Ruger’s New Model .44 Special Revolver Review

A durable and rugged Flattop Blackhawk, the Ruger’s New Model .44 Special is the finest revolver for field carry or home defense!

Ruger’s trim and handsome .44 Special Flattop Blackhawk is a near ideal combination of power and packability for the trail.

Nothing in the firearms world is more consistent than change and it is an interesting process to watch. Markets and manufacturing methods change, needs and tastes change, old favorites disappear and new favorites emerge. Change may not mean a positive one nor that new is better. But every now and then, something comes along that transcends the usual guerilla-marketing tactics.

Ruger teamed up with their largest distributor, Lipsey’s, to answer the long-running prayers of legions of die-hard .44 Specialites for a .44 Blackhawk that does not say magnum anywhere on it—the long overdue .44 Special Blackhawk is finally here.

ruger2Introduced around 1907 as an outgrowth of the older .44 Smith & Wesson Russian to provide more powder capacity, the .44 Special achieved a dedicated following beginning in the early days of smokeless powder big-bore handgun calibers that continued on in the hands of such notables as Elmer Keith and Skeeter Skelton. Skelton later wrote that he was so fond of the caliber that after WWII he sold his .38 Special and his saddle, quit smoking, cashed in his war bonds, bought a clean .38-40 Colt Peacemaker for $125 and sent it to the Christy Gun Works to be converted to .44 Special.

He then had King’s Gunsight Company fit it with an adjustable rear and mirrored beaded ramp front sight, got a trigger job and a re-blue done elsewhere and added for a whopping $20 a one-piece ivory grip. While admitting that the round-nosed lead factory load running a 246-grain bullet at about 760 feet per second (fps) was “on par” with the .38 Special in effectiveness, he experimented with handloads in his Colt, eventually deciding that a 250-grain bullet loaded up to 1200 fps left the .357 Mag in the dust, and concluded that a cast-lead Keith semi-wadcutter dropped from a Lyman #429421 mould in front of 17.5 grains of 2400 powder and a CCI magnum primer would make a better manstopper than a .30-30 rifle. (Today, this load and a similar one also used by Keith would not be recommended in a .44 Special with the new and slightly hotter 2400 powder.) Skelton settled on 7.5 grains of Unique with a 250-grain Keith bullet as his working load. Incidentally, at the time of his death in 1988, he commissioned a Ruger Old Model Flattop Blackhawk conversion from .357 Mag to .44 Special. He felt it was a trim and reliable belt gun and a package worthy of the cartridge.

As anybody who can lay legitimate claim to being an old-timer in the revolver world knows, Keith felt too confined by the limitations of the Colt SA (single-action) in his big-bore endeavors. In 1927 he abandoned the .45 Colt and switched to the .44 Special large-framed, double-action S&W platform for his research that grew the .44 Special into the .44 Mag. Writing in 1936, Keith considered the .44 Special “our finest large-caliber revolver by a wide margin.” His preference for a powerful .44 continued on through into the .44 Rem Mag introduced in 1955.

Over the years, the .357 Mag and .44 Mag have come to largely overshadow the old .44 Special, and a number of different revolvers have been introduced and dropped from production. There was nothing special about the early factory loads, and the caliber traditionally had to be handloaded to make it earn its name. Commercial ammunition has caught up to a degree in terms of more modern bullet types and more realistic performance among some specialty makers, but it is not commonly stocked on gun shop shelves. The .44 Special has a dedicated fan base but it is not a mainstream number.

Although relatively small, there remains a market for a quality-made .44 Special revolver. Lipsey’s product development manager Jason Cloessner gambled on that market. Lipsey’s often contracts with the maker for low-number special runs of exclusives in variations that Ruger does not routinely catalog. When the mid-frame .357 Flattop Commemorative Blackhawk came out in 2005, along with updated production processes at the plant, it opened the door and it was not long before talks began about the possibility of a flattop in .44 Special.

It has always been possible to shoot Specials in any of the .44 Mag Blackhawks, but those are sizable pistols and the smaller frame makes for a more compact combination of power and weight. Production began in early 2009 with plans of 1,000 each of two-barrel lengths of 4.63 and 5.5 inches.

Load Comments
  • Foctris

    I have a variety of .44s From Smith and Ruger. I prefer specials for targets (probably since I saw Eastwood touting the spl for target use in the movies).

    My 4 5/8″” gunfighter .44 spl Ruger flat top for targets. My favorite revolver since I got it

  • linker

    I got one in December of 2009. Told the dealer I didn’t care what length he could get for me. “Just get me one” I said. It came with the 4 5/8 inch barrel and I love it. I have had success with it shooting both 200 and 240 grain laser casts using imr 4227. I prefer the bigger 240s but they will lead the barrel a little but that is the price I have to pay for fun shooting.

  • Rob West

    Ordered the Lipseys vaquero sheriffs model. I went to pick it up and found there we’re lines around the cylinder like those you get after its been shot awhile. At one place it was worn to the bare metal…not at all acceptable for a new gun. Sent it back for another one…its been 10 days…still waiting for the new new one…I hope this one is…umm…new.

  • Rod Brown




  • JayP

    I have 3 of these little .44 special Blackhawks now. I cannot say enough good about them and only one bad thing, they were ALL badly out of time. My ‘Smith took care of the problem for $50 which I guess I can add onto the price of the gun. But what a shooter! This thing packs so nicely on my gunbelt and shoots 7 1/2grs of Unique with a 255gr SWC into nice round little 1 1/2″ groups at 25 yards all day long.

    I really can’t say enough good about good about this particular gun except that in the words of Skeeter Skelton……….”If I could only have one gun…..”(!) this would be the one. I took a nice blacktail buck with this load this year and am happy to say that with 1 shot, it was time to drag a deer back to the house!

  • Rob W

    Just purchased a new .44spl BH. Was a little outa time so sent it back to factory for that and to tighten up barrel/cyl gap. got it back in 10 days with both problems corrected. They get an A for service. I think its a great gun for $475 otd. You could always get a freedom arms revolver that will probaly be perfect the day you buy it, then again your paying 1500+ beans…it better be perfect!

  • Mike Woods

    I ordered a ruger 44 special in October and got it yesterday December 30. Now here it is December 31 and I have called ruger this morning to get instructions for shipping it back to them for repairs. I have bought 11 ruger products in the last 40 plus years and have never had one with unacceptable flaws until now. The loading gate when opened knocks the finish off of the frame. There is a scratch completely through the finish on the right at the base of the front sight. There is visual and audible movement of the hammer after it is let down or dropped. I am shocked. The first time I operated the loading gate it started scratching the frame. Heck I haven’t even shot this thing and now have to send it back and wait some more. Ruger’s quality control department was absent when this one came through. My main worry is how will they fix the loading gate problem? It has to open and will continue to hit the frame. Maybe the gate was not properly shaped and can be replaced. I pulled out my 45 colt bisley and looked and it has no such problem.