The New Model Ruger Single Actions

Including the Single Six, Blackhawk, Super Blackhawk Bisley and Vaquero revolvers

by Mike Cumpston

edited by John Dunn

click on the thumbnail images for a larger photo.

In 1973, in order to address certain product liability concerns, Sturm-Ruger undertook a complete re-design of the single action lock-work standard since before the cartridge era.  In so doing, they reduced the potential for accidental discharge and, almost incidentally, created an action ideally suited to the sports/utility handgun. 

With the new design, the hammer could not come into contact with the firing pin unless the trigger was completely to the rear-interposing a transfer bar to complete the connection. Unlike the old colt pattern action, the New Model did not require an empty chamber under the hammer for complete safety.  The safety notch and half cock gave way to a single strong and positive trigger/hammer sear engagement.  Opening the loading gate in the hammer down position unlocked the cylinder and allowed it to rotate for loading.


The transfer bar safety

The earlier Rugers had followed the Colt pattern--enhancing durability by replacing the old leaf springs with coil and plunger.  Post 1973, the single actions feature much stronger lock work components and a deserved reputation for trouble-free durability.  The strongly built single actions, available in all calibers even vaguely suitable to handguns, became a staple among recreational shooters.

The New Models have figured prominently in a couple of the “fastest growing!” shooting sports. In the 1970s, handgun metallic silhouette shooting became very popular. For a time, the sport was shot with more or less factory- basic handguns with heavy magnum loads being over-represented.  “Silhouette load“ came to describe component combinations that stretched the outer envelope of magnum performance and the structural limitations of the competitive revolvers quickly emerged. The New Model Super Blackhawk proved more durable than other contemporary designs, displaying a useful service life with the heaviest of loads.  The chief problem attending the Super Blackhawk was a tendency for the ejector assembly to depart from the revolver under heavy recoil.  It was also learned that the loading gate sometimes received less than optimum support from the newly non-recessed cylinders.  Inertia was also known to work upon the cylinder base pin, often causing it to walk forward under recoil. It is very likely that none of these issues have any significance except with extreme loads in the heavier calibers.

Treated more gently, loads confined to nominal factory performance, the Rugers are trouble free in the extreme. This is born out by their performance in the current “fastest growing” shooting discipline: Cowboy Action Shooting. This sport employs moderate loads making the Vaquero version of the New Model stand out as a true lifetime investment while more traditional cowboy guns suffer from the occasional broken spring or locking bolt.

In the later decades, the addition of the Bisley grip frame has made the large centerfire New Models the mainstay of the top custom pistolsmiths. Hamilton Bowen and John Linebaugh chamber the revolvers for a variety of vociferous, dangerous game cartridges while applying custom refinements inside and out.

The Single Six Bisley, Lett Grips

The New Model Stainless Super Blackhawk, Bowen target sight, Ajax grips

Custom New Model Super Blackhawk, set up for heavy bullet loads

A friend's Ruger Vaquero. It shoots right on horizontal and is a good off-hand fifty foot shooter even with the creapazoid factory trigger.


The basic small frame Single Six chambered in 22 rimfire and .32 Magnum and the large frame version applied to the center fire variations reek of mass production. While far from cheap or cheesy, they lack the careful fit and polish of earlier handguns much admired by handgun enthusiasts. The Bisley and Vaquero variations seem to receive a bit more attention to cosmetics than the more utilitarian Blackhawks and Single Sixes. Looking through my own accumulation of New Models, past and present, I fail to detect any example where I have been content to leave well enough alone. My least-modified example is an early rimfire Bisley. My only alterations were sight regulation, the addition of a set of Lett Custom grips and a Trapper Trigger return spring to optimize trigger pull. I have fitted a couple of other New Models with stainless grip frames and ejector rod housings. One example has a custom made Shillen barrel with the ejector assembly surrounded by a lug to forestall inertial detachment by the heavily loaded 300 grain .44 loads.

Trapper trigger return spring

Shillen barrel with ejector-housing lug

Many shooters complain of a lack of finesse in the action department – characterized by a long and heavy trigger pull. The pre-release trigger take-up varies with many examples being quite long. Trigger pull weight is readily managed by replacement of the trigger return spring or simple tension adjustment of the factory part. The resulting release is never quite so crisp as that of a Smith and Wesson or nicely set-up Colt but, once the shooter has become acclimated, it is every bit as useful and productive of accurate shooting.

Ruger springs

Traditionalists often deplore the departure from the old–form single action locking sequence. They miss the “click, click, click” of the hammer as it comes to full stand and the precise alignment of the chamber in the open loading gate. Power Custom Guns has responded to this with a kit that restores these attributes of the old single action.

Belt Mountain addresses the problem of cylinder pins walking forward under recoil by supplying a couple of variations of optimum size and with locking features.  Additionally, it seems that more recent New Models have the base pins more closely fitted with a bit more attention to the engagement of the base pin latch.  None of my current New Models suffer from base pin walk.

Significantly, the shooter himself can perform the majority of the beneficial modifications to the New Model. A simple trigger-pull reduction is all that is really needed to make the revolvers entirely field ready. Such personal touches as custom grips, alternative grip frames, and the optimal target sight from Bowen Classic arms remove the revolvers from the strictly utilitarian and foster pride of ownership.


Many handgun designs capture the imagination because of association with historic events. Cinematic excesses and the semi-fictional exploits of various testosterone monsters often define the popular and not particularly accurate public perception. Users of the Ruger New Models tend to develop their enthusiasm one shooter at a time based on personal experiences. These experiences might range from game taken under challenging circumstances to formal matches won, much to the consternation of shooters equipped with more conventional target arms. They might derive from tin cans launched over the top of the tank dam with a well-placed shot.

Over the past thirty years, the many variations of the New Model Single Action have come to define the Essential Revolver for a large segment of the Shooting Public.


Three step actions; colt type grip frames in brass and stainless, free spin pawls

Oversize base pins

The Bowen Rear Sight, A gallery of best quality arms made up on New Model Single Actions

Current variations cataloged parts and service. My treatment by Ruger sales and service has been uniformly excellent. Their product support amounts to a virtual lifetime warranty.

The Ruger custom grip supplier. They have a close relationship with Sturm-Ruger and supply the fancier grips as well as after market grips in various media.

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