Category Archives: Ruger Super Redhawk

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.

 

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The Bodacious .454

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” February 2007

W hen the .454 Casull was intro­duced in 1983, it instantly won the title for most powerful revolver cartridge. With operating pres­sures a good 50 percent higher than the magnums on the market, it generated energy levels not previously seen in wheel-guns and became the caliber for hunting really big game with handguns.

Above: Polishing and jeweling dress up the Ruger Super Redhawk customized by Mog-na-port's Ken Kelly, but "Bodacious" is still a serious hunting handgun. A tuned action and trigger, along with a Mag-na-brake and Weigand scope base, are modifications that complement the power of the revolver's .454 Casull chambering.

The cartridge was housed in the new, sin­gle-action Freedom Arms Model 83 revolver that had been specially designed and built with a five-shot cylinder and extremely close manufacturing tolerances to contain the 60,000-plus pounds per square inch pressure. I recall some early articles on Dick Casull, the .454’s inventor, stating he was trying to achieve a muzzle velocity of 2,000 feet per second with .45-caliber bul­lets fired from a 77;-inch barrel.

The Ruger Super Redhawk's cylinder can hold six rounds ot .454 Casull, and a transfer bar lets hunters safely carry a round beneath the double-action's hammer. To make practice sessions a little easier on the hand, the revolver will also fire .45 Colt ammunition.

Using some exotic triplex loads—three different powders carefully stacked in the case—Mr. Casull did achieve his tar­get velocity, but the hazards and liabili­ties associated with triplex loads far out­weighed the extra feet per second gained, and commercial ammo makers went to more conventional loads featuring heavy doses of slow-burning powders. Even with the less-exotic loads, the cartridge still pro­duced some sizzling velocities with lighter-weight bullets, making it not only suitable for big game, but a prime candidate for long-range handgun hunting of medium-sized game. This is a long-winded way of explaining my selection of the .454 for an antelope hunt.
The hunt was scheduled with Hunter Ross of Desert Safaris and held on several ranches located near Fort Davis, TX. I had just received a Ruger .454 Super Redhawk customized by Ken Kelly, of Mag-na-port fame, and knowing that Hornady makes a high-velocity .454 round with a 240-grain jacketed hollow point, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to test the gun and lightweight bullets on a long-range, medium-game hunt. Given the lack of preparation time with the gun and ammo, my definition of long range for this hunt was 100 yards or less.
The Super Redhawk originally arrived with a standard 7’7/-inch barrel and integral scallops in the topstrap for mounting the factory-furnished rings. For those who may not know it, the .454 Casull generates lots of energy on both ends of the gun. It kicks big-time. Most of my other big-bore handguns wear muzzle brakes or feature porting systems installed by Mag-na-port to help manage the recoil. As I get older and heal more slowly, I see no reason to discontinue this policy. Besides, last year at the White Oak Plantation Handgun Hunt in Alabama, I got a look Kelly’s latest Super Redhawk creation, and fell in love with both the gun and the name he had given it—”Boda­cious.” Like earlier Mag-na-port handgun names, “Predator” and “Stalker,” it was a perfect choice.
Kelly shortened the Super Red Hawk’s barrel to 5 3/4  inches, gave the muzzle an inverted crown and installed an oversized muzzle brake he calls a Mag-na-brake.  Compared to some of the slender brakes he uses on single-action revolvers, this one seemed quite bulky, but somehow it was right for this rather massive handgun. He also added two custom pinstripe bands on the Mag-na-brake and another two bands on the cylinder. I rarely give Kelly instruc­tions regarding the decorative touches on his guns, rather letting him express himself and surprise me. You, of course, can decide what goes on your gun. Other barrel-related work included removing the lengthy Ruger liability warning, something many Ruger buyers would like to see done at the factory.

Ports In the Mag-no-brake direct gases away from the shooter while alleviating the .454 Casull's Infamous recoil. The ports ore angled forward so gases travel to the front, and they form a twist pattern opposite to the Mag-na-brake s threading to ensure It stays tight on the muzzle.

Rather than use the factory rings, Kelly installed a Weigand scope base, mount­ing it into the existing scallop cuts in the topstrap. This Weaver-style base does two things: First it raises the height of the scope, providing more room for the thumb when cocking the revolver, and second, it allows more flexibility in mounting the scope either closer to the muzzle or more toward the shooter.
To say Kelly performed a trigger job would be inadequate. He completely tuned the action, polished and jeweled the hammer and trigger, and applied his glass-bead, velvet-hone finish. The result was a super-slick, double-action magnum revolver. Finally, he added his standard Mag-na-port custom logo and the brand new title, “Bodacious.”
I debated changing the factory Ruger grips since they are rather thin and can focus the .454’s punishing recoil into the web of the hand on a non-ported gun. But the factory stocks with rubber around the edges fit me pretty well, permitting an easier reach to, and good control of, the trigger with my rather short fingers.  Combined with Kelly’s Mag-na-brake, the grips did their part in softening the .454’s felt recoil. The last touch was installing scope rings and a 2X Nikon handgun scope. Much as I like iron-sighted handguns, antelope and wide-open spaces were on my agenda, and I wanted an optic to take full advantage of the .454’s flat trajectory.
There was time for one trip to the range before the hunt, so I did some homework and “hit the books” as we used to say in school. Specifically, I dug out Volume 2 of Hornady’s Handbook of Cartridge Reloading and opened it to the handgun bullet bal­listics tables that give distances in yards. Since the chronograph showed the 240-grain Hornady .454’s produced a muzzle velocity of 1,709 feet per second, I looked at the tables for the 240-grain XTP bullet traveling at 1,700 feet per second. With a 100-yard zero, the bullet would strike 1 1/2 inches high at 50 yards, 1.3 inches high at 75 yards, and 6 1/2 inches low at 150 yards. This seemed perfect given my self-imposed limit of 100 yards with the 2X scope. My concern was that on previous antelope hunts, some of my range estimations had been grossly inaccurate. Admittedly, I would have a Nikon rangefinder, but there was no assurance I would have access to it or time to use it when the time came to shoot.
Given the kill zone on an antelope is about 8 inches in diameter, I wanted to be less than 4 inches high at mid-range and less than 4 inches low out past 100 yards. Checking the tables for the performance of my load, a zero of 150 yards showed the bullet would be a bit less than 4 inches high at 50 yards and about 4 1/2 inches high at 75 and 100 yards. Since these numbers could result in a hit above my arbitrary 8-inch circle, I compromised and sighted in Bodacious roughly 3 inches high at 100 yards. I thought this should keep me in the kill zone all the way out to 150 yards, just in case I really screwed up range esti­mation. Shooting off a sandbag, the load produced 3-shot groups that measured 2 1/2 to3 1/2 inches at 100 yards. I was ready.
On the hunt though, I made a mistake. I was riding in the Yamaha Rhino with another outdoor writer who had taken a nice buck earlier and was now prepared to do the range-finding honors for me. When our guide, Troy Calaway, spotted another nice buck and the other writer announced quietly the Nikon showed we were within 87 yards of the animal, it was time to shoot. The buck was slightly quartering away from me, and thinking the shot would be no more than 3 inches high, I held the crosshair slightly low in the body and fired. The buck dropped in its tracks, an unusual event for an animal like antelope, which can cover many miles of prairie even when severely wounded. We learned shortly the shot was several inches high and, luckily for me, broke the buck’s back. The cross­hair had been exactly where I wanted it when the hammer fell, and I didn’t imme­diately realize why the impact point had been so high. Thinking back to the range, I realized the problem. On the range, I had been shooting with Bodacious buried solidly into a sandbag, while my shot at the antelope, like most hunting scenarios, involved nothing more than my forearms resting across an available surface. Even with the Mag-na-brake’s taming influence, the .454’s recoil caused the barrel to rise more than it had when resting solidly on a sandbag and range bench.
One might say that given my rookie mis­take. Bodacious and the Hornady ammo performed above and beyond the call of duty. Certainly the results were more than I deserved, but then I’ve become accustomed to outstanding performance from Ken Kel­ly’s Rugers and Hornady’s handgun hunting ammunition loaded with XTP bullets.