|April - May 2001
Volume 36, Number
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
Soon after Bill Ruger designed and
began producing his famous Standard Model .22 autoloading pistol in 1949, he
began working on the companys 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 cartridges
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 guns appearance. And last, the pl
grips have to go! If its 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. Federals 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 Idahos 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 PMCs 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
wifes 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.
Rugers 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.