Ruger Bisley: Battle Of .45 Colt And .44 Mag Custom Builds

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Bisley 6

The “opposite but equal” custom Ruger Bisley build: a .44 Rem. Mag and a .45 Colt. Which one of these beautiful brutes comes out on top?

This double custom revolver build started over an ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) Internet argument between the efficacy of one cartridge—the .44 Remington Magnum—over the modern iteration of the old warhorse, the .45 Colt.

Colt fans are quick to point out the storied history of this gunslinger special and its legendary stopping power, while .44 Mag fans are nearly as fast on the draw reminding us that the .44 Magnum is the standard by which all-powerful revolver cartridges are compared, having taken virtually every big-game animal to ever walk, crawl or hobble across the land.

Both stances are true.

The centerpiece of these builds is the oversized six-shot cylinder, seen here next to a stock <a href=

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The facts are that given the .45’s larger case capacity, similar velocities can be reached with heavier bullets and with lower pressures. It’s just physics, yet advocates on both sides of the argument tend to cite intangibles instead of the irrefutable science side of the “discussion.” Then, there’s the diameter differential, which is sizable to the .45 Colt fans and minimal to the .44 Magnum supporters.

And so it goes, around and around—around and around. With that in mind (and years of Internet “litigation” wasted on deaf ears), I had the idea of building two virtually “identical” (but different enough to the eye) revolvers—one in .44 Magnum and one in .45 Colt. They would compete against each other, head to head, in a penetration contest using wet pack as the medium (and possibly graduating to a flesh-and-bone wound channel assessment at a later date).

All this was to be completed before the deadline of my book, The Gun Digest Book of Hunting Revolvers. It was an ambitious plan, with many moving parts that ultimately fell just short of completion. Nevertheless, a truncated version ended up in the book—despite my best efforts!


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Head to Head: Ruger Bisley #1

Revolver #1, the stainless Ruger Bisley, actually started life as a .45 Colt that morphed into the revolver you see here. A Williams Shooters Supply dealer exclusive, we took a good thing and made it better; much better.

A Williams Shooters Supply Ruger Bisley Blackhawk was sacrificed for this custom project. It’s a stainless steel .45 Colt Blackhawk with a Bisley grip frame and 5½-inch barrel. It’s a great revolver in a great configuration, but my colleagues and I were able to make it even better.
A Williams Shooters Supply Ruger Bisley Blackhawk was sacrificed for this custom project. It’s a stainless steel .45 Colt Blackhawk with a Bisley grip frame and 5½-inch barrel. It’s a great revolver in a great configuration, but my colleagues and I were able to make it even better.

Jack Huntington was commissioned to extensively modify the revolver. The action was blocked (this reinforces the strength of the action and prevents premature wear), and the trigger was massaged to a crisp, 2-pound pull. A 5½-inch PacNor barrel with a 1:18 twist rate and barrel band was added, as well as an oversized, line-bored, six-shot cylinder (after the frame window was opened up to accommodate the large cylinder) that was heat-treated and machined from 17-4PH stainless steel.

Why not a five-shot cylinder, as is the norm in these custom builds, allowing for really warm reloads? It’s simple: There’s enough margin of safety in these big cylinders to run higher pressure loads without having to lose a round in the process. I made the decision not to turn my .45 Colt into a .454 Casull, because I have a number of .454s that can handle loads of that level. That’s not to say this revolver won’t handle higher pressures—because it most certainly will.

The base pin is by Belt Mountain. A custom front sight base holds a replaceable Freedom Arms sight blade, and a Bowen Target adjustable rear sight replaces the stock Ruger piece. The custom Bastogne walnut grips (made for my mitts) were fitted to the reshaped Bisley grip frame to round out the package. It carries well, looks great … and shoots exceedingly well.

Head to Head: Ruger Bisley #2

Revolver #2 started life as a 7½-inch, blued steel Ruger Bisley in .44 Magnum. It, too, was treated to a 5½-inch, 1:18 twist aftermarket barrel—a Krieger in this case—with a barrel band. This revolver received the same type of custom front sight base as the stainless version: the aforementioned Freedom Arms sight blade. As with its stainless counterpart, rear sight chores are aptly handled by an adjustable Target sight by Bowen Classic Arms.

The resultant revolver now sports an aftermarket 5½-inch banded barrel, a six-shot oversized cylinder and custom walnut grips. It remains a .45 Colt.
The resultant revolver now sports an aftermarket 5½-inch banded barrel, a six-shot oversized cylinder and custom walnut grips. It remains a .45 Colt.

The frame window was opened up to receive an oversized, counterbored, six-shot cylinder, held in place with a Belt Mountain oversized base pin. The action was massaged to a creep-less 2 pounds, and the Bisley grip frame was lightly reshaped (Jack removes some material that puts the shooter’s middle finger farther away from the trigger guard) and fitted with a gorgeous set of Claro walnut grips. These were made to fit my right hand.

This revolver also shoots lights-out like its stainless “brother.”

The Deciding Factor: Preference

So, which one is better? In a word: neither. It’s a matter of preference.

The end result of Jack Huntington’s makeover is this beautiful Ruger custom. It sports a 5½-inch banded barrel, six-shot oversized cylinder (remaining a .44 Mag.) and custom Claro walnut grips made by Huntington himself.
The end result of Jack Huntington’s makeover is this beautiful Ruger custom. It sports a 5½-inch banded barrel, six-shot oversized cylinder (remaining a .44 Mag.) and custom Claro walnut grips made by Huntington himself.

They both offer the same level of appeal. Some folks simply like stainless over blued steel (or vice versa). I’ve used both calibers on big game, and while they’re similar in terminal goodness, I give the slight edge to the bigger and older .45 Colt. Keep in mind that we’re not talking about your great-, great-, great-, great-grandfather’s .45 Colt, but the modern, 30,000-plus PSI iteration.

Will this debate ever be settled? It’s doubtful. In fact, what fun would that be?

Until we figure out a way to definitively assign undeniable measurements of value or virtue, the argument will rage on. Opinions are based on subjectivity; therefore, repeatability is daunting, at best.

I know that I’ll continue to own and utilize both calibers in the game fields.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Book of Hunting Revolvers available at GunDigestStore.com.


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