Category Archives: Ruger

New Sizzle for Ruger Standbys

Shooting Illustrated

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” May 20New Ruger

When Federal announced the new .327 Fed. Mag.,

Ruger responded first with its SP101

The theory was to offer some serious power in a compact self-defense handgun for recoil-sensitive shooters. Having known a couple of folks who were recoil sensitive, yet were interested in a firearm for self-protection, the gun-and-caliber combination made sense to me.

A respected gun-writer friend sug­gested Ruger chamber the new round in a larger-frame revolver, particularly the Blackhawk. Having been so impressed with the .327 Fed. Mag.’s performance when it first came out, I thought this was a great idea, but I didn’t really expect to see it happen. To my delight, Ruger is offering the hot cartridge in both its single-action Blackhawk and its double-action GP100 revolvers. And I can see justifiable applications for both.

Ruger Cylinder

Ruger's GP100 chambered in .327 Fed. Mag. is a big, tough gun whether intended for home defense or outdoor use. The asymmetric look of a seven-shot revolver has been known to shock old-time gun writers, but that extra round is universally accepted as a good thing.

The new .327s are from Ruger’s stainless steel stable of revolvers. The GP100 has a 4-inch barrel, but one big surprise is its cylinder holds seven rounds. The extra round is made possible by the GPlOO’s frame being beefier than that of most mid-size revolvers.

 When it comes to self-defense, more rounds are better. For the millions of Americans who keep a gun for home defense, but don’t carry concealed, there is no need for a small revolver. Your nightstand doesn’t care what the gun weighs, and your practice sessions will be much more pleasant with a larger-frame gun. Self-defense isn’t about having fun, but enjoying training sessions is better than dreading them and will translate to greater proficiency with your gun.

The GP100 also comes with Hogue’s finger-groove rubber grips, which happen to fit my hand perfectly. Although the .327’s recoil doesn’t necessitate soft grips, I’d keep them because of the excellent ergonomics. If the gun doesn’t fit your hand as well as it does mine, you might have to look at different grips.

Not much is simpler than a basic double-action revolver. No manual of arms is required for presentation or prepara­tion; simply aim and pull the trigger. If, for any reason, a round doesn’t go bang, pull the trigger again. Speaking of just pulling the trigger, I was more than happy with the smooth, double-action trigger on the GP100. In a defensive scenario, shooting double action is simple and effective.

Admittedly, a revolver is slower to reload than a semi-auto, but when fully loaded, the GP100 gives you seven opportunities to solve the problem. And how many of us with semi-automatics in our nightstands put a spare magazine in a pocket when we pick up our gun in response to a bump in the darkness? Please don’t tell me you wear a spare magazine carrier to bed. I’m not saying we should surrender our semi-autos for a wheel gun in .327 Fed. Mag. However, I am saying there’s a self-defense role for the GP100 in many homes.

Given my boyhood love affair with a Ruger Single Six, it was the Blackhawk in .327 that really got my attention. For this offering, Ruger chose stainless steel and a 5 1/2inch barrel. If sales warrant, we’ll probably see it in blue and with other barrel lengths in the future.

Ruger Blackhawk

Prepare for a shock when you see the eight chambers in the Blackhawk cylinder. Other than the increased capacity, the rest of the gun is classic Blackhawk with wood grips and adjustable black sights. If you were a kid west of Rhode Island, your first centerfire handgun was probably a Ruger Blackhawk. And if you’re old enough, to this day you know that with a centerfire Blackhawk revolver within reach, you will not be someone’s prey.

I found the .327 Fed. Mag.’s performance very impressive, particularly in normal-length barrels. Federal’s 85-grain Hydra-Shoks generated right at 1,600 fps from the Blackhawk’s 5 1/2-inch barrel and just more than 1,580 fps in the GPlOO’s 4-inch barrel. At 25 yards with my wrists on a rest, groups ran slightly over 2 inches from the Blackhawk and a little more than 3 inches in the GP100. Black Hills 85-grain .32 H&R Mag. gave 1,158 fps in the Blackhawk and 990 fps in the GP100. Groups were just a little more than 2 inches in the Blackhawk and just less than 2 inches in the GP. I had only one box of Federal 100-grain jacketed soft points and wanted them for a javelina hunt, so I just tested them in the Blackhawk. Results were velocities around 1,530 fps and groups around 1 1/2 inches.

 One of my favorite hunting pastimes is chasing rabbits with handguns, and the new .327 Blackhawk looks like a perfect small-game gun (with self-defense capabilities included) for bumming about Arizona’s high country and game-rich deserts. It would also make an excellent trail gun.

 I should comment about the sights on the revolvers. Both have black front blades and black, adjustable rear sights. The only difference is the GP100 has a white line around the rear-sight notch. It’s easier to see the rear sight in dim light or against a dark target, but it’s not the rear sight at which you should be looking. For daylight hunting, I find plain black sights seem to work best. For defensive shooting, particularly up close, it’s the front sight that needs to be seen, not the rear. Both guns should be fine as equipped for hunting, unless the angle of the sun is such that the white outline catches the glare and washes out your sight picture. But that’s just my opinion, and if your vision is better than mine, you might have a different preference.

 

It will be interesting to see how the .327 Fed. Mag. fares in the marketplace. The cartridge doesn’t really do anything the .32-20 Win. or .30 Carbine won’t do in a medium- to large-size handgun. But, the .327 is a more compact cartridge and will work in a small-frame revolver. It’s also available with a greater variety of high-performance ammo than either the .32-20 Win. or .30 Carbine and will prove easier to reload than the tapered .32-20 Win. case or rimless .30 Carbine. In any case, several gun manufacturers and a large ammunition company are sinking some resources into the new caliber. The rest is up to us shooters.

 

 
 

 

 

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New Life for the .32

Shooting Illustrated

As published in “Shooting Illustrated” January 2009

Freedom Arms Model 97 and Ruger SP101
The Freedom Arms Model 97 and Ruger SP101 illustrate the .327 Fed. Mag.’s versatility for both field and self-defense applications. Look for revolvers chambered in the new cartridge from Charter Arms and Taurus soon.

To be honest, it’s a bit of a surprise to me that the .32 H & R Mag. hasn’t been discontinued

Two of the big manufacturers have stopped producing revolvers chambered for this nifty little round, and to my knowledge, only Federal and Black Hills still turn out ammo. Although I refer to it as a “nifty little round,” I would be hard-pressed justifying continued production to any major gun or ammo manufacturer based on the feedback I’ve received over the last few years.

Suffice it to say I was stunned when Federal introduced the .327 Fed. Mag. and Ruger began chambering its SP101 for this hot new miniature magnum. But I recover quickly when there’s an opportunity to try a new handgun round.

I received two revolvers for testing the cartridge. The newest gun was Ruger’s all steel, six-shot, double-action SP101 with a 3 1/16-inch barrel. It’s Ruger’s small-frame gun, but it’s a beefy little guy weighing 28 ounces with a triple-locking system to hold the cylinder securely in place and in proper alignment. It also has a heavy under-barrel lug that tapers upward just before reaching the muzzle. Rubber grips with plastic panels featuring horizontal cuts improve the shooter’s ability to control the gun when firing Federal’s high-stepping .327 jacketed hollow points.

Contrary to most of the material I’ve read over the years, I’ve always rated the trigger pull on Ruger’s double-action revolvers as being quite good. Perhaps it’s a bit heavier than some other models, but the pull weight is consistent and smooth throughout the firing process. When firing a double-action revolver in a high-stress, self-defense situ­ation, consistently smooth and heavy is bet­ter than light and erratic.

The other gun was Freedom Arms’ single-action, stainless steel, small-frame Model 97. This downsized Freedom revolver was introduced in 1997, and when cham­bered in .32 caliber was available with two cylinders, each with a capacity of six rounds. One cylinder fired the .32 H&R Mag. and the other handled the vintage .32-20 Win. When the new .327 Fed. Mag. cartridge appeared, company president Bob Baker simply cham­bered an additional six-shot cylinder that can be swapped with the other two because all three cartridges shoot the same diameter bullet. (Don’t bother trying to fire the new round in one of the other Freedom Arms cyl­inders because it won’t chamber.)

When the .32 H&R Mag. was introduced a few years back, it was viewed as a minimum-recoil, self-defense round for small revolvers. Keep in mind small revolvers were, and still are, a favorite self-defense handgun for many Americans. It’s a simple rationale: For those of us who don’t consider ourselves “operators,” the small revolver is easy to carry in a pocket, simple to use and incred­ibly reliable.

In fact, at a recent lunch with a mix of retired and active-duty cops, and gunwrit-ers, a quick tally revealed every man present was carrying a .38 Spl. J-frame Smith & Wesson in his pocket. Everyone admitted this would not be his first choice of hard­ware if he knew a fight was coming, but on that warm, August day in southern California, it was the first choice of carry when leaving home in the morning. All of these guys had either been police trainers or been through extensive self-defense training, and yet they chose the .38 Spl. rather than the .357 Mag. The idea of the .32 H&R Mag. was to offer a credible self-defense cartridge in a small revolver to smaller statured. less experienced person­nel. The .327 Fed. Mag. takes that rationale to the next level, and in terms of perfor­mance, the next level is a huge step up.

The Ruger SP101 shot about an inch to the left at 15 yards. Looking at the white-outlined rear sight mounted in the revolver’s topstrap, it was indeed a bit left. Since the sight can be adjusted for windage, moving the point of impact slightly right was not a problem. Elevation with the 85-grain jacketed-hollow-point ammo was perfect. The rear sight notch is generously wide, leaving ample light on both sides of the black, ramped front-sight blade. A sight pic­ture is easily and quickly acquired as long as there is adequate light. Firing double action offhand at a reasonably slow pace, six-shot groups at 15 yards ranged from 2 to 3 inches without too much concentration on my part.

While the .32 H&R Mag. loads were much milder than the .327 Fed. Mag. ammo, recoil was quite manageable with both car­tridges, and I had no trouble switching from the shorter .32 H&R Mag. to the longer .327 Fed. Mag. There was no need to scrub out the cylinder after shooting the shorter cases. It might be different if one were using heavily lubricated lead bullets, but with the self-defense oriented jacketed hollow points, the two cartridges were totally interchangeable in the SP101.

Bullets

The power offered by the .327 Fed. Mag. (second from right) is comparable to that of the .32-20 Win. and .30 Carbine, (both on left) outclassing the .32 H&R Mag. (right).

I was astounded when I chronographed both cartridges. I had expected an increase in velocities, but not nearly the 50 percent I measured. The 3-inch Ruger went from 968 fps with the .32 H&R Mag. to 1,400 fps with the .327 Fed. Mag. That’s a 45-percent increase in velocity shooting an 85-grain bullet from a case that’s only 1/8 inch longer. In the longer-barreled Freedom Arms Model 97, the increase was 48 percent, from 1,000 fps to 1,480 fps. No matter how you calculate energy, we’re talking about a giant improvement in performance.

Admittedly, it’s terminal bullet perfor­mance that really determines the success or failure of a small-caliber self-defense round, and I did not conduct any tests of this nature. However, I know manufactur­ers have achieved excellent results in controlling bullet construction to produce a specific effect in various target media at specified velocities.

When I called Tim Brandt at Federal, he confirmed the company has done such tests with the .327 Fed. Mag., which uses an 85-grain jacketed hollow point that is different from the bullet loaded in the .32 H&R Mag. to accommodate the higher velocity of the new cartridge. Brandt cau­tioned handloaders against trying to achieve .327 Fed. Mag. performance using bullets designed for the .32 H&R Mag. Next year, Speer will have .32-caliber Gold Dot bullets designed specifically for the .327 Fed. Mag. available for handloaders.

Meanwhile, the bare gelatin penetration tests conducted by Federal with the .327 Fed. Mag. and 85-grain bullets fired from a 3-inch barrel yielded an average pen­etration of 12.75 inches and a final diameter of .520 inch. The velocities that produced these results were right around 1,300 fps, and the retained weight of recovered bullets ran from 84 to 84.6 grains. From the same barrel length, 100-grain soft points expanded to about .55 inch, and penetrated the gelatin an average of 16.75 inches. Velocities for the heavier 100-grain bullets actually averaged about 40 fps more than the 85-grain hollow points. This is impres­sive performance for a “small bore” in a short barrel.

There is a penalty associated with the enhanced velocity of a high-performance round in short barreled handguns, as we learned when .357 Magnums were first fired in small revolvers and when Ruger introduced the .30 Carbine in its Blackhawk. They’re noisy! Be absolutely sure you are wearing adequate ear protection when fir­ing this round. And as usual, firing any round inside an enclosed space makes things worse.

One thing you might consider, particu­larly if you’ve already suffered extensive hearing loss, is to put on a pair of good elec­tronic ear muffs if you’re awakened at night and think there may be an intruder in the house. I recognize there may not be time to do this, particularly if you don’t have hear­ing protection immediately available, but there are advantages. Keep in mind that electronic hearing protection functions like a hearing aid, in that it also amplifies small sounds (like an intruder might make), which you might not otherwise hear. And if you have to fire your gun, whatever the caliber, you may be overpowered by the resulting acoustic assault on your senses. If follow-up action is necessary, you’ll be much more capable of performing if you’re not trying to recover from the overwhelming shock of your first round. If you prefer in-the-ear protection, fine, but I find it’s much easier and quicker to slip on a pair of earmuffs and switch them on.

So far the two revolvers I tested are the only ones available in .327 Fed. Mag., but I’m told Taurus and Charter Arms will both have compact double-action revolvers chambered for the round in the near future, possibly by the time you read this. I don’t know whether anyone will be making a lighter-weight, alloy-frame .327 Fed. Mag. While such a gun would be preferable for carry, the steel guns are great candidates for home defense for anyone who’s recoil sensitive. Personally, I’d love an opportunity to take the Freedom Arms .327 Fed. Mag. on a small-game hunt, but then I say that about most handguns. Meanwhile, I’m not surrendering the .45 on my nightstand, but my daughter, who has kept an older .32 H&R Mag. revolver by her bedside for the last several years, probably will be looking for an upgrade. It’s nice to have choices.

 

 

 

 

 

Ruger’s New Light, Compact Revolver

Magazine CoverPublished in “Shooting Illustrated” September 2009

Ruger Revolver

Photos by Lloyd Hill

When polymer was introduced in guns, it was a revolutionary change.  Now Ruger’s found it a home on wheelguns — in the all new LCR.

In this fast paced age of self-loading pistols and high capacity magazines, it seems I’m not the only one who believes there is a place for the compact, light-weight revolver. Rather than reviewing all the rationale for this deep-seated opinion that I have presented over the years, I’ll simply state one overwhelmingly simple argument: Ruger just went into production on exactly this type of handgun.

The company calls it the LCR, and the small revolver is an interesting blend of features and materials from the world of handguns that I don’t recall seeing on a snub-nosed “pocket pistol” before. First, the grip frame, which Ruger literature refers to as the fire control system housing, is made of a modern polymer. More accurately it’s a long-fiber, glass-filled polymer that the press release says helps reduce recoil. I suspect the slightly oversized rubber Hogue grips contribute equally to the reduction in felt recoil, but the end result that all of the +P ammo tested was quite comfortable to shoot over the course of several cylinders. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The frame is made of 7000 series aluminum forging, as are parts of aircraft, and has a black, hard coating developed by Ruger. The aluminum provides rigid support for the barrel and cylinder and lighter overall weight for comfort in concealed carry, while the special coating contributes protection from the elements and handling abuse. The cylinder is made of 400 series stainless steel to contain the pressures of 38 Special +P loads, features a target grey finish, and has an unusual configuration. The rear third of the cylinder that houses the locking latch cuts is full diameter while the front two thirds has long, sweeping flutes like the Colt Model 1862 Police black powder pistol. Despite being separated by a century and a half in time, both guns are 5 shot revolvers. Perhaps irrelevant, but really cool!

The trigger

The author found the trigger pull extremely smooth, thanks to Ruger's "friction-reducing cam fire control system."

Want some more high tech, super modern material in your snubbie? The LCR has some titanium components in the cylinder’s front latching system and what Ruger refers to as an “optimized spring tension” design and an “enhanced lockup geometry.” All three of these should contribute to an extended life digesting +P ammo with minimal wear of gun parts. The trigger pull on the little revolver is as smooth and consistent as I’ve seen on an unmodified factory snub nose. Ruger credits this to a “friction-reducing cam fire control system that results in a non-sticking, smooth trigger pull” on the DAO trigger. I would simply say the trigger is superb!

I mentioned the Hogue rubber grips that seemed larger than on other short barrel revolvers I’ve tried. Although only long enough to allow gripping by the two middle fingers on the shooting hand, they seem slightly wider and softer than normal thus helping reduce felt recoil generated in the 13.5 ounce revolver. In fact, the grips may be a bit too large for someone with very small hands. No problem. The grip frame of the new Ruger is a narrow “stump” that allows grips of any shape since there is no fixed front or back strap. The rubber (or other material) grips may be any shape you prefer because they are attached to the frame by one screw located in the bottom of the frame’s stump. Another clever design feature, particularly in a small gun like the LCR.

The Ruger’s sights are almost typical for a snub nose revolver in that they consist of a fixed front ramp and square notch rear. The “almost” is because the ramp front

Front Site

The front sight is serrated at its back to reduce glare and can be replaced with aftermarket versions. The U-notch rear sight is cut into the aluminum frame, but to minimize the chances of deformation it's pro­tected by a polymer shell.

 sight is replaceable held in place by a pin. Want to try something else, go for it. There’s no need to try welding something on the aluminum frame surrounding the steel barrel. Also, the rear notch width is cut into the aluminum frame, not the polymer grip frame. The aluminum edges of the rear notch are protected by the polymer frame, so they won’t be subject to deformation by any bumps or drops. Both front and rear blade and notch are wide giving ample visibility and a good sight picture in bright light. In daylight, against a lightly colored target, sight picture was easily acquired and crystal clear. Under dwindling light, or against a dark target, you might consider other options. The large X-S dot sight system is highly visible and quite popular on guns meant for self-defense. Additionally, I believe Ruger is offering guns with the Crimson Trace laser grips, or you can simply contact Laser Grips to order a set of these grips after acquiring your LCR. Suggested retail for standard LCR is $525, whereas the laser grips take the gun’s price to $792.

I made two trips to Gunsite while working with the new Ruger. The LCR I used was the standard model with factory sights. I actually ran the little gun through part of the Close Quarters Pistol class, a new event that deals with the real world possibilities of people who want to do you harm and are willing to do anything to insure you’re unable to shoot them. (More on this class in a later issue.) Besides me, a number of shooters had a chance to try the little revolver using various loads from Hornady’s new 110 grain FTX Critical Defense 38 Special +P ammo up through 158 grain lead bullet handloads. Absolutely no one had the slightest problem with felt recoil. Everyone who had fired revolvers before were impressed with the trigger pull. A couple of shooters who had never fired anything except semi-autos were surprised at the length (but not particularly the weight) of the double action trigger pull. My impromptu test group included one senior Gunsite Range Master who is a retired police officer and has carried a two-inch revolver most of his adult life. Shooting outdoors on the square ranges in daylight, all shooters felt the sights were fine. Head shots at typical self defense ranges out to 10 yards were easily made. Beyond 10 yards, individual shooting skills became a major factor. I followed friend and fellow scribe Rich Grassi as he took the LCR through Gunsite’s Scrambler, a course where one engaged steel targets from Pepper popper size up through The Incredible Hulk, and fromRear Site ranges of 50 to 80 yards. Out of 8 targets engaged, only one escaped serious harm from a cylinder full of ammo, and most were hit on either the first or second shot. This is not something any shooter could do, but then it’s not something just any 2” revolver could do either. In the mano a mano drill which involves whacking two steel round plates, performing a reload, and then knocking down a split popper, Rich did not win based on the clock, but neither did he leave any targets standing, and he had to go back for a second hit on one of the plates before it fell.

I didn’t have any belt holsters for a 2” revolver, but I did have 3 pocket holsters since that is my preferred CCW technique. The leather Mitch Rosen that is form fitted for my Model 442 would not accommodate the Ruger, but the rigid Safariland and collapsible Uncle Mikes both fit. I used the rigid Safariland because being able to re-holster smoothly and efficiently (meaning with one hand and without looking) is a part of the Gunsite methodology. Even starting with my shooting hand in the pocket, I wasn’t making desired times for putting rounds on target. But I did go through the drills a few times and my targets were pretty good even if my speed wasn’t. Finally the instructors allowed me to start the drills with gun in hand in the low guard position under the supposition that I had been alert enough to read the scenario and get prepared. I got a lot faster after that and, except for the reloads, I was no longer the “cog in the wheel” that held up the class.

Reloads are worth a comment since they are perhaps the biggest weakness in using a revolver for self defense. While it would be nice to drape a pair of Pancho Villa style cartridge bandoliers over your shoulders, consider that this might suggest to others that you are carrying a firearm, thus defeating the “concealed” portion of your CCW agreement. On the other hand, finding loose cartridges in your pockets and loading them one at a time makes for a long period of vulnerability in a gunfight. I tried two “speed” techniques at Gunsite both of which worked pretty well. The HKS speedloaders have been around for quite a while including models for 5-shot revolvers. These lock 5 rounds in a circle, and when all five rounds are partially inserted into the cylinder, a quick rotation on the knob allows all 5 to drop fully into their respective chambers. You’ll gain speed on the actual reload with a little practice, and finding the speedloader in your pocket is much faster and easier than finding 5 individual rounds. I also tried the Tuff QuickStrips, a rubber strip that holds 6 cartridges in line. When you’ve dumped the empties from your 38, insert 1 or 2 cartridges at a time partially into the cylinder and then peel the strip away from the rims allowing both rounds to drop into their respective chambers. Repeat until all chambers are loaded. This isn’t as fast a reload as the HKS, but the flat strips hold all the cartridges needed for a reload, carry flatter in your pockets than the round HKS, and can be found as fast as the HKS speedloader. The speed strips also allow you to “top off” the gun by reloading a single round or two as opposed to running the gun dry to replace all 5 rounds. Having an extra round in the strip could prove useful and takes up no real additional space in your pocket. Both QuickStrips and HKS speedloaders are good systems. Selection of one over the other may be based more upon how bulky your clothing is rather than a slight increase in reloading speed.

At first glance the LCR may appear a bit odd due to things like the joining line between the polymer grip housing and the aluminum frame, and the different cylinder shape and finish. Not to worry. I’m almost certain you’ll warm to the gun’s appearance over time. But to speed up the love process, take the LCR out for a shooting session. Once you’ve reacquainted yourself with the Ruger concept of rugged guns at good guy prices, I’m certain romance will blossom quickly.

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.

 

Portable .44 Magnums

 

Published in “Shooting Illustrated” June 2007

Buffalo Bore

Buffalo Bore's 340-grain +P+ . 44 Magnum loads have an overall cartridge length of 1.752 inches, but they pose no problem for the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan's cylinder. The Hogue Tamer Monogrip completely surrounds the grip frame in soft rubber, which makes shooting even these powerhouse loads in the 2 1/2-inch snubbie bearable.

In the shooting world, “magnum” means a cartridge or firearm larger than nor­mal in size, performance or both. When Smith & Wesson introduced the .44 Magnum in the mid-’50s, the company housed the cartridge in its existing N-frame revolver. While the round’s performance exceeded that of existing handgun cartridges, the gun’s size was neither unmanageable nor intimidating—until you fired it for the first time. Ruger’s original .44 Magnum was a bulked-up Flattop single-action revolver. The frame size was slightly larger than we were accustomed to, but the grip remained rather small. This seemed like a good idea—again until you touched off your first full-power round.

Over the years, Smith & Wesson made some internal and external changes in its .44 Magnum handguns but has continued to chamber the cartridge in the double-action N-frame revolver. Shortly after its introduction, Ruger dropped the Flattop .44 Magnum (until its reintroduction as a commemorative edition in 2005) and began producing some larger-framed .44 Magnum revolvers, in both single- and double-action versions. We were offered two single actions, the Super Blackhawk and the Bis-ley, and two double actions, the Redhawk and Super Redhawk.
The frame sizes on these Rugers were larger than on the original Flattop, and barrel lengths were either longer or compa­rable to earlier guns. The idea was to make the new revolvers more durable to handle a continuous diet of full-house magnum loads, and to make them more controllable and comfortable when fired by less-experi­enced handgunners. An additional benefit was the increased cylinder length allowed the use of heavier, longer bullets for large, dangerous game.
There’s been a slight reversal of the trend lately. Downsized options are now available for those who want a big-bore handgun for self-defense rather than hunting. Ruger is offering both its Redhawk and Super Red­hawk with shorter barrels that make them easier to carry. This is not an attempt to produce a .44 Magnum that would compete with handguns designed for concealed carry, although both guns, particularly the stubby Super Redhawk Alaskan, can be easily covered by a jacket should the user venture from wilderness to civilization. And the .44 Magnum is certainly an ade­quate, if slightly overpowered, cartridge for self-defense. Ruger’s real target audi­ence is the backpacker or woods wanderer who might venture into country inhabited by predators larger and tougher than man, and who understand that dialing 911 is a useless gesture.
Some similarities between the Redhawk and Super Redhawk are apparent. Their cylinders are the same, but the Super Redhawk’s frame extends 1 3/4 inches far­ther forward than the Redhawk’s. The breech end of the Super Redhawk’s barrel has a couple extra inches of frame wrapped around it, which makes it look much beef­ier when viewed from the business end. Both guns have adjustable rear sights with a white outline surrounding the notch. Front sights are black, ramped blades, but the Super Redhawk’s is all black, while the Redhawk’s has a red insert. The Redhawk’s front blade is pinned through the integral barrel rib, but the Super Redhawk’s blade is silver-soldered into a slot in the top of the frame. Normally the Redhawk is equipped with either a 5 1/2 or 7 1/2 inch barrel, and the Super Redhawk features a 7 1/2 or 9-inch barrel. The new Redhawk has a 4-inch barrel, while the Super Redhawk’s barrel has been cut to 27; inches, or flush with the front edge of the extended frame. I’ve always thought the standard Super Red­hawk looked ugly with its barrel sticking out of the stretched frame, but the snub-nose Alaskan is built like a small Abrams tank and is almost as impressive.
Comparison of Barrels

The muzzle of the Alaskan (left) is flush with the front of the distinctive, extended frame that characterizes the Super Redhawk. Despite the short barrel, alt that metal in the frame gives the little thumper a weight of 41 ounces.

Grips are considerably different on the two guns, mainly because their grip frames are not the same. The Redhawk grip frame looks like we expect a grip frame to look—the frontstrap and backstrap deter­mine the final size and shape of the han­dle. In contrast, the Super Redhawk has an undersized “stub” handle that allows the use of whatever size and shape grip you like. Hogue finger-groove grips are on both guns, but the grips on the Alaskan surround the back of the grip frame and provide a cushioning effect between gun and hand when fired. There is also a softer piece of blue rubber inside the top of the grip that cushions the web of the shoot­ing hand from the classic “thump of the hump” administered by the recoil of heavy loads in a double-action revolver. The Red­hawk’s grips expose the steel backstrap but generously fill the space between frontstrap and trigger guard. They also extend below the grip frame providing a comfortable resting place for the last fin­ger of the shooting hand. I didn’t find the felt recoil of either gun objectionable, but the Super Redhawk was more comfortable when hot loads with bullets weighing 300 grains or more were fired. If you have very large hands, you might prefer the larger grips of the Redhawk.
Shooting the compact .44 Magnums from Ruger was fun, but I need to be clear about limitations. For me, a 4-inch barrel is about the minimum length I can hunt with using an iron-sighted belt gun, and I prefer 5 or even 6 inches. Besides the issue of sight radius, my eyes just aren’t what they used to be. Given that, I would be comfort­able hunting with the 4-inch Redhawk at ranges up to about 50 yards, but only if I’m wearing some sort of shooting glasses with corrective lenses. It’s much easier for me to hunt with a scoped pistol, and in fact that’s now mandatory for me during the low-light conditions of early morning or late afternoon.
Ruger .44 Magnum

The packing ability of a 4-inch barrel meets the versatility of the .44 Magnum in Ruger's latest addition to the Redhawk family. With a beefy frame and an elongated cylinder, the revolver can handle a variety of ammunition for hunting or defending against large and dangerous game, including Buffalo Bore's 340-grain cast +P+ stomper and Cor-Bon's 225-grain DPX load.

However, I became infatuated with the short-barreled Alaskan. I liked almost everything about it, including its smaller grips, minimal felt recoil, handy length and remarkably smooth double-action trigger. And while I would rate it as an excellent defensive big-bore revolver, I wouldn’t take it hunting as my primary handgun. Firing at a 40-yard target, I could not keep all my shots in the black. I could pretty well keep them on the paper, within a 9-inch circle, shooting offhand, but I felt I was just barely on the ragged edge of acceptable marksmanship. Restricting my effective hunting range to less than 40 yards isn’t something I would want to do. That said, the Alaskan would be my first choice for a carry gun if I were fishing or just hiking through bear country, like maybe Alaska. The .44 Magnum with heavier bullets is a major defensive load against big critters, and I felt absolutely confident in my abil­ity to use the little Super Redhawk at close range with no concern for the recoil gener­ated by the more powerful loads. Carried on the belt in a lightweight nylon holster, this stainless steel powerhouse would be the perfect companion for an extended foray in fair weather or foul.
I would, however, make one modifica­tion to the Alaskan. With .44-caliber bul­lets ranging from 240 to 300-plus grains, I used up much of the rear sight’s eleva­tion adjustment capability at the 40-yard range. When the gun was on, the rear sight assembly rode quite high in its notch in the topstrap. There was no danger of the elevation adjustment screw popping out of the sight assembly since there were at least another three revolutions avail­able before the threads disengaged. When the screw was that far out, though, the tension applied to the assembly by the two coil springs was not consistent, and the sight moved so easily that it did not seem like precise adjustments were either achievable or maintainable. It’s not that big a deal considering the ranges at which the gun would most likely be used, plus a fix is incredibly simple. I would have a competent smithy file a little off the top of the front blade so the rear sight doesn’t have to be dramatically elevated to prop­erly sight-in the gun.
Fact is, both revolvers would make excellent trail guns. The Redhawk’s extra 1 1/2 inches of barrel gave me some addi­tional range, while the Alaskan’s shorter barrel and smaller grips made it more com­fortable and portable. With both Rugers chambered in .44 Magnum, the odds are you can find ammo almost anywhere. You may still have to let Brother Bruin have your salmon, but with either of these guns on your hip, your retreat will be much more orderly and confident.

Big Game Basics

 

Pulblished in “Shooting Illstrated” April 2007

O ne of the hazards associated with describing anything as “basic” is the preconceived notion that it implies marginal suitability or even sub­standard quality. Very few of us ask a real­tor to simply show us a basic house or tell a car salesman we want only a basic car. But many of the basic handguns on today’s market are exceptional products. Just look at the expensive custom guns you and your buddies own. Under all of those spe­cial touches there probably lies a Ruger or Smith & Wesson, or perhaps even a Freedom Arms revolver. Once we buy a gun, we tend to accessorize to suit our tastes or tailor the gun to more closely match our needs. Let’s establish some parameters and look at a few of the superb basic handguns avail­able today that are more than adequate for big-game hunting.

In its basic form right from the Ruger factory, the Super Blackhawk in .44 Magnum is a solid handgun for big-game hunting. The author prefers the version with a 5’/2-ineh barrel, because it offers the best com­promise of velocity, portability and handling characteristics that moke accurate bullet placement easier.
Perhaps a good starting point is decid­ing which cartridges are suitable for big game. I know the .357 Magnum has taken big game, such as deer and feral hogs, and while I’ve used this caliber myself on both species, the animals’ deaths weren’t nearly as quick and humane as they should have been. In my opinion, big-game calibers start with the number “4,” and if neces­sary, I could spend the rest of my days happily hunting with the basic .41 and .44 Magnums. Using proper bullets, I’m not sure any animal could tell the difference between hits with the .41 Magnum versus the .44 Magnum. An advantage for the .44 is the incredible availability of ammuni­tion, even in small-town general stores and hunting locations overseas. The .44 is also available with heavier bullets, although these more specialized loads may not be found just anywhere. The .41 dishes out a tad less recoil, partly because it usually shoots lighter bullets and partly because there’s a bit more weight to the gun. Stan­dard bullets for the .41 Magnum are 210 grains, while the classic .44 Magnum load is 240 grains. With heavy, cast bullets, .41 Magnum loads feature slugs up around 265 grains and the .44 Magnum tops 300 grains. Stuffed with these heavyweights, both calibers provide great penetration.
To me, a basic big-game handgun has iron sights and is carried in a belt holster. I also believe a basic handgun is one I can effec­tively shoot offhand if necessary. I’ll take a rest whenever one is available, but I’m not passing up a reasonable standing shot if one is presented, and I can shoot iron sights much better offhand than any gun with a scope. My preference is for barrels from 4 3/4 to 6 inches in length, but I recognize one could make an argument for anything from 4 to 7 1/2 inches. I would have stipulated 5 to 6 inches, except the Ruger and Freedom Arms single actions have barrels that extend just to the end of the ejector housing. Per­haps my tighter tolerances are a function of advancing age, but it seems I can stretch my effective shooting range a bit using a 5-inch barrel rather than a 4-inch one. I’m certainly more comfortable with the sight picture offered by factory sights on a lon­ger barrel. On the upper end, a 6-inch barrel in a belt holster still makes it easy for me to take a seat while still-hunting without jamming the muzzle into the dirt. Access and comfort in a four-wheel drive, ATV or on a horse is greatly enhanced with a short holster, and as I get older, I spend more time letting something else do the walking.
Gun selection for the .41 Magnum is a bit more limited than for the .44 Magnum, which is not to say it is terribly restricted. Ruger offers the eternal Blackhawk in two barrel lengths. The short barrel touches my lower boundary of 4 3/4 inches, and while the other just misses my upper limit with its 61/2-inch tube, I’ll grant this gun a waiver. Both are six-shooters that represent excep­tional guns for the money and will still be running when your grandkids inherit them. For me, the short barrel packs more comfortably, while the extended sight radius of the longer barrel makes it easier to shoot. Velocity difference between the two barrel lengths shouldn’t be a concern, or you would be looking for a more special­ized hunting handgun.
Freedom Arms offers the .41 Magnum in two different frame sizes, and there are differences in the capabilities of the two guns. Both are single-action five-shoot­ers. The Model 83 in .41 Magnum has the same large frame and exacting tolerances as the company’s .454 Casull version, which means you can maximize the .41’s perfor­mance beyond other guns. Barrel lengths include both 4 3/4 and 6 inches, as well as shorter and longer tubes beyond my defi­nition of basic, The cylinder and frame of the Model 97 are not sized to accommodate long, heavy bullets, but the smaller gun is a joy to carry and is quite manageable with standard factory loads of 210-grain jacketed hollow points. While the Model 97 may lack the size of its big brother, manu­facturing tolerances are just as tight and ensure maximum accuracy.
Smith & Wesson offers some excellent double-action .41 Magnum revolvers that, although just outside my barrel-length parameters, may be perfect for you. There is a scandium framed 4-inch model that is as light as you’ll find in a .41 Magnum, and it’s called, oddly enough, the Model 357.

While the .44 Magnum (right) Is widely popular □mong handgunners pursuing big game, the .41 Magnum deserves credit for being an effec­tive cartridge as well. However, hunters traveling far from home should keep in mind that .44 Magnum ammunition is generally easier to find in local gunshops.

 The classic Model 57 has returned with a 4-inch barrel and blued finish. It’s the same size as the Model 357, but with its steel frame and classic adjustable sights, it’s more comfortable to shoot.

I would guess no hunting handgun is more common than the .44 Magnum, and the number of guns chambered for this caliber reflects its popularity. Freedom Arms doesn’t chamber the Model 97 in .44 Magnum, but it does offer the Model 83 in .44 Magnum with the same barrel lengths as the .41 Magnum. The Model 83 digests the heaviest factory loads with aplomb, and I’ve never seen a Freedom Arms revolver shoot loose from firing large quantities of full-power ammo. Ruger makes both single- and double-action revolvers in
.44 Magnum. The single actions are built on the Super Blackhawk frame, which is slightly larger than the Blackhawk and features the distinctive, flattened hammer spur. One of my favorites is the elegantly simple Super Blackhawk with 5 1/2-inch bar­rel, and if I ever get into that “one gun for survival” argument, this would be a candi­date. The incredibly strong, stainless steel Ruger Redhawk has been available over the years in a 5 1/2-inch barrel, and while the gun will digest any load, I have trouble managing the recoil with the small, wooden grip panels standard on the gun. Stepping up to Pachmayr rubber grips helps, but the overall grip becomes a bit large for my hand. But this revolver, and the new .44 Magnum Redhawk with a 4-inch barrel, are definitely worth considering.
Smith & Wesson continues its love affair with the .44 Magnum offering its N-frame revolvers in barrel lengths from 4 to 8 3/8inches. The 5- and 6-inch .44 Magnums meet all my criteria. In fact, the 5-inch Model 625 and Model 629 Classic would be my other candidates for the “one gun” argument. The 5-inch barrel offers a crisp, clean sight picture and superb bal­ance for offhand shooting. Their double-action triggers and, to a lesser degree, faster reloading capability may not be factors in hunting, but shooters who have mastered the double-action technique might prefer these guns. For the old-and-slow cadre of shooters like me, I’ll simply say their single-action trigger pulls can’t be beat for precision shooting.
I haven’t mentioned Taurus revolvers simply because I haven’t hunted with any of the company’s .41 or .44 Magnums, but I have hunted with a Raging Bull double-action revolver chambered in .480 Ruger and loved it. I’ve also shot two titanium Tracker revolvers in .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum, and have high praise for both. Their light weight, crisp, black sights, soft rubber grips and factory porting systems make them excellent candidates for a big-bore belt gun. However, I didn’t shoot them as well offhand as some of the other candi­dates, and that’s a big factor with me.
Finally, let me emphasize again how important it is to practice shooting off­hand. Besides the obvious fact that you may miss an opportunity trying to find a rest when one isn’t available, you will be pleased with the increased shooting skills and confidence that comes with your grow­ing ability to stand on your hind legs and shoot like a man.