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The Ruger Vaquero: The Modern-Day Cowboy Revolver You Won’t Forget

The Ruger Vaquero: The Modern-Day Cowboy Revolver

Image source: Ruger

The Ruger Vaquero was introduced in 1993 by Sturm, Ruger & Company for the fast-growing sport of cowboy action shooting. This single-action, six-shot revolver was based on an earlier model that Ruger had introduced in 1955, the Blackhawk. The Blackhawk, in turn, was a modernized version of the colt single action Army revolver of 1873. Blackhawks had been allowed in the “modern” category of cowboy action shooting, as the revolvers were equipped with adjustable sights, but these sights kept the revolvers out of the general categories.

The Vaquero was made with fixed sights, similar to the Colt. The lower price point and the overall quality of the revolver appealed to shooters who either did not want to take an expensive (and possibly antique) firearm into a match or those who were not satisfied with the quality of imported Colt “clones” that were on the market.

Ruger incorporated a transfer bar in the Vaquero for safety reasons. Colt Single Action Army revolvers had an inherent safety problem: With the cylinder fully loaded, the fixed firing pin attached to the hammer rests on the primer of a loaded round. Dropping or striking a revolver loaded in this manner can cause it to discharge, which is why traditionally, Colt SAAs are loaded with five rounds and the hammer resting on an empty chamber. Ruger had addressed the issue in 1973 on the Blackhawk and Single six revolvers by the addition of a transfer bar, which makes it safe for a shooter to carry six rounds in his revolver without a safety concern.

Two finishes are available: stainless steel and blue, with an imitation color case-hardened frame.  This second option was a chemical treatment which gave the look of the color case hardening found on the original Colt revolvers.

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Ruger offered the revolvers in three barrel lengths: 7 1⁄2 inch, 5 1⁄2 inch and 4 5⁄8 inch, which were similar to the three most common barrel lengths offered by Colt. Ruger initially offered the Vaquero in 45 Colt and later in 357 Magnum/38 Special, 44 Magnum/44 Special, and 44-40 Winchester (44 WCF).

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In 1998, some Vaqueros began shipping with faux ivory grips and engraving complete with gold inlay. In 1999, a limited run of 1,000 Vaqueros was offered by Ruger through a distributor. These revolvers featured a 3 ½-inch barrel and a shortened ejector rod. They were called the “Sheriff’s Model,” and half of these revolvers were stainless and the other half finished in blue. In 2005, this was added as a standard option to the catalog.

Ruger has offered three grip frame shapes in the past: the standard, the Bisley and the Bird’s head. The standard or plow handle is shaped similar to the traditional Colt Single Action Army. The Bisley has a shape based upon the Bisley Colt Single Action Army, which was designed as a target revolver. The Bird’s head recreates the unique shape of Colt’s double-action Lightning and Thunderer models of 1877 in an improved contour.

Aficionados of cowboy action shooting and single-action revolvers in general bought the Vaquero in droves. Because of the larger frame and the quality of the steel used, these revolvers could fire loads of higher pressures than the Colt Single Action Army and in some instances, these revolvers caught on in handgun hunting circles.

However, the larger and heavier guns received some detraction from purists of the sport of cowboy action shooting. Additionally, the Ruger “warning label” which appeared on the left side of the barrel cautioning the shooter to consult the owner’s manual was visually unattractive to many shooters. Ruger addressed these concerns in 2005 by introducing the “New Vaquero.” This version incorporated a smaller frame, making it closer in weight to the Colt Single Action Army and able to accept the two-piece grip panels made for the Colt. Ruger moved the “Warning label” to the underside of the barrel, making the revolver more appealing to the eye. The New Vaquero is offered in .45 Colt and .357 Magnum/.38 Special and is not meant for the heavier loads that the original model could fire.

My preference is for the original Vaquero due to its strength. With proper loads and the correct bullet, the 45 Colt is capable of taking any game animal in North America. I don’t feel under gunned when packing one for protection, either, and unlike the original Colt Single Action Army, you can load all six chambers in the Ruger.

Have you shot a Vaquero? Which model do you prefer? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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3 comments

  1. I’ve shot Ruger vaqueros in Cowboy action shooting competition for over 10 years. They have a well earned reputation for reliability, accuracy and durability. 5 aimed shots on target in under 3 seconds is common. Failures are usually due to under loaded hand loads (squibs). They work well even when filthy dirty. They are slightly heavier than Colt or Colt clones. If you can find the ones with bisley grip frames, they closely resemble 1911 grip angles and have a lower hammer spur. Look to locall SASS or Western 3-gun clubs to obtain used copies from retiring shooters. These guns have often been tuned and polished, and sight channels have been enlarged. Watch out for lightened springs, as they may be finicky when shooting hard primers.

  2. Michelle Hockett

    The Vaquero is an awesome revolver. As a woman I can tell you it is a very comfortable fit and shoots well. I own a Pietta 1873 SAA 5 1/2 inch barrel. It is quite a bit heavier and a little more awkward to hold for smaller hands. The factory grip is quite big and uncomfortable. I sanded mine down and smoothed it out. Improved it a good bit. My husband bought it for me for an anniversary present. But if we could have afforded it, we would have purchased the Vaquero. It was about 300 dollars more than the Pietta. My advice is if you like cowboy revolvers, the Vaquero is hard to beat if you want to spend that much on a revolver. Also, .45 ammo is not real plentiful. If you reload, .45 is definitely a caliber you want to do.

  3. I have zero experience with the Vaquero model, but have a lot of experience with the earlier Blackhawk (.357 Magnum / .41 Magnum / .45LC – .45ACP convertible). Not one bit of trouble with any of them, bank vault reliability. You could do worse then selecting a single-action Ruger.

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