Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Ruger Bearcat

William B. Ruger was a man of many passions. Of course firearms was one of his passions, one of his other pursuits was classic touring automobiles.
In his book Ruger & His Guns, author R.L. Wilson states that "Ruger's enchantment with cars rivaled his dedication to guns". 
In 1970 Ruger even created his own touring car, designed to look like the handcrafted vehicles from days past.

One car maker that captured Ruger's attention was Harry Stutz. The Stutz Blackhawk (Indy race car) was the inspiration for the name of Ruger's first centerfire revolver. 
When Ruger designed a compact revolver, another Stutz Auto loaned its name, the Bearcat.


Ruger was interested in making a small, compact .22 single action. Many refer to the smaller framed .22 revolvers as "Kit Guns", because they fit nicely in a tool bag, backpack or fishing kit . 

Ruger liked the look of the 1858 Remington New Police and used the one-piece frame design along with the removable brass trigger guard in his new pistol.

Production began in 1958. After serial number 999 was produced, Ruger began adding alphabet prefixes to their serial numbers. 
These guns were known to collector's as "alphabet Bearcats" and bore serial numbers such as "C758," etc.
Normal serial numbering resumed at serial number 1,000 in 1969. 
 
The original Bearcat featured an aluminum alloy frame that was anodized to match the blued steel barrel. The ejector rod housing was originally blued steel, this was switched to an anodized aluminum alloy one in 1963.

The grips were rosin impregnated rosewood (sans Ruger medallion), that was later changed to standard walnut.
The barrel length was just over 4" (perhaps to comply with Canada's 105mm minimum?). The original asking price was just $49.50. Here is a picture showing the Bearcat along with it's bigger .22 brother, the Single Six.
The hammer was very similar in shape to the Blackhawk and Single Six as was the overall profile. The sights were a fixed notch in the rear and a blade front.
The un-fluted, 6-shot, cylinder featured an engraving of a Bear and a Mountain Lion (Bear-Cat, get it?), along with the Ruger name and "BEARCAT" in all capital letters. the cylinder imprint reminds me of a printer head from an old time roll printer.
The "brass" trigger guard was actually brass colored cast aluminum.

Ruger's advertisements for the gun stated, "The Combination of small size and single action construction is the keynote of the Bearcat design......no other handgun possesses the characteristics which give the Bearcat its special utility and appeal......a jewel among firearms".



A "Super Bearcat" model was introduced in 1971, the new model featured a blued steel frame.
This particular Super Bearcat belongs to my Father, I bought it for him a couple of years ago. 
His gun was made in 1972 and still featured the brass colored trigger guard, which was later changed to blued steel.

For a period of time Ruger produced both the regular Bearcat and the all steel Super Bearcat. The production of the standard Bearcat ended in 1973. The Super Bearcat's production ended in 1975.

That, however, was not the end of the story for the Bearcat. Like so many other firearms, interest in them grew and they became valuable collector guns.

Ruger, always in tune to what their customers want, reintroduced the Bearcat in 1993 as the "New Bearcat". 
I guess "New Model Bearcat" would not fit on the frame (all current Ruger Single Actions have the name New Model added to their model name with the exception of the Vaquero, which was built on the New Model Blackhawk frame....).

As with all "New Model" Rugers, the 3rd issue Bearcat came with some improvements.
They added a completely new firing mechanism that employed Ruger's transfer bar safety system. They lengthened the barrel to 4.2" (to comply with minimum barrel laws in some areas). 

Gone was the "brass" trigger guard. They also changed the hammer to the Super Blackhawk style just as they did on the Vaquero "Montado" models. 
What was kept, was the 1/2 cock notch to load/unload the gun.

For a short time you could also get the New Bearcat Convertible equipped with both a .22 LR & a .22 Mag cylinder.
Only 1000 or so were shipped, then Ruger recalled the .22 Mag cylinders due to timing issues.


Ruger also now offers the Bearcat in Stainless Steel
in 2008 Ruger made a 50th Anniversary edition, complete with brass/gold trigger guard, plain walnut stocks and gold accents


 in 2013 Lipseys (a national gun distributor) commissioned a special edition of the Bearcat. They called it the "Shop Keeper", although "Gambler" or "Saloon Keeper" would have been equally appropriate names.
Changes on the Shop Keeper include a 3" barrel and ejector rod housing, a button head cylinder base pin, a crescent shaped ejector (to make room for base pin removal) and the coup de grais! A birds head grip!

Ruger also moved the warning roll mark to the bottom of the barrel, a move welcomed by myself and virtually all Ruger collectors (although most would prefer the warning went away all together). The stocks are laminated wood, but aftermarket ones are becoming available. Here is a set of simulated ivory I found on ebay. I would like to see some in mother of pearl....

I got my Shopkeeper as a Birthday/Father's Day gift this year. I have yet to shoot it.

2015 update:

Lipsey's, the folks who brought us the Shopkeeper convinced Ruger to build another special edition Bearcat, a REAL KIT GUN!
A Ruger New Bearcat with Single Six type frame including adjustable sights:


I always like to end my posts by showing some gun porn, here are some customized Ruger Bearcats (remember, clicking on the pictures gives you a larger version).

Gary Reeder created this .22 Magnum version, he calls it the "Pocket Packer"

Alan Harton created this customized Bearcat, he re-barreled the gun in .32 caliber and created a new 5 shot cylinder to house the .327 Federal Magnum cartridges, I fear this may push the limits of the little Bearcat, but then again it is a Ruger.... Read more about this gun at Gun Blast.
 A few more customized Bearcats




References
Sturm, Ruger & Co.
American Handgunner
Lipsey's
Sheriff Jim Wilson
Gunblast
Wikipedia
American Rifleman
Ruger & His Guns by R.L. Wilson
Gary Reeder Custom Guns