Ruger "Convertible" Redhawk .45 Colt/.45 ACP


John felt the big jump the .45 ACP had to take in the cylinder caused bigger groups at 20 yards.

First, some history. In 1992 I was on assignment touring gun factories in the North East, and as such I found myself in Bill Ruger’s office to conduct an interview for GUNS magazine. When I entered his office I found much more modest surroundings than expected and also found a large couch piled high with gun magazines of every description, a gun cabinet containing some notable firearms, and also saw a prototype semi-automatic pistol on his desk.

During our conversation that day, I asked Bill Ruger about bringing out a .45 Colt Redhawk. I have no way of knowing if that had any bearing on the decision but I at least like to think the fact we now have a Redhawk chambered in the grand old cartridge had something to do with our conversation that day. With the advent of the .45 Blackhawk in 1970 we had the strongest .45 Colt single action ever offered; now we had its double action counterpart.

The Redhawk gains its strength in many ways. The threaded area of the frame is very thick, double what one finds in many other sixguns, and the massive cylinder is locked at the rear and front of the cylinder itself rather than at the end of the ejector rod. The barrel carries a heavy rib and the top strap literally speaks of brute strength. And like the single action Blackhawk, the double action Redhawk is virtually indestructible.

The .45 Redhawk was first offered with a 71/2″ barrel in two models, one of which had the barrel scalloped to accept Ruger scope rings. It was also offered with a 51/2″ barrel and in both blued and stainless steel versions. Then a few years back Ruger brought out what may be one of the most rugged Perfect Packin’ Pistols ever offered, namely the 4″ Redhawk in stainless steel and equipped with finger grooved rubber grips.

The latest Ruger Redhawk is designed to accept and fire .45 ACP and .45 Colt loads in the same cylinder.

Newest Version

Now the latest Redhawk .45 is a Convertible Model, however it’s different than other convertible models. We are used to single actions which have two cylinders accepting two different cartridges such as .357 Magnum and 9 mm, or .45 Colt and .45 ACP. The new Redhawk — which is marked on the side of the barrel “45 Auto-45 Colt” does not use two cylinders but rather has one cylinder specially cut to accept both cartridges.

The .45 Colt headspaces on the cartridge rim while the .45 ACP headspaces on the mouth of the cartridge matching up with a ledge in the barrel of a semi-automatic or each chamber of the cylinder. Sixguns in .45 Colt can be made with cylinders delivering exceptional accuracy, and the same thing can be accomplished with cylinders chambered for the .45 ACP using full-moon clips. These clips in a double action revolver provide headspacing and also quick loading and unloading. Without the clips there would be nothing for the extractor on a DA revolver to contact to allow for unloading. The .45 Colt has a rim larger than the case diameter while the .45 ACP does not; so special modifications are necessary for the latter when used in a DA revolver.

Ruger’s solution is to cut the back of the cylinder to accept six .45 ACP cartridges while at the same time allowing .45 Colt cartridges to headspace properly. Standard .45 ACP full moon clips will not work as they are too thick. The special full moon clips from Ruger are thinner and made of spring steel. Insertion of .45 ACP cartridges as well as removal is much easier with the Ruger full moon clips than standard models which are available.

This Ruger Redhawk is designed to handle both .45 Colt and .45 ACP cartridges. My first thought was is it really possible? The second thought was, if so, what about other cartridges such as .460 Rowland, .45 WinMag and .45 Super? I could envision testing this revolver would take more time than normal. The .45 Colt and .45 ACP chambering would require at least double the time and shooting as well as ammunition as a sixgun with only one chambering, while trying the other cartridges would certainly add to this. Even with all this I was looking forward to the testing as I have been a fan of the .45 Redhawk for many years.

This Redhawk has a 4″ barrel, is constructed of stainless steel, and has the typical excellent Ruger adjustable sights with the front sight having the interchangeable feature. However, no extra sights are provided. The single action trigger pull did not help any in my testing as it measured over 71/2 pounds on the Brownell’s Trigger Pull Gauge. I have already sent off my check to purchase this revolver so the next step is to have my gunsmith, Tom at Buckhorn, smooth out the trigger.

The grip is quite different on this gun as it’s about the size of the old original S&W Magna with the back of the butt round butted. The grips themselves are laminated rosewood with checkering. In fact my third thought was they would not be very user-friendly when it came to felt recoil; I was wrong. I found them quite comfortable to use with everything except a .45 Colt load with the 365-gr. bullet at just under 1,100 fps. That load definitely talked to me! Almost had me talkin’ to myself! Let’s take a look at the different chamberings and how they worked in this new Ruger Redhawk.

The Ruger Redhawk .45 ACP/.45 Colt model uses specially designed
full moon clips available from Ruger for use with .45 ACP loads.

The .45 ACP

Since this is the first Redhawk ever chambered in .45 ACP I used this as my starting point. Shooting at 20 yards I was quite disappointed to find my first group for five shots measured 3″, and some loads were actually worse than this. It didn’t take long to find out that this revolver was very picky when shooting .45 ACP loads. I soon discovered it preferred the lighter loads using hard cast bullets. The Buffalo Bore Low Recoil .45 ACP’s with both 180- and 200-gr. hard cast bullets at muzzle velocities of 724 and 654 fps respectively both shot well, comparatively speaking, with groups of 11/2″ and 13/8″ respectively. My personally assembled Low Recoil load using the Oregon Trail 225 hard cast round nosed bullet over 5.0 grains of Bullseye for 688 fps also shot relatively well, with a five-shot group of 13/4″.

My theory is these loads have such a free bore to follow through the cylinder they don’t always enter the barrel straight on and have trouble maintaining their stabilization much past 10 yards. Shooting at 7 yards made me feel much better and groups shrunk to around 1” or so. The Black Hills 185 JHP clocked out at 764 fps with a 1″ group while Buffalo Bore’s 180 Hard Cast Low Recoil at 724 fps delivered a group of 3/4″, as samples. The Ruger Redhawk loaded with .45 ACP loads would certainly not be a problem at a reasonable self-defense distance.

Garrett’s Hammer Head .45 Colt loads are a good choice for the Ruger Redhawk.

The .45 Colt

I expected much better performance from this load and was not disappointed. I especially had good luck with my old standard load of 8.0 grains of Unique. The Lyman #454424 Keith bullet sized to .454″ clocked out just over 900 fps with a group of 11/4″ while the more modernized version of this bullet #452424 sized at .452″ clocked out at just over 800 fps while shooting a slightly tighter group at 1″. The RCBS version of this bullet, #45-255KT over 20.0 grains of #4227 shot just under 925 fps with a 1″ group. Rim Rock’s version of this bullet gas checked and loaded over 8.5 grains of Universal was just under 900 fps with a group of 11/8″.

The load really surprising to me, but shouldn’t have done so, was the old original flat nose bullet from 1873, in this case dropped from an old Lachmiller three-cavity mold, loaded over 8.0 grains of Unique. It pretty much duplicates the old black powder load at 850 fps, with a nice tight group of 7/8″. Any of these loads would be perfectly suitable as an everyday working load.

Garrett Cartridges of Texas is now owned by my friend Ashley Emerson and he has been adding to the original list of high quality ammunition offered by Randy Garrett. Ashley has branched into the .45 Colt and .454 offerings. Two of his .45 Colt loads are the .45 Colt+P 265-gr. hard cast Hammer Head designed for use in 2nd and 3rd Generation Colt Single Actions and recently produced Uberti replicas. This load clocks out just over 900 fps from the 4” barrel and is very pleasant to shoot.

This cannot be said about the Garrett Cartridges of Texas 365 LFR (Large Frame Revolver) +P Hammer Head. This is a very serious load and more than the Ruger Redhawk Grip could handle comfortably for me. However, if I was going to wander anywhere I would have to worry about something wanting to bite, scratch, claw, or eat me, this is the load I would carry. I never feel recoil when I am hunting and I certainly would not feel recoil of these loads if I found myself in a serious situation.

Double Tap’s 255-gr. SWC hardcast in .45 ACP is perfect for the Redhawk,
along with the CorBon 200 JHP in .45 Colt. Both in the same sixgun!

A Winner

This new Ruger Redhawk is designed for use with the .45 ACP and .45 Colt and I’m sure Ruger would not recommend any other .45 caliber cartridges. However, being the curious sort I had to try some. I don’t want to be specific about what I learned as I’m sure Ruger doesn’t want incorrect calibers fired in this sixgun. After some experimenting, let’s just say I wasted my time!

Although I tried three other cartridges I will stay with the Ruger-recommended .45 Colt and .45 ACP. For regular carry I would have six .45 Colt cartridges in the cylinder backed up by two or three full-moon clips loaded with .45 ACP cartridges. The full-moon clips are available from Ruger and you would want to keep fresh clips loaded for use as they do tend to stretch slightly when loaded and unloaded with cartridges several times. This would be no problem normally, but carried in a pocket, cartridges could fall out of their proper space in the full-moon clips.

The Redhawk is probably the strongest double action revolver ever offered which is at the same time packable. The Super Redhawk may or may not be stronger, however it is certainly not as packable as the original Redhawk. It comes close when the barrel is cut to 4″ or so — but only close. The Redhawk is the better choice for everyday carry. I cannot ever see it failing.

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