A Thrilling .32

Ruger's new-for-2010 Blackhawk in .327 Federal Magnum is one terrific trail gun.

When Ruger and Federal brought out the .327 Federal Magnum cartridge in 2008 in the small-frame, 3-inch-barreled SP101, an immediate clamor went up. A lot of folks wanted the new cartridge to be chambered in a single-action revolver with a longer barrel. (I was one.) Some shooters even went so far as to have their single-action revolvers custom converted to .327 Fed. Mag. Well, they might have been better off waiting just a while because Ruger has announced a brand-new version of the Blackhawk in .327 with an eight-shot cylinder.


We got our hands on one of the very first ones to come from Ruger, and thanks to InterMedia Outdoors Editorial Director Jim Bequette, I got the nod to write this review for Shooting Times. When I saw the new wheelgun for the first time in mid-December 2009, I felt as though Christmas had come early. Some of you already know that I'm a big fan of .32-caliber cartridges and guns.

My initial thoughts about the new Blackhawk were, "I wish Ruger had put a longer, 7.5-inch barrel on it." But after I gave it some consideration, I decided that 5.5 inches might make the new Blackhawk the ultimate trail gun. And it is in that light that I evaluated the new revolver.


As far as my thinking goes about trail guns, four necessary qualities come to mind: power, accuracy, portability, and shootability.


Power
The .327 Federal's factory published data boasts .357 Magnum-equivalent ballistics. Some 100-grain factory ammo is said to produce 1,500 fps of muzzle velocity and 500 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, and that's in short-barreled revolvers. My range shooting established that the .327 in the longer, 5.5-inch barrel averages 1,530 fps for 85-grain factory loads and 1,624 fps for 100-grain loads measured 12 feet from the muzzle. Those velocity figures translate into 442 and 586 ft-lbs of muzzle energy, respectively. As the accompanying ballistics chart shows, the 5.5-inch barrel increases velocity over the 3-inch barrel by about 25 percent on average. (For more on the origins and initial offerings of the .327 Federal cartridge, see the February 2008 issue of Shooting Times or check out the articles at www.shooting times.com.)

Compared to previous ST reports on 5.5-inch .357 Magnum revolvers, the .327 Federal really does produce real-world velocities equivalent to, or in excess of, the .357 Magnum. Factory loadings of the .357 Magnum produce 1,295 fps on average for 110-grain bullets, 1,450 fps for 125-grain bullets, and 1,235 fps for 158-grain bullets. As for energy figures, the .327 produces on average about 10 percent less than the .357, but it still churns up enough energy to be effective as a man-stopper and for small- and medium-game hunting. I'm not sure I want to hunt deer with it, but it qualifies for handgun hunting deer in my home state of Illinois (minimum requirements are at least .30-caliber straight-walled case and 500 ft-lbs of muzzle energy.) According to a certain longtime ST writer and handgun hunter, the .357 Magnum is "just fine" for deer, so by extrapolation, the .327 should be effective as well, given that precise shot placement is imperative. (I have to point out that other writer's preference for 180-grain JHP .357 loads, which generate 1,180 fps of velocity and 560 ft-lbs of muzzle energy.)

Compared to the classic .32-20 cartridge, which is probably the most popular .32-caliber round in trail guns and has a long history of serving as a top-notch small-game, predator, and turkey round (as well as being used to take the occasional deer), the .327 Federal has more power. One of the favored .32-20 handgun "hunting" loads of late ST Handgun Editor Skeeter Skelton, who was a true champion of the .32-20, was 6.0 grains of Unique under Winchester's 100-grain JSP, and it produced a velocity of about 1,000 fps and a muzzle energy of 220 ft-lbs. That load is 600 fps and 300 ft-lbs less than the 100-grain .327 Federal factory load out of the Blackhawk. By the way, I must mention that Skeeter's handload is way over maximum according to my Lyman handloading manual, so beware. If you plan on using his old handload, back it off to around 4.1 grains of Unique for starting loads and work up carefully.

I think the .327 Federal will really shine as a small-game and predator cartridge in the new single action from Ruger. And it obviously will be fine for personal protection from unsavory two-legged predators one might encounter in the backwoods. After all, that's what the round was designed for, plus eight shots is a lot of firepower.

Accuracy
One source at Ruger told me that he had heard of a writer who produced a five-shot, 25-yard group that measured 5/8 inch with the new Blackhawk revolver mounted in a Ransom Rest. It was with a handload. I just happen to have a Ransom Rest and a grip insert for a Ruger Blackhawk, so I conducted my own accuracy test, but I fired factory ammo only. Three eight-round 25-yard groups with Federal's 85-grain Hydra-Shok load averaged 2.80 inches. Three eight-shot groups with the new-for-2010 85-grain JSP American Eagle load averaged 3.16 inches. Three eight-shot groups with the American Eagle 100-grain JSP loading averaged 3 inches. And three eight-shot groups with the Speer 100-grain Gold Dot load averaged 1.95 inches. That's not nearly as good as what that other writer achieved, but it's still pretty respectable, well under the accepted performance standard of 4 inches at 25 yards. And I should note that in every one of my eight-shot groups with each of the four factory loads there were two or three shots touching.

As we all know, just about every revolver cylinder has "good" charge holes and "bad" charge holes, so it is very rare to have all shots in a tight cluster. I think my results are a good indication of the Blackhawk's real-world accuracy.

Just for fun--and also to get a feel for its shootability--I fired the Blackhawk offhand at a 6-inch-wide swinging steel plate target placed at 25 yards. Before that, I dry-fired it enough times to get comfortable with the trigger pull, which, as everyone knows, has a bearing on how accurate a shooter is with a given firearm. My sample Blackhawk had a trigger pull of 4.5 pounds on average, according to my Lyman trigger pull gauge, and while that's not considered to be target-grade light, the pull was smooth and consistent. In actual firing, I hit the 25-yard swinging target every time I shot at it once I had figured out where to align the sights. I then took a couple of pot shots at an old tree stump out at about 50 yards. I wasn't as good at that distance (I hit the stump, but not exactly where I was aiming). I'm sure that was my fault and not the gu

n's. Aging eyes and iron sights sometimes don't go too well together! I'm betting that in the hands of my eagle-eyed compadres, the .327 Blackhawk would be darn accurate at 50 yards and beyond. Since I plan on adding this revolver to my personal firearms battery, I see that I will have to make the front sight more visible in order to make full use of the gun.

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Shooting Ruger's .327 Blackhawk

Factory LoadVelocity (fps)Extreme Spread (fps)Standard Deviation (fps)Muzzle Energy (ft-lbs)Recoil(ft-lbs) 25-Yard Accuracy (in.)
Federal 85-gr. Hydra-Shok 1559 112 37 459 2.8 2.80
Federal American Eagle 85-gr.JSP 1502 72 20 426 2.7 3.16
Federal American Eagle 100-gr.JSP 1612 39 12 577 5.3 3.00
Speer 100-gr. Gold Dot 1636 74 22 594 5.4 1.95
Notes: Accuracy is the average if three, eight-shot groups fired with the revolver mounted in a Ransom Rest. Velocity is the average of eight rounds measured 12 feet from the gun's muzzle. Energy is calculated by using the average velocities obtained by firing the gun. Recoil is calculated using a gun weight of 48 oz., the average velocities obtained by firing, and grains of powder as determined by pulling bullets from the factory-loaded ammo and weighing the charges on a Lyman electronic scale.

The new Blackhawk's cylinder holds eight, count 'em, eight rounds of .327 Federal Magnum. That's plenty of firepower for just about any handgunning chore.

Based on my shooting results, I'd have to say the .327 Blackhawk is plenty accurate for just about any handgun chore that might come up in the woods.

Portability
Obviously, when we're talking about a trail gun, we're talking about a lot of carrying of the handgun. For this a gun needs to be lightweight enough so as not to be a burden. It also needs to be compact enough so as not to be unwieldy. Well, the Blackhawk is not particularly lightweight. It weighs a measured 48 ounces, unloaded, on our postage scale. That's about 10 ounces heavier than a standard Model 1911 semiautomatic pistol, which just happens to be considered one of the most comfortable-to-carry full-size guns around. When loaded with eight rounds in the cylinder, the Blackhawk weighs in at 50 ounces. Even at that heavier weight, the Blackhawk doesn't seem to weigh me down.

I wouldn't describe the Blackhawk as "compact," and neither does Ruger. The Blackhawk is approximately 1.75 inches thick, 5.5 inches tall, and 11.38 inches long. Again, compared to a standard 1911, that's not too much bigger to be a burden. The Model 1911 generally runs about 8.75 inches in length, 1.5 inches in thickness, and 5.5 inches in height.

You might be asking, "Why didn't Ruger just put the .327 in the lighter and smaller Single-Six single action?" And that would be a reasonable question. After all, the Single-Six was chambered for the .32 H&R Magnum, which is basically the same case as the .327 Federal except the Fed. Mag. is about 1/8 inch longer. The answer would have to be because of the significantly higher pressures that the longer .327 Federal produces. Industry maximum average pressure (MAP) for the .327 Federal is a whopping 46,000 psi, whereas the .32 H&R Magnum is rated at 21,000 CUP. The .327 is even higher pressure than the .357 Magnum, which has a MAP of 35,000 psi. So, the larger and heavier Blackhawk is definitely the right way to go.

I've been carrying the Blackhawk in an antique Ruger flap holster for a few hours each day, and it didn't take very long for it to feel right at home on my hip. And it didn't get in the way of me performing my outdoor activities of haunting the woods and hiking the trails around my farm. More time atrail with it will tell, but if it proves to be too much for my belt, I can always secure it in a shoulder holster and distribute its weight across my chest.

Chambered in .327 Federal, the Blackhawk will also accept .32 S&W, .32 S&W Long, and .32 H&R Magnum rounds.

Shootability
What I mean by shootability is not necessarily accuracy. Rather, I mean how comfortable the gun is to shoot. That of cour

se involves the fit and the balance as well as the felt recoil.

The Blackhawk's weight makes it really easy on the recoil, even with the sharpest recoiling 100-grain loads. Recoil figures are about 20 percent less than comparable .357 Magnum loads.

As the new Blackhawk comes from the factory, it wears Ruger's rosewood grips. They look nice against the stainless-steel frame, and they are in fact quite nice grips, but they are a bit too thick for my medium-sized hands. Consequently, I found the gun's handle to be a bit awkward. I happen to have a set of Crimson Trace Lasergrips for a Ruger Blackhawk, and they are thin enough to make the grip feel more comfortable in my hand.

In my firing session, the new Blackhawk came up point-on every time I aimed it. I like to practice sight acquisition a lot with my favorite handguns, and you can bet that I'll be keeping this one on my desk (unloaded) and practicing sight alignment a lot.

I should also point out that the .327 Blackhawk also accepts the less powerful .32 H&R Magnum, .32 S&W Long, and .32 S&W rounds, which are great fun for meat-gathering for the stewpot and for just plain plinking. That's four chamberings for the same handgun.

So, the new .327 Blackhawk has .357 Magnum-equivalent power with considerably less felt recoil, it has tremendous accuracy potential, it rides well in a hip holster and shoulder rig, and it is one of the easiest to shoot magnums I have ever encountered.

And that's everything you need in a trail gun.

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.327 Federal Magnum Velocity & Energy

Factory LoadVelocity (fps)Muzzle Energy (ft-lbs)
Ruger Blackhawk, 5.5-Inch Barrel
Federal 85-gr. Hydra-Shok 1559 459
Federal American Eagle 100-gr.JSP 1612 577
Ruger SP101, 3.18-Inch Barrel
Federal 85-gr. Hydra-Shok 1346 342
Federal American Eagle 100-gr.JSP 1346 480
Notes: Velocity is the average of one full cylinder measured 12 feet from the guns' muzzles. Energy is calculated by using the average velocities obtained by firing the guns.

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