Custom guns are truly special. When a true gunsmith enhances a factory firearm, the results deliver a better shooting – and oftentimes a more visually appealing – gun. Embellishments can be both handsome and functional. A masterpiece becomes an heirloom when we are lucky enough to acquire a custom firearm.
Ruger makes more firearms in the United States than any other gun manufacturer today. Their extensive lineup of long guns and handguns combine to out produce all others. Ruger has reached this accomplishment through their amazing ability to bring forth small runs of guns in all kinds of configurations and calibers with apparent ease. Niche marketing allows Ruger to tap into enthusiasts who desire a slightly different (some might say oddball) permutation of features and deliver that specific combination. Ruger’s ability to change their assembly procedures to create models in short runs and then switch back again to the standard runs in a cost-effective manner is to be admired.
The Shootists have had small runs of semi-custom firearms made by Ruger to celebrate the organization’s anniversaries every five years. The 35th Anniversary in 2020 is commemorated with a custom revolver that pairs Ruger’s ability to create a small batch of 100 guns with the remarkable talents of custom gunsmith Bobby Tyler.
The Shootists 35th Anniversary Bisley Single Seven
Ruger has previously offered the Single Seven .327 Magnum with a Bisley grip and a blued finish with a 5 1/2-inch barrel. However, this Shootists 35th Anniversary single action Bisley is stainless steel with a 4 5/8-inch barrel. Serial numbers are SH35-001 through 100, defining the seven-shooters as Shootist Holiday 35th Anniversary numbers 1 to 100.
The guns were delivered to Bobby Tyler’s custom gunsmith shop in Friona, Texas in their hard plastic cases. That’s where Bobby worked his magic on them. The stainless steel Bisley hammer and trigger were color case hardened (the hammer is lower since the Bisley target style grip aligns the shooter’s hand lower on the grip and the trigger is further to the rear in the trigger guard than a standard single action’s trigger). The factory gap between the barrel and the cylinder was tightened to .002-inch, which helps to provide superior accuracy. Tyler’s full action job included timing and the balance of the hammer and trigger. Tyler also performed a complete accuracy package to assure tight groups.
A Belt Mountain base pin was fitted in place of the factory pin and has the number 35 engraved on its front face. A gentleman named Fermin Garza offers custom front sights and his blued and serrated version is mounted by Tyler in place of the original from Ruger. It gives the Single Seven a unique overall profile that befits its custom nature. The muzzle of the stainless Ruger was finished with a handsome target crown. The muzzle is one of those features that RevolverGuys notice and gaze upon while exclaiming “oohs” and “ahhs” like watching fireworks.
Tyler fitted elk stag handles to each grip frame and their hand fitting is obvious. American elk stag handles are a favorite of mine and the bark on these sets them off perfectly. Each barrel was engraved with “Shootists 35 Years 1985 – 2020” and the back strap has their motto, “Men Who Stand in the Gap.” A small, iconic silhouette of Shootist founder John Taffin is engraved on the top of the cylinder frame. It’s a nice touch and tip of the hat to long time gun magazine writer Taffin.
The whole package comes together as a unique and handsome custom single action revolver. The natural antler stocks match well with the satin stainless steel finish and the color case hardened hammer and trigger (Tyler is the only alchemist on the planet to figure out how to case harden stainless steel) compliment the black sights and the dark highlighted engravings.
The .327 Federal Magnum Cartridge
The .327 Federal Magnum cartridge was introduced in 2008. It’s a stretched version of the .32 Harrington & Richardson Magnum, which in turn was a longer take on the .32 S&W Long, which…you guessed it…was a bit longer than the .32 S&W Short. All four cartridges can be safely fired in a .327 Magnum revolver. As bizarre as it may sound, the .32 ACP (or do you prefer the European designation 7.65mm?) semi-automatic pistol cartridge can also be fired in a .327 Magnum. That makes a rather neat trick of five cartridges in one handgun.
The .32 H&R Magnum came out in 1984, with guns made by Harrington & Richardson and cartridges made by Federal. The concept was to provide .38 Special power in a lower recoiling cartridge. A byproduct was the fact that five shot .38 caliber revolvers could hold six shots of .32 caliber cartridges. While Harrington & Richardson went by the wayside just a few years later, Ruger, S&W, Charter Arms, and others continued to make .32 H&R Magnum revolvers in both single action and double action models.
The Ruger single action chambered in .32 H&R Magnum became one of those guns with a cult like following. Shooters found it to be very accurate, especially when custom reloaded with cast bullets. Badgers, jackrabbits, groundhogs, bobcats, and other game fall easily to the hits from the fast moving .32 calibers rounds. Since it’s a flat shooting bullet, distances are lengthened from which accurate hits can be made. Mounting a handgun scope on a Ruger .32 H&R single action revolver made a handy package capable of taking small game with head shots at considerable distances without ruining the meat.
The .327 Magnum is even better at shooting accurately at longer distances and it still chambers the .32 H&R Magnum cartridges, just like a .357 Magnum digests .38 Specials. Its maximum loaded pressure of 45,000 psi is around twice that of the .32 H&R.
The .32 S&W Short was introduced around 1878. The .32 S&W Long came out around 1896. Both of these are lead round nose bullets of relatively low power, designed for small revolvers from the century when the bullets were first brought out. They have no real purpose today for self-defense since much better bullet designs with more punch are readily available. However, shooters seem to stumble upon old boxes of this ammo here and there. Guns and ammo in these two ancient calibers still turn up in sock drawers when their elderly owners move to a retirement home or pass away. I have several old boxes of the stuff and now I can shoot these light loads up with glee in this .327 Magnum.
I’ve shot both Colt Bisley (named after the Bisley shooting range in England) and Ruger Bisley revolver frames in the past. However, both were large framed handguns shooting powerful loads in .44 or .45 caliber. My large hands didn’t take kindly to the heavy recoil and my middle finger’s knuckle suffered the most with painful raps that hurt for an hour after shooting. However, I’d never fired the smaller frame Single Six/Single Seven with the Bisley grip frame.
I set out all five boxes of the different cartridges this Ruger could shoot. I started by sighting in with Federal American Eagle 85-grain jacketed soft point .327 Magnum. Bobby Tyler had sighted the gun at 25 yards from a standing offhand stance and his grouping was 1 ½-inches. That’s very impressive shooting and better than I can do. He used Buffalo Bore ammunition, which is on the high side of powerful stuff.
I found I needed to lower the rear sight a bit to get my hits where they needed to be with my preferred center hold. Fermin Garza’s custom front sight was easy to see in bright sunlight with its horizontal striations cut cleanly into the steel. The thickness was excellent and quick to line up with the excellent factory Ruger rear sight.
The 2 pound, 7 ounce trigger pull was light with just the slightest over travel that was imperceptible after it let a round loose. The Bisley grip positions the gun and its sights higher in the hand than the standard plow handle single action grip. It’s a target style grip that positions the trigger for placing the tip of the trigger finger right where it should be. The hammer is easy to reach with its down swept spur. I did find that the gun needed to be repositioned after each shot if I didn’t concentrate hard on not letting it slip. An entire lifetime of shooting standard grip single actions is likely the cause and entirely my fault. I’m used to letting the gun roll in my hand so I can cock the hammer again with my thumb.
The grip is thick from the elk stag stocks, but they fit my big hands well. A friend with smaller hands shot the Single Seven Bisley and he found it difficult to wrap his hand around the thick grip.
Recoil from the .327 Magnum has an impulse different from other magnum calibers. There is muzzle blast and the report is loud (I could tell, even with electronic hearing protection). It lets you know you’re shooting a magnum cartridge with some serious muzzle velocity (1400 fps from Federal’s website for this 85-grain bullet). However, felt recoil to the shooter’s hand is mild. In a snub nose double action, I understand better how this cartridge would be easier to fire rapidly compared to a .357 Magnum in the same gun.
My shooting hand’s middle finger did not suffer the indignity of pain as it did with larger Bisley frames. The combination of a smaller frame for the Single Six/Seven and the lesser recoil of the .327 Magnum provided me with a pain free shooting experience.
Loading and unloading the Single Seven was fast due to the cylinder’s quick and easy rotation. Opening the loading gate is all that is required to load this revolver (unlike Colt or its clones that need to have the hammer pulled back to half cock). Each of the seven cylinder chambers line up by spinning the cylinder and then backing it off slightly. The cylinder stops in the perfect spot to slip a fresh cartridge into a chamber or to punch an empty case out with the ejector rod. Seven chambers instead of six means you don’t have to move the cylinder much to line it up properly. Bobby Tyler honed each chamber so that even after the gun was dirty from being shot, it still loaded and unloaded like it was freshly cleaned.
The Belt Mountain base pin is made from hardened steel to prevent long-term wear. It is also contoured with an hourglass shape that makes it effortless to pull forward for removal, compared to the factory pin. It adds a small, custom touch to all single action revolvers and also prevents the pin from pulling out under heavy magnum loads in larger caliber guns.
Like all modern “New Model” Ruger single action revolvers, this Single Seven has a transfer bar safety. The gun cannot fire if dropped on its hammer or if the hammer were to be struck by some object while in its resting position on the frame. When cocked, the transfer bar rises up and transfers the hammer’s strike to the frame-mounted firing pin. This means that all seven chambers can be safely loaded and carried. Bobby Tyler’s expertise at tuning the trigger pull pays off, despite the interaction of the transfer bar.
I have a couple holsters made for Ruger Single Six revolvers and this Single Seven fits right in since they’re both the same frame. At our cabin in Tennessee, I have been carrying a S&W Model 40-1 in .38 Special, loaded with a CCI .38 shotshell as the first round, backed up by four 110-grain hollow points. We have cottonmouth and copperhead snakes around the lake and in the tall grass fields. This Single Seven would be an interesting choice for daily carry around the cabin if only there were .32 caliber shotshells available. I really like them for poisonous snakes and then I could load up the other six chambers with .327s. Henry makes their lever action rifle chambered for the .327 Magnum to pair up well with rifle/pistol combo too.
Shooting the Single Seven Bisley on my Okie rotating plate rack (eight 8-inch steel plates on a rack that spins, similar to the Texas Star 5 plate spinning target) was all kinds of fun, even if I only had seven rounds for eight plates. I found the Ruger fast to cock and aim and the big target sights, with Garza’s custom front sight, were quick to align and follow the spinning plates for hits.
It was interesting to load up the cylinder with one round of each caliber, in descending order of power. The .327 barks and announces its power while still maintaining recoil much lower than a .357 Magnum. Then the .32 H&R Magnum lets you know it has some abilities to hit hard, but it’s definitely easy to tell that it has less power than the .327 Magnum. The .32 S&W Long lets loose with a pop and you can tell it’s just not a serious cartridge for small game. For target practice, shooting up an old box of this stuff that you got when an acquaintance gave it to you is terrific…but that’s about it. The .32 S&W Short…well, see what I just said about the Long and knock another hundred feet per second off of that statement.
Having fired the .32 ACP in several pocket semi-automatics from the early 1900s, I expected more from the diminutive caliber. Of course, a vintage Walther PPK or Colt 1903 have steel slides moving back and forth and perceived recoil is a result of all that mechanical action. In this revolver, the .32 ACP felt in-between the .32 Long and the .32 Short.
Another Caliber in the Safe
The aesthetics of the revolver are pleasing to my eye. The matte/satin stainless steel finish works well with the dark accents of the engravings, the hammer/trigger, and the sights. A polished, bright and reflective finish would be too much for me on this revolver.
Thank goodness Ruger wisely chose to move their “warning” and address to the underside of the barrel where it pretty much disappears. If that billboard was still on the side of the barrel, it would take away the pleasing look of all their single action revolvers made today. The un-fluted cylinder adds rugged style to any revolver and that attribute proves itself here with the Single Seven.
I had read the adventures of some RevolverGuys out west in Idaho who utilized their .32 H&R “Maggie” Rugers to take small game at impressive distances. The cartridge’s allure attempted to seduce me into a purchase. But my pragmatic side kept me from adding another caliber to my gun safe.
Gun distributor Lipsey’s has offered several limited run Single Seven revolvers over the years, taking full advantage of Ruger’s capabilities. Last year a Single Seven was presented in blued steel with an aluminum grip frame and 4 5/8-inch barrel. This particular version of the .327 Magnum came from the mind of Richard Mann and also featured an X/S V-notch rear adjustable sight and matching big dot front sight. Setting off the revolver’s serious appearance is an un-fluted cylinder and smooth, black micarta stocks fitted with Ruger medallions.
This gun really appeals to me. It was customized from the factory with some useful attributes like the lighter weight grip frame and excellent sights. When the Shootists 35th Anniversary revolvers were announced, my decision was made for me. But the more I shoot the Bisley, the more I keep thinking about the Lipsey’s exclusive version. I mean, hey, now I’ve already got the .327 Magnum cartridge stocked up, right? So what’s another gun in the safe for a caliber I now already have?
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