Bowen Classic Arms
.44 Special

The 'Best Quality' Bisley
52

Can you compare a Ruger revolver with a Bentley? Roy says yes, if it’s a custom done by
Hamilton Bowen’s shop. Here, a 1991 Bentley Eight lends a “Brookland’s Green” hood to
help hold the Ruger. We think it’s a match.

It’s easy to casually toss terms like “elegance” or “grace” into a conversation. “A Bentley’s innate elegance showcases a classic British style.” That works. “She lends a certain grace to her gestures, relaxed yet assured.” That works too. But when you’re talking about a revolver, is it as easy? Do they even fit into the category?
Of course they do.

Just think pre-war Colts, minty S&W Hand Ejectors or the sublime blue on a proper double rifle. Revolvers — and especially single action revolvers — are naturally graceful, full of blended features, flowing lines and often surprising angles. There’s no doubt a single action crafted by a master’s hand can’t be both elegant and graceful. You only need to look at this Bowen Classic Arms Bisley to see it.

And — be still my fluttery heart — it’s a .44 Special.

The extra-long ejector rod assures you get the trash out. Note the bold,
shallow “V” BCA Rough Country rear sight.

BCA

Hamilton Bowen was destined to work with steel. Completing undergraduate study in History and English, he found himself drawn to the gunsmith’s bench. After two years studying gunmaking at Trinidad State Jr. College, Hamilton returned to his native Tennessee to concentrate his energies on revolvers. At the time, mainstream gunsmithing concentrated on rifles and shotguns, so in 1980 when Hamilton commenced operations as Bowen Classic Arms, he, as he says, “Entered his apprenticeship to himself.”

From then to today, Bowen Classic Arms has become a mainstay when it comes to the custom revolver. BCA’s parts, tooling and techniques have formed a strong backbone for custom gunmakers to draw upon. However, BCA’s work remains distinctive. If I see a revolver on a table across the length of a room, I can tell at a glance if it came from Hamilton’s shop. Hamilton also literally wrote the book on custom revolvers, and in the book details the history, design, craftsmanship, highs, lows and challenges of this most-marvelous of devices — a revolver. BCA is grounded in the round-gun, and it shows.

BCA takes a plebeian, plain-Jane factory base gun, and through the magic of an experienced, careful eye, an artist’s take on engineering — and no small amount of sheer panache — turns the base gun into something any Bentley would be proud to compare itself with.

I’ve known Hamilton for close to 30 years. To know him is to look forward to a letter or email from him — “Dear Roy, thank you for yours of April 1, leading me to regard the idea of a ….” What follows is always a journey only a story-teller, well versed in the English language, can lead one. His comments always stand out, even if they are modest — which they always are. Knowing Hamilton, you can clearly see the same in his guns. Each looks simple at first, until you look further, then in spite of the modesty, the “elegance of design and execution” BCA is famous for stands out. At some point, you abruptly realize — your eye was initially fooled. There’s much more here than you thought.

Sitting in the field, where it belongs, the customized Ruger SA Bisley in .44 Special
shows off the elegant recoil shield/loading gate scallop cuts. Custom grips are next.

Ruger’s SA

Out of the box, any Ruger single action is a work horse of practical features and is at least serviceably accurate. I own many, and indeed, my very first handgun was a Ruger Super Single Six 50+ years ago. I’m fond of the Ruger brand, Bill Ruger’s attitude of catering to “American” shooters, and am especially fond of their revolvers, eventually leading me to this project.

But first, a tease.

Around 1998 Hamilton took a beater 4″ S&W Heavy Duty .38 I found and, through his miracle-making, turned it into a sublimely beautiful 6-shot .45 Colt. It was a classic situation of a first glimpse fooling the eye. I always enjoy handing it to experienced shooters. Initially, it looks like a fixed-sight N-Frame Heavy Duty. Then their eyes narrow as they see the beautiful blue, Roy Fishpaw ivory grips and impeccable fit and finish of everything. It begins to dawn on them this is not a stock S&W. Then their eyes grow wide when they see the bore, and the delicate “.45 Colt” on the barrel. Then they look at me, back at the gun, back at me, back and the gun and mumble something about “What the heck is this beautiful thing?!”

Which is exactly what occurs now with this Ruger.

I sent BCA a dead-stock Ruger Bisley, stainless steel, in .44 Special. I snapped it up when I saw them become available, with the intent of a future project. Hamilton took my note to “Do your magic, as you see fit” to heart, resulting in this discreet yet persuasive final rendition. Some obvious custom touches like BCA’s iconic sights are easy to spot. But it’s almost impossible to “see” what I like to call the hidden beauty — even though it’s in plain sight.

Note how the ejector rod extends the full length of the barrel, offering 110 percent
ejector rod length. Sights are Bowen’s Rough Country with big dot tritium front.
The lanyard loop is there, as any proper revolver should have.

The Touches

Let’s clear the decks first. BCA has built a firm reputation supplying arguably the most innovative, rugged sighting designs for revolvers — period. Today, BCA showcases that work as being the foundation of the shop. You can not only simply buy sights from BCA as appropriate for your own gun and install them, but you can also use these bold, clear sights as a benchmark for any build you have done from BCA’s catalog of work offered. If you think BCA, make sure sights are at the top of your list.

In our case, Hamilton performed what is essentially his catalog No. RS03(2) “Perfected Bisley No. 2” work. It includes an action/trigger tune, polished cylinder notches, oversize locking base pin, Rough Country rear sight and DX-type front sight with compatible blade.

To this already comprehensive list, Hamilton “larded it up” as he said, with favorite options. Added were a full-length ejector rod housing (assuring 110 percent extraction length) and an added recoil-proof lug hidden beneath the housing to keep it in its proper place. The cylinder received the “black powder” chamfer that really helps to save leather holsters, besides simply looking swell.

Something I find particularly fetching is the scalloping done to the recoil shield/loading gate, both pleasing the eye and taking a bit of weight off simultaneously. A lanyard ring is installed — “As any proper revolver should have,” as Hamilton says — and some miscellaneous sight options were tossed in. For me, the shallow “V” and Big Dot Tritium front seem to work fine and are very fast to find.

The Belt Mountain base pin adds precision and reliability, while the “black powder”
chamfer cut to the front of the cylinder not only looks fetching, it saves the insides
of leather holsters too!

The Sum Of The Parts

The end result is one of those handguns tending to live on your desk, ready at-hand. During pauses at the computer here, I find myself clearing it, then simply marveling at it yet again. A few “points out the window at imaginary targets” and a few cycles of the action offers assurance things are still as they were, giving me the confidence to get back to work. I’m sure you know the drill.

Shooting is as delightful as you might imagine. The .44 Special means modest loads are both fun, accurate and easy to assemble or find on the market. Something a bit stouter can be used — the Ruger can handle them easily — but I tend to simply change to a .44 Magnum for that silliness.

This BCA .44 Special is all about temperate modesty, so a 240-gr. something at 850 or 900 fps is plenty, allowing the biggish sixgun to speak with authority — but with restraint. I ran Black Hills Cowboy .44 Special (720 fps), Buffalo Bore’s 200-gr. hard cast full wadcutter (chrono’d by me right at 1,005 fps), classic Winchester 246-gr. RNL “original” style ammo (660 fps), Black Hills .44 Special HoneyBadger (a 125 gr. at an honest 1,240) and the old go-to Winchester 200-gr. Silvertip load (745 fps, which surprised me as being so modest).

Best accuracy at 25 yards was with Buffalo Bore 200-gr. full wadcutter .44 Special
at about 1,005 fps. That’s 1.25" there for five shots, give or take a tad.

Accurate?

I found a target allowing me to use the rounded top of the target as a perfect fit to the rounded top of the revolver’s front sight. This offers a surprisingly sharp and repeatable sight picture at 25 yards. Groups were between 1.25" or a tad less (Buffalo Bore wadcutter) to about 3" (246-gr. RNL), with the majority in the 1.5" range. I confess I used my “extra-good” glasses and really took my time. The gun shoots much better than it did when stock (call it a 3" gun with the same basic ammo when I first tested it), so the custom work enhances performance and appeal simultaneously.

I think I’d settle on the Buffalo Bore for personal defense and some sort of 240 gr. at about 900 to 1,000 for pigs or small deer. A favorite handload of mine using a cast 250 Keith and a dose of Unique at 800 fps would also be a great general use load, is comfortable to shoot and still offers enough authority to hold its own if needed.

Roy found the customized Ruger enjoyed anything he fired in it. Here’s a partial mix of
factory ammo. The Black Hills cowboy load (a 210 at about 720 fps) was pleasant and
plenty accurate enough for a trial gun or for fun on the range.

Your Own Project

Don’t be shy, simply give Hamilton’s shop a call. Tell them what you have and what you’re thinking about. Take note, in the “Catalog” section of BCA’s website, the work offered is listed and straying from listed custom work isn’t done. Keeping the service list manageable allows BCA to turn project guns around in a timely manner. Also, BCA no longer does S&W projects, so make sure you call them with your project ideas to make sure they are doable.
It’s time to sell off some of those gun safe queens and put the money to work on a “once in a lifetime” (or twice?) “Best Quality” dream gun for you. The pleasure of owning and shooting something as satisfying as this long outweighs the memory of the initial cost. Honest.

For more info: www.bowenclassicarms.com, Ph: (865) 984-3583, email: [email protected] Note: Find Hamilton’s book The Custom Revolver as a Kindle edition on www.amazon.com

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