The First in a Series of Articles
FIGHTING HANDGUNS I
THE FIRST FIGHTIN' HANDGUN: THE SINGLE ACTION SIXGUN
The story, true or not, is a good one. Young Samuel Colt shipped out on the brig Corvo from Boston to Calcutta, a four month voyage delivering cotton and missionaries. Having little to do to occupy himself, the sixteen year old Colt whiled away his time carrying out an idea in wood that would later be turned into the Colt revolver. Supposedly, Colt carved a hammer and cylinder out of wood while traveling on the high seas.
Different versions of the story give different inspirations for Colt's idea of a revolver cylinder. One is that he watched the wheel of the Corvo. Another says he watched the action of the capstan. A third says that Colt saw Elisha Collier's 1818 flintlock revolver, forty thousand of which were purchased by the British government and sent to India.
The Collier was not a success. Colt's revolver was. The difference was the percussion cap. By 1836, a silk mill in Paterson New Jersey was turning out , what else, the Paterson revolver. The Paterson revolver carried, of all things, a fold-away trigger that came into play as the hammer was cocked. The Paterson company failed, and that could have been the end of Colt firearms except for the fact that the Texicans were about to go to war with the Mexicans. Captain Walker worked with Colt and came up with the first real fightin' sixgun, the .44 Walker Colt. At four pounds nine ounces with a nine-inch barrel, it was not a gunfighter's weapon by any means. But it certainly was a great advance over the single-shot .54 caliber pistols of the time. The Walker went through a series of improvements and became the Colt Dragoon.
The first real gunfighter's weapon came three years later. It was one of the slickest sixguns ever, the 1851 Colt Navy. Now we had a real portable packin'and fightin' pistol. The day of the gunfighter had arrived. By 1860, the power of the Walker was combined with the portability of the Navy and the result was the .44 1860 Army. The argument continues as to whether Wild Bill Hickok carried a brace of ivory gripped 1851 Navies or 1860 Armies.
In 1869, another big bore sixgun arrived in the form of the beautifully made Smith & Wesson single-action sixgun. Now we had a further improvement. A vast improvement. The Smith was not a "cap-n-ball", but a cartridge gun. Originally chambered in .44 American, it soon was available in the .44 Russian which later became the .44 Special which later became the .44 Magnum. The Russian Duke Alexis, who used the .44 Smith to hunt buffalo from horseback, is responsible for the improvement and thousands of Smith & Wessons in the fine new caliber went overseas.
While Smith & Wesson was producing forty-four single actions for the Russkies, Colt was stuck without a cartridge revolver. If Smith had not had the Russian contract and had instead concentrated upon the American market, sixgun history might have been quite different. Colt bided their time and when the patent for the bored through cylinder ran out, they were ready in spades. In 1873, one of the greatest sixguns ever was introduced. The Colt Single Action Army still exists and the fine Smith & Wesson single action hasn't been seen since the 1800's. Not only does the Colt still exist, it has been copied or modified and offered by Great Western, Ruger, Seville, Abilene, Freedom Arms, and by an endless host of foreign importers.
The first Colt Single Action Army was offered in the now equally legendary .45 Colt. Basically designed for the military market, the SAA was offered in a barrel length of seven and one half-inches to duplicate the feel of the 1851 Navy and 1860 Army. The Single Action Colt was soon offered with a five and one-half inch barrel, the Artillery Model as opposed to the longer Cavalry Model. Some budding gunfighter took a good look at the Colt Single Action, cut the barrel length even with the ejector rod housing and one of the finest balanced sixguns (the finest?) ever emerged, the four and three-quarter inch barreled single action. The Gunfighter's Weapon had really arrived.
For the first time, a shootist was just as dangerous with his sixgun in the holster as if it was in his hand. Perhaps even more so. The average reaction time is somewhere around one-half second. A sixgunner who practices religiously, as I did for a number of years, can draw and fire and hit the target with unbelievable speed. I myself was able to get down below one-quarter of a second and sometimes when I was really on, in the neighborhood of one-tenth of a second. No reaction time is fast enough to counter this. The old "you go for your gun first" myth is just that, a myth. All other things being equal, he who drew second finished second.
The Colt Single Action was carried by gunfighter's on both sides of the law: Jesse James, Cole Younger, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, the list goes on and on. In 1916, before heading into Mexico after Pancho Villa, a young Army Lieutenant picked up an Ivory gripped Single Action Army .45 in El Paso. The gun became famous on the hip of then General Patton in World War Two. It had two notches in the grip from the Mexican campaign.
The career of the infamous team of Bonnie and Clyde was stopped by former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, whose favorite sixgun was "Old Lucky" a .45 Colt Single Action. Hamer has always been treated unfairly by Hollywood and in actuality he was a real hero, a true "one riot, one Ranger" type of lawman.
Of course, without the Colt Single Action there would have been no reel, movie -style that is, gunfighters. Can one even imagine John Wayne or Roy Rogers or Gene Autry or any of a host of other Saturday afternoon western heroes carrying a Beretta 9MM? Matt Dillon meeting Arvo Ojala on the streets of Dodge City every Saturday night carrying a .357 double action revolver just would not have seemed right.
There is no gun faster for the first shot then the Single Action from a proper holster. This has been proven over and over again by countless shooters and no less personalities then Bill Jordan, Elmer Keith, and Skeeter Skelton all said the same thing. But they all carried double actions for the simple reason that one shot may not be enough.
Glenn Ford, in "The Fastest Gun Alive" and subsequent movies, carried his Colt Single Action in a rig quite different from other stars. The holster rode higher, and in front of it, sewed to the belt, was a thick piece of vertical leather. Ford would cock the hammer in the holster, fire the first shot and then swipe the hammer back on the piece of leather as the sixgun came forward and fire the second shot. Charles McDonald Heard, a teacher of fast draw, went Ford one better. Heard cocked the gun in the holster for the first shot, caught the hammer with the thumb of his left hand for the second shot, then swept the hammer back with the little finger on his left hand for the third shot. And defied anyone to be fast enough to count all three shots!
But these were movie gunslingers with blanks. What about live ammunition? Ed McGivern proved that the Colt Single Action could even be fanned very accurately and he would put a cylinder full in a space that could be covered with one hand, but he used the relatively heavy .38 Special Colt Single Action and .38 wadcutters.
Yes, the Single Action is as fast or faster of the three, single action, double action, or semi-automatic for the first shot, after that the double action and semi-automatic really come into their own. Fanning a Single Action had best be left to cleaning out alleys in a hurry. "Spray and pray" did not start with the wondernines; it started with fanning the old Colt.
Is the single action still a fighting handgun? Is it still viable as a combat pistol? Let's forget the games of fast draw or action shooting. The single action has the advantage in the first and the double action and semi-autos definitely in the second. I truly love single actions but I would not try to compete in an action match with one.
I've shot law enforcement qualifying courses of fire in two states with both double action sixguns and semi-autos and have never had any problem qualifying but I do not believe I could do it with a single action. However my good friend Jim Taylor, pastor and pistolero from Arizona now residing in Missouri, does it with a Single Action seven and one-half inch barreled Ruger .45 Colt Blackhawk. This sixgun has been his constant companion for twenty years and it shows. Using a speedloader for a single action that is a tube that simply allows the loaded rounds to drop into the chambers as the cylinder is rotated, Taylor gets in under the wire. My scores are higher but he does it the old fashioned way.
At the Shootists Holiday in 1986, I watched two well-known single action pistoleros, Taylor and Mike Venturino shoot bowling pins with single actions against an accomplished action shooter with a $2000 semi-auto and competition holster. Venturino stood on the left and used an old Colt Single Action .38-40 with a seven and one-half inch barrel and a traditional 1880's style holster. Taylor on the right used a Ruger .45 Colt also with a seven and one-half inch barrel and a twenty year old homemade holster, no metal just a comfortable workin' rig. At the signal both would draw, fire and take the pin before the action shooter had a chance. Want to guess who has switched to single actions? Forgetting the games and looking at the serious side of life, is the person who packs a single action at a great disadvantage? I do not believe so and I pack a single action as often as not and almost always when the hardware is packed openly. They just seem to pack so much easier than other types. The first shot is fast, and subsequent shots may be slower but the single action can be depended upon to deliver five or six shots from a gun whose balance and portability has never been equalled. I cannot hit a target as easy from the hip with a either a double action or semi-auto as well as I can with a single action.
Yes, I realize packin' a single action in this "modern" age could be looked upon as more tradition than practicality but given my choice as to a big bore single action sixgun or a high capacity nine I would pick the single action every time. I am not speaking from the standpoint of a large city cop by any means. The wondernine would be more appropriate in megalopolis, but for the rural sheriff or small town cop who could just as likely be called upon to dispatch a mad bull or perhaps an angry bear, or the private citizen who spends much of his time in the mountains, foothills, or desert, the single action sixgun is not out of date by any means. And the single action delivers more muzzle energy with less packin' weight than any other handgun.
The single action has two serious drawbacks in addition to being slow to reload. The first, of course, is the fact that it must be cocked by the shooter each time before it is fired. This is much slower than pulling the trigger of a double action or semi-auto. Of more concern to me is the fact that once the single action is cocked, it is ready to go with no safety features. The double action is still ready with the hammer at rest as is the double action semi-automatic. The single action semi-automatic, 1911 government style, has an easily engaged safety when it is cocked. Under a stressful situation, the cocked single action has only a two to four pound trigger pull as a safety.
Let's take a look at some of the single action sixguns that have been or are now available and the calibers they are chambered in and let us not forget the leather. I spent the better part of this past summer, quite enjoyably I might add, shooting every conceivable single action sixgun, four-inch double action sixgun, as well as all the 10MM's and .45 autos I could lay my hands on. Each type has its place and will be covered elsewhere. After firing thousands upon thousands of rounds through all these types of defensive combat-style honest to goodness fighting handguns, I have not changed my mind about single actions. They were the first of the breed and still will deliver.
.45 COLT/ THE CARTRIDGE: Since 1873 this has been the defensive cartridge by which all other have been judged. The .45 ACP is simply the result of trying to make the .45 Colt, Long Colt as many sixgunners prefer, work in a "modern" semi-auto. Until very recently, the .45 Colt was the only over-the-counter big bore cartridge suitable for normal defensive use that could be purchased for revolvers, double action or single action. The .44 Magnum and .41 Magnum were too much of a good thing and the .44 Special was too little.
Originally loaded with a 255 grain bullet over 40 grains of black powder, it was later reduced to a 230 grain bullet over 28 grains or about the equivalent of the hardball load that replaced it thirty-eight years later. With all the experimenting with bullet weights and bullet diameters and jacketed hollow points that may or may not expand, it all comes back to two things: bullet diameter and penetration. The .45 Colt offers both.
Excellent combat .45 Colt ammo is available from CCI, with a 255 lead conical that looks much like the 1873 load; Federal with a soft lead 225 grain hollow point that is too soft for extended use in the ultra-tight Freedom Arms .454 Casull as it will bind it up, but works just fine in other .45's; and Winchester with both a 225 grain Silvertip load and a standard 255 grain load.
Black Hills has toyed with the idea of a 255 grain semi-wadcutter that delivers 900 feet per second out of a short barreled Colt or Ruger .45 and this would be an excellent load if it becomes a production item. Jeff Hoffman supplied me with some of this .45 Colt ammo in plain white boxes and I like it very much. If you would like to see this loading made available contact Jeff and let your wishes be known. Patriot Manufacturing now has excellent +P .45 Colt loads available with both 300 grain jacketed and cast bullets.
.45 COLT/ THE SIXGUNS: Eleven .45 Colt sixguns were rounded up and test-fired with various types of .45 Colt ammunition both factory loads and handloads. All firing for groups was done at my standard 25 yards realizing of course that most defensive shooting will be accomplished at shorter distances.
Talking with Bill Grover of Texas Longhorn Arms about this project, who by the way would not be caught with anything but a single action for any purpose, resulted in Bill sending up a very special .45 Colt, a Sheriff's Model three-inch barreled custom .45 that Grover had built up for well-known single action pistolero Thell Reed more than twenty years ago. Round-butted and unlike most Sheriff's Models still carrying an ejector rod housing, this little sixgun packs so easily and points so naturally and just plain feels so good in the hand that it was a real sacrifice to pack it up and send it back to Bill. I can think of no more practical concealable single action then this one. With its round butt it is really easy to use this gun as slip gun, that is hold the trigger back and just work the hammer with the thumb for repeat shots.
|COLT BORDER SPECIAL 3"|
BLACK HILLS 255 SWC
BLACK HILLS 230 RN
BLAZER 255 LEAD
BULL-X 255/ 9.0 GR. UNIQUE
If the .45 Colt is the cartridge by which all defensive chamberings are judged, then the Colt Single Action Army is the sixgun with which all other single actions are compared. The old Colt can still hold its own. Lacking the adjustable sights and coil springs of the Ruger, both of which Elmer Keith tried to convince Colt to start using back in the 1920's, the Colt is only chosen by those who really appreciate this most traditional of sixguns in spite of its inflated price tag and obsolete springs. And now the old Colt is only available from the Colt Custom Shop with a base price tag of $1000! Fortunately, good Colt Single Actions can be picked up for $500 or less at most gun shows and even more fortunately, both EMF and Cimarron are bringing some really nice Colt clones into the country now. With EMF, go for the Hartford Model which is a spittin' image of the original Colt Single Action. All of Cimarron's .45 's look like real Colts now; the spaghetti western look is long gone. Both Cimarron and EMF also have a copy of the 1890 Remington that I like very much.
"Colt" Single Actions can also be built up on USFS frames. Maybe. USFS has been an on-again, off-again proposition. Perhaps you can catch them at an on time. In the past USFS has provided frames, and back straps and trigger guards. My USFS .45 contains these three parts and all the rest are genuine Colt.
COLT SA 4 3/4"
USFS SA 4 3/4"
|CCI BLAZER 200 JHP||909||2 1/2"||885||1 7/8"|
|CCI BLAZER 255 LEAD||741||3"||725||3 1/2"|
|BLACK HILLS 230 LEAD RN||802||2 1/8"||796||2 1/2"|
|BLACK HILLS 255 LEAD SWC||942||1 3/4"||922||1 1/2"|
|FEDERAL 225 LEAD HP||775||3 1/4"||776||2 7/8"|
|WINCHESTER 225 SILVERTIP||834||1 3/8"||822||2 3/4"|
|WINCHESTER 255 LEAD||748||2 3/4"||746||1 3/4"|
|BULL-X 255 SWC/7.0 GR. WW231||877||2 7/8"||854||1 1/2"|
|BULL-X 255 SWC/8.5 GR. UNIQUE||914||2 5/8"||882||2"|
|CCI BLAZER 200 JHP||919||3 1/2"||878||1 1/2"|
|CCI BLAZER 255 LEAD SWC||763||2 1/8"||878||1 1/2"|
|FEDERAL 225 LEAD HP||786||3 1/4"||720||3"|
|BLACK HILLS 230 LEAD RN||806||1 1/8"||NOT ACCEPT|
|WINCHESTER 225 SILVERTIP||834||2 5/8"||788||3"|
|WINCHESTER 255 LEAD||754||1 1/2"||736||5"|
|BULL-X 255/7.0 GR. WW231||876||3 1/8"||861||2 3/8"|
|BULL-X 255/8.5 GR. UNIQUE||920||3 1/4"||899||3 1/4"|
Absolutely one of the best lookin' single action sixguns ever to come out of Hartford is the New Frontier .45 Colt. These are beautifully finished with a case-colored frame as only Colt can do it and a deep blue finish on cylinder, barrel and grip frame. Introduced when John Kennedy was president and originator of the idea of the "New Frontier", Colt had planned an extensively engraved New Frontier to present to Kennedy. With the tragedy in Dallas in 1963, work on the presentation .45 New Frontier was stopped forever.
The New Frontier, by whatever name, was way overdue. This sixgun should have been brought out at least forty years earlier and then later improved with coil springs. A very practical packin' .45, the New Frontier will probably take loads that are slightly heavier than the standard .45 Single Action. Colt's .45 Colt cylinder chamber's have been very much oversize for a number of years and my four and three-quarter inch .45 has been fixed with the installation of a .38 Special cylinder re-chambered to .45 Colt by Cody gunsmith John Linebaugh. Of all the .45 Colt Single Actions tested, this is the one that I would choose for defensive use.
|COLT 4 3/4"NEW FRONTIER||COLT 5 1/2"NEW FRONTIER|
|CCI BLAZER 255 LEAD||NOT ACCEPT||756||5 3/4"|
|FEDERAL 225 LEAD HP||805||1 7/8"||800||1 3/4"|
|BLACK HILLS 230 LEAD RN||811||1 7/8"||812||3 1/2"|
|BLACK HILLS 255 LEAD SWC||962||3 1/2"||958||1 3/4"|
|WINCHESTER 225 SILVERTIP||816||3"||847||3 1/2"|
|WINCHESTER 255 LEAD||773||3 1/4"||759||3"|
|BULL-X 255/10.0 GR. UNIQUE||1031||2 3/4"||1040||2 1/2"|
|BULL-X 255/20.0 GR. H4227||966||2"||956||1 7/8"|
|BULL-X 255/18.5 GR. #2400||1075||2 1/8"||1073||2 1/2"|
Ruger did what Colt would not do and brought out a modern .45 single action around 1970. These guns will take much heavier loads than the ancient Colt design but some have overdone it. It is not a .44 Magnum. And with its light weight, lighter than a Colt Single Action, it is a real kicker with heavier loads. If I lived in an area in which large animals might have to be dispatched with the sidearm, I would choose one of my short barreled .45 Rugers, either the Old Model or the Tedd Adamovich engraved and stocked New Model.
RUGER 4 5/8"OLD MODEL
|RUGER 4 5/8"NEW MODEL|
|BLACK HILLS 255 LEAD SWC||988||2"||928||2"|
|BLACK HILLS 230 LEAD RN||790||3 1/4"||768||4"|
|BLAZER 255 LEAD||754||3 1/2"||744||5"|
|BLAZER 200 JHP||898||2"||914||3"|
|FEDERAL 225 LEAD HP||773||3 1/2"||799||2 3/4"|
|WINCHESTER 225 SILVERTIP||800||3 1/2"||811||3 1/4"|
|WINCHESTER 255 LEAD||719||3"||731||2 3/8"|
|PATRIOT +P 300 LBT||1111||2 1/4"|
|PATRIOT +P 300 JSP||1086||1 1/2"|
|240 SIERRA/24.0 GR. H4227||1004||2 1/4"||981||1 5/8"|
|50 HORNADY/24.0 GR. H4227||921||2 1/4"||916||2 1/2"|
|260 SPEER/24.0 GR. H4227||1033||3"||1008||1 3/4"|
|BULL-X 255/10.0 GR. UNIQUE||1011||1 5/8"||961||2 1/2"|
|BULL-X 255/20.0 GR. H4227||927||3"||947||3 1/8"|
|BULL-X 255/18.5 GR. #2400||1020||2 1/4"||998||2 1/4"|
Wanting a really first class custom .45 Colt a few years back, I packed up an Abilene .44 Magnum and sent it over to John Linebaugh to be made into a .45. John re-chambered the cylinder to minimum specs and fitted a five and one-half inch Douglas barrel. If you don't think a Douglas barrel makes a difference, take a real good look at how the Abilene shoots. Ebony grips by Charles Able completed the job resulting in a most handsome .45 Colt.
ABILENE 5 1/2"
|BLACK HILLS 255 LEAD SWC||1003||1 7/8"|
|WINCHESTER 225 SILVERTIP||836||1 1/4"|
|WINCHESTER 255 LEAD||780||1 1/2"|
|PATRIOT +P 300 LBT||1204||1 1/2"|
|PATRIOT +P 300 JFP||1137||2 1/2"|
|BULL-X 255 SWC/10.0 UNIQUE||1053||1 1/4"|
|BULL-X 255 SWC/18.5 #2400||1104||1 1/4"|
|BRP #454629/18.5 GR. #2400||1157||1"|
|LBT 300 WFN/18.5 GR. #2400||1126||1 1/8"|
|NEI #310.451/21.5 GR. WW296||1154||1 1/2"|
|BRP #454629/21.5 GR. WW296||1116||1 1/2"|
A look at .45 Colt single actions would not be complete without including the Freedom Arms single actions. Although they are chambered for the very powerful .454 Casull, they make fine .45 Colt fiveguns and one still has the option of using .454 ammo if needed. Alaska is the first use that comes to mind for these revolvers. They can be special ordered in .45 Colt but this seems like a real waste to me when the .454 makes a perfectly good .45 Colt and one still has the option of using .454 ammunition. In fact the .454 makes a better .45 Colt than the .45 Colt as tight .45 Freedom Arms chambers will not accept .45's loaded with long heavyweight bullets.
Freedom Arms has just come out with the world's most powerful "little" gun, the U.S. Marshall, a fancy commemorative and the Deputy Marshall, the standard production version. With a three-inch barrel, this ejectorless .454 patterned after the old Sheriff's Model Colt makes a very easy packin' .45 Colt and shoots quite good for such a short barrel.
FREEDOM ARMS 3" .454
|FREEDOM ARMS 4 3/4" .454|
|PATRIOT +P 300 LBT||1098||2 1/2"||1127||2"|
|PATRIOT +P 300 JSP||1077||2"||1182||1 3/8"|
|WINCHESTER 225 SILVERTIP||784||1 3/4"||827||1 3/4"|
|WINCHESTER 255 LEAD||711||2 1/2"||758||1 1/2"|
|BULL-X 255 SWC/18.5 GR. #2400||980||3"||1077||2 1/4"|
|BRP #454629/18.5 GR. #2400||1028||1 3/4"||1035||1 3/8"|
|LBT 300WFN/18.5 GR. #2400||1018||1 5/8"||1116||1 3/8"|
|NEI #310.451/21.5 GR. WW296||1041||1 3/8"||1152||1"|
|BRP #454629/21.5 GR. WW296||953||2"||1137||2 1/8"|
.44 SPECIAL/THE CARTRIDGE: The .44 Special has always been the cartridge of choice of reloaders and for years had somewhat of a snob appeal. At one time a nationwide organization called The .44 Associates carried on an information exchange among its members and basically looked at anyone who had not discovered THE ultimate handgun cartridge as a second class sixgunner. And they really had good reason as the .44 Special, handloaded of course, was the most powerful sixgun cartridge going until the advent of the .44 Magnum.
Black Hills and Federal both make excellent combat style .44 Special ammunition and a long time favorite load has been the Lyman Keith #429421 250 grain semi-wadcutter bullet over 7.5 grains of Unique for 900+ feet per second. The same bullet loaded over 17.5 grains of #2400 is a full house .44 Special. This is a warm load and to be used sparingly.
.44 SPECIAL/ THE SIXGUNS: Colt chambered a very few .44 Specials in the pre-War Colts, those made from 1873 (the .44 Special did not arrive until 1907) to 1941. When Colt cranked up again with the Single Action in 1955, only the .38 Special and .45 Colt were available, but the .44 Special came along shortly thereafter.
With the relatively small cylinders of the Colt Single Action, the .44 Special is a much better choice for heavy loading than the .45 Colt. Figure 1200 fps as maximum with the .44, 1100 with the .45. Both loads are more powerful then really needed for combat use.
COLT SA 4 3/4"
COLT SA 5 1/2"
|BLACK HILLS 240 LEAD SWC||742||1 1/2"||779||2 1/4"|
|FEDERAL 200 LEAD HP||886||2 1/2"||955||3 1/4"|
|LYMAN #429421/7.5 GR. UNIQUE||922||1 3/4"||978||2 1/2"|
|LYMAN #429421/17.5 GR. #2400||1174||1 1/2"||1251||1 1/4"|
Along the sixgun trail over the years, I have had two custom .44 Specials made up with the Three-Screw Ruger .357 Blackhawk as the basis. One is basically a standard four and five-eighths inch barreled .44 fancied up with ivory grips and high polish blue job and the other is a four-inch barreled Andy Horvath Sheriff's Model with rounded butt and engraving by Tedd Adamovich. Both use .44 Super Blackhawk barrels. It is easy to see by looking at these two sixguns that the .44 Special is one of my favorite cartridges.
RUGER SA 4" RB
RUGER SA 4 5/8"
|BLACK HILLS 240 LEAD SWC||751||1 5/8"||793||1 3/4"|
|FEDERAL 200 LEAD HP||868||2 1/4"||953||4"|
|LYMAN #429421/7.5 GR. UNIQUE||947||2 1/4"||953||2 1/2"|
|LYMAN #429421/17.5 GR. #2400||1152||2"||1234||2 1/4"|
.44 MAGNUM/ THE CARTRIDGE: The .44 Magnum in its standard loading is much too powerful for combat use as one must have tremendous arm and wrist strength to handle the recoil. The power is there if needed but for combat use there are much better loads than the heavy full-house Magnum load.
Black Hills, CCI, and Winchester all manufacture 240 grain lead bulleted loads in the 900-1000 feet per second range that should be the first choice for combat use. A favorite load that is easy to control but still quite powerful is assembled with the 250 grain Keith bullet over 10.0 grains of Unique for right at 1100 feet per second. With full house loads, this is the cartridge of choice for rural and mountain dwellers who may have to use the sixgun against large animals or even when trying to stop an automobile. Many ranchers and farmers carry short-barreled .44 Magnums, especially during hunting season when elk may be the target.
.44 MAGNUM/ THE SIXGUNS: For years, there really was only one single action .44 Magnum, the Ruger Super Blackhawk. The first Ruger was the original Blackhawk, the Flat-top of 1956, and one such sixgun with a four and five-eighths inch barrel was my carry gun for everything for many years. In fact until I stole the barrel to make the earlier mentioned short barreled Ruger .44 Special.
Who can explain why Ruger never has offered the Super Blackhawk with a short barrel? The custom gunsmiths have been kept busy by Rugers lack and Mag-Na-Port even offers a special Super Blackhawk, the Predator with four and five-eighths inch barrel. My four and five-eighths inch Super was made up by Larry Kelly for me just prior to the introduction of the Predator and is basically the same gun.
One can't have too many short barreled .44's, so when I retired my ten-inch .44 Super Blackhawk from silhouetting, I had it fitted with a five and one-half inch Ruger Liberty marked barrel and it shoots like the proverbial dream.
RUGER 4 5/8"
RUGER 5 1/2"
|BLACK HILLS 240 LEAD SWC||999||3 1/4"||1028||2 3/4"|
|CCI BLAZER 240 LEAD SWC||881||3 3/4"||899||3 3/8"|
|WINCHESTER 240 LEAD SWC||944||4"||987||2 1/2"|
|FEDERAL240 HYDRA-SHOK JHP||1331||1 3/4"||1386||1 5/8"|
|CCI BLAZER 200 JHP||1281||2 1/4"||1343||2 1/4"|
|WINCHESTER 210 SILVERTIP HP||1277||2"||1295||2 3/4"|
|FEDERAL 250 FMJ||1367||2 1/2"||1352||2 3/4"|
|HORNADY 240 XTP/25.0 GR. WW296||1466||2 1/2"||1552||2 1/4"|
|LYMAN #429421 /6.5 GR. WW231||815||4"||838||1 1/8"|
|LYMAN #429421/10.0 GR. UNIQUE||1130||2"||1144||1 3/4"|
|BRP #295.429/21.5 GR. WW296||1334||2"||1305||2 1/4"|
The latest entry in the .44 Magnum single action field of offerings is the Freedom Arms Single Action. This is the same gun as their .454 Casull, but chambered in the smaller .44 magnum. Some might ask why download to the .44 Magnum? A number of reasons. One might not really need or want the power of the .454. Or perhaps, one is all set up already for the reloading of the .44 Magnum and does not want to go to the extra expense or bother of setting up for another caliber. But probably most important is the fact that one simply wants the finest .44 Magnum single action available.
FREEDOM ARMS 6" .44 MAGNUM
|WINCHESTER 240 LEAD SWC||981||2"|
|BLACK HILLS 240 LEAD SWC||1042||1 3/8"|
|CCI BLAZER 240 LEAD SWC||909||1 1/2"|
|FEDERAL 180 JHP||1674||2 1/2"|
|FEDERAL 240 JHP||1381||1 3/4"|
|FEDERAL 250 FMJ||1344||7/8"|
|LYMAN #429421/10.0 GR. UNIQUE||1195||1 3/4"|
|HORNADY 240XTP/25.0 GR. WW296||1495||2 3/8"|
|BRP #295.429/21.5 GR. WW296||1320||1 1/2"|
There is a third company building .44 Magnum single actions and that is Texas Longhorn Arms. Best known for the heavily back-ordered Improved Number Five, Bill Grover was unable to provide me with a Number Five for this project but that will be righted as he is sending me his personal gun for the winter after hunting season. I have shot the Number Five before and it is a fine sixgun and one that the originator of the first Number Five, Elmer Keith, would have been proud to own and use.
Bill did have a .44 to send up and one that actually is better suited to combat use. Along came a Texas Border Special, a short barreled round-butted sixgun, slightly larger than the aforementioned Colt .45 Sheriff's Model, that is built for one purpose, fast handlin' in a defensive situation. This is a no nonsense fast handlin' sixgun that, like all Grover's sixguns, is "a right-handed sixgun" . That is the loading gate and ejector rod are on the left side of the gun so it may be unloaded and reloaded without ever leaving the right hand.
TLA BORDER SPECIAL 3 3/4"
|BLACK HILLS 240 LEAD SWC||971||2"|
|BLACK HILLS 240 JHP||1169||3 1/4"|
|CCI BLAZER 240 LEAD SWC||828||5 3/4"|
|FEDERAL 240 JHP||1271||3 1/4"|
|FEDERAL 240 HYDRA-SHOK||1263||3 1/4"|
|FEDERAL 250 FMJ||1236||3 1/2"|
|LYMAN #429421/6.5 GR. WW231||791||2"|
|LYMAN #429421/10.0 GR. UNIQUE||1092||2 3/4"|
.41 MAGNUM/ THE CARTRIDGE: The .41 Magnum is the Johnny-come-lately of the Smith & Wesson trio of Magnums and as such has never received the respect and use it deserves. It is really a fine outdoorsman's cartridge but just as with the bigger .44 Magnum, the best combat loads are not the full house loads. And also as with the bigger Magnum, combat style loads can be carried in the sixgun with fullhouse loads held in ready should an emergency arise in which the full Magnum power is needed.
Winchester's 210 grain lead .41 magnum loading is an easy to handle load that with today's fascination with the 10MM and .40 S&W fits right in with a muzzle velocity of 950 feet per second. A slightly warmer load is CCI's Blazer JHP at 1100 feet per second and even Winchester's 175 grain Silvertip at 1200 feet per second is not all that hard to control in the heavy .41 Magnum sixguns.
.41 MAGNUM/ THE SIXGUN: .41 Magnum single action sixguns are very sparse with only one being available, the Ruger Blackhawk. Anyone who has ever owned more than two sixguns dreams of building that one perfect sixgun. A few years back I located a new Three Screw .41 Ruger with a four and five-eighths inch barrel at a local gunshow with a bargain marked price. I offered even less and it was accepted. Now I have walked miles of aisles of enough gunshows without finding anything that when a real bargain comes along I simply say "Thank You Lord" and accept it gratefully.
The Ruger .41 shot well so a Stainless Old Army grip frame that had been in my parts box for more than a decade was fitted to it along with my last blue steel ejector rod housing. Then it went off the Roy Fishpaw for a pair of his Circassian walnut grips that are guaranteed to make your mouth water. The extra weight of the steel parts really cut down the recoil, the grips make it handle better as well as look better, and the little .41 single action will handle just about any situation short of the big bears, so how much closer can one get to having the ideal sixgun?
.41 MAGNUM RUGER BLACKHAWK 4 5/8" OLD MODEL
|BLAZER 200 JHP||1097||3"|
|FEDERAL 210 JHP||1367||2"|
|WINCHESTER 210 JSP||1333||2 1/8"|
|WINCHESTER 210 LEAD SWC||950||2 1/2"|
|WINCHESTER 175 SILVERTIP HP||1187||2 1/2"|
|LYMAN #410459/19.5 GR. #2400||1472||1 7/8"|
|LYMAN #410459/7.0 GR. WW231||1023||1 3/8"|
|SPEER 220 JSP/7.0 GR. WW231||991||2 1/4"|