When it comes to guns, I collect very few of them. Don’t get me wrong, I buy a lot of guns, but I generally shoot them for a few years and then sell them or give them away.
There are only two series I collect just for the sake of having them (I shoot the heck out of them, too), and one of them is the Ruger Blackhawk series in calibers that start with .4. So when I saw that Ruger released the Super Blackhawk Bisley in .480 Ruger, I had to have it.
I’m glad they made it and I’m glad I bought it.
When it comes to the revolver itself, it’s not much different than a few other guns I have. Heck, it’s pretty hard to tell the difference between this one and my Bisley in.45 Colt. I wanted this one purely because of the caliber, and also because I thought the Super Blackhawk was just perfect for it.
The .480 Ruger is no slouch in punch, but ultra magnums like the .460 and .500 Smith & Wesson magnums certainly produce more power, and in the guns they are typically chambered in, equal or less recoil. That’s because recoil is a function not just of the size, weight, and speed of the bullet, but also the simple mass of the firearm itself. Any increase in weight will have a corresponding decrease in recoil.
The .480 Ruger Bisley is not a heavyweight. When comparing a S&W X Frame revolver chambered for the .460 or .500 you’ll find those guns, in a similar barrel length, are much heavier, and are usually ported or compensated. That’s how the recoil is so manageable. Those guns may be pack guns, but they aren’t really belt guns.
Moving a bit down the scale is the .454 Casull and the .475 Linebaugh. I would highly recommend either to anyone seriously considering handgun hunting. Both are powerful enough to put down any animal on earth. They’re also right on the edge of what is tolerable to shoot for short strings. They’re fun to strap on and hunt with, but not much fun on the range, at least at their top loads.
In a move that is pretty uncommon in the shooting industry, Ruger looked at the .475 Linebaugh and figured some shooters might actually want a bit less of a good thing.
The .475 Linebaugh is essentially a blown out, cut down, .45-70 Government cartridge. The .480 Ruger, then, is a shortened version of the .475 Linebaugh. You can make — and now I have made — .480 Ruger brass from regular .45-70 brass. Or you can just get the always exceptional brass right from Starline.
The .480 Ruger was originally chambered just in the heavy double action Ruger Super Redhawk revolver, but the good folks at Lipsey’s listened to customer demand and asked for the .480 to be chambered in the comparatively lighter single action Super Blackhawk. These revolvers are now available only through Lipsey’s distributors.
The result of the Ruger cartridge in the Ruger revolver is a portable powerhouse that’s easy to carry, capable of hunting just about everything but a few of the African dangerous game animals, and yet still reasonable enough in recoil to allow for plenty of practice sessions on the range.
At this time, the .480 Ruger Super Blackhawk only comes in Ruger’s standard brushed stainless. That’s a shame, as many will dream of a case hardened frame with a blued barrel and cylinder. As it is, the finish is just fine for a working gun.
Different companies do this finish different ways. You can bookend the “brushiness” of the polish with Colt being the finest and Ruger being, well…not the finest. There are no obvious tool marks, but the level of polish still retains fine lines and “grains” in the steel.
I haven’t quite figured out the code for what Bisleys get what grips, but there is a theme in there somewhere. These grips are simple, two-piece hardwood scales, set slightly below the steel of the grip frame. The wood to metal fit is acceptable, but not exceptional.
The 6½” stainless steel barrel is enough to get heavy bullets up to speed as well as provide a long sight radius for precision shots. The “Hunter” series of Ruger Bisley’s have 7½” barrels, and that’s just too long and cumbersome to draw. The 6½” is about all I can comfortably wear and draw on my strong side.
There are a couple of things that set every “Bisley” model apart from other single action pattern revolvers. First, and the most obvious, is the grip shape.
The original Colt “Revolving Belt Pistol of Navy Caliber” was designed to shoot single handed. And so was every single action revolver that followed its pattern. The “Peacemaker’s” grip would follow the Colt Navy, and the Bisley would be only a slight variation on that theme.
That variation was designed to allow more precise shooting over long strings in Colt’s target revolvers. Ruger has merely copied this design for their Bisley labeled guns.
This Ruger’s Bisley grip, like the original on the Colt, helps to reduce recoil of any revolver by not only allowing a full purchase on the gun even if you have quite large hands, but also by allowing the gun to roll up and back during recoil.
And that’s exactly what you want to do with it. Just let it roll.
The other “Bisley” feature is the hammer. Unlike the more common up-swept models, the Bisley hammer dips down before rising up to a flattened, heavily grooved spur. This makes reaching up with your strong hand thumb to cock the revolver easy. Remember, unlike the double action ultra magnums, these guns were designed to cock and fire with one hand.
As an added bonus, because of its shape, the Bisley hammer is much less likely to catch on the draw than the standard up-swept type. Take a close look at many custom revolvers and you’ll see the more common hammer has been replaced with the Bisley.
The trigger on the .480 Ruger is, like every New Model Blackhawk, Super Blackhawk, or New Vaquero I’ve shot, disappointing. The single action trigger pull averages at 3 lbs. 8.2 oz. on my Lyman trigger gauge. A bit over three and a half pounds isn’t bad, but I’d prefer lighter.
The concern is that, although the average was an acceptable weight, the trigger pull had several ounces of range between different pulls. It had a wide standard deviation.
The experience isn’t a crisp, clean break, but instead a sloppy, mushy pull that has no definite wall or snap. The trigger is just kind of an inconsistent slide until the gun goes bang. Especially on a heavy recoiling gun, that’s less than ideal.
The trade-off is that wonderful transfer bar. Traditional single action cartridge revolvers can only be safely carried on an empty cylinder as dropping or striking the back of the hammer can cause the hammer to strike an exposed primer. Ruger’s transfer bar eliminates this issue and allows the shooter to carry a full cylinder with complete safety.
For the .480 Ruger Bisley, that cylinder has 5 rounds, not 6. The .480 Ruger case is just too large in diameter to fit 6 inside the Bisley’s standard cylinder and still have adequate cylinder wall thickness. When you’re delivering a pistol round that capable of delivering 1,000 ft/lbs of energy at 100 yards, 5 rounds is enough.
The Super Blackhawk in .480 Ruger comes with an “over-sized” locking base pin. I put over-sized in quotations because that’s what it’s referred to, but it’s absolutely necessary for a heavy recoiling revolver. I have noticed when shooting heavy .45 Colt ammunition (310gr at 1,200fps) the base pin will tend to walk forward towards the muzzle bit by bit. That becomes a problem.
The Super Blackhawk addresses the issue with a larger, more massive pin that includes a simple screw. That screw is tightened down against a divot on the underside of the barrel. I put a pretty long string of punishing loads through the revolver, and never had the pin move a bit.
All in all, I’ve now put 220 rounds through this revolver, with a variety of charges, powders, and bullets, both homemade and commercial. I experienced no issues concerning reliability in any way.
At no point, even with rounds that were right at the top of the SAAMI pressure listing, were there any signs of over-pressure. No primers raised, and the fired cases always pushed right out without any sticking.
The sight set up of the .480 Ruger Super Blackhawk is a familiar one; a serrated fixed ramp front and square notch rear sight, adjustable for elevation and windage. It’s a decent arrangement and gives the shooter a solid shot at putting huge chunks of lead on target.
Unfortunately, the front sight is all black and easily disappears against the black rear sight edges, as well as against a dark target. A steel front sight the same color as the base would be more appreciated.
As the front sight blade is simply pinned in, an alternate can be easily made, if you so choose. There used to be a few options for drop-in replacements available, but they seem to be discontinued.
The rear sight is also all black, and any kind of bright “U” notch would be appreciated. An upgrade, like Bowen’s Rough Country rear sight, would go a long way to making the rear sight easier to see, as well as a bit more durable.
Using pin gauges, the cylinder throats all measured out at a very tight .478”. The major bore diameter was right on the money, at .475” and the minor bore diameter was .465”. Nothing out of the ordinary there.
What was out of the ordinary was the lack of end shake and the minimal cylinder gap. The cylinder gap measured at a slightly wiggly .001”, but the .002” gauge wouldn’t fit even if I was pushing the cylinder to the rear. None of my other Ruger single actions measure that tight, usually closer to .005”.
That tight cylinder gap is particularly important in the big bore revolvers, as the loss in velocity pushing the big slugs with H110 and Winchester 296 powders becomes quite remarkable when there’s a bit of space between the cylinder and the barrel. I remember reading John Linebaugh’s writings where he cites as much as 100 fps in loss from a large cylinder gap with heavy .45 Colt loads.
Hornady seems to have discontinued their heavier offering and now only offers a single loading for the .480 Ruger, their 325gr XTP moving at an advertised 1,350 fps at the muzzle. In addition to their 325gr round moving at the same speed as Hornady’s, Speer also offers an even lighter bullet, a 275gr Gold Dot Hollow Point moving at 1,450 fps. I found both the Hornady 325gr and Speer 275gr rounds at Cabellas and McBrides Gun Store here in Austin, Texas. They were not inexpensive.
Buffalo Bore makes a fairly wide variety of loads for the .480 Ruger caliber, and if you’ve made the poor life decisions that keep you from reloading, I’d highly suggest you look to them to feed the Ruger single action. I would, however, recommend that you be sitting down when you look at the price for a box of 20 rounds.
The hand loader will be able to unleash the full potential of the .480 Ruger. For some reason I can’t quite figure out, the Hornady and Speer factory loads are downright anemic. The Hornady reloading manual has that same 325gr bullet going 1,500 fps at its maximum, and the Speer manual puts their 275 grain round 5 feet per second short of 1,700 fps.
That a pretty big hunk of lead moving really fast, and would be ideal for the largest whitetail, mule deer or wild pigs.
That’s fast, but too light. No, if you’re going to shoot a big bore, go heavy. There’s just no replacement for displacement. My preferred loading in this revolver is the 410 grain hard cast gas checked bullet from Cast Performance, moving at 1,250 fps from the muzzle. It will do another 50 fps over that, but the group starts to open up a bit at the top of the pressure limit.
For those of you who aren’t bullet nerds, let me put that into perspective.
The 1873 Springfield Rifle in .45-70 Government was used in the wholesale slaughter of the buffalo. It had a 32” barrel, shot one bullet with each loading, and weighed 9 lbs. It’s a big gun firing a big bullet because buffalo are big animals. This revolver, in terms of bullet weight and muzzle velocity, is right on par with that rifle.
On the range, my own hand loads did best. I don’t think I’ve ever found a revolver that doesn’t like a big lead round with a wide meplat. Shooting off a front bag at 25yards, this round scored extremely consistent 2” five-round groups on average for four-shot strings.
The .480 Ruger is capable of acceptable levels of precision with commercially available ammunition. The commercial Hornady round shot 2 3/4” groups on average under the same conditions, and the Speer 275gr commercial offering shot the same average, but with a wider standard deviation. The gun seems to like the wider, heavier bullets.
Single handed off-hand groups at 25 yards with the Hornady round measured between 5” and 6”, but that’s more of a shortcoming of the shooter than the gun itself. Try as I might, I’ve never been much of a shot off-hand.
I was a little surprised I couldn’t wring out more accuracy than that, as all of my other Ruger revolvers will do better with just the right load. Perhaps a trigger job and a brighter front sight would help.
Although the recoil is not inhumane, it is quite stout. Shoot the factory Hornady or Speer loads off-hand and you’ll definitely know you touched one off, but it doesn’t feel much different than a full power .44 Magnum load. Because, well, it isn’t.
That 410 grain hunting load is a different story altogether. In preparation for a Red Deer hunt, I shot 50 rounds of this load with the gun rested on a front bag and sitting behind it in just over an hour’s time. This position will dramatically increase recoil.
I didn’t realize it had gotten that bad, but by the end of the session, the memorial bracelet I wear wouldn’t fit around my swollen wrist. It took a few days to settle down and get back to normal. It’s pretty rare that I’d do 50 rounds of that kind of shooting at once, if for nothing other than the cost. And again, off-hand, the .480 Ruger is powerful, but not painful.
Although the .480 Ruger was originally made for the Super Redhawk, it really seems perfect for the Super Blackhawk Bisley. It’s right at the top end of what is still enjoyable shooting, and yet would do a number on even the largest of bears.
It’s a shame it never really caught on. I’m guessing that the bragging rights of the ultra magnums, no matter how heavy they are or how much they recoil, won out in the caliber popularity contest. That’s too bad, because it’s an outstanding cartridge, but maybe the Super Blackhawk Bisley is the right vehicle to drive interest back into Ruger’s big bore pistol round.
At right around $1,000 off the street, the Ruger is a very strong value and if yours is anything like the one I’ve picked up, it’s sure to last you a lifetime of hunts.
Oh, and if you were wondering, yes, Brian Wilson of Frio County Hunts got me on that Red Deer. My first shot was less than ideal, hitting too far back at the quartering, but turning animal just over 70 yards away.
Not to worry. The round smashed through her last rib, traveling diagonally through the animal, shattered the top of her femur and a chunk of her pelvis, then exited the body. She dropped instantly. The second round cut through the top of her heart. There were two roughly half-inch holes on either side of her body. She made it 15 feet. Meat for weeks. And that’s why I like the big bores.
Specifications: Ruger Super Blackhawk Bisley
Caliber: .480 Ruger
Grips: Bisley Hardwood Laminate
Front Sight: Serrated Ramp
Barrel Length 6.5″ (4.62″ also available)
Material: Stainless Steel
Rear Sight: Adjustable
Twist: 1:18″ RH
Finish: Brushed Stainless
Overall Length: 12.57″
Weight: 48 oz.
MSRP: $1,049 (Lipsey’s distributor exclusive)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * *
The finish is OK. The quality of the wood is OK. The fitment is OK. The Ruger got its reputation as a working gun, but not necessarily as a beautiful one.
Customization * * * *
There’s a whole lot you can do to these guns yourself with just a Jerry Knudsen shop manual and some patience. Quality gunsmiths, like Bowen Classics and John Linebaugh, take what can be done with the Ruger single action line to an entirely different level. If you can dream it, they can do it.
Reliability * * * * *
Accuracy * * *
For a revolver of this barrel length with adjustable sights, hovering just under 3” with commercial ammunition and 2” from the best pet load, that’s what I’d call right at average.
Overall * * * (and * * * * *)
On paper, the Ruger Super Blackhawk Bisley is exactly average, but this isn’t an average category to start with. The big bore caliber, for a not-so-big-bore price, puts this revolver in a class all its own. For about $1,000 out the door, this gun is ready to hunt anything in the western hemisphere right out of that grey plastic box.