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I recently got asked what I think is one of the great questions of the ages, right up there with “Why is there air?” and “Is everyone in Hollywood creepy?” The question was:
“Michael, can you tell us the pro vs con choices between the Ruger Blackhawk in .44 magnum versus the Ruger Redhawk (i.e., single action vs double action boomers). I know you absolutely love the single action boomers but what about the double action revolvers?”
The reason it’s a question for the ages is that I actually think about this a lot. I have Blackhawks (too many, I fear) and Redhawks (ditto). And we haven’t even touched on GP-100s! There is a reason I like Ruger revolvers…they are tanks. After the Apocalypse, when the only living things left on earth are cockroaches and Keith Richards, not only will Ruger revolvers work, but they’ll still be timed perfectly!
In terms of making that choice, I think it all comes down to intended use and personal preference. If the intended use is self-defense, the big double-action blasters rule.
I live in the back country, and during bear season in the spring and fall, when they’re particularly grumpy, I carry either a Redhawk 2.75-inch .44 Magnum in case one of the bears gets too friendly or an Alaskan Super Redhawk in .454 Casull in case I’m attacked by a train or a feral garbage truck.
In both cases I carry at least one speedloader (I am fond of the 5-Star Firearms aluminum loaders for both the .44 and the .454) and a Tuff Products “Quickstrip” with additional extra ammo. If I’m out hiking, I generally throw in a bit more ammo. In the .44, I’m partial to either the Buffalo Bore “Reduced Recoil” 255-gr Keith loads…don’t get spun up on that “lower recoil” thing…you’ve still got to hang on…or the Garrett .310-gr “Defender.” In the .454, I go to Garretts, where the idea of “less recoil” has never crossed Ashley Emerson’s mind. Keep in mind I’m not carrying the .454 unless I think there’s a chance I’ll need it.
In truth, however, the only thing I’ve used the big DAs for is running my neighbor’s cattle out out of my yard…works great for that application!
In terms of self-defense against feral people, I have gone through the GUNSITE 250 class with a 4-inch .44 Magnum Redhawk shooting ,.44 Special level loads, and it was just super. Accurate, powerful and to be honest as heavy as a brickbat. Unless you’ve got a really good belt or suspenders, you’re going to end up looking like a hip-hop star, or possibly a convict.
These days my usual DA packin’ pistol — to borrow a phrase from the great John Taffin — is a Ruger GP-100 in .44 Special. I give up a round, 5 instead of 6, but my pants stay up. The last rattlesnake I shot with it — the gun; not my pants — didn’t seem to notice that it wasn’t a magnum.
I have considering going to the heavy caliber DA wheelgun as a “bedside gun,” because the revolver is more forgiving to fumbling in the dark than, say, a striker-fired semiauto. I read a couple of pieces on this recently, and it makes a lot of sense. Not to sound totally cliched, but the soul purpose of the bedside gun is to get me to my long guns. Six shots of Buffalo Bore .44 Special “ANTI-PERSONNEL” 200-gr wadcutters from a heavy .44 Special revolver make compelling arguments…plus, they’re easy to shoot and very accurate out of my .44s. Still pondering this one…
All that said, for hunting or for walking my property at the Secret Hidden Bunker Ranch, I prefer single actions. For me, they handle a little less “clunky” than the DAs, and the single action grip is a thing of beauty. Keep in mind here, however, that I am a veteran Cowboy Action Shooter, and I routinely put thousands, or tens of thousands, of rounds through my Ruger cowboy competition guns. They are as comfortable to me as an old shoe.
Cowboy, BTW, mandates 5 rounds in the cylinder, because the older designs like the Colt and some of the clone will fire if dropped on a live round. I do have SAs that will fire if dropped…for carry around SAs I’ll usually go 5 because it’s what I’m used to. In hunting situations, I load to capacity on transfer bar equipped guns (Ruger and BFRs, in my case)…that might be 5 or 6 rounds, depending on the gun.
When I shoot my single actions, I shoot with my little finger under the grip of the SA, because that’s how I was taught when I was a kid…my first shot was from a Ruger Bearcat .22; first centerfire was a Ruger Blackhawk .357. This grip is solid and also serves to keep the gun from rolling up in your hand as you shoot, which means by the third or forth round, your hand will be blocking the hammer when you try to cock the gun.
You can get by with that pinkie grip for up to a .44 Magnum, but if you “upscale” to a ..480, a .454, a .475, or up, trust me when I tell you they will hurt you if you don’t have a solid, all finger grip. It’s easier to shoot a Bisley grip frame in the boomers, but I still prefer the plow handle S.A.A. style grip. You don’t need a death grip, but you cannot go with that “same pressure as if you were shaking hands” grip you might use on a 9mm race gun. If you do, you’ll be prying a single action out of your face, and people on YouTube will laugh at you forever.
Because I am old and have old eyes, my hunting single actions are scoped…my go-to .44 Magnum is an SBH Hunter with the barrel cut back to the ejector rod housing, tuned by Bowen and topped with a Burris 2X pistol scope. That combo makes 100 yard shots seem easy, and if you shoot the bigger boomers, the .44 Magnum seems like a pop-gun.
BTW BTW, here’s a funny…last week I was sighting in my SBH Bisley .454 Casull for a new load. I was doing this from a bench, which is purely self-abuse…on the first shot, without thinking, I rolled my pinky under the grip of the gun…when I pulled the trigger, it was like someone slammed my little finger with a hammer…big guns; big recoil.
In terms of the definitive answer to the question for the ages, get both. Your kids can pay for their own college educations.