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A modern rendition of a classic
By Jerrick Linde
In 1955 Sturm, Ruger and Company introduced the world to their version of a center fire Single Action revolver. It was made with many modern features such as a coil mainspring instead of the flat mainspring used in most single action revolvers. A frame mounted firing pin instead of a hammer mounted one, to better withstand the higher pressures of modern cartridges. A click adjustable Micro rear sight that was adjustable for windage and elevation, to more easily accommodate a wide variety of loads. To top it all off the gun was chambered for the then most powerful handgun cartridge around, the .357 magnum. The name of this gun and one that would become a familiar name to shooters for generations to come, the Blackhawk. The gun was an instant success then and still is today in its current form. Over its fifty year life it has earned high praise from legendary shooters and gun writers such as Elmer Keith and modern day shooters and writers like John Taffin. Now seeing how this is its 50th year of life Ruger has seen fit to introduce an anniversary model Blackhawk. Since it is an anniversary model it has to be special right? So what is so special about the 50th anniversary Blackhawk? Well, in order to see that we have to take a brief look at the history of this fine firearm.
It would be nice to say that today’s Blackhawk is the same as the1955 model. But, like all things in life, some changes have been made for the better or worse depending on your thinking. The first major modification made to the Blackhawk was a general enlarging of the frame in 1956 to handle the power of the brand new .44 magnum cartridge. This resulted in two frame sizes, a large and a mid-size. The large frame was further modified in 1959 with the addition of protective ears for the rear sight, an unfluted cylinder, and the change the grip frame to a square back “Dragoon style” trigger guard. These changes resulted in a new gun called the Super Blackhawk chambered in .44 magnum. Ruger now offered three general Blackhawk frames the mid-size flattop, large flattop, and the Super frame with protected ears. In 1962 the protective ears were made a standard feature on all frame sizes, ending the pleasing look of the Flattop Blackhawks. Other changes were made at this time to the grip frame with the adoption of the XR-3 RED(for redesigned) which replaced the original XR-3 grip frame(Ruger’s term for a Colt style pattern). The XR-3 RED was a more open design that is claimed to be less-punishing under recoil. These most recent changes resulted in only two frame sizes: the Blackhawk(usually a mid-sized frame depending on caliber) and the Super Blackhawk.
The Blackhawk soldiered on with these two frame sizes and the additions of some new calibers until 1973. This year marked the introduction of the New model Blackhawk. The new model incorporated the most major change ever made to the Blackhawk line, the transfer bar safety system. Before the invention of the transfer bar safety system, it was safest to carry the single action revolver with only 5 rounds and the hammer resting on the empty chamber. If the hammer was allowed to rest on a loaded chamber any bump to it could set off that round. With the transfer bar safety system Ruger single actions could now safely be carried with 6 rounds because the hammer did not and could not hit the firing pin unless the trigger was pulled. Another feature added at this time was to have the opening of the loading gate unlatch the cylinder. This allowed the cylinder to spin for loading and unloading eliminating the need for a half cock notch on the hammer.
With the additions of these two features the New model Blackhawk became a much simpler revolver to load and unload. Before the additions of these features to load or unload a Blackhawk it was necessary to open the loading gate and pull the hammer to the half cock notch. The cylinder could then be rotated to load or unload the gun. Upon completion of loading or unloading the loading gate was closed and then the hammer was pulled to its full cock position. Next it was necessary to pull the trigger while holding the hammer, and then carefully lower the hammer to its rest position on an empty chamber if it was loaded. With the New model Blackhawk all one had to do to load or unload it was to open the loading gate, load or unload the cases, and close the loading gate. The additions made to the Blackhawk line in 1973 made Ruger single actions much safer revolvers for your average person and much simpler to use for everyone. Of course you don’t get something for nothing and the transfer bar safety system had one glaring fault to single action purist. It did not make the classic click, click, click, click sound upon cocking the hammer. Instead it made a click click upon cocking. Sadly 1973 also marked the end of the mid sized frame Blackhawks, from this year on all Blackhawks, regardless to caliber, were to be built on the large Super Blackhawk frame.
Note: The easy way to identify a New model Blackhawk vs a Blackhawk is to count the number of screws in the frame. The New model has two pins while the originals all have three screws. Most collectors and Ruger lovers refer to the pre 1973 Blackhawks as 3 screw models because of this fact. The “3 screw” model still lives on to this day as the Ruger Old Army cap and ball black powder revolver.
Once again the Blackhawk soldiered on with little change except the adding of calibers or slight variations of the large frame size (Bisley models, and the Vaquero) that was now standard. This continued until 2005, the 50th birthday of the Blackhawk. Ruger could not just let 50 years of the Blackhawk pass without producing some kind of special model to celebrate this fact. So the decision was made to produce a 50th Anniversary Blackhawk. This model would mark the return of many changes lost to the Blackhawk line over the years. First it was to be built on the mid-size frame not seen since the last 3 screw models of the 70’s. Next it had no protective sight ears, it would be a Flattop. Finally the grip frame used follows the old XR-3 shape. So if one were to just give this new Blackhawk a quick inspection it would appear to be an original 1955-1961 Flattop .357 magnum Blackhawk. Upon closer inspection one will notice however it is not a 3 screw model. In fact if you look closely on the frame you will see the name New model Blackhawk, so it uses the transfer bar safety system.
As usual with any redesign of the Blackhawk, Ruger was not content to stop there. The newest innovation to be added to this model would be a reverse indexing cylinder pawl. This pawl would assure that when the loading gate is open you would easily be able to line up the chamber, loading gate, and ejector rod by just rotating the cylinder clockwise until it stops with an audible click. At this point everything will line up perfectly. This feature fixes what some people have seen as a problem with the New Model Blackhawks. On models without this feature by the time you hear a click, you have rotated the cylinder to far so it will not line up for ejecting empty cases, forcing the operator to rotate the cylinder one full turn to realign that chamber to load/unload cases. There was also one other item added to this New model that none of the Blackhawk in the past had ever possessed and is sure to be the subject of many a debate. Remember earlier it was stated the grip frames external dimensions are the same as the old XR-3 grip frame, well that is about all it shares with the original grip frames. If you remove the grip panels on the new gun you will find a built in gun lock that the coil mainspring sits in. When this lock is engaged with the supplied key it prevents the hammer from being cocked, thus rendering the gun totally inoperable. The only reason this lock was added was to meet the laws of certain states who now require all handguns sold to have this feature.
I have always wanted an original Flattop model but due to many reasons the chief of which is being born about 50 years to late I have not been able to get one. Like many other people I find the looks of original flattop models very appealing. So when Ruger announced that they were going to make an almost exact reproduction of the original I could not wait to get one. I received my nice little anniversary model in March of 2005. Ruger ships this model in a handsome red plastic box with a nice sticker on the top stating Blackhawk 1955-2005. Included with the gun are an instruction manual, a brochure with a history of the Blackhawk revolver line, a large pad lock, 2 keys to the internal gun lock, and a fired shell casing. All anniversary models come chambered in .357 magnum with a 4 5/8 inch barrel which is marked in gold across its top “50th Year Blackhawk-1955 to 2005.” So far this is the only caliber and barrel length available. Since Ruger has also stated that this model will only be produced this year it is unlikely we will see additional calibers or barrel lengths ever offered. Upon looking over my gun I could not believe how well it was put together. All seams line up perfectly, all screws are tight and not buggered up, and the grips fit perfectly. The action on this gun is typical of the current Ruger actions. The hammer cocks smoothly with no evidence of grittiness or binding. The trigger pull does leave something to be desired, it is a little heavy for my tastes and has just a bit of take up, not a lot just enough to be noticeable. The trigger pull weight was easily fixed by doing the poor mans trigger job (remove one leg of the trigger return spring) on it for now. This resulted in a much lighter pull that I can live with. I must admit the appearance of this gun with its black checkered plastic grips is striking. The gold roll mark on the barrel is not too big and does not look to out of place. Like all current Rugers it does have the safety warning also marked on the barrel. One thing I did have to try out was the built in lock. So I removed the grip panels and engaged the lock just once. It does a very good job of rendering the gun inoperable. It is kind of inconvenient to operate but Ruger did mark the inside of the grip panels so they can be drilled out so the key may pass thru them making removal unnecessary if you decide to use the lock. If not you will not even know it is there. If it really bugs you it looks like it could easily be removed and replaced with a piece of properly machined metal with no problems.
Some people may think I am a bit crazy for what I did to my anniversary model. I actually took it out and shot it. I know, why would I want to take a limited production possible collectors model out and shoot it and ruin any future value? I believe all guns need to be shot, that is what they are meant to do. My first impression upon gripping the gun was wow, this feels good, maybe there is something to this XR-3 grip after all. For this guns first range test I used three different handloads all using the same 158 grain cast LSWC. After a few shots to adjust the sites, they came set way to high for me, I proceeded to get serious with this gun. After all the smoke had cleared I was very impressed. This little gun can shoot. See the chart below for results. This range day was also the first test of the new reverse indexing cylinder pawl. I found it did make it easier to eject the empty cases with by doing what Ruger says, but I have never really had a problem lining up things on any of my previous Blackhawks, but this could just be years of experience ejecting cases from them. The only problem I really had with shooting this gun was the checkered grips. To me they really acted like sandpaper on my hand during recoil. Other people who I have let shoot this gun have also complained about this. For me it is a simple fix, wear my shooting gloves.
Warning: The following data was found to be safe in the tested gun. Always reduce all loads by at least 10% and work up.
Fps-Feet per Second
LSWC-lead semi wadcutter
* best of 4 shots
**operates at magnum pressures, only for use in .357 magnum chambered guns
So is this anniversary model worth having? For me the answer is yes, yes, and yes. I know it is not an original, but for the time being it is the closest thing I may own to an original in this condition. This model looks and feels like an original flattop model. Yes it is not a 3 screw, and it does lack the traditional sound, but for the way this gun performs I can live with that. My only regret is that at the time of this writing Ruger has decided that this will be the only year this mid sized frame flattop will be produced. Fortunately for me this time I am around to get one, and I now have my own flattop Blackhawk, even if it is only a modern rendition of a classic gun.