ruger blackhawk

Ruger Blackhawk, For When The Typical Magnum Isn't Tough Enough

If you look into the big magnum revolvers, one of the names you'll see again and again is the Ruger Blackhawk. This model has been in production for more than 60 years, and is consistently hailed as one of the toughest pieces of shootin' iron you can get.

Dirty Harry and his N-frame? Get out of our office. The cylinder just warped while you were thinking about it.

The Blackhawk was the first of the big Ruger revolvers, cementing their reputation as a handloader's platform. If you want a big magnum, the Blackhawk is one of the best starting points and also one of the most affordable ways to put a big magnum on your gun belt. How come, though?

Ruger Blackhawk Brought Single Action Into The 20th Century

single action

The genesis of the Ruger Blackhawk is back in the 1950s. Ruger, just getting off the ground at the time, offered a couple of handguns, one being the Mark 1 - a .22 LR semi-auto, one of the best plinking pistols ever - and the Single Six, a single-action .22 LR copy of the Colt Single Action Army, aka Peacemaker.

Westerns were mighty popular at the time, and people wanted to have a revolver hanging off their gun belt that looked just like the ones carried by Gary Cooper or John Wayne. However, Bill Ruger and some others felt that some folks wanted more than just a plinker. The solution was to change the leaf springs to coil springs, beef up the frame with more steel and add an adjustable rear sight rather than the notch sight cut into the SAA's top strap.

The first edition, first produced in 1955, was offered in .357 Magnum, and the handgun world saw that it was good. The pistol was accurate, reliable, and the added material made the pistol capable of handling most wildcatters' hot handloads.

But there was a rumbling. The 50s were the wildcat heyday, with lots of folks cooking up experimental new cartridges with MOAR POWAHHH!

The First Obtainable .44 Magnum Revolver

Someone had cooked up a powerful new cartridge based on what guys like Elmer Keith, Skeeter Skelton were doing with the .44 Special, which we now know as the .44 Magnum. The first .44 Magnum revolver, of course, was Smith and Wesson's Model 29, but the problem with that gun was that no one had them in stock and you couldn't afford one anyway.

That was a problem until the early 1970s, at which point it wasn't a problem because no one wanted a Model 29 anyway. They had to get the "Dirty Harry" movies to sell them; the gun was all but out of production until Clint Eastwood asks Horace Popwell if he feels lucky.

Within a few months, Ruger Blackhawks were on store shelves for reasonable prices.

The story goes that a Ruger employee found spent casings in a scrap yard near the testing grounds where Remington - remember, the .44 Magnum is properly titled .44 Remington Magnum - was putting the finishing touches on. Ruger snagged the cases and adapted the Blackhawk, coming on Smith and Wesson's heels.

In the intervening years, the Blackhawk was known for standing up to the hot loads a lot better than others. The simpler trigger mechanism and extra steel meant a tougher gun, and the ergonomic grips tamed recoil.

New Model Blackhawk And Super Blackhawk

super blackhawk

In the early 60s, changes were made to the Blackhawk resulting in the gun being offered in two distinct product lines, namely the New Model Blackhawk and the Super Blackhawk.

In 1959, a new .44 Magnum model - the Super Blackhawk - was added to the lineup, with an even beefier frame. Overall the gun is the same size, but to this day the Super Blackhawk has an additional few ounces of weight for the same size standard pistol of the same size. The biggest addition is to the top strap.

On the standard model - often called the "Flat-top" - the rear sight sits on the top strap with no covering. The Super Blackhawk adds protective dog ears, and some bits of metal in other areas to cut down on recoil and otherwise make the frame more robust.

The standard Blackhawk in .44 Magnum was dropped some years later and the Super Blackhawk is now the only one you can get in .44 Magnum. The standard model abounds in .357 Magnum, .45 Colt and other chamberings though.

In 1973, a transfer bar safety was added so the user could carry with all six chambers loaded. Additionally, the cylinder mechanism was revised so the gun could be loaded with the hammer down. This model was dubbed the New Model Blackhawk and has remained thusly titled ever since.

Ruger Blackhawk Remains The Starting Point Of Stout Magnums

ruger blackhawk

Today, the virtues of the Ruger Blackhawk remain the same. If you want the stoutest of magnum revolvers, this is where you start. If you want a modernized single action revolver, it's the best you can get. Cheaper than the modern Colt SAA, and able to take beatings from the hot loads that the SAA and all clones are not.

The Super Blackhawk is now available in black and stainless finishes. The Hunter line adds a bull barrel with a flat top with indents for mounting a scope. Those can be had with or without Bisley grips.

Super Blackhawk pistols can be had with serious firepower. Alongside .44 Magnum, these guns are also available in .41 Magnum as well as .454 Casull and .480 Ruger. Serious guns for serious business.

The New Model Blackhawk, the flat-top line, can also be had with or without Bisley grips and can be had in black steel or stainless. While .44 Magnum is no longer available, .41 Magnum is available as is 10mm Auto (with moonclips), .44 Special, .45 Colt and, oddly enough. 30 Carbine.

The flattops also include the Blackhawk Convertible line, which features swappable cylinders. The convertible cylinders allow the shooter to (usually) shoot a semi-auto round with moonclips, as the cylinder face has been machined to allow their use. The .357 Magnum model has a cylinder for shooting 9mm, the 10mm model will fire .40 S&W and ostensibly .38-40, and the .45 Colt model has a cylinder for use with .45 ACP.

The latter may be the gun to acquire, as .45 Colt can be loaded soft for Cowboy Action shooting all the way up to as hot as the strongest .44 Magnums. This gives you multiple power levels with one pistol. You also get to do your range work for cheaper than most revolvers.

But it's a single-action. Why would anyone get one? Well, they are solidly built and accurate, so you get a long service life of good shooting provided you do your part. The action is simple compared to many DA revolvers and can be easily tuned. A lot of people out there shoot revolvers single action anyway because most folks do all of their shooting on the range.

In other words, it's a big, tough revolver that you can depend on for basically the rest of your life.

However, for the handgun hunter or magnum junkie, the Blackhawk offers a proven platform for both endeavors. Elmer Keith sang its praises decades ago. Handgun hunters have long known this gun will handle the stoutest hunting loads, and it has been used on every continent and against every kind of game you can imagine. Blackhawks have put whitetail in freezers as well as pigs, elk, moose on to grizzly bears and even African game.

Put simply, the Ruger Blackhawk is one of the best hard-working guns you can get.

Sam Hoober 

About The Author


Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

purchase gun belt