Marksmanship for Hunters and Wilderness Marksmanship

In a previous article we read what C. S. Landis had to say about trigger control and offhand shooting posture.  Today we will continue in a similar vein and take a look at what Townsend Whelen has to say about marksmanship for hunters and marksmanship in the wilderness.

The following excerpt comes from the twelfth chapter of Wilderness Hunting and Wildcraft by Townsend Whelen entitled Wilderness Marksmanship.


“The rifle is a noble weapon. It brings us pleasures that no scattergunner can ever know. A shotgun takes you into cultivated fields, or into those narrow wastes within sight and sound of civilization. But the rifle entices its bearer into primeval forests, into mountains and deserts untenanted by man. To him in whom the primitive virtues of courage, energy, and love of adventure have not been sapped there is scarce a joy comparable to that of roaming at will through wild regions, viewing the glories of the unspoiled earth, and feeling the inexpressible thrill of manliness sore tested by privation and hazard, but armed and undismayed.”—Horace Kephart.

Basic.—Good shots are made, not born. An untrained man instinctively does the wrong thing in firing a rifle. He gives the trigger a sudden pressure, a pull, or jerk when ready to fire, which causes the shot to go wide of the mark by disturbing the alignment of the rifle. The instinctive dread of recoil increases this tendency, and also causes flinching. But with proper instruction any man who is physically fit to hunt big game can become an excellent and reliable rifle shot. Intelligent and educated men can develop themselves with little assistance into first-class marksmen by following the Army training regulations on this subject as a guide,* and by practice in conformity with the principles laid down in these regulations. Study of these regulations, a little home practice, and about ten afternoons on a rifle range or in the country will perfect most men to such an extent that they are far better shots than the majority of sportsmen and guides. But there are some men who cannot learn practically from printed instructions, and for such an individual coach is necessary.

* “U. S. Army Training Regulations No. 150-5, Marksmanship, Rifle, Individual,” and “U. S. Army Training Regulations No. 150-10, Marksmanship, Rifle, General.”

The essentials of good shooting are that the individual must know ( 1) how to hold the rifle with a fair degree of steadiness in each of the firing positions; (2) that he shall know how to aim accurately and consistently; and ( 3) that he shall know how to squeeze the trigger without disturbing the steady hold and accurate aim. Furthermore, he must learn by practice how to coordinate these three essentials-holding, aiming, and trigger squeeze. He must also master the functioning of his rifle and the “Mechanism of Rapid Fire.” Until a man has mastered these he is still in the beginner’s class, and is not prepared to undertake practical shooting of any kind.

It is easier to teach a man to shoot who has never previously had a rifle in his hands than a man who has done a lot of promiscuous shooting without a guide or intelligent instruction, and who has developed many faults. Some faults in rifle shooting, particularly those concerned with the three essentials, are absolutely detrimental to progress and very difficult to overcome. A sportsman should never start rifle practice without a proper guide or a qualified instructor.

The ultimate object of all instruction and practice with the rifle is to develop in the individual the ability to hit small, indistinct targets at unknown ranges, and to hit them quickly and repeatedly, even though they be moving.

I have often seen it stated in print that a good target shot is seldom a good game shot, and vice-versa. This is not true, and men who state such things are neither one nor the other. Exactly the same qualifications, skill, and knowledge are required for hitting a target as for hitting game, and once a trained marksman has become accustomed to his surroundings he will do as well in one form of shooting as the other. But it is first necessary that he be basically trained, and the instruction in this is given in detail in the Army training regulations. It is true that the so-called “target shot” who has never done any shooting except slow fire at a bull’s-eye target is often too slow and deliberate for success in shooting at game. But such a man is not a real target shot. He has never proceeded beyond the A.B.C. of target shooting. He is still in the beginner’s class, for his basic training has not been completed. Basic training includes the rapid functioning of the rifle, the mechanism of rapid fire, the learning of a quick but perfect trigger squeeze, and requires considerable practice at rapid fire.

Today we see more and more tendency to confine target shooting to the prone (lying) position only. This is to be deplored. A man should be able to shoot well and quickly in any position. In days gone by in the Army we were required to practice and qualify at rapid fire in the standing position. The target was silhouette of a kneeling man at 200 yards, and it appeared in view for twenty seconds during which time the marksman was required to fire five shots at it. Similar practice was had in the kneeling, sitting, and prone positions, but the basic position for rapid fire was standing. I know of no form of shooting better qualified to teach really practical rifle marksmanship. When a man can “stand up on his hind legs” and hit a kneeling silhouette five times in twenty seconds at two hundred yards he is a first-class game or target shot. Such skill is by no means beyond the capabilities of any man, although it does require almost a season’s practice. But before one can profitably indulge in such practice he must have acquired the ability to put 80 percent of his shots in the regulation 10-inch bull’s-eye at 200 yards, slow fire. The trouble with the so-called target shot is that he pursues the system so far, and then instead of proceeding to practical shooting, he confines all his future practice to trying to put 99 per cent of his shots in that bull’s-eye, slow fire; one minute per shot. Bull’s-eye shooting is a fascinating game, but it is not practical rifle shooting, it is not military target shooting, and it is of little use in game shooting. It is like learning to say the alphabet forward and backward but never learning to read. A man who has mastered slow-fire target shooting only is not a target shot. A hunter who has never mastered the basic essentials of good marksmanship is not a game shot, although he may be living in that delusion caused by one or two lucky or fluke shots at game. The sportsman who desires to become a good game shot with the rifle should obtain the Army training regulations and proceed to develop himself in all the essentials and fine points of slow and rapid fire by intelligent practice, or he should obtain the services of an experienced coach to teach him these things. After that he will have learned enough to enable him to perfect himself in any form of rifle shooting which he desires.

Marksmanship for Hunters
Targets fires at 100 yards with Springfield Sporting Rifle. 200 grain bullet make by Western Tool and Copper Works with very heavy jacket and small open point. Upper groups, 45 grains Dupont No. 17½ powder. Lower groups, 44 grains Dupont No. 16 powder. Fired for group only with same sight adjustment.

The Standing Position.—In woods hunting one almost always has to take his shots standing. Usually there is no time to assume any steadier position, and if one did sit down or lie down the brush would almost always interfere with the view. The artist loves to depict the hunter kneeling, but almost all trained riflemen find that the kneeling position is much more difficult than to fire standing, and that it takes a comparatively long time to steady down to a good hold and aim in that position. So the kneeling position is seldom used by good shots. One day I was still-hunting moose with my old friend Charlie Barker. We had stopped for a short rest and were sitting on a log watching an ermine hunting mice, when suddenly my sub-conscious mind seemed to tell me that there was something off to our right. I whispered to Barker and got up and strolled over that way quietly. A few yards and I saw the gleam of a big pair of moose antlers appearing like old ivory and glistening above a bush a hundred yards away, then I made out the face and nose of the moose. At once, standing where I was I aimed where I assumed the point of the chest must be, and squeezed off the trigger. Instantly my hand flew to the bolt handle, and by that sleight-of-hand motion known to trained riflemen, I threw in another cartridge and caught the bull as he turned sideways to run off. Almost instantly I was ready to fire a third shot which caught the moose when he had turned tail and was about to leave. At this shot the bull reared up and fell down with a crash, and at my elbow Charlie Barker yelled, “You’ve got him by gosh, you’ve got him!” It was exactly like the old days on the Army Infantry Rifle Team, rapid fire, 5 shots in 20 seconds, at the silhouette of a man kneeling at 200 yards—only it was easier. In those days, which the Englishman would call “salad days,” we youngsters on the team used to be willing to bet a dollar any time that we could make a possible (five hits) at this 200 yard rapid fire.

There is another little lesson for the beginner to learn from this incident. It pays to keep pumping in accurately aimed shots as rapidly as possible while the game remains on its feet.

Confidence.—A big-game hunter should have that confidence with his rifle which comes only through perfect familiarity with it. Only thus will he be able to use it with effect, particularly in moments of excitement. The lack of this confidence is partly the cause of buck fever and of those unfortunate incidents which can be related by every guide of experience which happen when the game is apparently within grasp. I have heard of hundreds of these incidents, among which the following will suffice to illustrate the point. A Montana guide lead his sportsman up to within 50 yards of a bull elk. Upon being told that it was an elk with a fine head and that he must shoot, the sportsman placed his rifle to his shoulder and pumped every cartridge out of it without firing! Another incident happened with a sportsman who was considerably familiar with rifles, but not quite enough so. His guide showed him a moose within easy range. The sportsman immediately got the bolt of his rifle tangled up in his belt and when the guide had untangled that he unlocked the rifle to fire, but immediately locked it again, and tried to pull the trigger but could not. However, after a while he got straightened out and killed the moose which had most accommodatingly waited for him to do everything wrong at least once. Incidents of this kind are most unfortunate, and they leave a black spot on one’s vacation even if no one knows about them but the individual. And such an incident might, in fact, often does, happen on the one shot that the hunter gets on a hunt that he has perhaps planned for years. The point is that they scarcely ever happen to men who have made themselves perfectly familiar with their rifles by a dozen or so afternoons of range practice, intelligently applied, before starting out, and they do very frequently happen to those who neglect to take such practice.

Trigger Control and Offhand Shooting Posture

After going to the range yesterday and shooting some disappointing offhand groups, I decided to hit the books and see if I couldn’t learn something to improve my posture for offhand shooting and trigger control.

The following is an excerpt I found from Small Bore Rifle Shooting by Edward Crossman on the subject of offhand shooting and trigger control which I think might help those of us struggling to improve our groups from the standing position.


This takes one of two forms, in a broad classification. Success in either one is a matter of trigger control; no man can hold steadily in this position. The more removed you are from the ground, in rifle shooting, the more difficult it becomes. Prone, sitting, kneeling, and offhand, decrease in steadiness in regular

The first of the offhand positions is purely a target-shooting version. The palm-rest of the Free Rifle is merely an artificial aid to this first form, which is the hip- or body-rest.

In this, the rifle is held perched on thumb and fingers, thumb on guard, fingers about the end of the magazine floor-plate of the service rifle, elbow on hip, or pulled firmly against body, body facing at nearly right angles to the line of fire, head dropped forward into the line of sight.

Most men err in not turning the body far enough around from the line of fire, and get the elbow too much to the front.

The sling is of no aid in this position.

It is a poor one for use in a wind, and is not practical for game or war. It is, correctly enough, barred from the offhand stage of the National Matches as entirely artificial.

The other form is the extended arm—the shotgun, or deer shooter’s, position. It is divided, roughly, into half- or full-arm extension. The shooter will take the extension that seems the most steady. The heavier the rifle, to a certain degree, the steadier it will hold in this position; but this can easily be overdone. Light, muzzle-deficient rifles require the left hand run well out to control them.

The right hand should do most of the work, and pull the rifle firmly to the shoulder. The rifle should remain at the shoulder and be fairly steady, with the left hand released entirely. This depends much on the weight of the rifle, of course.

The left hand is the guiding hand and the steadying hand. You cannot get steadiness out of muscles on a strain, hence the desirability of letting the right hand do most of the work.

Left side well toward target, left elbow as far under rifle as possible with the build of the shooter. In a high wind, run left hand well out, and shoot the target “as it goes by.”

In any standing position, success is purely a matter of trigger control and touching it off at just the right moment, compounded with an ability to avoid jerking the trigger for a wide shot now and then.

Offhand Shooting
Captain Richard showing the two standing positions. Left—The extended arm “elbow-free-from-body” position. Right—The hip-rest or “schuetzen” position.

The beginner must remember that, with the exception of prone, no rifle is ever held motionless, and the apparent lack of motion of the rifle of the old hand, is only apparent—the telescope shows that there is still a little wiggle.

Hence, in every position but prone, the rifleman can make good scores only by squeezing off the rifle when it is approximately correct in the alignment of front sight and mark. The farther from the ground the position, the wider will be the swings, and the less the front sight will hesitate under the mark.

Wherefore the festive beginner thinks that he can fool that rifle, and snatch the trigger off the instant the sight touches the mark. It looks reasonable, but the results are truly deplorable.

What happens is that, being a beginner, the shooter could not pull the trigger hurriedly in any event without moving the rifle. Second, the instant his brain signals FIRE! on the report of Chief Scout Right Eye that all is jake, all of his muscles tense up to help in the party. Third, there is a delay, even in the function of brain and muscles, and in the mean time the rifle swings off the mark.

The old-timer can make a rifle go at the approximate instant he desires by a little increase in the weight of squeeze, but keeping all the rest of his buttinski muscles out of the deal.

The tyro cannot, and his only salvation in any but the prone is merely this:

Relax all possible, take up the slack in the trigger, and let the front sight swing and gyrate as it will under the bull.

Trigger Control
Study the position of the hand here. This is the one position where complete trigger control is essential.

Keep increasing the squeeze little by little, trying to “think it off” as the front sight is about right under the bull. Often the shot will come when you are not quite expecting it—but you can “call” the location to yourself because of the mental picture you have of the location of front sight and mark as the shot cracks.

This “calling” business is the first sign of your progress or lack thereof.

If your shots, offhand, strike about where you had the picture of the front sight, you did your part of the squeeze and you are improving rapidly.

If they fail to land where you call them, either your front sight was moving too fast, or else you were jerking the trigger.

The good offhand shot makes his scores by some queer and unexplained ability to add just the trifle necessary to the squeeze at just the right time; he almost “thinks” the rifle off. It is acquired only by practice, and it is always done while the rifle is slowly swaying back and forth across the paper.

Don’t try to fool yourself or your rifle—you can’t yank a trigger fast enough. You cannot, even with a quadruple set trigger and a Martini action, the fastest way known to science to cause a bullet to emerge from a rifle barrel.

If you cannot “call” your shots, or if there is no clear mind-picture of front sight and position of bull in relation to it as the shot goes, then you are kidding yourself and making no progress.

No matter how wabbly you are, no matter how wide your swings, if you are squeezing the rifle off you can tell where the shot should strike.

The only time this may fail as to exact location is where you are conscious that the rifle was swinging rather rapidly as the shot went, and your shot is found wider in the same direction than you thought it would be. This is due to the delay, the lapse, in the ignition, and barrel time of the bullet. It is much less with very fast actions, like the Martini, and it is much more with slower actions, like some single-shot hammer types or fool bolt-action guns, with their cocking pieces loaded down with sights, and slower than cold honey.

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga – Movies for Sportsmen

When one thinks of a movie that appeals to sportsmen the first thing that comes to mind is a movie about doing something for sport, such as hunting or fishing for trophy examples of a species—perhaps something like Gordon Eastman’s High, Wild and Free.  Happy People: A Year in the Taiga is not about hunting for sport; it is about people who live a self sufficient lifestyle and who hunt, fish, and trap to survive—more along the lines of Richard Proenneke’s Alone in the Wilderness.

I think a lot of sportsmen have a soft spot for the lifestyle of self-sufficient people—the people who buy very little and do their best to provide for themselves and make do with what they have.  If this applies to you at all, you will thoroughly enjoy Happy People: A Year in the Taiga.

The movie follows a village of people who live in the Russian Taiga and focuses on how they provide for themselves over the course of a year.  More specifically, the movie follows the men of the village—who are trappers—and their yearlong preparation for the sable trapping season.

The movie starts in the late winter, after the trapping season is over, and progresses through the seasons until the following winter, when the trapping is in full swing.  Over the course of the year we see the work that must be done in each season to prepare for the winter hunt; including building skis, repairing cabins, building traps, and catching fish.  We also get a glimpse at politics and family life in the Taiga.

The village is populated mostly with Russians who came from the eastern part of the country several decades ago to trap for the government.  However, we also get a quick glimpse at the lives of the native people of the Taiga as well.

The look at the natives’ story is a depressing one, as alcoholism and laziness run rampant through their village and destroys their society from the inside.  In an interesting moment of self-examination, the men of the society discuss why they have become so lazy and lost the skills of their ancestors.  One man is eager to blame the Russians because they are the ones who introduced vodka, but another man is insistent that the blame lies with the natives themselves for allowing the vodka to corrupt them.

The examination of the native people is brief and is used as a contrast to the lives of the Russians, who are hard working, skilled, and genuinely happy.

I went into this movie thinking that the best parts would be the scenes of the trappers at work setting traps and collecting their furs, but I was wrong.  The scenes of the trappers at work are still excellent and make the movie worth watching on their own, but the true beauty of this movie is found when the trappers stop working and speak.

The trappers seem eager to share their view of the world with the camera and we learn about their opinions on everything from dogs to hunting and trapping ethics.  It is these introspective moments that are the highlight of the movie for me.  The men speak with a clarity of thought that only those who have spent most of their lives alone can.  They have had decades of time alone to hone their thoughts and words into a consistent philosophy of life and they are ready and willing to share it with the audience.

As the title of the movie suggests, these people are truly happy.  Although they live in a very harsh environment with little in the way of modern conveniences, the movie is not about their struggle to survive, but their sheer joy at the freedom their lifestyle permits them.  All of the hunters express their love for their chosen line of work and the freedom they have found.

It is this sentiment that makes Happy People: A Year in the Taiga a great movie for sportsmen.  We may not live a subsistence lifestyle or get to spend every waking hour preparing for the hunting season, but when fall rolls around and we get to hit the hunting fields we can feel what the people of the Taiga feel—the freedom that comes from providing for oneself and of being in the outdoors.

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga is available to stream on Netflix and I highly recommend that you set aside an hour and a half to watch it.

Here is a trailer for Happy People: A Year in the Taiga:

Happy People – Promo May 14, 2010 from Kay Mode on Vimeo.

What’s So Special About the 3-Screw Ruger Blackhawk?

If you happen to stumble onto an online forum for Ruger firearms or single action revolvers you may find that the term “3-screw Blackhawk” appears quite frequently.  You may also notice that some people have a certain esteem for the 3-screw Ruger Blackhawk over other Blackhawks and will go to great lengths to acquire one.

Many people new to revolvers probably have no idea what a 3-screw Ruger Blackhawk is, and even those who know what a 3-screw Blackhawk is probably don’t understand why revolver cranks covet these relics over all others.  This post will explore a little of the Ruger Blackhawk’s history and tease out why the 3-screw Blackhawk is such a desirable gun and why collectors and non-collectors alike should seek one out for themselves.

A History of the Ruger Blackhawk

The history of the Ruger Blackhawk begins with the Ruger Single Six, a single action revolver based on the Colt Single Action Army Revolver of 1873 and chambered for the .22 Long Rifle cartridge.  The Single Six was a popular seller for Ruger and indicated that there was a demand for single action revolvers in post WWII America.

In 1955 Ruger introduced the Blackhawk chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge.  The Blackhawk replicated the size of the old Colt Single Action in both frame size and grip size.  The Blackhawk also had adjustable sights mounted on a flattop frame like many of the custom Colts and Colt Single Action target models.

Besides replacing the Colt flat springs with coil springs for better durability and using a frame mounted firing pin, the lock work of the Ruger Blackhawk was very similar to that of the Colt.  The Blackhawk hammer had four distinct clicks that could be heard while it was brought back to full cock—which was characteristic of the Colts—and to freely spin the cylinder for loading the hammer had to be placed at half-cock, another characteristic of Colts and older single action revolvers.  Because the lock work was so similar to that of the Colt, the Ruger Blackhawk had three screws on the side of the frame just as the Colts did.  This model 3-screw Blackhawk is commonly referred to as the “flattop” due to its flat top strap.

Ruger Blackhawk Flattop Model
The original .357 Magnum Ruger Blackhawk—The Flattop. Notice the flat top strap, adjustable sights, and the 3 screws in the side of the frame.

Around 1956 Ruger introduced a .44 Magnum version of the Blackhawk built on a larger frame to handle the increased pressures of the new cartridge.  The .357 Magnum Blackhawk continued to be manufactured on the smaller Colt-sized frame, so Ruger was now producing Blackhawks in two frame sizes.

Starting in 1962 Ruger added “ears” to the top strap of the revolver around the rear sight.  In Sixguns, Elmer Keith had recommended that Ruger add some protective “ears” to the rear sight to protect it from being knocked out of alignment when the rear sight was raised for long distance shooting.  I am not sure whether Keith actually influenced the decision by Ruger to add the “ears”, but Sixguns was released in 1955 and a revised edition was released in 1961—both predating the “ears” on the Blackhawk—so the ears may be his handiwork.

In 1973 wholesale changes were made to the Ruger Blackhawk.  The lock work was changed from that of a Colt to something completely new.  Instead of setting the hammer to half-cock for loading, the loading gate now regulated the cylinder for loading and the hammer no longer had the four clicks found on previous Blackhawks and Colts.  A transfer bar safety was also added which made the gun safe to carry with six rounds in the cylinder.  As a result of the changes to the inner workings of the Blackhawk, there were now only two screws on the side of the frame.

In addition to the inner changes to Blackhawk, there was one notable outward change.  Probably to simplify manufacturing, all Ruger Blackhawks from 1973 onward, regardless of caliber, would be built on the larger .44 Magnum sized frame.  This revised revolver was renamed and released as the New Model Blackhawk, thus ending the life of the 3-screw Blackhawk.

What’s the big deal?

“So,” you may be asking, “what’s so special about the 3-screw Blackhawk?  Isn’t it just an older Blackhawk?  Why would a non-collector care about it?”

It’s true that the 3-screw Blackhawks are coveted by collectors for their age and status as the inaugural model the popular Ruger Blackhawk series (particularly the flattop 3-screws).  But what many people overlook is that the most important change that came with the New Model Blackhawk wasn’t the new innards, it was the new body the innards were put in.

Over the course of the Blackhawk’s life it had increased in size with each revamping.  In 1955 the Blackhawk was released with a grip and frame the size of the Colt Single Action Army—the gun by which all other single action revolvers are judged; a gun which had the perfect combination of size and strength for someone wanting an all-around revolver for packing into the woods or wherever he may wander; a gun which pointed so gracefully that the sights were almost unnecessary at close range.

In 1962 the “ears” were added to the Blackhawk but so was a new grip frame.  The new grip was slightly larger than the previous Blackhawk grip, and consequently, larger than the Colt’s.

Some people liked the new grip while others preferred the smaller grip found on the flattop, but the change was minor and the 1962-1972 Blackhawks still handle and point well.  Besides, replacing the larger grip frame on a Blackhawk with a smaller one is a relatively minor modification.

The blow came in 1973 when all Blackhawks were moved to the large frame originally built to contain the pressures of the .44 Magnum.  Now all Blackhawks—whether .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, or .357 Magnum—would be built on this hulking frame.

The larger frame was obviously needed to safely chamber the .44 Magnum, and the .45 Colt certainly benefited from the larger frame size as it essentially became a .45 Colt Magnum.  But the poor .357, one of the most ideal rounds for packing into the woods, receives no benefit from the larger frame at all.

The medium sized frame of the Colt Single Action Army and 3-screw Blackhawks was more than enough beef to contain .357 Magnum pressures.  Heck, the .357 Magnum is safely fired in J-Frame Smith & Wesson revolvers without fear of blowing up.  The .357 Magnum deserves better than being shoved into a bulky and heavy frame; it deserves a frame which matches the versatility of the cartridge itself; a frame which can be comfortably carried all day in the woods whether you are on the prowl for small game, large game, or even nothing at all.

Even the .45 Colt, a cartridge which had always been housed in the larger frame Blackhawks, is perfectly fine in the medium framed guns.  Sure, the .45 Colt in the large frame Blackhawks is capable of extreme power that matches or exceeds .44 Magnum, but is it really necessary?

The .45 Colt’s legacy was built on the medium framed Colt Single Action Army, where it developed a reputation for throwing heavy pieces of lead at moderate velocities.  Who could realistically need more power than a 255 grain lead bullet traveling at 900 feet per second?  Perhaps more importantly, who would want to endure the recoil associated with the increased power?

Because of the size of the 3-screw Blackhawks, they became popular platforms for people to build custom revolvers on.  The most popular customization was to rechamber the .357 3-screw Blackhawks to .44 Special—a cartridge which needs only the medium sized frame to reach its full potential and which Elmer Keith pushed to near .44 Magnum velocities in his custom Colt Single Actions.  Skeeter Skelton had at least a couple of these conversions done and it remains a popular conversion today.  If a single action aficionado is looking for a good packing or working gun, the 3-screw Blackhawk is often the revolver they turn to.

A happy ending?

Once thought to be lost forever, the medium framed Ruger revolver has made a comeback in a big way.  Starting with the introduction of the New Vaquero in 2005, Ruger put the medium sized single action frame with Colt sized grips in production.  These new guns still use a transfer bar safety and New Model Blackhawk lock work for the most part, but the important thing is that they returned to the svelte sized frame and grips of the old 3-screw Blackhawks and Colt Single Actions.  The New Vaqueros had fixed sights, so they were no replacement for the 3-screw Blackhawks, but it was an important first step.

Shortly thereafter, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Blackhawks, Ruger released a limited run of .357 Magnum New Model Blackhawks built on the medium sized New Vaquero frame with adjustable sights and a flat top strap, finally coming full circle.  Unfortunately, this medium framed .357 Magnum New Model Blackhawk was only a limited run and today the .357 Magnum New Model Blackhawk has returned to being produced only in a large frame.

For a comparison of the sizes between the original Colt Single Action, the 3-screw Ruger Blackhawk, the New Model Ruger Blackhawk, and the newest medium frame Blackhawk, check out this article over at  They have a table with various measurements from these guns for comparison purposes.  When looking at the table, keep in mind the dimensions for the “Old Vaquero” are the same as the large frame New Model Blackhawks and the “New Vaquero” is the same size as the medium frame New Model Blackhawks.

Happily, with the help of Lipsey’s, Ruger was persuaded to introduce a .44 Special New Model Blackhawk built on the medium sized flattop frame previously used for the 50th Anniversary Blackhawk.  Lipsey’s special order of these revolvers was so successful that Ruger added the revolver to their regular product line and now they can be ordered from almost any firearms retailer.

Lipsey’s also did a special run of .45 Colt New Model Blackhawks on the medium sized flattop frame, and these can be ordered from a Lipsey’s dealer.  However, due to the success of the large frame .45 Colt Blackhawk, I don’t believe we will ever see this item as a regularly cataloged product from Ruger itself.

So, on the bright side, we now have the .44 Special New Model Blackhawk; a revolver which fires a spectacularly versatile cartridge in the handy medium sized frame.  Elmer Keith had written about his hopes for such a gun in Sixguns in 1955 and Skeeter Skelton had dreamed of such a gun as well.  Finally, fifty years after the Blackhawk was introduced, the wishes of these two men—and many other sixgun enthusiasts—came to fruition.

On the other hand, if someone wants a .357 Magnum Ruger single action revolver on the medium frame they have no viable options currently being produced.  The New Vaquero is offered in .357 Magnum and is built on the medium frame, but it lacks adjustable sights.  One is forced to look on the used market for a 3-screw Blackhawk or the 50th Anniversary New Model Blackhawk.  The Anniversary models regularly sell for more than the 3-screw Blackhawks, plus the Anniversary models only came with the 4.625 inch barrel, so the 3-screws are still the best option.

I have hopes that someday Ruger will produce the .357 Magnum New Model Blackhawk on the medium flattop frame as a regular catalog item.  After all, the medium flattop frame is already in production for the .44 Special New Model Blackhawk, the medium .357 Magnum cylinders and barrels are already in production for the New Vaquero, and the .357 Magnum has no need to be housed in a large frame revolver.  To me, it looks like all the pieces are in place and I sincerely hope that this ideal .357 Magnum revolver can somehow be produced and reclaim the romance and tradition of the 3-screw Blackhawks of old.

Why We Read Old Books Part III

In the first two parts (Part I, Part II) of this series we discussed why someone might read an old book about outdoor activities for the purposes of entertainment and for historical enlightenment.  In this final part of the series I will seek to explain the value of reading these old books for their intended purpose—to instill in the reader some practical knowledge of how to hunt, fish, shoot accurately, etc.

When originally published, these books were written by the foremost authorities on sporting activities and many of the books are still regarded today as the standard by which other books on the subject are judged.  Still, we must admit that fifty or more years is a long time and face the possibility of out-datedness head on.

Many modern hunters will eschew these books as hopelessly out of date and not worth reading because so much has changed in the last half century—heck, many of these books are so old as to predate the .223 Remington and .308 Winchester.  There is some merit to this way of thinking, after all, many of the companies discussed in these books are no longer in business and many of the rifles, cartridges, and other technology which were used in the 1950’s are out of production and impossible or impractical to find nowadays.  Furthermore, given the advance in technology over the years, the techniques and technology may no longer be the most efficient way of taking game or fish.  All of these statements notwithstanding, these books are still of immense value to the modern sportsman.

It is simple to overcome the issue of out of date information regarding what rifles and cartridges are available on the marketplace.  First of all, many of the guns you will read about in these books still exist in a modern form—for example, the Winchester Model 70, 1894, or 1886—or they can be found on the used market relatively easily.

And if that is not comforting enough, you can always use a little creativity in following the advice found in the books.  If Townsend Whelen suggests a modified Mauser military rifle for hunting in the backwoods, you can take a look at the Ruger Model 77, which is based on the Mauser action and retains many of the original features such as the claw extractor and the angled recoil lug.

The same goes for cartridges.  You will find that many of the writers suggest cartridges that are still readily available in today’s sporting goods stores, such as the 30-30, .375 H&H Magnum, .338 Winchester, and the venerable .30-06 Springfield.  And just as with rifles, if someone suggests a hard to find cartridge you can always find a modern equivalent that will offer comparable ballistics.

For example, if someone recommends the .300 H&H Magnum—which is still available, but maybe not readily so—you can substitute the .300 Winchester Magnum, or if Elmer Keith recommends his 334 OKH wildcat cartridge—which probably never saw use by many people outside of Keith’s own circle—you can substitute the .338 Winchester Magnum and get equal or better performance.

The point is this; even if some of the rifles and cartridges referred to in these books seems archaic, there is always a way to bring the information into the present.  And given that the authors of these books were esteemed for their expertise on these subjects, it seems prudent to try our best to bring this information into the 21st Century.

Let us not also forget that some things don’t change when it comes to our preferred outdoor activities.  The best way to dress and pack out game hasn’t changed and likely never will until the day we all go into the wilderness in our own private helicopters.  The techniques for marksmanship which earned Col. Whelen and C. S. Landis national championships haven’t changed and anyone would be well served to follow their advice for hitting the bull’s-eye.  The laws of physics haven’t changed, and the tables for drop and wind drift of a .22 caliber bullet in Small Bore Rifle Shooting are still accurate to this day.

The best area to place your bullet, or look for game, or drop your lure also hasn’t changed.  While technology may have changed in the past fifty years, we can take comfort in the fact that the quarry has not.  If Edward Freeman made his hunting trips with a .38-55 Winchester Model 94 and dropped hundreds of deer in the Maine woods, you can be sure your .308 Winchester has the potency to take down a whitetail.  Hunters may have added camouflage, scent blockers, and range finders to their bag of tricks, but the animals have remained the same.

For all of the above reasons, classic sporting books still have a place in your library for their original intended purpose—to teach you how to bag your quarry or hit the bull’s-eye.  Good information is good information, regardless of when the words were put down on paper.  Much of the information in these books stands the test of time and requires nothing of you, other than to read it, for it to make your outdoor excursions more enjoyable and successful.  And whatever information has become outmoded due to advances of technology is easily transported into this century with just a modicum of creativity on the part of the reader.

And this is to say nothing of the man who prefers to take to the woods in the fashion of his father or grand-father and is steadfast in his commitment to tradition.  I know these people are out there.  People who wish to take the woods with wood stock and blued steel instead of synthetic and stainless; people who prefer wool, cotton, and leather to acrylic, polyester, and rayon; people who value patience and perseverance; and people whose foremost desire is to enjoy the outdoors and their time spent in it, rather than to simply get in, get their game, and get out.  For these sportsmen, books like this provide hours of enjoyment and a lifetime’s worth of valuable knowledge.