still are, perhaps the best single action revolver ever designed. However, they were traditional single action revolvers, as had been made and sold in the U.S. and the rest of the world for over 100 years. This means that they are loaded with the hammer in the half-cock notch and properly carried with the hammer down on an empty chamber.

Fools who didn't bother to read the owner's manual supplied with every Ruger revolver, and who ignored over 100 years of established firearms tradition, managed to accidentally injure themselves by improper loading and handling of Ruger SA revolvers. Naturally, these greedy cretins refused to accept the responsibility for their actions. Rapacious tort lawyers sprang to the attack and by the beginning of the 1970's the successful Sturm, Ruger & Company suddenly found itself the target of frivolous, but expensive, lawsuits.

The result was that Bill Ruger redesigned the single action revolver in 1973 and created the "New Model" Single Six, Blackhawk, and Super Blackhawk. Later the New Model Bearcat and Vaquero joined the line. All of these revolvers incorporate a transfer bar ignition system and use the opening of the loading gate to retract the cylinder bolt, allowing the cylinder to turn for loading. No more half cock hammer position, and no more necessity to leave the hammer down on an empty chamber. The New Model Ruger SA revolvers are probably the safest repeating handguns ever designed, and they can be carried with all six chambers loaded.

The 2003 Ruger catalog calls the New Model Super Blackhawk, the subject of this review, "the most advanced single-action revolver ever produced, and a standard of big game hunters the world over." As we have seen, the Super Blackhawk was designed from the outset as a .44 Magnum revolver. (Of course, all .44 Magnum revolvers can also shoot .44 Special ammunition.) It is very similar to the Blackhawk Model, and the mechanism is identical. But the Super was introduced with a longer Dragoon style steel (rather than aluminum alloy) grip frame with a distinctive square back trigger guard, a wider and slightly lower (more comfortable) hammer spur, a wide trigger, a steel ejector rod housing, a heavier unfluted cylinder, and a longer 7 1/2 inch barrel.

The Super Blackhawk also came with a more highly polished blue finish and a hand tuned action. The sharp rear angle of that trigger guard quickly taught two-hand shooters to put the index finger of the off hand beneath, rather than behind, the trigger guard.

Over the years the Super Blackhawk has mutated into a number of variations. There are fluted and unfluted cylinders; round as well as square back trigger guards; blue and satin stainless steel finishes; and barrels of 4 5/8, 5 1/2, 7 1/2, and 10 1/2 inches in length. The special Hunter Model comes with a more highly buffed stainless finish, a full length rib on a 7 1/2 inch barrel that incorporates integral scope bases, and a set of Ruger scope rings.

The specifications of the most typical New Model Super Blackhawk (product # S47N) follow. This big, blued revolver comes with an unfluted cylinder, a square back trigger guard, and a 7 1/2 inch barrel. It is 13 1/2 inches long and weighs 48 ounces. The two piece grips are smooth walnut with a sliver and black Ruger medallion. The square notch rear sight is fully adjustable for windage and elevation and the ramp front sight has a square top. This revolver is externally almost identical to the original Super Blackhawk. Inside, of course, is the transfer bar action. The same basic gun is also available in stainless steel (KS47N).

The specific gun tested for this review is a New Model Super Blackhawk Hunter (KS47NHNN). This stainless steel pistol weighs 52 ounces without scope or rings. The grip panels are laminated hardwood with the usual silver and black Ruger medallions. They are stained an attractive gray color that goes well with the silver gun. The cylinder is unfluted, the grip is the longer Dragoon type, but the trigger guard is rounded. The sights are the only blued parts on gun. The rear sight is the standard Ruger target type; the ramp front sight comes with an orange plastic insert for increased visibility in dim light and is dovetailed into the barrel rib.

The Super Blackhawk Hunter is the most expensive of all Ruger SA revolvers, the top of the Super Blackhawk line. The 2009 MSRP is $781, still very reasonable for a revolver of this quality with so many features.

For those who like, and can safely control, a lighter than normal trigger it is a simple matter to slip one limb of the trigger spring from its peg. This nearly cuts the pull weight in half. In the case of my Super Blackhawk Hunter, the trigger pull measured 3.75 pounds on my RCBS Deluxe Trigger Pull Gauge as shipped from the factory, and 2.0 pounds after this simple modification. Note: with a light trigger pull you must be especially careful to keep the revolver pointed in a safe direction at all times and your finger off of the trigger until you are actually ready to shoot. Safety is always the sole responsibility of the shooter!

The test revolver has been the recipient of such attention, and wears a silver Nikon 1.5-4.5x24mm variable power scope. This high quality scope is really bigger, heavier and more powerful than I feel is necessary for a .44 Magnum hunting revolver, but it does allow the shooter to get everything he or she can from the revolver.

Carrying a scoped handgun in the field is always more hassle than carrying the same model of gun sans scope. There are plenty of belts and holsters of various sorts for iron sighted Super Blackhawks (Hunter and Uncle Mike's are two brands I have used with good results), but relatively few for scoped revolvers.

For the scoped Super Blackhawk Hunter I used a black nylon pouch type holster from Ace Case carried on a strap that runs diagonally across the chest, putting the gun on the left side of my torso with the butt forward, much as would a conventional shoulder holster. A second strap is fastened around the waist to stabilize the toe of the holster. This rig, although bulky, will fit beneath a hunting coat. Worn thusly it keeps the gun out of the elements and leaves both hands free. Of course, even without a holster it is still easier to carry a scoped revolver in the hand than a scoped hunting rifle. Any handgun is far more convenient that a rifle when getting in and out of a vehicle.

Ruger Super Blackhawk revolvers have an enviable reputation for accuracy and this gun is no exception. I didn't have any .44 Magnum factory loads around at the time of this writing, as I exclusively use my own handloads for both practice and hunting. However, these reloads were actually developed in and for an older 3-screw Super Blackhawk and the powder charges were thrown from an RCBS powder measure, not individually weighed, so they are no more tuned for the Hunter than factory loads would have been.

For practice my usual .44 Magnum load uses a 180 grain Remington JHP bullet (purchased in bulk) or a 200 grain Speer JHP bullet at a MV of approximately 1000 fps. For deer hunting the 200 grain Speer bullet is driven at a chronographed MV of 1250 fps. If a heavier bullet seems desirable, I go to a 225 grain Speer JHP at a chronographed MV of 1292 fps. I use Hodgdon HS6 and H110 powders for .44 Magnum loads.

The following shooting was done from a bench rest at my local outdoor range with the Nikon scope set at about 2x. I used my practice reloads, in this case with Remington bullets. The lighter loads allow me to do my best (or at least better) shooting. A total of eleven 3-shot groups were fired and recorded. (I customarily shoot 3-shot groups with all hunting guns.) All six cylinder chambers were used at random. The average group size for the eleven groups was 1 1/8 inches. The largest group was 1 3/4 inches, and the smallest only 1/2 inch. Four of the eleven groups (over 36%) went into 1 inch or less at 25 yards.

Firing full cylinder loads (6-shot groups) with deer hunting ammunition (200 grain Speer JHP bullets) resulted in groups averaging 1.5 inches at 25 yards. This shows the effect of the greater recoil on the shooter rather than any decrease in the accuracy of the gun or load. The Super Blackhawk Hunter simply shoots better than I can.

So, by the way, did my old 3-screw Super Blackhawk. That revolver, using only the factory iron sights, would shoot cloverleaf groups at 25 yards if the shooter could hold that close.

The .44 Magnum is an extremely accurate cartridge and the Ruger Super Blackhawk is an extremely accurate pistol. In my experience both reputations are well deserved. With appropriate loads, .44 Magnum Ruger Super Blackhawk revolvers have been used to take all species of North American big game.

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Copyright 2003, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.