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Ruger's Super Blackhawk 44 Magnum
...The original compact powerhouse
©RGI Media, Inc - Published with permission
 

The Ruger Super Blackhawk has been a mainstay of single action aficionados almost since its introduction in 1959. It was launched, receiving great praise from Elmer Keith, who felt the Super Blackhawk incorporated all of the enhancements required for this type of firearm, enhancement he had been unable to get Colt to make to their 1872 model, despite a thirty year effort. Like the more modern example pictured above, the original Super Blackhawk had a raised frame, adjustable rear sight, 1/8" wide Baughman ramped front sight and an unfluted cylinder. The early Super Blackhawk, pre 1973, also differed in a number of ways.
 
 
The early Super Blackhawk did not have the transfer bar system that allows the New Model to be carried with 6 full chambers. The original had a 7.5" barrel, which is still available today, however, this particular New Model has a 4.62" barrel. The original was available only in blued alloy steel, where now there are both blued and stainless steel versions. The original had a square back trigger guard, where both square and round are available in current production.
 
Made to be shot with precision...
 
 
 
The modern Ruger's rear sight is anchored within a channel in the frame and is adjustable for windage and elevation. Each click is equal to a 3/4" shift at 25 yards or 3" at 100 yards. The front sight blade is a non-game obscuring 1/8". Accessory sight sets and fiber optic front blades are available for folks who might have a different preference.
 
A single action revolver is an exercise in efficiency; not much more than the absolutely necessities. From beneath you can see the tab under the muzzle that is used to manually operate the ejector rod and the base pin that locates the gun's cylinder. If there is a speed bump in this type of firearm it might be the swing open loading gate and the ejecting and loading one chamber at a time... but then there is no separate magazine to lose or malfunction.
 
In this crazy, too lazy to cock a hammer or rotate a cylinder world
 
I know we live in a world of generic high capacity autoloaders; if you can't shoot with proficiency, shoot fast and shoot often. So why would anyone want this relic, this think to operate and be precise kind of gun? Well, single action revolvers are light for the power they generate, simple in function and six rounds for a person with moderate shooting skills is enough.
 
If there is any issue with a single action revolver, it may be found in its leading attribute, power. Magnum handguns are like magnum rifles in that they are manageable under circumstances with the power is desired and useful... dropping a moose or staving off a wild rabbit attack, particularly if a grizzly bear is chasing the rabbit. Supposing you want to spend some time at the range? Supposing you want to keep the same gun around for home and personal defense? There sometimes has to be less of something you bought because it offered much more.
 
44 Russians? Oh, 44 Russian... Factory ammo options
 
When I bought my first 44 Magnum I was very excited to know it would shoot 44 Remington Magnum, 44 Special and 44 Russian ammunition. Back in those days there were no CAS shooting events to create a demand for 44 Russian cartridges. Consequently, 44 Russian ammo became difficult to find and prices were higher than 44 Mag ammo. 44 Special ammo was available, it was cost effective to shoot and a lot easier on the wrist than the 44 Mag. Far left to right 44 Special and 44 Magnum.
 
The difference between 44 Special and 44 Magnum is greater than the 0.125" case length or 10% case capacity difference. The 44 Special operates at 15,000 PSI, the 44 Magnum at  36,000 psi. Factory 180 grain ammo produces 1,000 fps of muzzle velocity and 400 ft-lbs of muzzle energy in 44 Special form and 1,550 fps and 960 ft-lbs in 44 Mag. The Special is still a heavy hitter, but much easier to control. The 44 Special generate 13 ft-lbs of recoil, the 44 magnum 23 ft-lbs... about the same as a 7 lb 30-06 Springfield sporter. The thing the 44 Special can't do is push a 340 grain bullet to 1,478 fps with 1,649 ft-lbs of energy.
 
The issue of shooting lesser power cartridge types in the 44 Magnum may be moot. Today, if someone wants a practice or plinking round for the 44 Remington Magnum and they don't handload, they can just buy light loaded ammunition made for that purpose. Tex-X Cowboy ammo takes 200 grain ammo down to 748 and 670 fps. Even Buffalo Bore, a company that specializes in making mundane big bores into cannons, offers a low recoil 44 magnum load. Still, no tale of the gun would be complete without a stroll down 44 Magnum, 44 Special, 44 Russian memory lane.
 
Above: Federal Classic 180 grain, Hornady Custom 180 grain, Federal Fusion 240 grain, Speer Gold Dot 270 grain, Ultramax cast SWC 240 grain, CCI #9 shot 140 grains. Just a few of the more than 90 commercial loads for the 44 Remington Magnum. Chronographed performance with the subject Super Blackhawk...
 
Ammo Bullet Weight Muzzle
Velocity
ME
Ft. Lbs.
Federal Classic 180 1482 878
Hornady Custom 180 1535 942
Federal Fusion 240 1333 947
Ultramax Cast 240 1243 824
Speer Gold Dot 270 1227 903
 
Handloading for flexibility... no yoga required
 
For the handloader, high or lower power cartridges, there is a need for only the 44 magnum case. While there are approximately 16 billion bullet types available for the 0.429" ~ 0.430" 44 caliber crowd, give or take a few hundred thousand, I think most of what needs to be accomplished, can be accomplished within a selection of four bullets. This may not be the four I've selected, but pretty sure four you select will suffice for most target shooting, hunting and wilderness defense.
 

Bullet

Weight
Grains
Length
Inches
 COL
Inches
Remington SJHP 180 0.580 1.605
Hornady HP/XTP 240 0.705 1.600
Speer JSP 270 0.775 1.580
Sierra JSP 300 0.885 1.735

Using Sierra jacketed soft point 300 grain bullets requires increasing cartridge length to 1.735", or 0.125" longer than the SAAMI spec. The load comes from Sierra Edition V. Where sticking with SAAMI spec limits assures assembled 44 Magnum ammunition will work in all firearms with spec chambers, this load will only work in some, so it must be checked in concert with the subject firearm.

Above, the 300 grain Sierra parked close to the front of the cylinder, the 180 grain recessed back where expected. Tightly roll crimped, the minimum clearance from cylinder face to bullet tip out of  batch of 25 pieces was 0.035". Short enough for this revolver, too long for my Marlin 1894 rifle.

Ammunition assembled to the maximum COL spec places the bullet's tip at approximately 0.125" from the cylinder face or less, depending on the bullet length and weight loaded. A way to get to 300 grain handloads without exceeding the SAAMI spec for COL is to use the Hornady HP/XTP bullet, far left, which is impressed with two cannelures. Using the forward band sets COL at 1.600" and that assembly works with the Marin 1894. The only penalty is loss of net case capacity.

Net case capacity drops from 23.8 to 21.1, the powder charge must be reduced approximately 2.0 grains from the Sierra charge and maximum velocity falls approximately 50 fps similar pressures. Unfortunately, the rifle velocity difference, based upon single loading the 1894 is significantly greater. Whew! Let's get back from that excursion.

 
This works for me...

Warning: Bullet selections are specific, and loads are not valid with substitutions of different bullets of the same weight. Variations in bullet length will alter net case capacity,  pressure and velocity. Primer selection is specific and primer types are not interchangeable. These are maximum loads in my firearms and may easily be excessive in others. All loads should be reduced by 5%,  and developed following safe handloading practices as represented in established reloading manuals produced by component manufacturers. Presentation of these loads does not constitute a solicitation for their use, nor a recommendation.

Cartridge: 44 Remington Magnum

 Firearm: Ruger Super Blackhawk  Max COL: 1.610"
 Bullet Diameter: 0.429"  Primer: CCI 350
 Barrel: 4.62"  Reloading Dies: RCBS
 Max case length: 1.285"  3 Shot Group: 25 yards
 

 

Bullet

Bullet Weight
Grains

Net Water Capacity

COL"

 

Powder Type

Powder Charge
Grains

Muzzle Velocity
FPS

Muzzle Energy
Ft-Lbs

Group Size
3 Shot "

Remington SJHP 180 30.4 1.605   Unique 9.0 1110 493 2.0
Remington SJHP 180 30.4 1.605   Lil' Gun 28.0 1408 793 2.6
Remington SJHP 180 30.4 1.605   H110 29.0 1416 802 2.3
Hornady HP/XTP 240 25.6 1.600   Unique 9.5 1100 645 3.1
Hornady HP/XTP 240 25.6 1.600   Lil' Gun 24.0 1298 898 2.9
Hornady HP/XTP 240 25.6 1.600   H110 25.0 1304 906 2.7
Speer JSP 270 23.1 1.580   Lil' Gun 22.0 1228 904 2.8
Speer JSP 270 23.1 1.580   H110 22.5 1204 869 2.3
Sierra JSP 300 23.8 1.735   Lil' Gun 22.0 1208 972 3.1
Sierra JSP 300 23.8 1.735   H110 22.0 1148 878 3.5
 

Shot with metallic sights, I'm all tingly. When your Internet buddy says he can halve that with a short barrel Super Blackhawk, ask him to meet you at the range for a demonstration and to bring some cash. Humor aside, close enough for deer and hog size game. Certainly good enough to ward off something big within life threatening range. I am not disappointed with the Ruger's accuracy as it reflects the person pulling the trigger, not its mechanical potential.

 
For folks starting from scratch with components, I think there may be better powders if a short barrel gun is the subject of focus. Powder for this project was selected with this firearm as the primary consideration, but the intent was also to work within an inventory of smokeless powder that serves a number of firearms including those with with longer barrels. About 15% to 20% of the powder is clearing the muzzle of the 4.62" barrel without being singed. Alternatives? From Alliant, 2400 and 300-MP. From Hodgdon, Universal. IMR Trail Boss or IMR4227 might be good.
 
Looks like it's time to stop...
 

The Super Blackhawk is dirty and empty and I'm out of ammo. Good place to stop. The Ruger Super Blackhawk is a very powerful and relatively inexpensive sidearm. With even casual cleaning and maintenance they can last most people a life time. My personal assessment is that this is a good field carry barrel length, a great backup gun that could easily drop game in a pinch. If I were going to use a handgun as a primary firearm while hunting, I might opt for one with a couple more inches of barrel to boost exterior ballistics and to extend the sight radius.

If I didn't mind carrying some relatively large hardware, one of those swoopy Super Blackhawk Bisley Hunters with a 9.5" barrel could be good. Where the standard grip shape tends to ride up my hand after a few shots and the front of my middle finger knuckle gets smacked around a bit, the curve of the Bisley grip holds fast and is devoid of knuckleguarditis. Something Ruger does well; offers enough variety so that there is always one that fits just right. Nice guns.

 
 
 
 
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