(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)
By David Lockman
The idea of chambering a rifle cartridge in a handgun is a hardly a new one; although, in more modern days, some companies have taken the concept to the point of borderline absurdity. See chamberings such as .30-30 Winchester and .45-70 in the Magnum Research BFR, or… pretty much anything you can dream of short of a .50 BMG (limited only by one’s desire to maintain the structural integrity of their wrists) in a Thompson/Center Encore. And I’m not even counting the 600 Nitro Express Pfeifer Zeliska—if it weighs 13 pounds, it’s no longer a “hand”-gun.
The diminutive .30 Carbine, by comparison, is a rather more reasonable chambering for a pistol—if, perhaps, one of questionable utility. But some people just like to have something a little different, and the Ruger .30 Carbine Blackhawk certainly is that, and a boatload of fun besides.
The Ruger Blackhawk, first introduced in 1955, is, in essence, just a modernized and improved version of Colt’s classic and revered 1873 “Peacemaker” single-action revolver. Even in its early days, the Peacemaker was no stranger to rifle cartridges. In 1877, a mere four years after its introduction, Colt released a “Frontier” model of the pistol, chambered—rather than Colt’s (then-) proprietary .45 Colt cartridge—for the .44-40 round used by the similarly-popular Winchester 1873 lever-action rifle—allowing one to use the same ammo in both rifle and pistol. Very convenient. And the experiment seemed to work out for Colt, as they went on to release versions of the Peacemaker in both the .38-40 and .32-20 Winchester rifle cartridges as well.
Jump ahead ninety years or so, and Ruger took a similar route, releasing the .30 Carbine-chambered version of the Blackhawk in 1968, likely to capitalize on the wide availability of milsurp M1 Carbines and their ammo at the time. It was the first real commercial .30 Carbine handgun. (Technically, Kimball beat them to it by over a decade, having created a delayed-blowback semi-auto .30 Carbine pistol back in 1955. However, said pistol had more problems than the initial run of Remington R51’s, and the company made less than three hundred of them before folding).
Since then, others (AMT’s Automag III, Taurus’ brief flirtation with the Raging Thirty) have come and gone, while the .30 Carbine Blackhawk is still available today.
With a 7.5-inch barrel, and a 13.38-inch overall length, the .30 Carbine Blackhawk is a big pistol. Heavy, too; while it has a tapered barrel (one of the easiest ways to distinguish it from any other model of the Blackhawk) to save weight due to the small .30-caliber bore, the cylinder received no such treatment. It’s the same size as one for a .45 Colt Blackhawk, just with teeny tiny .30 Carbine-sized holes, so it’s quite a heavy chunk of steel.
Despite .30 Carbine being a moderately high-pressure cartridge, I suspect that the cylinder of the .30 Carbine Blackhawk might be one of the most overbuilt of any production revolver. In consequence, the pistol weighs in at a somewhat boat-anchor-ish 46 ounces.
Mine is a “New Model” Blackhawk, meaning it uses a transfer bar mechanism to prevent the hammer from striking the firing pin unless it has been cocked and the trigger pulled—allowing you to safely carry a full complement of six rounds in the cylinder, as opposed to having to leave an empty chamber under the hammer as with the original Colt and the older pre-1973 Blackhawks.
It also has a built-in locking mechanism, not unlike current Smith & Wessons (although, unlike S&W, Ruger was nice enough to hide the lock inside the grip, so it doesn’t detract from the gun’s aesthetics). While the lock makes about as much sense as a gallium frying pan, and I’d rather not have it—I’ve never touched it, and I don’t ever intend to—so far I’ve had no problems with it, so it’s not too much of a demerit.
The gun’s sights consist of a black ramp front, and a black square notch rear—nothing fancy, but they work well enough. The rear sight is click-adjustable for both elevation and windage (1 click= 3/4” @ 25 yards) with the aid of a small screwdriver. Mine came sighted in for a six-o’clock hold, and I’ve left it that way.
The trigger pull is short, crisp, and light—just as one would expect from a single-action revolver.
When I bought this gun, I was a newbie to the Colt Single Action-style grip. However, once I figured out how to properly hold the pistol (I sort of let the gun “hang forwards” in my hand) I found that, despite its length and weight, the Blackhawk feels very balanced and good in the hand, and points quite well.
The pistol came with a set of black plastic grips featuring light checkering and the silver Ruger emblem (above left). There was nothing wrong with them per se, but I have rather large hands, and the original grips were too thin for my taste. So, after a bit of searching, I decided to replace them with a set of grips (above, right) from Altamont Co. (which, incidentally, makes some of the “factory” grips that come with some of the other versions of Ruger’s Blackhawk/Super Blackhawk pistols) in “Silver Black.” These grips swapped right on with ease, and, in addition to adding an extra bit of class to the gun’s appearance, are much thicker than the factory plastic ones, and fit my hand much better. At only $40 or so, I highly recommend them.
Fit & Finish
There is an inherent degree of sexiness and class in the Colt “Peacemaker” design, and the Blackhawk is no exception, despite being a little bigger and beefier than the original Colts to allow for the chambering of more powerful rounds.
The entire gun, save for the grip frame and ejector rod housing, is made of steel, with a deep blued finish that looks almost black. The hammer, interestingly enough, is only blued on the top—the sides are left as bare shiny steel—and the trigger is also unblued. The grip frame and ejector rod housing are made of aluminum, given a black anodized finish so they more-or-less blend in with the rest of the gun; it works from a distance, but up close the difference is obvious, as the aluminum parts have a much duller sheen than the blued steel ones.
The finish seems to be of moderate durability; after several hundred rounds through the gun there are some slight scuff-marks on the cylinder—an inevitable occurrence with any revolver, I understand—and I somehow ( I seriously don’t know how) managed to put a little scratch in the finish on the underside of the barrel. The finish is, I would say, perfectly adequate; it looks nice—but nothing to write home about—and seems to be at least moderately durable.
The Blackhawk is a solid, quality pistol, and fit is, in general, excellent—with one notable exception; two of the chambers in my Blackhawk’s cylinder seem to be slightly tighter than the others, as they start sticking earlier—and become stickier—than the others. But, more on stickiness in a bit…
Disassembling the Blackhawk for cleaning couldn’t be easier. It goes like this:
Open the loading gate.
Depress the cylinder pin catch.
Slide the cylinder pin out.
Dump the cylinder out the right side of the gun.
And you’re ready. To reassemble, simply reverse the process.
The gun is very easy to clean—and a good thing too, as it needs to be cleaned rather often. But, more on that a bit later…
On the Range
While the .30 Carbine is considered rather light for a rifle round, compared to most pistol cartridges it’s hardly a slouch, tossing a 110-grain bullet at 1990 fps. or so, generating about 970 foot-pounds of energy—on par with the .44 magnum; however, that’s from the M1 carbine’s 18-inch barrel. So, how does it do in a handgun? The answer: pretty well.
Now, the first thing you’re likely to notice when firing the .30 Carbine Blackhawk for the first time is that it’s rather loud. Not as loud, however, as most people on the internet would have you think; based on the various reviews and forum discussions of this gun that I read before buying it, I half expected the muzzle blast to shatter every piece of glass, and set off every car alarm, within a quarter mile radius or so. Long story short: it didn’t. In my opinion, it’s not even especially loud—I’d compare it to a 3-inch barreled .357 magnum that I once fired; I’ve heard 9mm’s that sounded almost as loud. I only wear simple foam ear muffs when shooting, and I’m perfectly comfortable (if you were to shoot it at an indoor range, then, yeah, you might want to double up on the hearing protection as a lot of people recommend for this gun).
The second thing you might notice, is that recoil is—well, not nonexistent, but, shall we say, practically unfelt. The gun certainly moves—there’s a modest bit of muzzle flip (as a result, I suspect, of the Colt Single Action style grip, which tends to encourage the gun to “roll upwards” in your hand under recoil)—but the forces transferred to your hand are so light that you hardly feel it. It is, by far, the most pleasantly-recoiling gun I’ve ever fired that wasn’t a .22. As to the round’s ballistic performance…
Fired from the Blackhawk’s 7.5-inch barrel, the .30 Carbine round loses several hundred feet per second of muzzle velocity (and hence quite a bit of energy) compared to when it’s fired from the Carbine—as one might expect when one more-than-halves the barrel length. One of my early reloads (a 110-grain Hornady FMJ over 13.7 grains of IMR 4227—a very light load) chronoed an average of 1706 fps. from the carbine, and only 1239 fps. from the Blackhawk, giving an average velocity drop of 467 fps. I haven’t had the chance to chrono factory ammo out of both guns (I don’t have many opportunities to use the chronograph), but from what I’ve read from other sources, the velocity drop is about the same, which would put factory 110 gr. ammo in the 1400-1500 fps. range from the Blackhawk.
Admittedly, those ballistics don’t sound too thrilling on paper, but let’s compare, shall we? My (quite light) reload above generated an average of about 375 ft-lbs. of muzzle energy; that’s similar to a standard-pressure 9mm—not especially powerful, but again, it was a light starting load. The estimated velocities for full-power factory ammo, on the other hand, give a potential muzzle energy range of about 479-550 ft-lbs., on par with a .40 S&W—albeit with a much smaller, lighter bullet; or, for a better comparison, that puts it on par, energy-wise, with the russian 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridge, except with a slightly heavier bullet—and few people have ever complained about the Tokarev round’s performance (penetration-wise, at least). And, one could always crank up the velocities by going to a lighter bullet (like Hornady’s 90-grain XTP) if they so wished. Besides, what’s the saying—”It’s better to hit with a .22 than miss with a .45?” Which brings us to the third major quality of this gun…
It’s pretty damn accurate. I am, admittedly, not exactly a stellar shot, but I shoot the .30 carbine Blackhawk better than any other pistol I’ve ever fired—which list includes a Sig, and a pair of nice Smith & Wessons.
Here’s 30 rounds (another of my early handholds—a 90 gr. XTP over 14.0 grains of IMR 4227) fired one-handed, no rest, at 7 yards.
This is 10 rounds of the same load fired two-handed from a rest, at 50 feet.
That revolvers are—if not perfectly reliable, then the closest possible thing—is widely considered to be axiomatic. I’m sad to say, but the .30 Carbine Ruger Blackhawk does not quite live up to this golden standard.
Previously in this review I alluded to stickiness issues, and a need for frequent cleaning; the .30 Carbine Blackhawk, I have discovered, is very sensitive to grime in the chambers of the cylinder. When the cylinder is clean, rounds drop all the way into the chambers with zero effort—as it should be. However, after firing a moderate number of rounds through the gun—usually around 60 or so—the chambers tend to start getting sticky, requiring fresh rounds to be seated firmly with finger pressure to make sure they go all the way in—lest they rub against the breechface and bind up the action somewhat.
This is, I am fairly certain, simply a consequence of chambering a rimless cartridge in a revolver (without the use of moon clips, which cannot be used with a fixed-cylinder revolver like the Blackhawk). Lacking the rim that every cartridge designed for use in a revolver has, the .30 Carbine headspaces, as normal, off the case mouth, which rests on a slight ledge towards the front of the chambers. When fired, the case sets back slightly in the chamber (as there is a slight gap between the rear of the case and the breechface of the gun), allowing some of the powder residue to be deposited on this ledge. Over repeated firings, this gunk builds up until a new round can’t be fully seated without compressing or pushing it out of the way.
At around the same time, extraction can also start becoming a bit difficult; I have had, on occasion, some empty cases which required a fair bit of force on the ejector rod to remove—although, I’ve never had to use anything beyond hand-strength. This occurs mostly with factory ammunition—my current handloads (which are loaded somewhat lighter than factory ammo, and hence are probably lower-pressure) almost never have difficulties with extraction, though the stickiness on loading is still an issue.
This is an easily solvable problem: just keep the chambers clean—I clean mine very often, and have found that simply running a dry bore brush through the chambers a few times can go a long way towards loosening them back up between real cleanings. However, 60 rounds or so is a rather small number before a gun starts having reliability issues, so it is a notable—really, the only—black mark against the pistol.
I love this gun. However, I have to admit that it’s somewhat like a circular pencil: without an obvious point. There are certainly plenty of things it could be used for: target shooting/plinking (though .30 Carbine is a bit expensive for a plinking round), hunting small critters, even self-defense if you really wanted to for some reason and loaded the gun with a good softpoint or hollowpoint round. But, in all honesty, the same gun chambered in .357 Magnum could probably do all those things just as well (albeit, probably with somewhat more recoil when firing .357’s), with rather more commonly available ammo that gives better handgun performance.
Really, the only thing the .30 Carbine Blackhawk can do that pretty much no other currently-produced handgun can is share ammo with an M1 Carbine. So, if you have your heart set on the little Carbine as your SHTF/TEOTWAWKI rifle, and you really want a pistol using the same round as a backup, Ruger’s got you covered. Otherwise…
The Ruger Blackhawk, from my experience, is a damn fine revolver. But whether to get one in .30 Carbine, or not, is entirely up to personal taste. It might not be the most practical pistol, but the .30 Carbine version of the Blackhawk is a well-made, dead-accurate, soft-shooting, all-around fun, and slightly unique firearm. For some people (like myself), that’s enough.
Specifications: Ruger New Model Blackhawk, .30 Carbine
Caliber: .30 Carbine
Action: Single-Action Revolver
Cylinder Capacity: 6 rounds
Materials: Alloy Steel, Anodized Aluminum
Finish: Blued, Black-Anodized
Weight Empty: 46 ounces
Barrel Length: 7.50 inches
Overall Length: 13.38 inches
Sights: Front Ramp, Rear Notch—Adjustable
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy: * * * * *
It’s a hell of a lot more accurate than I am, and it makes me better by association.
Ergonomics (Handling): * * * *
On the heavy side, but it feels good in the hand and points well. The factory grips are rather thin, but that’s easily rectified.
Ergonomics (Firing): * * * * *
The trigger is great, and the recoil could hardly be more comfortable.
Reliability: * * * *
Not up to the golden standard of most revolvers. However, as long as the chambers are kept clean, reliability is essentially flawless.
Customize This: * * *
There is a fair variety of aftermarket parts for the Ruger Blackhawk, but a holster, and maybe a different grip, is probably all you’ll ever want or need.
Overall: * * * *
A handgun chambered in .30 Carbine probably isn’t for everyone. But if you like the idea of an accurate, quality pistol firing the Carbine round, the Ruger Blackhawk is an excellent choice.