Fans of the .44 Remington Magnum owe a debt to Elmer Keith. Keith was a cigar-smoking, Stetson-wearing westerner who first wrote the “Gun Notes” column for this magazine. He was a proponent of bigbore sixguns and liked to load the antique .44 Special with lots of gunpowder. Keith convinced Remington and Smith & Wesson to collaborate, and in 1956 the .44 Magnum and the S&W Model 29 were born. Twenty-four years later, Ruger introduced the Redhawk double-action revolver, and it would come to be regarded as one of the strongest-built .44 Magnum sixguns you could buy.
For the next 32 years, the Redhawk was a popular carriage for Keith’s creation, but in 2012 production abruptly ceased. According to Kurt Hindle, product manager at Ruger, “Redhawk production was stopped in order to reprocess it so that it could be run on the same line as the Super Redhawk. Some time back, we did a reprocessing of the Super Redhawk, and it became much easier to make, but it clearly showed how much work the Redhawk needed in order to consistently deliver product to our customers.” Some consumers feared that the Redhawk was gone forever, but in late 2013 production resumed.
Hindle said, “The new version is nearly identical to the original. The Redhawk always had a very good trigger pull, and that was maintained. The biggest differences are that they are more consistent gun to gun and that we are capable of making them every day without missing a beat in making Super Redhawks. Right now, we offer five Redhawks: four in .44 Magnum and one in .45 Colt.”
The Redhawk is all stainless steel. Available barrel lengths are 4.2, 5½ and 7½ inches with weights ranging from 46 to 54 ounces. The cylinder measures 1.8 inches in diameter, and the frame is constructed without sideplates. From any angle or opinion, the Redhawk is a big, rugged-looking handgun. It has to be big and rugged to house six .44s, which are loaded to 36,000 psi and capable of pushing a 300-grain bullet to more than 1,300 fps from a 5½-inch barrel.
Like all Redhawks, the 5½-inch-barreled test gun supplied by Ruger was equipped with a fully adjustable rear sight and a changeable, semi-dovetailed, black, ramped front sight with a red insert. Redhawks in 5½ and 7½ inches come with smooth, richly red-colored hardwood grips, and the 4½-inch versions are fitted with Hogue Monogrips. All have a flat, grooved rib on the top of the barrel, but on the 7½-inch Hunter Model the rib is machined to accept Ruger scope rings. The stainless steel frame and barrel have a brushed finish and were appreciatively devoid of sharp edges. Though it’s not a carry gun, this is a nice touch.
Like other Ruger revolvers, the Redhawk incorporates the transfer-bar safety. For those unfamiliar with this concept, the transfer bar is a plate that extends up between the hammer and the firing pin when the revolver is fired. The hammer actually falls on the plate, which impacts the firing pin. The safety provided is that an impact to a cocked or uncocked hammer will not result in a strike to the firing pin unless the trigger is pulled to the rear; pressure on the trigger is what pushes the plate — the transfer bar — up between the hammer and the firing pin. Additionally, the Redhawk cylinder locks up at the front, rear and bottom to ensure more positive alignment.
The trigger pull on a Redhawk, both double action and single action, has always been considered good, probably in no small part due to the single trigger and hammer-spring mechanism. The new version is no exception. Though heavy at 6½ pounds, the single-action pull was incredibly crisp with only about 1/16 of an inch of overtravel. The double-action pull bottomed out a Timney trigger-pull gauge; it should come in at about 11 pounds. However, the trigger glided through its travel without any grittiness or bumps.
For those who’ve never fired a .44 Magnum handgun, there will be a revelation; it roars like a lion just shot in the butt with a load of double-ought and bucks like the broncos Keith used to ride in his youth. The .44 Magnum is a serious cartridge, but with the Redhawk you’ll find the muzzle blast more disconcerting than the recoil. The Redhawk handles the snap of the 1,000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy very well.
From a sandbag rest at 25 yards, you could consistently put five shots into 1½-inch clusters, and the revolver showed no real preference for any certain load. That said, the fireball and muzzle blast from the 180-grain Remington load left our staff with the impression that a hand grenade had just detonated. Compared to the Federal and Winchester loads, recoil was similar, but the ball of fire from the Remington load was like something a wizard would throw at a dragon. The concussion was equally supernatural.
After 300 rounds, G&A is confident that the new Redhawk is as sound as the old one. The real question should probably be what you could possibly want a handgun this powerful for. Sure, the allure of owning and shooting a revolver chambered for one of the most formidable handgun cartridges is there. If you’re a serious handgun hunter, your choice of a Redhawk in .44 Mangum makes sense, too. The cartridge has power and reach; Keith claimed to have killed a mule deer at 600 yards with one.
To appraise the big-game hunting potential of the 5½-inch Redhawk, we placed a 5-inch square steel target at 30 yards for a kill zone. Our test staff planted our backsides against a tree and, with arms resting on our knees, took six shots at the plate. Any misses were more a reflection on shooting ability than the revolver’s potential, but we were happy with an average of five out of six hits. Moving back to 50 yards, our hit percentage dropped to 50.
Where the real appeal of the stainless Redhawk and the .44 Magnum cartridge might be is as a backcountry bear defense sidearm. Though it might very well suffice, whacking an irritated brown bear with a .357 at 10 feet just does not seem like it would convey your message with the same conviction as if you had delivered it with a .44.
This bear defense concept needed testing, so a grizzly target was mounted on an MGM Attack Target. This target was designed to replicate the Tueller Drill, where a bad guy charges you from 21 feet, covering the distance in about 1½ seconds. If you are capable of putting three or even two well-placed shots into the grizz target before it gets to you, you could reasonably depend on the 5½-inch Redhawk for that purpose.
We stepped in front of the MGM Attack Target, slipped the Redhawk out of the Galco DAO holster and held it at the low ready. (Only a fool would be within 21 feet of a brown bear with his handgun in a holster.) The go switch was pushed, and the bear target charged. We raised the robust revolver, sidestepped and hammered the trigger three times. Three holes you could cover with your hand appeared in the bear’s head. We ran the drill several more times, and the results were similar. Admittedly, it was great fun, too.
We’re not sure what Keith would’ve said about the new Redhawk, but he did speak favorably about the original in his March 1980 review for this magazine. Though we prefer sixguns with a bit less rock and roll, G&A is glad to see the Redhawk back in production. We bet a lot of Keith’s disciples are, too.
- <h2></h2>A 5½-inch, 49-ounce revolver that packs six rounds of .44 Magnum is indeed a handful. The <a href= "http://www.ruger.com/products/redhawk/models.html" target= "_blank">Ruger Redhawk</a> is, by any standard, a suitable bear defense or big-game revolver.