Dreams really do come true. Or as a wise sage once said:
"Good things come to those that wait." Well, I waited and it took thirty-five years but my dream finally came true, at least almost, or close enough as we shall see. My first sixgun was the .22 Ruger Single -Six Flat-gate and my love affair with the single action began. Then came the first Colt, an 1890's Colt Single Action Army .38-40 , the so-called Civilian Model with the four and three-quarter inch barrel length. What a beautiful old sixgun that was! I say was because in a weak moment I let it get away.
The first centerfire Ruger, the .357 Magnum Blackhawk became readily available in my area about this time and while it did not have the beautiful esthetically flowing lines of the Colt it was close and I was soon to find out superior in one all important way. At the time, pre-War Colt Single Actions were plentiful and cost about the same as one would pay for a new Ruger or Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman. By the time I had .38 Special, .45 Colt and .41 Long Colt Single Action Armies added to the first .38-40, I soon discovered that Colt springs broke, especially hand and bolt springs, and Ruger coil springs did not.
It did not take me long to realize that the ideal situation would be a Colt Single Action Army with Ruger lockwork. That of course never happened. But thirty-five years later we have come oh so close. Ruger has taken a giant backwards step forwards and now offers a Twentieth Century sixgun with a real Nineteenth Century look. A few early Single -Sixes were finished with a case colored frame but never offered to the public. Now the .45 Blackhawk has been de-horned so to speak and made to look like the original Single Action. The Vaquero has arrived.
For the first time in its forty-year single action history, Ruger is now offering a classic looking single action sixgun with fixed rather than adjustable sights. Now this seems like anything but progress at first glance. After all, the Blackhawks have been delivering superior service for lo these four decades because they had excellent adjustable sights. Beginning with the .357 Magnum, then the .44 Magnum, the .41 Magnum, the .30 Carbine, the .45 Colt, and the .38-40/10MM, all Blackhawks have come equipped with the familiar massive frame with an adjustable rear sight.
The Vaquero, as the name implies, is a throwback to "those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past comes the thundering hooves of the great horse..." well you get the picture. The picture that the Vaquero is designed to conjure up in sixgunner's minds. Ruger does not make very many, if any, marketing errors. Cowboy action shooting is big and the Nineteenth Century aficionados can now have an authentic looking single action sixgun with virtually unbreakable lockwork and a transfer bar making it perfectly safe to carry loaded with six rounds.
It is very interesting to me to see what Ruger has done with their single action line in the past few years. First the Ruger Super Blackhawk was finally offered with a five and one-half inch packin' gun barrel length and with a standard grip frame and with a choice of both blue and stainless finishes. Then came the Hunter Model Stainless Super Blackhawk without the square backed trigger guard and scope ready. Now we have the Vaquero and soon to follow will be the resurrected BearCat in both blue and stainless finishes and two cylinders for both .22 LR and .22 Magnum and with a transfer bar for safe carrying of six rounds. No, Ruger does not make many marketing errors and they are reading what the single action shooting public wants very well.
As this is written, the Vaquero is available in the seven and one-half inch `Cavalry' barrel length only and only in .45 Colt. I find it very interesting and soul-warming that the first chambering in the Vaquero is neither .44 Magnum nor .41 Magnum nor .357 Magnum but the one hundred and twenty year old .45 Colt! Soon to come will be the other two standard Colt Single Action Army barrel lengths, the four and three-quarter inch `Civilian, or Gunfighter's Model' and the five and one-half inch `Artillery Model', all in blue with a case colored frame. By the time this is read, stainless steel models will also be available in .45 Colt and then both .44 Magnum and .44-40 will be coming from Ruger. For those that prefer medium bore cartridges in large frame sixguns, the .357 Magnum will also be offered in the Vaquero.
Since these are fixed-sighted guns, it becomes a real problem getting a gun that shoots to point of aim. Not to worry. Plenty of front sight blade is afforded with the Vaquero to allow each individual sixgunner to `adjust' his/her sights by judicious filing for the particular load and hold he/she prefers. My test .45 Vaquero shoots three inches low with 300 grain bullets and twelve inches low with 225 grain bullets. It will simply be necessary for me to choose which load I intend to use the most often and file the front sight blade to the proper height.
The stainless steel version of the Vaquero strikes me as the perfect outdoorsman's sixgun especially for a packer or guide or woods bum who wants a strong dependable sixgun that will shoot one load to the preferred point of aim and distance with no worries about adjustable sights getting out of whack. My choice would be a four and three quarter-inch .45 Colt or .44 Magnum, home gunsmith adjusted to hit point of aim with 300 grain bullets at 1250 feet per second in the forty-four or 1100 feet per second in the .45 Colt.
A close look at the seven and one-inch barreled Vaquero in .45 Colt reveals a sixgun that at forty-three ounces is ten per cent heavier than its counterpart from Hartford, a similarly barreled Colt Single Action Army. The flat-top frame has been contoured and rounded off very nicely to provide a western style single action look and the traditional hog wallow style rear sight sets high enough that one can sight down the top of a Vaquero with out cocking the hammer. The rear sight does not extend all the way to the back of the frame but rather stops about five-sixteenths of an inch in front of the hammer face resulting in a dished out area that gives a flat sight picture. I found that blackening this area with spray on sight black helped my groups immensely.
The front sight is shaped like a traditional Colt Single Action front sight and with a height of three-eighth's of an inch affords plenty of latitude for filing in to one's load and hold as mentioned earlier. It is also shaped to provide a flat black sight picture. The grip frame is Blackhawk style and size but is steel rather than the alloy found on most Blackhawks since 1955. The reverse is true of the ejector rod housing. Early Blackhawks had steel housings; this one is an alloy.
The left side of the frame is marked "RUGER VAQUERO" with ".45 CAL." right below it. The serial number is on the right side of the frame and the first guns are from a series marked 55-00XXX. The only thing detracting from the looks of the Vaquero for this sixgunner is the now standard Ruger line found on all Ruger firearms: "BEFORE USING GUN-READ WARNING IN INSTRUCTION MANUAL AVAILABLE FREE FROM" followed by the second line which is the non-offending address of "STURM, RUGER & CO., INC. SOUTHPORT, CONN. U.S.A." The firing pin is frame mounted as on all Ruger Blackhawks and the Vaquero is a transfer bar single action. That means it is loaded by opening the loading gate which allows the cylinder to rotate with the hammer down.
The newest feature on the Vaquero is the case colored, not hardened, frame. The colors are somewhat subdued and show up best in certain lighting, but they are nowhere near as bright as those found on most Colt Single Action Armys, Cimarron Single Actions, or EMF Hartfords. Holding a Colt Single Action Army in one hand while clutching a Ruger Vaquero in the other really emphasizes the difference. However, as one of my undercover peace officer friends who wants a Vaquero says: "Just look at the price tag. $1200 for the Colt and under $400 for the Vaquero. Wanna guess which one I will buy?"
And therein lies the great popularity of the Ruger Blackhawks whether they be standard Blackhawks, Super Blackhawks, or Vaqueros. They are priced within reach of any sixgunner! At the present time I have bills on my desk for two test sixguns. It is time to either purchase same or send them back. One is a Super Blackhawk Hunter Model and the other a Colt Single Action Army. I can pay for the Super Blackhawk three times and still be $100 under the price of the one Colt! The legacy of Bill Ruger is not just great shootin'sixguns, and I have never experienced a big bore Ruger in nearly forty years that would not shoot, but truly affordable great shooting sixguns.
Shooting the Vaquero is pure single action pleasure. It does not have the hammer at half cock, open the loading gate, load one, skip one, load four, cock hammer and let it down on an empty operation of the much beloved Colt Single Action Army but it is a much stronger sixgun and safe to carry fully loaded with six rounds. That is not important to those of us who were raised with old style single actions and know how to handle them but it is tremendously important to new shooters.
Being February in SouthWestern Idaho when the Vaquero was tested
with the temperature below freezing I gave myself and the Vaquero benefit of the doubt by measuring the best four out of five shots for group size. Yes, I still load five rounds even in true six-shot sixguns. Cold hands are not the best way to test a sixgun but the Vaquero came through in grand form even shooting with my arms resting on the spare tire carrier of my Bronco instead of a sturdy sandbag rest and a bench. It was particularly gratifying to see the performance of three factory loads from CCI Blazer, Winchester, and Federal. All three put their shots right at the one-inch mark at twenty-five yards.
All of these factory loads are extremely pleasant to shoot in the forty-three ounce Ruger Vaquero. Even 255 grain bullets at 1200 feet per second are easy to handle, but moving up to 300 grain bullets at these speeds and one finds that the Vaquero starts to talk back. A good shootin' 300 grain bulleted load is the Bull-X 300 grain cast bullet over 7.1 grains of WW231 for 850 feet per second and very mild recoil.
RUGER VAQUERO .45 COLT
(All groups are best four out of five to give sixgun and sixgunner benefit of the doubt in cold weather).
As regular readers of these pages know I am a great fan of the Colt Single Action Army. It is a soul-stirrin', spirit kindlin', fast heart beatin' type of sixgun. I have been taken to task by more `modern' types for clinging to it as a viable defensive sixgun. I hold my ground on this. An extra added benefit is the fact that Colt Single Actions conjure of visions of bacon frying over a campfire during a drizzling rain in the mountains, and one can not only smell powdersmoke but also cattle raised trail dust each time one is picked up. Ruger's have never had this capability. Until now. The bacon smell is a little lighter, the trail dust a little fainter but it is there. Ruger has caught the Spirit of the Old West with the Vaquero.