In 1935 the newly introduced .357 Magnum was written up with dire warnings as to its recoil and muzzle energy. It was, of course, at that time the most powerful handgun ever produced with a muzzle velocity more than 500 fps higher than any .44 Special or .45 Colt factory load. Today, very few experienced handgun shooters consider the .357 Magnum to be all that powerful or intimidating. The change in attitude came about 20 years later with the introduction of the .44 Magnum that drove the same weight bullets found in the .44 Special and .45 Colt at the muzzle velocity of the .357 Magnum. The .44 Magnum kicked! Hard!
Today we have the situation in which the .44 Magnum has been tremendously overshadowed by the .454 Casull, the .475 and .500 Linebaughs, and the latest big bore sixgun cartridge, the .500 S&W Magnum. These are special-purpose handguns exhibiting tremendous recoil well above the level of the .44 Magnum, however this does not change the fact the .44 Magnum in standard weight sixguns kicks as hard now as it did in 1956. Those of us who were in on the ground floor of the advent of the .44 Magnum had a lot of learning to do and a great deal of experience to go through to be able to handle the .44 Magnum.
The original Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum sixgun was nothing more than an especially heat-treated S&W 1950 Target .44 Special fitted with a full-length cylinder and a bull barrel, which increased the weight from 39 to 48 ounces. It still recoiled heavily. Elmer Keith said it was no worse than a .38 Chief’s Special while Major Hatcher said it felt like being hit in the palm of the hand with a baseball bat. That was the Smith & Wesson. The Ruger Blackhawk was even worse, in fact it was such a thumper Ruger decided to increase the weight and in 1959 brought out the now classic Super Blackhawk. For more recoil reducing weight, a non-fluted cylinder was used and the grip frame was increased in size from the Colt Single Action style to the Colt Dragoon style and made of steel rather than a lightweight alloy as on the Flat-Top.
Ruger has always managed to price their sixguns to appeal to the average shooter. In 1956, A Ruger Blackhawk cost less than 70% of the $140 price tag of the Smith .44 Magnum. When the Super Blackhawk came out in 1959, it was a highly polished specimen in a wooden case for $120, and this improved model Blackhawk won acceptance from .44 shooters immediately. It still cost less than the Smith even with the improvements and many sixgunners felt recoil was less because of its grip design. When Dirty Harry arrived and everyone had to have a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum, many shooters soon discovered the Ruger Super Blackhawk was not only significantly less expensive, it was usually available.
The 1956 .44 Magnum Flat-Top Blackhawk evolved into the Super Blackhawk of 1959 which then became the New Model Blackhawk in 1973 followed by the Bisley Model Blackhawk, a Super Blackhawk with a Bisley grip frame, in 1985. The first three were never chambered in anything except the .44 Magnum, however the .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, and .45 Colt chamberings of the standard Blackhawk line were added to the Bisley along with the .44 Magnum.
The Super Blackhawk has been one of the real workhorses of the handgunning world. Ruger, early in the silhouetting game, brought back the long-barreled .44 by offering a 10 1/2” .44 Magnum for the long-range shooters. Approximately 1,000 of the original .44 Flat-Top Blackhawks had been made with 10” barrels. These were a favorite of some handgun hunters in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and I carried one for several seasons in a Goerg shoulder holster. The newer long barreled Super Blackhawk became a favorite of silhouetters and hunters alike.
The Super Blackhawk and its companion, the Bisley Model, are two of the greatest sixgun bargains available today in .44 Magnum chambering being the hands-down favorite of those seeking reliability, accuracy, and economy in a .44 Magnum hunting handgun. I am one who has never liked the way the Super Blackhawk grip frame bites the knuckle on my middle finger, and so hailed the introduction of the Bisley Ruger as the grip frame near-perfect for my hand. With the .44 Blackhawk, the Super Blackhawk, the Super Blackhawk New Model, and the Bisley .44 Blackhawk, one would expect Ruger's .44 Magnum evolution to be complete. Ruger did not think so. Just as the Blackhawk became the Super Blackhawk to add weight and controllability for the .44 Magnum sixgunners of the 1950's, and the Bisley grip was adopted help control felt in the 1980's, the Super Blackhawk was once again given a facelift in the 1990's. The result was the Super Blackhawk Hunter Model.
Two major changes were made to the Super Blackhawk to turn it into a Hunter Model. Finally the square-backed trigger guard found on the Super Blackhawk since 1959 was discarded for use on the Hunter Model in 1992.The grip frame is still Super Blackhawk size and although the trigger guard has been rounded grips from the Super Blackhawk and Hunter Model are interchangeable. In addition to rounding the trigger guard of the grip frame of the original Super Blackhawk, Ruger also changed the grip material. Instead of smooth wood as found on the Super Blackhawk, the Hunter comes with factory laminated camo finished grips.
Ruger added recoil-shaving weight to the weight of the original .44 Blackhawk in 1959 by the use of a longer barrel, non-fluted cylinder, and a larger steel grip frame. To take the next step up to the Hunter Model, the Super Blackhawk was made heavier by the use of a heavy ribbed barrel bringing the weight of the Super Blackhawk up from 48 ounces to 53 ounces. That extra five ounces really makes a difference with today's heavy loaded hunting ammunition for the .44 Magnum and I definitely find the Hunter Model much more comfortable to shoot than a standard Super Blackhawk. The adding of the combination of a rounded trigger guard and a heavy barrel certainly works much better for handling felt recoil for me when shooting long strings of heavy loaded 44s.
In earlier chapters we mentioned Bill Ruger had early on expressed to Elmer Keith the fact he had been influenced by Keith's writing about custom single actions in the pages of the American Rifleman prior to World War II. As I looked at the Hunter Model Super Blackhawk I had a feeling I had seen this gun before and long before Ruger started advertizing it. The feeling was definitely correct as I found a picture of a Pachmayr custom Colt Single Action in a 1939 Elmer Keith article that, while not a dead-ringer for the Ruger, certainly looks like its paternal grandfather. That old Colt had the same wide hammer and ribbed barrel profile as one finds on this new Ruger more than a half-century later.
Besides the added weight, the Ruger Hunter Model also has many other desirable features such as a smooth trigger, which should be required equipment on all hard-kickin' Magnums; a wide hammer for easy cocking; a long ejector rod and housing as originally supplied on the Ruger .357 Maximum for easy, positive removal of spent cases; an interchangeable front sight system comparable to the GP-100 and Redhawk double action sixguns; and of course the aforementioned heavy ribbed barrel.
The weight-adding one-half inch wide ribbed barrel is also scalloped to accept a pair of Ruger rings for mounting a scope on the Hunter Model. I normally use a 2X or 4X Leupold LER scope as I have had excellent service out of Leupold scopes for many years. Ruger's mounting of the scope on the barrel rib instead of the frame results in the scope mounted far enough forward the hammer is easily reached in front of the rear lens of the scope instead of under it. Any handgun hunter who has tried to wedge his thumb in between the top of the hammer and bottom of the scope all the time trying to cock the hammer while trying not to spook a trophy buck standing within shooting distance will especially appreciate this feature.
When it was first offered in 1992, the Ruger Hunter Model was only available in .44 Magnum in stainless steel with a 7 1/2” barrel and I hoped to see a 10” model as well as 4 5/8” and 5 1/2” barrel lengths for use as easier shooting packin' pistols. I also wanted to see it chambered in .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, and .45 Colt, and even with the Bisley grip frame.
In addition to all the improvements in moving from Super Blackhawk to Hunter Model, the only other thing needed is the addition of a slightly larger in diameter Belt Mountain Base Pin with a locking screw to keep it in place. Kelye Schlepp of Belt Mountain saw a niche and filled it perfectly. Kelye now offers a full line of base pins for nearly every single action sixgun, and these base pins actually perform three functions. First they have a locking screw to hold the base pin securely under recoil; secondly, most base pins offered by Belt Mountain have a larger, easier to grasp head to make removal easy; and finally all Belt Mountain pins being slightly larger in diameter serves to take some of the looseness out of the cylinder/base pin connection.
Once in awhile it will be necessary to turn down the base pin slightly to fit the center hole in the factory cylinder or frame, however I have not experienced this using Belt Mountain base pins in Colts, Colt-style replicas, or Ruger single actions. Belt Mountain offers several designs of base pin heads from original factory configuration to shorter models to allow for longer travel of the ejector rod head. My two favorites are the large knurled style and the Number Five. The latter is named for its similarity to the base pin found on Elmer Keith’s #5SAA created in the late 1920s. With the addition of the aforementioned Leupold scope, nothing else needs to be done to make this Ruger ready for hunting. The Ruger Hunter has proven to be an exceptionally accurate sixgun out of the box. My personal standard for a great shooting sixgun is five-shot groups of one-inch at 25 yards. Garrett's 320 grain hard cast hunting load clocks 1,300 fps and shoots into five-eighths of an inch at 25 yards while their 310 grain SWC hunting load at 1,270 fps puts all five shots in one and three-eighths inches at 50 yards. Excellent results. RCBS's w #44-300 SWC bullet over 21.5 grains of H110 clocks out at 1,200 fps with five shots in 1 1/4” at 50 yards. Again, most excellent results.
I'm still looking for a 10” Hunter Model as well as other factory chamberings. Nothing yet, although I do believe there were some special Ruger distributor offerings of the Hunter Model in .45 Colt. What we have received within the last two years is two more Hunter Models. Most shooters, myself included, prefer the Ruger Bisley grip frame for big bore Magnum sixguns. Ruger now offers the Bisley Hunter Model, stainless steel, .44 Magnum, 7 1/2” barrel and with the Bisley Model grip frame, hammer, and trigger. This is without a doubt the finest big bore hunting handgun ever offered by Ruger.
Recently, Ruger corrected what I would consider a 50-year mistake. In all the time Ruger has produced .22 Single-Sixes they have never offered my favorite length, which is 7 1/2”, for single actions. When it comes to big-game hunting handguns at relatively inexpensive prices, we had the Super Blackhawk Hunter and the Bisley Hunter Models both chambered in .44 Magnum and both with 7 1/2” barrels, but what about the small game and varmint hunter? Ruger has covered both situations and is now offering the .22 Single-Six Hunter Model, all stainless steel, with adjustable sights, a heavy ribbed 7 ½” barrel set up to accept Ruger scope rings, and it also comes with an auxiliary .22 Magnum cylinder. This is simply one great little sixgun however I am torn between keeping it scoped or available with iron sights as it not only works extremely well for hunting varmints and small game, it is also very well suited for plinking, which everyone knows is the greatest of all handgun sports. The .22 Hunter Model performed equally well with either cylinder. Federal's American Eagle .22 HPs clocked out at 1,058 fps and place five shots in 3/4” at 25 yards, while with the Magnum cylinder in place, Federal's .22 Winchester Magnum HPs do 1,527 fps with a five shot group of 3/4”at the same distance. I am perfectly satisfied with the Single-Six Hunter version as a Convertible Model chambered in .22Long Rifle/.22 Magnum, however for those whose tastes are more exotic, it is also offered in .17HMR. I hope Ruger also brings it out with the Bisley grip frame.
For the beginning handgun hunter, or the seasoned veteran, I know of no better first choice when all things, accuracy, price, durability, versatility, are considered than a Ruger Hunter Model. Once again Ruger has done a masterful job of filling a niche.