September 24, 2010
By Dan C. Johnson
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Ruger's Super Redhawk. The story of how this popular hunting handgun came to be is an interesting one. Back in 1986 Bill Ruger considered redesigning the standard Redhawk by incorporating a grip and trigger mechanism based on the GP100 design. The GP100 .357 Magnum was selling well and was clearly superior to the older Ruger double-action design.
The author's Super Redhawk was customized by Ken Kelly of Magnaport. Enhanced handling characteristics and improved sights, including a set of Crimson Trace LaserGrips, make it a useful trail or camp gun.
The GP100 uses separate coil springs for the hammer and trigger rather than one spring for both functions as was and still is used in the standard Redhawk. This dual-spring design makes for a better trigger pull. The grip-frame design of the GP100 also allows for a wide variety of grip shapes and sizes, although Ruger has not fully taken advantage of this feature and offers limited grip styles.
If there had not been a rare but worrisome problem with the Redhawk barrel mounting, the Redhawk would have received a redesign of the GP100 grip and action and the Super Redhawk likely would not have come to be. With rough usage and high-volume firing, the barrel shank of the Redhawk would sometimes break due to stress corrosion cracking. This is why the frame on the Super Redhawk was extended to the end of the ejector-rod housing. It provided for longer threads on the barrel shank and a more solid barrel-to-frame mount. The extended frame, incidentally, made it easy to incorporate a solid scope mount in the frame. Thus the Super Redhawk was born.
Ruger intended to drop the standard Redhawk once production of the Super Redhawk began, but in the interim the problem with the barrel shank on the Redhawk was found to be an easy one to remedy. It turned out to be the lubricant used to mount the barrel. Once that was corrected there were no further problems with the original Redhawk design, and it remains in production today.
PRETTY IS AS PRETTY DOES
Some shooters are turned off by the looks of the Super Redhawk and the hefty weight due to the massive extended frame and heavy bull barrel. But these features make the gun a pleasure to shoot and practically indestructible. Even the potent .454 Casull chambering is manageable in this handgun, and the shooter need not worry about beating the gun into an early demise with extensive use of hot loads.
Super Redhawks also tend to be very accurate, and the integral scope mount allows the shooter to take full advantage of that accuracy. The solid mounting of the massive steel rings to the steel receiver allows the scope to be removed and replaced easily without changing the point of impact. Some shooters have problems with the mounting screws loosening under recoil, but this is easily remedied with a larger screwdriver. You have to clamp down those big screws firmly.
Once a shooter owns a Super Redhawk for a while it starts to look a lot prettier. The superb accuracy, controllable recoil and solid-as-a-tank feel inspire confidence. And when you drop six rounds into the massive cylinder and it swings shut and locks up like a bank-vault door, you know you are carrying a gun you can count on.
Ruger has offered the Super Redhawk in limited variations. Originally, you could have any finish you wanted--as long as it was matte stainless. Now some models are available with what Ruger calls a Target Gray finish. Barrel lengths are likewise limited. You can choose a 7 1/2- or 9 1/2-inch hunting barrel or the snubnose Alaskan with 21?2-inch barrel. That leaves a lot of useful barrel lengths that are not available from the factory.
I have long felt that a five-inch barrel is just about ideal for a general-use bigbore double action, but barrels of this length are scarce in most revolver makes. I don't know why the manufacturers have shied away from this barrel length, but the few I have encountered were well balanced and a joy to shoot. The rarely encountered five-inch Model 29 Smith & Wesson is a good example.
I have what was a 7 1/2-inch Super Redhawk that I took a lot of game with over the past 14 years. But recently I found I reached for it less and less. Lately, I found I preferred to carry a Thompson/Center single-shot for most of my big-game hunting. The single-shot is not much heavier or more cumbersome in practical terms than the long-barreled scoped revolver and is available in calibers with more reach. For the past few years I have been mulling over what I could do to make the Super Redhawk more useful for my needs.
A CUSTOM SOLUTION
When I ran into Ken Kelly of Magnaport (www.magnaport.com) at the SHOT Show, I found the answer to my Super Redhawk dilemma. Kelly was named 2007 Pistolsmith of the Year by the American Pistolsmiths Guild for a reason, and an example of that reason was in the Magnaport SHOT Show booth. It was love at first sight when I picked up a Super Redhawk that had received what Ken calls his Advantage Custom Conversion.
At first I thought Ken had somehow reduced the dimensions of the frame, as the gun seemed so much lighter and more petite than my stock Super Redhawk.
But this was an illusion caused by the better balance and handling characteristics of the 4.8-inch barrel. The standard Advantage package includes cutting,recrowning and Magnaporting the barrel and reattaching the factory front sight. The Ruger warning label is removed from the barrel and replaced with the Advantage logo. Also, the action is tuned and the gun is given an attractive vapor-honed finish accented with jewelling on the hammer and trigger.
I decided on the spot that I wanted Ken to work his magic on my gun, and the Advantage package was a good starting point. It was very close to what I wanted my Super Redhawk to be, but not quite. I chose to forego the jewelling on the hammer and trigger and instead opted for a nice matte finish on these parts--I am a simple man with simple tastes.
I also felt that the wide factory Ruger front-sight base did not look quite right on the shortened barrel, so Ken suggested using a Freedom Arms front-sight base with interchangeable blades. That was a good suggestion, and I am happy with the results.
I was a little concerned that the ports might cause some gas cutting on the scope tube. Kelly usually cuts four ports in the Advantage package, and two of those would certainly have been far enough back on the shorter barrel to vent onto the scope tube. We decided to go with only two long ports out near the end of the barrel, and Ken cut them so the gas would not vent directly on the objective lens. It worked out great, and even after firing a hundred rounds or so of hot loads the objective lens remained clear. There was a little smudge on the end of the scope tube, but it wiped right off with no signs of cutting.
The ports definitely tame the recoil, and even Cor-Bon's hot 305-grain Penetrator loads are pleasant to shoot. Shortly after the customization was finished I had an opportunity to shoot the gun side-by-side with a Ruger Alaskan .44 Magnum using the Cor-Bon loads. The difference in recoil was like night and day. That snubnose Alaskan bucked, belched flame and stung my hand a bit, while my custom Super Redhawk was as docile as a house cat. The 4.8-inch barrel maintains enough forward weight to help dampen muzzle flip, and the ports are a definite aid.
That was one of the design parameters. The goal was not to have the most compact and lightweight .44 I could come up with. My goal was a fairly easy-to-pack and handy revolver that was comfortable to shoot extensively and delivered the accuracy and power needed for hunting and self-defense against four-legged critters. I wanted a versatile camp/trail general-purpose revolver, and Ken Kelly came through for me.
THE BEST SIGHTS- THREE OF THEM
To enhance the versatility of the handgun, I opted for the best sighting systems I could find. Ken installed an orange insert in the front-sight blade and grooved it to reduce glare, and I replaced the factory rear sight with a Bowen Rough Country sight with a white outline. This setup provides an excellent sight picture under good light conditions, but when camping or hunting, good light is not always available.
To complement the more compact dimensions of my newly customized Super Redhawk I replaced the Burris 2X scope it had worn for years with the more compact Leupold 2X. As with every Leupold I have used, the optics are bright and clear and performance is top notch. The little silver scope with the golden ring looks right at home on this handgun.
The final sighting system to be added was a set of Crimson Trace LaserGrips. If you think laser sights are only for defense against bad guys, think again. The laser sight is also useful against four-legged critters that come prowling around camp in the middle of the night.
Crimson Trace recently added Super Redhawk grips to its lineup, and the company did an excellent job on the grip design. They are large enough to afford a good hold but not too bulky, and the finger grooves are a nice touch.
Three sighting systems mean I will have a lot of options when taking this gun afield. For example, when I head west this fall on an extended camping trip I am planning, I will zero the open sights and the laser grips for a heavy-weight critter defense load and will sight in the scope for a light small-game/varmint load.
The gun will be loaded with the heavy stuff for the most part, but if I decide to shoot some jackrabbits or maybe harvest a cottontail for the camp pot I can simply clamp on the scope, change ammo and be good to go.
Shorter barrels are handy, but the trade-off is less velocity. I have kept extensive records on loads used in my Super Redhawk in the factory 7 1/2-inch-barrel configuration, so it was easy to check velocities of these loads in the shorter barrel.
I clocked a total of seven loads I had on hand--five factory and two handloads--and found velocity loss from the 4.8-inch barrel compared to the 7 1/2-inch varied from as little as 42 fps with some moderate loads to a high of 67 fps with a hot 300-grain cast-bullet load. I can live with this loss, as it will not make any practical difference in the game fields.
Accuracy was neither hurt nor helped by shortening the barrel. Though I find I can shoot better on average with the improved open sights, groups with various loads using the scope remain essentially the same. This handgun has always been easily capable of sub-two-inch groups at 50 yards, and when I do my part I can still keep groups below two inches at that range. Sometimes with some loads I can do considerably better.
The final test was on game. I had an opportunity to take a Corsican Ram in Texas with the handgun, and it performed well. I opted to use the scope, as the rams were skittish. The handgun carried well in a custom C. Rusty Sherrick belt holster (www.c-rusty.com), and when the moment was right I dropped the ram with one shot at 80 yards.
I am very happy with the results of this custom project. My Super Redhawk is still heavier than some would like for a trail or camp gun, but it suits me just fine. I am a big fellow and will gladly manage a little extra weight in order to have the added controllability, versatility and accuracy provided by this handgun.