Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Road Trip Memories- The Ruger Bisley


I grew up watching old Westerns. Most were reruns from the 50's that play to this day on some channels, though I remember Gunsmoke from when I was little. I loved those old shows - Rifleman, Wanted Dead or Alive, Palladin, anything with John Wayne. The good guys were known, the bad guys obvious. The heroes rode a landscape of the lever action and the revolver, the name of their firearm more than a forgotten name, their duty and honor more than a shout of defiance but an honor scratched into every weapon they held. The weapons would show the marks of their courage, etched into the very wood and steel of what they carried, not casually, but with the hurt and pride and grief with which men long since unremembered had died for.

A number of readers have asked me about the gun that's on my blog sidebar next to the dinner plate. It's a Ruger Bisley, with custom made birds-eye maple grips. It doesn't get out to the gun range every time friends go shooting, but when it does, it's the star of the gunfight. The Ruger Bisley Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum. Handgun hunters, long range competitors and fans of the single action are going to find this one of their favorites, ideal for slow, deliberate shooting. They're very popular with cowboy shooters and I've seen several that could be this gun's twin on those ranges. I can't help but look at the firearm and think of those old TV Westerns.


The TV Western. Where did it go? As a kid, I'd rather take a bullet rather than watch the last years of Brady Bunch and the Partridge family, I didn't watch a whole lot of TV, we played outside every chance we could get. But I remember Bonanza, the Big Valley, Gunsmoke and of course the reruns. The TV Western reigned supreme in the Fifties and Sixties. But by the time I was actively watching TV, they were disappearing, to be enjoyed mostly in reruns. I like them though, still do. Unlike the post-war world in which they flourished, you could tell the good guys from the bad and none of the guns were fully automatic.

In 1953, Bill Ruger went against convention and resurrected the single-action sixgun. Colt had stopped manufacturing their Single Action Army in 1941 when they switched to wartime production. The machinery to make the SAA was getting old and tired at that point, and the demand for the old Colt had dropped off since WW, while everyone discovered Colt's other great handgun, the 1911 Government Model. So at the beginning of the TV Western's debut, there were few single actions guns available to the public. In 1953, the new firm of Sturm, Ruger and Company introduced the Ruger Single Six, a .22LR rimfire single-action revolver with full-sized grips and a downscaled cylinder and action to match the small .22 cartridge. It' popularity lead to the development of a full sized center fire version.

Ruger introduced the Blackhawk in 1955, chambered for the .357 Magnum, but the next year in 1956, the magical happened. Ruger was located near the firearms manufacturing of Bridgeport, Connecticut, where was located the Remington Arms Company.

According to legend, repeated even in the Ruger Company's own literature, a Ruger employee was in a scrap metal yard when he saw some unusual cartridge cases in a trash barrel. He astutely grabbed a few of them and took them to William B. Ruger. The cartridges were stamped with a designation nobody at the Ruger plant had encountered before: .44 Remington Magnum.

Now, Remington was already developing the .44 Magnum in partnership with Smith and Wesson, but thanks to the unintended security breach, the Ruger Blackhawk in .44 Magnum debuted at almost the same time as the S & W Model 29, and was available before the first S & W .44 Magnum made an appearance. It was a force to be reckoned with, top quality, albeit single action. It was an instant classic, "classic"defined by Webster as a "standard of excellence". Much like it's founder. Not since Sam Colt was there a gun maker who could tap into what American shooters and hunters were yearning for.

There have been adaptions over time, until 1986 when Ruger offered one of the finest single-action revolvers to be manufactured, available to the public. The Ruger Bisley. Based on the immensely popular Super Black frame, it does have some differences.

The grip is typical western design that is both natural to the hand and naturally straight shooting. The wooden grips here conform to the original design while adding the beauty of wood. Custom made by a friend who does such things, they add beauty to an already classic weapon.

The grip frame of the Bisley owes it lines to the original Colt design with some changes. It doesn't come up as high behind the trigger guard as the original Colt, which increases it's controllability with heavy loads. The grip frame as well, are wider than the Colts, which spreads felt recoil even more. Ladies, if you shoot one of these, there is no "painful slap" associated with heavy loads. It's powerful but manageable.


The hammer spur is right where it was intended to be, low and swept back, with deep serrations for a firm purchase when cocking the revolver for firing. The trigger has more of a curve to it than a Colt Bisley's, which adds greatly to trigger control.


It's not a 'light" gun due to the steel in it's frame, but at 48 ounces, a whole let less heavy than my purse. Lots of steel is like a lot of words in a political speech, sounds great, but if they're not in the right place, then they mean nothing. The steel is placed well in the Bisley, taking the brunt of the pressure when a cartridge is fired, adding to the longevity of the weapon. This is no plastic throw away gun. This is a gun you can give to your grand-daughter, or grandson. An adjustable rear sight, makes competition shooting a pleasure.

With help from fate and a vision beyond most men, Ruger developed, in essence, the perfect six shooter- good looking with smooth classical lines, strong, dependable as well as highly functional. Like the hero of the 50's Western.

After I shot it the first time, it made me want to go home and see if I can find an old showing of
Bounty Hunter or Maverick. Better yet, an old John Wayne Western. Not for me the TV of today, with a bunch of actors and actresses who weigh less than my ammo can, sitting on their parents wallets, whining about their lives.

How can that compare to that moment where John Wayne as a grizzled old marshal confronts four villains and calls out: "I mean to kill you or see you hanged at Judge Parker's convenience. Which will it be?" "Bold talk for a one-eyed fat man," their leader sneers. Then Duke cries, "Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!" and, reins in his courage, rushing at them while firing both guns.


"There's right and there's wrong," John Wayne said in The Alamo. "You gotta do one or the other. You do the one and you're living. You do the other and you may be walking around but in reality you're dead.". The TV shows of today, like too much of society, don't have many of these types of Americans. People who have an honesty in living, and courage in the face of criticism. A person of honor, a defender of what they believe is right and true, and the force of America as a nation united, a nation crafted under a Constitution that is as right now as it was two hundred years ago.

So give me an old Western. Give me an old Western style sixshooter.


For when you mean business.