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Ruger started as a company that marketed 22LR semi auto pistols, but they rapidly moved forward into other designs. In the 1950s, the most popular show on the new-fangled invention known as the television was the Western. Ruger took that in stride and came out with the answer. Named the Blackhawk, it was what the people wanted and is still going strong six decades later.

Why the Blackhawk

Flipping the two or three stations on your black and white television in the mid-1950s, you came across the reality that all that was on were game shows (The $64,000 Question), variety shows (Jack Benny, Ed Sullivan), sitcoms (I Love Lucy), oh yeah, and Westerns! That decade was the king of the old western television show and such favorites as Gunsmoke, Tales of Wells Fargo Have Gun Will Travel, Maverick, Wagon Train, the Zane Grey Theatre, and others fought for the top spots in front of the TV tray. Every young boy wanted a cap gun based on the Colt Peacemaker and, secretly, many of their fathers yearned for the real thing.

It was a need that Bill Ruger took note of and took a stab at. First, in 1953 the still-young company, only familiar with its own Standard 22LR semi auto pistols, introduced a single-action six-shooter that was modeled after the Colt Single Action-- except in 22. This gun, the Ruger Single Six, was a popular and fast seller. This led to Sturm, Ruger making a full sized version, named the Blackhawk.


Ruger started with the classic Colt Single Action Army of the 1870s and redesigned it from the ground up to shoot high-powered modern loads. As the Colt was originally produced to shoot just blackpowder loads (smokeless powder didn't become common until the 1900s), it was inherently unsafe to simply make a clone of the obsolete gun. Using modern steels, coil springs (instead of Colt's original leaf-springs), an over-engineered redesign, and strict tolerances, Ruger made what many have called the most singularly perfect single action revolver of the modern age. It was chambered first in .38/357 and then rapidly in .44 Special/Magnum, much to the dismay of Smith and Wesson who thought they had a lock on 44 wheelguns.

Some POV shooting the Blackhawk in 357. It has a decent muzzle flip but you have to love the ca-ca-click of the single action....

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Early models, made 1955-1962 were known as 'flat-tops' due to their top strap design instead of the Colt's rounded top frame contours. It also had much better sights that were raised and adjustable than the legacy's gun simple curved blade and notch.

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In 1963, a redesign changed the sights and some of the inner components- giving the frame three distinctive screws on the side. This lead to 1963-73 guns being known as 'three-screw' Blackhawks.

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After 1973, the gun was even further redesigned to incorporate a transfer bar, which left the hammer to rest on a loaded cylinder without discharging the firearm, as well as simplified lock work. This is primarily the gun that is still marketed today.

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With more than a sixty years of popularity behind them, and used models going for as little as $300, there are no shortage of Ruger Blackhawk custom builds out there.

Current models

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Ruger is pushing the Blackhawk in just about every handgun caliber you could want. This includes .30 Carbine, .38/357, 41 Mag, 44 Special, and .45 Colt. No less than a dozen models in either blued or stainless, with barrels ranging from 4.62-inches to 7.5-inches and weighs from 38-46-ounces provide many options in sizes. Their Vaquero series is the same gun-- just with the old sights and frame curves as at the Colt SAA. Prices out there start at $500-ish wholesale and move up from there. For those who want a more streamlined bird's head grip, the Bisley version of the Blackhawk is there.

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It doesnt get any more classic 1870s Colt than the new 'old-school' Vaquero.

A series of convertibles, guns that come with two cylinders to enable a completely different round to be fired through the same barrel, is also available. These include versions that can shoot either 38/357MAG or 9x19mm Parabellum, and 45 Long Colt or 45ACP.

Then there is the Super Blackhawk...but wait, that's another article....
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