RUGER PACKIN' PISTOLS
The legendary Colt Single Action Army arrived on the sixgun scene in 1873. It not only became the favorite of soldiers, frontiersmen, and shootists on both sides of the law, it was also the sixgun of choice for the outdoorsman. For most sixgunners, when equipped with the shorter "Civilian" barrel length of 4 3/4", it balanced perfectly. Better perhaps than any handgun before or since. The first real cartridge firing Packin' Pistol. A sixgun that is easy to pack, quick into action, and chambered for a cartridge that will get the job done. Any job it is called upon to do. For the Colt Single Action, that caliber choice more often than not was the .45 Colt, with the .44-40, .38-40, and .32-20 coming next in succession.
In 1941 the Colt Single Action was removed from production. The gun manufacturers were gearing up for war time production and the Colt Single Action and the double action New Service were relegated to the bone pile never to be seen again. At least that was the thought at the time.
After the War, the advent of TV saw a new generation discover the Colt Single Action through viewing endless "B" western movies as the stars of the 1930's galloped once again this time across the smallish black and white living room screens. A demand arose for single action sixguns that could not be filled until an upstart gunmaker brought forth the Ruger Single-Six .22 in 1953 followed by the .357 Blackhawk in 1955.
The Blackhawk was the heir apparent to the title of Packin' Pistol relinquished by Colt with the ceasing of the production of the Single Action Army 15 years earlier. Young Bill Ruger had looked at the Colt, modernized it with an all coil spring lockwork, flat topped the frame, and added an adjustable Micro rear sight. The barrel length was an easy packin' 4 5/8" with the caliber being the most powerful available at the time, the .357 Magnum. It was the finest Packin' Pistol offered to sixgunners up to that time. I purchased one as a teenager in 1957 and soon followed it with the Ruger Blackhawk .44 Magnum.
The .44 Blackhawk Flat-top was a grand sixgun, still is, but seemingly could not make up its mind as to what function it was to provide. The barrel length at 6 1/2" was too long for a premier Packin' Pistol and too short for a hunting sixgun for those of whose who preferred the 7 1/2" length. A few .44 Blackhawks, around 1,000 or less, were offered in the 7 1/2" length however the 4 5/8" length was never a factory model in the original Blackhawk .44. When the Flat-top was modernized to the Super Blackhawk in 1959, the standard barrel length offered this time was 7 1/2" with no 4 5/8" length offered once again. Like so many other sixgunners I did what Ruger did not do and had both a Flat-top and Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum cut to the easy to pack shorter length. They have been special favorites for too many years.
When Ruger chambered their Blackhawk in .45 Colt around 1970, they corrected their earlier oversight and offered it with both a 7 1/2" barrel and the packin' pistol 4 5/8" length. A few years before the Blackhawk was chambered in .41 Magnum and this too was offered in the 4 5/8" length. However, this factory length in .44 Magnum was not offered remaining a custom proposition.
Now we are about to enter a new century. Ruger offers almost a complete line up of Packin' Pistols for the 21st Century with stainless steel versions with 4 5/8" lengths in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .45 Colt. A stainless steel 4 5/8" .41 Magnum would complete the Packin' Pistol picture. Stainless steel sixguns may not be as soul stirring as a deeply blued version, however two things are in this modern finish's favor. First, it is the choice for the outdoorsman whose sixgun will be exposed to all kinds of weather. If it gets wet, minimum care is needed to keep it looking fine. If it is scratched a little polishing will make it look new again. I always insist my wife take a stainless steel sixgun when she fishes as I know the inevitable will happen. Some where, some time whether crossing a log or wading in a pool, she will get dunked along with the sixgun. Stainless steel is the only answer for her. Secondly, when was the last time you saw a sixgun from the factory with an awe inspiring deep blue finish. They rarely exist anymore. The Colt Royal Blue, Ruger's early Super Blackhawk blue finish, Smith & Wesson's Bright Blue are all faded into sixgun history.
Ruger's Blackhawk .357 Magnum has been around for more than four decades now. My first one was a 4 5/8" version with hard rubber grips purchased in 1957 for $87.50. It handled like a Colt Single Action with a grip frame that was identical. I was frustrated at the time at how easy the springs on a Colt SAA broke not realizing that most of the Colt sixguns then available were built back around the turn of the century. They were fatigued in many cases and the metal just gave up. The Ruger .357 Magnum did not give up. The Blackhawk was virtually indestructible. Even though it was the same size as a Colt Single Action Army, it was bull strong. A real Packin' Pistol.
In 1963, the Ruger .357 Blackhawk was 'improved' with two changes. The grip frame was altered slightly to allow more room between the back of the trigger guard and the front of the grip frame. Old frames are marked XR-3. The new ones are XR3-RED. The second change was the addition of ears around the rear sight. The frame was no longer flat- topped but rather had supports built into the frame on each side of the rear sight. The original Blackhawk is now known to collectors as the Flat-Top and the 1963 version is the Old Model. Both operated the same as a Colt Single Action and Colt replicas still do with a half-cock notch on the hammer for loading and only safe to carry with five rounds leaving an empty chamber under the firing pin.
Two more significant changes would occur in the .357 Magnum Blackhawk series. In 1973, the lockwork was changed completely to the New Model with a transfer bar safety and a cylinder that rotated when the loading gate was opened instead of by placing the hammer on half cock. This was a tremendous safety improvement over the old single action style but proved to be decidedly less smooth than the originals. That's the bad news. The good news is that any qualified gunsmith that understands Ruger Single Actions can smooth out a New Model to a state that will make your mouth water.
Finally, one year later in 1974, the .357 Blackhawk reached its highest development being introduced in stainless steel. There are of course, several variations known to collectors' in each of the major Blackhawk series, Flat-Top, Old Model, New Model, and Stainless Steel New Model, but they have very little importance to the average shooter.
What is interesting is the fact that the Colt Single Action from 1873 to 1941, with both military contracts and civilian purchases, totaled approximately a third of a million units produce in seven decades. The Ruger Blackhawks, in less than fifty years, are now over two million in total numbers produced!
One year after the Ruger .357 Magnum Blackhawk was introduced, the .44 Magnum arrived on the scene a joint venture of Remington and Smith & Wesson. Bill Ruger was given five fired cases that were longer than the .44 Special as the .357 Magnum is longer than the .38 Special. That was all he had to go on. A friend managed to slip him some loaded Remington rounds of the new .44 Magnum and Ruger proceeded to re-chamber and re-barrel some of the .357 Blackhawks to the new .44 Magnum.
The .357 frame proved to be inadequate for the power of the .44 Magnum and was subsequently expanded in size with a longer and heavier cylinder. In some parts of the country, Ruger .44 Blackhawks actually arrived on dealer's shelves before the Smith & Wesson now known as the Model 29. I encountered a Ruger Blackhawk offered for sale long before I ever saw a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum and bought the first one I saw in 1957.
I still have that old Blackhawk. It came with a 6 1/2" barrel and I quickly purchased a Lawrence belt and #120 Keith holster for it before I should have. I did not like the 6 1/2" barrel length and had it cut back to a Packin' Pistol length of 4 5/8" which necessitated also cutting the Lawrence holster to fit. That old holster is still in service also.
In 1959, the Blackhawk .44 was improved to the Super Blackhawk design. The grip frame was enlarged to the old square backed trigger guard Colt Dragoon style and now made of steel instead of alloy, hammer and trigger were changed to the wide target style, ribs were added to the top of the frame to protect the rear sight, a 7 1/2" barrel was standard, and the cylinder was now unfluted. The Flat-Top .44 and Super Blackhawk .44 would be produced side-by-side until the coming of the Old Model in 1963 when the .44 Blackhawk was dropped from production.
In 1973 with the coming of the New Model Blackhawks, the Super Blackhawk received the New Model lockwork with transfer bar safety and cylinder operation for loading and unloading by opening the loading gate. The 7 1/2" barrel remained standard, however a longer 10 1/2" barrel was soon brought forth for hunters and silhouetters. Still there were no Packin' Pistol lengths from the factory. The 5 1/2" barrel length came along in 1987 and finally in 1994 both blued and stainless 4 5/8" Packin' Pistols in .44 Magnum were introduced by Ruger. Strangely enough the short barreled forty-fours were and are fitted with standard grip frames rather than the longer, square-backed Dragoon style frames of the other Super Blackhawk barrel lengths.
Ruger Super Blackhawks are a super bargain in the handgun market. They deliver more in service and accuracy than their price tag would warrant. The 10 1/2" models in my experience have all been superbly accurate with two blued models and one stainless model being used for silhouetting and hunting. My long barreled blue models are now a thing of the past as one has been re-barreled with a 5 1/2" Ruger barrel from 1976 marked "THE 2OOTH YEAR OF OUR LIBERTY" and the other has now been built into a 5 1/2" .45 Colt by Jim Stroh. The 10 1/2" stainless remains as it was and will be eventually passed down to one of my grandsons.
In 1971 Ruger brought forth the first Blackhawk in .45 Colt. We soon found we had a sixgun far stronger than the Colt Single Action Army as it was built on the .44 Magnum frame size capable of handling 260 and 300 grain bullets at 1200 fps. The .45 Colt had been modernized. My original 7 1/2" .45 Blackhawk came with an extra bonus of an auxiliary cylinder that delivered excellent accuracy with .45 ACP hardball rounds.
The Old Model .45 Colt Blackhawk only lasted for two years as it was replaced by the New Model in 1973. Unlike the .44 Magnum, the .45 Blackhawk has always been available in the 4 5/8" length and it came forth in stainless steel in 1992. The cycle is now almost complete as we now have stainless steel Blackhawks in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .45 Colt.
The .41 Magnum was made in stainless steel only in 1974. I've never seen one. In the past, .41 Magnum single actions from Ruger have been available in Old Model, New Model, and Bisley form. All have been dropped from production. There are no Ruger .41 Blackhawks being produced as this is written. The .45 Colt was dropped from 1982 until 1986 so maybe, just maybe, the .41 Magnum will resurrect also.
To help me get through the terrible time known as the entrance into the next century, I ordered three Packin' Pistols from Ruger. The number three was selected as that is how many they make and just also happens to be the number of grandsons I have to pass these onto someday.
All three sixguns look to be identical at first glance but there are subtle differences. Both the .45 Colt and .357 Magnum have standard hammers while the .44 Magnum has the typical Super Blackhawk wide target hammer. All three have standard smooth triggers and the XR3-RED grip frame. Cylinders on the .44 and .357 Magnum are 1.702" in length while the .357 Magnum cylinder is .055" shorter. Both the .45 and the .357 have fluted cylinders; the cylinder of the .44 is unfluted.
All three, as all Ruger Single Actions unless ordered otherwise, come with wood stocks with the Ruger medallion inlaid at the top of the grip. Being somewhat of a grip connoisseur, I have since replaced all three grips with custom stocks. The .45 Colt wears stag stocks from Ajax that are extremely attractive and unlike stags of just a few years ago are not overly thick and rough. For the .357 Magnum I went with a pair of ivory micarta stocks made by Charles Able for a Ruger Old Army many years ago.
Finally the .44 Magnum wears the Ruger optional single action stocks which are of an ivory synthetic material with the Ruger medallion in place. All very attractive and functional. They all do fine for everyday use but for extended sessions with hundreds of rounds being fired, they come off to be replaced by the less punishing Pachmayrs. The standard grip frame on a .44 Magnum or a full house .45 Colt can transmit a lot of felt recoil over several hundred rounds. The Pachmayrs aren't pretty but they are very user friendly. Mated with Uncle Mike's Shooting Gloves they bring hard kickin' loads down to the almost pleasant level.
All three Packin' Pistols from Ruger come equipped with the standard Ruger adjustable rear sight combined with a sloping ramp front sight. As time goes on, the rear sights will be replaced with the more finely adjustable and all steel Bowen rear sight and the hard to see ramp front sights will be removed in favor of the easier for me to see Patridge or flat post. While the work is being done I will further enhance the Packin' Pistols from Ruger by having the warning label polished off the left side of each barrel.
Trigger pulls from the factory were fairly heavy at 5 1/4# for the .357 and 4 3/8# for the .44, while the .45 Colt came in at a more usable 3 3/8#. After removing the grips, I then lifted one leg of the trigger return spring from its stud on the grip frame. This brought the trigger pulls down to 3 5/8# for the .357 Magnum, 3 1/8# for the .44 Magnum, and 2 1/2# for the .45 Colt. One coil was then cut from the mainspring of the .357 Magnum bringing it down to 3 1/4#.
For my packin' purposes, these three sixguns are all carried in a holster I made myself patterned after the Tom Threepersons style with a safety strap that snaps over the hammer and a fully laced welt. It was made of heavy leather in the 1960's and gives every indication that it will last as long as the sixguns and certainly longer than I will.
All three sixguns were fired with a varied assortment of both handloads and factory loads with both .38 Special and .357 Magnum as well as .44 Special and .44 Magnum loads being used in the appropriate Packin' Pistols. Complete results are found in the accompanying tables. Favorite handloads for the three Packin' Pistols? For the .357 Magnum Blackhawk it is the Hensley & Gibbs 173 grain Keith bullet over 14.0 grains of #2400 for 1375 fps. When I use .38 Special brass I prefer Lyman's #358156GC, the Thompson bullet, over 13.5 grains of #2400 for 1350 fps.
For the bigger bores I go with 20.0 grains of #2400 or 10.0 grains of Unique under the Lyman #429421 Keith or NEI 429.260KT for 1200 or 1100 fps respectively. Unique is my most used powder for the .45 Colt in this Ruger with 9.0 to 10.0 grains giving around 900 to 1000 fps. For a more powerful loading for the .45 Colt I use the NEI #451.310, a 300 grain Keith bullet, or SSK's 340 grain flat nose both over 21.2 grains of H110 for around 1150 fps. This is a most powerful load for a lightweight .45 Colt sixgun and is only for use in Ruger Blackhawks.
There are several factory loads for the .44 Magnum available that do well in the Ruger Packin' Pistol including Garrett's 280 and 310, and Federal's 300 grain Hard Cast. The most accurate factory loads proved to be Black Hills 300 grain Jacketed Hollow Points at 1100 fps and Winchester's new Partition Gold 260's at 1250. Both get right down close to one-inch for five shots at 25 yards.
The Perfect Packin' Pistol does not exist. The search for same is what keeps things very interesting. With the few changes I have mentioned the Ruger Stainless Steel Packin' Pistols come close. Mighty close.
RUGER NEW MODEL .357 MAGNUM 4 5/8" SS BLACKHAWK
|Lyman #358156/13.5 gr. #2400||1345||2 1/8"|
|Lyman #358429/13.5 gr. #2400||1376||2 3/8"|
|Lyman #358429/14.0 gr. AA#9||1338||2 1/4"|
|H&G 173 Keith/14.0 gr. #2400||1378||1 3/8"|
|Lyman #358156/15.0 gr. #2400||1503||1 7/8"|
|Hrndy 125 XTP/20.0 gr. WW296||1437||2"|
|Hrndy 158 XTP/14.0 gr. #2400||1261||2 1/8"|
|Hrndy 180 XTP/13.0 gr. H110||1061||1 5/8"|
|Speer 140 JHP/17.5 gr. WW296||1304||1 1/2"|
|Speer 158 JHP/14.0 gr. #2400||1257||1 3/8"|
|Black Hills 158 JHP||1297||2 1/4"|
|CCI Blazer 158 JHP||1211||1 1/2"|
|Federal 180 Hard Cast||1156||1 1/4"|
|Speer Gold Dot 158 JHP||1241||2"|
|Winchester 158 JSP||1250||2"|
|Winchester 180 Gold Partition||1156||2"|
* Best five of six shots at 25 yards.
RUGER NEW MODEL .44 MAGNUM 4 5/8" SS BLACKHAWK
|RCBS 44-250 KT/17.3 gr. #2400||1213||2"|
|Bull-X 240/8.0 gr. Universal||1019||2 1/4"|
|NEI 260KT/10.0 gr. Unique||1095||1 1/2"|
|Lyman #429421/20.0 gr. #2400||1191||2 1/2"|
|Bull-X 240/20.0 gr. H4227||1114||2 3/8"|
|Black Hills 240 JHP||1216||2 1/2"|
|Black Hills 300 JHP||1083||1 3/8"|
|Federal 240 Hi-Shok||1256||2 3/8"|
|Federal 300 HC||1193||2 1/8"|
|Garrett 280KT||1275||2 3/4"|
|Garrett 310KT||1203||2 3/4"|
|Winchester 250 Partition Gold||1249||1 1/8"|
*Best five of six shots at 25 yards
RUGER NEW MODEL .45 COLT 4 5/8" SS BLACKHAWK
|Federal 225 LSWC HP||754||1 1/2"|
|Winchester 225 SilverTip HP||750||2 1/4"|
|Bull-X 230 RN/5.0 gr. N100||710||2 1/2"|
|Bull-X 255/7.0 gr. WW231||725||2 3/4"|
|Bull-X 250 CSJ/6.0 gr. N100||757||2"|
|Oregon Trail 250/6.0 gr. N100||737||1 5/8"|
|Bull-X 255/9.0 gr. Unique||916||2"|
|Bull-X 255/10.0 gr. Unique||996||2 3/4"|
|Bull-X 255/18.5 gr. #2400||1019||2"|
|Bull-X 250 CSJ/18.5 gr. #2400||1053||2 3/4"|
|Oregon Trail 250/10.0 gr. Uniq||1010||1 7/8"|
|Oregon Trail 250/18.5 gr. #2400||1010||2 1/2"|
|LBT 260 KT/10.0 gr. Unique||990||2 1/8"|
|Lyman #454424/18.5 gr. #2400||981||2 1/4"|
|Hornady 250 XTP/20.0 gr. #2400||1175||2"|
|BRP 300 GC/21.2 gr. H110||1008||1 1/2"|
|NEI 310 KT/21.2 gr. H110||1100||1 1/4"|
|RCBS 300 SWC GC/16.0 gr. H4227||822||2 3/4"|
|RCBS 300 SWC GC/21.2 gr. H110||1075||1 1/2"|
|SSK 340 FN/212 gr. H110||1150||2 3/4"|
Best five of six shots at 25 yards.