Here Come Ol' Flat Top!!!


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn


Relax, this isn't another Beatles documentary, but a love story about the best revolver ever made... the Ruger .44 Blackhawk. 

Most single-action revolver lovers know the history behind the .44 Blackhawk, so I'll just give the short version.

After the immediate success of Bill Ruger's Single Six .22, he followed in 1953 with the Blackhawk in .357 Magnum. The Blackhawk had the balance, feel and charm of the Colt Single Action Army. This was all well and good, except that Colt had discontinued the old thumb buster in favor of more modern designs. The powers that be at Colt were sure that shooters wouldn't want a slow-loading relic of the Indian wars when a new double-action could be had cheaper. They must have had a good, old-fashioned belly laugh in Hartford when they heard that some kid down the road had come out with a "new" single action. That kid, of course, was William Batterman Ruger. He knew different.

Ruger's single action had the plow handle grip with the feel of the Colt SAA and the '51 Navy. However, Ruger didn't just copy the Colt as so many do today. He looked at every weakness in the design and improved upon it. He changed the flat springs to unbreakable coil springs. He used modern manufacturing methods and improved metallurgy for a stronger revolver. He added a strong, tall front sight and a fully adjustable rear sight. He machined this new rear sight into the top of the frame; the beefed-up flat top of the frame. This was the Ruger Blackhawk. Bill Ruger believed that shooters would buy a strong, modern six-gun with a connection and feel of the past. He was right.

Fast forward a whole three years and Ruger comes out with a very slightly larger frame and cylinder chambered for the brand-new .44 Remington Magnum, beating Smith & Wesson to the dealers shelves with the newest,  baddest revolver to be had. This was 1956, and Ruger made his .44  Blackhawk through '63 with almost 30,000 units. This was, in my never humble opinion, the best-handling .44 Ruger ever produced. It had a smaller frame than later .44 Blackhawks and Super Blackhawks. It also had the original XR-3 grip frame. The later XR-3 Red just doesn't feel as good to my hand as does the grip on the Flat Top. The newer grip moved the hand a little further away from the trigger guard, but changed the feel in the process. On the old Flat top, with heavy loads, the middle finger does get a good whack from recoil, but it's a good trade-off for the handling qualities. 

Fast forward another 33 years and I am carefully studying every gun in a case full of Rugers at a gun show in Nashville. There it was: a six and one-half inch Ruger Blackhawk .44 Magnum made the same year I was - 1958. I wasn't actually born until '59, but was almost complete by the end of '58. After several minutes of seeming disinterested in the gun altogether, the dealer separated me from my cash and the Flat top was mine. I was a happy boy. 

A better feeling six-gun could not be had, at any price. The trigger pull was as slick and crisp as any I had ever touched. There was a sense of quality and craftsmanship to the fit and finish that seems lacking in products today. The case heads are recessed. It has the old four-click action that aligns the chamber with the ejector rod without having 
to think about it as you do on the New Model Blackhawk. The balance is perfect.

Today's New Model Blackhawk and Super Blackhawk are probably stronger. The new action is probably, at least for a novice, safer. Ruger changed the gun in '63 and again in '73. I realize why he did it. Product liability being what it is today, we are fortunate to be able to purchase any gun at all that will still send a bullet out the end of the barrel. But for all the many changes in the Blackhawk over the years, for safety or convenience or practicality, it has seen no improvement. The original .44 Ruger Blackhawk.....the Flat still the best. 

Just my opinion, but you know I'm right.

Jeff Quinn


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The Ruger .44 Mag "Flat Top" - one of the greatest six-guns ever made






"Before and After" shots of the author and his favorite six-gun show that the recoil of the "Flat Top", while not for the meek, is manageable by the experienced shooter.