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Ruger's first .44 magnum; this no-nonsense sixgun launched the .44 magnum into single-action history.

* Back in the early 1950s, the fledgling firm of Sturm, Ruger & Company decided to capitalize upon America's preoccupation with "horse opera." Yes, the West was alive and well and available almost every evening to eager kids (and dads) on America's greatest toy--the TV.

This spawned a new love affair with the single-action revolver that is still going strong. Bill Ruger, being the savvy gentleman he is, picked up the ball and ran with it. His Single-Six .22 LR was everything we wanted--high quality, cheap to shoot and it resembled Marshal Dillon's .45 Colt.

In 1955 the Blackhawk single action made its debut in .357 Magnum. Needless to say, we loved it and clamored for more. Many pleaded for larger calibers, such as .44 Special and .45 Colt. Well, to everyone's surprise, the .44 Magnum Blackhawk was announced in 1956.

Early ads point out that this .44 had a larger and beefier frame than the .357 and was trule the most powerful single action in the world!

It was these early (pre-1962) Ruger .44s that became known as "Flattops." Although the .357s had the same distinguishing feature we're dealing only with the .44 Magnum version.

To define the term "Flattop," we must jump ahead to 1959 when Ruger introduced the .44 Super Blackhawk. This is the model that immediately comes to mind for most people in discussing Ruger's .44 single action.

Introductory ads point out that this "super" model incorporates integral ribs on each side of the rear sight to protect and support the sight when elevated. This feature was adopted into the regular Blackhawk design in 1962 and remains an important Ruger design feature to this day. The pre-super .44s did not possess these sight ribs, hence, the term "Flattop."

Hunters, explorers and outdoorsmen in general, were quick to recognize the Flattop as a rugged package of powerful medicine for most any opponent. Aside from the promise of power, moderate recoil and superb accuracy, the .44 Flattop wore a price tag of only $96, which undoubtedly added to its appeal, as the competition, Smith & Wesson's Model 29 .44 Magnum, sold for over $125.

As can be expected with any Ruger firearm that is discontinued, the Flattops have become quite sought after. With a total production of about 30,000 units, they are not exactly what you'd call plentiful.

Their discontinuance from Ruger's catalog in 1963 was a dark day in single-action history, as many regard the Flattop as the best balanced of all the Ruger single action revolvers.

The .44 Flattop sported a 6-1/2-inch barrel when introduced, and later was offered with optional lengths of 7-1/2 and 10 inches. These latter two barrel length variations are very rare as only about 1,000 were produced in 7-1/2 inch, and 1,500 in the 10-inch versions.

A fully adjustable steel Micro sight adorned the rear of the topstrap and Ruger's rugged ramped blade kept the front end in line. This was a very efficient combination and one that gave the blackhawk a handsome and business-like profile.

Like all Ruger single actions to follow, the Flattop has a solid cylinder--that is, it does not have a separate cylinder pin bushing as prescribed by the earlier Colt design. The use of extremely tough chrome-moly alloys in both the frame and the cylinder made wear at the front of the cylinder almost nonexistent-even after thousands of rounds of magnum ammo had been fired through it.

Ruger utilized coiled piano wire springs throughout the single-action design, making broken springs almost a thing of the past. In fact, the lockwork of the Ruger is virtually indestructible.

Almost every feature of the Flattop was vastly superior to earlier single-action designs, except for one-the grip frame. Luckily, Mr. Ruger decided to retain the original plow-handle proportions that had proven themselves to be the best through years of outstanding performance. Seasoned shooters spurned the 1962 design change that altered the grip, saying that the change wasn't necessary for those who made the most use of the gun.

This grip frame is a one-piece die-casting of high-tensile aluminum alloy, and contributes greatly to the superb balance of the gun. The bulk of the .44's 41 ounces is forward of the trigger and helps both in aiming and taming the .44 Mag's recoil.

Wooden panels were standard fare on the .44 Blackhawk, though informed sources say that a few specimens left the factory with the black plastic grips indigenous to the .357 Blackhawk.

Our testing was carried out at the Angeles Shooting Range in the rugged San Gabriel Mountains that form the northern rim of the Los Angeles Basin. For January, the weather was quite nice-for a ride in the country, but lousy for testing. It was clear and warm, which usually means that the Santa Ana winds are having a field day at the range. These winds are notorious for screwing up the most carefully planned test sessions. Luckily, the wind-blown shots strayed so far from the group that they were readily discernable and allowed us to measure the rest of the group.

For our testing of the world's first .44 Magnum single action, I thought it would be appropriate to use Elmer Keith's classic load of 22 grains of Hercules 2400 powder in Remington cases, crowned with Elmer's own bullet--the Lyman #429421, 250-grain semi-wadcutter and initiated by CCI's 330 large pistol primers.

Contrary to popular opinion, you do not need magnum primers to ignite heavy charges of 2400 powder--just a heavy crimp. As a matter of fact, Hercules literature states that the magnum primer is not needed nor recommended for best results.

Elmer's classic load didn't do too badly. Discounting a flyer, the rest of the group had a center-to-center spread of 1-5/8 inches. This was the best obtainable under these conditions. Winchester's factory fodder, in the 240-grain lead version, is quite another story. Aside from the flyer, the other four shots formed two holes, I inch apart.

This isn't an article on loads for the Flattop, but one of the loads that has shot extremely well in the few Flattops I've owned consists of 23 grains of Winchester 296 instead of the 22 grains of 2400. I should point out that this load should only be duplicated with the long 250-grain Keith bullet in order to achieve the 90 percent loading density minimum that this powder requires for proper combustion.

Though my .44 Blackhawk is of the 7-1/2-inch variety, accuracy is better than the 6-1/2-incher only in theory. Actually, the shorter one is the optimum for velocity, balance and accuracy. If this rare 7-1/2-incher hadn't come along, I'd have been perfectly content with the 6-1/2-inch baby that it replaced.

Loading, unloading and takedown for cleaning is very simple and differs only slightly from the New Model Ruger single actions. The Flattop is one of those "old-timers" that utilized a half-cock notch for loading and disassembly.

To load, simply thumb back the hammer to the half-cock position which will allow the cylinder to be rotated by hand. Opening the loading gate on the right side of the frame expose the chambers.

Because the old model does not incorporate the transfer bar system, load only five rounds. This gun should be carried with the hammer resting on an empty chamber, as a blow to the hammer could fire the round under the hammer. The .44 Flattop has the chamber counterbored to enclose the rim of the cartridge--which also hides the rim from view, making it difficult to ascertain which is the empty chamber.

A simple procedure that will allow loading five rounds and ending up with the hammer on the empty chamber is as follows: Load one chamber, then skip one chamber and load the remaining four. Upon loading the last round, do not turn the cylinder any further. Close the loading gate and draw the hammer to full cock. Now ease the hammer down and it will be at rest on the empty chamber.

To unload, again draw the hammer to half cock and open the loading gate. Slugn beneath the barrel and slightly to the right, the ejector rod must be pushed to the rear to eject the empty cases.

After all five rounds have been ejected, turn the cylinder slowly and view each chamber to assure the gun is completely empty. Now turn it again and make double sure its empty.

Disassembly would follow by simply pushing the spring-loaded cylinder pin retaining screw at the front of the frame to free the cylinder pin upon which the cylinder rotates. Pulling the cylinder pin forward will free the cylinder and allow it to be removed through the right side of the fame. Reversing this procedure will accomplish reassembly.

For those who don't need the frills and extra weight of the Super Blackhawk, but demand Ruger durability and value, the Flattop .44 Blackhawk has no equal. I think the term "classic," as Webster defines it, typifies Ruger's first and, unfortunately, forgotten .44 Magnum--"a standard; a perfect specimen . . . characterized by enduring value."
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Renner, Roger
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Article Type:column
Date:Apr 1, 1985
Words:1511
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