Ruger Blackhawk Flattop

FullSizeRender (9)  I think at some point, every boy in the States dreams of being a cowboy. Some of those dreams are carried into adulthood and manifest themselves in the form of various trinkets or items that have varied usefulness. One of the more familiar Cowboy type items or accouterments that actually has quite a bit of usefulness is the single action revolver. In a world permeated by polymer autos and (even if you are a revolver guy) swing out cylinder double action revolvers, the Colt-style single action revolver with its loading gate, ejector rod, and single action; seems at best obsolete and at worst a novelty. I mean,  the only reason these can still exist and thrive on the firearms market is as some form of nostalgia amongst the more wisened of us who watched Gunsmoke when it was still in syndication, right?

Wrong.

The Colt style single action remains one of the more capable handgun platforms for recreational shooting and hunting. For grip comfort and pointability, it is hard to beat a Colt style single action. Even with a 7.5″ barrel, which in any other pistol would seem ungainly or muzzleheavy, the Colt retains an elegance and index finger-like pointability, similar to the stabilizer of a compound bow. With the short 4.75″ barrel, it makes for a handy, and lightning quick packing pistol. When fired with heavy loads a Colt will actually roll in your hand, instead of coming straight back, which helps to reduce felt recoil. Colts also have fairly strong actions for what they are, due to their one piece frame, which allowed for some creative handloading back in the day.

As with all fine originals, there are many copycats and variations of the famous pistol, but none top Ruger’s Blackhawk in popularity or usability. Ruger Blackhawks are some of the most affordable single actions on the market, cheaper than several Colt reproductions, but capable of serious use. The Blackhawk’s main claim to fame is their brute strength in handling hot and heavy loads. At last glance some of the more venerable chamberings in its history have included the 357 Maximum, 30 Carbine, 480 Ruger, and in custom versions 475 and  500 Linebaugh. Blackhawks have taken just about every game animal that walks this green earth, even the more ornery ones.

As I begin my foray down the rabbit trail, I want to mention that much has been written of the Blackhawk family and by much more capable reviewers and writers than I, so I shan’t sully the good name of Bill Ruger by my writing ineptitude. However I do want to talk about one particular variant: the Flattop.

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The Vaquero/Blackhawk on top dwarfs the Flattop on the bottom

 

The Flattop BlackHawk was the first center fire pistol designed and manufactured by Bill Ruger. Introduced in 1955 and known simply as the Blackhawk, it revived the almost dead single action and brought it into the 20th century. With adjustable sights and a frame built to handle the heavy 357 Magnum loads of the day, but still the same size as a Colt SAA, it was a perfect pistol for huntin’, packin’ or just plinkin’. Sadly, the original Blackhawk was short lived. In 1963, it was replaced by the Old Model or “Three Screw” Blackhawk which was a bigger and bulkier handgun designed to handle hot .44 Mag loads. Along with several new design and construction elements, the newer pistol had “ears” that protect the rear sight and give the topstrap an ungainly hump which the original Blackhawk lacked:hence the name “Flattop”. Many shooters bemoaned the discontinuing of the original Blackhawk or the Flattop as it was now known because it was a smaller, sleeker size than the newer and larger Blackhawk. Today original Flattops command a serious premium amongst Ruger collectors and are amongst the best built mass produced revolvers available.

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The Flattop’s grip is much thinner and shorter than the Vaquero/Blackhawk’s Dragoon-style grip.

 

But hope is not lost! In 2005, Ruger reintroduced the Flattop to celebrate the Blackhawk’s 50th anniversary, and because of overwhelming demand, continues to make and sell them in variety of calibers. The revolver I have to review is one of the newer ones.

Overview

The modern Flattop is built on the XR3 grip frame which is the same as the New Vaquero. This is designed to mimic  a Colt SAA or New Frontier frame size. Anyone who has shot a Blackhawk knows that it is quite a large gun, and in my opinion, overengineered and too cumbersome for 357 Magnum. For the 44mag, or hot 45 Colt loads, it is perfect, but it is a mite too much for the 357. The Flattop is a perfect size for the medium 357 Magnum bore. Think of it like this: some shotgun receivers are scaled to different gauges for better handling and attractive looks, the Flattop Blackhawk is no different.

My version of the Flattop is a Lipseys distributer special in 357 Magnum and came with Rosewood grips and a 9mm Luger conversion cylinder. The 9mm Cylinder is in my opinion a novelty as it does not shoot to the same point of aim or level of accuracy as 357s or 38 specials. There is a considerable amount of freebore between the cylinder and the where the rifling starts in the barrel. Plus a 9mm is .355-.356 in diameter while a 357 is .357-.3575 in diameter.  That 1/1000 of an inch may not seem like a lot of difference, but it shows when shooting, especially at longer ranges. I do acquiesce that from a realistic standpoint having a gun that shoots three calibers is handy, especially if one or more becomes scarce, I just don’t use it very often.

Even though this Blackhawk pays homage to the original Flattop, it still retains all the safety features and strength of modern Rugers. It has a two screw frame and a frame mounted firing pin and transfer bar, making it perfectly safe to carry with six rounds in the cylinder. Even though it is slightly smaller than regular Blackhawks and old model Vaqueros, the holsters for the older ones are more common and seem to fit ok.

I chose the 5.5″ barrel as a compromise between the 6.5 and 4.6″. I feel like it gives the best combination of balance  without giving up any long range capability. It is short enough to wear on the hip, drive in your vehicle and not be uncomfortable and but long enough still reach out and snuff a jackrabbit at 100 yards. Overall length is 11″ and weight is 40 ounces unloaded.

The trigger is, in my opinion, the worst part of this great handgun. There is quite a bit of creep, a lot more than I would consider acceptable in a SA pistol. It breaks at a consistent 3 lbs but could be a lot more crisp in my opinion. Maybe I’m just spoiled by Smith and Wesson triggers, who knows. I have a couple of  old model Vaqueros that have very crisp triggers, so that may be a fault of this particular specimen’s and not of the breed as a whole.

On the Range

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The best groups came from heavy lead loads, like this one at just over 3/4″ from 25 yards.

Despite a mediocre trigger the pistol is quite accurate. Off a bench I have eeked out several sub-inch 3 shot groups at 25 yards with heavy 200 grain cast bullets. I have noticed that it seems to favor heavier cast bullets, but even with more common factory 125 and 158 grain jacketed loads, I can manage groups between 1.25 and 1.75″ with boring regularity. 9mm groups at 25 yards print about 5″-6″ low and are about softball or bigger sized which is ok, I guess, but very blah.

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9mm groups tend to print lower in the Flattop, but still present decent accuracy.

The black partridge blade sticks up and blends into an amorphous black blob with the square notch rear sight. I know the current set up is more traditional but I think the revolver would be better suited with perhaps some contrasting fiberoptic sights like on the SingleSix series. The pictures I took at the range were on a really sunny day, so my exposure looks a bit off.

 

 

Conclusion

Ruger revolvers are not perfect. They are not a Freedom Arms, and they are not a Colt New Frontier. However I cannot afford a FA or a New Frontier and I would be deathly afraid of ruining the Colt. The Ruger is what we like to call in the Army an 80% solution. It will get the job done, and get it done well, but may miss on some style points. Whatever style points it loses, I want to make known that the Blackhawk gives up nothing in function or utility. This is a revolver that I am not afraid to pack, drop, scuff,  use to frame a house, etc. Ok, maybe not frame a house, but drywall, sure. I joke, but in all seriousness I say that  not because I don’t have my kids college money wrapped up into it, but more so because it is a Ruger, and it is a well built, affordable, quality tool for the working man and his budget. It is more revolver than most could ever or will ever need. And that is what I like, guns that are built to be used. And boy can you use this one.

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Kimber Rimfire Target Conversion Kit

The Colt 1911 is probably the most iconic pistol of the 20th century.

There, I said it.

I will not go into great detail about the history and the legacy left by this grand old pistol, just suffice to say that it has paid its dues numerous times over. It is an exceedingly popular pistol in several shapes, styles, and sizes. It can also be chambered in a myriad of calibers ranging from .17 to .50. Despite the various configurations that the 1911 can come in, it is a safe bet that the most common is the 5” barrel chambered in .45 ACP.

The .45 ACP, while not a wrist breaker, is a stout cartridge that can generate a quite a bit of recoil in its hotter loadings. It is also a little pricey. Both of these factors can make a range session rather difficult to enjoy and harder for the new shooter to become proficient with their pistol. If only there was a solution.

The Solution

The Kimber Rimfire Target Conversion Kit is a complete kit that contains the 22LR conversion slide, barrel, recoil spring assembly, and one 10 round magazine. The kit mounts to the frame of your existing 1911 single stack with standard length frame and converts it to fire .22LR. You use the same trigger, grips, safeties, and hammer. This kit retails for $339 and since it is not a firearm, can be shipped to your door.

My first thought upon inspecting the slide assembly was how light it was. And rightfully so, it cycles on blowback operation with the 1911’s standard hammer spring, so it has to be light to overcome the resistance. The slide appears to be made from an aluminum alloy and is painted black, as I later found. The ramped barrel is stainless steel and has a target crown. The slide comes with adjustable target-style sights that seem to hold up well to repeated use. It also has an external extractor and a long ejector that is pinned to the barrel in order to more positively grab those pesky .22 shells that can swell and crack in a chamber all to easily.

The kit comes in a hard plastic case with foam cutouts for the slide assembly and magazine

The kit comes in a hard plastic case with foam cutouts for the slide assembly and magazine

The slide has forward and rear serrations that are similar to what is on the company’s .45 version of the pistol, but that serve no use, as the resistance required to pull back the slide is nil. The magazine is made of plastic and has a cutaway portion to show the number of rounds still in the chamber. The assembly has a mixture of the old bushing system and the newer guide rod system amalgamated together. This allows for the whole kit to be completely assembled in one piece while mounting to the frame of the host pistol. The biggest “issues” I have with this whole kit is that Kimber recommends using only high velocity .22 ammo to ensure reliable cycling, and that the slide does NOT lock back on the empty magazine.

Converting your standard 1911 over to the .22 conversion kit is very simple and straight forward. Simply field strip your 1911 as if for cleaning. I won’t go into that process because disassembly on 1911’s that have a bushing or guide rod system will vary. Mount the complete and assembled slide assembly to the rails of the frame and insert the pistol’s original retaining pin in the hole in the frame and Viola! You now have a .22 caliber 1911. You can now train with your pistol and work on areas such as grip and trigger squeeze without having to worry about pain in your wrist and in your wallet.

On The Range

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The Kimber Conversion Slide as mounted on my Ruger SR1911 CMD

I mounted the kit on two different 1911-style pistols for comparison sakes: a High Standard GI .45 with a 5 inch barrel that has sloppy tolerances, and a Ruger SR1911 CMD that is an absolute dream to shoot and is as tight as a pin hole. Once I mounted the kit on both pistols I was amazed at how good they both looked with the conversion slide mounted on. They looked like a real Kimber Target .45 that cost five times as much. One thing is for certain, this is a handsome, well fitting conversion kit.

Mounting on the GI was very easy and it shot ok, nothing to write home about.         Mounting the kit on the Ruger was a bit more difficult. The tolerances are waaayyy tighter and could definitely be determined while shooting and cycling the firearm. However, it shot very tight groups with all the .22 ammo I fed it. I think that this is a valid point to make because of the wide variances in 1911-style pistols out there, from 400 dollar Tisa’s to an Ed Brown ,you will probably have different experiences than I do. In fact I almost guarantee it.

I tested several brands of high velocity, and standard velocity 22 ammo. I also plinked about 500 rounds out of it at various targets and distances to see how well it could run. I had about the same amount of reliability either way. About one out of every 75 rounds would fail to cycle the slide all the way back, or would stove pipe. Is that any better or worse than a dedicated .22 pistol? I don’t think so. When I shot this pistol for testing I shot from 25 yards, and used 5 shot groups. The ammo I used for accuracy testing was Federal High Velocity, which is a 36 grain hollow point advertised as 1260 fps out of a rifle. My chronograph measured the velocity of the round at an average of 1089, with a low of 1032, and a high of 1115 fps. That’s not bad at all for .22LR out of a pistol. From the rest I could eek out 2.2 inch groups with the Federal Ammo. This slide is definitely a shooter, at least from my Ruger. The GI Model was consistently producing clay target accuracy with all brands of ammo. I attribute that to the sloppier tolerances and rougher trigger.

The  can utilize the same controls on the pistol with the kit installed on the host pistol frame

You can utilize the controls on the pistol in the normal fashion with the kit installed

Conclusion

I have to say that I really like this kit. Is it perfect? No. Does it fit the bill for every circumstance that is required of a 22 pistol? No. Does it work within the confines of its design and intent? Yeah. This is a great tool for sharpening your skills on your 1911 without breaking the bank. It is also a great tool for introducing new shooters to the 1911 format. Is it a great hunting or packing .22? Not in my mind, no. But for training, target practice, and platform familiarity this is about as perfect as it can be.