The decade of the 1950s was tremendously important as far as sixguns being introduced. From Colt came the .357 Magnum Python (1955) and the reintroduction of the Colt Single Action Army (1956). Smith & Wesson gave the world the 1950 and 1955 Target Models, the Highway Patrolman (1954), the Combat Magnum (1955), and in 1956, the .44 Magnum. The relatively new company of Sturm, Ruger was not to be outdone with four single action sixguns coming forth, the .22 Single-Six (1953), the .357 Blackhawk (1955), the .44 Blackhawk (1956), and their crowning glory in 1959, the .44 Magnum Super Blackhawk.
We were still an innocent society in the 1950s. Music was still music, cars still looked like cars should, movies did not have to be rated, and the average person still felt he was in control. Then came the 1960s and everything turned upside down and radicals took charge. By the 1970s we were ruled by trial lawyers who combined with individuals who had performed stupid acts of negligence, however, it was no longer their fault as personal responsibility went out the window. The situation remains the same today only worse.
Ruger knew something had to be done to head off what should have been worthless lawsuits, which had turned instead into cash cows for trial lawyers and "victims." The Old Model Ruger Blackhawk had lasted one decade when they were replaced with the New Models with a transfer bar safety in 1973. Prior to this all single actions of the Colt-style lockwork could only be carried safely if the hammer was allowed to rest on an empty chamber. Now with the New Model Rugers, a single action sixgun could be safely carried with all chambers loaded. At the time I did not like to see the old guns replaced and I still look for the old-style sixguns in gun shops and gun shows. However, in retrospect I can see the transfer bar has prevented perhaps an innumerable number of negligent discharges.
Our resident Ruger single action experts, Elmer Keith and Skeeter Skelton saw things through different eyes than I did. Keith writing in the Guns & Ammo in October 1973 had particular praise for the New Model Super Blackhawk. "The action is a safe one and a great improvement over all the older Ruger and Colt single-actions.... All told, I consider this New Model Super Blackhawk one of the best-engineered and safe single -action sixguns ever produced."
Skeeter Skelton was also lavish in his praise, "Later Bill Ruger abandoned the Blackhawk's excellent, time-tried, well-loved design and in doing so came up with what is undoubtedly the safest, most rugged single action made to date. Called the New Model Blackhawk, it was first introduced in .22 caliber in 1972, with the .357 Blackhawk following in 1973. Externally the new models are virtually indistinguishable from their earlier counterparts, but the internal mechanisms are vastly altered.... Fully loaded with six rounds, with the hammer down over a live round, this revolver cannot be made to discharge by the heaviest of blows on the hammer spur. The changes are due to an entirely new locking system and incorporated trigger-actuated transfer bar.... Some users, veterans of the old-style locking system, have had to make a conscious effort to accustom themselves to the new manner of loading. It takes only a little practice in the beginning and is no problem that all. And it does allow you that one extra shot." (Shooting Times, March 1977).
Up until the advent of the New Model Ruger all single actions were handled the same way. The hammer was put on half cock, the loading gate was opened, and the cylinder could not be rotated to allow removal of fired cartridge cases and the insertion of five new rounds. I was taught in 1956 to load one round, skip the next chamber, load four more rounds, carefully cock the hammer all the way back, and then also carefully let the hammer down on an empty chamber. This all changed with the coming of the New Model which had no half cock on the hammer. To load or unload, the loading gate is opened allowing the cylinder to revolve while the hammer remained in place fully forward. Once a cylinder was loaded, the loading gate was closed, and the New Model was safe to carry fully loaded with six rounds.
With the coming of the New Models, the .357 Magnum was now chambered in the full .44 size frame instead of the Colt Single Action size frame of the Flat-Tops and Old Models. In 1974, stainless-steel Blackhawks began to appear beginning with the best-selling .357 Magnum. When long-range silhouetting spread across the country in the late 1970s-early 1980s, Ruger answered the call for sixguns better suited for knocking over long-range steel in several ways. First came the 10 ½” .44 Magnum Super Blackhawk which became an early single action favorite with the long rangers. Both my wife and I used this model in revolver category for several years. When the stainless-steel version appeared, I no longer needed to hold on to the blue versions so they became custom sixguns. One is now a custom five-shot .45 Colt by Jim Stroh and the other a six-shot .44 Magnum by David Clements. Both wear 5 1/2” barrels along with Bisley Model grip frames, hammers, and triggers.
The 10 ½” stainless-steel New Model Super Blackhawk is certainly one of the most accurate and easy shooting .44 Magnums I have ever encountered. The combination of the long barrel and BluMagnum walnut stocks that fill in behind the trigger guard help greatly to tame the .44 Magnum. I think enough of mine that I had Gary Reeder fancy it up a might and also inscribe the barrel in script with “John Taffin, The Shootists”. I expect to keep it a long time and then pass it on to one of the grandkids.
A second sixgun for long-range silhouetters was the .357 Maximum. For this gun, the Super Blackhawk frame and cylinder were both lengthened to accept a cartridge 3/10” longer than the standard .357 Magnum. When loaded properly, that is, with 180-200 gr. bullets at .357 Magnum muzzle velocities, it is superbly accurate with plenty of knockdown power on stubborn rams. Those who did not understand it tried to turn it into a “.357 Swift” with lighter bullets at higher velocities and then blamed the gun when it would not cooperate. Top straps eroded when using the wrong ammunition, light jacketed bullets actually came apart, and some writers who did not understand the concept, served to bring about its demise. It is unfortunate that such a grand sixgun died because of a lack of understanding.
The Super Blackhawk has always been a great favorite with big game hunters, and remained so with the New Model version, perhaps even more so. New calibers came with the New Model Blackhawk design. In addition to the calibers of the Old Model, Ruger now brought out special editions in .30 Carbine/.32 Magnum/.32-20; .38-40/10MM; .44 Magnum/.44-40 to name some of recent years. The Super Blackhawk is now offered in short barrel lengths with standard Blackhawk steel grip frames.
Selected Loads For 10 1/2” Stainless Steel New Model Super Blackhawk
Bullet/Load MV 5 Shots/25 Yds.
Lyman #429421/10.0 gr. Unique 1,264 1 1/2"
Lyman #429421/18.5 gr. #2400 1,470 1"
BRP 295SWCGC/21.5 gr. WW296 1,471 1"
Ruger SA's are not perfect. Most need the actions slicked up and the trigger pulls lightened. Economics and liability both preclude the offering of super smooth actions and 3# trigger pulls. One simple trick that works on the New Models is to remove one leg of the trigger spring from its pin on the grip frame to lighten the trigger pull considerably. Simply remove the grip and pop off one leg with a small screw driver.
Ruger is offering a conversion of all of their Old Model designs to the new transfer bar safety at no charge. All of the old parts are returned with the conversion on each customer's gun. This is a desired change for old sixguns with worn parts or those that may be handled by shooters who are not familiar with the safety problems of the old style action. It is not generally known, but Ruger will also reblue older Rugers at the same time for a very reasonable price. I've had two .357s done and the blue jobs are better than those on the new guns. They also refinish the aluminum grip frames at the same time.
It may have been old-time sixgunner Walter Rogers who first said "Bless Bill Ruger for putting Magnum calibers in real workin' sixguns" in print but he has been joined by thousands of shooters over the last five decades who have had the same feeling. Bill Ruger caught the mood of sixgunners in 1953 and Ruger has continued to offer "real workin' sixguns" ever since.