Shooting History-Ruger 3 Screw-Old Gun Review

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Shooting History is the series where we take some old guns and, wait for it… shot them. You can check out our previous articles in this series here. If you have an idea for a gun we can cover here be sure to comment below and we will try to get a shooter.

The Ruger 3 Screw... see the 3 screws?

The Ruger 3 Screw… see the 3 screws?

The Ruger 3 Screw Blackhawk

So this gun is not exactly old. But Ruger stopped making them in 1973 and they have become more and more collectable and valuable. The name 3 Screw is in reference to the 3 Screws on the side of the frame. The new models have 2 pins. If you are fan of the single action revolver and have never shot one of these you owe it to yourself to do so. In my opinion, they are just about the best production single action revolvers ever made. Bear with me while I attempt to back that statement up!

History

This wouldn’t be a Shooting History article if we didn’t talk about history. Sturm, Ruger and Company started production on the single action Blackhawk revolver in 1955. The Single-Six .22 LR, which shares the same action, preceded it by two years. Westerns were very popular in the 1950s and there was a market for a new revolver like the ones the cowboys, lawmen and outlaws were seen with on TV and in the movies. Colt had stopped production of the most well know revolver, the Single Action Army with only a few being made after WWII. Ruger stepped in with what is really an updated Colt.

The original Blackhawks shared the same basic function and lock work with the old Colts but had a few improvements. The overall design is stronger and everything is a bit bigger and sturdier. This is why you see “Ruger Only” loads; they can handle higher pressures than most other revolvers.   Another main difference is the use of coil springs in the place of the flat leaf spring in the Colt and most other revolvers of the time. The coiled springs proved to be more durable and longer lasting. The leaf springs are the most common place to have a breakage on a Colt. Lastly, the sights on the Rugers are adjustable and the Colts are fixed.

 Variants

Not a Flattop. You can see the firing pin.  No transfer bar here!

Not a Flattop. You can see the firing pin. No transfer bar here!

There are two main variants of the Old Model, or 3 Screw Rugers. The first models that were made from 1955-1962 are known as the Flattops. The top strap is flat with out any metal coming up to protect the rear sight. The ones made from 1962-1972 are usually called 3 screws although both them and the Flattop have 3 screws.

There are also the Super Blackhawks that are in .44 Magnum.

Ruger offered these Blackhawks in a number of calibers and barrel lengths. The notable calibers are .30 Carbine, .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum and .45 Colt.

The New Model

Before we get into the meat of the review gun I need to take a few words to talk about the changes that were made to the 3 Screw and the development of the New Model Blackhawk.

The 3 Screw should be carried with 5 rounds in the cylinder. The reason for this is that the hammer, when lowered, is resting on the firing pin. If something was to hit the hammer hard enough, or the gun was dropped, it could discharge. Now there is a “safety” notch on the hammer that keeps it above the firing pin. However, this is not a very strong safety and it could still go off with a hard enough impact. The Colts and their clones are like this too. It is part of the design and is perfectly safe if you carry it with 5 rounds and not 6.

But idiots will be idiots and lawyers will be lawyers. In 1973, Ruger introduced the New Model Blackhawks that utilizes a transfer bar system. These Rugers are perfectly safe to carry with 6 in the cylinder. But there was a cost to the feel of the action. I am not saying the New Models are junk as they are far from it. But if you have ever rolled the hammer back on a 3 Screw you will know what I am talking about. They just feel better. Slicker, smoother and they make 4 clicks.

Ruger will also retrofit a transfer bar into the old 3 Screws for no extra charge. First let me say that these are safer in that you can carry 6 rounds in the cylinder with out fear of hitting the hammer and it going off.. The 3 screws that have had the conversion are just shy of being junk. I don’t mean that they won’t work, they will. But they feel like a cheap knockoff from a third world country. The action feels like it could bind when you cock it and the trigger went from being great to being crap.   A really good gunsmith can make a conversion work and feel pretty good, but it is nothing like what the gun use to feel like. The New Models feels a lot better than the conversions.

Some holster wear.

Some holster wear.

The Review Gun

The Old Model Blackhawk I used for this review was made in 1967. It is a standard 3 Screw and not a Flattop. It is in .357 Magnum and has a 4 5/8 inch barrel. It has been around the block and shows some good honest holster wear. But it is still one of the best shooting single actions I have ever pulled the trigger on.

Shooting

I have probably put between 1,000-1,500 rounds through this Blackhawk and there is no telling how many it fired before it came into my possession. As far as I know, this revolver has never had any work done too it. I have found no evidence of it having a trigger or action job. It doesn’t need one. The hammer pulls back easily and smoothly. The trigger breaks cleanly at 4 pounds with no creep. It locks up tight and the timing is right.  This is how a Blackhawk should work and feel.  Recoil is what you expect from a .357 revolver.  The front blade sight is easy to pick up.  If I had one negative thing to say it would be about the rear sight.  I wish it was a bit bigger but that is a personal preference thing.  As it is, it works fine.

This Blackhawk will shoot tighter than I can. I have gotten 2 inch groups from 25 yards out of it before, on a really really good day.  But I haven’t done a whole lot of paper punching with this 3 Screw.  This is one of my favorite revolvers to carry on my hip while out in the woods.  I have a bit of an inner redneck, 7th generation Arkansan will do that, and have been know to walk through the woods shooting random things.  Not things that are alive, well only if they are in season.

Yep, about what you expect from this barrel length.

Yep, about what you expect from this barrel length.

Collectors

Unconverted Ruger 3 Screws and Flattops have a pretty big following among collectors. It is easy to tell if one has been converted and still has the transfer bar installed, cock the hammer and look for the transfer bar! But some that have been converted have be changed back to the original parts. These should feel and function just as well as one that has not been converted but they do not have the same value and collectors appeal. There is only one way that I know of to tell if one has been converted in the past. On the bottom of the frame, under the grip frame, there will be an “R” stamped. You have to take the grip frame off to see it, but if that “R” is there then it was converted by Ruger at some point.

So these Old Model Blackhawks are not all that old and will probably be the newest guns that the series will see. But they are great shooting and functioning revolvers. A well made single action revolver is one of, if not the, most reliable handgun designs there is. Couple the feel and function of the iconic old Colt Peacemaker with the improved reliability of a Ruger Blackhawk and you have a winner. And in my opinion the 3 Screws are at the top of the Ruger heap.

15 Yards.

15 Yards.

I loaded 6, but shot it right after I did.  Don't tell Ruger.

I loaded 6, but shot it right after I did. Don’t tell Ruger.

25 yards.  I have shot this gun better than this but not often.  Yes, those are coffee stains on the targets.

25 yards. I have shot this gun better than this but not often. Yes, those are coffee stains on the targets.

Hammer face.

Hammer face.

Gate open and hammer down.  The cylinder will not spin like this, it needs to be on half cock.

Gate open and hammer down. The cylinder will not spin like this, it needs to be on half cock.

It has its name on it!

It has its name on it!

The business end.

The business end.

The Ruger Hawk.

The Ruger Hawk.

 
The butt.

The butt.

Trigger guard.

Trigger guard.

{ 35 comments… add one }
  • Rhonda Stentz July 4, 2017, 6:06 pm

    I have a Ruger .357 magnum Blackhawk, 6 1/2 inch barrel, XR3-RED marked inside under the handle. Im trying to find out when it was made.

  • rendy retherford March 22, 2017, 5:20 pm

    Looking for Grips to fit OLD STYLE RUGER SINGLE SIX .22 SA REVOLVER MADE IN 1971 …….3-SCREW XR3-RED ALCOA FRAME GRIP. Pachymar……Bogue ….etc.

  • Lon March 8, 2017, 4:23 am

    We’re any 44 mags made with a brass trigger guard ???

  • Lloyd Baird December 20, 2016, 8:41 pm

    I purchased my 357 Blackhawk Flat top new in 1958 for $98.00. I wanted to take it to Canada with me while hunting Bear. However, after purchasing it I found out it would be difficult taking it over the boarder and then bring it back into the U.S.
    so I left it at home. I have owned this gun for fifty-eight years and it has not been converted. It is a beautifully handling gun
    that has gone hunting with me through out the years. In July of 1979, I had the gun refinished with a chromium* finish to all the steel parts which gives this gun a one of a kind appearance. This chromium finish is very durable and shows “NO” signs of holster wear or pitting. Note the original “Blackhawk” finish remains on all aluminum parts. And like all the other gentlemen commenting in this blog I to love the feel and reliability of my flat top and will be giving it to one of my grandsons.

  • john July 30, 2016, 11:54 am

    Have owned every Ruger single-action ever made, but have kept only those which are unconverted. One, the older ones have very good triggers, not quite on par with a S&W trigger, but reasonably close. Two the bluing and overall fit and finish of the originals was superior to the later models. True, a wise shooter doesn’t carry one with the hammer resting on a loaded chamber, but the same shortcoming exists with all the Colt SAAs, and one Ruger will outlast a whole case of Colt SAAs, of which I currently have three, all of which have suffered parts breakages despite being used only relatively lightly.

    • Steven March 17, 2017, 6:33 pm

      I own 5 three scews ruger single action,my first,singlesix,22 lr flat gate 1956 shoots wonderful,ruger 22 cal,22 mag,singlesix 1970,shot lots rabbits,ruger blackhawk 357 magnum 1973,ruger blackawk 44 mag all single action 1958 flat top,wonderful guns,looking for 45 lc single action in 3 screw only,only load 5 round each time thanks

  • Cyrus May 13, 2016, 7:48 am

    I have my fathers Colt 32cal which my research indicates it’s around 1902 manufacturing. As you said it’s not blued & has some pitting but I keep it oiled inside & out to prevent rust. My grips are different. Mine has a round colt (horse inlay) on each side. I do shoot it & will never sell it.

  • clyde farthing March 14, 2016, 5:09 pm

    I have just bought a Ruger Super Blackhawk, 7.5, .44 Mag. 4 digit serial number. Ruger tells me that the gun was made in 1960. My question is this. Is my gun a Flat top or not. It have a non fluted cylinder, thanks

  • Shelby March 2, 2016, 6:31 pm

    “Wait for it… SHOT them.”?

  • rick February 3, 2016, 9:50 am

    I just purchased a 3 screw ruger blackhawk in stainless steel? Its a .357 and the barrel is magna ported. The original front sight has a red plastic insert like some smiths.
    What puzzels me A. I have never seen a old 3 screw in stainless? B. I have never seen an original front sight with a hi-vis insert. C. It appears to be a factory magna-port with slots along each side of the front sight? Can anyone tell me anything about this gun?

  • Ryan K February 2, 2016, 12:22 pm

    I picked up a old 3 Screw 44 mag 7.5″ barrel in a package deal from a friend a while back not knowing at the time that it was an old model. Came home and did some research a realized what I had purchased and was very pleased (1965 model with low 5 digit serial and never had transfer bar conversion) I paid $700 for the 3 screw AND a Glock 36 in pretty much perfect condition, so needless to say I think I got an amazing deal. I’ve been putting out a feeler on trying to sell the 3 screw and just received a response from a random guy stating “There is nothing special about old 3 screws, it doesn’t make them more valuable.” I just laughed and very politely told him he’s entitled to his opinion and I’ll have my own. All in all I think I have decided to hold on to it and someday when my son is older I’ll pass it down to him.

    • Ronald sharp April 2, 2017, 7:47 pm

      Would love to trade kimber 45 cal mint confound two magaziines. Shot one magazine through it. It’s a custom 11. Only few made. Want your 3 screw mag 44. My phone. Number is 330 770 9208

      • Gerry Smith May 11, 2017, 2:03 pm

        Do you still have your Kimber 11 custom 1911. I do have a Ruger unconverted 3 screw Super Blackhawk. Thank You. Gerry

  • dennis taylor January 18, 2016, 10:43 pm

    I own a bunch of Ruger three screw Blackhawks and super Blackhawks and have at least one in every caliber they ever came in,I have only one two pin Blackhawk,its a factory engraved 45 long Colt and if it wasn’t a special model it would have been gone a long time ago just because of the transfer safety,loading gate and mediocre trigger.After shooting Colts and old Rugers for over 50yrs I’m spoiled and every time I shoot a two pin Ruger i fell like washing my hands afterwords.If you already own the two pin models dont even think about shooting a three screw because you will never look at your new model the same if you do.The two pinners are good guns but they are not great and never will be no matter what you do to them.

  • MR.B December 28, 2015, 3:12 am

    I PICKED UP A RUGER SUPER BLACKHAWK 16YR’S AGO FOR $240.00.I CALLED RUGER ABOUT IT.MY 3 SCREW WAS MADE IN 1971.TI’S ALL ORIGINAL.BUT IT DOES NOT HAVE ORIGINAL HANDLE’S.LOVE IT,GREAT SHOOTER.WHAT’S IT WORTH?

  • Carroll Dyess July 25, 2015, 12:37 pm

    TRYING TO FIND APPROXIMATE DATE MY (3) RUGER 22 SIX SHOT 3-SCREW PISTOLS WERE MADE, CAN YOU HELP ME?

    Thanks

  • Jay April 16, 2015, 4:18 am

    I have one of these from my Dad, 44mag- 7.5″ bbl and never converted. The sad thin is, it’s been kept in a mahogany box. I was forced to keep it basically in storage for some time and it got some rust and pitting in the cylinder Dad probably did somersaults in his grave! this piece was his pride and joy! For years, I only shot it on New Years eve and the 4th of July. No my boys are itching to try it out.
    Anyway, thanks for the article. It brings back memories of my dad and his passion for American freedoms (he was a WWII vet). He didn’t own many guns but he loved the few he had and he passed that passion on to me along with his guns.

  • Russ April 14, 2015, 6:23 pm

    Thank You, Mr. SAM TRISLER
    The articles you post, are a source of great information, pictures, and attract good people, who lead productive and enlightening discussions.
    It’s very enjoyable, and the reason I come to the GUNSAMERICA forum.
    I appreciate your time and effort.

  • Dick Olsen April 14, 2015, 12:24 pm

    A very interesting article. I have 2, 3-screw Ruger Blackhawk Revolvers. Single Six 22LR / 22Mag / 6 inch barrel prefix 20-xxxxx, I bought it new late 60’s for $50+, I really enjoyed shooting rats and cans at the dump with this gun. Also 357Mag / 9mm 6 inch barrel prefix 30-xxxxxx, I bought it used early 70’s for $100+ from a co-worker who needed money. I carried it deer hunting a few times but, didn’t get a deer with it. Both guns have been upgraded (with the transfer bars) by Ruger about 1980, and I have the old parts. I was told they can be converted back to original etc. by a gunsmith. It was my understanding that original design had the hammer resting on the firing pin and could fire with a blow to the hammer???. These are heirlooms to pass on to Grand kids & Great-Grand kids.

  • Merrill Galer April 14, 2015, 12:19 pm

    I purchased a the Ruger .44 mag. single action from the PX at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina back in 1957. I paid $75. (lots of money back then) and the Marine Corp allowed me to keep in in my barracks locker and fire it at their range often. Like most .44 mag. shooters – before locking screws were developed – I learned to carry a small screwdriver to tighten the screws that were loosened by the pistols stiff recoil. I regret that I sold this gun some years later – some lucky shooter may now own it as a collectors item. It can be identified by a dinged up front sight (never loan out a gun) and a chip at the bottom of the wooden grip caused by recoil while leaning over a stone wall shooting at a chuck. I would like to hear from you if you have this gun.
    Merrill

    • dennis taylor January 18, 2016, 10:57 pm

      I have a 44mag Blackhawk that matches the condition you described,its a flat top and was made in 1956 and its serial #is 33xx,it has a small chip out of the bottom of the left grip panel and some finish missing on the metal where the wood chip is,I bought this gun at a pawn shop in Spokane Wa. about 15yrs ago for $500,the main frame is kind of a purple color and i have kept the gun in nice shape.I live in Cheney Wa. so hopefully this helps.

      • Greg March 12, 2016, 10:32 pm

        Are you the Dennis Taylor who as a Marine sargeant instructed at Quantico?

    • Terry Dean April 20, 2016, 11:35 pm

      I may potentially own your old Ruger. ..
      Dinged up sight… Chip in the handle…?
      U by chance remember the serial #?

  • Merrill Galer April 14, 2015, 12:18 pm

    I purchased a the Ruger .44 mag. single action from the PX at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina back in 1957. I paid $75. (lots of money back then) and the Marine Corp allowed me to keep in in my barracks locker and fire it at their range often. Like most .44 mag. shooters – before locking screws were developed – I learned to carry a small screwdriver to tighten the screws that were loosened by the pistols stiff recoil. I regret that I sold this gun some years later – some lucky shooter may now own it as a collectors item. It can be identified by a dinged up front sight (never loan out a gun) and a chip at the bottom of the wooden grip caused by recoil while leaning over a stone wall shooting at a chuck. I would like to hear from you if you have this gun.
    Merrill

  • Chris Baker April 14, 2015, 8:51 am

    I enjoyed reading the article, but only to learn something. I’m not a single action guy. I have a Redhawk and a gp100 and I don’t see how I could be happier with a single action. I will probably never own one of these, nor one of the new models, unless a miracle happens. The double action on the Redhawk is marvelously smooth after many thousands of rounds (and a wolf spring kit). Great fun to take to a pin match with light loads. That said, I had a friend a while back who took his Blackhawk to a pin match and cleared the table faster than I could 99% of the time.

  • Michael Delaney April 14, 2015, 5:58 am

    The first gun I ever shot (at 6 years old) was a Single – Six, put in my hands by my dad. I am now 64 (as far as I know it’s only has been worked on once (hair trigger issue) (When dad passed he made sure that gun was given to me.) It has not been converted (and won’t be) The finish is probably 65% which doesn’t bother me a bit. I would not take a $1,000,000 for that gun The memories of dad and I kicking cans down a farm path with it will be with me till the day I die!

  • Steve Paray April 13, 2015, 10:52 pm

    I have the new model in 357, 4 5/8 barrel. I tore it down, smoothed everything I could think of. Now it has the feel of a full blown custom gun. I replaced the grips that came with the gun as it hurt my hand if I shot about three cylinders through it. Now, with my aftermarket grips it is more than fun to shoot! Of all of my handguns, this is my favorite.

  • DK April 13, 2015, 9:55 pm

    I inherited a Ruger Old Model .41 Magnum Blackhawk, serial #9XX from my father at his passing. i be;ieve he bought it in ’63 or ’64, I lean toward 1963 because my first reloading experiences involved this gun and I was 13 at the time. dad would have me cut down .303 British brass to the correct length and then dress the case mouth, he would take the brass to work and turn down the rims on a lathe, if I remember right he bought his cast bullets from Herter’s, CCI primers and #2400 powder from Wolfe’s in Salt Lake City. He had always hunted Mulies with a ’94 Winchester .32 Special (I got that one too), but when he got the “maggie” he never hunted with a rifle again, I can’t even guess at how many bucks he brought home over the next twenty years. This gun led me to several .41’s over the last 40 years, it became my favorite caliber (not counting the ,45 Colt!). It’s got a little wear oin it now and the frame has “plummed” out nicely, but it’s still a great shooter.

    • BJ Kerns December 7, 2015, 3:33 pm

      I too own a few Ruger 41 Magnums. The best round I have ever had the pleasure of shooting. I just sent a 45 LC to Gary Reeder and had him convert it to an Ultimate 41 Magnum. Black Chromex, barrel with satin stainless, cylinder (non fluted beefed up for heavier loads), back strap and ejector, Unicorn ivory grips. It has a 7 inch barrel including the muzzle break. Shoots .5 inch MOA at 25 yds. This is the first conversion I have ever had made and will do it again just to have another 41 Magnum.

  • Larry April 13, 2015, 3:17 pm

    I have one in .45lc and I love it ! Still in original condition with the 4 5/8″ barrel. Would not get rid of it for anything !

  • Pete April 13, 2015, 10:47 am

    Don’t leave the Single Six out of the 3 screw/2 screw story. I still have the convertible I argued with a late older friend over $25 about. I won and still have the gun. The only single action I ever subjected to the Ruger correction was a Bearcat I acquired to sell. It didn’t work quite right until after it was converted. And it sold easily.

  • John R April 13, 2015, 7:36 am

    These 3-screw Ruger Blackhawks are of interest for Big Bore Metallic Silhouette shooters as a batch (1500) were made with 10″ barrels in the early 1960’s. As the supply of affordable long-barreled revolvers has dried up (S&W no longer lists the 8 3/8″barrel 686), the Silhouette rules (in Australia at least) have been changed to allow revolvers to be fitted with barrels that match the length and profile of an original production pistol. This means that a 3-pin Blackhawk can be fitted with a 10″ barrel to make a competitive outfit for about half the cost or less of a Freedom Arms .357. I have had one done and it shoots very well.

  • Mark April 10, 2015, 10:16 pm

    I have one of these Blackhawks with a 4 5/8″ barrel in .357. I believe my father bought it the year I was born. Some 60 years ago. The serial number is 5 digits with no prefix as shown in the photo of your gun. At one point he sent it in to Ruger to have a 9MM cylinder fitted for it. A couple of years later he got a letter from them offering to convert it to the transfer bar system. He declined. It is a great shooting gun and it has many many rounds through it with never a malfunction. The action is smooth and the trigger pull is clean and crisp. It is one of the few guns from my fathers collection I have kept and hope to pass on to one of my grandsons some day. He also had a Single Six that he had chrome plated. It is a fun gun to shoot. I have kept that gun as well. Thanks for bringing up some fond memories of my early years of rattling around some tin cans with my dad. P.S. I was six years old when I first shot the Blackhawk.

    • steven November 17, 2015, 12:25 pm

      I have 3 old three screw ruger revolvers 22 single six,4 digits,22 single six mag,& a357 mag,would like 44 mag three screw hard to find love them all,hope to pss them all down to son,have a great day thanks

      • Ricardo Herreras July 9, 2016, 12:11 am

        I have a 3-screw 44mag SuperBH, 71/2″ barrel, Hogue grips, unfluted cyl, mfd ? 1970’s, recently rebuilt by factory due to a defective weld on the ejection-rod housing. Pistol is like new, refinished, re-blued, factory polished etc,etc…..Comes with Bianchi hi-ride holster. And so now it has the transfer bar installed.. I need the dough for a new electric guitar I wish to buy. I have to get the pistol appraised for sale unless someone makes me an offer I can’t pass on. I had all the parts in the original box for converting the gun back to 3-screw. Unfortunately, my other half decided to ” clean ” the garage and enlisted help from other folks and I haven’t seen the box since. Inquiries for the box end with shrugs, No Hablo etc…..Anyway,, the pistola is for sale..Drop me an email pls……

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