Colt’s original ‘Peacemaker’ design is now close to 150 years old, and yet single-action revolvers of this type retain an almost-magnetic appeal that causes handgun shooters to gravitate towards it even today.
The single-action design has been copied extensively, and improved using modern metallurgy and manufacturing techniques, without losing any of the charisma that made it so popular in the Old West.
It continues to make its appearance in various shooting events and competitions, and is even preferred by some for serious self-defense work.
I have to confess that I have only owned two single-action revolvers in my life, and both of them have been Rugers.
I chose Rugers because they were less expensive than Colts; they also had a reputation for robustness and reliability that, to me, practically guaranteed years of trouble-free service.
Ruger Super Blackhawk
The only .44 Magnum I have ever owned was a Ruger Super Blackhawk with a 5.5-inch barrel. It had a big, fluted 6-shot cylinder, and a brushed, satin-stainless finish.
The sights consisted of a black ramp up front, and a fully-adjustable rear. The top strap was thick, the cylinder was massive, and the barrel was outsized. Not surprisingly, it weighed all of 44 ounces, empty.
Why a .44 Magnum?
I suppose it was curiosity, more than anything else, that prompted me to buy a .44 Mag.
There comes a time in every shooter’s life that he/she has to try a big handgun, and for me it was the .44 Magnum revolver. I’d seen all the Dirty Harry movies, but Smith & Wesson Model 29’s were hard to come by at the time, and they were expensive! So it had to be the Ruger.
Shooting that big Ruger Super Blackhawk was exhilarating, and acquainted me with the upper spectrum of handgun power.
Sound, Fury and Power
The noise that a full-house .44 magnum round generates has to be experienced to be appreciated. It’s a sonic wave that reverberates in your chest cavity, a sound that you actually feel in spite of wearing good ear protection.
A .357 mag doesn’t get you there, and neither does a 12-gauge, maybe because the muzzle is much further away from you when you fire it.
Part of the reason is the fact that most factory-loaded .44 Magnum cartridges drive the heavy (240- to 340-grain) projectiles right past the speed of sound, creating the unmistakable ‘crack’ of projectiles breaking the sound barrier.
The .44 magnum’s recoil, though, wasn’t was severe as the movies made it out to be. You could control it in that big Ruger, and you even stood a very good chance of actually hitting what you were aiming at. For a cartridge generating over 1,000 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle, the recoil wasn’t bad at all.
The downside is that it got tiring after 50 rounds or so. You felt the fatigue in your hands and in your arms. Still, it was a satisfying kind of tiredness, the same that you feel after knowing you’ve performed useful work.
Ease of Maintenance
One other thing I discovered was that big-bore revolvers don’t foul as quickly, and are a lot easier to clean than .22 caliber revolvers, for example. It’s easier to see through the large cylinder holes and into the barrel itself, to make sure you’re doing the job right.
The fact that you can actually take a single-action’s cylinder right out of the gun, makes the job of scrubbing everything down that much easier.
In retrospect, I guess the only thing that struck me as peculiar about that big gun, was the fact that the cylinder appeared to be outsized in proportion to the grip of the revolver. It wasn’t a critical issue, though; merely a matter of aesthetics.
Ruger .22 Convertible
One of the great things about Ruger is that they build convertibles—handguns that are capable of firing more than one cartridge.
When you buy one of Ruger’s .22 convertibles, it’s like getting 2 guns for the price of one (!) Make that 3 guns, when you consider that you can actually fire .22 Short cartridges through the gun’s .22 LR cylinder.
In contrast to the .44 Magnum Super Blackhawk with its outsized cylinder, the .22LR/.22 Magnum Convertible was perfectly-proportioned, and positively delightful to use.
The example I had was blued, but came with genuine hardwood grips. The barrel was 5.5 inches long, which gave it a pretty good sighting radius. An adjustable rear sight completed the package.
Like most Ruger firearms, the .22LR/ .22 Magnum convertible was very well built, and it was completely reliable. At 33 ounces, it was a joy to handle, and a sheer pleasure to shoot.
Being a convertible, the gun came with two cylinders—one for .22LR, and one for .22 Magnum RImfire. To make it easy to distinguish one from the other, the .22LR cylinder was fluted, while the .22 MRF cylinder was not.
Interestingly, both cylinders appeared to have been custom-matched to the gun. The .22 MRF cylinder bore the last 3 digits of the revolver’s serial number at the front. A nice touch, which ensured that the holes in both cylinders lined up perfectly with the gun’s barrel.
Designed for One-Handed Shooting
I have always believed that single-action revolvers in the Colt Peacemaker pattern were designed to be shot with one hand only. While it is perfectly possible (and sometimes makes perfect sense) to wrap your weak hand around the strong hand, it’s not that easy on a single-action piece.
The concave front of a classic single-action’s grip naturally compresses your fingers, resulting in the kind of firm hold that a straight pistol grip doesn’t enforce. The convex rear, on the other hand, forms a distinct ‘hump’ that fills the palm of your hand completely.
The Peacemaker, after all, was designed at a time when men still traveled on horseback. Even when you had to draw and fire your gun, you were still expected to keep one hand on the reins!
Because single-actions were designed to he held (and shot) with one hand, they possess what can only be described as exceptional pointability.
This has nothing to do with the revolver’s barrel length. You’ll find the same pointability in all Peacemaker-style revolvers, from 2 1/2-inch barreled Sheriff’s models to 12-inch Buntline Specials.
Balance has something to do with it, though; it can be argued that single-action revolvers with barrels between 5 1/2- and 7 1/2-inches long are the most pointable of all.
What, Exactly, is Pointability?
It’s the ease with which a gun can be brought to bear on its target. It’s a combination of grip feel, the gun’s balance, and the quickness with which the sights can be acquired.
Cavalrymen respected it, and gunslingers craved it. In life-and-death situations, it was the magic factor that sometimes made the difference between “getting the drop” on someone, or biting the dust.
My Ruger New Model Convertible had exceptional pointability.
It came up on target fast, never overshooting the intended point of aim when I raised it up to eye level. The revolver’s sights were well-blackened, good-sized, and easy to acquire.
The gun felt like an index finger, a natural extension of the arm. When you squeezed off the shot you knew exactly where it was going. This made it easy to call your shots, even on paper targets that didn’t provide much feedback.
The trigger let-off was crisp and clean. The trigger barely moved when you fired the gun, and the sights hardly budged at all.
True, it wasn’t as quick as a semi-automatic for busting small metallic silhouettes (the revolver’s 6-shot capacity put it at a distinct disadvantage) but every now and then, I would take it to a silhouette match and make it perform. I would always come in with the longest time (having to perform 4 painstakingly slow reloads) but in the end, all my targets would be down.
In spite of the modern “wonder nines” and double-action Smith & Wesson’s I now own, I actually miss those two single-action revolvers.
I have come to realize that none of the handguns I have now come close to equalling their pointability, and the sheer simplicity of their operation.
Maybe one day I’ll get myself a Colt, and find out what shooting an original Peacemaker is like!