The Keith No. 5 revolver is one of the most
famous revolvers ever built, and is well-known to most diehard
fans of the single-action sixgun. Elmer Keith had the No. 5
custom built on a Colt frame, transformed into what he believed
was the ultimate single-action revolver. The base pin, as well
as the method of retaining that base pin in the frame, was very
unique. It was designed for utility, but that design created the
most elegant and artful method of retaining a single-action base
pin that has ever been created. The grip is the heart of the No.
5, and was designed for comfortably handling heavy recoil, which
it does very well. The original Keith N0. 5 sixgun will never be
handled by most of us, and if we could, it is still an old Colt,
with all its limitations. Today, we have stronger, more durable
revolvers available, and Bowen Classic Arms will build a No. 5
sixgun using the reliable, rugged Ruger Blackhawk as the basis
for the conversion.
Hamilton Bowen is known as The Master when it
comes to building beautiful, functional, reliable revolvers. He
has been at his craft for many years, and has written the
definitive book on the subject of custom revolvers, titled
Custom Revolver”, a book which I reviewed here on
Gunblast back in July of 2005. I have reviewed some of
Hamilton's fine work here in the past, including some custom
327 Federal Ruger Single-Sixes and his "Perfected
SP101" 357 Magnum revolver. My brother Boge, a great
fan of Bowen's work and a dedicated Bearcat fanatic, has written
about his Bowen custom Old Model
Bearcat 22 Long Rifle / 22 Magnum conversion, as well as the
Hamilton Bowen knows how to build a custom
revolver, and he builds an exceptional version of the Keith No.
5 that is as fine-shooting as it is beautiful. Using either an Old
Model or New Model Flattop Blackhawk, Hamilton Bowen can
build anything from his basic No. 5 package shown here, to a
full-blown, highly engraved sixgun that is fitting to feature in
a museum display. However, if you want a No. 5 to shoot that
will be durable, reliable, perfectly fitted, and easy on the
hand, the basic No. 5 is sixgun perfection.
Starting with a small-frame Old Model Flattop
Blackhawk 357 magnum, Bowen bored out the original cylinder and
re-chambered it to 44 Special. The barrel is a Ruger 44 magnum
barrel, re-contoured to the Keith No. 5 profile, with the step
in front of the front sight, as was done on the original to
accommodate the sleeved sight on that sixgun. On the Bowen
conversion, the front sight is a target style base with a pinned
blade. The rear sight is the original Ruger Micro adjustable
unit, which looks great with the Flattop frame. Bowen reworks
the internals, doing an action tune/ trigger job. The result is
a perfectly timed and tuned Ruger action, dropping the bolt into
the cylinder notch leads, eliminating the infamous Ruger
cylinder bolt drag line. The trigger releases crisply, and the
trigger blade is a smooth, wide style.
The hammer is the Power Custom Bisley-spur
unit for the Ruger, which places the spur within easy reach of
the shooter’s thumb. The grip frame is the Power Custom Keith
No. 5, perfectly fitted and shaped to the Flattop frame. The
grip frame is fitted with Persinger elephant ivory grips, but
ivory Micarta and carved ivory are available, as is just about
anything else that the customer desires. Bowen gives the
re-chambered cylinder a black powder chamfer for that old-style,
classic look. The sixgun is polished and hot blued, with the
screws, pins, base pin, and latch nitre blued.
Shooting the No. 5 was a real pleasure. I
passed the No. 5 around at The
Shootists Holiday in June to a few dedicated single-action
shooters, and all enjoyed its shooting qualities. I don’t know
what ammo the others used, but the ammo that I used was entirely
my handloads consisting of Rim Rock 240 grain lead
semi-wadcutter bullets over nine grains of Hodgdon HS-6 powder
with a Winchester WLP primer in Starline Shootists brass cases.
These bullets leave the muzzle of the Bowen No. 5 at around 900
feet-per-second, and are very accurate, grouping into clusters
of five shots under an inch at twenty-five yards, repeatedly.
Extraction is easy, with no stickiness, and the perfectly-tuned
action aligns the chambers correctly for loading and unloading
The Custom Bowen No. 5 is a delight to shoot,
providing not only accurate fire, but a connection to perhaps
the most famous of all sixguns, and the man who designed it over
eight decades ago.
The Bowen Classic Arms No. 5 is a fine
tribute to the sixgun, and to the man. It is available as shown,
or with as many custom touches as the customer desires.
Check out the Bowen No. 5 online at www.bowenclassicarms.com.