SIXGUN TECHNOLOGY TODAY: CUSTOM REVOLVERS
Many times in these pages and also in the pages of AMERICAN HANDGUNNER, I have mentioned the fact that I grew up with sixguns by reading, and learning from Elmer Keith. His book SIXGUNS set my future path in concrete and I knew that sixguns, revolvers if you must, (but please never, ever to be referred to as wheelguns!), would be a major part of my life. Keith lived at a time we will never see again and was able to do things we will never be able to do again.
However some of the things he wrote about are really possible today and even more so. Keith wrote often of custom pistolsmiths and a prime example of this, found in both his book and in his many articles for THE AMERICAN RIFLEMAN, is his Number Five Colt Single Action. This gun was the work of the top sixgun 'smiths of the 1920's, namely Harold Croft, J.D. O'Meara, and R.F. Sedgely. These three combined their ideas with Elmer's and the result was a sixgun that Keith called the Last Word. It was the finest sixgun in existence.
Number Five began as a Colt Single Action Army. A Bisley backstrap was mated with the standard Colt trigger guard resulting in a totally new feeling grip and a much more comfortably shooting grip. The top strap was welded up and flat-topped and fitted with adjustable sights, and the front sight was of the Patridge style for the best possible sight picture. For a little extra fancy look, Number Five was fully engraved and fitted with ivory stocks. The caliber was of course the best available , the .44 Special.
I have handled, fondled, and examined this beautiful old sixgun that was built in 1927 and will agree with Keith. Not only was it the last word in a fine sixgun, it has very few rivals today. That is what this article is all about. The Crofts, Sedgleys, and O'Mearas of the last decade of the twentieth century. It has been my good pleasure to know the men and their work that fit this category. Many pistolsmiths, perhaps hundreds, can build a grand semi-automatic and make it literally sing. A lesser number can build a top flight hunting or action-shooting double action, but very few men really understand either single action sixguns or single action sixgunners. I am privileged to know four of the top men in the country when it comes to building and customizing and modifying single action sixguns. There are actually five that I know of but one of these men, Dick Casull is now part of factory single actions with his .454 Casull and these guns will be covered in the article on factory revolvers today, and in fact one of the four remaining, Bill Grover, does very little custom work today instead concentrating on his Texas Longhorn line of single action sixguns. Grover recently built two .44 Specials for me on Ruger Old Model .357's and these will be covered in another article and his factory guns will be covered in another article on production technology.
We will also be looking at some of the top men working on double action revolvers today. Double actions for easy packin' and hunting. I certainly will not cover every top 'smith as I'm sure there are many grand pistolsmiths out there working on both double action and single action sixguns whose work I have never seen. I would be most pleased to hear from readers who can inform me of other excellent work that they are personally acquainted with. We can all learn from each other. Let's us then look at custom revolver technology today:
LINEBAUGH CUSTOM SIXGUNS: In my first testings of a Linebaugh .45 Colt custom revolver, I used .45 Winchester-Western brass that was heavily loaded five times. Bullets of 260 grains, both cast and jacketed, were driven over 1700 feet per second; 310 grain bullets to 1565 feet per second; 325 grain bullets to 1600 feet per second; and 385 grain bullets to 1300 feet per second. At no time did I experience stuck cases nor did any of the WW .45 Colt brass split. In fact that brass is still regularly being reloaded and has not been separated from other .45 Colt brass used with standard loadings.
That experience made me a believer in John Linebaugh and his custom guns. John explained that one of the reasons he was able to get such dramatic results is the fact that he maintains close tolerances. John Linebaugh is a traditionalist when it comes to sixguns, or in the case of many of his conversions, fiveguns. He believes in packin' pistols. Guns that can be carried comfortably all day in a hip holster and then slipped under a bedroll or pillow at night. A handgun that is always available, always ready. A feature that made the Colt Single Action Army such a popular sixgun.
Linebaugh's philosophy of handguns is found in the following quote: "We are a custom sixgun shop dedicated to the old school sixgunner. We follow the theories of Elmer Keith and John (Pondora) Taylor. Their's was one of big bullets, so is ours. Bullet weight and caliber are constants in external ballistics; velocity is a constantly diminishing variable. I believe high velocity to be a superb killer if placed with exact precision, and if it reaches the inside of the animal. But without exact placement, it lacks the penetrating qualities and thus it wastes its energy in flesh wounds. The big bullet does not have these shortcomings. It will penetrate fully from any angle, thus letting the hunter take shots with confidence that he would otherwise pass up with a `little gun'. I for one do not like big guns, just big bullets. With this in mind we offer models and ideas to the old school sixgunner. Remember, old school to us is powerful, practical, and packable."
That then is exactly what John Linebaugh strives for in every handgun he builds. Three things: Power. The.45 Colt is the smallest gun Linebaugh builds. Practical. These guns are designed with the hunter of big game in mind. Packable. Every sixgun John offers packs easily in a hip holster.
At the present time, Linebaugh Custom Guns (P.O. Box 930, Dept. G, Cody Wyoming 82414. Phone 307-645-3162. Brochure $3) offers five levels of handguns. First are the Colt Single Action and New Frontier Models. These guns as they come from the factory have notoriously oversized chambers and give continued, albeit false, credence to the myth of weak .45 Colt brass. Linebaugh installs Colt .45 cylinders that have been re-chambered tightly from .357 Magnum or .44 Special chamberings. By installing properly chambered cylinders and with close tolerances maintained throughout the sixgun, a Linebaugh .45 Single Action Colt or New Frontier with a seven and one-half inch barrel is capable of 1300 feet per second with 225 grain jacketed hollow points, 1250 feet per second with 260 grain cast Keith bullets, and 1150 feet per second with 300 grain cast bullets.
Moving up the line we come to what Linebaugh calls his small .45. This is built up by starting with a Ruger of .357, .41, or .44 caliber. The cylinder is re-chambered to .45 Colt, the gun is tightened up, and a special slow twist Douglas barrel installed. With the `small' .45 Colt, the sixgunner can expect 260 grain cast bullets to achieve 1400 feet per second, and 310 Keith cast bullets will go 1300 feet per second. I have a `small' Linebaugh .45 Colt built up on an Abilene that was a .44 Magnum. With its .45 Colt chambering and five and one-half inch barrel it is definitely powerful, practical, and packable.
Now we start to come into Linebaugh's really big sixguns with the third conversion offered, the Big .45 Colt. This sixgun is built on a Ruger Single Action and rather than re-chambering the Ruger cylinder, the frame is fitted with an oversized cylinder, slow twist Douglas barrel, and the gun is rebuilt throughout, tightening and minimizing tolerances in the process. With this .45 Colt conversion, sixgunners can expect 1700 feet per second with 260 grain Keith bullets, and 1500 feet per second with 310 Keith bullets.
Next we enter the real power level of Linebaugh's Custom Guns, the really big bore five-shooters. Linebaugh builds these on the Ruger Bisley Single Action which is a very strong sixgun to begin with and offers a grip that is the most comfortable for the big loads. Linebaugh chose the Bisley as the basis for his big-bores for its recoil handling grip frame and its inherent strength and he describes the Bisley grip frame as being "superior for accuracy and comfort".
The .475 Linebaugh is based upon the .45-70 case and the .500 Linebaugh is based on the .348 Winchester case both trimmed to 1.400". At .50 caliber, the .500 Linebaugh is the outer limits of caliber size in a packable pistol. To get the .475 and .500 into a packin'-sized gun, it is necessary to discard the standard-sized Ruger Bisley cylinder and go with an over-sized five-shot cylinder for two reasons, namely six .48 or .50 caliber holes will not fit in a standard sized cylinder and allow enough metal between chambers for safety, and five shots allows the bolt cut to be placed between, rather than under cylinder chambers. Many .45 caliber sixguns can be found with bolt cuts that are literally paper thin.
While Linebaugh starts with the Bisley as the basis for his conversions, the finished product, upon close examination, is radically changed. The unfluted, oversize cylinder is full length, the barrel is now much heavier, and the geometry has been changed to make this sixgun into a fivegun. Open the loading gate and the new cylinder spins freely like the beautifully crafted part that it is. Literally no end play and the barrel/cylinder gap is set at .003" or less.
At the top end of the power scale is found the Linebaugh Longs, the .475 and .500 Maximums. For these extreme wildcats, the same brass is used as for the .475 and .500 Linebaugh, namely .45-70 and .348 Winchester, this time trimmed to 1.600". The only sixgun available for this conversion is the out-of-production Ruger .357 Maximum. As only a limited number of these sixguns are available and production has stopped, the conversion automatically becomes a more-expensive-than- usual affair as Ruger Maximums have acquired semi-collectible status and one usually has to pay at least $500 to get one to use as a platform for conversion.
Very little of the Ruger Maximum is used except the frame. A new five-shot cylinder is fitted along with a new barrel. Ruger Bisley parts, namely grip frame, hammer and trigger, are fitted to the Ruger Maximum frame as the Bisley grip is the only grip that will handle the very heavy recoil of the big Maximums in full house loadings. So just the frame of a Ruger Maximum and needed Ruger Bisley parts will find the would be owner of a Linebaugh Long revolver spending at least $600 before even beginning to think about barrel, cylinder, and action work. Linebaugh is an expert when it comes to fitting , timing, etc. of single action revolvers and one is not likely to find a single action anywhere any smoother in operation than a Linebaugh-built Custom Single Action. Linebaugh is a fanatic on tolerances and his guns are also built to minimum dimensions and the tightest possible tolerances. No sloppy cylinder chambers, large barrel cylinder gaps, or cylinders that rock side to side or back and forth, are ever found on his custom guns. The .475 Linebaugh Long was my first experience with the Linebaugh idea of what a Maximum cartridge should be and this is a cartridge that is big bore all the way on both ends. Then came the .500 Linebaugh Long and I will say we simply cannot get any bigger. We have reached the ultimate top. There is simply no way to get any more power in a portable revolver. At least and also have it manageable by any one. The .500 Linebaugh Long is right at the very edge of manageability and then only with tremendous concentration and strength can it be handled. Both the .475 and .500 Linebaugh Longs are only for those revolver shooters with vast experience shooting big bores. Very few Handgunners will be able to handle the recoil of this biggest of all big bores.
The .500 Linebaugh Long has only one reason for being and that is big game. Really big game. Not deer or black bear or even elk or moose, but Brown Bear, Polar Bear, Cape Buffalo, Elephant, the big ones that can bite back! This is a cartridge designed to allow the hunter to pack a reasonably sized revolver on his hip and yet have the capability of delivering tremendous power in a fraction of a second.
DIAGONAL ROAD GUNSHOP: A number of years ago as I leafed through the gun trade paper, a small one-inch by two-inch add in the top corner immediately caught my eye. It simply read: .44 SPECIAL CONVERSIONS. Now I am a pushover for a good .44 Special so I immediately clipped the ".44 SPECIAL CONVERSIONS" ad and contacted Diagonal Rd. Gun Shop (14131 Diagonal Rd.,Dept. G, LaGrange, Ohio 44050). Andy Horvath knew of me through my writings and I found a kindred spirit who also had enjoyed the sixgun articles of Elmer Keith and Skeeter Skelton. Andy told me that he had been working on guns since the age of thirteen at which time he restocked his .22 rifle with a discarded piece of walnut floorboard. His specialty now is custom sixguns and I can now attest to the fact that he does excellent work and his re-bluing is especially beautiful.
"Andy, I'd like a real special .44 Special, a round-butted, four-inch barreled .44 built on a Ruger .357 Three Screw Blackhawk. A real .44 Special packin' pistol." Andy also had a soft spot in his heart, soul, and spirit for a good .44 Special and related that he had converted both Smith & Wesson and Ruger sixguns to .44 Special and also an old Winchester '92 that he had bought for parts that turned out to be so good internally that he relined the barrel to .44 Special.
Andy said he could round the butt of the .357 Blackhawk and cut the barrel and ejector rod housing to four inches with no problem. So off went a like new six and one-half inch .357 Three Screw Blackhawk. The older Three Screw Rugers are smaller than New Model Rugers and would certainly make a dandy little Sheriff's Model Ruger. Along with the Ruger .357 , I also sent a seven and one-half inch Super Blackhawk barrel, and some special items I had been saving for just such a project. From my parts box, I pulled my last Ruger blued steel ejector rod housing, and my last 1960's wide Super Blackhawk hammer. I also sent a pair of Rosewood Ruger grips that I had picked up somewhere, I believe when Ruger had an over-run of .22 Single-Six Colorado Centennial stocks a number of years ago.
It seemed like a very short time before I received a package marked Diagonal Rd. Gun Shop. Eagerly unwrapping the little package, I found all I had asked for and more. It is not too often I get really excited over a sixgun anymore, but this was a case of love at first sight. I found a beauty of a Special sixgun. The bluing was deep and perfect, the round butted grip felt even better than I had hoped for. Horvath had polished the standard aluminum grip frame and round-butted it so it slipped into my hand perfectly. The grips were also rounded and tapered just right. Most single action grips are tapered the reverse of what they should be namely big at the bottom and small at the top. Horvath did it right.
In addition, Horvath had jeweled the sides of the hammer and trigger and made a cylinder pin with a flat face to allow maximum ejector rod travel to fully extract empties. On the side of the frame, the original ".357 Magnum" had been replaced with "44 SPL". I have seen a number of conversions from big-name gunsmiths that still had ".357 Magnum' stamped on the side. To me, it spoils the whole conversion.
A second Horvath .44 Special Ruger I have tested is built on a .357 Three Screw Blackhawk . The alloy grip frame has been polished and fitted with ivory micarta grips, the hammer is jeweled and the balance of the gun is richly blued. Since this Ruger was already retro-fitted with a Ruger transfer bar at the factory, the action is not quite as smooth as my own .44 Special. Another Little Ruger is in .45 Colt chambering and started life as a New Model .357 Blackhawk. The entire sixgun has been satin nickled highlighted by a jeweled bright nickel hammer and trigger, and all screw heads, frame pins, cylinder flutes, ejector rod head, and base pin have all been brightly polished. Contrasting nicely with the satin nickel finish is a pair of ebony grips. Since this was originally a .357 Magnum, the cylinder is too short for some .45 Colt handloads.
A Ruger Stainless Super Blackhawk cut to four inches and fitted with standard stainless grip frame started as a .44 Magnum, but has now been rechambered and its cylinder is long enough to handle the longest of .45 Colt handloads. The round butted grip frame has been fitted with ivory micarta grips. A Three Screw .41 Magnum, round butted, finished in bead blasted nickel, hammer and trigger jeweled , and barrel cut to three and one-half inches completed the Horvath test guns. Again, grips are ivory micarta that look and feel particularly good.
Single action sixguns have always been my passion, but these round-butted Little Rugers re-define the shooting of big bore single action sixguns. The simple act of round butting the grip frame changes the perceived recoil significantly and the heaviest loads can be shot in relative comfort.
The four-inch or shorter barrel make them particularly fast out of a properly designed holster, and I would certainly not feel that I was giving anything away to those armed with semi-autos or double actions revolvers, at least for the first shot. No gun is any faster for the first shot than a single action sixgun.
Horvath does all the standard sixgun work, trigger jobs, action tuning, custom barrels, sights, etc. He can also provide steel ejector rod housings for those who, like myself, detest alloy housings on single action sixguns. His finest work however is his Little Rugers.
BOWEN CLASSIC ARMS: The first three revolvers Bowen sent to me are now standard offerings from Bowen Classic Arms. The three .45's all started life as standard Ruger sixguns, one a .45 Colt Blackhawk, the second a .41 Magnum Blackhawk, and the third a .44 Magnum Redhawk. All three were extensively customized by BCA to become five shot .45 Colts. Bowen believes in five shot cylinders both for safety and to receive the ultimate performance from the .45 Colt cartridge. By using a five shot cylinder and opening the cylinder window slightly to accept a larger than factory sized cylinder, the web area between chambers is thicker and most importantly the bolt notches are placed between chambers instead of directly over the chambers. This is the weakest part of a conventional six shot cylinder and is responsible for part of the myth of .45 Colt brass being weak.
The two Blackhawk .45's looked like standard Rugers with a few cosmetic touches, at least at first glance. Both have unfluted cylinders with the original .45 Blackhawk being fitted with a 1:16 twist, 7 1/2" barrel and the .41 Blackhawk rebarreled to 5 1/2" .45 Colt, also 1:16, and fitted with a square backed Super Blackhawk trigger guard altered to the more conventional rounded single action trigger guard. A really nice touch on these single actions, and all of Bowen's single actions, is the addition of a very small screw that enters the cylinder pin from the bottom and fits into a recess in the bottom of the barrel. This helps hold the cylinder pin against heavy recoil.
The third .45 did not quite look like a Redhawk. The butt had been rounded and fitted with custom stocks, and the barrel was Dan Wesson style. That is, the .45 Redhawk had been fitted with a special barrel and custom Dan Wesson shroud with the full interchangeable capabilities that the Dan Wesson line of revolvers possess. The results with these .45 Colts were nothing short of amazing. All three .45 Colts shot one-hole groups at 25 yards using full house 300 grain bulleted loads.
The first time I met Bowen, he had come prepared bringing along a number of interesting conversions, namely a Redhawk converted to .500 Magnum, a . 50 Special Super Blackhawk, a Speed-Six made into a five-shot .44 Special, and a GP-100 converted to a five-shot .41 Special. That particular .500 Magnum was built on a stainless Redhawk with a six-inch Dan Wesson shroud and custom barrel, and of course a five shot cylinder. Cases for the .500 are made from .348 Winchester brass cut to length. Since it is set-up with the interchangeable capabilities of the Dan Wesson revolver, it also accepts all of the Dan Wesson front sight inserts.
I spent time firing this .500 Redhawk with 400 grain bullets using loads at both 1000 fps and 1200 fps. This too is an extremely accurate revolver and during one testing session firing at a rock on a hillside 250 yards away, offhand, I found that I could place the massive 400 grain .500 slugs in the right place once I learned how much front sight to hold up. Bowen also converts Ruger Bisleys to .475 and.500 Magnum and Ruger .357 Maximums to .475 and .500 Maximum. A particularly attractive revolver is a Bowen made 5-shot, .500 Bisley with an octagon barrel. In addition to octagon barrels, Bowen also supplies what he calls an ovate ribbed barrel, which is a round barrel with a rib machined on the top. The .45 Blackhawk I tested earlier was fitted with an ovate ribbed barrel. A number of revolvers are now coming from the factory scope-ready and Bowen can supply Ruger single action barrels that are machined to accept Ruger rings, thus allowing nearly instant use of iron sights or scope as the shooter prefers.
The most practical of Bowen's creations, at least from a defensive standpoint, are his five -shot .44 and .41 Specials on the Speed-Six, Security-Six and GP-100 Rugers. I first fired all of these fiveguns at The Shootists gathering and have since had the opportunity to test them at greater lengths. The .44 Special is built on a 4" Speed-Six with a new five shot cylinder and the original barrel rebored by Cliff LaBounty . This gun shoots very accurately and right to point of aim with factory .44 Specials and with its round butt, and fixed sights is a no-nonsense personal defense weapon. While the five shot large frame .45 Colt and .500 Bowen conversions are built for heavy loads, not so with the .44 Special. The cylinder of the Speed-Six is too small to allow anything but standard low pressure .44 Special loads.
Both the Security Six and GP-100 have been converted to five shot .41 Specials by Bowen, which as its name implies is the .41 Magnum cut to Special length. The idea is a 200 grain bullet at around 900 fps again to be used as a personal defense weapon. Bowen chambered the GP-100 to .41 Magnum just to see if it would handle it, and we had no problem whatsoever using Magnum loads in it, but the Security-Six is a .41 Special only and probably, the GP-100 would best serve when used with .41 Special loads only. Bowen is now working on a Smith & Wesson Model 586 that will be rebored to .41 and rechambered to .41 Special.
Bowen has recently discovered the other single action sixguns, namely the Colt, the Ruger Old Model, the Great Western, and the Uberti. The Ruger Flat-top and Three Screw .357 Magnums make into wonderful little .44 Specials and .32-20's. I am just now working with a couple of Bowen .44 Specials on Rugers and they will be covered in a future article. Bowen can re-barrel and make custom cylinders for any of the Colt or Colt-style Single Actions. He did both a .32-20 and a .41 Special for me that are works of art to say the least.
For a price list and complete catalog of the offerings of Bowen Classic Arms, send $3 to BCA, P.O. Box 67, Louisville, Tennessee 37777. Besides the guns that have been mentioned, Bowen does such things as converting the Ruger .44 Magnum Redhawk to a round-butted, short barrelled compact back packing or defensive sixgun. He also converts Redhawks to a six shot .45 Colt with the original barrel rebored to .4515" and marked accordingly. Action jobs are available for all handguns, as well as custom barrels and custom stocks. Something as simple as fitting an oversize base pin and recutting of the forcing cone on many handguns will aid accuracy tremendously and Bowen offers this service as well. Custom cylinders are available in everything form .22 Hornet up as well as rechambering of cylinders to larger calibers.
SSK INDUSTRIES: SSK Industries (721 Woodvue Lane, Wintersville, Ohio 43952) has long offered the SSK HandCannon line of Custom Thompson/Center Contenders and barrels. The Head of SSK , JD Jones, has given handgun hunters such calibers as the .257JDJ, the 6.5JDJ, the .338, both in the Woodswalker and JDJ persuasions, the .358 JDJ, the .411JDJ, the .430 JDJ, and the single shot handgun chambering for hunting, the .375JDJ . The last four are all wildcat chamberings based on .444 Marlin brass. In addition, SSK was the first to offer the .45-70 in the Contender.
J.D.Jones has the enviable task of testing his custom single-shots in game fields all over the world. He says it is hard work, but, of course we all know better. Jones is second only to Larry Kelly in actual handgun hunting experience world wide. When he speaks of handguns for hunting as well as bullets and cartridges, people listen. He has the experience to back up what he says.
After more than a decade of supplying the world's handgun hunters with single-shot hunting handguns, and a few limited edition .44 Magnum Super Blackhawks along the way, SSK is now turning out some beautiful custom sixguns built on the super-strong Ruger Super Redhawk. Big Red is available from SSK in .45 Colt and when I talked to J.D. about a test gun, he offered to send along a couple of his .44 Magnum Super Redhawks also. So I wound up with two test guns in .44 Magnum as well as ".45 Colt # 1" with interchangeable barrels.
The first Big Red Beauty received from SSK is a .44 Magnum with the factory barrel intact but with major modifications. The barrel has been re-set and re-throated with the barrel/cylinder gap set at less than .002". In the process, the barrel has also been cut to an easy handling seven and one-half inches. To add to the pride of ownership, the original barrel has been reshaped. It is now a tapered octagon, round at the frame for about a quarter of an inch and then tapering into the octagonal flats which in turn taper from .904" at the frame end to .654" at the muzzle, when measured across the flats. The barrel has the standard Mag-Na-Porting trapezoidal slots as well as two extra hexagonal slots on both sides of the barrel. The Mag-Na-Porting plus the added weight of a Leupold 2X scope, which brings total weight to fifty-seven ounces, make this .44 Magnum very easy to shoot even with full house 300 grain bullets. Two days spent shooting over six hundred rounds through the .44 and its .45 Colt counterpart resulted in no soreness to shooting hand or wrist whatsoever.
As much end play has been removed from the cylinder by SSK and still allow the cylinder to function and the Ruger action has been smoothed considerably. The excellent scope-ready and nearly-instant-availability of iron sights feature of the Super Redhawk has been maintained by SSK and the 2X Leupold scope is mounted utilizing standard Ruger rings. Neither base screws nor scope ring screws loosened in the slightest during all of the test-firing that was done even though most of the firing involved heavy loads with 300 grain bullets. The use of Mag-Na-Porting plus proper scope mounting by SSK assured this.
The second test gun, Beauty number two, a .45 Colt, is almost the twin of the first. The Ruger barrel has been replaced with a Shilen .45 Colt barrel. The seven and one-half inch octagonal barrel is heavier than the .44 barrel, tapering to .702" across the flats at the muzzle end and I personally like the looks of the heavier barrel better. As with the .44 Magnum SSK Custom, the .45 Colt has the same four Mag-Na-Port slots, is mounted with a 2X Leupold LER scope, the action has been smoothed, and all end play has been removed from the cylinder. Two differences are quickly noticeable. The standard Ruger grips have been replaced by Pachmayer Grippers and the right side of the frame is scroll marked "SSK Custom .45 Colt #1".
On closer examination, one finds a tiny set screw entering the frame from the bottom and an index mark on both barrel and frame. This signifies that this .45 Colt has the interchangeable barrel feature that will also be available on the .44 Magnum SSK Custom Super Redhawks. As with the .44 Magnum Super Redhawk, the scope on the .45 Colt did not loosen at all during the hundreds of rounds fired through it.
SSK's .44 Magnum and .45 Colt Super Redhawks turned out to be real "Beauties", but "The Beast" as Jones calls it, requires installing the extra barrel to transform it from Beauty to Beast. Barrels for both the .44 Magnum and .45 Colt Beasts are made from Shilen blanks and length on the .45 Colt and .44 Magnum Compensated SSK Redhawks are both four and one-half inches for the barrel proper with the expansion chamber bring the total length up to six and one-quarter inches. Barrels are one piece, with the expansion chamber machined as part of the barrel which is of the heavy bull barrel type, .962" in diameter. With the extended frame of the Super Redhawk, only three and five-eighths inches of barrel and compensator extend beyond the end of the Redhawk frame.
To see how much the SSK Compensator really helped, a test was set up, firing double action, using a heavy barreled Dan Wesson six inch .44 Magnum in my stronger right hand, and the SSK .44 Magnum in my weaker off-hand. Firing SSK 300 grain bullets over 21.5 grains of WW296, a 1300+ feet per second load, photographs show dramatic results. The Dan Wesson, which is one of the most pleasant of all .44 Magnums to shoot, is at about a thirty-five degree angle, while the SSK .44 is level.
MAG-NA-PORT: In conjunction with a trip to Mag-Na-Port a few years back, I made arrangements with Ken Kelly to have the loan of the complete Stalker series from the Mag-Na-Port Custom Shop. The Stalker series was conceived by Larry as the perfect revolver for serious handgun hunting, and the first Stalker, a Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum, has been used by Kelly all over the globe to take many big game trophies.
The Stalker is described as "a very special gun offered to meet the requirements of the hunting fraternity--the dedicated handgun hunters. The Stalker was developed to meet the requirements of these men and women. It's a gun designed by hunters, for hunters. The Stalker is the result of many years hunting experience by the people here. We are proud of the gun, and sincerely convinced it is everything a serious hunter requires, whatever the game."
At the present time, the Stalker conversion is available on four handguns, all stainless steel, the Ruger Super Blackhawk, the Ruger Super Redhawk, the Smith & Wesson Model 629, and the .454 Casull from Freedom Arms. All Stalker conversions have a number of things in common. Namely, an 8 3/8" barrel, an inverted muzzle crown that I would like to have on every sixgun I own, Mag-Na-Porting, Velvet Hone finish, polished hammer and trigger, a superb action job, Pachmayr grips, SSK scope mount base (except Super Redhawk), 2X Leupold scope, swivels and studs, and a carrying sling.
An especially appreciated touch to the Stalker series is the numbering of each chamber on the back of the cylinder. Quite often one revolver chamber will be a little out of synch with the rest resulting in fliers. Numbering of each chamber makes the culprit easy to identify and avoid. Silhouetters, who do it with five from a sixgun, would definitely like to see all factory revolvers have this feature.
The Super Blackhawk was the obvious choice for the first Mag-Na-Port Stalker as it has been a favorite of handgun hunters for 30 years. Kelly simply takes a good hunting handgun and makes it even better. There are many handgun hunters who still manage to make do with iron sights. Most of us need the extra help that a scope gives and Kelly has chosen the excellent Leupold two power long eye relief scope as standard equipment for his Stalker series. As I looked at the mounted elephant in The Handgunners Museum, I could see how critical bullet placement would be with such a mammoth creature and a scope would be mandatory.
On the Super Blackhawk, in addition to polished trigger and hammer, the cylinder pin, ejector rod head, cylinder release pin, and all screws are also polished. The subdued Velvet Hone finish contrasts nicely with the polished parts.
The second Stalker tested is built on the first .44 Magnum, the big N-frame Smith & Wesson. In this case, an eight and three-eighths inch Model 629. In addition to all the refinements of the Super Blackhawk Stalker, the Smith & Wesson Stalker has a beautiful full length SSK Scope mount base. Extending all the way to the end of the eight and three-eighths inch barrel, this SSK rib, adds weight, aids balance, and makes the Smith & Wesson 629 even more attractive than my scope mounted Model 29 and that is going some. SSK T'SOB mounts are built to stay on hard kickin' handguns.
This particular Smith was extremely accurate with the right load and turned in both the best 25 yard group and also the best 50 yard group. The former, five-eighths of an inch with the Garrett 280 grain load, and the latter, one and one-eighth of an inch, again with a Garrett load, this time the 320 grain load.
The third .44 Stalker, built on the Ruger Super Redhawk, does not have an SSK scope mount base as it comes from the factory scope-ready with the excellent Ruger rings and integral base formed by slots cut into the top strap of the big Super Redhawk. The ugly duckling iron-sighted Super Redhawk almost becomes a beautiful swan with the addition of a Leupold 2X Scope. This sixgun was simply made to wear a scope.
Big Red also turned in some excellent groups with the best results at both 25 and 50 yards being turned in by a handload consisting of the 285 grain BRP Keith bullet over 21.5 grains of WW296. This load clocks out at 1370 feet per second from the eight and three-eighths inch Super Redhawk barrel and groups three-fourths of an inch at 25 yards and one and one-eighth inches at 50 yards. One of the toughest .44 Magnums extant, the Ruger Super Redhawk is made even better with the adding of Mag-Na-Port refinements.
The newest addition to the Mag-Na-Port Stalker lineup is the .454 Casull. Starting with the Premium Grade .454, Mag-Na-Port cuts the barrel to the standard Stalker length of eight and three-eighths inches and adds the deep inverted muzzle crown that protects the muzzle from any dings.
Because of the increased recoil of the .454 full house loads over .44 Magnum loads, the two standard trapezoidal Mag-Na-Port slots are aided by two smaller hexagonal slots, one on each side of the barrel behind the standard slots. They work, as this is certainly the most pleasant .454 I have ever shot, certainly more so than my heavier ten and one half-inch unported, but scoped .454 Casull.
The .454 Stalker was test-fired with six factory loads and three handloads. Factory loads consisted of three loads from Freedom Arms, the 240 grain jacketed hollow point, and the 260 and 300 grain jacketed soft points.
Handloads consisted of Cor-Bon's 300 grain Bonded Core and 360 grain Penetrator, which is designed exactly for what its name proclaims, the deepest possible penetration. And finally, one cast bullet load, BRP's 300 grain flat point bullet cast from Lyman/Freedom Arm's #454629GC mold.
Best 25 yard group shot with the .454 Stalker was three-fourth's of an inch with Freedom Arms excellent 260 grain jacketed flat point, while the best 50 yard group came from the Cor-Bon 300 grain handload assembled with 29.5 grains of WW296 and yielding 1475 feet per second.
For complete information on The Stalker lineup as well as other offerings contact Mag-Na-Port, 41302 Executive Drive, Dept G, Mt. Clemens Michigan 48045. Phone 313-469-6727.
Custom sixguns are not for everybody as there is a great profusion of excellent factory revolvers available. But if you are looking for something out of the ordinary or a totally personalized sixgun contact one of these talented sixgun `smiths.