A Rifle-Round Ruger Blackhawk?

By John Taffin

When the United States military adopted the .223 as its standard cartridge, thousands upon thousands of rounds of .30 Carbine surplus ammo were offered to the public. Ruger saw a good opportunity and from 1968 to 1972, a total of 32,985 Blackhawks chambered in .30 Carbine were manufactured. It was offered exclusively with a 71/2 ” barrel.

Those produced in the first year, 1968, had normal serial numbers running from 1 to 9321. I’ve been fortunate over the ensuing years to find two of these 71/2 ” .30 Carbine Blackhawks in this serial number range. Beginning in 1969, Ruger went with a prefix style of serial number beginning at 50-0000; these ended in 1973 at 50-23681. This year marks the end of all Three-Screw/Old Model Blackhawks and the advent of the New Model Blackhawks with two pins replacing the three screws and the addition of a transfer bar.

For the first time, traditional single actions were now safe to carry fully loaded with six rounds. Any single action, including the Ruger Single-Sixes and Blackhawks manufactured from 1953 through 1972, all must be carried only with the hammer down on an empty chamber. This of course includes the .30 Carbine Blackhawk.

Taffin accidentally found this classic Ruger .30 Carbine Blackhawk for sale and
pounced on it. Note the now long-gone yellow box.

You Have What?

Today we’re virtually buried in all kinds of new firearms be they rifles, shotguns, sixguns or semi-auto pistols. However, it is not often we find a 50-year-old sixgun in new condition in the box. For more years than I wish to count I’ve been wanting to get a .30 M1 Carbine. It was the first centerfire rifle I ever fired back in 1956 and I expected someday to actually find one.

About a month ago I found something on Gary Reeder’s forum. Gary is a well-known custom gunsmith offering all kinds of exotic cartridges as well as other custom work. A sporterized M1 Carbine with a Mannlicher stock showed up for sale. It appeared I was the first one to see it and I immediately called Gary and told him I wanted the .30 Carbine. “Which one?” he asked. I had been in such a hurry I didn’t even look at the whole posting, and he told me there was another .30 Carbine there — a like-new in the box Ruger .30 Carbine Blackhawk. I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t go back and look. I simply told him I would take both of them. I was not about to miss out.

The .30 Carbine cartridge itself was a product of World War II. It was chambered in a lightweight semi-automatic rifle and designed to be used by support troops mainly to replace the .45 Government Model which many found hard to control and shoot accurately.

While gun companies had tried in the 1950s to build .30 Carbine pistols — Smith & Wesson built at least one prototype .30 Carbine double-action sixgun — it remained for Bill Ruger to bring out the first successful .30 Carbine sixgun. It was reported the Ruger engineers found the 7.5″ barrel to be ballistically efficient and they never deviated from this length. With this barrel length the weight of the wheelgun is approximately 44 ounces, making the .30 Carbine Blackhawk exceptionally pleasant to shoot. Life is full of trade-offs however, and the trade-off with the .30 Carbine in a revolver is earsplitting noise. This cartridge definitely requires ear protection, good quality ear protection.

All Old Model Ruger Blackhawks, including the .30 Carbine, are safe to carry only with five
rounds and a hammer down on an empty chamber.

The .30 Carbine (far right) is a great smallbore round shown here next to the.32-20,
.32 Long, .32 Magnum and .327 Magnum (from left to right).

My Treasure

This Blackhawk’s nothing fancy or out of the ordinary. It has the solid blue finish found on Ruger Blackhawks of that time, the metal-to-metal finish is excellent, and the walnut grips with black eagle medallions are nicely fitted to the frame and also shaped to fit the hand well. Most of my new production guns are matter-of-factly fitted with custom grips, however I have no problem living with these 50-year-old factory grips.

The cylinder in this .30 Carbine Blackhawk is tightly fitted with no side-to-side movement or end shake and the cylinder pin, as on all .30 Carbine Blackhawks, is of the longer style found on the Super Blackhawk. This makes it relatively easy to remove compared to the short stubby pins found on the original Blackhawks. The barrel/cylinder gap is virtually nonexistent. I noticed this early without measuring when I fired the same loads in this .30 Carbine Blackhawk as my two first-year production versions. Muzzle velocity averaged 7 percent to 9.5 percent higher with this one compared to the other two .30 Rugers.

Collectors do not find much variation among the almost 33,000 Old Model .30 Carbine Ruger Blackhawks produced. A very few were fitted with Super Blackhawk grip frames and an even smaller number received brass Super Blackhawk grip frames. This Ruger, originally cataloged as BKH31, is standard in every way and originally sold for $87.50.

Reloading for the .30 Carbine is a little different than standard sixgun cartridges. Since it is a rimless cartridge, it must headspace on the front of the case mouth in the Ruger cylinder. This means no traditional crimp on the bullet, which can be a problem in a revolver. In this case, recoil is not enough to cause a bullet in the remaining cases to go forward. But, the crimp is usually necessary to get the powder burning properly. Part of the answer to the latter problem is a tapered crimp die. It is also necessary for the best accuracy. Regardless, .30 Carbine loads in a revolver normally exhibit more extreme spreads in muzzle velocity than sixgun cartridges which can be crimped properly. This also holds true when factory .30 Carbine loads are fired through the Ruger Blackhawk .30 Carbine.

The .30 Carbine Blackhawk turned out to be a pretty good shooter, recoil was practically non-existent.

An Old West Sibling?

Other than the necessity of the fourth die for best utilizing the taper crimping operation, the .30 Carbine reloads as easily as a standard straight-walled sixgun cartridge. The .30 Carbine is sure to be compared to the .32-20. The .32-20 has an all-important rim allowing bullets to be crimped for use in sixguns, but the .30 Carbine has much stronger brass. The necks of .32-20 brass were lost with regularity until the advent of Starline brass would solve the problem. This has never been a problem with the .30 Carbine brass. It’s as tough as the other Magnum sixgun cartridges.

Some have converted .30 Carbine Blackhawk cylinders to .32-20 and while it works, it does not work very well. The diameter of the .32-20 is big where the .30 Carbine is little, and vice-versa. Also, the .30 Carbine normally uses bullets of .310″ diameter while the .32-20 sixgun barrels usually call for .312″ bullets. Thompson/Center Contender barrels chambered in .32-20 are cut for .310″ and T/C reloading dies have two expanding buttons so either size bullet may be used.

I thought of having an auxiliary cylinder made for the .30 Carbine Blackhawk in .32-20, however my standard loads with the old .32 WCF cartridge would not have bullets matching up well with the barrel. It may not be a problem and accuracy may be fine, however I’ve not yet taken the step of having an auxiliary .32-20 cylinder made. Maybe someday. These days I spend much more time shooting the small bores than the big bores so this project is getting closer to fruition.

I assembled reloads with Speer’s 100-gr. Plinker; 110-gr. Remington, Sierra and Speer .30 bullets; and a generic batch of 110-gr. FMJs I had on hand. I used #2400; H110, powders I believe were originally designed for the .30 Carbine; H108, a non-canister powder I have on hand; and Accurate #9. I received an unwanted surprise from the latter powder as loads assembled with less than published maximum loads were too warm resulting in stuck cases in the Blackhawk cylinder. This Blackhawk turned out to be a very accurate sixgun with most loads in the 11/4″ category for five shots at 20 yards, with my most accurate load being the Speer 110-gr. JSP over 12.0 grains of #2400 for just over 1,400 fps and a 1″ group.

It is always said, “You cannot go back,” and this is generally true. However, once in a while a window opens to allow us to be young again. Shooting this Blackhawk made me feel young again, if only for a few hours.

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