Bill Ruger was not only a firearms design genius he also understood quite well what the public feeling was for firearms. Consider all of the sixguns ever offered by Ruger over the 50 plus years and how many of them were dropped for lack of demand. The list is very short if it even exists as the .357 Maximum was actually killed off by those not understanding its true purpose, and the .256 Hawkeye was simply ahead of its time and should be resurrected in several calibers. To give shooters a chance to shoot the .22 Magnum Rimfire without having to buy a sixgun that would only accept the relatively expensive cartridge when compared to the .22 Long Rifle, Ruger simply offered a Convertible. Sixgun, that is. Beginning in 1961 shooters could purchase a .22 Single-Six with the extra Magnum cylinder and for many years now all Single-Sixes have come with two cylinders. We've all seen the commercial, over and over and over again, with the lovely twins singing, "Double your pleasure, double your fun”, and although they are selling gum they could just as well be selling Convertible Sixguns.
Single actions with extra cylinders make a lot of sense allowing us to shoot several cartridges from the same sixguns. One rarely encounters a double action with an extra cylinder as it requires not only an extra cylinder but a crane assembly as well. With the single action it is a simple matter of pulling the base pin, removing one cylinder, replacing it with another, returning the base pin and we are ready to shoot another cartridge.
Since my .22 Single-Six was one of the original flatgates from the 1950s it would be nearly 10 years before I would ever personally encounter a Convertible Ruger. At the time I was in graduate school, which has to be one of the worst ways to spend a summer. I was married with three kids home for the summer from grade school and I’m 500 miles away from home going to graduate school. I was almost convinced it would pay large dividends in the future, and of course it did, however the day-by-day drudgery was beating me down to the point where I needed inspiration and also had to take several quick trips home on weekends. One weekend while staying in the college town I found a little gun shop and wandered in simply to kill time with no thought of finding anything and especially not the great sixgun awaiting me. There in the glass case was a 7 ½” Ruger Blackhawk unlike any I had never seen before. It was not a Super Blackhawk, nor was it one of the rare 7 1/2” .44 Magnum Flat-Tops that had been dropped from production in 1963. What was before me was probably the first .45 Colt Blackhawk to reach the Northwest. Up to this point I didn't even know Ruger would at last be chambering the Blackhawk for the .45 Colt.
Since I lived in Idaho while attending graduate school in Montana I had to make the proper arrangements under the GCA’68 law to purchase that first 7 1/2” Ruger .45 Colt. It came with a little red bag containing an extra cylinder chambered in .45ACP, and my first thought was what in the world for? In those days I never really expected to use that cylinder, however in a weak moment I slipped it into the Blackhawk, loaded five rounds of government surplus .45 Hard Ball, tacked up a lid from a Mason jar, backed off 25 yards, and proceeded to put all five rounds, offhand, in the center of that small target. I was sold on extra cylinders.
Ruger Convertible sixguns are now cataloged in .22LR/.22 Magnum, .357 Magnum/9mm, and .45 Colt/.45 ACP, and in the past they have offered at least three limited runs of Convertible sixguns. Two special runs through the now gone Buckeye Sports Supply were Blackhawks in .30 Carbine/.32 H&R Magnum and .38-40/10mm, and the third was a Super Blackhawk combination of .44 Magnum and .44-40. From time to times distributors offer special runs of Vaqueros with two cylinders in .45 Colt and .45 ACP and even .38-40/40 S&W. I've never shot one of the newer .38-40 Vaqueros, however the .38-40/10mm Blackhawk is a particularly good shooting combination, with the .38-40 cylinder in place probably resulting in one of the most accurate guns ever in that chambering.
When I came up with an New Model auxiliary 9 mm for a 7 1/2” Bisley Model .357, it was not to shoot surplus ammo through but rather to have Gary Reeder re-chamber it to his wildcat .356 GNR, a .41 Magnum necked down to .357. While Reeder had the Bisley for fitting the extra cylinder, I also had him take the sharp edges off the grip frame, fits stag grips, inscribe my name in gold on the barrel, and finish off the whole project in a high bright blue. The result is a beautiful custom sixgun that handles the .357 Magnum as well as the .356 GNR which gives .357 Maximum performance in a standard length cylinder.
In the mid-1980s I first encountered Freedom Arms, and since I was deeply involved in long-range shooting at the time, I ordered an early silhouette pistol, a 10 1/2” .454 Casull set up with BoMar sights for competition. When I stopped shooting silhouettes in the early 1990s, that long barreled .454 was turned into a hunting single action and has been wearing a 4X Leupold Long Eye Relief scope instead of iron sights ever since as I soon found that it would outshoot its iron sights. It is the rare person who can stop at just one Freedom Arms single action sixgun, and the more I shot the long barreled .454 Casull, the more I knew I would have to have another one. This time instead of a long-barreled .454 it would have to be a real honest-to-goodness Packin' Pistol and the choice was easy, a 4 3/4” adjustable sighted .454 was chosen with a Freedom Arms action job and ivory micarta grips.
This 4 3/4” single action from Freedom Arms was about as close as anyone could get to having a Perfect Packin’ Pistol. I used both .454 loads and heavy .45 Colt loads in it, and I must admit to using more .45 Colt loads than .454 loads as I did not always need the full power afforded by the heavy loaded .454s. One of my favorite .45 Colt loads is the BRP 300 grain cast gas checked Casull bullet over 21.5 grains of WW296. This is a 1,100 fps load from a 4 3/4” barrel, but it is very accurate and continues to be so at long ranges. I have used it to 700-800 yards shooting at two foot square targets and actually manage to hit them once in awhile by watching the bullets strike in dry dusty dirt.
Since I was shooting more .45 Colt loads than .454s; and since if the .454 cylinder is not carefully and meticulously scrubbed out after using .45 Colt loads; and since, even with careful cleaning, a ring can develop in the cylinder at the end of the case mouth, which could then interfere with the use of full house .454 loads; the Packin Pistol .454 was returned to the factory to have a .45 Colt cylinder installed. Now I had the best of two worlds. However, the 4 3/4” FA sixgun was not finished yet.
While the .45 Colt cylinder was being fitted, a third cylinder was also added as the Freedom Arms was made even more versatile with the addition of an auxiliary cylinder in .45 ACP. Now why would anyone want a .45 ACP cylinder for a .454 Casull? Simple. I for one have hundreds, probably thousands of rounds of various persuasions of .45 ACP loads around. When used in the Casull single action they make for an extremely pleasant shooting outing and I do not have to chase brass all over Idaho nor do I have to mess with full or half-moon clips. With a single action revolver both rimmed and rimless brass all extracts the same way. Shoot 'em. Tumble 'em. Load 'em. Start all over again.
The 4 ¾” .454 was returned to the factory one last time to be fitted with cylinder number four, this time chambered in .45 Winchester Magnum. Normally I would not consider chambering a sixgun for the WinMag, however I had come into a large quantity of .45 WinMag brass and ammunition, and what better sixgun to run it through than the Freedom Arms Model 83?
Alhough not quite as versatile as the four-cylindered Model 83 that started life as a .454, a second Perfect Packin’ Pistol candidate from Freedom Arms is the same basic sixgun chambered in .475 Linebaugh. What extra cylinder does this one take? Why, the .480 Ruger of course, which uses the same bullets at somewhat slower muzzle velocities. This was my choice for my first American bison hunt. Using Buffalo Bore’s .480 Ruger load with an LBT hard cast bullet at 1,100 fps from the auxiliary cylinder in the 4 3/4” Freedom Arms .475 Linebaugh I took a magnificent big bull at 35 yards. The Buffalo Bore .480 Ruger gave total penetration, in one side and out the other.
Not long after introducing the Model 97 in a six-shot .357 Magnum, Freedom Arms began offering auxiliary cylinders in .38 Special. The latter can be used for Cowboy Action Shooting or just general plinking, and the .357 Magnum cylinder returned for more serious uses like Texas turkeys. The Model 97 has been such a sixgun selling success that two more small bore auxiliary cylinder versions are now offered, one in .22 Long Rifle/.22 Magnum, and the other a .32 Magnum/.32-20 version. A third cylinder is offered for the .22 Model 97, that being a match chambered cylinder. However, the standard cylinder and the Magnum cylinder both shoot so well I don't know how a special match chambered cylinder could improve things.
The second chambering offered in the Model 97 was the legendary .45 Colt, a five-shot .45 Colt, and the most compact single action .45 Colt ever factory produced. The .45 Colt Model 97 from Freedom Arms is one ounce lighter than a 5 1/2" Colt SAA at 38 ounces, two ounces lighter than the same barrel length in the Colt New Frontier. It also has the same natural feel and pointability as the Colt. This is an accurate sixgun that packs easily all day with a 5 1/2" barrel with adjustable sights. The Model 97 is made even more versatile with the addition of the .45 ACP cylinder allowing a whole range of target and defensive loads being employed. With its interchangeable front sight system on the adjustable sighted models including the large-frame models, if necessary, the height of the front blade can be easily changed as one goes from 185 grain JHP .45 ACP’s to 260 grain hard cast .45 Colt loads.
My favorite single action sixgun category is a 7 1/2” .44 or .45 preferably with adjustable sights, and one of my favorite sixguns in this category is a Texas Longhorn Arms West Texas Flat-Top Target. This started out as one of the late Bill Grover of TLA’s personal sixguns. However when he sent it to me for testing I told him he might as well give me a price as I would not going to send it back. He quoted a price high enough he figured I wouldn't take it, however I did, and then he felt so bad he offered to build extra cylinders for it. So for the price of one sixgun I really wound up with a .44 Special/.44-40/.44 Magnum/.44 Russian. When the .44 Colt was resurrected, Grover offered to build me a fifth cylinder, however before I got around to shipping the Flat-Top Target back to Texas Longhorn Arms they had gone out of business and now just this month Bill went Home.
I have used this sixgun with every cylinder except the .44 Russian to take deer-sized game. I also recently used this sixgun with the .44 Special cylinder in place to take two large feral boars, one weighing in at 500 pounds, and the other over 600 pounds. My load was the standard Keith .44 Special load using a hollow pointed Lyman #429421 Keith bullet at 1,200 fps. The load performed superbly and I now have over 600 pounds of pork in my daughter's chest freezer. We are just finishing up the last of a buffalo taken with a .45 Colt and are now ready to spend the next year eating pork.
At one time Christie Gun Works offered several auxiliary cylinders for the different calibers and somewhere along the line I picked up one in .45 Auto Rim. I decided to try it out in a 2nd Generation 4 3/4” Colt New Frontier .45 Colt not really expecting it to work. It installed easily, locked up perfectly and turned the New Frontier into a double duty sixgun. The New Frontier .44 Special is too small to be chambered to .44 Magnum, however 3rd Generation examples can be fitted with an extra .44-40 cylinder, and if one feels nostalgia arising in this sixgunnin’ spirit, Hamilton Bowen can re-chamber a .357 Magnum to .44 Russian resulting in a sixgun that shoots all three .44s that were introduced from 1870 to 1907 exceedingly well.
Starting around 1870 Cartridge Conversions began to appear as cap and ball revolvers were converted to the new fixed ammunition. Today auxiliary cylinders are available to convert Colt, Remington, and Ruger percussion revolvers to cartridge firing and it is perfectly legal to do so. The Kirst Cartridge Konverter For Percussion Revolving Pistols consists of a replacement cylinder and a conversion ring, and is offered as a six-shot .45 Colt for the Ruger, a six-shot .45 ACP for the Remington, and a five-shot Safety Cylinder in .45 Colt also for the Remington. This latter cylinder has a safe area for the hammer to rest upon. Both Colt and Remington .38 cylinders are offered are six-shooters.
All Kirst cylinders are basically used the same way. To load, the hammer is placed in the half-cock position, the old cylinder is removed, cartridges are loaded in the new cylinder, and the Konverter Ring is placed on the back of the cylinder. The Conversion cylinder is now installed in the revolver with an empty chamber or the safety area under the hammer. In the case of the Colt 1851 or 1861 Navy revolvers the barrel assembly must be removed before replacing the cylinder and then reinstalled. Walt Kirst now offers a six-shot .45 Colt for the Ruger Old Army which turns the 7 1/2” adjustable sighted Old Army into a tack-drivin’ .45 Colt.
If one so desires the Colt Navy revolvers can be modified by cutting a loading port in the recoil shield to allow the insertion of cartridges and removal of fired brass without removing the cylinder. This requires something to serve as an ejector rod as there is no such rod on the Navy revolvers. I find a very small screwdriver works fine. Both the 1858 Remington .36 and the 1851 and 1861 Navy Colts have barrels that are oversized for the use of regular .38 caliber bullets. Instead it is necessary to use hollow base bullets that will expand to fit the rifling. The 148 gr. swaged lead hollow base wadcutter bullets as offered by Hornady and Speer normally used for .38 Special target loads will work fine. Close parameters exist when loading cartridges for use in either the 1858 Remington .36 or the Navy Colts, and loads must be black powder or held to black powder levels
At about the same time that Ruger announced the 5 ½” Old Army, Taylor’s & Co. took over distributorship of the R&D conversion cylinders for percussion revolvers offering six-shot .45 Colt cylinders for both Remington and Ruger cap and ball sixguns. My original plan was to acquire a pair of stainless steel .44 Remington New Model Army revolvers and fit them with nickel-plated R&D cylinders from Taylor’s. Before this happened I saw the 5 ½” Old Armies and a pair of test Rugers were obtained from Ruger and at the same time, an order was placed for two nickel-plated R&D Ruger cylinders chambered in .45 Colt. These cylinders are not cheap, however they exhibit excellent workmanship and are well worth the going price. They are a two-piece affair with a typical bored through cylinder with a removable back plate. This back plate has six firing pins that look like percussion nipples, and a hole in the back plate lines up with a pin on the back of the cylinder to lock the plate in place after five cartridges are loaded in the cylinder. One of the firing pins is a different color so it is always easy to locate the empty chamber. Once the cylinder is loaded and the back plate replaced, it is then placed carefully into the Ruger frame, the base pin replaced, and the percussion revolver is now ready to be fired with metallic cartridges.
I’ve been doing everything I could over the past 15 years to let everyone know what a great sixgun a .357 Magnum Flat-Top or Old Model Blackhawk converted to .44 Special makes. My last conversion by David Clements on a Three Screw Ruger has an extra cylinder, as David did a .44 Special/.44-40 combination. Both cylinders shoot exceptionally well. “Double your pleasure, double your fun…”