A Trio To Enjoy!
For nearly 60 years now Ruger has been building exceptionally strong, virtually unbreakable sixguns at relatively reasonable prices. From the beginning in 1953 with the .22 Single-Six, all of these revolvers have been crafted of steel, or in the case of the single actions, with aluminum alloy grip frames and with some models aluminum alloy ejector rod housings. Two notable exceptions have been the short lived Lightweight Single-Sixes and a relatively new polymer framed LCR .38 Special. In the years prior to WWII the Colt Single Action was often used for customized sixguns. Beginning around 1970 sixgunners and sixgunsmiths began looking at the Ruger lineup, beginning first with the Blackhawk and then the Redhawk and Super Redhawk.
Ruger sixguns, out-of-the-box, will virtually give a lifetime of service and satisfactory performance. However, sixgunners often want more and the Ruger is an excellent platform, and has not only been used for custom editions of long standard calibers such as the .44 Special, the legendary .45 Colt, but also the Winchester Centerfires, .32, .38 and .44 WCFs. A most popular modification is a five-shot cylinder in Blackhawks or Redhawks for Heavy .45 Colt and the .475 and .500 Linebaughs. The advent of the Bisley Model in the mid-1980s gave us a grip frame which went a long way to reducing felt recoil in these heavier cartridges. Without the Bisley grip frame it would be very difficult to handle anything heavy in a single action, especially above .44 Magnum performance. Let’s look at some very pleasant shooting custom Ruger sixguns built by some of the top sixgunsmiths today.
In 1955 Ruger’s first centerfire single action emerged and it was a dandy! If ever a single action sixgun was built for rugged outdoor use this was it. Ruger enlarged the size of their .22 Single-Six to Colt Single Action size, flat-topped the frame, added adjustable sights and for $87.50 offered a virtually custom single action which would have cost hundreds of dollars more performed on a basic Colt by a custom sixgunsmith. The chambering chosen was the most powerful available at the time, the .357 Magnum. The idea was to start with the Magnum first and then follow with the .44 Special. That may have been the plan, however in the closing days of December 1955, Smith & Wesson introduced the .44 Magnum. Instead of chambering the original Blackhawk to .44 Special, Ruger enlarged the frame and cylinder and in 1956 the .44 Magnum Flat-Top Blackhawk emerged and the .44 Special version was lost perhaps forever.
In the 1970s it was Skeeter Skelton who basically resurrected the .44 Special, chambering it in a Ruger .357 Magnum Three-Screw. That started a whole long line of sixgunsmiths offering the same basic package. In 2005, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of that first Blackhawk, Ruger re-introduced the Flat-Top. It was the same size as the original with two major differences. The action was now the New Model transfer bar version making it safe to carry six rounds, and the grip frame was all steel instead of aluminum alloy. Now sixgunners and sixgunsmiths had a new platform for building a .44 Special.
Target front blade sight as furnished by Jack Huntington.
Target Model Ruger .44 Special by Jack Huntington with spalted maple grips by Cary Chapman.
Targets shot with the Jack Huntington .44 Special Target Model Ruger.
The talents of Jack Huntington have been featured by Handgunner several times in the past. Jack specializes in custom Rugers, including those chambered in cartridges of his own design. Shortly after the 50th Anniversary .357 Flat-Top arrived I talked to Jack about doing a custom sixgun. I learned long ago good things happen when you turn sixgunsmiths loose, as they certainly know more about building great guns than I do. A 50th Anniversary .357 was sent off to Jack with only one stipulation. He could do anything he wanted to except change the shape of the grip frame. Just as the original Flat-Top, this grip frame is identical to the Colt Single Action, making it extremely comfortable for shooting 250 grain bullet up to 1,000 fps velocity.
Almost every sixgunsmith builds a custom .44 Special Ruger as a Perfect Packin’ Pistol; Jack took a different direction. The Ruger cylinder was converted to .44 Special, the action was totally tuned and tightened, so far nothing unusual. However, instead of a standard 4-5/8″, 5-1/2″, or 7-1/2″ barrel Jack instead chose a 6-1/2″ length and in heavy barrel persuasion. The front sight, instead of the usual ramp style easy in-and-out of the holster version, Jack fitted a square post on the base. This may very well be a one of a kind Target Model Ruger .44 Special. Normally I would choose one of the standard barrel lengths over the 6-1/2″ version and I always wondered why Bill Ruger went with this in his original .357 and .44 Magnum Blackhawks as well as the .22 Single-Six and the .41 Magnum, but then did not use it with the .45 Colt or .30 Carbine, and only very rarely with the Super Blackhawk.
I said I normally would not choose this barrel length, which is basically better suited to double action sixguns, however by using a heavy barrel and real target sights Jack has given me an excellent shooting sixgun that balances perfectly for target shooting. That heavy barrel just seems to hang right for offhand shooting and with the proper holster design, such as a pancake or shoulder holster which prevents the front sight from digging into the leather, can also certainly be used for hunting.
So how well does this “Target Model” shoot? With the RCBS #44-250KT bullet cast of wheelweights loaded over 18.0 gr. of #4227, muzzle velocity is 1,065 fps and groups five shots into less than 1″ at 20 yards. Several other loads are not that far behind this one. This is definitely an easy shooting and accurate Target pistol.
The Ben Forkin New Model .44 Special is safe for carry with six rounds.
Ruger’s checkered rosewood grips match up nicely with the case
hardened frame of the Ben Forkin .44 Special.
Targets shot with the Ben Forkin 7-1/2″ .44 Special Ruger with Colt New Frontier barrel.
By 2005 we had three Ruger .357 Magnum Blackhawk Models suitable for converting to .44 Special, the original Flat-Top of 1955, the “improved” Three Screw Old Model of 1962, and now the Anniversary Model. However, things were about to change dramatically, making the acquisition of .44 Special Rugers much simpler. In 2008 Lipsey’s offered a special run of Rugers based on the Anniversary Model .357, however these were chambered in .44 Special and offered in both 4-5/8″ and 5-1/2″ barrel lengths. One year later Ruger made this a standard catalog offering.
All of these new .44 Specials are, of course, built with the standard Ruger New Model action making them safer and also able to be carried fully loaded with six rounds. With their steel grip frame they are also heavier than those versions built on the Flat-Top or Three-Screw .357 Magnums. This may make them slightly more uncomfortable to pack but this is more than made up in the reduction of felt recoil when shooting heavier .44 Special loads.
One of the new Ruger .44 Specials was sent off to Ben Forkin to convert to something special. Ben has done several sixguns for me in the past and is definitely one of the top ranking gunsmiths in the country. This special-Special is unique in that I sent along a 7-1/2″ Colt New Frontier .44 Special barrel to be used in the project. Third Generation Colt barrels have the same thread pattern as Rugers so they can be easily fitted. Colt has just recently announced the return of the New Frontier, however this was to be my idea of a resurrected New Frontier on the Ruger platform.
Ben installed the 7-1/2″ Colt New Frontier barrel, totally tuned and tightened the action, and then to make it really special sent it to Turnbull to case harden the frame and hammer. All of these Ruger .44 Specials come with checkered polymer/plastic/rubber black eagle grips, however I wanted something a bit more special. From time to time Ruger offers rosewood aftermarket grips made by Hogue and I caught a pair of checkered black eagles with color that mates perfectly with the blued/case hardened Ruger New Frontier. With Skeeter’s old standard load (which he got from Elmer Keith) of 7.5 gr. of Unique under the NEI 260 gr. Keith cast bullet, muzzle velocity is 1,050 fps and groups five shots into 1″ at 20 yards; another excellent shooting .44 Special.
Custom SP101 by Glen Kyser compared to a standard SP101.
Targets shot with the Glen Kyser custom .22 Ruger SP101.
Glen Kyser custom 9-1/2” .22 GP101 compared to Ruger’s 9-1/2″ .22 Single-Six.
Glen Kyser’s “Miniature .22 Super Redhawk.”
Glen Kyser fitted an S&W rear sight to the custom SP101.
Barrel of the SP101 was contoured by Glen Kyser to mimic the Super Redhawk.
And now for something totally different. Before Shapel’s Gun Shop closed and Glen Kyser moved to Alabama to be closer to his family, he was my local resident gunsmith. I was pretty much convinced Glen could do just about anything, especially after he built a cylinder stop for an old Colt Model 1878 .45 my wife bought at an auction in Montana, built a new hammer for a High Standard HD Military .22, and welded up and re-cut the top latch on a Smith & Wesson .44 Russian.
The other sixgunsmiths spotlighted worked on big bore single actions; Glen looked to a .22 double action. Starting with an SP101, Glen set out to build a miniature Super Redhawk. The action was totally tuned, a new adjustable S&W rear sight fitted, and a 9-1/2″ barrel built. The front of the frame of the SP101 was altered to follow the same basic contours as the Super Redhawk. Everything, of course, was superbly fitted and the action tuned and tightened. The results prove the worth of such a project. Shooting at 20 yards five shot groups right at 1″ were obtained with CCI Mini-Mag +V, Federal HP, Remington Yellow Jackets, Remington Golden Bullet HP and Winchester S-X HV .22 loads. CCI Blazer, which is probably my most used .22 load, clocks out at 1,100 fps and puts five shots into 1″ — I can’t shoot this well!
Buy a Ruger and have a sixgun which will last a lifetime. You also will have a good basis for a one-of-a-kind custom.
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