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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.