January 03, 2011
The Sheriff tells the story of "SS1"
Back in the early 1990s I was attending a gathering of handgunners up in Colorado when I encountered one of the most interesting handguns I've ever held and fired. It was an Old Model Ruger .357 Magnum Blackhawk that had been converted to .44 Special. What is most significant about this sixgun is that it was built for Skeeter Skelton. Here is the story as told to me by John Wootters, premier gun writer and personal friend of mine and Skeeter's.
Skeeter's last .44, built on a converted Old Model Ruger Blackhawk, inspired the Sheriff and six friends to have their own copies of it made.
In the late 1980s Skeeter was hospitalized in Houston, Texas, being treated for the illness that would eventually take his life. Wootters, who lived in Houston, went to visit Skeeter as often as he could. On many of these trips Wootters also took along Bob Baer, an excellent pistolsmith and handgunner in his own right. As you can imagine, these three men spent most of their time talking about guns, hunting, and other important issues relative to things that go bang.
In the course of these conversations it was revealed that Skeeter wanted to build one more .44 Special revolver. And he wanted to use an Old Model .357 Blackhawk for this particular conversion.
Baer told Skeeter that he would begin looking for a suitable Blackhawk and that he would also be glad to do the conversion. Skeeter specified that he wanted the gun to have a 4 5/8-inch barrel, and that the action should be tuned for reliability and smoothness. In the course of time, a suitable Ruger was found, and the conversion work was begun. Unfortunately, Skeeter passed away before the work could be completed.
Some time after Skeeter's death, Wootters asked that the work be completed just as Skeeter had specified. For the grips, Wootters came up with a Dall sheep horn that he had found during a Canadian hunt that Skeeter had also been on. Wootters and Baer decided that this .44 should have a special serial number to commemorate their friendship with Skeeter. Working through Bill Grover at Texas Longhorn Arms, the gun was completed and marked with serial number "SS1."
Today, this .44 Special Blackhawk is one of Wootter's most prized possessions and is, in fact, the only handgun that I've ever seen him wear.
Shortly after seeing and shooting the Skeeter Ruger, I wrote the story up for publication in another magazine. And, as a result, several of us decided that this .44 Special tribute to Skeeter shouldn't end there. The group consisted of Wootters, Baer, Bart Skelton (Skeeter's son), John Taffin, Terry Murbach, Bill Grover, and me. We agreed that each of us would obtain an Old Model Ruger Blackhawk and have it converted. Part of the work on each gun would be done by Texas Longhorn Arms so that the revolvers could legally be given a new serial number. With Wootters owning number SS1, the subsequent guns would be numbered from SS2 to SS7. My gun is SS5.
I knew immediately that my Skeeter Skelton .44 Special was going to be built on a Ruger .357 Flattop. First of all, I think that those early Flattops are among the best single actions that Ruger has ever made. They had the fine XR3 grip frame that fit my hand perfectly. And these early Ruger Blackhawks came from the factory with a steel, adjustable Micro rear sight that continues to be one of the best sights ever put on a revolver.
Grover fitted a large-head cylinder pin to my gun, and he marked the top of the frame with "T.L.A. Inc., Richmond, Texas." The left side of the 45/8-inch barrel was stamped "Skeeter Skelton .44 Special."
The SS5 serial number was stamped on the bottom of the frame, just in front of the trigger guard. The cylinder chambers were tightly bored out to allow for optimal results when using cast bullets of .429-inch diameter. The barrel/cylinder gap was set at .0025 inch.
The most fun that I had on the whole project was when Grover showed me around his shop. Everything was neat as a pin, and he had drawers crammed absolutely full of every kind of single-action part imaginable. As he pulled open a drawer chock full of front sights, he magnanimously told me that I could have any front sight I wanted. My eye immediately came to rest on a King mirror-ramp front sight, and I quickly grabbed it up.
Years ago King built a ramped front sight with a Patridge blade that had a little circular metal mirror imbedded just behind the sight blade. This little mirror reflects sunlight onto the front sight blade, making it appear a little sharper in the sight picture. I am an avid reader of Skeeter's writings and knew he especially liked the King front sight. He had put it on several of his guns, including a 5-inch-barreled Smith & Wesson Model 27. Bart Skelton recently told me that Skeeter also had the King mirror-ramp front sight on at least one of his Colt single actions, too.
Well, you never heard the like of crying and moaning when Grover discovered that I'd picked out the only King mirror-ramp sight in his collection. Taking no pity on him at all, I quickly reminded him that he had promised I could have any front sight I wanted. And you could just bet a quart of Old Stump Blower that this was the sight that I wanted, hands down, end of discussion.
Grover finished my Skeeter Skelton .44 Special with a beautiful blue finish and a very smooth action job. The only thing the project lacked was a suitable set of grips. Obviously, the regular old garden-variety factory grips just wouldn't do on such a fine .44 sixgun. Taffin came through by presenting me with a set of smooth walnut grips with a beautiful grain pattern. I finished them out with a hand-rubbed oil finish.
My .44 Special was complete.
As most .44 Special fans know, there is a huge number of really good .44 Special handloads available. Ammo manufacturers are building some accurate factory loads, too. But you'll just have to forgive me if my Skeeter Skelton .44 Special has never fired any of them. Out of respect for Mr. Skelton, the only rounds through this particular .44 are those that he favored: a 250-grain Keith SWC bullet over 7.5 grains of Unique.
Nonshooters just wouldn't understand how a group of men could honor another with such special handguns. But the fact is that all seven of us were affected in various ways by the life of Charles A. "Skeeter" Skelton, lawman, gun writer, and shootist. And, besides, an accurate, short-barreled sixgun in .44 Special is just a darn good packin' gun. Skeeter knew that, and the rest of us found it out.
I was extremely pleased when Ruger recently brought back the .357 Flattop. It even has the steel Micro rear sight, although you'll have to find your own
King mirror-ramp front sight to go on the front end. My sincere hope is that Ruger will see the logic in offering the new Flattop in .44 Special. It would be a grand way to honor a wonderful old cartridge and one of the great men of the shooting fraternity, Skeeter Skelton.