The Sixguns Of David Clements


Clements Custom Guns 51⁄2" .44 Special with Bisley style hammer and #5 grip frame stocked by Larry Caudill.

Have you ever noticed how you can be surrounded by hundreds, even thousands of guns in gun shows and gun shops and not be able to find a particular version you’re looking for? If you spend much time with guns it has certainly happened. I spent years looking for a straight-gripped Marlin in .35 Remington and had friends in five other states looking for me and finally stumbled over one, on sale no less, in a little gun shop in the mountains of Idaho. For at least 10 years I tried to find a 51⁄2″ Ruger Super Single-Six; 61⁄2″ versions were everywhere I looked, however the desired model was just not to be found. Then it finally happened. In the same week I found not one but two pristine shortbarreled .22 Rugers. Since that time several more have surfaced. Where were they all the time I was looking?

The .44-40 barrel and .44 Special cylinder in this custom sixgun by David Clements perform well.

In Memory Of Skeeter

Sometimes when we can’t find what we’re looking for we have to have the aid of a good gunsmith. This was the case when I wanted an “In Memory Of Skeeter Skelton” 5 1⁄2″ .44 Special Colt New Frontier. Third Generation versions with 7 1⁄2″ barrels were easy to locate just as with the longer barreled Ruger .22s; but 5 1⁄2″ .44 Specials eluded me. So I did the next best thing possible. I sent a 7 1⁄2″ .44 Special off to David Clements to be made into the sixgun I wanted. David trimmed the barrel back the proper length, it was sent off to Nutmeg Sports for a set of buffalo skull carved ivories by Dennis Holland and the Skeeter Skelton .44 Special project was complete. Nutmeg Sports offers some beautifully grained milky ivory deserving of the New Frontier. This was the first sixgun sent to David but certainly not the last.

Typical groups fired with the Clements Custom #5 .44 Special.

Sheriff’s Model Rugers

When Qualite Pistol & Revolver first offered their round-butted grip frames for New Model Rugers, Milt Morrison provided me two of these, one in brass and the other in stainless steel. I attached them to two Ruger Vaqueros with no problem; the brass frame went on a 5 1⁄2″ .44-40 and the stainless-steel version on a 7 1⁄2″ .45 Colt. Since QPR furnishes these grip frames slightly oversize for perfect custom fitting, and also since for my taste round-butted grip frames belong on short-barreled sixguns, these two Vaqueros were sent off to Clements Custom Guns along with two steel ejector rods with the larger crescent shaped heads and two steel ejector rod housings, all from QPR also, to turn these two Vaqueros into short-barreled Sheriff ’s Models before Ruger ever offered them as standard models.

Both barrels were cut to 3 7⁄8″, the heads of the base pins were shortened to allow for ejection of fired cases, both the ejector rods and ejector housings were shortened to match the new barrel lengths, tight cylinder throats were opened up to match the bore diameters, and new front sights were fitted with enough height to allow me to file them in to match the load I chose to use for each sixgun. With their short barrels these big bore single actions are easy to pack and the roundbutted grip frames handle felt recoil much easier than standard grip frames on short-barreled sixguns.

S&W .44 Special Model 624 fitted with a .44 Magnum S&W Model 629 barrel by David Clements.

Double Duty .44

Third Generation Colt New Frontier barrels have the same thread pattern as Ruger Three Screw .357 Magnum Blackhawks, and now that the New Frontier is long gone (since 1982!), these barrels are perfectly suited for a New Frontier resurrection of sorts by using them on conversions of Old Model Ruger .357 Blackhawks to .44 Special and .44-40. Colt did not make any 4 3⁄4″ .44 Special New Frontiers so barrels in this length are not to be found, however the .44-40 was available as a 4 3⁄4″ New Frontier and barrels, which are rifled to the same specifications as the .44 Special, can be found along with extra .357 Ruger or 9mm cylinders. Both the New Frontier barrel and the extra cylinder along with an Old Model Blackhawk were used by David Clements for building a .44 Special/. 44-40 Convertible.

David fitted the rare 4 3⁄4″ New Frontier barrel, expertly re-chambered the Ruger cylinders to .44-40 and .44 Special, polished the aluminum grip frame and finished the balance of the sixgun in high polish blue, and then the project was finished by being beautifully stocked in fancy walnut by Larry Caudill. It’s getting very crowded at the top of the list of prime candidates for the title of Perfect Packin’ Pistol, however this .44 Convertible fits right in with the pack as does the next project sixgun.

Clements Custom .50 Old Army is a viable hunting handgun.

Remembering Elmer

David set up one .44 Special sixgun in memory of Skeeter, now it was time to do the same thing for Elmer Keith. This time David started with a 5 1⁄2″ .44 Special New Frontier barrel and a .357 Old Model Blackhawk. In the late 1920s, Elmer Keith was visited by Harold Croft, who took the train all away from Pennsylvania to Keith’s little cattle ranch outside Durkee Oregon so he could see firsthand the long-range sixgun shooting Keith had been writing about. He brought four of his custom Colt Single Actions with him with specially designed grip frames numbered 1, 2, 3 & 4. Keith liked Croft’s ideas and combined them with his own to come up with his #5 SAA .44 Special and the grip frame shape which is now known as the #5.

So the major difference in this Clements Custom .44 Special is found in the grip frame, as David constructed his version of the #5 SAA grip frame for use on Rugers. This grip frame was fitted to the converted Ruger and Larry Caudill again did the stock work not only fitting a pair of beautiful walnut grips but also a second pair made of holly, looking much like ivory. The whole package was finished in deep blue with a case hardened frame and hammer resulting in a most beautiful .44 Special. Move over .44 Convertible here comes another prime candidate for Perfect Packin’ Pistol.

Standard six-shot Ruger Old Army cylinder compared to a Clements Custom five-shot cylinder.

The Double Actions

David also specializes in .44 Special conversions on Smith & Wesson revolvers. Pictured is a Model 624 from Smith & Wesson which was already a.44 Special, however this one has been fitted with a 5″ heavier .44 Magnum barrel from a Model 629. It’s no easy task to fit the short-shanked Model 629 barrel to the shorter cylinder Model 624. David accomplished it beautifully. David also starts with Smith & Wesson Models 27 and 28 in .357 Magnum, rechambers the cylinders to .44 Special and completes the project by having the original barrel re-bored. In addition to .44-40 and .44 Special conversions on Ruger Old Model or Flat-Top Blackhawks, Clements also offers calibers such as .41 Special, .38-40, 10mm, .45 Schofield and .45 Colt, with the latter for standard loads only.

All of these caliber conversions may be accomplished on the Ruger New Vaquero Models and the .41 Special and .44 Special conversions can also be performed on the Ruger’s double action GP-100. In addition to the Smith and Wesson conversion of .357 Magnum to .44 Special, Clements Custom Guns also offers .357 Magnum to .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum to .45 Colt. For all of these conversions factory cylinders are re-chambered and factory barrels are re-bored.

Typical groups fired with the Clements .50 Old Army.

Really Big Bisleys

From 1851, with the advent of the Colt Navy .36, the grip frame, which was then used on the Colt Single Action beginning in 1873, has been regarded as the finest and most comfortable grip frame ever devised. It fits most hands and while many different styles of grips have been offered for other single action and double action sixguns, the only thing the standard Colt SAA grip frame requires is the same shape grip made in more exotic materials. This was true for over a century until 1956 and the arrival of the Ruger Blackhawk .44 Magnum.

Suddenly, for most shooters, the standard single action grip frame left a lot to be desired. Ruger tried to correct this three years later with the Super Blackhawk grip, however it does not work for me as the back of the square trigger guard nails my knuckle even with .44 Special loads. The answer for me, and a whole lot of other shooters, arrived with the Ruger Bisley Model in the mid-1980s. Ruger not only gave us what, for most shooters, is the most comfortable grip frame for handling heavy recoil, they also provided a great platform for building custom sixguns.

As a standard catalog offering Ruger has only offered blue-model, 7 1⁄2″-barreled Bisleys in .357, .41 and .44 Magnum as well as .45 Colt. David Clements starts with one of these standard Bisley Models and uses them for building five-shot big bore sixguns. The heart and soul of these conversions is a custom oversized cylinder made to completely fill in the frame window; chambers are line-bored, that is, the cylinder is locked into place in the frame and pilot holes are drilled in perfect alignment with the barrel; an oversize base pin is installed along with a heavy duty base pin catch spring; the action is tuned and tightened removing all end shake; the action is modified to provide a free spinning cylinder, this allows the cylinder to be rotated backwards should a bullet jump the crimp and protrude from the front of the cylinder keeping it from rotating forwards; the front of the cylinder face is perfectly squared off; a steel ejector housing is fitted; and a custom barrel is fitted with a special Clements post style front sight. On the really big guns, calibers offered are .45 Colt, .475 and .500 Magnum, and .50 Action Express.

For those who do not need all of the power a five-shooter allows, but rather desire a heavy duty six-shooter, David offers a six-shot Bisley conversion with an oversized cylinder, again filling in the cylinder frame window, and chambered in .41 or .44 Magnum or .45 Colt. For the most powerful Bisley Model possible, Clements starts with the longcylindered and long-framed .357 Maximum Ruger, performs all of the above custom touches and fits a Maximum length cylinder to handle the 1.6″ cartridges, the .445 SuperMag, or .475 and 500 Maximums. There is no way to even begin to handle the recoil of the latter two using the Super Blackhawk grip frame of the .357 Maximum, so Clements fits a Bisley Model grip frame, hammer and trigger to the Ruger .357 Maximum frame.

Actually with full house loads they are brutal even with the Bisley Model grip frame; by comparison the .445 SuperMag is downright pleasant. In addition to the Bisley Model, for those who prefer double action sixguns, Clements can provide the same caliber conversions on Ruger Redhawks with five-shot cylinders in addition to .454 Casull and .480 Ruger. Redhawks can be fitted with L-frame style barrels while single action barrels can be fitted with full length ribs and also octagon shaped.

Black Powder Sixgun

There’s no doubt the finest percussion revolver ever offered is Ruger’s Old Army, however it’s certainly no powerhouse when it comes to hunting. A realistic look at the muzzle energy of the Old Army reveals we are basically shooting a Plus P .38 Special. Yes, I know in the real world a .45 round ball or conical bullet outperforms a .38, however we still need more for hunting and David Clements provides that “more.” Starting with a basic Old Army, David adds a .50 caliber octagon barrel and machines a new five-shot .50 cylinder. Made for using a Speer .490″ round ball, this conversion turns the Old Army into a powerful pistol. With 50 grains, by measure, of Triple-Seven FFFg muzzle velocity is 1,350 fps; dropping the charge to 45 grains and using a 250 grain bullet, we still get 1,150 fps. This five-shot conversion definitely turns the Old Army into a hunting sixgun.

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