Ruger Revolvers: Something For Everyone
Today's breadth and depth of Ruger revolvers has a lot to offer anyone looking for a revolver. Pretty much anyone looking for some kind of revolver can find a Ruger for the purpose you have in mind.
A plinker? Plenty of perfect pistols for that. A concealed carry revolver? Covered. A BIG SCARY MAGNUM?! Oh yeah, baby. In fact, they have some of the best.
Ruger is practically a one-stop-shop for everything wheel gun.
Ruger Revolvers History
The first Ruger revolvers emerged in 1953, which was the Ruger Single-Six. At the time, Westerns were incredibly popular both on the large and small screen with shows such as "The Rifleman," "Bonanza," "Gunsmoke" and "Rawhide." This led to renewed interest in single-action revolvers and also the sport of Cowboy Action Shooting.
At the time, Colt had discontinued the Single Action Army in favor of producing M1911A1 pistols for the military. Ruger was basically the only game in town if you wanted a cowboy gun, until Colt resumed production years later.
The Single-Six is a ¾-size clone of the Colt Peacemaker for rimfire cartridges. It was first released in 1953, and became a top seller for Ruger. The Single-Six has the outstanding ergonomics and easy pointing characteristics of the Colt SAA. Combined with excellent build quality and appreciable accuracy, it's a heck of a lot of good fun.
A companion model, the Bearcat, was released in 1958. The Bearcat was intended for use as a packing gun for hikers and campers, so it was made a little smaller and lighter - by virtue of its alloy frame - than the Single-Six. The first production run lasted from 1958 to 1971, replaced by a second run from 1971 to 1975 with a steel frame. A transfer bar was added in 1973, but the model was discontinued until production resumed in 1993.
The Single-Six got an update in the 1970s, revised as the New Model Single-Six which is still in production. The screws in the frame were changed to pins, and Ruger added a transfer bar safety, allowing the user to carry the gun with the hammer down over a live cartridge.
After the Single-Six, Ruger set their sights on getting into the Magnum market.
They set about revising their Colt-derived frame for .357 Magnum by beefing up the top strap and other areas of the frame and adding adjustable rear leaf sights in lieu of the classic top strap trench. Their new creation, the Ruger Blackhawk, first hit store shelves in 1955 and proved mighty popular.
The Blackhawk had all the pleasant attributes of the Colt SAA (feels good in the hand, points naturally) but was offered in a modern chambering and wasn't too hard on the pocketbook.
Ruger also got a stroke of some serious luck. By complete chance, a Ruger employee discovered a fired shell casing in a scrapyard. What was deduced from the casing was that someone - Smith and Wesson as it happened - was cooking up a new cartridge in .44 caliber that was likely much more powerful than the .44 Special.
They set about adapting the Blackhawk to fit it and were able to get the Blackhawk .44 Magnum to market at the same time as the Smith and Wesson Model 29. It hit store shelves in 1956. The difference, of course, was that you could actually GET a Blackhawk; S&W never made huge numbers of the Model 29 and it was prohibitively expensive.
In 1957, the .44 Magnum model was revised for additional frame reinforcement, and went on sale rebranded as the Super Blackhawk.
In 1973, the Blackhawk got the same revisions as the Single Six, getting a transfer bar safety. New Model Blackhawk and New Model Super Blackhawk pistols are still made and sold to this day.
This Blackhawk was quickly noted by handloaders to be far stronger than other commercially-available pistols, which made it the darling of recoil junkies. The Super Blackhawk in particular was known for being able to tolerate demolition-grade charges of powder, making it popular with .44 Magnum nuts.
Elmer Keith, who helped create the .357, .41 and .44 Magnum cartridges, considered it the best .44 Magnum for handgun hunting, and - to this day - reloading manuals often have a section titled "Ruger Handloads" for that very reason.
Ruger didn't release its first double-action revolver until 1972, with the release of the Security-Six, along with its variants the Speed-Six (a fixed sight, round-butt, short-barrel model) and the Service-Six, a fixed-sight Plain Jane model intended for the LEO market.
The Security-Six was designed from the ground-up for .357 Magnum, though it was also offered in .38 Special and in 9mm with moon clips.
The Security-Six was innovative for the time, as the frame was totally solid. Smith and Wesson and Colt revolvers have a removable side plate, which you have to remove to work on the action. The Security-Six's trigger group drops out of the frame if you remove the pins - just like most shotguns - so far more frame is there for reinforcement. This made the pistol stronger than competing models like the S&W Model 19 and Colt Trooper, which were known for not tolerating constant use of full-house .357.
Ruger also released the Ruger Old Army, a Blackhawk decked out to look like a Remington Model 1858 cap and ball pistol. While it was a cap and ball pistol, it was able to handle modern smokeless powder loads.
In the 1980s, Ruger made some changes to its lineup, laying the foundation for the modern Ruger Revolvers catalog.
Modern Ruger Revolvers
The dawn of modern Ruger revolvers occurred in 1979, with the creation of the Ruger Redhawk, Ruger's large-frame double-action revolver.
The Redhawk was the answer to Smith and Wesson's N-frame, with the same solid frame design as the Security-Six but enlarged for use with big-bore cartridges. However, they also added a locking latch at the front of the cylinder. Paired with the lock at the rear, the Redhawk is one of the strongest double-action pistols available.
The Redhawk has been a favorite of handloaders ever since, as recoil junkies have been able to stuff more powder in .44 Magnum and .45 Colt pistols than any Smith and Wesson could possibly take. To this day, it's a wildly popular gun for handgun hunting or for carrying in a Ruger Redhawk chest holster in bear country.
In 1984, Ruger added Bisley models across the Single-Six and Blackhawk line.
"Bisley" refers to the National Shooting Centre in Bisley, a rural village in Surrey, England. Surrey is a very rich rural/suburban county near London; Bisley itself is about 40 miles from Buckingham Palace. (It's said to be high in the running for the snobbiest place on earth.) The National Rifle Association of England (which is a thing, believe it or not) has held shooting matches there since the late 1800s, including pistol matches. Colt released a target model of the Peacemaker with a flatter grip backstrap and target sights, dubbed the Bisley to commemorate the shooting range and matches there.
Bisley pistols have long been renowned for ease of accurate shooting, and Ruger introduced the first of their Bisley models. They proved very popular with handgun hunters and target shooters, and have remained in the lineup ever since.
By the early 1980s, Ruger knew the Security-Six was going to need revising. While stronger than other .357 Magnum pistols, shooters who only shot .357 Magnum were reporting faster than normal wear.
Ruger took the Security-Six and added the locking crane from the Redhawk. They then changed the grip frame to a plug-style frame rather than the traditional revolver frame. The frame is totally enclosed by the grip, so you can use rounded grips for easier concealed carry or larger target grips as you see fit.
The revised model was released in 1985 as the GP100, which quickly established itself (and has remained) as the toughest .357 Magnum on the market. It's built to shoot full-house .357 every day of the week, twice on Sunday, and keep on coming back for more.
The Super Redhawk, with a reinforced barrel and frame, followed in 1987, which has remained a favorite of handgun hunters since its introduction as the Super Redhawk has frame notched for mounting scope rings.
In 1988, Ruger launched the SP101, a small-frame counterpart to the GP100 with a five-shot cylinder, but featuring the double-locking cylinder to handle full-house magnum loads without issue. The SP101 is slightly larger and definitely beefier than the standard snubby, but is still compact enough to be easily carried. It has few adornments, with fixed sights and simple rubber grips, but has remained a staple CCW revolver since its release.
A few years later, the Ruger Bearcat was reintroduced with a transfer bar safety, along with - to the delight of Cowboy Action Shooting enthusiasts - the Ruger Vaquero.
The Vaquero, however, is something like a Colt SAA clone, though with some revisions. The frame of the first generation model is slightly larger than the Peacemaker, the New Model Vaquero (released in 2005) is almost the same size. All models have a transfer bar safety, allowing for all six cylinders to be loaded and carried safely.
The New Model Vaquero, though, has thinner cylinder walls and subsequently should not be used with handloaded or overpressure ammunition. The intent for the Vaquero has always been for Western enthusiasts rather than for Magnum junkies, as the Blackhawk and Redhawk pistols are more for that purpose.
Every model mentioned above is currently in production, with a number of additional variants that have come along in recent years.
The biggest developments in recent years have been the Redhawk Super Alaskan and the Ruger LCR.
The Super Alaskan is a snub-nose variant of the Super Redhawk, with a 2.5-inch barrel. Intended for use as a backup gun in bear country, the Super Alaskan is available in .44 Magnum, .454 Casull and Ruger's own .480 Ruger, essentially a shortened and slightly down-loaded .475 Linebaugh.
The Ruger LCR is a thoroughly modern concealed carry revolver, with a polymer lower frame and black steel upper. The base model is a five-shot .38 Special snubby, with easily the smoothest DA triggers among snubnose revolvers. The LCR is an exercise in "everything you need, nothing you don't" with a top-strap notch rear sight and black front blade sight...and little else to speak of. The base model is DAO, but a hammer-fired model - the LCRx - can be had as well.
Ruger has also added the GP100 and SP101 Match Champion models, with target grips, upgraded sights, different chamberings and other appointments. A number of 10mm models - GP100, Redhawk - have been added as well.
In early 2019, Ruger announced the edition of the Wrangler revolver, a budget-friendly take on the Single Six. Six shots of .22 LR, in black, silver or bronze Cerakote finish, and for less than $300. Perfect for plinking.
Ruger has also added a number of "convertibles" to their lineups, pistols that are capable of shooting multiple calibers from the same pistol. Everyone knows about .38 Special and .357 Magnum, as well as .44 Special and .44 Magnum, but Ruger's convertible revolvers also allow users to shoot 9mm from .38 Special/.357 Magnum pistols, and .45 ACP in pistols chambered in .45 Colt.
Blackhawk convertibles include a special cylinder machined for use with moon clips (for 9mm or .45 ACP) and the Redhawk .45 caliber model comes with a pre-faced cylinder for use with the clips.
From plinking to concealed carry to handgun hunting and all points in between...there's a Ruger revolver for you in there somewhere.
Ruger Concealed Carry Revolvers
The best Ruger concealed carry revolvers come down to four distinct models.
The LCR, their DAO modern CCW revolver, is an excellent 21st century snubby. Five shots of .38 Special (though .327 Federal Magnum, 9mm and .357 Magnum are available as well) and fixed sights, though the front blade can be swapped out for a different type if you want.
While the LCR does have one of the better double-action triggers of any compact revolver, it can be had as the LCRx. The LCRx has an exposed hammer, and - unlike the LCR - can be had with a 3-inch barrel. Both can be equipped with a Crimson Trace laser if so desired. Both come with standard rubber grips, and in any color you want...if you like black.
The SP101 is, of course, made with .357 Magnum in mind. The fully steel frame won't entirely take the sting out of a magnum round in a compact revolver, but will take some of the edge off. The standard model has a 2.25-inch barrel, though 3-inch and 4.25-inch target models can be had too. While .357 is the standard chambering (5 rounds) it can also be had in 9mm, .38 Special, .22 LR, .22 WMR and .327 Federal Magnum. Fixed sights are mostly your lot, but select models have dovetailed sights if you want to upgrade.
However, if you prefer a wheelgun to bring some beef, there are some compact GP100 models. Have fun toting 40 ounces of gun around. (Granted, the 1911 guys don't mind!) There are a couple of 2.5- and 3-inch models, in .357 Magnum, 10mm and .44 Special. You might want to swap the grips if you find them too tall...but they are out there.
6 Best Ruger Revolvers
What are the best Ruger revolvers? Here are 6 sick sixguns that seriously deserve some consideration.
The standard GP100 may lack some refinements compared to other revolvers, but darned if you're going to find one that stands up as well over time. It holds six rounds of .357 Magnum, can also shoot .38 Special, has a decent black finish and comes with rubber grips. If there's a finer working-class revolver, we aren't aware of it.
Ordinarily, this would be where we mention that the Ruger Redhawk .44 Magnum is just like a S&W Model 29 but has a stainless finish that won't rust, a stronger frame and so on...but we're actually going to tell you to get the Redhawk .45 Auto model.
Okay, so the thing is .45 Colt+P loads (made by Buffalo Bore and others) are the same as .44 Magnum loads. The .45 Colt case is long enough to accommodate the extra powder; it gets the exact same performance in every single respect. Point being that you get all the power of .44 Magnum. BUT, and here's the party piece, the pistol can also shoot .45 ACP.
For those who don't know, .45 ACP costs less than $20 for a box of 50, but .44 Magnum costs more than $30 for a box of 50. Therefore, you can do a whole lot more shooting for cheaper, and - if you carry .45 Colt +P - lose nothing in terms of power. The best of all worlds!
Shooting a .22 revolver is about as much good clean fun as shooting gets, but some of them get expensive. Not with the Ruger Wrangler. It's single-action, which some people find tiresome, but MSRP is $250 and it's incredibly well-made for the price. Look, part of the gun hobby is pure enjoyment. This gun is for pure fun, and maybe a little small game hunting, but mostly for fun.
If you wanted a single-action, you might be tempted toward the Vaquero, but in reality? The Blackhawk Convertible in .357 Magnum is the ticket. The reason why? The second cylinder is for 9mm. .45 Colt is expensive, 9mm is not, and you can level up to .357 Magnum if needs be for use as a backup gun in the woods...and do a whole lot of shooting for not much in the bargain. What more could you need?
Except if you need a serious hunting handgun. If you put meat in the freezer with a handheld, the standard Super Redhawk is the standard by which all others are judged. It comes ready for scope mounts, and chambered in .454 Casull, .44 Magnum, .41 Magnum and .480 Ruger. From heavy factory loads to nuclear handloads...it's built to take them all. Every big game animal in North America has fallen to one.
For concealed carry...it's hard to improve on the bog-standard LCR. It has everything you need, nothing you don't. It's nice and light, compact, and has one of the smoothest DA triggers on any snubnose revolver. If you like simple and well-sorted, it's both of those things in spades.