Ruger's Wheelgun that wasn't: The single shot .256 Hawkeye

  1. Editor
    Want a giant handgun that shoots a supped up small caliber, super high-velocity round and has a funky loading process that you likely haven't seen before? Well you sound like a Ruger Hawkeye pistol man.

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    (Tell me what you notice about the cylinder of this handgun...)

    What in the world is the .256?

    Introduced in 1960 after some wildcat development by Winchester (with some input from Bill Ruger's people), the .256 Winchester Magnum round took Elmer Keith's vaunted .357 S&W Magnum, which typically fired a 120-150 grain bullet at about 1,400 feet per second generating about 500 ft./lbs. of energy downrange, and necked it down to make something altogether different. By loading a 60-grain .257-caliber bullet over the same load of powder, the round almost doubled the velocity to a truly amazing 2,350 feet per second, which in turn gave over 700 ft./lbs. of energy imparted.

    Zoom!

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    256 Winchester Magnum cartridge on the left and a .357 Magnum cartridge on the right. Via Wiki

    Best yet, the round still hummed enough out to 200-yards to take varmints or medium sized game, therefore making it a perfect choice for the new (in the 1960s) handgun hunter market. As such, Bill Ruger was the first to market a pistol chambered from the factory for this beast-- and it was a hand cannon.

    Enter the Hawkeye

    With the new .256 Win Mag introduced the year before, the folks at Sturm, Ruger spent 1962 working on a gun to shoot it. The thing is, it had to be powerful, stable, and capable of allowing the round to live up to its potential. The result was a single-shot handgun based on the Ruger (old model) Blackhawk single action revolver. Instead of the round cylinder, the Hawkeye instead used a domino-shaped breechblock that rotated in and out of the cylinder well to allow access to the open chamber throat.

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    Once the block was popped out (to the left, just like a normal wheel gun) the shooter inserted a single round of .256, then snapped the block back into the frame. After that, the single-action hammer/trigger package would strike the breechblock when actuated, firing the internal pin in the block, which would detonate the cartridge's primer.

    For a better idea of what we are talking about, consult the illustration from the Ruger manual below:

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    The gun was a flattop design that used an 8.5-inch barrel that had adjustable sights as well as being drilled and tapped for scope bases. Introduced in blued steel, a few were also made with an optional brass trigger guard and back strap. The only grip options were the then-standard Blackhawk two-piece oiled walnut grips with a silver on black Ruger medallion on each panel. Recoil was very understated due in large part to the gun's 45-ounce weight.

    The gun was ready for market in 1963.

    Production

    Although perhaps over engineered, the gun just didn't catch on with sportsmen and hunters, much as the round itself soon died out. In the end, Ruger put the project to bed after just a year of active promotion with 3,037 guns made-- all in 1963.

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    Not to be confused with its Hawkeye rifle series which has proved enduring, the Hawkeye pistol did not sell enough to keep it in the stable.

    Getting your own

    Now some 50+ years after production ended, these guns are extremely rare and are much sought after. While some hunters and hand loaders keep the .256 alive, even going so far as to convert large frame Smiths and Blackhawks to shoot the round, large scale factory ammo has not been made since the 1970s. A few custom shops such as Reed's produce small runs and you can roll your own through resizing .357 magnum cases, but honestly, most Hawkeyes are not sold as shooters.

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    Due to their collectability and curious nature, these guns are a favorite with Ruger enthusiasts and rare firearms aficionados alike and often show up at sales conducted by some of the best known auction houses in the country.

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    Typical starting price for a Hawkeye in any condition is $2,000, with exceptionally nice guns, boxed examples, low serial number pieces, and brass framed sub variants fetching considerably more.

    Nevertheless, who knows, maybe Ruger will bring them back one day.

    Keep your eye peeled.

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