The Sixgunner: Trapper's Guns


Big bore custom Rugers from Tom Beaudette in .45 Colt, .44 Special and .44 Magnum.

Growing up and reading Elmer Keith, I gained an appreciation for excellent craftsmanship, be it custom guns, handguns stocks, or quality leather. In Keith’s era, there were only a handful of true craftsmen. One of the most pleasant things I do is “discover” many of these. Tom Beaudette leads Trapper’s Guns, not to be confused with Trapper Guns — quite prominent in the 1970s and 1980s and operated by Lin “Trapper” Alexiou.

Now that we’ve got it all straightened out, we can look at Tom Beaudette of Trapper’s Guns and the custom Ruger sixguns he turns out. As many of us did, Tom discovered a big bore handgun killed just as cleanly and quickly as a much harder-to-carry rifle. The only difference was often the distance the handgun afforded.

Tom also was greatly influenced by John Linebaugh. In Tom’s case, it was an article in 1988 on the .475 Linebaugh. He contacted John Linebaugh, had him build a custom Ruger Bisley .475 and soon learned what Linebaugh meant by a packable and powerful pistol. By 1997, Tom decided he wanted to be a custom sixgunsmith. He looked for a job to help him with the money he needed to outfit a shop. He found a true dream job as a government hunter and trapper (hence Trapper’s Guns) under the USDA. This brought him in contact with predatory bears, cougars and coyotes, using many different handguns in his work. In 2011, he retired from being a professional hunter and decided he would build custom handguns full time.

In the early years of Elmer Keith, the number one sixgun for customizing was the Colt Single Action. Today the number one foundation for a custom single action is the Ruger. As they come from the factory, Ruger sixguns are virtually indestructible and, if one so chooses, will serve just as they are for a lifetime of shooting. Any Ruger single actions or New Model Blackhawks provide excellent platforms for building a special custom single action. Tom says he prefers the Rugers as they are “… strong and hold up well. I prefer to use Douglas barrel blanks and line bore most handguns I build. I like my actions to be bank vault tight and the timing perfect. This ensures the longevity of the handgun under heavy use…. I am an old-school kind of guy, and we live by simple rules — God, Family, Work Hard and Play Hard. What else is there?”

Tom Beaudette’s .45 Colt Perfect Packing Pistol.

The .45 Colt and .38-40/10mm Magnum custom Rugers from Tom Beaudette.

Trapper’s .45 Colt

The original .45 Colt load consisted of a 250 to 255-grain flat-nosed conical bullet powered by black powder to about 900 fps. The cartridge itself, especially with the arrival of smokeless powder, was capable of much more than the sixguns of the time could handle. Everything changed in the early 1970s with the arrival of the Ruger .45 Colt Blackhawk, which allowed the same weight bullet to be driven 300+ fps faster — safely. Beaudette’s .45 Colt is built on a medium frame New Model .357 Flat-Top Blackhawk, so to gain this necessary strength, he uses a five-shot oversized cylinder that fills out the frame window. He claims, and rightly so, this sixgun will handle any loads the larger six-shot Blackhawk cylinder will.

In building this .45 Colt, Tom uses a 1:18 Douglas 45/8″ barrel, a Ron Power grip frame styled after the Keith #5 S.A.A., which Elmer and Harold Croft came up with in the late 1920s. The interior lock work is also from Power Custom, as is the Bisley hammer with the trigger pull set at 31/2 lbs. The exterior of this .45 five-shooter is finished in blue with a Doug Turnbull case hardened frame and everything is then set off with beautiful Turkish walnut stocks by Larry Caudill.

Targets shot with the Beaudette custom .44 Special.

The Trapper’s Guns custom .45 Colt in action.

Trapper’s .44 Magnum

The second half of Beaudette’s Perfect Packing Pistol duet is chambered in .44 Magnum using a line-bored, full-length, six-shot cylinder. The 41/2″ Douglas barrel has a 1:16 twist with an 18-degree forcing cone. Tom uses the same Power Custom parts as found in the .45 Colt and Turkish walnut stocks on the Keith #5 grip frame. The frame is also color case hardened by Doug Turnbull.

Both the .45 Colt and .44 Magnums use the excellent Bowen rear sight and in this case, the front sight is Weigand with a brass bead. Tom also uses a Bowen base pinned for both sixguns. The tuned action features a 3-lb. trigger pull.

These Perfect Packin’ Pistols would give a sixgunner a lifetime of hard service and enjoyment, whether serving as an everyday carrying gun, a weekend plinker, or a serious close-range hunting handgun.

A more modern chambering — the .327 Federal Magnum.

Power Custom #5 grip frame compared to the standard Blackhawk grip frame.
Grips are by Larry Caudill.

A Special Special

Every regular reader knows of my affinity for the .44 Special. Whether it is a Colt Single Action, New Service or New Frontier, a S&W Triple-Lock, Model 1926 or Model 1950, or a Freedom Arms Model 97, the .44 Special is just that extremely special. It remains the connoisseur’s cartridge and can do anything short of big game hunting of very large nasty creatures. I have used it to take feral pigs weighing over 500 lbs. However, it is not the choice for anything larger.

To build his .44 Special, Beaudette started with an original .357 Blackhawk Three-Screw, a medium-frame sixgun about the same size as the Colt Single Action Army. The cylinder was re-chambered to .44 Special, a 71/2″ Douglas 1:16 barrel fitted with an 18-degree forcing cone. The tuned action features a 3-lb. trigger pull, and the line-bored cylinder rotates on a Belt Mountain base pin.

Beaudette maintained the original Ruger rear sight but matched it with a Weigand front sight. For a very different and classic look, this .44 Special sixgun has been fitted with a Power Custom two-piece brass grip frame that has then been fitted with a beautiful set of Alaskan walrus bone grips. These grips reached right down into my sixgunnin’ soul, and I was sorely tempted. I had a screwdriver in hand to remove the grip frame assembly and grips and send this .44 Special back a mite lighter, but somehow I was able to find the inner strength and overcome this compelling urge.

This custom Ruger from Tom Beaudette has two cylinders in .38-40 and 10mm Magnum.

Even with its smaller bullet diameter, the .30 Carbine cylinder
shot just fine through the .32-20 model.

The Beaudette custom .38-40 is gorgeous — and it shoots.

Reliving My First Sixgun

The first centerfire sixgun I ever purchased was a pre-WWI 43/4″ Colt SA chambered in .38 WCF, or as it is more commonly now known, .38-40. Beaudette’s Custom Ruger .38-40 is a Convertible Model built as a 10mm Magnum sixgun with an extra cylinder in the .38 WCF chambering. I did not have any 10mm Magnum loads or brass on hand, so I went with .38-40 exclusively in this sixgun.

Beaudette started with a Ruger .357 New Model fitted with a 61/2″ 1:16 Douglas barrel. A Bowen base pin is used along with a Bowen rear sight matched with a Weigand Patridge front sight. The action has been tuned and fitted with a free-spinning pawl, which allows the cylinder to be rotated in either direction, and the Bisley hammer is matched with a 33/4-lb. trigger pull. Doug Turnbull also case colored the frame and finished the rest of the gun in a non-glare matte blue, while Larry Caudill provided the burl Turkish walnut stocks. I didn’t appreciate the beautiful wood used until I saw them in bright sunlight. Absolutely mouthwatering.

Tom Beaudette’s custom Ruger Convertible with three cylinders
in .327 Magnum, .32-20 and .30 Carbine.

Trapper’s .327 Convertible

Finally, we come to a sixgun that can be shot all day long. It can be used for plinking, target shooting, field pistol-style silhouetting, varmint hunting, be a great comfort while hiking or backpacking, even serve for self-defense, or if one is very careful, for hunting deer-sized game. Skeeter Skelton wrote of picking up a 71/2″ Colt Single Action .32 WCF or .32-20 while still a teenager who mustered out of the service and found it, in all places, in a gun shop in Chicago. Going back further, Elmer Keith’s first centerfire sixgun was also a 71/2″ .32-20 Colt SA, which he reported using successfully on mule deer.

The .32-20 also goes back to the last quarter of the 19th century. It’s still a viable handgun and has now been upgraded with the arrival of the .327 Federal Magnum. Beaudette’s Ruger Custom is a .327 with two extra cylinders, one in .32-20 and the other in .30 Carbine. Most guns I test give me a workout, and after a few hours’ session, I’m ready to call it a day; not so with this special Ruger. You can shoot it with pleasure all day long.

This custom Beaudette 6″ Ruger has most of the amenities already mentioned. However, it uses a Super Blackhawk hammer and the original aluminum grip frame to hold down the weight. In addition to the three cartridges mentioned, the .327 Magnum cylinder will also handle .32 Magnum loads. The original Federal 95 LSWC load clocks out at 960 fps from this sixgun with five shots going into 3/4″ at 20 yards. This would be an excellent small game load. In addition, the old .32 S&W and .32 S&W Long cartridges can be used in the .327 cylinder.

While the .327 Magnum and .32-20 both use bullets sized right at 0.311″ to 0.312″, the .30 Carbine is more at home with bullets in the .308-309″ range, so they cannot be expected to shoot as well in the barrel tailored for the first two. I was certainly not disappointed with the Sellier & Bellot 110 FMJ clocking out at 1,560 fps and grouping just over one inch, while my handload of the Speer 110 JHP over 14.5 grains of H110 just under 1,400 fps shot equally well.

Anyone looking for a quality custom sixgun chambered in any cartridge up to and including the .500 Linebaugh will not be disappointed. I recommend it highly.

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