To help better control the felt recoil of the single action .44 Magnum, Bill Ruger reached back into history once again and fitted his .44 with a modified Colt 1st Dragoon grip frame. Both original Blackhawks had aluminum alloy Colt Single Action size grip frames. The new Blackhawk, the Super Blackhawk of 1959, now had the longer grip frame with a square back trigger guard, the rear sight received the now familiar ears on both sides, and the 7 ½” barrel was made standard. The Super Blackhawk has been, and remains, one of the #1 handgun bargains of all times. It is excellent for hunting, and is one case where the purchaser actually gets more than he pays for.
In the 1961 edition of Elmer Keith’s Sixguns, Keith relates his part in the advent of the Super Blackhawk. Speaking of the original .44 Flat-Top, Keith says, “It proved to be a very fine single-action .44 Magnum, but I still was not satisfied. The new gun was very accurate and handled the big load perfectly, but the extractor button was inadequate, and the rear sight still wiggled around when raised out of its mortise. I filed down the front sight until it shot perfectly at 50 yards with the rear sight down in its mortise. The trigger guard also rapped the second finger for some shooters, so they kicked about this. Others want a larger and longer grip. I asked Bill to redesign the gun and bring it out with the old, square-back, second Dragoon grip, with ample length of grip and also ample room for the second figure behind the guard. Also I asked for a Bisley-type hammer spur sharply checkered and a wide-grooved trigger instead of the narrow, old Single Six trigger; also for a larger extractor button, and that the flutes of the cylinder be eliminated leaving it straight sided and thus stronger.
He sent me the first prototype, and it was a great improvement over any single-action cartridge gun that I had ever seen or used and we took it into elk country that fall. It accounted for four elk with clean kills. The barrel was 7 1/2” and he had greatly improved the rear sight by extending the top of the frame in a flange on both sides of the rear sight so it could not move sideways when raised. The hammer was Bisley-type all right, but needed sharper checkering and also needed to be cut down deeper just in front of the knurled or checked portion. The trigger and grip were perfect and the heavy unfluted cylinder was another great improvement…. This second prototype I have is in every respect by far the finest single-action sixgun I have ever owned. It is wonderfully accurate and handles any and all factory loads perfectly, as well as having a cylinder of ample length for my handloads, and is one of the most comfortable .44 Magnums to fire I have ever used. I wanted to name it the Dragoon Ruger, but Bill has called it the Super Blackhawk, in my opinion a helluva name for a fine gun of this type and caliber.”
Skeeter Skelton saw it differently, “The Super Blackhawk .44, coming along in 1959, is the most finally finished of any Ruger handgun. It replaces the standard, alloy grip frame with one of steel--an idea I like. The Super was the first Ruger sixgun to feature raised shoulders on the top strap to protect the rear sight when it is fully elevated--another well-considered change and one that has since been adopted on all Ruger single actions with adjustable sights.
I have always found the old Colt single Action grip, a carryover from the 1851 Navy, to be more comfortable than that of any other handgun. The original .357 and .44 Blackhawks were exactly the same shape, and the current Ruger production which comes with a grip sprung farther to the rear, leaving more room between the front strap and trigger guard, is no improvement for my hand.
The square back trigger guard on the Super Blackhawk was ill-advised and is a design that was discarded by Colt more than a hundred years ago. Since its lower rear corner protrudes more to the rear than a guard of standard, rounded proportions would, I failed to understand the claims that it is less likely to rap knuckles in recoil.
The wide trigger of the Super is a definite aid in controlling let-off. The low, wide hammer spur, for me, manipulates less easily than the old longhorn type that copies the Colt. The unfluted cylinder of the Super adds recoil-dampening weight, and is said to be stronger than the older-fluted style, but my standard .44, now a discontinued model, has digested thousands of the heaviest of loads without a whimper, and is noticeably more comfortable to pack around than my Super.
Yep, I have both, keeping this Super model because of its prestige value. But I prefer to carry the obsolete standard .44 Blackhawk, and would be the first customer for an all steel, fancy finished renovation of this good gun." (Shooting Times, March 1969)
I am more inclined to agree with Skeeter than with Elmer. The Dragoon-style square-backed trigger guard of the Super Blackhawk nails the knuckle of the middle finger on my shooting hand. Nor do I accept the passing of the Colt-style grip frame of the original Single-Six and Flat-Tops. For me at least, with 250 to 260 grain bullets at muzzle velocities of 1100-1200, possibly 1250 fps, the old Single Action Army grip frame remains the best. I have searched gun shows and been contacted by readers with the original XR3 grip frames for sale. These have been installed on several Old Model Rugers which came with the “improved” XR3-RED grip frame. Two extra XR3 grip frames complete with grips now reside in my parts box awaiting attachment to the next Old Model sixgun. With heavier loads, the answer again for me personally is neither the Super Blackhawk nor the "the improved" Old Model grip frame, but rather the Bisley Model which appeared in the mid-1980s.
In 1962, the Flat-Top Blackhawks were phased out and what is now known as the Old Model Rugers arrived. The .44 Magnum Blackhawk disappeared altogether. Even though its place had basically been taken three years earlier by the Super Blackhawk, they were both produced side-by-side until 1962. Two major changes occurred with a switch from the Flat-Top to the Old Model Rugers. The top strap received the same protective ears around the rear sight as the Super Blackhawk and, as mentioned, the grip frame was changed to allow more room between the back of the trigger guard and the front strap. No more Colt Single Action Army grip frame feel. No more Flat-Top profile. The steel ejector housing of the Flat-Tops was now changed to alloy on the Old Models. Such is progress.
The .44 Blackhawk was gone, however the .357 Magnum (4 5/8” and 6 ½” barrels) was soon joined by the then new .41 Magnum (4 5/8” and 6 ½” barrels), and .30 Carbine (7 ½” barrel). Then one hot summer day while attending graduate school in Montana I wandered into a gun shop and found a brand-new Ruger Blackhawk, the first chambered in .45 Colt. For the first time we now had a sixgun strong enough to at least start to explore the real potential of the then nearly 100-year-old .45 Colt cartridge. For my use I settled on a load for the 7 ½” .45 Colt Blackhawk using a 300 grain hard cast bullet over 21.5 gr. of either H110 or WW296 for an even 1,200 fps. A new era in big bore sixgunning had arrived.
The .41 Magnum arrived on the scene in 1964 and the Old Model Blackhawk was soon chambered in the new Magnum caliber. While only two center-fire calibers, .357 and .44 Magnums, had been produced in the Flat-Top, the Old Model Ruger Single Actions would be available in .357 Magnum, .30 Carbine, .41 Magnum, and finally just a couple of years before the series ended in 1973, the .45 Colt. Some dual cylinder models were available in .357/9MM and .45 Colt/.45 ACP. The .357 Magnum and .41 Magnums , strangely enough were manufactured only with 4 5/8” and 6 1/2” barrel lengths, while the .30 Carbine and .45 Colt came with the more desirable, at least to this sixgunner, 7 1/2” barrel, and the .45 Colt was also offered with the shorter 4 5/8” barrel length.
Forty-one Magnum single action sixguns were very sparse for many years with only one being available, the Ruger Blackhawk. Anyone ever owning more than two sixguns, dreams of building that near perfect sixgun. A few years back I located a new Old Model .41 Ruger with a 4 5/8” barrel at a local gunshow with a bargain marked price. It 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 helped reduce felt recoil, the grips made 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.
Ruger did what Colt would not do and brought out a modern .45 single action. 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, comparable to a Colt Single Action, it is a real kicker with heavier loads. The Ruger .45 Blackhawk was the first .45 Colt that could utilize the case capacity of the .45 Colt cartridge efficiently. And it is at its best with the big 300 grain bullets from BRP, NEI, or RCBS. Again it is not a .44 Magnum. The .44 will easily do 1,300-1,400 feet per second with 300 grain bullets; the .45 Colt is better suited to 1,100-1,200 feet per second with the same weight bullets.
Selected Loads For The Old Model Blackhawks
Bullet/Load MV 5 Shots/25 Yds.
7 1/2” .45 Colt
Lyman #454424/20.0 GR. H4227 1,086 1 1/4"
Lyman #454424/18.5 GR. #2400 1,255 1 3/4"
BRP 295SWCGC/21.5 GR. WW296 1,245 1 1/2"
4 5/8” .41 Magnum
Bullet/Load MV 5 Shots/25 Yds.
Lyman #410459/19.5 GR. #2400 1,472 1 7/8"
Lyman #410459/7.0 GR. WW231 1,023 1 3/8"
The .44 Super Blackhawk is a natural for hunting and general outdoor use. It is very popular in the mountains and desert areas as it is virtually indestructible when used with common sense. The standard barrel length for the Old Model Super Blackhawk is 7 1/2” with a very few being made in 6 1/2” (leftover .44 Blackhawk barrels?) and two being made in the 10” length.
Selected Loads For The 7 1/2” Old Model Super Blackhawk
Bullet/Load MV 5 Shots/25 Yds.
Lyman #429421/10.0 gr. Unique 1,233 1 3/4"
Lyman #429421/18.5 gr. #2400 1,382 1 3/4”
BRP 295SWCGC/10.0 gr. Unique 1,183 1 1/2”
RCBS #44-300 SWC/16.3 GR. #2400 1,199 1 3/4"