Category Archives: ammo

Ruger’s 50-Year Commemorative Super Blackhawk

Magazine CoverPublished “Shooting Illustrated” July 2009

For those who have enjoyed a lifelong love affair with handguns, there lingers the memory of “the one that got away.”


Super Blackhawk

Despite its elegance and beauty, the Commemorative Super Blackhawk is as ready, willing and able to accompany its new owner to the game fields as the origianl version was 50 years ago.

For those of us who have enjoyed a life-long love affair with handguns, there lingers the memory of “the one that got away.” We are haunted by that brief lapse in judgment where we allowed a treasure to slip from our grasp because we were lured by the siren call of a new love not yet owned. For most of us, there is probably more than just one of these lost loves, but there is always that one unforgettable handgun we can’t quite erase from our memories. For me, that handgun was an early Ruger Super Blackhawk 44 Magnum with the new 7 ½ inch barrel and that incredibly beautiful blue finish that made me wince slightly every time I slid the gun in and out of its leather holster. I had purchased the gun used in one of those early package deals (with 44 rounds left in the original box of ammo,) and apparently the original owner had installed a set of stag horn grips before even firing the gun. It was a spectacular handgun and the pride of my possessions! Alas, within a year of acquiring it I was leaving the armed forces and moving west with a wife, two little girls, and no job. When a friend of mine offered $35 over retail for it, I did what all responsible young fathers do in that situation; I took the money and prayed for a future solution.

Fast forward four decades, and I am delighted to report that someone at Ruger has responded. While you might initially think they’re delinquent in waiting this long, that’s not so. Since their response comes in the form of a 50-year Commemorative of the Super Blackhawk, obviously this handgun could not be released before the year 2009. In the intervening years, Ruger has filled my life with a number of irresistible offerings, so it’s not like I had nothing to enjoy during those intervening years. But lets’ take a closer look at this return to yesteryear.

Closeup of SBH grip and barrel

Beautifully grained rosewood grips and gold bands around the cylinder.

When I first saw the Commemorative, (I think it was in Ruger’s booth at the Dallas Safari Club in January,) it was the brightly polished blue finish that immediately caught my eye. I couldn’t remember seeing a production Ruger that looked like this since that original SBH escaped my clutches long ago. Except for the glossy steel finish on the sides of the hammer and the less reflective blue/black coloration of the rear sight, this luxurious blue finish covers the entire external surface of the gun. It’s as spectacular as my first one! The next two eye-catchers (and I’m not sure which one was noticed first,) are the gold bands around the cylinder and the smooth, beautifully grained rosewood grips. The gold bands are quite narrow, perhaps 1/16 inch wide, making them tastefully subdued but distinctly noticeable. (My apologies if I sound like a wine taster. I’m not, but this gun does generate some serious emotion.) The rosewood grips (with Ruger logo of course,) are elegantly simple and compliment the deep blue finish nicely. My initial thoughts were to possibly replace them with staghorn simply to recover the look of my lost Super Blackhawk, but the more I looked at the current grips, the less interested I became in changing anything. As a treasure, this gun stands on its own.

The last visual impact came from the gold lettering on the top of the Ruger barrel. In large letters that ran from just behind the front

Engraved Barrell

Gold lettering on top of the barrel.

 sight base to the front of the frame’s top strap it said simply, “50TH ANNIVERARY SUPER BLACKHAWK – 2009.” I know that many of us have criticized Ruger over years past for the biblically long legal liability warning printed in small letters on all their modern guns about reading their instruction manual and washing your hands before meals. But before you work yourself up unnecessarily, consider this. The message here is extremely significant, and it’s delivered in gold. This is the 44 Magnum we’re talking about, and Ruger is acknowledging with the gold-filled date on the barrel that their luxury entry into the 44 Magnum market occurred 3 years after their competition and Ruger’s initial modification of their smaller frame flattop. I mean even the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments weren’t inlaid with gold! Sorry if I went a bit too far there, but as I said, this is a gun that generates emotion.

One might think that I would be reluctant to shoot this handgun, in which case, one would be incredibly wrong. I could not wait to venture a field with this recreation from my lost youth, (or young manhood,) and the instant I received a call from Doug Roth at Camp 5 Outfitters, it was Go Time! If you don’t know Camp 5, located near Paso Robles, California, you’re missing out on some great potential hunting adventures. Doug offers guided hunts on several species including deer, elk and turkey during their relatively short seasons in the spring/fall. Even better, he offers wild boar hunts year round, because California has no closed season on pigs. Good eating, good fun, great outing, and best of all, Doug can get handgunners in close on wild boar. With his fearless Jack Russel Terrier hunting companion Moose, few pigs fatally hit are ever lost. Hey, I’d spend two days at Camp 5 just to watch Moose work his magic. But in this case, I had both Moose and a recreation of a lost love with me, and while the three of us hadn’t hunted together before, I had hunted with both Moose and other 44 Magnums. It seemed like an unbeatable threesome.

The hunt location made it unnecessary to test numerous loads in search of the Commemorative’s favorite dish. Camp 5 is located in a portion of California where lead-free ammunition has been dictated for hunting. I had a couple boxes of Corbon and Federal 44 Mag ammo loaded with 225 grain Barnes bullets. Considering the lighter weight bullets reminded me of the only reservation I’d ever had about the square shape of the original Super Blackhawk’s trigger guard. That square back edge sometimes rapped my knuckle when firing full power loads with the heavier bullet weights. Admittedly that was more of an issue when shooting silhouettes with a one-hand grip from the creedmore position, and while it was not a crippling event, it was irritating in 40- or 80-round matches. Happily, using a solid two-handed grip, my knuckle remained untouched when firing the 225 grain loads in the new gun.

It required about 5 rounds to dial in the Ruger shooting from the rock-solid shooting bench/table that Doug has built near the Camp 5 guest cabin. Then, dropping to the ground in front of the bench and resting my back against a brace with my arms across my knees in my absolutely favorite field shooting position, a couple of confirmation shots ended up touching each other in the bottom of the small orange aiming point stuck on the 25-yard target. With a bit of a swagger, I left the range for two marvelous days of pig hunting.

While wind direction changes and fading light terminated some of our stalks, Doug was able to get the other hunters inside 25 yards on more than one occasion. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that on my stalk, I stretched my range beyond what was prudent considering I was hunting with a new gun and ammunition combination that I had fired less than 10 times. We followed the blood trail for perhaps 300 yards up a steep hill and through some heavy cover until it ended before giving it up with approaching darkness. Although a bit ashamed, I’m not discouraged. I miss just like everyone else, and on this occasion, it was clearly due to “pilot error.” I know the Commemorative Super Blackhawk and I will hunt together again albeit with some additional range time together between now and then. I was foolish enough to surrender this gun once; it won’t happen again.



The Green Effect

As published in “Shooting Illustrated  December 2008
Hunting in California’s condor recovery range is limited to lead-free bullets. Fortunately, handgun hunters have “green” alternatives readily available.


No one said it signaled the end of the world; they said it would be worse. Since I’m not much of a duck hunter, I didn’t get emotionally involved, but my recollection is that both hunters and non-hunters had the same ultimate objective; they wanted a healthy population of ducks. Despite the controversy, duck populations are as healthy as ever and duck hunting continues to thrive.


Today in California, some similar legislation has been passed, and emotional arguments much like those heard during the lead shot ban are raging across the state. Simply stated, in the California condor corridor, all ammunition used for hunting must be lead free. For those who aren’t familiar with the California condor, the bird feeds on the carcasses of dead animals, and many of the birds are allegedly dying of lead poisoning caused by ingesting lead bullets or cores located in the gut piles of animals killed by hunters. Since central California has many wild pigs that are hunted year round, the cause of these deaths has been blamed on the bullets contained in their remains. This same section of California is also highly populated with ground squirrels, and these little creatures draw a great deal of attention each year from citizens wielding rimfire rifles and pistols. Since shooting ground squirrels requires a California hunting license, the ban of ammunition containing lead also applies to the pursuit of these rodents. I have no wish to get into a debate on the merits of this ban, but having spent some wonderful days hunting various ranches in this area, I was curious to see if this signaled the “end of the world” in terms of hunting central California. Besides, it doesn’t take much of an excuse for me to schedule a visit to Don Geivet, vice president of Operations at the incredible Tejon Ranch—a haven for big-game animals of all kinds that’s located at the south end of the Condor corridor. The ranch is also the first location where the lead ban was put into effect. I was also interested in the impact this legislation would have on handgun hunting.

Some of my handgun-hunting buddies believe there is no substitute for a heavy, hard-cast, big-bore, lead bullet when hunting tough and potentially dangerous big game. While you might not think of pigs being dangerous or big, the really large boars can grow to a few hundred pounds and carry an extremely thick layer of gristle plate around their shoulders and rib cage. Fragile, fast-expanding, smaller-bore handgun ammunition is not the right medicine for these guys. And while most pigs will try to run away, there’s the occasional animal that will come at you, particularly if it’s wounded. I’ve only had it happen once, and unfortunately for the boar, the two of us were carrying Freedom Arms .454s with full-house loads. It slid to its death a mere 6 to 10 feet in front of us—a breathtaking sight! But at something less than 200 pounds of body weight, it, like most pigs taken by hunters, did not require a heavy, solid slug to put it down. On the other hand, anything with minimal authority probably would have resulted in some cuts and slashes on either me or my partner. Something tough and lead-free is required. The answer is not only simple, it’s been around for quite some time.

Barnes manufactures solid-copper bullets for pistol calibers from .357 Mag. up through the mighty .500 S&W Mag., and while I would not personally use a .357 Mag. to hunt wild boar, I’d be happy with any of the other magnum calibers, beginning with the .41 Mag., stoked with Barnes X bullets. Each X bullet is made with some slots cut in the nose of the bullet. Upon impacting an animal, the nose of the bullet peels back in six petals along these cuts. Each bullet is designed to peel back at specific velocities, depending on the caliber. Most of my handgun hunting with Barnes bullets has been with the .44 Mag., and the two bullets available in this caliber are designed to open at a minimum velocity of 1,050 fps. Final expanded diameter of the bullet depends on how fast it is traveling when it enters the animal. The petals on either the 200- or 225-grain .44 Mag. bullet entering an animal at 1,300 fps will peel back nearly parallel to the bullet’s body, resulting in greater penetration than the same bullet would have at 1,050 fps. At either velocity, the wound cavity is larger (sometimes quite massive) near the bullet’s entry point than further along the path of penetration. It takes a tough, extremely well made bullet to perform with this kind of consistency.

Non-handloaders fear not! Barnes bullets are available in loaded ammunition from both Cor-Bon and Federal. Federal handgun-hunting ammo with Barnes bullets range from the .357 Mag. to .500 S&W Mag., with one load offered in each caliber. Cor-Bon’s smallest caliber is the .44 Mag., but there are multiple loads in several of the calibers including a +P hunting load for the .45 Colt. Cor-Bon’s ammo generates 1,200 fps muzzle velocity with the .45 Colt +P and ranges up to 1,825 fps with the .460 S&W Mag. Federal’s trajectory tables show that when all calibers are sighted in for 25 yards, the smallest bullet drop at 100 yards is 2 inches for the .460 while the 225-grain .44 Mag. round drops just under 7 inches. Last year in Australia, I shot four pigs (three boars and one sovi) using the 225-grain .44 Mag. load in a Smith & Wesson Model 629 with an 8V»-inch barrel. All pigs were inside 60 yards, and all but one dropped in its tracks. As you would expect, the one failure was the result of poor shot placement. A follow-up shot did finish the job. Big-bore, big-boar handgun hunters need have no concerns complying with the new regulations while hunting the Condor corridor.

I was really more concerned with having acceptable ammo for the corridor’s squirrel population. As it turned out, this problem has been half solved in a sense because CCI is making .22 Mag. lead-free (or Green) ammunition. I have two revolvers chambered for .22 Mag. and took both up to Tejon. They did an admirable job nailing several ground squirrels, even though it was late in

the season and the critters were quite spooky. In my experience, the .22 Mag. seems to be a more decisive killer than the .22 LR, and that’s the good news. The bad news is .22 Mag. ammo is more expensive than .22 LR, but then the cost of ammunition has increased dramatically in the last year. As the deep-thinking philosophers say, “It is what it is,” and it’s still a cheaper solution than centerfire ammo.

As of now, I know of no plans to make green .22 LR ammunition. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it’s not in the works yet. I think .22 Mag. has always been a bit of a specialty niche product, just as hunting in those areas within the Condor corridor is a specialty niche market.

I’ve avoided getting into the condor issue, but there are a couple of things that puzzle me. First, did the studies show lead bullets in the carcasses of small rodents contributed to any condor deaths? If not, why is lead-free rimfire ammo being mandated? Secondly, if the issue is lead in gut piles resulting from hunting, why is there a ban on lead ammo for target shooting on the various ranches affected? On Tejon, no lead ammo is allowed on the ranch, period. The only rationale I can think of is a total ban is easier to enforce than a partial ban. I suspect the government bodies involved have dictated this policy, and I heard from more than one source that the implementation of the lead-free policies were handled more like a Mafia-style offer than a civilized dialog between two parties interested in wildlife conservation. The good news is big-game and small-game hunting are alive and well at the Tejon and other ranches throughout California. You might have to buy a new pistol, but you have legally compliant choices available in both factory and hand-loaded ammunition. And getting to buy a new handgun is always good news.

Special thanks to friend and fellow handgun hunter Brian Pearce for his introduction to the Handgun Section of the new “Barnes Reloading Manual Number 4.” If you plan to reload with Barnes bullets, get the Barnes manual and read the entire handgun section including Pearce’s introduction. Load data cannot be interchanged between all-copper Barnes bullets and traditional jacketed lead-core bullets of the same weight.’!?

Black Hills Hunting Ammo


Reloaded ammunition for serious hunting or essential weekend therapy has stood me in good stead for nearly 30 years. I’ve always been pretty pleased with the results. But when someone else does as good a job as I can with components only available on the reloading market, I’m ready to offer a respectful salute.

Black Hills factory-loaded ammunition has done just that. The heart and soul of Black Hills handgun hunting ammunition is the Hornady XTP bullet. The samples I received consisted of two different bullet weights each in .44 Magnum and .454 Casull.

The .44s were XTPs in 240 grs. and 300 grs., while the .454s came with 250 and 300 gr. JHP XTPs. The .44 Magnum was loaded in new Winchester cases while the ,454s were in new Freedom Arms cases with the small primer pockets. Pow­der and charge weights remain a Black Hills secret.

The .454 ammo allowed the magnifi­cent Freedom Arms revolvers to realize their full accuracy potential. With the 250 gr. XTP bullet, velocities were in the 1,500 to 1.550 fps range in barrels 7.5″ to 8.5″ long, and around 1,400 fps in a 6″ barrel.

Fifty yard, five-shot groups were 1″. At 100 yards with a 2x Leupold scope, four shots stayed in 2″ with the fifth round opening things to the 3″ mark. The 300 grainers hit velocities in the mid 1,500 fps range for long barrels and mid 1,400’s for the six-incher. Groups were under 2″ at 50 yards and under 3″ at 100 yards.

The Black Hills 250 gr. loads were invited to join me in Wyoming for an ante­lope hunt. One round through the lungs of a big doe did the required job at just over 100 yards, but since it was a broadside shot, the bullet passed through and was not recovered.

For the .44 Magnum offerings, I used a Lew Horton Custom Hunter from the Smith & Wesson Performance Center. It has a 6″ barrel with open sights, and has demonstrated an ability to shoot 1″ groups with good ammo.

Black Hills confirmed its “good ammo” rating by putting five of their 240 gr. XTP slugs into 1″ at an average veloc­ity around 1,225 fps. The 300 gr. XTPs went into 1.25″ with an average velocity of about 1,155 fps.

Hornady’s XTP bullets have a reputa­tion for maximum terminal performance on game that’s within its design specifica­tions. I tested them on a Wyoming prong-horn hunt and they performed perfectly.

Summary?  Excellent product.

If you really like to reload your own stuff, you might be able to goose a little hotter performance out of the lighter weight bullets in .44 Magnum and .454 Casull, but probably not with better accu­racy. I doubt you could get significantly-higher velocities— and probably not smaller groups— from the heavyweight .44s and .454s.

If you don’t happen to reload, check with Black Hills about filling your other shooting needs besides handgun hunting.

Readers interested in more information about Black Hills Ammunition can reach the company at P.O. Box 5070, Dept. AH. Rapid Citv. SD 57709: phone: 1605) 348-5150: Fax: (605) 348-9827.

Published:  American Handgunner – March/April 1996