Gun Talk: Convertible Revolvers Expand Options

COLT NEW FRONTIER convertible single-action revolver handles both .22 Long Rifle and .22 Mag cartridges.


Want to increase the fun factor while expanding the kinds of ammo a particular firearm can shoot? Consider what are known as convertible revolvers.

These revolvers have at least two cylinders tuned to the action, each capable of handling a different cartridge or cartridges.

Being able to shoot more than one kind of cartridge through the same gun is always intriguing, especially when there are ammo supply problems when sometimes one cartridge is available while the other is not.


In these days of supply line hang-ups that result in sometimes instant shortages, it is a good idea to think ahead and take advantage of some of the options available in the gun world.

With that in mind, what are known as “convertible” revolvers make a lot of sense. Although it there have been double-action convertibles like the author’s H&R Model 676, the truth is that because of their design, single-action handguns make the process of switching cylinders from one cartridge to another both quick and simple.

(Note: single-action revolvers require that the hammer be manually cocked before firing. Cocking the hammer also rotates the cylinder. Double-action revolvers can be fired by merely pulling the trigger, which both cocks the hammer and rotates the cylinder. Generally, double-action revolvers also can be fired single-action.)

Various companies have offered convertible single-actions over the years. For example, I have a Colt Frontier Scout .22 Long Rifle/.22 Magnum convertible from back in the ‘60s (the Frontier Scout line was produced from 1957 to 1970).

But these days, Ruger is the leader in this field. Ruger offers .22 Long Rifle/.22 Mag; .38 Special (New Model Single-Six), .357 Mag and 9mmP (Luger) (New Model Blackhawk); and .45 Colt/.45 ACP (New Model Blackhawk) convertibles in various barrel lengths.

A convertible effectively provides the performance of two or more guns for the price of one. In the case of Ruger centerfire convertibles, the cost new with two cylinders is $100 more than the price for the same model with only one cylinder.

And since the revolver comes with both cylinders from the factory, both are tuned to the action. It is possible to have a gunsmith fit a second cylinder to just about any single-action revolver, but the cost to do that, counting the cost of the cylinder and fitting it, is generally much more than the difference in price for a factory-made convertible when new.

I have had quite a bit of experience with the Ruger .357 and .45 convertibles in both hunting and defense rolls. They perform superbly and are a lot of fun.

.45 ACP (left) compares to .45 Colt. The Ruger Blackhawk convertible can shoot both of these cartridges.

Switching cartridges is a simple as switching cylinders, which can be done without tools in a matter of less than a minute.

My .45 Ruger Blackhawk convertible has seen most of its use as a coup de grace .45 Colt gun on big game hunts. However, there was a time when I used it as a primary firearm while kicking pigs out of the thick cover.

For that, it was excellent. It pointed quickly and afforded enough power to put the pigs down authoritatively at short distance. I used it as a carry gun for a while before opting for the S&W 629 in .44 Mag for that use.

The .45 ACP cylinder for that Ruger Blackhawk convertible has been used mostly for plinking, although it also would work fine for defense.

Ruger convertibles are offered in different barrel lengths. For the .45 I opted for the 4 5/8-inch barrel because I knew that I would be getting in and out of hunting trucks and carrying it a lot more than I would be shooting it, so shorter seemed handier. And there is not a lot of performance lost from either the .45 Colt or the .45 ACP with a barrel of that length, compared to a longer barrel.

9mmP (left) compares to .38 Special, center, and .357 Magnum. All three can be shot with the Ruger Blackhawk convertible, which comes with two cylinders — one for .38 Special/.357 Mag and the other for 9mmP (Luger).

My other Ruger convertible is really versatile because it can handle .38 Special and .357 Mag in one cylinder and 9mmP (Luger) in the other cylinder. By being able to handle those specific cartridges, there is a good bet that if there is any ammo available at all, that one of those three will be among the stuff at hand.

And all three can serve well in both hunting and defense scenarios. For example, I have used the .38/.357 cylinder with .357 Mag ammo to take javelina during Arizona’s HAM (Handgun, Archery and Muzzleloader) seasons.

With .38 Specials, it has accounted for a number of rabbits and the 9mm cylinder goes into the gun when it is plinking and general shooting time.

Because of the ways I figured I would use this convertible, I opted for the 6½-inch barrel. It carries well in a belt holster and takes advantage of the magnum ammo performance with the longer barrel, which also provides a longer sight radius. All good things.

Over the years, I picked up two other convertibles. One is a Colt Frontier Scout with 4 5/8-inch barrel with one cylinder for .22 Long Rifle and the other for .22 Mag.

I don’t use it for much of anything anymore except teaching new shooters. It is relatively small and light and seems to work well for new shooters with small hands or not much upper body strength.

22 Long Rifle cartridge (left) as well as the .22 Mag (right) can be shot in .22 convertible revolvers.

The other is a bit more of a curiosity. It is an H&R Model 676 with 4½-inch barrel with two cylinders (one for .22 Long Rifle and the other for .22 Mag) and also is a double-action revolver.

Switching the cylinders is easy and quick, since this model is basically a single-action design that also can be shot double-action. They were made from 1975 to 1980.

Although .22 Long Rifle and .22 Mag can serve defensive needs, for most hunters and shooters, that is not the main reason to have and use them. Rather, they come into the picture for plinking and small game hunting.

Regardless the cartridge combinations available with any of the convertibles, they definitely offer the shooter/hunter more options, both in the realm of ammo supply and in the hunting fields and shooting ranges.

Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a WON Guns and Hunting Guns Editor. His column generally appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

VERSATILITY RULES with the Ruger Blackhawk convertible in .38 Special, .357 Mag with an extra cylinder for the 9mmP (Ruger). This is a serious handgun that also is a lot of fun as just a shooter and can serve on defense.