Review: Mag-Na-Port Custom Ruger Blackhawk Convertible

by
posted on November 30, 2023
Horman Magna Port Ruger Right Lede

Mag-Na-Port International's signature barrel porting technique was developed by Larry Kelly in the late 1960s as a means to reduce the muzzle rise and levels of felt recoil generated by big-bore handguns. As a trained machinist, Larry used Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) to cut the ports. This method employs a series of interrupted, super-charged electrical pulses that are passed through a piece of carbon graphite which has been cut to the desired port shape.

The result is clean, precise trapezoidal ports without any burrs or damage to the barrel's factory finish. This porting process has proven to be effective for a variety of calibers and fire configurations useful to hunters, competitors and those who want their shooting sports hobbies to be more enjoyable. It put Mag-Na-Port on the map and has kept it there for over five decades.

Right-side view full length on white of Ruger Blackhawk single-action revolver wheelgun stainless steel wood gripsThis Lipsy's exclusive Blackhawk shipped with two cylinders, a 6.5" barrel and an adjustable rear sight.

Today, the company is operated Larry's son, Ken Kelly, who is an accomplished craftsman in his own right and an award-winning pistol smith. What some readers may not know is that Ken and his team can provide a host of custom handgun services. At the beginning of this single-action revolver project, I approached Ken with a request for the porting work. When, over the course of a few conversations, I learned that he would be willing to apply his talented hands to the entire gun, I said yes!

I developed a taste for firing 10 mm Auto ammunition through revolvers when I had the opportunity to evaluate the Ruger GP100 Match Champion in 2018. Using full moon clips to support the rebated rims, I found that revolvers chambered for 10 mm have the performance potential to be more potent than a .357 Mag. but without a significant increase in felt recoil. Double-action wheelguns with moon clips can also safely chamber and fire the slightly shorter and less powerful .40 S&W cartridge.

The Blackhawk's exterior features an overall matte finish with brightly polished appointments.The Blackhawk's exterior features an overall matte finish with brightly polished appointments.

This makes 10 mm double-actions dual-caliber handguns with a comparable level of ammunition flexibility as seen with rimmed, straight-wall revolver rounds like the .357 Mag./.38 Spl. or the .44 Mag./.44 Spl. It proved to be an enjoyable gun and ammunition combination which I continued to explore with a review of the 3"-barrel version of the GP100. Even with the shorter barrel, the 10 mm loads tested still generated muzzle energy averages hovering between 550 to 650 ft-lbs.

While I continue to be a big fan of the GP100, Ruger's single-action Blackhawk and Super Blackhawk revolvers are also among some of my favorites to shoot. William B. Ruger's interpretation of the Colt Single Action Army design blends the good looks and excellent balance of the original with a tough-as-nails construction, which is durable and reliable. Knowing that Ruger has offered single-actions chambered in 10 mm from time to time, I started looking for a Blackhawk to work with.

Grashorn's hand-fitted elk antler grips are easy on the eyes and useful in the field.Grashorn's hand-fitted elk antler grips are easy on the eyes and useful in the field.

But there's a catch that comes with shooting semi-automatic pistol cartridges from single-action wheelguns. The cylinders have to be bored to fit a specific cartridge. Double-action revolvers use moon clips to replicate headspacing a cartridge from the case rim, like a rimmed revolver round. But single-actions cannot accommodate moon clips because of the fixed cylinder, side loading gate and barrel-mounted ejector rod. The revolver would need to be dismantled every six shots fired.

Instead, single-actions chambered for rebated rimmed rounds headspace off of the cartridge case mouth. This allows for typical loading and unloading but limits the cylinder to a single cartridge size. Therefore, if .40 S&W is going to be fired from a 10 mm single-action revolver, it requires a second cylinder chambered specifically for .40 S&W.

The two Mag-Na-Port trapezoidal recoil-reduction ports are located to either side of Garza's brass beaded 2 Dog Custom front sight.The two Mag-Na-Port trapezoidal recoil-reduction ports are located to either side of Garza's brass beaded 2 Dog Custom front sight.

When I started this project, Lipsey's was still offering an exclusive model of the convertible Ruger Blackhawk (RUKBN-106X) of which shipped with a pair of fluted cylinders chambered in 10 mm Auto and .40 S&W. Sporting an all-stainless-steel construction, 6.5" barrel and adjustable sights, it was just what I had been looking for. This particular configuration has since been discontinued but they can still be found for sale around the internet.

When the Blackhawk arrived at Mag-Na-Port, Ken was kind enough to meet with me over the phone to discuss the work to be done. A 6.5" barrel had been selected instead of the 4.5" version so that there would be plenty of room for porting and barrel-length adjustments. We talked it over and settled on shortening the barrel to 5.5" for a handier balance, giving it an inverted crown, and a pair of trapezoidal ports located on either side of the front sight for recoil reduction.

An inverted crown was milled into the barrel after it was shortened from 6.5" to 5.5".An inverted crown was milled into the barrel after it was shortened from 6.5" to 5.5".

In regards to the sighting system, Ken made a recommendation that proved to be an excellent option. He suggested getting in touch with Fermin C. Garza to request one of his 2 Dogs Custom front sights. This tall, fixed-blade sight has a flat, square profile face that has been serrated to eliminate glare. Garza will fit this sight with a brass bead located at the top of the blade if requested. 

The front sight is then paired with a fully adjustable Mag-Na-Port Omega, or Double Bar, peep sight. This rounded peep contains a more generously sized aperture that features two sets of white hash marks. Much like an air bubble in a carpenter's level, the front sight's brass bead can be 'floated' up and down between the hash mark sets to adjust the sight picture for different distances without having to make adjustments to the rear sight's height screw. And just as Garza promised, it's a refreshingly comfortable sight picture to work with for those of us who need corrective lenses to aid in sight acquisition. I just wish I was a good enough shot to make the most of what this Garza/Mag-Na-Port sight configuration provides.

This revolver’s internal components were given an ‘action job’ to smooth operations and lighten the trigger pull.This revolver’s internal components were given an ‘action job’ to smooth operations and lighten the trigger pull.

With the barrel length, sights and porting worked out, we agreed most of the revolver's exterior would be treated to a glass bead process that results in what the company calls a Velvet Hone matte finish. To provide an eye-catching contrast to this non-reflective metal treatment, the smaller components were given a mirror-like, high-polish shine. This included all of the pins and screws, the ejector handle, cylinder base pin and the flutes of the cylinders. The .40 S&W cylinder received a band of polishing to visually distinguish it from the 10 mm cylinder. The hammer and trigger were also polished along their rounded surfaces. But the flats of these two components were jeweled, or polished with a small-circle pattern that catches the light like the facets of a diamond.

The Omega peep sight allows for the sight picture to be adjusted up or down depending on target distance.The Omega peep sight allows for the sight picture to be adjusted up or down depending on target distance.

At the heart of the custom work is Ken's action job which includes polishing and adjusting the action's internal components to smooth and lighten the trigger. The result is an impressively light and crisp trigger pull that breaks oh so cleanly with just a 2-lb. 11-oz. press of the trigger. Additional action work includes headspace check, cylinder alignment and timing. The forcing cone is inspected and adjustments were made accordingly throughout the built. The ratchet-side of the cylinders are usually stamped with numbers 1-6 for easy chamber identification. In this case, the cylinders were stamped with chamber markings, 10 mm and .40 S&W respectively.

Jeweling the sides of the hammer gives the revolver a bit more flash.Jeweling the sides of the hammer gives the revolver a bit more flash.

The last feature to consider was the grip. The factory installed rosewood grips were, of course, perfectly serviceable but still factory standard. Ken made another much appreciated suggestion. He directed me to Pat Grashorn, proprietor of Grashorn Gun Works, who specializes in North American Elk antler grips sized to fit a variety of handguns. I met with Pat over the phone who explained that he would like to have this particular Blackhawk’s grip frame shipped to his shop so that he could guarantee a tight, precise fit. We made arrangements to send the grip frame to Pat while Ken continued to work on the barrel and action.

You can almost see the author taking the photo of the brightly polished pins.You can almost see the author taking the photo of the brightly polished pins.

Customers can choose just how much of the antler "bark" (the rough brown texturing of the antler) the grip panels exhibit and whether or not they would like to have Ruger phoenix medallions installed. I requested grips with just a hint of bark, for a mostly smooth gripping surface, and omitted the medallions so that more of the antler would be visible. The result is a set of grips which look as good as they feel to hold. But unlike some natural materials, which are look-a-lot-use-a-little propositions, elk antler is a tough, durable material that can be used in the field like most hardwood grip sets.

The .40 S&W's .850" long cartridge case gets swallowed up in the 10 mm cylinder (Left) while the .992" case of the 10 mm protrudes too far from the .40 S&W  chambered cylinder (Right).The .40 S&W's .850" long cartridge case gets swallowed up in the 10 mm cylinder (Left) while the .992" case of the 10 mm protrudes too far from the .40 S&W  chambered cylinder (Right). 

At the shooting range, the Mag-Na-Port trapezoidal ports, the shorter 5.5" barrel length, the Blackhawk's weight and profile all blended together to achieve the just-right 'Goldilocks’ Zone' of balance in the hands and recoil management that I was hoping for. The ports provided a noticeable reduction in muzzle rise and felt recoil with both calibers. The .40 S&W practice-grade and premium loads felt more like shooting target-grade .38 Spl. loads. With the 10 mm cylinder installed, felt recoil was more of a manageable shove to the shooting hand instead of a kick. This contributed to quicker, easier follow-up shots.

Test ammunition consisted of practice and premium grade .40 S&W and 10 mm loads.Test ammunition consisted of practice and premium grade .40 S&W and 10 mm loads.

For formal, bench-rested accuracy testing at 25 yards, the custom Blackhawk was fired for five consecutive, five-shot groups using one practice-grade and one premium-grade load for each chambering, making a total of four loads tested. I was curious to see how the .40 S&W and 10 mm loads would compare, particularly in regards to accuracy. Here are the range results using loads manufactured by Double Tap, Federal Premium and Hornady

Custom Ruger Blackhawk accuracy specification table graph numbers ballistics chart testing ammunition .40 S&W 10 mm AUTO

Seeking out the services of a qualified gunsmith, along with quality custom components, is all about getting the gun you want. Simply stated, I got just what I wanted thanks to the companies and craftsman that teamed up to produce this Mag-Na-Port customized Ruger Blackhawk. In fact, this revolver turned out even better than I had hoped. It has the appeal of a customized display piece with the rugged, reliable construction of a hunting and field revolver tough enough for regular trips into the great outdoors.

This fully customized revolver was comfortable to work with using a bench rest or while shooting off hand.This fully customized revolver was comfortable to work with using a bench rest or while shooting off hand.

As is usually the case with custom guns, I probably made some creative choices with this particular project that some readers will not agree with. Never fear, because there are plenty of revolvers to choose from in a variety of calibers out there just waiting to be customized. Ken Kelly, working alongside the top-notch Mag-Na-Port International team, will gladly work with you to build the revolver that you prefer.

stainless steel ruger barrel stamp

Base Revolver Specifications:
Distributor
: Lipsey's Distributor Exclusive Ruger New Model Blackhawk Convertible (#0474)
Manufacturer: Sturm, Ruger & Co.; ruger.com
Action Type: single-action, centerfire revolver
Chambering: 10 mm Auto/.40 S&W
Barrel: 6.5" stainless steel
Frame: stainless steel
Rifling: six-groove, 1:16" RH-twist
Sights: Adjustable Rear, Fixed Front
Trigger: 2-lb. 11-oz. Pull (After Action Job)
Cylinder Capacity: six rounds
Overall Length: 12.37"
Height: 6.5"
Width: 1.70" (Cylinder)
Weight: 45.9-oz. (Unloaded)
MSRP: Discontinued

Custom Gun Services and Components:
Mag-Na-Port International Custom Work: $1,083
Fermin C Garza 2 Dogs Custom Front Sight with Brass Bead: $148
Grashorn Gunworks Elk Stag Grip: $215

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