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Ruger's new Bisleys super single actions.

A hallowed American institution--only a couple of steps down from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Old Glory--is the Colt Peacemaker-style grip. Over the past 150 years, from the percussion Colts to the modern Ruger magnums, few people have dared to criticize the classic single-action grip. About the only prominent gunwriter that I can recall having done so was Col. Townsend Whelen, and he was "Mr. Rifleman," anyway.

It's really rather amusing how we gunwriters love to hurl brickbats at factory grips on double-action revolvers for being "the wrong way around, skinny at the top and fat at the bottom," and then turn around and praise the Peacemaker grip, which displays the same design flaws to an even greater degree. We go on about how it "fits nearly every hand," "permits natural roll-up under recoil," and so on.

Well, there is some truth in this. The Peacemaker grip does fit most hands--at least fairly well. It is less punishing in recoil than most DA grips, and it is excellent for quick-draw and hip shooting. On the other hand, it is a bit small for the average male hand (I always feel a bit cramped using one), and the oft-praised "natural roll-up under recoil" pretty well rules out absolutely uniform shot-to-shot grip pressure and hand placement.

In short, the Colt Single Action Army grip may be great for snap shooting and gunfighting (which is what is was built for in the first place), but it is less than ideal for target shooting and other precise work like handgun hunting.

As target shooting with revolvers gained popularity back in the 1880s, target models of the Colt Single Action enjoyed considerable vogue, but it soon became apparent to Colt that shooters wanted something different. Colt responded with their "Bisley Model," named after the famous target range in England. The Bisley was essentially the same design as the Single Action Army, but with a much longer grip, using a higher rear strap; it also had a lowered hammer spur and much wider, recontoured trigger. Colt made a very limited production run of these revolvers in 1894 and then commenced regular manufacture in 1896. They continued making these revolvers down to 1912, producing 45,000 Bisleys in all.

This may be perverse to admit, but I have always preferred the Bisley Model to the regular Single Action Army. I like the wide trigger, and I find the Bisley grip to offer a far more positive and uniform hold than the SAA. Some people say they find the Bisley ugly, but it looks have never bothered me.

I was really delighted, then, to learn that Sturm, Rugger & Co. were bringing out "Bisley" versions of their single-action revolvers. As all but the newest readers must know, much of the fortunes of this industry giant were based on their excellent modernized versions of the basic Colt Single Action Army design. The Ruger single-action revolvers were redesigned in 1973 with a much different and safer lockwork. Whether "old models" or New Models, Ruger's Single-Sixes, Blackhawks and Super Blackhawks are great guns--true modern classics--and these "Bisley Models" are welcome additions to their line.

The new Ruger Bisleys stand in relation to the familiar Single-Six and Blackhawk revolvers the same as the original Colt Bisleys did to the Single Action Army. In other words, they are basically the same revolvers with a lower, flatter hammer spur, more curved trigger, and a longer, thicker grip that fits flush with the rear of the cylinder frame at the top.

Actually, the Ruger grip is not terribly close in its contours to the original Bisley style. What it does closely resemble is the custom single-action grip that was developed many years ago by gunsmith Harold Croft and G&A's Editor Emeritus, Elmer Keith. This design was a hybrid of SAA and Bisley grip straps used in conjunction with a Bisley hammer, that Keith and Croft designated their "No. 3 SA grip." Keith regarded this as the finest of all single-action grips, and after trying the very similar grips on these Rugers, I'm sure that Elmer was, as usual, correct. In fact, these revolvers so closely resemble some of Keith's custom single actions, it would almost be more appropriate to call them "Keith" rather than "Bisley" models. I'm sure Elmer would have highly approved of these sixguns.

These are among the very finest revolvers that Ruger has ever made. The grip frames are made of steel, and on our sample revolvers, they are perfectly fitted to the cylinder frames. Overall polish and finishing appear to be the same as for Ruger's superb Super Blackhawk; the deep, lustrous blueing is much superior to that on the ordinary Single-Six and Blackhawk revolvers. Grips are handsomely figured Goncalo Alves wood.

The Ruger Bisleys are available in two frame sizes. The small-frame revolvers are made in .22 Long Rifle and .32 H&R Magnum; 6-1/2-inch barrels are standard on these. The large-frame version uses a 7-1/2-inch barrel and is available in .357, .41 and .44 Magnum. The Ruger Bisley grip frames, triggers and hammers may be fitted to existing New Model Single-Sixes and Blackhawks if desired. We received both the .22 and .32 Bisleys for evaluation, and our large-frame model was a .44 Magnum.

Trigger pulls were very good on all three; the two centerfire revolvers' triggers broke at a little over 3 pounds; the .22's pull was about 4 pounds. Cylinder gaps were extremely tight on all revolvers. I couldn't insert a .003-inch feeler gauge into any of them.

The steel grip frames add considerably to the weight of these revolvers. Thus the .22 version weighed in at a hefty 43 ounces, the .32 ran 40 ounces, and the big .44 tipped our scale at 49 ounces.

The final production guns we received were somewhat different from the samples that have been displayed in trade shows and illustrated in Ruger's brochures. The pre-production guns had unfluted cylinders with a Bisley motif roll-engraved on them. I was pleased to see that these "cutesy" cylinders were abandoned in favor of businesslike fluted cylinders identical to those on most other Ruger single actions. The prototype small-frame Ruger Bisleys sported some fragile looking, 19th century-type target sights. These have been replaced by simple patridge front and drift-adjustable, square-notch rear fixed sights.

In fact, these signts are about the only criticism I can offer these fine revolvers. Accurate revolvers like these, so well suited to small game and varmint hunting and other precise shooting, deserve fully adjustable sights, in my opinion. The .32 shot close to point of aim with many loads, but the .22 shot way low and to the left, as fixed-sight revolvers often do in my hands. The .44 Magnum wore the excellent fully adjustable rear sight found on all revolvers in the Blackhawk series, and so this criticism does not apply to Ruger's large-frame Bisley Models.

The Ruger Bisleys use the New Model lockwork. This employs a transfer bar safety mechanism in conjunction with a frame-mounted firing pin. Unlike most single actions, where putting the hammer on half-cock lowers the cylinder bolt to allow the cylinder to rotate freely for loading and unloading, on New Model Rugers the hammer remains at rest throughout the loading cycle--an obvious aid to safety. Instead of half-cocking the hammer, opening the loading gate depresses the bolt and frees the cylinder. New Model Rugers can be safely carried with all six chambers loaded, but the old models should always be carried with an empty chamber under the hammer. If you have an old model Ruger single action that lacks the transfer bar safety, contact Ruger about converting it to the safer New Model lockwork.

In a shooting session at Angeles Ranges in Little Tujunga Canyon, the Rugers functioned perfectly. No misfires, skipping, cylinder binding or any other problems were encountered. I tried about a dozen different types of .22 LR ammo in the rimfire Bisley. Groups were nice and tight with a number of loads, but, as I mentioned before, the revolver printed its groups low and to the left. Best accuracy was registered with Federal Spitfire hypervelocity hollow points, with average groups of 1.6 inches at 25 yards. Remington standard velocity solids and high velocity hollow points were right behind.

The .32 H&R Magnum was a little disappointing with Federal 95-grain LSWC and 85-grain JHP factory loads but really came into its own with handloads. A load consisting of 7.2 grains of Accurate Powder #7 and the Hornady 85-grain JHP put five rounds in just over 1-1/2 inches. Even better was my favorite .32 revolver bullet, the Saeco #322 120-grain cast bullet, and 3.2 grains of W-231. With this load, I put four shots into a half-inch before the fifth shot (probably my fault) opened the group up to 1-1/2 inches.

These loads have not been pressure tested and should be worked up with caution. I might add a warning that, since very little published, pressure-tested data is available for this fascinating new cartridge, some daredevil experimenters have loaded it to extremely high velocities, with pressures that are probably well in excess of proof charges. Some of these loads have found their way into print. In short, be extremely wary of using any loads for the .32 H&R Magnum that have not come from the bullet or powder companies or other firms that have pressure testing equipment.

Four loads were tried in the .44 Magnum--Pro Load with a 240-grain lead semi-wadcutter bullet; Federal 180-grain JHPs; Winchester 240-grain LSWCs, and Winchester 240-grain JHPs. The first three loads all printed groups in the 2 to 2-1/2-inch range at 25 yards--adequate but not spectacular. The Winchester JHP loads showed signs of wanting to shoot better; I printed several groups that placed four shots into about an inch, but one round always seemed to land an inch or so out. This may have been the fault of the revolver, the ammo or (very probably) the shooter. In any event, .44 MAgnums tend to be very particular about their ammo, and so it's very possible that a different load--factory or handload--would have put all five shots into an inch or thereabouts.

Recoil effect was slightly different from that experienced with the same loads in my old Super Blackhawk. The grip tended to roll less in the hand. It felt a little more like a double-action revolver, with more of a "straight-back" sensation. The .44 Magnum Bisley was certainly not punishing, though; it was vastly more pleasant to shoot than an old, short-gripped, original flat-top .44 Magnum Blackhawk I tried not long ago. The latter gun was a real knuckle pounder. The Ruger Bisley was gentle in comparison.

These new Ruger single actions are very impressive sixguns. I much prefer the Bisley-style (I still think it should be called "Keith-style") grip to the regular Ruger single-action grip frames, and the fitting and polish are outstanding. To sum it up, I think these are the finest single actions that Ruger has ever made, and I have a strong hunch that if my friend Elmer were still around, he would wholeheartedly agree with this conclusion.

Suggested retail prices are $258 for the .22 and .32 versions and $307 for the larger magnums. Information on the new Bisleys and Ruger's extensive line of fine firearms is available from Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc., Dept. GA, Lacey Place, Southport, CT 06490.
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Title Annotation:hand gun
Author:Libourel, Jan
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Sep 1, 1985
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