In 1955 Sturm, Ruger and Company came out with a single action revolver they called the Blackhawk. The Blackhawk was designed to be an improvement of the old Colt Single Action Army; it had better steel, better springs, and a stronger frame than the Colt. The revolver was very successful and was in production from 1955 through 1972. In 1973 further improvements were incorporated into the design and the Blackhawk was transformed into the New Model Blackhawk.
As you can guess the Blackhawk was never referred to as an Old Model or a Three Screw during its production run. Those names cam about after the New Model arrived on the scene. As most shooters are familiar with the New Model, I’ll try to describe the traits of the older version. Though the New Model Blackhawk and the Blackhawk look very similar there are some very significant differences between the two.
The Blackhawk had a very simple stamping on the left side of the frame. The current guns have the stylized Ruger and the words New Model have taken the place of the logo.
The barrel stamping was much simpler too. New Models have the warning label stamped into the barrel.
In the above picture you can see most of the different characteristics from old to new. There is a ‘half cock’ position in the older model; this frees the cylinder to rotate for loading and unloading. The hammer is flat-faced and there is no transfer bar safety (old models should only be loaded with five rounds). The grip panel has the older, ‘skinny’ eagle logo. You can also see the plunger behind the trigger instead of the current trigger return spring.
How the older model gets its name: On the right side of the revolver you can see three screw heads. The New Models have just two pins. Here you can also see the early five digit serial number. This puts this revolver’s date of manufacture sometime during 1966.
Now you’re probably asking yourself ‘Why are these older revolvers so sought after by shooters and collectors?” Well, speaking just for myself, the older models have a slightly more complex internal mechanism, the half-cock adds a step to reloading and unloading, the lack of transfer bar makes this gun a five-shooter and yet despite all that, the trigger pull makes it much smoother to shoot than a New Model. I have bought fixtures to improve the trigger pull and done extensive stone work on internal parts to smooth and lighten the trigger on New Models and still can’t match the trigger on the old models.
The New Model Blackhawk is definitely an improvement over the original. Its safer, easier to load, simpler, and allows the shooter to actually carry it loaded with six rounds. However, I’m not about to get rid of my Three Screw. For one I enjoy having and shooting a revolver that’s older than I am and that smooth trigger is just too nice to let go.