Gallagher’s Great Guns
By John Taffin
One of the most universal statements to ever be found on the printed page consists of the words of Charles Dickens’ character in A Tale of Two Cities. "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” not only applied to England and France in the last quarter of the 18th century, it also applies today and virtually every other period in history; a long list could be drawn up proving both conditions. We have made unbelievable strides technologically speaking, however we have also paid an enormous price in stress and unhappiness. You win some; you lose some. Everything that happens seems to have both positive and negative trade-offs.
One notable shining beacon is the firearms industry. These are definitely the best of times. Yes, I know we do not have the beautifully finished and timed sixguns that mark the pre-World War II production period and the 1950s, however today's guns are stronger, more accurate, made with tighter tolerances, and added to all this is the fact they are also more readily available in a myriad of models and relatively cheaper than they were a half-century ago.
Not only do we have the best firearms we also have the best gunsmiths whoever lived living and practicing their art form today. If one should happen to prefer a heart stopping duplicate of the beautiful deep blue finishes of years gone by matched up with the sole stirring “crisp action” of the legendary sixguns of the 1930s, it is no great task to find a highly talented gunsmith ready to turn a basic good sixgun into a one-of-a-kind owner’s choice of artistry in metal. Not only are there many gunsmiths ready, willing, and able, they also perform their magic at what are mostly affordable prices.
Custom sixgunsmiths I have used to stir my heart, mind, soul, and spirit include Hamilton Bowen, Bob Baer, David Clements, Larry Crow, Ben Forkin, Andy Horvath, Ken Kelly, John Linebaugh, Milt Morrison, and Bill Oglesby. Now it is time to add the name of John Gallagher. Like most of the rest of these fellows, Gallagher can do just about anything when it comes to customizing a revolver. Herein we will look at sixguns from John in three categories, very easy to pack little sixguns, everyday working sixguns, and very powerful big bore revolvers designed for the handgun hunter.
The .41 Special Is Born
The .44 Magnum is a legitimate paper carrying cartridge with a family history of .44 American, .44 Russian, and .44 Special proceeding it. Not so the .41 Magnum. It started out somewhat right with the .41 Smith & Wesson in the last decade of the 19th century, however grandfather .41 proved to be sterile and very few frontier style SA and DA S&W sixguns ever saw it as a chambering. Then 75 years later the .41 Magnum just simply appeared with no family tree, no .41 Special father. This had to be corrected.
The wildcat .41 Special has been around now for at least 20 years. I do not know who was the first to come up with the idea of trimming .41 Magnum to .44 Special length and chambering it in appropriate sixguns, however these things I do know. In the mid-1980s Hamilton Bowen was commissioned to convert a Colt Single Action Army to a 5 1/2” .41 Special with custom barrel and un-fluted cylinder. I developed loads for this .41 using mostly 215 grain bullets at 900-1,100 fps making it a most easy packing and easy shooting revolver.
Subsequently Hamilton converted a 4” Smith & Wesson Model 586 to .41 Special followed by a deluxe .41 Special with case colored frame and high polish bright blue finish on a Ruger 357 Flat-Top Blackhawk. For this version we were able to use a 4 5/8” Old Model .41 Blackhawk barrel. I do not know of anyone else who has published data for the .41 Special and even Cartridges Of The World uses my loading data for the .41 Special. The cartridge continues to gain more and more favor among knowledgeable sixgunners and Midway even offered properly head stamped .41 Special brass last year. By the time I heard about it I was able to buy all they had left, 250 rounds.
A Mini-.41 Special
Now it was time for something a little different on the .41 Special. Again, this is not original with me but rather the creation of John Gallagher. A few years ago at a Shootist Holiday gathering Gallagher brought out his prototype five-shot .41 Special on a Ruger Old Model Single-Six; yes, I did say Single-Six. Needless to say I needed, or at least wanted the smallest of big-bore packin’ pistols. A suitable Old Model Ruger Single-Six was found and shipped off to John for the conversion.
Gallagher started with an Old Model .22 Ruger Single-Six, changed the firing pin to center fire, manufactured a new cylinder chambered to a 5-shot .41 Special, and then fitted a .410” barrel. This conversion requires an Old Model as a New Model .22 Single-Six with its transfer bar safety does not allow the necessary room to open up the loading port to accept .41 Special cartridge cases. The old original Flat-Top frame with the rear sight adjustable in the dovetail is left as is, while the front sight is a post style slanting forward and serrated to cut down on glare. Finishing touches include a Belt Mountain locking base pin, action tuned with a 2 3/4# trigger pull, nicely polished blue finish over the entire revolver, and finally the project is finished with the fitting of exotic wood grips.
For this mini-version of a Perfect Packin’ Pistol I cut back slightly on my standard .41 Special loads going with 5.0 or 6.0 grains of Unique with either the Oregon Trail 215 LSWC or Speer’s 200 grain copper-cupped-with-a-lead core JHP for 700 to 850 fps. Both the loads and sixgun suit me perfectly when the menu calls for relaxing shooting.
C-u-t-e Is A Four-Letter Word
You say you want something even smaller? You say you actually want a cute sixgun? You wanna relax even more than with the .41 Special? Gallagher has a deal for you! In the 1920s Harold Croft of Pennsylvania took the long train ride west to visit a young Elmer Keith at his little cow ranch in Durkee Oregon just over the border from Idaho. The purpose of the trip was to share his lightweight sixguns with Keith. Croft had four special Colt Single Actions, #1,2,3, and 4, all made into pocket pistols. As a result of this visit Keith incorporated many of Croft’s ideas into the famous #5SAA in .44 Special that would be his full-sized everyday working gun for the next three decades.
Now Gallagher has reached back into history and resurrected the sixgunin’ spirit of Harold Croft with a lightweight pocket pistol built on a fixed sighted Ruger New Model Single-Six. As with the .41 Special, this little Ruger has been converted to center fire. The cylinder is a six-shot .38 Special, the tapered barrel is 3 3/4” in length, the ejector rod, housing, and receptacle on the right side of the frame have all been removed, the front of the frame has been stepped down to remove weight as has the recoil shield and loading gate. A Bisley hammer has been fitted, steel grip frame round butted, and the entire little gun finished in a deep bright blue.
The factory grips have also been round butted, smoothed, and re-finished, the front sight is a serrated blade, the trigger pull is an even 3#, and the total weight unloaded is 26 ounces. For trips where a sixgun is needed but one does not need a lot of power, at least no more than a .38 Special, this little single action “J-frame” will fill the bill nicely. Harold Croft would like it.
Filling a .45 Hole
In 1950 the number one handgun shooting sport was bullseye, punching round holes in paper. The age of the highly tuned and accurized .45 Government Model had not yet completely dawned, so Smith & Wesson offered the 1950 Target, a 6 1/2” N-frame chambered in .45 ACP. In 1957 it became known as the Model 26 and total production from 1950 until 1961 when it was dropped amounted to approximately 2,800 units. Of this total number, approximately 200 were chambered in .45 Colt, and in 1987 a special run of 800 5” old-style tapered barrel .45 Colt Model 26-1s were made for the 50th anniversary of the Georgia State Patrol.
In all my years of attending gun shows I have yet to find either a pre-26 or Model 26 .45ACP Target Model. If I could find one in excellent shooting condition and at a great price I would grab it quickly. If it is this difficult to find one chambered in .45 ACP it is virtually impossible to discover one of those rare 1950 Target Models shooting the .45 Colt. Several years ago at a Shootists Holiday friend Paco Kelly gave me a barrel, a Smith & Wesson barrel, a Smith & Wesson 1950 Target barrel, and a project immediately began to form in my mind.
A Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman .357 Magnum Model 28-2 in excellent condition was located and sent along with the barrel to John Gallagher. What I wanted was the type of sixgun chosen by the Georgia State Patrol, a 5” tapered barrel .45 Colt. Gallagher re-chambered the cylinder to .45 Colt, cut the barrel to 5”, re-mounted the front ramp and fitted a post front sight, tuned the action, set the single action trigger pull at just under 3#, re-finished the barrel to match the matte blue of the Highway Patrolman, and I finally have a 1950 Target chambered in .45 Colt.
The 1950 Target barrels do not have the best reputation for shooting cast bullets, so I was prepared, if necessary, for this to be a jacketed bullet .45. I worried needlessly. It shoots jacketed bullets, hard cast bullets, and surprise of surprises is what was experienced when using Speer’s soft swaged 250 grain lead semi-wadcutter bullets. This bullet should not shoot well in the shallow rifled 1950 Target barrel. In fact, I almost did not try the box of .45 Colt ammunition I had on hand loaded with the soft Speer bullets and 7.8 grains of Unique. (I normally use 8.0 grains of unique as a standard .45 Colt load, however the powder measure was throwing the slightly lighter charge so I stayed with it.) The results are nothing short of incredible. Six shots at 20 yards give one ragged hole with this load at a respectable, though very easy shooting, 770 fps. Actually every load tried shot very well in this new Gallagher .45 Colt. Call it another candidate for the title of Perfect Packin. Pistol.
A Special .44
Now as the French said when anyone was still listening to them, it is time for the piece de resistance, a Gallagher custom .44 Special. Regular readers know I have a special thing for the .44 Special and especially those built on Ruger Flat-Top and Old Model .357 Blackhawks. Every gunsmith undertaking one of these projects has his own special flair for creating a work of art. Some of these touches include specially shaped hammers, heavy barrels, special sights, Colt-style grip frames, and a long list of other custom features. With a little study it becomes possible to identify a custom sixgun by its artist even without a signature. Such is this Gallagher .44 Special.
John’s basic platform is a Ruger Old Model .357 Black Hawk. However, instead of re-chambering the existing cylinder Gallagher has chosen to instead fabricate a slightly larger cylinder completely occupying the frame window and enclosing the cartridge heads. A new 4” .44 barrel is fitted along with a cut down steel ejector rod housing and matching ejector rod, and a button head cylinder base pin allows for maximum travel of the ejector rod when removing empty cases.
The rear sight is a Bowen adjustable, the front sight is a beautifully shaped, one-piece, sloping, serrated blade on a ramp, and the hammer is from an Old Model Super Blackhawk. Just as with the above-mentioned .38 Special Single-Six, the front of the frame of the .44 Special has been stepped down, and the recoil shield and loading gate had been reshaped. To keep this an all steel sixgun the grip frame, which is from a Ruger Old Army, has been fitted with perfectly shaped, at least for my hand, stocks of fancy walnut. Total weight on this high up on the list of Perfect Packin’ Pistols is 36 ounces and the trigger pull is set at 2 1/2 pounds. The .44 Special is on loan for testing from John Gallagher; he may never see it again!
OK we’ve had Pocket Pistols, Packin’Pistols, now it's time for Predator Pistols, sixguns for serious hunting of big game, especially big game known to bite back. In the heyday of long-range silhouetting Ruger offered the .357 Maximum, one of the finest long-range single actions ever encountered. Due to bad publicity inspired by writers who did not understand the cartridge, Ruger soon dropped it from production. Today those Maximum frames are used to build big bore maximum length cartridges. Since the introduction of the .357 Maximum other long cartridges of approximately 1.6” length or longer have been introduced, the .375 and .445 SuperMags, the .475 and .500 Linebaugh Longs, and very recently the .500 and .460 Smith & Wesson Magnums.
The .445 is an excellent cartridge for those who want more than the .44 Magnum is able to offer while still using the same bullets. With most loads the .445 picks up about 250-300 fps over the .44 Magnum in a similar revolver; unlike the other big bore 1.6” long cartridges it does not hit hard on both ends especially when using the Hornady 265 JFP at around 1,600 fps; and it kills deer and wild hogs before they hear the sound of the shot. Gallagher's .445 is of course built on a Ruger Maximum by re-chambering the original cylinder, fitting a custom 10” barrel along with a Ruger Bisley grip frame, hammer, and trigger, custom exotic wood stocks, and finishing the project with a high polish blue finish except for the matting of the top of the frame, rear sight, and front sight ramp. The rear sight is the excellent Bowen adjustable while the front sight is a blade fitted into a rifle ramp. Trigger pull on this serious big game hunting sixgun is set at a very crisp and smooth 3 5/8#.
This sixgun is, of course, designed for the full-length .445 SuperMag cartridge, however it can also be used with the .44 Magnum, and if one should desire easier shooting cartridges it will also take the .44 Special, .44 Colt, .44 Russian, and if they can be located the old original .44 Schafer UltraMag and the .44 4-in-1 offered by American Frontier Firearms a few years ago. That is a lot of versatility in one sixgun and if taken advantage of the cylinder needs to be carefully scrubbed clean after use with any of the shorter cartridges. If not, chambering of the .445 could prove difficult.
And Now For Something Really Big
In 1873 Colt introduced the Single Action Army shooting the .45 Colt with a 255 grain bullet over approximately 40 grains of black powder. It soon proved to be too much for many shooters, especially the military, so this most powerful of sixguns received a reduced load. Sixguns just could not be this powerful. Then came 1935 and The World’s Most Powerful Revolver chambering in .357 Magnum from Smith & Wesson arrived and now we had definitely reached the zenith; we could go no further. Apparently someone was not paying attention, so we did not reach the top until 1955 and the advent of the .44 Magnum. OK we were finally there. No doubt this time. There is no way any revolver could ever surpass the .44 Magnum. Of course, there were those who said “Wanna bet?”
First came Dick Casull and the .454, then John Linebaugh with his .475 and .500 Linebaughs, which were then in turn subsequently stretched by three-tenth’s of an inch to become his Long cartridges, and finally we now have the .500 and .460 from Smith & Wesson. We absolutely can go no further; there's no way revolvers can be made any more powerful. But, I'm sure not going to bet on it.
Life is full of trade-offs and with the .500 Smith & Wesson Model 500 X-Frame we get a 4 pound plus revolver which is not bad with the lighter loads but absolutely brutal even at this great weight with the 440 grain full house loads. Now a revolver as large as this one is may be "easier" to shoot, however the trade-off is found in carrying it all day. Gallagher's offering in .500 S&W Magnum sacrifices some shooting ease for more portability.
Once again Gallagher starts with a Ruger Maximum frame, manufactures a new five-shot cylinder, which completely fills in the frame window, and mates it up with a 5 1/2” octagon barrel complete with integral ramp front. Sights consist of a post blade pinned in the ramp and a Bowen rear sight. The grip frame, hammer, and trigger are all Ruger Bisley Model. Finish is a practical outdoorsman's matte blue with a contrasting satin nickel hammer. Both ejector rod and ejector housing on this .500 as well as the .445 are the longer versions found on the original .357 Maximum and the current 10 1/2” Super Blackhawks, and both big bore sixguns are also fitted with locking base pins.
There are several very nice out of the ordinary custom touches found on this .500. The ejector rod housing is set into the barrel rather than just screwed on, the muzzle has a very deep inverted crown to protect against accuracy destroying dings, and on the left side of the frame just forward of the trigger pin one finds a screw. This screw holds the block within the action bearing against the locking bolt to keep it in place under heavy recoil. Recoil, you say? The total weight and the trigger pull have much in common as they are both set at three pounds. That translates into don’t ask about the recoil! It is definitely more than I can handle. The upside is if ever needed in a serious situation or just used for hunting, the recoil will not be felt. Of course, it has to be sighted in first and I make no promises about recoil in this situation.
You say you want a hunting handgun but not for the big stuff? You wanna take life a lot more easier and only hunt small game and varmints? Boy, has Gallagher got a sixgun for you! Starting with a New Model Ruger Blackhawk, Gallagher fits an eight-shot .32-20 cylinder and barrel length of choice. The frame its case hardened, custom grips are fitted, Bowen rear sight and post front sight are added, and one has one of the most relaxing sixguns imaginable. Gallagher definitely covers all the bases.
Test-Firing The Gallagher Guns
Gallagher .41 x 4” Old Model Special Single-Six
Load MV 4 Shots/20 Yards
Oregon Trail 215 SWC/5.0 gr. Unique 680 1”
Oregon Trail 215 SWC/6.0 gr. Unique 820 1 1/2”
Speer 200 JHP/6.0 gr. Unique 855 2”
Gallagher .38 x 3 1/2” New Model Special Single-Six
Load MV 5 Shots/20 Yards
Black Hills .38 Long Colt 158 LRN 657 1 1/4”
Black Hills .38 Special 158 LRN 723 2 1/4”
Black Hills .38 Special 158 LSWC 829 1 3/4”
Black Hills .38 Special 148 WC Match 725 1 3/4”
CCI Speer .38 Special 148 HBWC 738 1”
Hornady .38 Special 158 LSWC 831 1 1/4”
Gallagher 45 Colt Model 28-2 x 5”
Load MV 5 Shots/25 Yards
Speer 250 Gold Dot JHP 790 1 3/4”
Winchester 225 SilverTip 778 1 1/4”
Hornady 255 LFP 780 1”
CPBC 265WFNGC/18.5 gr. IMR4227 778 1 1/4”
Meister 250/7.0 gr. WW231 813 1 1/8”
Oregon Trail 255/8.0 gr. Unique 797 1 1/2”
Sierra 240 JHC/18.5 gr. IMR4227 808 1 1/2”
Speer 260JHP/18.5 gr. IMR 4227 754 1”
Speer 260 JHP/8.5 gr. Unique 802 1”
Speer 250 LSWC/7.8 gr. Unique 770 5/8”!!
Gallagher .44 Special x 4” Old Model Blackhawk
Load MV 5 Shots/20 Yards
Oregon Trail 240 SWC/5.0 gr. Bullseye 761 1 1/4”
Oregon Trail 240 SWC/6.0 gr. Unique 818 1 3/8”
RCBS 250 KT/17.0 gr. H4227 896 1 1/2”
Dry Creek 250KT/7.5 gr. Unique 905 1 1/2”
Sierra 180 JHC/18.5 gr. IMR4227 989 1 3/4”
Sierra 210 JHC/18.5 gr. IMR4227 987 1 3/4”
Gallagher .32-20 x 6 1/2” New Model Blackhawk
These Loads Are For Use Only In A Gallagher .32-20 NM Blackhawk Conversion!!!!
Load MV 7 Shots/25 Yds
Speer 100 JHP/13.0 gr. H110 1,300 7/8”
Speer 100 JHP/11.0 gr. #2400 1,372 7/8”
Hornady 100 XTP/11.0 gr. #2400 1,405 7/8”
John Gallagher can be reached at Gallagher Firearms, 3923 Bird Farm Rd., Jasper AL 35503; phone: 205-387-7678