The dawn of modern Ruger revolvers occurred in 1979, with the creation of the Ruger Redhawk, Ruger’s large-frame double-action revolver.
The Redhawk was the answer to Smith and Wesson’s N-frame, with the same solid frame design as the Security-Six but enlarged for use with big-bore cartridges. However, they also added a locking latch at the front of the cylinder. Paired with the lock at the rear, the Redhawk is one of the strongest double-action pistols available.
The Redhawk has been a favorite of handloaders ever since, as recoil junkies have been able to stuff more powder in .44 Magnum and .45 Colt pistols than any Smith and Wesson could possibly take. To this day, it’s a wildly popular gun for handgun hunting or for carrying in a Ruger Redhawk chest holster in bear country.
In 1984, Ruger added Bisley models across the Single-Six and Blackhawk line.
“Bisley” refers to the National Shooting Centre in Bisley, a rural village in Surrey, England. Surrey is a very rich rural/suburban county near London; Bisley itself is about 40 miles from Buckingham Palace. (It’s said to be high in the running for the snobbiest place on earth.) The National Rifle Association of England (which is a thing, believe it or not) has held shooting matches there since the late 1800s, including pistol matches. Colt released a target model of the Peacemaker with a flatter grip backstrap and target sights, dubbed the Bisley to commemorate the shooting range and matches there.
Bisley pistols have long been renowned for ease of accurate shooting, and Ruger introduced the first of their Bisley models. They proved very popular with handgun hunters and target shooters, and have remained in the lineup ever since.
By the early 1980s, Ruger knew the Security-Six was going to need revising. While stronger than other .357 Magnum pistols, shooters who only shot .357 Magnum were reporting faster than normal wear.
Ruger took the Security-Six and added the locking crane from the Redhawk. They then changed the grip frame to a plug-style frame rather than the traditional revolver frame. The frame is totally enclosed by the grip, so you can use rounded grips for easier concealed carry or larger target grips as you see fit.
The revised model was released in 1985 as the GP100, which quickly established itself (and has remained) as the toughest .357 Magnum on the market. It’s built to shoot full-house .357 every day of the week, twice on Sunday, and keep on coming back for more.
The Super Redhawk, with a reinforced barrel and frame, followed in 1987, which has remained a favorite of handgun hunters since its introduction as the Super Redhawk has frame notched for mounting scope rings.
In 1988, Ruger launched the SP101, a small-frame counterpart to the GP100 with a five-shot cylinder, but featuring the double-locking cylinder to handle full-house magnum loads without issue. The SP101 is slightly larger and definitely beefier than the standard snubby, but is still compact enough to be easily carried. It has few adornments, with fixed sights and simple rubber grips, but has remained a staple CCW revolver since its release.
A few years later, the Ruger Bearcat was reintroduced with a transfer bar safety, along with – to the delight of Cowboy Action Shooting enthusiasts – the Ruger Vaquero.
The Vaquero, however, is something like a Colt SAA clone, though with some revisions. The frame of the first generation model is slightly larger than the Peacemaker, the New Model Vaquero (released in 2005) is almost the same size. All models have a transfer bar safety, allowing for all six cylinders to be loaded and carried safely.
The New Model Vaquero, though, has thinner cylinder walls and subsequently should not be used with handloaded or overpressure ammunition. The intent for the Vaquero has always been for Western enthusiasts rather than for Magnum junkies, as the Blackhawk and Redhawk pistols are more for that purpose.
Every model mentioned above is currently in production, with a number of additional variants that have come along in recent years.
The biggest developments in recent years have been the Redhawk Super Alaskan and the Ruger LCR.
The Super Alaskan is a snub-nose variant of the Super Redhawk, with a 2.5-inch barrel. Intended for use as a backup gun in bear country, the Super Alaskan is available in .44 Magnum, .454 Casull and Ruger’s own .480 Ruger, essentially a shortened and slightly down-loaded .475 Linebaugh.
The Ruger LCR is a thoroughly modern concealed carry revolver, with a polymer lower frame and black steel upper. The base model is a five-shot .38 Special snubby, with easily the smoothest DA triggers among snubnose revolvers. The LCR is an exercise in “everything you need, nothing you don’t” with a top-strap notch rear sight and black front blade sight…and little else to speak of. The base model is DAO, but a hammer-fired model – the LCRx – can be had as well.
Ruger has also added the GP100 and SP101 Match Champion models, with target grips, upgraded sights, different chamberings and other appointments. A number of 10mm models – GP100, Redhawk – have been added as well.
In early 2019, Ruger announced the edition of the Wrangler revolver, a budget-friendly take on the Single Six. Six shots of .22 LR, in black, silver or bronze Cerakote finish, and for less than $300. Perfect for plinking.
Ruger has also added a number of “convertibles” to their lineups, pistols that are capable of shooting multiple calibers from the same pistol. Everyone knows about .38 Special and .357 Magnum, as well as .44 Special and .44 Magnum, but Ruger’s convertible revolvers also allow users to shoot 9mm from .38 Special/.357 Magnum pistols, and .45 ACP in pistols chambered in .45 Colt.
Blackhawk convertibles include a special cylinder machined for use with moon clips (for 9mm or .45 ACP) and the Redhawk .45 caliber model comes with a pre-faced cylinder for use with the clips.
From plinking to concealed carry to handgun hunting and all points in between…there’s a Ruger revolver for you in there somewhere.