All About Guns


The .44 Blackhawk was originally offered with the 61⁄2″ barrel length,
however about 8-percent of the total production was divided between 71⁄2″ and 10″ versions.

In my long association with American Handgunner and our sister publication GUNS, I’ve been fortunate to work with several editors who were very easy to get along with and who also always treated me right. One of our recent editors here was Roy Huntington, retired San Diego PD, a very charming fellow loaded with good ideas, always a friendly smile, however (you just had to know a “however” was coming, didn’t you?), like most of us, he has a mean streak.

That streak surfaces every once in a while, mainly to keep all of us doing our best to provide an interesting, enjoyable and upbeat gun magazine for you; but once in awhile, he asks us to do the near impossible. “John, Okay, how about this one? A Sixgunner article about your bestest, most favoritist handgun ever?”

He always talks like Festus when he’s being troublesome. “Pick the one handgun you own,” he continued — and I know he was smiling, “Or used to own, and tell us why you like it, loved it, wanted it, needed it, wish you still had it, etc.” See what I mean?

John’s .44 Blackhawk started life with a 61⁄2″ barrel carried in a Lawrence #120 Keith holster;
it now wears a 71⁄2″ barrel and is at home in a homemade holster by Taffin.

Sixguns and Friends

Now, if a fellow has only one gun, it’s easy pick a favorite; even with two, a favorite can still surface. But get above that number and it’s like being asked to pick your favorite child. I didn’t just arrive on the pickle boat yesterday, which means I’ve been around long enough to accumulate more than two handguns. We come into this world with nothing, and we will leave the same way, however we do manage to accumulate a lot of things in between. Families are given to us, so the most important things we can accumulate in this life are friends.

There is the Colt Python tuned by Fred Sadowski and left to me by Georgian Jack Pender. Big Jack and I spent a lot of time on the phone during the year his wife was dying, and then less than a year later, I talked to him just about every night while he was in his hospital bed. Through all of this Jack never lost his faith, or his sense of humor and in doing so taught me a lot about both life and death. I was one of the pallbearers at his funeral and managed to slip a round of his favorite ammunition into his suit pocket before they closed the lid. I miss him tremendously, but I have that Python to keep memories alive.

Then there’s the first-year production Triple-Lock .44 Special that came from Hal Swiggett; the Custom Combat Commander .45 from Jimmy Clark, the 4″ S&W my wife had engraved for me 20 years ago; the Colt Single Actions and the Series ’70 .45 engraved for me by Jim Riggs, Dale Miller, and Ed DeLorge, all of which will go to grandkids some day.

The late Bill Grover was a special friend, who not only headed up Texas Longhorn Arms, but also built two custom .44 Specials on .357 Magnum Old Model Rugers. I think of Bill every time I shoot them or just hold them.

There are other custom sixguns with names like Robert Baer, Hamilton Bowen, David Clements, Ben Forkin, and Andy Horvath associated with them. One of the finest friends a man could have is J.D. Jones and every time I hunt with a Contender, the barrel says “Custom Built For John Taffin By J.D. Jones.”

That means a lot to me as J.D. was the man most responsible for me becoming a writer, always encouraging me and always supportive. Two other favorite friends are the Kellys, Larry and Kenny of Mag-Na-Port.

In my safe is serial #1 of the 25th anniversary Mag-Na-Port Ruger .44 Magnum, another very special sixgun. I don’t think His Editorship knows what a difficult task he has set upon me!

It deserves to be called a Classic: Ruger’s .44 Blackhawk.

Quit Stallin’!

I’ve probably dallied long enough. I’ve often wrote of Perfect Packin’ Pistols and I could easily choose one of these as my all-time favorite. Perhaps something big-bore from Freedom Arms or Linebaugh might be right? This whole thing keeps getting tougher and tougher, but we’re getting closer.

When I did my first book, Big Bore Sixguns, my editor, Ned Schwing, asked me to do a chapter on my favorite sixgun. I couldn’t; all I could do was pick a favorite category which was, of course, a big bore single action with a 71⁄2″ barrel. Now this is certainly not the best choice for self defense or conceal-ment, however it would work better for these two categories than the S&W Scan-dium .357 Model 340 in my pocket would. But we’re getting really getting close now.

Same sixgun and same bullets from the 1950s, however #2400 had been replaced by Unique for more comfortably shooting loads in the .44 Blackhawk.

“Wish Book” advertisement for the early Blackhawk.

Decision Time

If I had to pick the one bestest, most favoritist handgun ever, it would be that big bore sixgun I have had the longest, the one that has been with me seemingly forever. I feel somewhat like I have grown up with Rugers. First came the .22 Single-Six and the .357 Blackhawk in 1956 and 1957.

Foolish teenager that I was then, and so enamored with true big bore sixguns, I let the .357 get away, however I have been blessed to the point they it has been replaced with others made in the same year. My third Ruger did not get away. It has seen a lot of use over the years, is still in-service, and in fact just as good or better than when it left the factory in late 1957 or early 1958.

In the 1950s, several of us teenage guys spent much of our time at Shell’s Gun and Archery Farm in Greentown, Ohio. The first .44 Magnum Ruger Black-hawk, the original Flat-Top version, I ever saw was at Shell’s. It sold for $96, two and one-half weeks pay.

The original Blackhawk was about as perfect a sixgun as you could find, even though I did not be particularly care for the 61⁄2″ barrel. However, it did have adjustable sights, was chambered in .44 Magnum, and had the same grip frame size and shape as the Colt Single Action Army.

That old original Peacemaker grip frame was made to handle loads in the 800-900 fps range. For me it could be stretched to 1,100 to 1,200 fps and still be fairly comfortable, however I got a real surprise the first time I touched off one of those early .44 Magnum loads in that Blackhawk. When the hammer fell, the tremendous recoil forced the sixgun up and the hammer dug a chunk out of the back of my hand.

The .44 Blackhawk was “improved” to, and eventually replaced by, the Super Blackhawk.

Enjoying The .44

It took some real learning and experi-ence on my part to be able to handle the Blackhawk, especially when I was so stubborn in feeling a .44 Magnum should be just that, a full-house, peddle-to-the-metal loading. In the 1950s that meant a 250 grain Keith cast bullet over 22.0

grains of #2400. I’m a lot smarter now and my favorite load for this sixgun is still assembled with the Keith bullet, however it’s now over 10 grains of Unique for a velocity of around 1,150-1,200 fps instead of 1,450 fps of the 2400 load. The truth be known, the lighter load— which duplicates Keith’s old Heavy .44 Special load — will handle anything I’m likely to encounter while packing this old .44 Blackhawk.

I put up with the 61⁄2″ barrel as long as I could, then had it cut to 45⁄8″, a version Ruger should have offered but never did. Over 90-percent of all Ruger .44 Black-hawks had 61⁄2″ barrels, with the remaining being the rare 71⁄2″ and 10″ ver-sions. The short-barreled .44 Blackhawk made the move to Idaho with my family and me 40 years ago. The fellows I hunted with here in those early days, all strictly rifle shooters, dubbed it “The Bear Buster” and were all more comfort-able when I had the .44 along.

The Final Form

The time came when I needed the short .44 barrel for another project, so it was pulled from the Blackhawk, which was then shipped off to Ruger to be re-barreled with a 71⁄2″ barrel. Being many years before the infamous barrel warn-ings appeared, this .44 Blackhawk now wears a properly inscribed 71⁄2″ Old Model Super Blackhawk barrel. Earlier I had installed a Super Blackhawk longer base pin, hammer, and trigger.

I’m pretty careful with my sixguns. When hunting in bad weather they are in a shoulder holster or under a long coat, however after nearly five decades of use this old .44 is showing a little gray around the temples. The bluing is get-ting rather thin on the ejector rod housing, it has gone through several pairs of grips, and the scarred aluminum grip frame is a good indication of just how many miles this favorite sixgun has been carried. There are certainly better sixguns available today. Even Ruger “improved” the Blackhawk .44 Magnum three years after it arrived, with the Super Blackhawk version with a larger, steel grip frame, unfluted cylinder, and protective ears built into the top strap protecting the rear sight.

The Super version became so popular the original was dropped from the cat-alog in 1963. These days the old .44 Blackhawk will do everything I really need a sixgun to do, and notice I said need — not want. And if it came down to it, I could survive, sixgun-wise, with this old .44. It feels oh so comfortable on my hip in a homemade holster; and it feels so good in my hand with its Colt-style grip frame and stocks. We both have a lot of miles on us, but hopefully we both have a lot left. So now you know.

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