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Rifle Magazine
April - May 2001
Volume 36, Number 2
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 210
On the cover...
This issue is only available on CD-ROM.The new stainless steel Ruger Single-Six is chambered for the .32 H&R Magnum. Mountian lion photo by Ron Spomer. Purchase the CD-ROM here
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Soon after Bill Ruger designed and began producing his famous “Standard Model” .22 autoloading pistol in 1949, he began working on the company’s second handgun, the great Single-Six. The Colt Peacemaker had not been produced since before World War II and demand was incredibly high for single-action revolvers. Instead of copying the Colt, Ruger improved it with the addition of music wire coil springs, better steels and an adjustable rear sight, which resulted in one of the most reliable and rugged handguns ever produced. Shipments began in 1953, and it was decades before the company could keep up with demand.

The Single-Six functioned identically to a Colt Single Action with the hammer being brought to the half-cock mode, which allowed the cylinder to turn for loading and un- loading. And just as in the Colt, the chamber under the hammer had to be left empty to prevent an accidental discharge if the handgun were dropped or if the hammer were to receive a slight bump, otherwise it would often fire.

In 1972/73, the Single-Six underwent the transition to the “New Model” that featured a totally new mechanical design. The new action incorporated a transfer bar that allowed the revolver to be carried fully loaded with a round under the hammer without the possibility of accidental discharge if it were dropped or received a blow to the hammer.

With the exception of the three frame pivot screws being replaced by two pivot pins, external appearance remained basically the same. However, to “free” the cylinder for loading and unloading, the loading gate is simply opened, depressing the cylinder latch. This method is safe and allows the hammer to remain in the down position for loading and unloading. The firing pin never makes contact to cartridges unless the hammer is deliberately cocked and the trigger pulled. Like its predecessor, the New Model Single-Six has proven to be one of the most durable and reliable handguns ever built.

In 1984 Harrington & Richardson teamed with Federal Cartridge to introduce a new cartridge known as the .32 H&R Magnum. It was basically a .32 S&W Long lengthened to 1.075 inches, and guns so chambered could also fire .32 S&W or .32 S&W Long cartridges. Federal factory loads drove a 95-grain lead semiwadcutter (SWC) at 1,030 fps or an 85-grain jacketed hollowpoint (JHP) at around 1,100 fps. The new cartridge was entered into SAAMI with a maximum average pressure of 21,000 CUP.

By 1985 Ruger began offering its Single-Six in .32 Magnum and later the Bisley became available. This was a match made in heaven, as this is about the largest cartridge that can fit in a Single-Six without going to a five-shot cylinder. In other words, this handgun was of perfect size and weight for the smallish magnum round but required handloading to take full advantage of the cartridge’s potential.

The Ruger SA was much stronger than the H&R revolvers, and +P loads generating 30,000 cup were safe in the new Ruger. This changed the personality of the cartridge from rather mild to a flat-shooting, hard-hitting small game revolver with modest recoil. For example, a 100-grain Keith style cast SWC or a 100-grain JHP bullet could be driven to over 1,400 fps from a 5 1/2-inch barrel using Hodgdon H-110 or Alliant 2400.

In 1996 Ruger quietly discontinued production of the Single-Six and Bisley Model .32 Magnums. This was a sad day as the little Ruger definitely filled the large gap between the .22 rimfires and the .38 Special/.357 Magnum revolvers. Even if one was not a handloader, the .32 Magnum offered better performance than the great Colt Single Action Army revolver chambered in .32-20 WCF when it too was limited to factory ammunition. Moreover, the Ruger sixguns were readily available at an affordable price.

In midyear 2000, Sturm, Ruger & Company announced a new Single-Six in .32 Magnum, but this model would feature fixed sights like its popular Vaquero and would be available with a 4 5/8-inch barrel only. Finish is stainless steel or blued with the test gun being the latter.

It is an attractive sixgun with a few notable changes from previous Single-Sixes. First, like guns produced from 1953 to 1963, the ejector rod housing is finally steel, rather than that awful looking painted aluminum that appeared in 1963. The one-piece grip frame, which includes the trigger guard and backstrap, is also made of steel. Incidentally the grip frame is marked XR-3 but is shaped identically to the newer XRN-3RED and should not be confused with the earlier XR3 grip frames found on Ruger single actions (Blackhawk Flattops and Single-Sixes) from 1953 through 1963. The frame is chemically colored, and the grips are white plastic with the Ruger emblem. Overall it is an attractive handgun with clean lines.

The barrel cylinder gap is set at .006 inch, and there is very little cylinder end shake. The forcing cone is cut smooth and long and should assist in good accuracy. The chamber throats measure .310 inch, which seems rather tight since the barrel groove diameter slugs at .311 inch and jacketed bullets are running .312 inch. The cylinder is .017 inch larger diameter and .020 inch longer than a Single-Six chambered in .22 caliber. The chambers are not countersunk and feature a slight bevel at the rear.

A highly popular handgun that has been in production for nearly a half century may be hard to find fault with, but there are a few things that could be improved. First, the grip frame should be changed to feel exactly like the original Colt SA, or at least simply bring back the original XR3 grip frame. This puts the shooter closer to the gun and hammer spur (for faster follow-up shots) and also reduces the roll in the hand during recoil. The “new” grip frame should also be steel but with the “fat” or excess metal removed to keep the sixgun trim and lightweight. A longer hammer spur, shaped like the original Colt Peacemaker, would also be a worthy improvement.

The so-called case colors are rather dull and appear to be chemically applied with a couple blotches on the frame. A better effort would certainly help the gun’s appearance. And last, the pl…pl…plastic grips have to go! If it’s not illegal to put such “things” on a good single action, it should be. Not only do they not look right, but they also are prone to breakage, as witnessed on several Vaqueros fitted with the same grip panels. Plain walnut, properly shaped and fitted, or black rubber would be much better options. In spite of these few criticisms, I am elated Ruger has brought this fine sixgun to market and hope it will make another run of Bisley .32 Magnums.

There are plenty of bullets available for handloading the .32 Magnum as Speer, Hornady and Sierra offer several jacketed designs ranging from 85 to 100 grains in .312 inch. For the target shooter, there are 90- to 98-grain swaged lead wadcutters available for low velocity loads. Commercial bullet casters, such as Oregon Trail, Bull-X or National Bullet, offer 95- to 100-grain SWC or 115-grain flatnose (FN) designs. For those who prefer to cast their own, several bullet mould companies offer 90- to 100-grain Keith style moulds or 115- to 118-grain FN .32-20 WCF style moulds that generally work well in the H&R Magnum. Starline (1-800-280-6660) offers unprimed .32 H&R Magnum brass factory direct, which is very strong and of good quality.

The only real handloading hitch has been with the dies. For whatever reason, most expander balls measure .312 inch, basically the same as the jacketed bullets available. This is insufficient bullet pull for best accuracy and consistent velocities. The problem has been encountered with Hornady, Lee and RCBS dies but is generally an easy problem to cure by simply turning the hardened expander ball down to .307 or .308 inch, maximum. (If you lack the proper tools to turn this hardened part, most die makers will adjust it for you, or a machine shop can turn it down in just a couple minutes.)

The best performing propellants are those that are commonly used in any other straight-walled magnum revolver case. For example, if high velocity is desired, then Hodgdon H-110, Winchester W-296, Alliant 2400, Accurate Arms AAC-9 or Vihtavuori VV-N110 will typically give the best results. For midrange loads, propellants with similar burning characteristics to Alliant Unique or Hodgdon Universal Clays are generally best. And for the cowboy competitor, small charges of fast-burning powder such as Winchester W-231, Alliant Red Dot or Hodgdon HP-38 under a lightweight cast bullet should prove perfect for this game. Regardless what propellant is used, standard Small Pistol (non-magnum) primers have always given the best results, as powder charges are so small the magnum primers tend to raise chamber pressure prematurely.

From the Bench

The new Ruger proved accurate at 25 yards, as most handloads dropped into less than 2 inches, with several loads going into less than 1 1/2 inches. The single most accurate load consisted of a Lyman 311316 cast bullet, a 115-grain gas check, backed by 11.0 grains of H-110 for a velocity of 1,231 fps. As long as I could do my part, this load consistently dropped five shots into one to 1.1 inches and with further experimenting would probably perform better. Eleven grains of H-110 is a compressed charge, and 10.5 grains gave similar results without as much effort to seat bullets.

It is important to keep in mind that several loads in the accompanying table were developed specifically for the strong Ruger Single-Six and should never be used in any other type of revolver. For H&R or similar type revolvers, it is recommended to reference a loading manual that limits data to SAAMI specifications of 21,000 CUP.

At this writing (December 2000), Federal factory .32 Magnum ammunition is temporarily unavailable and therefore had to be omitted from these tests. Federal’s Public Relations Manager Mike Larson assures me this situation is brief, and they should be available by the time this article appears in print. In years past I have tested the two Federal loads, a 95-grain lead SWC at an advertised 1,030 fps and an 85-grain JHP at 1,100 fps. From a Single-Six with a 6 1/2-inch barrel, they produced within a couple fps of their advertised velocities. What velocity they would have achieved in this particular Single-Six remains to be seen.

The only .32 H&R Magnum factory ammunition available at this time is offered by Black Hills and consists of a “cowboy” load with a 90-grain cast bullet at just over 750 fps and a second load consisting of an 85-grain JHP at an advertised 1,100 fps, which produces 954 fps from the short-barreled Ruger in Idaho’s 15 degree winter weather. Accuracy was good as they grouped into 1.50 and 1.35 inches, respectively.

This was also a good opportunity to test PMC’s two .32 S&W Long factory loads. The first, a traditional 98-grain lead roundnose clocked 724 fps and grouped into 2.15 inches. The second load, a lead wadcutter, clocked 603 fps with an extreme spread of just 7 fps and grouped into 1.6 inches. If these loads were fired in a revolver chambered for the .32 S&W Long, they would likely have performed even better, as this would have cut down on the distance to engage the rifling and would have helped align the bullet with the bore.

Ruger has given the little Single-Six enough front sight to allow sighting in with about any load. Most 85- to 100-grain loads printed 4 to 7 inches low at 25 yards with my firm grip. However, with my wife’s easier grip and lighter hands and forearms, the same loads raised the point of impact 3 to 4 inches. This is still low enough to allow proper sight-in by carefully (and slowly) filing the front sight down for about any shooter. The 115- to 118-grain bullets printed higher (depending on velocity) but were still low enough to allow proper sight-in. The windage was close but printed slightly to the left with several loads.

To date over 500 rounds have been fired through the new Ruger without any malfunction or misfires.

Ruger’s latest Single-Six is certain to become popular with cowboy action competitors who are looking for the lightest possible recoil for fast follow-up shots. For those of us who just enjoy accurate, traditional looking single actions to hunt small to medium game, the Ruger .32 H&R Magnum is a great choice. It is an ideal gun/caliber combination to train young children after they have mastered the inexpensive and low recoiling .22 Long Rifle. Unfortunately for me, my five-year-old son is already calling the test gun “his” and making plans to take it hunting. Obviously there is hope for the next generation of shooters.

Lead Head Bullets
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