Lipsey’s Exclusive Ruger Flattop Blackhawk .44 Special


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn

February 4th, 2009




It has been a long time coming, but Ruger has finally built a sixgun that many shooters have been yearning for a long time. When Ruger started building their Blackhawk .357 Magnum revolvers back in 1955, it was an instant success, but shooters being the way we are, wanted a larger bore, and a Blackhawk in .44 Special was in the works. However, things changed when Bill Ruger heard of the .44 Magnum cartridge that was soon to be introduced, and scrapped the plans for the .44 Special to work on building the .44 Magnum. The .44 Magnum uses a case identical to the Special, except the magnum is a bit longer. When the .44 Magnum Blackhawk went into production in 1956, it used a slightly larger frame than did the .357 Blackhawk. Of course, shooters could still shoot .44 Special ammo in their .44 Magnum sixguns, but still wanted a .44 Special Blackhawk built on the .357 Magnum-sized frame. For many years now, shooters have been trying to get Ruger to build such a Blackhawk. Even the legendary Skeeter Skelton lobbied for such a sixgun to be produced by Ruger, to no avail. The requests have fallen upon deaf ears for decades, and the folks at Ruger had a practical answer, that being that shooters could still shoot .44 Special ammunition from their .44 magnum Blackhawks and Super Blackhawks. Ruger has even produced handier, easier-to-carry Super Blackhawks, offering them with the smaller XR3-RED grip frames and shorter barrels, along with fluted cylinders. Still, the demand for .44 Special Blackhawks built on the smaller .357 Magnum-sized frame is such that custom gunsmiths stay covered up with work converting Old Model .357 Blackhawks into .44 Special sixguns. While the New Model .357 Magnum Blackhawks are built on the .44 frame, and have been since 1973, hundreds if not thousands of the smaller, handier Old Model .357 Blackhawks have been converted into .44 Special sixguns for shooters who fully appreciate its difference in size and handling qualities.

Now, a couple of factors have developed that have finally brought us the .44 Special that we want. First of all, for the .50th Anniversary of the Blackhawk, Ruger produced a special model that used a modern version of the original .357 Blackhawk frame. While having New Model internals with the transfer bar safety system, the Anniversary Blackhawk used a smaller frame, sized like the original .357 frame, and also wore the original style Micro rear sight without the protective ears of the later Old Model Ruger Blackhawk frames. This original frame style has become known as the Flattop, to distinguish it from the frames with the raised protection for the rear sight. Another thing that made the development of the .44 Special possible was Ruger’s move to manufacturing cells about a year ago. This enables Ruger to produce small-batch orders rather quickly. Instead of having to manufacturer many thousands of a particular model with long lead times, Ruger can produce smaller orders in an efficient way, making it profitable to fill these relatively small orders, and get them to market quickly. Finally, Lipsey’s approached Ruger with a firm order for 2000 of the .44 Special Flattop Blackhawks. Since Ruger already had the tooling to produce the smaller Blackhawk frame, the manufacturing ability to produce the guns efficiently, and a major wholesaler ready to commit to at least 2000 revolvers, the decision was made to proceed. Finally, after all these years, the .44 Special Blackhawk is in production!

I received two of them here about a week ago, and meant to work through the night to get a review up within twenty-four hours. However, a couple of things occurred that shot that plan down. First of all, the day that the guns arrived, a major ice storm hit, which has really hurt the folks in Kentucky to our north. Also, a couple of Tennessee counties were hit with heavy ice and power outages. Boge, who is my little brother and webmaster, had no power nor cable internet service. I can shoot the guns, take the pictures, and write the review, but without Boge to run the website, I can do nothing. Then, the next day, Boge had power, but still no internet service. Since we couldn’t post the review, I just kept on shooting the .44 Special Blackhawk. A few hours later, Boge called me from the hospital. He had a heart attack, and was rushed in for an emergency angioplasty. Since Boge was out of commission for a few days, I kept on shooting the Blackhawk. The more I shot it, the better I liked it. I tried many different handloads and a few factory loads in the Blackhawk, and was well-pleased with the performance of the sixgun.

Before I delve too deeply into the shooting of the .44 Special Blackhawk, I will try to cover a few specifications of this revolver. The Lipsey’s .44 Special is produced with either a four and five-eighths inch or a five and one-half inch barrel. I have one of each here right now. First, I was really impressed with the fit and finish of these sixguns. The grip frames, which are made of blued steel, fit the cylinder frames perfectly. It is obvious that these parts are carefully fitted and polished together at the factory. Also, the ejector rod housing is made of blued steel. This adds a bit of weight to the guns, but also gives them a better balance, feeling much like the old original Colt Single Action Army (SAA) revolver. The grip shape is the New Model XR3, as was introduced on the New Vaquero a few years ago. This grip shape is like on the original Blackhawk, and originated with the 1851 Colt Navy and continued with the 1873 SAA. It is one of the best grips ever designed for a single action sixgun. The grip panels are checkered black plastic, and fit the grip frame very well. The two guns that I have here are very well-fitted. The barrel/cylinder gaps on the four and five-eighths and five and one-half inch guns measure two one-thousandths (.002) and three one-thousandths (.003) of an inch, respectively. This is perfect. Many gun manufacturers have really loosened their standards on b/c gaps, and one well-known and highly respected revolver maker allows gaps of up to ten one-thousandths (.01) inch. That is much too loose. These Rugers are tight, and it shows up in the performance. A gun with a barrel/cylinder gap that is too wide will spit powder out the gap and lose velocity, compared to a properly-fitted gun. These Blackhawks are built right. Less you think that Ruger cherry-picked a couple of guns to send to me, these came direct from the wholesaler’s shelf, and were not hand-picked in any way. They grabbed two off the shelf and shipped them to my dealer. Like the original Blackhawk, these have a Micro adjustable rear sight fitted into the Flattop frame. The front sight is a serrated blade integral with the ramp, and the combo makes for a very good sight picture. The top of the front blade sits about .492 inch off the top of the barrel, and is plenty high enough for firing 250 grain bullets. In fact, in my hands, the sight height is just right for shooting my favorite 250 grain Mt. Baldy Keith bullet load, which runs about 1050 feet-per-second out of the four and five-eighths inch barrel. The Ruger can stand stiffer loads, but I have magnums for that. A 250 Keith at that velocity will do just about everything that I need to do with a handgun. The Flattop .44 Special also has Ruger’s ejector alignment pin that they introduced on the New Vaquero. This allows the chambers to line up perfectly at each “click” of the cylinder rotation for loading and unloading of the chambers. I really like this feature. It corrects one of my main gripes with the New Model Ruger single actions that has aggravated me for years. With the new system, that aggravation is gone. The sixgun has Ruger’s internal lock. It is hidden beneath the grip panels, and to activate, the user has to remove a grip panel and insert and turn the key. If the owner likes, the grip panel can be drilled to accept the key without removing the grip. Most of us will just ignore the thing, but for those whom are required by law, or just want to lock it, the device is there. It hurts nothing, is hidden from sight, and absolutely will not lock itself. The .44 Flattop has a nice, even blue-black finish. Not a high polish like on the Anniversary Super, but not a matte finish either. Somewhere in between. There were no flaws observed in the finish of either of the two revolvers. The four and five-eighths and five and one-half inch guns weigh in at 41.8 and 43 ounces, respectively, on my scale. The trigger pull measures a crisp four and one-quarter pounds, and will receive a Poor Boy’s Trigger Job soon. The cylinder diameter measures 1.677 inches, which is almost identical to the 1.671 inch measurement of an old .357 Flattop that I used for comparison. In fact, I dropped the .44 Special cylinder into the .357 Flattop frame and it fit perfectly.

For shooting the .44 Special Flattop, as I mentioned earlier, I tried a lot of different ammo in this sixgun. I did not fire the five and one-half inch gun, as that one belongs to Greg. He can shoot it if he wants to. The four-and five-eighths inch gun is mine, and I fully intend to shoot it as much as I can. Already, a lot of lead has been sent down its bore. Some of it has been jacketed hollowpoint ammo, but mostly it has been 250 grain Keith-style lead semi-wadcutter ammo. I tried the hollowpoints for testing purposes, but this sixgun will live out the rest of its life, or at least the rest of mine, on a steady diet of the Keith bullets. That is the classic .44 Special bullet style, and is, in my opinion, the reason that God invented lead. I get most of mine from Frank at Mt. Baldy Bullets. As expected, the .44 Flattop fired everything fed to it without fault. Every cartridge fired, and ejected without hesitation. The ejector rod is plenty long to clear the cases from the chamber, and again, that indexing pin is a welcome addition to the New Model lockwork. I expected perfect functioning, and that is what I got. What I did not expect was the accuracy displayed by this sixgun. Most all loads tested shot well, but some shot well enough to qualify this revolver for bullseye competition. All accuracy testing was done holding the Blackhawk in my Ransom Master rest. This rest eliminates my error, and shows the capabilities of the handgun. The best accuracy came from using Buffalo Bore 250 grain ammunition, their 14B catalog number. This ammo would shoot into one ragged hole at 25 yards, and do so every time. It clocked 1053 feet-per-second across my chronograph set twelve feet from the muzzle. A couple of my handloads were almost as accurate, but the groups looked large compared to the Buffalo Bore stuff. The hollowpoint loads tried, the Speer 200 Gold Dot and the Buffalo Bore 185 grain hollowpoint, shot into the three-inch range from this sixgun. The heavier lead semi-wadcutters of 240 and 250 grain weights performed much better, with handloads using Trail Boss, H4227, Accurate #9 and Hodgdon Universal Clays shooing right at the two inch mark, with a couple of the loads putting five shots into just over an inch. Again, I am very pleased with the accuracy of this sixgun.

A great sixgun needs a fine holster. For field carry, there are some very good holsters on the market that will work well. However, for this new .44 Special Flattop, a tooled rig is also in order. I have recommended Simply Rugged holsters for several years for good, practical field carry, and now Simply Rugged isn’t just simply rugged anymore, but has introduced a line of fully-tooled Western leather that is as good as any that I have ever seen. Shown here with this new .44 Special is a tooled rig that they call the “Pair and a Spare”. As the name implies, it is a three-gun rig, having a strong side holster on each side, and a cross draw up front. The name was coined by my friend John Taffin, and he definitely knows his holsters. Of course, all of the holsters are removable, allowing the carry of one, two, or three guns, depending upon the particular need at the time. This rig should prove to be very popular with the Cowboy Action Shooting crowd. The belt has plenty of ammo loops, and is fully lined. The tooling is an example of craftsmanship perfected. I have seen many examples of tooled leather, but have never seen better than this. I have watched Simply Rugged grow over the years from a maker of a simple, durable, and practical pancake holster into what you see here today. This is a beautiful, practical work of art, well-decorated but classically executed, and I highly recommend this rig.

It has been a long wait for some of us, but with Ruger and Lipsey’s working together to make this happen, we can finally go to our local gun store and buy a .44 Special Blackhawk. These things are in high demand right now, but if you want one, place your order with your local Lipsey’s dealer. It won’t do any good to call Lipsey’s unless you are a dealer. Pester your local dealer, and let him pester Lipsey’s. They are in production, so get on your dealer’s list. If your dealer does not yet know about this new sixgun, you need a new dealer. Lipsey’s is scheduled to receive 500 of these revolvers every quarter of 2009. After that, it has not yet been decided if there will be more. The Lipsey’s .44 Special Blackhawk is an accurate, practical, well-balanced, and powerful sixgun that carries well and is well-crafted. It has been in the works for a couple of years now, and for a long time, I was not allowed to mention it. I am glad to see it finally in production.

Check out the full line of Ruger products here.

For the location of a Ruger dealer near you, click on the DEALER FINDER at

To order the beautiful holster rig shown here, go to

To order the Buffalo Bore ammunition, go to

For some of the best cast-lead bullets that money can buy, go to

Jeff Quinn

For a list of dealers where you can buy this gun, go to:




Simply Rugged's new Western line of holsters. Rob Leahy calls this three-gun rig the "Pair and a Spare".

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Lipsey's Exclusive Ruger Flattop Blackhawk .44 Special is available in 5-1/2" (top) or 4-5/8" barrel lengths.



This is the rollmark that Ruger Blackhawk fans have waited decades to see.





Sights consist of serrated front blade (top) and Micro adjustable rear.



Hard plastic grip panels are checkered and fit very well.





The .44 Special Blackhawk, like all New Model Blackhawks, has Ruger's transfer bar safety system.



"Warning" rollmark is on the bottom of the barrel.





Chamber throats are sized perfectly for a .430" diameter bullet.



.44 Flattop cylinder (left) compared to an Old Model .357 cylinder (right).



.44 Flattop cylinder fits perfectly in Old Model .357 frame.



Internal key lock is under the grip, easy to use if the owner chooses.



Quality construction, tight tolerances, and well-made ammunition is a recipe for accuracy.