KIT-GUNS SINGLE ACTION STYLE
Being well known as a connoisseur of big bore sixguns, it may well surprise some to find out that I really don't shoot 600 rounds of .454 Casulls every morning before breakfast. Shooting big bore sixguns, and here I am talking about full house chamberings from .44 Magnum up, is real work if it is to be done both successfully and safely. When I want to really relax, I don't grab the bigger big bores. Instead I load the back of the Bronco with some groceries, a large supply of .22 ammunition and the .22 sixguns and lever guns. A weekend with my wife with both of us shooting hundreds upon hundreds of .22's and miles away from the nearest phone, T.V., or traffic light, totally relaxes me and clears out the cobwebs. But even at these times a big bore goes along normally in the shape of a .44 Special or .45 Colt Single Action.
I not only love the big bores but I am also very fond of little guns in general and Smith & Wesson Kit Guns in particular. In 1936, Smith & Wesson brought out a four-inch .22 LR chambered sixgun built on the .32 Hand Ejector frame. Since it was designed as a small sixgun that would be carried in a fisherman's or hunter's travel kit it was dubbed the .22/32 Kit Gun. I have three "Kit-Guns", all in stainless, all with four-inch barrels, all with adjustable sights and in calibers .22 LR, .22 RFM, and .32 H&R Magnum. They are magnificent little guns.
Smith & Wesson carried the idea of double action Kit Guns to perfection and these three little sixguns in the three most sensible little cartridges have traveled extensively with me in pocket as well as travel kit. The first gun my grandkids use is the .22 Kit Gun as they learn the fundamentals of shooting and safety with an easy to handle and easy to shoot double action sixgun.
As I was sitting and thinking and fondling my Kit Guns one day an idea came for the perfect single action kit gun. For reasons known only to manufacturers, no one has seen fit to ever offer a single action kit gun. Ruger came close with the BearCat but its lack of adjustable sights caused it to miss the mark. No pun intended. Everyone simply does not see sights the same nor hold a gun the same and adjustable sights are crucial on most sixguns, and especially on small sixguns that anyone intends to actually hit something with. Let us hope the new run of Ruger BearCats will include adjustable sighted models.
What would be the basis for these Kit Guns Single Action-style? That was an easy question to answer. Ruger was the natural starting place as they already made excellent, reasonably priced single actions in both the Single-Six size and Blackhawk size. This `Kit Gun' project naturally called for the Single-Six Ruger as a basis. Cartridges? The .22 LR would certainly have to be the first choice as little guns and twenty-twos just naturally go together.
Twenty-two's are the greatest bargain in shooting today whether we are talking guns or ammunition. There are many excellent sixguns, single-shots, and semi-automatics offered in .22LR and .22 ammunition is available practically everywhere, often on sale and offering superb accuracy that very few of us can totally take advantage of. No shooting battery is complete without at least one .22 rifle and one .22 pistol . One of my greatest enjoyments is always looking for that better .22 sixgun.
Yes, every sixgunner simply must have a great .22 for plinking, teaching youngsters and just plain relaxin' type shooting. For the second Kit Gun Single Action-style the next cartridge to come to mind might be the .22 Magnum. I have sixguns and semi-automatics chambered for the .22 Magnum and it would be easy to fit the .22 LR Single Action Kit Gun with an auxiliary cylinder in Magnum form so the second Kit Gun Single Action-style would not be for the Magnum Rimfire but for a reloadable small bore, the .32 Magnum. The .32 Magnum remains the shooting world's best kept secret and is a fine cartridge in its on right and serves as a small game and varmint pistol first class. Reloaders of the .32 Magnum have been seriously hampered with the Federal decision to stop offering brass but I am happy to report that Starline now offers .32 H&R Magnum brass.
Being somewhat blinded by big bore-itis in the past I must admit to looking initially upon the .32 Magnum as somewhat of a toy. My first shot with a handloaded 85 grain hollow point totally destroyed a can of split pea soup, splattering me and my red Bronco with green slime and erased all doubt about the capability of the .32 Magnum. Big bore sixgunners of my acquaintance are unanimous in their appreciation of the .32 H&R Magnum. The .32 Magnum Ruger Single-Six even makes into a great miniature Stalker by Mag-Na-Port. This conversion is normally used with the .44 Super Blackhawk or .454 Casull, but the little gun Stalker-style makes a fine medium range varminter.
Two candidates immediately presented themselves for conversion to the Kit Gun Single Actions: a .32 Magnum Single-Six with four and five-eighth's inch barrel and a .22 LR Bisley Model Single-Six with a six and one-half inch barrel. Both excellent shooting sixguns but both too large to qualify as Kit Guns.
To pick a gunsmith to perform the work on these two sixguns was a simple choice. The name to come immediately to mind was Andy Horvath. Andy had done a L'il Ruger for me a number of years ago, a round-butted, four-inch .44 Special on a Ruger .357 Magnum Three-Screw that, when written up in AMERICAN HANDGUNNER, resulted in a real demand for L'il Rugers from all over the country including a call from Hollywood to use them in a movie. I first made Andy's acquaintance long-distance by phone and letter after seeing a small add that simply said ".44 Special Conversions"
At that time Horvath sent two .44 Special sixguns and a .44 Special lever gun along for my perusal. The sixguns were built on a Smith & Wesson Model 28 .357 Magnum and a Ruger .357 Old Model Blackhawk. The lever gun, a Model 92 Winchester, had originally been purchased for parts and turned out to be good enough inside to be turned into a handy little .44 Special saddle gun. I was impressed with Horvath's work and approached him about making me a .44 Special on a Ruger Old Model, or Three Screw, Blackhawk .357 Magnum but with a couple of differences. It was to have a four-inch barrel, necessitating not only cutting the barrel but ejector rod tube as well , and also it was to be round-butted. The result was superb to say the least.
If you are interested in one of these little .44 Specials, it is necessary to start with a Flat-Top Blackhawk .357, made from 1955 to 1963, or a Three Screw, or Old Model .357 made from 1963 to 1973. Since 1973 all Ruger .357 Blackhawks have been made on the large .44 frame rather than the original medium sized .357 Magnum. The New Model can certainly be used for .44 Special conversions but it will be larger than necessary. I would prefer to use this size for .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .45 Colt round-butted conversions.
Old Model and Flat-Top Rugers round butt easier than New Model as they have more material to work with, perhaps I should say more material that can be removed. The New Model grip frames have cut outs where the Old Model frames are solid.
Why round butts? They are eminently practical on sixguns that are to be concealed as that slight removal of grip frame really makes a difference and the round butt rides a lot easier against a jacket lining than the square butt version. Smith & Wesson has been offering round-butted J- and K-frame concealable revolvers for decades and during the 1970's custom gunsmiths started round-buttting the larger N-frames especially in .44 Magnum and .45 Colt. Smith & Wesson soon picked up on this and began offering practically every frame size and barrel length in the round butt version.
Round-butted sixguns are here to stay. Even Colt offered Single Action Armies with their version, the BirdsHead grip for a while in the 1980's through the Custom Shop. About the same time F.I.E. imported a little .22 with a round butt. Texas Longhorn Arms has offered the Texas Border Special round-butted single action in .44 Magnum for quite some time and the round butt really tames the felt recoil of the big forty-four. Even the replicas are now anatomically correct with EMF and Cimarron both offering single action sixguns with non-standard grips. EMF's Pinkerton is a true round butt style while Cimarron has enlarged the old Colt double action Lightning grip of 1877 to fit the Single Action frame.
The new project was outlined before Andy and he felt it was viable so both guns were shipped off along with a steel ejector rod tube for the .32 pirated from an early .22 Single-Six and a Colt steel tube for use on the .22 Bisley Single-Six. Basically I asked Andy to round butt both guns, cut barrels and ejector tubes to three and one-half inches, and switch grip frames so the .32 Magnum would now be the Bisley Model. As any sixgunner with a smidgeon of brains would, I turned Andy loose to do anything else he felt appropriate, as it simply doesn't make good sense to hamper a top gunsmith when such a project is contemplated.
Both of these Kit Guns Single Action-style deserved special grips so before being shipped off to Horvath, the Bisley was fitted with figured walnut stocks by Charles Able allowing Horvath to round butt both grip frame and grips at the same time. For grips for the Single-Six frame, a pair of Ruger rosewood grips from the over-run for the Colorado Centennial nearly twenty year ago was selected. These have been hidden away just waiting for the right time and this project was the right time.
Horvath did a superb job on these little single actions to say the least. He says he swapped grip frames with "just a little bit of fitting." I think he is being modest and it really took quite a bit of fitting to interchange these parts. Both grip frames fit perfectly in their new environment. Because of the offset on the ejector tubes, the shortest barrel length that could be afforded was three and three quarter inches which worked out fine.
Since I wanted a little weight up front on the .22 in addition to the Colt steel ejector rod housing, Horvath fitted a straight taper bull barrel from a Hammerli target barrel. Mated with the Ruger aluminum grip frame, the balance is totally different from that found on a standard Single-Six and I find it to be perfect. Finish on the .22 `Kit Gun' is Horvath's Hi-Lustre Blue and the round butted aluminum grip frame is polished bright. They make a striking and eye pleasing contrast.
Since the cylinder pin had to be shortened to allow the ejector rod to work, Horvath made a new pin with a larger and flatter knurled head. Very easy to remove. New Model actions are not noted for their smoothness. I applaud Ruger for the safety of the transfer bar system but I do miss the smoothness of the old Colt-style action. Horvath smoothed out the bumps and gave the little .22 a trigger pull of 2 3/8#. Weight of the finished sixgun is two pounds one ounce or thirty-three ounces.
All of the same niceties of the .22 Bisley turned Single-Six were also performed on the .32 Single-Six turned Bisley. With the steel grip frame, the .32 Bisley weighs in at two pounds three ounces, or thirty-five ounces. Trigger pull is set at two and one-half pounds. The Hi-Lustre blue on the complete gun mates beautifully with the figured walnut grips resulting in an extremely attractive little sixgun.
Balance of the two Single Action Kit Guns is quite different. The .22 Single-Six has its balance point forward with the bull barrel being the major factor. The .32 Magnum with its lighter barrel and cylinder has its balance influenced most by the Bisley steel grip frame. The .22 seems to be controlled by the barrel as it is pointed on target and the .32 seems to sit back further in the shooting hand. I like 'em both. In fact the Bisley feels so good that I see a round-butted big bore Bisley in the future.
Normally the shorter a barrel on a sixgun the harder it is for me to shoot it. I do my best with ten-inch barrels followed closely by seven and one-half inch lengths, both on single actions. As the barrels get shorter my groups will usually get larger. So I was pleasantly surprised by the relative tightness of the groups fired from these short barreled little sixguns. Sixteen loads were tried in the .22 Single-Six with all loads performing exceptionally well for such a small gun. CCI Mini-Mag Hollow Points and CCI Pistol Match both got down to my coveted one-inch neighborhood for a great shootin' sixgun. With both loads the Horvath .22 put its five shot in one and three-eighths inches at 25 yards. The chart will show that Andy's choice of a barrel for the .22 resulted in excellent groups from all loads tried and I would expect even better as the barrel is shot in. See what I mean about turning a good gunsmith loose?
HORVATH "L'IL RUGERS"
Temp: 45 Degrees
.22 Single-Six 3 3/4"
|MV||5 SHOTS @ 25 YARDS|
|CCI Mini-Mag||1059||1 5/8"|
|CCI Mini-Mag HP||1056||1 3/8"|
|CCI SGB||1032||1 5/8"|
|CCI Mini-Mag +V||1160||1 1/2"|
|CCI Green Tag||932||1 1/2"|
|CCI Pistol Match||981||1 3/8"|
|CCI Stinger||1264||1 3/4"|
|Federal High Power||1032||2 1/8"|
|Federal High Power HP||1051||1 7/8"|
|Remington High Velocity||949||2"|
|Remington Yellow Jacket||1211||2 1/4"|
|Winchester Super Silhouette||1016||2"|
|Winchester T22||1017||1 7/8"|
|Winchester High Velocity||1073||1 7/8"|
|Winchester Wildcat||1035||2 1/8"|
Results with the .32 Magnum Bisley were pretty much the same as with the .22 when using .32 Magnum brass. Groups opened up, as normally happens, when shorter regular brass was used in the Magnum cylinder. In this case it was the use of .32 Long loads. This gun shows great promise already as Sierra's 90 grain jacketed hollow point at more than 1200 feet per second from the short barrel plops its bullets into one and one quarter inches at 25 yards. I can see this little thirty-two gaining a fast reputation among the varmints in the desert of South Western Idaho.
.32 Bisley X 3 3/4"
Primer: CCI 550
|MV||5 SHOTS @ 25 YARDS|
|Federal 85 JHP||930||2 1/4"|
|Federal 95 LSWC||866||2 5/8"|
|Federal .32 Long 98 LRN||612||3"|
|PMC .32 Long 100 LWC||654||1 7/8"|
|Hornady 85 XTP/8.3 GR. #2400||1042||1 3/4"|
|Hornady 85 XTP/9.0 GR. #2400||1172||1 1/2"|
|Hornady 85 XTP/10.0 GR. AA#9||1253||1 7/8"|
|Hornady 85 XTP/5.5 GR. AA#5||986||2 1/8"|
|Sierra 90 JHP/8.3 GR. #2400||1043||1 3/8"|
|Sierra 90 JHP/9.0 GR. #2400||1150||1 3/4"|
|Sierra 90 JHP/10.0 GR. AA#9||1226||1 1/4"|
|Sierra 90 JHP/5.5 GR. AA#5||995||2"|
Neither of these sixguns are going to be long range varminters. But on a cool spring day with a slight breeze blowing and summer not yet bringing its boiling heat to the sagebrush covered land, I can see myself packin' both sixguns with a couple of hundred rounds of ammo for each and not being weighed down in the slightest as I enjoy the day and the desert and pop a few squeakies as I roam.
For further information, contact Andy at
Diagonal Rd. Gun Shop
14131 Diagonal Rd.
LaGrange Ohio 44050.
Phone 440-458-4369 or 458-8151.
His work is highly recommended and he is a real genius at building these little guns.
My wife just suggested we head for the hills in a couple of weeks. Wanna guess which little sixguns we will take?