Lipsey's Living Legends

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Left to right: The original .357 Blackhawk which dates back to 1955, inspired the Lipsey’s .45
Flat-Top and .44 Special Bisley, which share the same sized cylinder and frame.

When Bob Stutler was production manager at Ruger, he once told me, “No matter what we make, someone will want something else.” How true that is; I have been guilty of this many times, and not just with Rugers. However, all hope is not lost. Some remarkable models and calibers are available today. Not from Ruger, but from one of their distributors, Lipsey’s, who not only distributes standard Ruger production items but also always looks for items they think should sell well, even if not considered “mainstream.” People who have a deep understanding of shooters manage Lipsey’s, and this extends beyond rifle shooters right to the heart of sixgunners. Thanks to Lipsey’s, sixgunners have a source for what are essentially Living Legends.

In 1955, Ruger took great step forward after their .22 offerings, opening new doors with a centerfire single action. Bill Ruger maintained the grip frame and coil spring operation of his by then-popular Single-Six, increased the size of the mainframe and cylinder to that of the Colt Single Action Army, flat-topped the frame, added excellent adjustable sights, and chambered it in the most powerful cartridge then available, the .357 Magnum. This first Blackhawk had a 45/8″ barrel and blue finish. I was still in high school and too young to purchase one, but I had a life-sized picture hanging on my wall; it was the last thing I saw every night before going to sleep and the first thing I saw each morning. By late 1956, I purchased my own.

Michael Gouse engraved, Ivory-stocked Lipsey’s .44 Special.

When Bob Stutler was production manager at Ruger, he once told me, “No matter what we make, someone
will want something else.” How true that is; I have been guilty of this many times, and not just with Rugers.

More Models

With the coming of the Ruger Blackhawk in .357 Magnum, shooters now had a exceptionally rugged, virtually indestructible, Perfect Packin’ Pistol. Elmer Keith said we should expect to see one very soon in .44 Special and .45 Colt. Alas, it was not to be. In late 1955, Smith & Wesson teamed up with Remington to introduce the first sixgun firing the new .44 Magnum. At that time just about everyone forgot about the .44 Special, including Ruger. Three .357 Blackhawks were re-barreled and the cylinders re-chambered to .44 Magnum. Keith warned them the frame was too small for the new Magnum, but thought they would make great .44 Specials. With further testing, one of the guns blew and Ruger increased the size of the frame and cylinder to what was to become the .44 Magnum Blackhawk. That was early 1956, and the .45 Colt would not surface in a Ruger until the early 1970s, when it too was built on the larger frame and cylinder.

It was pretty obvious we would never see a .44 Special or .45 Colt in a standard-sized single action from Ruger. It was all quite frustrating, and in the 1970s, beginning with Skeeter Skelton, many of us owned Ruger .357 Blackhawks converted to .44 Special. In fact over the years — the next 30 years to be precise — a good-sized list of sixgunsmiths converted many original Flat-Top .357 Blackhawks and the later Old Model of 1962 into beautiful .44 Special Perfect Packin’ Pistols. At the last count, I’ve had such conversions completed by a long list of sixgunsmiths, including Hamilton Bowen, Bob Baer, David Clements, Ben Forkin, Alan Harton, Andy Horvath, Jack Huntington and Gary Reeder. They are the .44 Specials Ruger could have (and should have) built
By 1972, the original-sized .357 Blackhawk was gone and all New Model .357s were built on the larger .44 Magnum frame. Of course, this resulted in a larger and heavier sixgun. This .357 certainly reduces recoil; nevertheless it is just not the same to an old sixgunning heart as the original .357 Blackhawks. In 2005, Ruger celebrated their 50th anniversary of the .357 Blackawk by in essence resurrecting it 21st century-style. Ruger did not go back to the old Three-Screw action, but what they did do is build the same size sixgun as the original on the New Model action, complete with an all-steel grip frame of the original size and shape. At the time, I asked the president of Ruger if we could have a .44 Special on the same frame. He didn’t say no, but he didn’t say yes.

Lipsey’s .44 Special Bisley Model has its roots in Elmer Keith’s #5SAA.

Enter Lipsey’s

What Ruger didn’t do, Lipsey’s did, ordering several thousand Ruger .357 Blackhawk Flat-Top New Models chambered in .44 Special with both 45/8″ and 51/2″ barrel lengths. Ruger liked the idea so much the .44 Special Flat-Top showed up in the Ruger standard production catalog the following year. However, this was only the beginning for Lipsey’s!

Staying with the same .44 Special Flat-Top New Model Blackhawk theme, they ordered another batch in stainless steel. I was so smitten with the 45/8″ version, I sent it off to be engraved before I even fired its first shot. Michael Gouse, who just a few months before engraved a 4″ stainless steel Smith & Wesson .44 Special Model 624 for me, was given the honor and did an exceptional job, covering the stainless steel of the Ruger, including the sides of the hammer. The first time I fired this sixgun, my faith in it was rewarded with a 1-hole group. I have since added ivory stocks, and it is now one of my favorite Perfect Packin’ Pistols.

Since they had the .44 Special and were using the standard-sized frame, and since they were using the old original XR3 grip frame size, and since every sixgunner worthy of the name was thoroughly taken with this whole concept and since … well I could keep going … but as a result, Lipsey’s currently also offers the same basic sixgun in the New Vaquero. There are those who insist on fixed sights in a Perfect Packin’ Pistol, and they now have that choice in .44 Special in the New Vaquero. With the fixed sights, mine is right on the money for windage; it needs only a small amount of filing to raise the groups less than 1″. This is a rugged, little, easy-to-pack, powerful sixgun, which is a significanly less bulky than the larger New Model Blackhawks.

Whether with the .45 Colt or .45 ACP cylinder in place, the Lipsey’s .45
Flat-Top Convertible performs great.

The Lipsey’s #5 SAA shoots exceptionally well.

A No.5 — Sorta’

Lipsey’s is offering another version of the .44 Special Flat-Top definitely inspired by Keith’s famous No. 5 .44 Special. Lipsey’s had Ruger fit the standard .44 Special Flat-Top with a Bisley Model grip frame, hammer and trigger; the result is a Bisley Model .44 Special. It is a superbly shooting sixgun and anyone who can shoot it without thinking of Keith and his No. 5 is either totally ignorant or is a sixgun soul in need of counseling.

The year 2010 was the 25th anniversary of The Shootists, and Lipsey’s worked with us in coming up with a specially marked Shootists Anniversary Bisley Model Flat-Top .44 Special featuring a 71/2″ barrel. Five of these came my way so my son and each of the grandsons could have their own.

Lipsey’s keeps the Living Legends going, with their latest being a Flat-Top not only chambered in .45 Colt, but also fitted with an auxiliary .45 ACP cylinder. Mine is a 51/2″ blued version — stainless steel is also offered — and is an excellent shooter with either cylinder in place. It never ceases to amaze me how well the relatively stubby, little .45 ACP shoots in a revolver cylinder. In fact, it shoots slightly better than my .45 Colt loads. Groups of 1″ and even less are not that unusual. Of course, the problem with this is I will have to own one of the stainless steel versions as well.

There is certainly room under the firearms tent for every type of rifle, shotgun and handgun. However, in this age, which seemingly is dominated by black plastic, it’s wonderfully refreshing to see Lipsey’s offering Living Legends.

For more info: Michael Gouse Engraving, (404) 363-0254, www.mtart.com

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