The trend these days in revolvers, and the
cartridges for which they are chambered, is toward larger and more powerful. In recent years,
we have witnessed the proliferation of huge handguns chambered for cartridges
such as the .454 Casull, .50 Action Express, .475 and .500 Linebaugh, etc.
There is nothing wrong with this, as more
hunters are choosing to use handguns in the pursuit of big, and sometimes dangerous, game, the
powerful cartridges are needed to insure deep penetration with heavy bullets. It also
seems that some shooters just like to shoot the biggest and baddest handguns available, even if they never
intend to shoot an animal with such a weapon.
There is also nothing wrong with this. Sometimes it is just satisfying to
drop the hammer and hold on for the ride with a heavy recoiling sixgun. The main fault that I find with
these powerful sixguns is the bulk and weight that must be built into the guns to handle the
pressures generated by these cartridges. About the largest handgun that I am
willing to pack on my hip is a Super Blackhawk, and really prefer the size of
an old Flat Top. After walking all day with a holstered sixgun, every ounce starts to
ride heavy at days end. If I'm going to be packing much over three pounds of ordinance, I would
rather carry a rifle. There is a real need for the large magnum guns, however, and they do
have their place, but for most of my needs I can get by with a little less
power and a lot less recoil. I find myself more often than not, unless I'm going into
the woods for the purpose of hunting, packing something with less weight and bulk than even
my .44 Flat Top Ruger, such as an Old Model .357. The Old Model Rugers were
made in two different frame sizes, with the .357s made smaller and lighter
than everything else. Ruger had initially intended to offer the original Blackhawk in .44 Special, but scrapped the
idea with the advent of the .44 Magnum, which was built on a larger frame. This brings us to the
subject of this article; a smaller, lighter, and handier Blackhawk in caliber .44 Special.
The .357 size frame of the original
Blackhawk is plenty strong enough to handle even stout .44 Special loads, and
smaller and lighter enough to make a noticeable difference in a everyday
packing gun. With this in mind, I sent off to David Clements (Clements
Custom Guns) a nice old Three-screw .357 Blackhawk for conversion into the ideal
.44 Packing Gun. David is a specialist in this type of conversion, along with
many other gunsmith services that he offers in his shop in Greenwood Springs, Mississippi. David Clements, while
being a talented gunsmith, is really much more than that. He is a true custom gun builder,
specializing in building beautiful, accurate sixguns.
I anxiously anticipated the arrival of the .44, and
after a couple of months the package was delivered. I was not disappointed.
Upon opening the box, I beheld one of the most beautifully finished sixguns
that I had ever seen. David had installed, as per my request, a new 4 5/8 inch .44
barrel, blued to match the original cylinder, which was line-bored and re-blued
in a deep, dark finish. The line-boring of the cylinder assures that each chamber will be in perfect alignment with
the barrel when fired. This extra step in building the sixgun makes a real difference in
achieving all the accuracy potential of the gun.
Before refinishing the frame, David carefully
removed the original name and caliber stampings from the left side of the frame and
restamped the words "Ruger Blackhawk" in the same place. On the left side of the barrel is
stamped ".44 Special", and "CCG" (for Clements Custom Guns) is stamped on the right
side of the barrel just above the ejector rod housing. Wanting to keep the gun as light as possible, I asked David
to retain the original aluminum grip frame and ejector rod housing, which he refinished
in a beautiful satin black.
The most striking difference to the finish of the
gun, is the absolutely flawless color case-hardening of the frame. The range of colors
and subtle hues is some of the best that I have seen, and the photos here do not do it justice.
One small detail that is often overlooked is the ejector rod, which David also case-hardened,
along with the hammer. Every surface was refinished, except for the original walnut stocks. I
am not sure what I want to do as yet for the stocks. I tried a set of Ruger imitation ivory
panels, but switched back to the walnut. I may try to locate a nice set of
stags, if I can find a set that is not overly thick.
The little Ruger balances and handles even
better than when a .357, due to the weight removed by boring the cylinder and the larger
bore in the barrel. It feels just right.
The proof, however, is in the shooting. David told
me over the phone that this gun was going to be accurate, but I really was not expecting it to be
any more accurate than any other .44, but I was wrong. Every load I tried, from 200 grain flat
point truncated cone bullets, to the classic 250 grain Keith bullet, was accurate.
I expect with more load development, the accuracy would improve, but the groups fired to date are fine
with me. As an example, the group shown here in the photo measures just 1.512" for
10 shots. That is as well as I can shoot an open-sighted revolver.
Many 5-shot groups went tighter than that. This .44 can shoot.
Another nice feature that David was considerate
enough to include is a front sight that is tall enough to sight in any bullet weight.
After I settle on a primary load for this gun, I will file the front sight
down to a proper level, most likely to handle the 250 grain Keith bullet. Although the
little Ruger wears adjustable sights, I like to get the front sight down so as to leave plenty of
adjustment range. I have owned several revolvers that needed a taller front sight.
Little details like this is what makes a custom gun worth the effort. David got the front sight just
As is befitting a custom gun of this quality, it
needed a quality holster rig in which to pack it. I chose a classic 1920 Tom Threepersons
holster with belt from El Paso Saddlery. This is a great holster for everyday
use. It is fully lined with a closed bottom, and the belt has loops for twelve
additional cartridges. And the quality of this rig is exceptional, as I
have come to expect from El Paso Saddlery.
If you have an Old Model.357 Ruger laying
around, Clements Custom Guns can build a sixgun like this with just a couple of months
turn-around time. These old Rugers are getting harder to find, but are still
available with a little searching. It is definitely worth the effort to have
David build one, as there is not a finer .44 to be had for anything near the price. For prices and
information on this conversion and the multitude of custom gun services offered, check out
David's website: www.clementscustomguns.com.
For info on the holster rig go to: www.epsaddlery.com
I have a good feeling that when I strap on a
sixgun, this will most likely be the one I choose. It is light, handy, powerful, beautiful, and
shoots like a dream. All the attributes of a fine sixgun.
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