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.
Introduced 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.