There are those who believe that 1873 was the most significant year in the history of firearms development. Why? Because Colt’s Single Action Army revolver chambered in 45 Colt and Winchester’s lever-action rifle in caliber 44-40 were both being introduced. Colt's introductions were selected for use by the United States Army, thus ensuring a high demand from the civilian population for both gun and caliber—which quickly became known as a true fight-stopper. A couple of decades later, some desktop thinkers and strategists at HQ downsized the Army’s standard issue handgun caliber—until a real-life encounter in the Philippines reiterated the importance of the 45’s capabilities.
In 1911, recognizing the efficiencies of smokeless powder and the advantages of semi-auto pistols, the Army officially switched to the smaller M1911 pistol. It was chambered in the rimless 45 ACP round, which had a shorter case than the old Colt round, but still fired a .45 caliber bullet. Unfortunately, America entered World War I with an insufficient number 1911s on hand, so major handgun manufacturers started producing their large frame revolvers set up to fire 45 ACP. The cartridges were contained in half-moon clips that would allow proper ejection of fired rounds and a quick reload of fresh ammo. To no one's surprise, after the war’s end Americans wanted the weapons their doughboys had used overseas.
The 45 ACP revolvers did have one problem. Inserting loaded ammo into and removing empty 45 ACP cases from the half moon clips was a distasteful task, so in the early 1920s, ammo manufacturers introduced the 45 Auto Rim cartridge. The 45 AR is a 45 ACP case with a rim thickness equal to the combined thickness of the 45 ACP rim and the half moon clip. The new .45 caliber round worked perfectly in the surplus Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers and essentially matched the performance level of the original 45 ACP load. Smith & Wesson's introduction of its Models 1950 and 1955 allowed for the use of more powerful 45 Auto Rim loads, but case capacity was still limited by the short (less than .9") case.
In 2015, some six decades later, Ruger has cracked the code, in a way. The company's new Redhawk is capable of handling both 45 ACP ammo (in Ruger’s full-moon clips) and the much longer 45 Colt round, rather than the limited capacity 45 AR. Given the amount of metal used to build the Redhawk, serious magnum performance became available in a revolver that will also shoot conventional 45 ACP ammunition. With its heavy, 4.2-inch barrel, large machined frame and 1.78-inch diameter 6-shot cylinder, the Redhawk is an impressive stainless steel revolver. A crane lock in front of the cylinder gives added strength to the big double action. But with the small, rounded grip frame and nicely fitted grip panels, the Redhawk carries comfortably, yet with easy access, under an outer jacket or vest. The adjustable rear sight and dovetail mounted front sight with red insert enabled both precise long range shooting and fast acquisition for close encounters of the dangerous kind, including those occurring in low light conditions. Fire single or double action, your choice, depending on circumstances.
As you might expect, the Redhawk’s cylinder is much longer than those on the older, dual-caliber revolvers that fired 45 ACP and 45 AR. The extractor face has been made thinner than on the regular 45 Colt Redhawks. The new Redhawk will handle both 45 ACPs in Ruger’s moon clips and individual 45 Colt rounds, but the cylinder will not close on the thicker rims of 45 AR ammo. Due to the slightly different shape of the Redhawk’s extractor face, it also won't accept the existing full moon clips that have been used in S&W revolvers for years. Keep in mind the 45 AR round was designed to fit in existing 45 ACP revolvers, whereas the Redhawk revolver had to be slightly modified to accept 45 ACP ammo. It’s not a bad trade; you can shoot one of the world’s most popular defense rounds in either gun, but with the Redhawk you have a power option well beyond anything that can be managed in the shorter cylinder revolvers.
Rifling twist rate in the new Redhawk is 1:16, which is much faster than the 1:24 rate in the Super Redhawk and Super Blackhawk Bisley. This encourages the use of heavier bullets, like 400-grain slugs. Garrett Cartridges of Texas now offers 3 different variations of 45 Colt and is known for heavy, hard cast, deep-penetrating bullets, I decided to take one their loads pig hunting. Unfortunately as I’ve aged, my tolerance for recoil has diminished. Using the Redhawk as delivered with the small, concealable wood grips, I promptly settled on the 265-grain load for my pig hunt. In fact, most of my big bore shooting/hunting is now done with slightly heavy-for-caliber hard cast bullets that have a muzzle velocity of somewhere around 1000 fps. With bigger, softer grips on the Redhawk, I’d be OK using the 365- and 405-grain bullets Garrett offers in 45 Colt. But keep in mind, the new Ruger is a dual purpose revolver, and the smaller grip frame makes it easier to handle in a defensive situation, where 45 ACP ammo will most likely be used.
Several days hunting in Texas failed to produce a pig during daylight hours, so I was unable to score with the new Redhawk. However a visit to the Chain Ranch in Oklahoma did present a low light opportunity using the 45 Garrett ammo in a S&W Model 460 revolver equipped with a SureFire pistol light mounted on a Novak installed rail. Naturally on the one occasion I’m properly equipped for a night shoot I’m presented with a daylight opportunity that could easily have been made without the light. Murphy's Law does exist.