When a pistol remains in service for 50 years, it gets Workman's attention. In the case of the Ruger Super Blackhawk, it came as no surprise.
Legend has it that Bill Ruger or someone who worked for him had found some spent .44 Remington Magnum cartridge cases in a trash heap back in the mid-1950s and, as a result, Sturm, Ruger came up with the first single-action Blackhawk in that caliber in 1956.
That may or may not be an urban legend, but regardless how it happened, when Sturm, Ruger unveiled that big-bore Blackhawk, it was a fire-snorter that seemed to many people to be a bit on the small side for that hell-roaring cartridge. In 1959, Ruger unveiled a sixgun that has become a legend in its own right, and this year the Ruger Super Blackhawk turned 50 years old, and we almost overlooked it.
My first experience with this handgun was when I was a teenager hunting raccoons with a couple of guys, one of whom had this monster hogleg hanging from a homemade cartridge belt. I’d never seen a handgun quite that big, and when he touched off a round to bring down a treed bandit one morning, the fire that came out of the bore was simply awesome, and the muzzle blast left me momentarily deaf.
Now, years later, I’ve had the opportunity to shoot various specimens and found the revolver with its lengthened grip frame and the square-backed trigger guard — reminiscent of the old Colt Dragoon — to be one darned fine hunting handgun. Some years ago, Pachmayr did handgunners a big favor and developed a rubber replacement grip that made the recoil easier to handle and actually seemed to fit many hands better than the factory wood grips.
Designed with a couple of “wings” that came up from the rear of the frame to house the adjustable rear sight, and a ramp front sight that looked like it belonged on a rifle, the Super Blackhawk was, and remains, a serious-business single-action. It wore a polished deep blue finish and the unfluted cylinder added not only to the visual appeal but a slight bit of weight that helped to tame the recoil just a hair. After all, this sixgun weighed about 48 ounces, which is one hefty piece of steel, and as it turned out, not all that uncomfortable to shoot.
What really counts about the Super Blackhawk, and the Blackhawk for that matter, is on the inside. Ruger designed the Blackhawk family with modern coil springs and built it from modern steel. It was and remains a modern revolver that just sorta looks like it belongs in the 19th Century.
There are several good histories of the Super Blackhawk readily available on the Internet, and each has its own approach to the history of this gun. I’m going to talk about its functional value, which is proven beyond any doubt by anecdotal evidence; tales of the great gun clobbering deer, caribou, elk, bears and pretty much anything else that got in its way.
With its 7 ½-inch barrel, steel grip frame and ejector rod housing, the Super Blackhawk is a handful. One of my closest pals bought one when he lived in Alaska, and on my first visit up there, it went along with us to his wilderness cabin northwest from Anchorage. He advised me at the time that there were things in the woods that could eat people, and all I had was a piddly-by-comparison Smith & Wesson Model 19 that just didn’t seem at home in those parts.
Shooters and hunters get the most out of the .44 Magnum cartridge from this revolver and barrel length. With enough time at the range, the Super Blackhawk and right loads proved to be an accurate combination for hunters and silhouette shooters.
It was no surprise that the Super Blackhawk eclipsed the original .44 Magnum Blackhawk in popularity, and in 1963, Ruger stopped building the Blackhawk in .44 Magnum (but it wasn’t long before a Blackhawk in .41 Magnum made its debut!) and from that time on, the Super Blackhawk has reigned.
The next evolutionary step came in 1973, when Ruger re-designed the internal workings of the Blackhawk and Super Blackhawk from the old three-screw design to the “two-pin” New Model (older guns were appropriately called the “Old Model”). This revision featured a transfer bar firing system that allows all six chambers to be loaded, and the loading mechanism changed a bit. The cylinder was now released by opening the loading gate instead of bringing the hammer back to half-cock, and instead of four audible clicks during cocking, there are now only two.
For hunters and even target shooters, this is a considerable improvement. The transfer bar is safer if one decides not to take a shot and lower the hammer. Simply let up on the trigger as the hammer begins to slowly drop and as the transfer bar falls, you can lower the hammer and it will not strike the firing pin.
Ruger introduced a stainless model of the Super Blackhawk, and offered shorter barrel lengths of 4 5/8- and 5 ½-inches, and a Hunter model was produced with a ribbed barrel onto which a scope could be mounted. But always it has been the Super Blackhawk, a handgun that inspired some people to experiment with different loads and wildcat cartridges.
Some people will rave about the smoothness of the action. Others talk about how crisply it lets off. They will boast about the accuracy out to 100 yards or maybe beyond with just the factory sights. A few may simply stare at the finish of a vintage gun that has been well cared for and not say a word.
Fifty is not such a ripe old age anymore, but a sixgun model that has lasted that long is a fairly rare beast. The Colt SAA, of course, has been around for more than 130 years, but a fair number of other single-action revolvers have come and gone, and so have classic double-actions.
The Ruger Super Blackhawk remains, and it would be no surprise to me if it were around for another 50 years.
Pretty hard to kill a legend.
This article appeared in the December 21, 2009 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.