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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Smith and Wesson Model 37 AirWeight

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The Model 37 AirWeight fits nicely in even average sized hands

This is the final installment in the three-part series “A Trio of Smiths”

https://thatweirdgunguy.com/2015/08/31/a-trio-of-smiths/

https://thatweirdgunguy.com/2015/09/01/smith-and-wesson-357-magnum/

https://thatweirdgunguy.com/2015/09/03/smith-and-wesson-model-10/

In the early 1950s, the U.S. was engaged in the height of the Korean Conflict. The Air Force was looking for an ideal emergency/survival sidearm to arm their pilots and aircrew with in case of being shot down behind enemy lines. They had a few eccentric survival rifle designs, but no dedicated sidearm for self defense. During WWII, most pilots were armed with either the Colt 1911 or the S&W Victory revolver, which was a war-time modification of the M&P. Both were fine for front line infantry use, but were less than suitable for the Air Force’s mission. For one, weight savings were paramount. The mighty Colt and Smith clock in at 38 and 34 ounces unloaded respectively, which may not seem like a lot, save for on a fighter jet or long range bomber where ounces count.

The new-at-the-time Smith and Wesson Chief’s Special seemed to fit the bill. It was a snub nosed five shot .38 Special built on S&Ws new J-frame that weighed a smidge less than 20 ounces. It seemed about perfect. Unfortunately, the Air Force wanted it more perfect. They requested that S&W use an aluminum frame and cylinder to cut on weight savings. As testing went on, it was apparent that the aluminum cylinder stretched too much under firing to be suitable for use and was replaced with a steel cylinder. The new pistol, designated the AirWeight, was introduced in 1951 and tipped the scales at a mere 13 ounces. It also found a new audience in plain clothes policemen and civilians looking for a light weight back-up weapon. In 1958 S&W changed the moniker to the Model 37.

Owning the Model 37

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The five-shot cylinder and aluminum frame makes an ideal package for concealment

This example is a three-screw made some time in the 1970s. I must admit that this revolver is not mine, but my brother’s personal revolver. It was originally owned by an older gentleman who shot maybe a box of ammo through it over the course of thirty-five years. He decided that he wanted something else, and my brother was able to buy his nearly mint AirWeight for a fraction of its value. The anodizing and bluing is still intact. The lockup is extremely tight, and the hammer spur and trigger’s checkering are still very sharp. So sharp that I cut the tip of my first finger whilst shooting this diminutive revolver. Because of the light weight and aluminum frame, this revolver is not shot often. The trigger breaks crisply at 2 1/2lbs in single action and 10lbs in double action.

A note of caution, it is not advised to shoot +P defensive rounds through the Model 37 because of the aluminum frame. Some may disagree, but I will err on the side of caution, especially as this pistol is on loan.

On the Range

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This classic Smith, like all the others in my possession, has a classic rebounding hammer with fixed firing pin for the ultimate in reliability and safety

On the shooting range, the Model 37 is rather exciting to behold. Reliability is a non-issue with this high quality S&W revolver. At 7 yards, in double-action mode, 2″ groups are regularly produced. At 25 yards, this revolver produced a little better than 9″ groups with 158gr LRN Winchester white box. The short sight radius makes shooting tiny groups unrealistic, but this pistol is not designed for that. It is designed specifically for carrying comfortably and for combat at close range, both of which it performs admirable. The tiny 1 7/8″ barrel does little for ballistics either: the average velocity for all three brands of 158 gr LRN ammo I tried was a modest 698fps.

It is the actual shooting of this pistol that makes it memorable. The thin-wood stocks of the Smith provide a full grip, but they do little to absorb recoil. As a matter of fact, the only thing absorbing recoil is your wrist. During firing the revolver’s butt will climb up and out of your grip, no matter how firm you hold on. During rapid-fire DA firing, the bucking of an otherwise mild .38 Special round will make you rethink some life decisions.  I have fired some rough .500 S&W and .44 Rem Mag loads in my day, but that little Model 37 is downright painful.

Final Thoughts

The Model 37 is a sleek and dandy little pocket pistol. It is 100% reliable, extremely light weight, and combat accurate. It’s ferocity and potency on both ends of the muzzle make for a excellent packing and self-defense option. I may not be able to wring out the best results from this pistol, but it doesn’t make it any less capable of a firearm choice. Plus, it is so darn good looking.

Smith and Wesson Model 10

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This is my second installment in the “A Trio of Smiths” series. https://thatweirdgunguy.com/2015/08/31/a-trio-of-smiths/

https://thatweirdgunguy.com/2015/09/01/smith-and-wesson-357-magnum/ Stay tuned of for the final installment:)

The story of the S&W Model 10 begins somewhere in the Philippines in the 1899. At the time, the US Army was involved in the rebellion going on. As this is a gun article and not a political science piece, lets skip to the good parts. The pistol in use by the Army was the Colt New Army chambered in .38 Colt. Apparently, they were having issues with stopping some of the more motivated Filipinos and drug crazed Moro natives with the anemic .38 Colt chambering.

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The Model 10’s cylinder fits 6 .38 caliber pills nicely. Who could want for more?

As a result, the Ordnance Department released a bunch of Colt 1873 SAAs and 1878 Frontiers chambered in the proven .45 Colt to be used by the Army instead. Smith and Wesson got wind of the issue back home and went about developing a new revolver and chambering. The revolver, called the .38 Hand Ejector of 1899, and chambered in the new .38 Special, was the cat’s meow in terms of cartridges of the day. The Army and the Navy ordered a few thousand of these pistols and in light of the new contract, the name was changed to the Military and Police, or M&P, which still lives on today.

Unfortunately for S&W the US military didn’t get overly interested in their new pistol and instead experimented with a few new automatic pistol designs, eventually settling in 1905 with the cartridge we know now as the .45.ACP, and a few years later in 1911 with the Colt M1911. However, S&W sold millions of these pistols overseas to blossoming new nation-states in need of a reliable and affordable sidearm for their militaries .

On this side of the pond, S&W developed lucrative law enforcement contracts; selling their pistol for issue to entire departments. From its inception, to even today in some small departments, the standard issue pistol found in rigs nation wide was probably the M&P (or Model 10 after 1957) in some variation. While the military retained its fan-boy like status for Colts, the cops at home were packin’ a good ol’ Smith.

Owning the Model 10

My Model 10 is the first revolver I ever bought. I wanted an inexpensive, duty-sized revolver that I could use as my nightstand gun and not have to worry about clearing malfunctions or engaging safeties. I found just that in my Model 10. Right now, it rests with a cylinder-full of Hornady Critical Defense 38 Special +P and a HKS Speedloader with matching armament in my nightstand, ready for action.

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The hammer mounted firing pin provides faultless, reliable ignition. The rebounding hammer also allows for the carrying of six rounds in the cylinder safely.

It is a police trade-in and is missing quite a bit of the finish on one side from being carried in a holster for most of its life. The action is glass smooth from time and well worn with age, it has a few dings and scratches on the frame, but the rifling is still strong, and the cylinder locks up tightly when the hammer is cocked. This particular revolver is a 10-8 with a square butt and a pinned, heavy barrel. It weighs a meaty 34 ounces, not a light weight by anyone’s standard. The single action trigger pull is like snapping a thin glass rod and measures a mere 2 pounds. The double action is a steady, rolling tug that breaks at about 8 ½ pounds. Pointing this pistol, with one or two hands, is instinctive and completely natural. It is one of my favorite shooting pistols. To be honest, I will probably get another identical one to match it.

On the Range

My Model 10 will eat up any 38 Special load with aplomb, but it absolutely loves the classic 158 grain lead round nose load, mosying along at 750 fps. The fixed sights are perfectly regulated for that loading at 25 yards, and as we will see, absolutely shocked me with how accurate they can be. At 7 yards or less, in double action mode, it is very easy to get one, nice, ragged hole in the x-ring on a B-27. There is very little recoil, so follow up shots are easy to make. There is also very little report. It is by no means a .22 in that sense, but it is a very quiet handgun considering. Shooting the 38 Special in a K-frame is very gratifying; when you pull the trigger, you are rewarded with a mild “POP”, a tensing of the wrist, and then a nice little hole wherever your sights were pointed. This is, in my mind, the perfect handgun to introduce novice shooters to, once they have mastered the .22 rimfire.

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The Model 10 favored the classic 158gr LRN loads with the best groups coming in just under 1.7 inches at 25 yards, measured center to center

I tested three types of ammo in my revolver: Hornady Critical Defense +P 110 gr, Winchester White Box 158gr LRN, and Federal 130gr FMJ. The Hornady had an average velocity of 1112 fps, the Winchester 748 fps, and the Federal 830fps. As I mentioned earlier, the most accurate load was the classic lead Winchester load. This is not a load I would carry for self defense for a myriad of reasons, but it does serve well enough for neutralizing target medium. It was on the bench that this load/revolver combo really surprised me. At 25 yards, I could muster 2” groups with monotonous repeatability. It also shot exactly to point of aim, which was refreshing, considering the frustrations I have had with other fixed sight revolvers.

Final Thoughts

The Model 10 is one of those ubiquitous firearms that has survived a century of hard use and will probably survive another century without much change to the original design, due in part to the low operating pressure of the cartridge it fires and the sturdiness of the design. The other reason is because it works as a whole package. It is an attractive, collectible, rugged, easy to shoot, working pistol. It is at home in the desk drawer, or on the hip; in the truck glove compartment, or the safe. The Model 10 may not be for you, but that is ok, it is just dandy for me.

Smith and Wesson 357 Magnum

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The 357 Magnum goes well with an factory original antique Smith and Wesson shoulder holster and HKS Speedloader

This is the first installment in “A Trio of Smiths” series

https://thatweirdgunguy.com/2015/08/31/a-trio-of-smiths/

Stay tuned:)

In The Roaring Twenties, during the heyday of Prohibition and organized crime, the standard issue law enforcement sidearm was either a Colt, or a Smith and Wesson revolver in .38 Special. With a 158 grain lead round nose bullet lazily frolicking at around 750-800 feet per second, it made for an adequate man stopper, was exceedingly accurate, and had mild recoil. However, it did make for poor penetration, especially in cases of the new fangled bulletproof vests and armored cars that the bad guys had. The alternative for those in law enforcement on the cutting edge was the 1911 in .45 ACP. Unfortunately, its 230 grain slug going a smidgen faster than the 38’s didn’t improve the penetration enough to make a difference.

In light of this, Colt and S&W both got to work on solutions to the problem. In 1929 Colt introduced the .38 Super Automatic. This hot little round, an update to the old 38 ACP and chambered in the 1911, drove a 130 grain full metal patch(jacketed) bullet at a blistering 1300 fps. This made short work of the bulletproof vests and the armored cars of the time. However, most Law Enforcement was mistrustful of semi-auto pistols and required a revolver to be carried by patrol officers. In 1930, Smith and Wesson came up with a solution called the 38-44. This was the 38 Special cartridge loaded with a 158 grain full metal patch bullet flying along at 1150 fps, but chambered in the heavier S-Frame pistol built originally for the .44 Special. There was an obvious problem though, both of these rounds could be chambered in firearms designed for the older and weaker cartridge. Colt and Smith and Wesson both tried to fix that by changing the head stamps on the cartridge rims but people still put 38-44HV rounds in their much weaker K-frame revolvers. Along with help from Elmer Keith, S&W set about to fixing the problem and developing an even hotter round, and hotter pistol.

In 1934-35 S&W introduced a completely new cartridge: the .357 Magnum. This round was 1/8 of an inch longer than a .38 so it could not be chambered in a pistol that was designed for the .38 Special. The new round’s ballistics were originally a 158 grain bullet at 1500 fps! That is roughly double what the humble .38 Special was capable of. They also introduced a new pistol, called the “Registered Magnum” to house the new round. This pistol was, and is, the most desirable of all Smith and Wesson revolvers as it was completely hand made and customizable with a myriad of barrel lengths in ¼ inch increments, grips, finishes, sights, etc. Even though it was introduced in the middle of the Great Depression and was extremely expensive for the time, Smith & Wesson was backlogged with orders for the entirety of time that it produced the Registered Magnum. The Kansas City Police Department issued the Registered Magnum to its officers, and many other law enforcement officers across the United States carried the Registered Magnum. In 1939 Smith & Wesson stopped producing the Registered Magnum and replaced it with the 357 Magnum, which was still the Registered Magnum, but with the lack of customizable features, and standardized for ease of production and economy. In 1955, Smith and Wesson changed how they named revolvers and began using a numeric system instead of the old titular style. The Military and Police became the Model 10, the Chief’s Special became the Model 36, The Highway Patrolman became the Model 28 and the 357 Magnum became the Model 27, etc.

Owning the 357 Magnum

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The rollmark and pinned front sight are clearly observed in this picture

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The classic Smith and Wesson recessed chambers and lockwork are still tight sixty years later

 

My example is a Pre-Model 27, on a 5 screw, S-Frame. It has a 6 ½ inch pinned and ribbed barrel, with pinned front partridge sight. The chambers are recessed as well. All of these features are very desirable in early S&Ws. The best I can figure is that this pistol was probably made somewhere in the early 1950s as it has the second model hammer. The finish, even though it is sixty plus years old, still has a lovely luster. Somebody really did like shooting this pistol because it has a deeply impressed cylinder ring, but the rifling in the barrel is still sharp. The big wheel-gun balances very nicely, and is easy to shoot accurately with one or both hands, despite its 3lb weight when loaded. The trigger breaks at a clean 3 pounds in single action, and about 10lbs in double action. Overall it is probably the most beautiful pistol I have ever shot.

On the Range

“What?!” you are probably thinking. “You still shoot this pistol?” Oh yes, yes indeed. In fact, this revolver is the most accurate pistol that I own. It makes me look good. Too good, in fact.

When I was on Active Duty Some years back, some Army buddies and I would go to a local gun club off post on our time off. I would bring my trusty Smith with me. My buddies would then bet the local patrons, and on one occasion the owner of the establishment, that no one could hit the little green man in the top left corner of a standard B-27 target from the back of this indoor pistol range, which If I recall correctly was about 100 feet, so roughly 33 yards. Some money would exchange hands, the marks would take their turns shooting, almost everyone would miss. Then, I would roll up to the line, drop in one 148 grain match wadcutter in the big cylinder of that Smith, assume a good Weaver stance, and let fly. When the target came back, there would always be a perfectly round hole in the center of that little green man. We would then leave with our fruits of labor.

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This was my smallest group at just under 1.2″ at 25 yards measured center to center. In my haste, I mistakenly wrote down 38 instead of 357 😦

Like I said, I am a middling-to average shot, but when I benched this pistol the other day at the range, only shooting Mags, the largest group I got at 25 yards was a touch over two inches, with the smallest just under 1 and a quarter inches from center to center. No telling what a Match grade 38 Special could do in this behemoth. I shot several types of 357 through the pistol; Hornady 158gr XTP, Federal 158gr JSP, Grizzly 200 gr LNFP, and some handloads with Keith-style 158 gr LNFP. It favored the Federals in this trial, but I have some more playing to do with this pistol.

Final Thoughts

The 357 Magnum is one of those few truly iconic American pistols and I feel very fortunate to be one the few that has a working example. This pistol exudes history and nostalgia, but not so much to have become obsolete. The classic lines, hand tooling, musclecar-like performance, and tank-like reliability make this one a keeper.