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Ruger’s .30 Carbine Blackhawk Revolver
By Dick Metcalf, Technical Editor, Shooting Times.

onsidering all the different chamberings that Ruger has offered for its Blackhawk series of single-action centerfire revolvers over the past 50 years, some readers may be surprised to learn that right after the originating .357 Magnum (1955), .44 Magnum (1956), and .41 Magnum (1965) versions, the very next one introduced was the .30 Carbine Blackhawk—in 1967, even before the .45 Colt (which didn’t come along until 1971).

And today, right at the top of the New Model Blackhawk listings in Ruger’s catalog, the .30 Carbine is still there: Model No. BN31, 7 1/2-inch barrel, blue finish. (Admittedly, it has been in and out a few times over the years.)

According to Speer, the .30 Carbine (also commonly known as the 30 M1) easily ranks within the top 20 most frequently reloaded cartridges in the world. That’s somewhat hard to understand, given its rather mild performance profile as a rifle cartridge. But the .30 Carbine has an unusual history, and the cartridge comes into its own primarily as a handgun round.

The background dates to 1940. The U.S. Ordnance Dept. decided that a light carbine would have advantages over the 1911A1 .45 ACP pistol in many combat situations. The thinking on the eve of World War II was that in a coming conflict involving large numbers of civilian-soldiers, many ground troops, including mobile strike forces and midlevel officers, would be better off hitting something with a light, quick-shooting carbine than hitting nothing with the hard-to-master .45 sidearm they might otherwise have been issued.

After reviewing several designs, a Winchester gun/cartridge package was selected. The semiauto US 30 M1 Carbine was officially adopted in mid-1941, intended for troops who would need more firepower than the pistol alone but also required a more compact rifle than the M1 Garand. The M1 Carbine was not an assault rifle; it was an intermediate tool: “more than a pistol, less than a rifle.” The cartridge itself was a simple, downsized modification of the .32 Winchester Self-Loading round of 1906.

After the war many veterans remembered the light, fast-handling carbine with fondness. When the U.S. government began releasing surplus .30-caliber M1 Carbines for sale to civilians through the National Rifle Association at the moderate price of around $20, thousands of them went into sporting use. And combined with the simultaneous ready availability of inexpensive surplus ammunition, this initially established the .30 Carbine cartridge as a prime player in the commercial marketplace. All major ammunition makers today load the round.

The .30 Carbine was never a serious big-game hunting round, despite the many deer taken by its aficionados. Ballistically, the .30 Carbine round is in the same class as the .32-20 WCF and is appropriate solely as a small-game and varmint load. Its trajectory profile limits its maximum sporting accuracy range to about 150 yards. In fact, because of its low-end energy level, it is not legal for deer in many states. (I have always found a bit of black humor in that our national and state governments have no compunction in designating such cartridges as the .30 Carbine and .223 as perfectly humane military and law-enforcement duty ammunition for use on humans but find it inhumane to use them on animals.) On the other hand, the .30 Carbine is near-ideal for hunting smaller game such as javelina and eastern woodchuck and for close-in coyote calling and medium-range varmint shooting.

Ruger New Model
Blackhawk .30 Carbine
Single-Action Revolver
Manufacturer .....................Sturm,
Ruger & Co. Inc.
Lacey Place
Southport, CT 06490
Model .......New Model Blackhawk
Operation ..Single-action revolver
Caliber ..........................30 Carbine
Barrel length ................7.5 inches
Overall length .......13.375 inches
Weight, empty .............44 ounces
Safety ...........Transfer bar ignition
Sights ...................Adjustable rear;
ramped blade front
Stocks ............Smooth hardwood
grip panels
Cylinder capacity ...........6 rounds
Finish ..................Satin polish blue
Price........................................ $399

With this piece of ballistics history now in place, it should now make perfect sense why Bill Ruger would choose the .30 Carbine as the fourth cartridge for his Blackhawk revolver. The early 1960s were a golden era for U.S. shooting sportsmen. Handgun hunting and long-range handgun varmint shooting were in their initial growth phases. Ammunition in .30-caliber was plentiful, and both ammunition and firearms were still readily available by mail-order.

Ruger’s first entry into the handgun varmint-shooting market was the single-shot .256 Hawkeye pistol in 1963. The company pulled it from the market just two years later and soon after followed with the introduction of the .30 Carbine Blackhawk. The prescience of the switch is demonstrated by the fact that the .30 Blackhawk is with us still.

Surprisingly Fun

I came to reacquaint myself with all these facts a few months ago when I encountered a near-new-in-the-box New Model Blackhawk .30 Carbine revolver while reorganizing my gun vault. I remembered picking it up at a gun show in the late 1980s with the intention
of giving it a workout. The press of other assignments had left it gathering dust ever since, but the time finally had come.

A quick study of the mainstream loading manuals from Hodgdon, Speer, Sierra, Hornady, and Accurate Arms quickly demonstrated that the .30 Carbine was very much alive and well as a handgunner’s tool. It offered some real benefits for a shooter ready to go beyond factory ammunition and tailor some recipes specifically for the 7 1/2-inch revolver barrel. (Factory ammo is specced for the 20-inch carbine-length barrel.)

I went to work. Over several weeks I discovered the .30 Carbine is really easy to load for the Ruger revolver. I also realized that I had been missing a lot of fun and been way too kind to the local woodchuck population of PASA Park valley by not hunting with these light-bullet .30 Carbine varmint loads.

The chart shows a half-dozen of the best performing handloads I could come up with for my particular revolver plus a couple of factory loads for comparison. The 85-grain Sierra soft roundnose was a screamer, pushing near 2000 fps from this simple revolver. The best accuracy came from the Sierra 110-grain hollowpoint, at slightly less velocity than the maximum the Sierra book allows. In fact, the best accuracy with all bullets is about one step back from the maximum.

The .30 Carbine is an easy and forgiving cartridge to work with, but there are still a few things to keep in mind while loading and shooting. Like any high-pressure cartridge used in a relatively short-barreled handgun, it has a substantial muzzle blast, enhanced by the fast-burning propellants it favors most. At the same time, given the small caliber and light bullets, recoil is minimal. This is definitely a “shoot-all-day” tool.

Since the .30 Carbine headspaces on the case mouth, case length is critical to proper ignition. Ignition problems can be avoided by trimming all cases to a maximum length of 1.285 inches and using a taper-crimp die. In other words, treat the .30 Carbine the same as you would a 9mm or .45 ACP—with the light recoil, you won’t get bullet pull in the other chambers. Plus you need to use Small Rifle primers (as specified in all load manuals) to prevent pierced primers or cylinder lockup due to primer flow or case setback.

I also recommend carbide dies to eliminate the need for case lube, which if not totally removed will likewise allow cases to set back and retard rotation of the cylinder. Bullets weighing more than 110 grains are not properly stabilized at obtainable velocities. Save yourself the trouble; I’ve tried. And since velocity is the key here, why go with heavier bullets anyway?

Of all the propellants I tried, Hodgdon’s H110 was definitely the powder of choice for the .30 Carbine. All the manuals show it as providing the top velocity levels with all bullets. Its best accuracy will come with careful attention to consistent case length.

All the loads in the chart averaged under three inches at 50 yards from benchrest with iron sights and my 54-year-old eyes. When I saw how some of the better loads were running, I was tempted to put a scope on the gun but decided I wanted to leave it in its “natural” state. I’ve been in a “no-optics” phase lately (it’s a personal thing; I’ll get over it), and I have taken real satisfaction in working to get some 75-yard shots on woodchucks with this open-sight, single-action revolver.

After all, this is supposed to be about fun, right?

Shooting Ruger’s New Model Blackhawk .30 Carbine
(Type) (Grs.)
Sierra 85-gr. RN
Speer 100-gr. Plinker
Hornady 110-gr.
Sierra 110-gr. HP
IMR 4227
Sierra 110-gr. RN
Speer 110-gr. Varminter
Remington 110-gr. SP
Factory load
Winchester 110-gr. HSP
Factory load
NOTES: Accuracy is an average of five six-shot groups fired from a sandbag
benchrest at 50 yards with open sights.Velocity is the average of five rounds
measured 10 feet from the gun’s muzzle. All handloads used Winchester cases.
All handloads used CCI 400 Small Rifle primers, except the Speer 100-grain
Plinker handload which used a CCI 450 Small Rifle Magnum primer

This article was originally published in Shooting Times magazine in January, 2001.

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