Ruger Bird's Head
January 03, 2011
Patterned after the popular Vaquero model, Ruger's (Dept. ST, 200 Ruger Rd., Prescott, AZ 86301; www.ruger-firearms.com) new variation of the .32 H&R Magnum Single-Six sports a "bird's head" grip reminiscent of an Old West hideout revolver and fixed sights. The bird's head Single-Six is available either in blued and case-colored finish or in highly polished stainless steel that looks almost like glossy nickel plating. I recently put one through a shooting review, and like the several other .32 Single-Sixes I have fired over the years, this new one was a top performer.
The review gun was the high-polish stainless model fitted with black micarta grips that nicely contrast with and complement the gun's appearance. The short 45/8-inch barrel features the usual full-length ejector rod housing. The gun weighs about 34 ounces, which is hefty enough to tame the relatively light recoil generated by typical .32 Magnum ammunition.
I discovered the virtues of this great little cartridge soon after a 51/2-inch-barreled Ruger Single-Six caught my attention several years ago. I mounted a Bushnell 2X scope on the topstrap and packed it and a new Oehler chronograph along with a couple of boxes of test ammo to the range. I fired five rounds of a jacketed bullet handload followed by five more loaded with a different charge weight behind a gaschecked cast bullet--both at the same bullseye 25 yards downrange. While aligning the crosshairs to fire round number seven, I noticed light streaming through a ragged hole in the target. After completing the second string of five rounds, I retrieved the target and found that I'd shot a 3/4-inch, 10-shot group! And I'd used two quite different .32 Magnum handloads. The results have often been just as good shooting the four subsequent .32 Magnum Single-Sixes I have acquired.
Shooting Ruger's Newest .32 Single-Six
The author enjoyed the new Single-Six's reliability and accuracy; it averaged 1.35-inch 10-shot groups at 30 feet with 17 loads.
Because of these previous escapades, assembling handloads for this review was relatively simple. Comprehensive testing of factory ammo is simple because only Federal Cartridge and Black Hills load .32 Magnum--one jacketed and one lead bullet load from each manufacturer. Federal makes its own brass while Black Hills uses virgin cases from Starline. Dies are available from most of the major reloading equipment firms, and all of the necessary components are readily available. Hornady, Sierra, and Speer make five different jacketed bullets. The national and regional bulletcasters offer a myriad of bullet types and weights. You can cast your own using mold blocks from Lyman, RCBS, Redding, and Lee Precision. You'll find reloading data for more than a dozen propellants in manuals published by Accurate, Speer, Hornady, Sierra, Alliant, Lyman, and others. The SAAMI pressure limit for .32 Magnum ammo is significantly less than typical magnum handgun levels in deference to the obsolete, smaller-framed H&R and Charter Arms revolvers; however, you can push the envelope a little bit when you handload for the more robust (read: larger-framed) revolvers made by S&W, Dan Wesson, and Ruger.
As you would expect, the review gun works just like any other New Model Ruger revolver. First, leave the hammer down and open the loading gate to release the cylinder. Rotate the cylinder clockwise to align each chamber with the frame opening and stuff up to six rounds in the cylinder. Closing the gate reactivates the lockwork, and the gun can be fired.
Because it's a single action, you have to cock the hammer to fire each round. When you're ready, pull the hammer fully to the rear, align the sights on the target, and squeeze the trigger.
Extracting fired brass is simple to accomplish. Open the gate, rotate the cylinder to align each chamber with the frame opening, and push the ejector rod fully to the rear to extract the case. Release the spring-loaded rod, turn the cylinder to the next chamber, and repeat the cycle until the gun is empty.
As many ST readers know, where you point a fixed-sighted handgun may not be where it shoots--and not just because you're shaky as you try to hold the gun steady. The situation is exacerbated when the front sight is polished bright stainless without any sharp edges. The fixed-sight Single-Six's rear sight is actually pretty good because Ruger milled and slotted the rear of the topstrap to provide a sharp, square notch.
My groups with the new bird's head Single-Six typically shot a little low and to the right of the six o'clock hold on the target. However, most loads grouped quite well if I did my part holding the sights steady while pressing the trigger. The review gun's trigger pull measured about five pounds and released crisply with just a little creep. As the photo shows, my best group--with the Black Hills 85-grain JHP ammo--measured just under an inch. Several targets showed eight or nine rounds grouping about an inch plus or minus a quarter-inch. Most groups centered along a three-inch vertical dispersion, depending on bullet weight and velocity.
After The Shooting Of course, after the fun part is done, the gun should be cleaned and stored properly. Begin by removing the grip panels and cylinder. Then use a pressurized solvent (e.g., Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber) to sluice away the surface oil and grime. A few generous blasts down the cylinder chambers and barrel will flush out any loose powder and bullet particles.
Ruger Bird's Head
Single-Six .32 H&R Magnum
Manufacturer: Sturm, Ruger & Co.
Operation: Single-action revolver
Caliber: .32 H&R Magnum
Barrel length: 4 5/8 inches
Overall length: 9 1/2 inches
Weight, empty: 33 ounces
Safety: Transfer bar
Stocks: Black micarta
Capacity: 6 roun
Finish: High-polish stainless
Next, fit a slotted jag and a cotton patch to a cleaning rod and dip it into solvent (I use a 50-50 mixture of Kroil and Shooter's Choice solvent). Swab the cylinder chambers and barrel generously and repeat using more clean patches as needed. Replace the jag and patch with a bronze-bristled brush and vigorously scrub the cylinder chambers and barrel to remove the bullet and powder residue. Inspect the gun thoroughly. If bullet jacket or lead deposits still remain in the cylinder or the barrel, use a close fitting jag and a cotton patch liberally smeared with Brownell's JB Bore Compound to scrub the stubborn areas vigorously. It's never failed me.
Finally, wipe the gun down with a lightly oiled or treated cloth and store it securely. Ruger ships every new handgun in a hinged, injection-molded plastic case along with a bright yellow locking cable assembly and an instruction sheet describing how to install it. Achieving the suggested "Figure 8" configuration with the cable looping around both the upper and lower sections of the frame (with the cylinder removed) proved not too difficult to accomplish. Just frustrating. Why? Because when you finally snake the rather stiff, coated cable around the frame (after removing the cylinder and cylinder pin, of course) and snap the plug end into the lock, you will, unfortunately, find the gun no longer fits the case!
Storage options? You can put the assembled gun, sans cable lock, in the factory case--which can't be locked externally without modifying it. You can also store the loose parts in the otherwise empty case and the fully secured (i.e., cable wrapped and locked) cylinder-less handgun elsewhere. However, per the instruction manual, the keys should be kept in yet another location. If you have more than one Single-Six, you must somehow track the nearly identical cylinders because they are not marked in any way to match the serial number of the gun to which they're fitted. And they are not interchangeable. I decided to forego using the cable contraption and just store the gun and the cable lock and keys in the factory case (the way Ruger shipped it) and lock up the whole package in my gun safe.
In terms of fit and finish and shooting performance, the new bird's head Single-Six provided what I have come to expect from a Ruger firearm--rugged reliability, fine accuracy, and classic good looks. The gun is best suited for plinking at targets or small game and varmints at relatively short range. Because of the light recoil, the beginner cowboy action shooter might find it an attractive choice. Shooters who desire a compact, low-recoil yet powerful centerfire revolver will take the little bird's head Single-Six to their hearts.
NOTE: All load data should be used with caution. Always start with reduced loads first and make sure they are safe in each of your guns before proceeding to the high test loads listed. Since Shooting Times has no control over your choice of components, guns, or actual loadings, neither Shooting Times nor the various firearms and components manufacturers assume any responsibility for the use of this data.