RUGER’S REDHAWK AND SUPER REDHAWK
BY JOHN TAFFIN
In the latter part of the decade of the ‘50s it was not too difficult to find very slightly used, six or 12 rounds fired, .44 Magnums, either Rugers or Smith & Wessons. Fifteen years later Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of Dirty Harry created an almost insatiable demand for .44 Magnums in general, especially the Smith & Wesson Model 29, in fact, Smith & Wesson worked around the clock and still could not supply enough 29s to meet the demand. Used sixguns in .44 Magnum were nowhere to be found. Movies definitely have a great influence on our society, for good or bad, and this demand is a good example. In all probability most of the .44 Magnums purchased during the 1970s were rarely fired if at all; many of them were just bought as bragging guns. It was not in the least unusual to see Model 29s going for over $200 above the retail price and soon even Ruger single action Super Blackhawks were in short supply as the demand spilled over to anything that was chambered for the .44 Magnum. It was also not unusual for dealers to have to purchase a certain number of other model Rugers and Smith & Wessons in order to be “allowed” to buy a .44 Magnum from their distributors.
For those who were really serious about shooting .44 Magnums this was a most frustrating time with some shooters discovering the .41 Magnum to fill in the gap. Relief finally came at the end of '70s as both Dan Wesson and Ruger brought out double action .44 Magnums that were even bigger and stronger than the Smith & Wesson Model 29. However, the price gouging did not stop very quickly and the first Ruger Redhawk .44, which retailed for $325, in my town carried a $750 price tag; that relatively new dealer did not stay in business very long. This silly situation soon passed and the market settled down and it was once again possible to purchase double action .44 Magnums at retail, and even below.
The .44 Redhawk represented the new wave of .44 Magnums of the '80s, big, tough, able to withstand the recoil of not only standard .44 Magnums but the new heavyweight bullet loads that were soon demanded by handgun hunters as well. Handloaders found the durable Redhawk was capable of delivering 300 grain cast bullets at 1500 feet per second from its 7 1/2" barrel, a load that gives maximum .44 Magnum penetration on large game. Until the arrival of the Redhawk it was generally conceded single actions were stronger than double actions, however this .44 Magnum is actually larger and probably stronger than the Super Blackhawk and soon became a real favorite of handgun hunters who used 300 grain hard cast bullets over heavy doses of WW296 or H110. The first Redhawk was a 7 1/2” stainless sixgun, and was soon joined by a 5 1/2” stainless as well as blued versions of both barrel lengths. Longer barrels were at least rumored but never came to pass.
For me, the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum is a soul-stirring experience second only to the Colt Single Action Army when it comes to great looks and pride of ownership. It is, however, a sixgun built from a design that was originally brought forth in the much milder .44 Special 50 years earlier. When the S&W .44 Magnum debuted in 1956, no one ever dreamed we would be running as many loads or even such heavy loads through sixguns as we are today. The new Redhawk .44 Magnum could handle the 300 grain heavy bulleted loads with relative ease. Ruger not only had an advantage in bringing their .44 Magnum double action sixgun out at the right time, they also built their gun around the cartridge rather than chambering some existing model for the powerful .44 Magnum. This made it the strongest sixgun ever offered for the .44 Magnum up to that point. Ruger engineers were able to do this without giving us an extra heavy or clumsy sixgun. The only fault most of us can find with the Redhawk is the fact that it is difficult to get a really good trigger on Big Red. It was strange to read the account of the engineers and designers of the Redhawk as they talked about the smooth double action trigger pull and good single action pull. Not quite. My two Redhawks came with single action trigger pulls that measured 6 3/4 and 6 1/4 pounds.
The Redhawk gains its strength in many ways. The threaded area of the frame is very thick, double what one finds in many other sixguns, and the massive cylinder is locked at the rear and front of the cylinder itself rather than at the end of the ejector rod. The barrel carries a heavy rib and the top strap literally speaks of brute strength. The Redhawk is now available scope-ready with a scalloped barrel and Ruger rings.
Every sixgun has its own personality and my original Redhawk is no exception. When it first arrived in late 1980 or early 1981 I tried to use it for long-range silhouetting. I took down the first five chickens cleanly and then missed the next five. Checking the sights I found them still solidly anchored, and then I looked down the barrel. The barrel was so heavily leaded the rifling was just about nonexistent. My normal hard cast bullets simply would not shoot in the barrel of that early Redhawk; switching to gas-checked bullets solved the problem. What is really strange about this is the fact my stainless steel Super Blackhawk could care less whether it gets fed plain based or gas checked bullets; it shoots them equally well with no leading.
The grip frame of the Redhawk was designed by Harry Sefried who also designed one of the most comfortable grips ever designed on one of the most easy pointing .22 double action revolvers, that being the High-Standard Sentinel. The grip frame and grips of the Redhawk were designed for shooting comfort, however I get nailed on the knuckle of my middle finger when shooting heavy 300 grain bullet loads. My solution has been BearHug Grips Skeeter Skelton style stocks, however these are no longer available so I cherish mine. A 10” barrel on the Redhawk was promised early but has never materialized, nor has any barrel shorter than 5 1/2” been offered. A very simple custom job performed on the Redhawk is that of cutting the barrel to 4”, mounting a Patridge front sight, and rounding the front and back corners of the bottom of the grip frame as well as the factory grips. I find one so altered will fit the Idaho Leather pancake-style holster made for a 4” Model 29 and the construction of this type of holster provides a natural channel for the front sight. With these custom touches the Redhawk becomes a candidate for Perfect Packin’ Pistol and will handle the heaviest .44 Magnum loads available including those with heavy hard cast bullets offered by Buffalo Bore, Cor-Bon, and Garrett Cartridges. With its stainless steel construction and the fact it is built for strength and endurance, the Redhawk is an awfully good choice for the outdoorsman.
The Redhawk, Big Red, was never offered with a longer barrel than 7 1/2”, however what did come about was an even larger double action .44 Magnum, a Bigger Red, the Super Redhawk with a 9 1/2” barrel and an extended frame that allowed scope mounting on the frame itself. Everything that can be said about the strength of the Redhawk applies even more so when one talks about the Super Redhawk and I find it is also much more comfortable to shoot than the Redhawk, in fact, when mounted with a scope and custom grips, its increased weight makes it one of the most comfortable .44 Magnums to shoot.
Unlike the Super Blackhawk, which was basically nothing more than the original .44 Blackhawk modified, the Super Redhawk is not simply a Redhawk made bigger as one would expect. Instead of just changing the Redhawk and making it larger and heavier, Ruger instead used the GP-100 as the basic platform for this double action .44 Magnum. At the time the Super Redhawk was introduced in 1986 the plan was to drop the Redhawk as they were having some troubles with the barrel threads. Two things kept the Redhawk in the catalog. The problem turned out not to be a problem at all as it was traced to the oil being applied to the threads as the barrel was installed, and secondly the Redhawk was simply too popular to drop.
The Super Redhawk is a result of the blending of the best features of the GP-100 and the standard Redhawk.. The GP-100 .357 Magnum arrived in 1985 and replaced the extremely popular Security-Six. Ruger focused on three major areas to improve the Redhawk to the Super Redhawk. One major complaint of the Redhawk was the trigger pull as the Redhawk used the same spring to operate both trigger and hammer; the Super Redhawk uses separate springs for the trigger and hammer going back to the hammer spring and strut used in their single action revolvers resulting in a much smoother from-the-box trigger pull. In fact, while most Redhawks require either a gunsmith's tender care or much use to smooth out the trigger pulls, my .44 Super Redhawk came with an excellent trigger pull from the factory.
Both the Redhawk and the Security-Six have standard integral grip frames. When the GP-100 was designed the grip frame was eliminated and replaced by a stud much like that found on the Dan Wesson. In designing the Super Redhawk the Redhawk grip frame was replaced by the GP-100 stud that accepts the rubberized GP-100 grip panels. This is an improvement or a step backwards depending upon one's point of view. The grip panels furnished on the Super Redhawk are too small for my hands and also leave the sharp edges behind the trigger guard exposed. Even though wearing a shooting glove, one early testing session of 600 rounds of full house ammunition left me with a very sore and blistered middle finger on my shooting hand. The answer for me has turned out to be rubberized grips from Hogue or Pachmayr.
Ruger really went radical on the third departure from the basic Redhawk; the Super Redhawk has a distinctive profile not found on any other revolver. The frame itself was extended forward of the cylinder so the first 2 1/2” of the barrel is actually enclosed by the frame. This feature accomplishes two things: the frame is made heavier and stronger; and also allows the use of an integral scope mounting system on the frame rather than the barrel. The Super Redhawk comes with stainless scope rings that mount solidly on the frame using one large screw each and semi-circular recesses on each side of the frame. For added strength, a lug on the bottom of each ring mates with a recess on top of the frame. This allows each ring to be anchored from side to side as well as front to back. The rings install easily, and once the scope is zeroed in will come back very close when the scope is removed and replaced again.
This easy on-again, off-again feature allows almost instant use of scope or iron sights, and makes the Super Redhawk very popular as a double duty sixgun able to be used for hunting with either sighting system. The scope is there for taking longer shots and can easily be removed for hunting such things as wild hogs up close. To remove, and return, the scope and rings of the Super Redhawk all one needs is something as unsophisticated as a 50 cent piece to loosen and tighten the ring screws. A major selling point for both the Redhawk and the Super Redhawk is the fact they come already set up for easy scope mounting at no extra cost, there are no rings to buy nor bases to install thus saving scope users the $50 to $100, or more, for the necessary bases and rings to mount a scope properly.
The iron sights on both the Redhawk and Super Redhawk consist of a red insert front sight that is removable by depressing a plunger at the front of the sight base, thus allowing the use of replacement colored nylon front sights which are available as an option from Ruger. The rear sights are standard Ruger white outline with adjustments that move bullet impact approximately 3/4" at 25 yards. Because of its weight, the Super Redhawk , which is available in stainless steel only and with barrel lengths of 7 1/2” and 9 1/2”, does an excellent job of dampening recoil of full house .44 Magnum loads and with the proper sized grips even comes close to actually being almost pleasant to shoot. At least as pleasant as it is possible for a big bore revolver to be when shooting full house loads. Of course, once again we have one of life’s trade-offs with the Super Redhawk as a larger and heavier revolver is the more comfortable it is to shoot, but the less comfortable it is to carry. The 9 1/2" barreled Super Redhawk, which I prefer, has a decidedly muzzle heavy feel, but the balance is good and I do not find myself having to struggle to keep the muzzle up as it just seems to balance naturally in my hands.
Because of its size and weight the Super Redhawk is a natural for 300 grain bullets and a number of loads show excellent accuracy. NEI's #295.429, a 290 grain Keith-style bullet, which is available already cast, lubed, sized, and gas checked from BRP, over 21.5 grains of either H110 or WW296 clocks out at over 1400 fps with groups of 1" at 25 yards and under 2” at 50 yards. With standard weight cast bullets such as the Keith bullet, Lyman's #429421, cast at 250 grains, velocities exceed 1600 fps using either 22.0 grains of #2400 or 26.0 grains of H110 and also group into one-inch.
When I first wrote about the Super Redhawk I said it should be a natural for custom sixgunsmiths. By chopping the barrel of the Super Redhawk off flush with the frame, milling off the scope recesses, and fitting a front sight, the Super Redhawk would become an easily carried snub-nosed .44 Magnum, and since there is no grip frame as such, it would be very easy to make small concealable grips for such a short barreled sixgun. I never heard of any gunsmith doing such a project, however this is exactly what Ruger has done to come up with the Alaskan chambered in .454 Casull and .480 Ruger.
The original Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum is a classic, a thoroughbred, suitable for engraving, ivory grips, and floral carved leather. The Ruger Redhawks are Clydesdales, suitable for the heaviest work and toughest going. There is plenty of room for both in .44 Magnum sixgun stable. If I want an easy ride I will pick one of my old Smith & Wesson .44s from the 1950s; if instead I have a lot of heavy-duty work to do, I will summon one of the Big Reds.
30-1) Ruger's stainless steel 44 Magnum Redhawks are very popular with hunters and
outdoorsmen; here we have a 9 1/2” Super Redhawk, a 7 1/2” Redhawk,
and an easy packing 5 1/2”; stocks are by BearHug.
30-2) Taffin sighting in an early .44 Magnum Super Redhawk on the portable
shooting bench, the other Big Red, a 1892 Ford Bronco.
30-3) Even in the scoped Super Redhawk .44 Magnums still recoil.
30-4) Taffin finds the long barrel Super Redhawk relatively easy to shoot off-hand.
30-5) Here we see the recoil experienced with standard 240 grain .44 Magnums
in the Super Redhawk, and
30-6) using full house 300 grain .44 Magnum loads.
30-7) The Super Redhawk with scope in place still exhibits recoil however it is
one of the more comfortable shooting .44 Magnums.
30-8) The Redhawk .44 Magnum cut to 4” is almost as easy to pack as the
Smith & Wesson 4” N-frame, but still quite a bit larger than a .44 Special such
as this 4” custom Ruger by Andy Horvath.
30-9) The Ruger Redhawk cut to 4” fits the same Idaho Leather holster as the
4” S&W Model 29; the pancake style keeps the sharp front sight from digging into the leather.
30-10) Both the Redhawk and Super Redhawk .44 Magnums are easily scope and
make excellent hunting handguns; stocks are by BearHug.
30-11) Ruger offers the stainless steel Redhawk .44 Magnum in both
7 1/2” and 5 1/2” barrel lengths; stocks are by BearHug.
30-12) Ruger covers most of the double action .44 Magnum bases with their
stainless steel Redhawk and Super Redhawk; the only element missing is a 4” version of each.
30-13) The Ruger Super Redhawk is not easy to holster, however this cross draw rig
by Rusty Sherrick works.