The Sixguns Of Ben Forkin

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Forkin turned this 50th Anniversary Ruger .357 Blackhawk into a .44 Special
complete with 7 1⁄2" Colt New Frontier barrel and spalted maple stocks by Cary Chapman

This is one of those good news/bad news stories. The good news is I was hunting on the Penn Baggett Ranch outside of Ozona Texas. Penn’s place was a number one gathering for us gunwriter types, Bart Skelton, Gary Sitton, Jim Wilson, and gunmaker fellows, Bob Baker, Hamilton Bowen and John Gallagher in the late 1990s. The Baggett Ranch, 7,000+ acres, was heaven for those of us seeking turkeys, javalinas and whitetails. The bad news is I had been out every morning and into the stand several hours before daylight as well as going back out in the early afternoon and staying until dark; I had yet to see a shootable buck, which was quite unusual. It was the last afternoon of the last day, and since I was still flying in those days, and since I also trusted UPS more than the airlines with my firearms, we made the trip into town to ship my sixguns home.

Kelye Schlepp’s (Base Mountain Base Pins) Ben Forkin .44 Special conversion with Clements hammer and trigger.
Bowen rear sight, Shilen barrel, and bighorn sheep grips by Josh Jolley.

One Last Chance

But there was one evening left and I certainly did not want to waste it by giving up, and since I was without a personal sixgun, Penn lent me one of his very special sixguns. Penn’s revolver was a custom Ruger by Ben Forkin. To build this special sixgun Forkin had started with a Ruger .357 Maximum, re-chambered it to .445 SuperMag, fitted it with a 10″ bull barrel, as well as Bisley Model parts, grip frame, hammer and trigger. Ruger’s .357 Maximum had originally been aimed at the silhouetting crowd using a longer frame and cylinder to house the 1.600″ .357 Maximum case as compared to the original .357 Magnum at 1.300″. I put the Forkin .445 on paper that afternoon using Penn’s handloads with 265 grain Hornady Flat-Points and was well satisfied with the accuracy of the load. Now, all I needed was a chance at a buck.

I was back in the stand by 3 PM. For the next three hours I watched trees, bushes, a dry riverbed, a few birds and the sun going down. It was now 5:55 and very close to no shooting time left, in fact, Penn was scheduled to pick me up at six, so I packed all my gear into my day bag including my binoculars and the Forkin .445. I was all prepared to leave when I saw a beautiful 10-point whitetail buck about 50 yards out. Now what? I not only had to get the .445 back out of the bag without alerting the deer, I also had to pray Penn would be a little late and not drive down the hill scaring MY buck. I moved very slowly, lined the sights up on the buck’s shoulder and squeezed the trigger. Penn heard the shot as he was just coming up over the top of the hill and the potency of the load was demonstrated as my whitetail buck dropped in its tracks. His mounted head hangs above my desk as I type.

Ben Forkin built .44 Special Old Model Ruger using a .44 Magnum Flat-Top barrel.

Lucky Forkin .445

If there is such a thing as good luck, this Forkin .445 surely had it; but it was Penn’s sixgun and I had to have one of my own just like it. I still have one of the early 10 1⁄2″ Ruger .357 Maximums from my silhouetting days and there was no way I was going to touch this beautifully shooting and most accurate long-range revolver. So, a second Ruger .357 Maximum was found and shipped off to Ben with the orders to make another one just like Penn’s.

Ben Forkin was raised on a ranch in White Sulphur Springs Montana. He is a graduate of the gunsmithing program at Trinidad State Junior College and started his gunsmithing career working for Hamilton Bowen; that should tell everyone of the quality of his work. While working with Hamilton, Ben also had a sideline business forming .475 and .500 Linebaugh cartridges, which had not yet become a factory offering. After leaving Bowen Classic Arms, Forkin opened up Forkin Arms, now known as Forkin Custom Classics, back in White Sulphur Springs in 1996. He started out doing .44 Special Conversions on Old Model Blackhawks, .45 Colt conversions on .44 Magnum Rugers, and five-shot .45 Colt and .475 conversions on Ruger Bisleys and Redhawks. He is also a complete gunsmith working on other sixguns and semiautos as well as custom bolt action rifles and some of the slickest custom Marlin leverguns in existence.

Forkin re-chambered the Ruger .357 Maximum cylinder to .445, fitted a new heavy 101⁄2″ .44 barrel, while putting the original .357 Maximum barrel away for a future Long Range .357 Magnum project, added the Bisley Model grip frame, hammer, and trigger, smoothed out the action, set the trigger pull the way I like it, totally tightened all internal parts, added a post front sight mated up with a Bowen rear sight, and finished everything off with a beautiful deep blue finish. Whether shooting jacketed or cast bullets it performs to my highest expectations and is able to do with 300 gr. bullets what the .44 Magnum does with 250 gr. bullets. The felt recoil of the other 1.600″ long big bore cartridges, the .475 and .500 Maximum, plus the S&W .500 and .460 Magnums, all exhibit much more recoil than the .445; in fact next to them, the Forkin .445 is downright pleasant. It now wears custom stocks by Scott Kolar and is a superb hunting revolver. The Bisley Model grip frame makes .44 Magnum loads much more pleasant to shoot and is absolutely mandatory on the really big five-shot custom single actions.

Ruger .445 SuperMag by Ben Forkin.

Ruger’s Oversight

Ruger has never chambered any of their sixguns for the .44 Special even though the Flat-Top and the Old Model would have made grand sixguns in this excellent chambering. With Ruger’s introduction of their Colt Single Action-sized New Vaquero, offered only in .357 Magnum and .45 Colt, we now have another Ruger frame size perfect for the .44 Special. The original Vaquero was built on the larger Super Blackhawk frame and there was no advantage in building a custom .44 Special on a sixgun already offered in .44 Magnum. However, the advent of the New Vaquero changed all of this.

Ben converted one of the first .357 New Vaqueros out of the factory to a 4 5⁄8″ .44 Special and it was my good pleasure to be the first to shoot a .44 Special New Vaquero. For this allsteel working revolver Ben went with an all-blue finish resulting in a most practical looking, and easy shooting, .44 Special sixgun. It has the look and feel of a pre-war single action mated up with the virtually indestructible and safe transfer bar action of New Model Rugers. It shoots pleasantly and well with Oregon Trail 225 RNFP over 5.5 gr. of WW452AA for 860 fps and five shots in 3/4″ at 20 yards.

A semi-matched pair of .44 Special Rugers by Ben Forkin using Ruger .44 Magnum and Colt .44 Special barrels

An Irresistible Pair

Now as my ancestors, who are certainly spinning in their graves over what has happened to their country, would say, we come to the “piece de resistance,” actually two pieces, with a pair of custom .44 Special Rugers by Ben Forkin. The first one started with a like new Ruger .44 Magnum Blackhawk Flat-Top barrel sold to me by a reader who had removed it so the Flat-Top could be made into .45 Colt. This .44 barrel, a Ruger Old Model .357 Blackhawk, and an XR3 grip frame were all used by Ben for the building of a highly viable candidate for the title of Perfect Packin’ Pistol. The cylinder was re-chambered to .44 Special, the 6 1⁄2″ barrel was cut to 5 1⁄2″ and installed along with a Forkin Arms post front sight and a Hamilton Bowen rear sight. The grip frame was re-anodized and fitted with black eagle walnut stocks, a Belt Mountain #5 base pin was installed, and the mainframe and hammer were case hardened with the balance of the sixgun finished in high polish blue.

The second Forkin .44 Special took a slightly different turn. When Shapel’s gun shop went out of business I purchased a half-dozen 3rd Generation Colt New Frontier barrels specifically for future projects, as the threads on these Colt barrels are the same as Ruger mainframes. So this time instead of starting with a .44 Magnum Ruger barrel we went with a 5 1⁄2″ Colt New Frontier .44 Special barrel which was fitted, along with a Colt ejector rod housing and ejector. The Colt ejector housing and ejector rod work better with the Colt New Frontier barrel and these parts are available from Brownells. The grip frame on this .44 has also been re-anodized, however the grips are beautifully fashioned extra fancy walnut by BluMagnum. Both of these 5 1⁄2″ Rugers have, of course, been totally tuned and smoothed with virtually all end shake and cylinder movement removed.

One More Time

The Flat-Top and Old Model Three Screw Ruger .357 Blackhawks have not been made since 1962; however in addition to the New Vaquero another prime candidate for .44 Special conversions is Ruger ’s 50th Anniversary Model .357 Magnum. These sixguns were only made during 2005, however they are not that difficult to locate in gun shows, gun shops, or firearms sites on the Internet. Taylor’s & Co. is also advertising a special run of stainless steel 50th Anniversary .357 Blackhawks. Even though it has the New Model lock work, the Anniversary Model is the same size as the original Blackhawk of 1955 and also has the same grip shape and size.

When friend and Brother Shootist Fermin Garza of the Corpus Christi Texas Police Department gave me a 7 1⁄2″ New Frontier .44 Special barrel it did not take long for me to send it to Ben along with one of the 50th Anniversary Rugers. It will be finished the same as the two 5 1⁄2″ .44 Special Rugers, however the barrel length will be kept at 7 1⁄2″. The .44 Special was my first true sixgun love and as I have gotten older I find myself returning to it more and more. May I never lose my enthusiasm for a good .44 Special be it custom or factory style. Ben Forkin certainly helps fuel my enthusiasm.

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