A Bit Of History
The basic design for the SA grip came from the cap-and-ball 1851 Colt Navy and was carried over to the 1873 Colt Single Action Army (SAA) or Peacemaker and is still used today. It is so traditional and so comfortable in the hand that Bill Ruger used it when he designed the Single-Six and Blackhawk revolvers in the 1950’s.
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There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth by Ruger lovers and gunwriters ever since Ruger replaced the original Colt 1851/Ruger XR3 grip frame size in 1963 with the XR3-RED (RED = redesigned) grip frame which is 0.0625″ wider and moves the hand 0.125″ further back from the triggerguard. Not as svelte as the XR3, perhaps, but it spreads the recoil over a slightly larger area for more comfort, and reduces middle finger battering by the triggerguard. Quite a good idea, actually.
Not everyone is totally pleased with the two-fingered grasp on the SA, though. A fair number of Colt SAA aficionados (our own John Taffin included) insist the longer grip frame from the Colt 1860 Army allows for a much better hold on the gun. The Army and Peacemaker grip frames are interchangeable and some, like John,
have the longer 1860 Army grip frames installed on their Peacemakers. When the Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum came out, it featured a 0.25″ longer grip frame, sort of like putting a Colt 1860 grip frame on a Peacemaker.
If you’re a Ruger fan and would appreciate a longer grip frame, you actually have two easy options. One is to put aftermarket “target” grips on your XR3-RED/XRN-3RED grip frame. They’re usually about 0.625″ longer, but usually fatter — which may or may not be a good thing. They also fill in the area behind the triggerguard to keep your fingers out of there, which is usually considered a good thing. The second option is to purchase a Super Blackhawk Hunter grip frame in either carbon or stainless steel from Midway, Gun Parts Corp. or Brownells (there are also other sources) and bolt it to your Single-Six, Blackhawk, Vaquero or New Vaquero. There are lots of YouTube videos and DVD’s that show how to remove and replace the grip frame (I like Larry Crow’s DVD’s).
Ideally, your new grip frame’s contours should be filed/ground/polished to match your gun where they join, but even if you do no more than polish it (and cold blue a carbon steel one), it will go on. Don’t forget to order a grip panel locating dowel and a set of grip panels and screw for it. If you want something snazzier than what Ruger offers, there’s always eBay, and a Google search shows websites for Ruger SA grip makers at least six pages deep.
One cool-looking style Ruger offers (also seen on some Colt SAA replicas) is the bird’s head. However, everything in the above paragraph about the difficulty of achieving a consistent grasp on the Peacemaker-style grip frame goes double for today’s bird’s head-style. One thing that helped was to put a set of BearPaw “Gunfighter” style walnut panels on my own bird’s head Vaquero that came with a 3.75″ barrel. They’re fatter toward the bottom and thinner in the middle than the OEM grip panels, and then get wider again toward the top. Eagle’s grip panels for bird’s head grip frames look a lot like BearPaw’s.
Yet, what Eagle calls “gunfighter grips” for standard frames are much thinner than OEM at the bottom and in the middle, then simply widen at the top. Go figure. The grip panels on the Talo special edition bird’s head New Vaqueros look a lot like the BearPaw and Eagle style, instead of the original old model Vaquero profile. Someone must have been paying attention to what actual users want!