Friday, July 28, 2017

Featured Gun: The Ruger Vaquero

The Vaquero is the Colt Single Action Army copy made by Sturm, Ruger & Co.

The name Vaquero is Spanish for Cowboy or Cattleman. The root word for Vaquero is Vaca being the Spanish word for Cow.

I imagine Ruger chose the name Vaquero over the American word "Cowboy" was because Cowboy seemed too obvious and perhaps it was a tribute to the role the Mexican Vaquero's played in the old west.

The Ruger Vaquero

The story of the Vaquero has to begin where all Single Action Army copies starts....with Colt.

When Colt ended production of the Single Action Army model of 1873 in 1941, it had been producing the arm for 68 years.

The S.A.A. was at one time the standard issue of the U.S. Army and has been known universally (along with the Winchester model of 1873) as "The Gun that Won the West".  It was also dubbed "The Peacemaker" for its loyal following by lawmen throughout the West.

By the turn of the century the sales had slowed, the reasons for which may have been caused by several factors.
With the invention of smokeless powder and the more powerful double action revolvers being built, the old Single Action Army seemed old fashioned, outdated and outclassed.

Whether a strange coincidence or government pressure, Colt ended production just months before the U.S. entered WWII.

Of course war time production of the Colt M1911A1 took up most of Colt's resources.

the Colt Single Action Army

Following the war a new genre of movies became popular: The Western. To be fair the Western genre began before the war, some say it started in 1903 with the movie The Great Train Robbery. No one would argue, however, that the genres popularity really took off in the early 1950's.

Why is this important? Well movie goers wanted a gun like that of their movie heroes but Colt was no longer making them. An enterprising new gun maker was taking notes.

Bill Ruger was looking to build another gun, his .22 Standard pistol was selling well and the company was ripe for growth. 

Ruger introduced his .22 Single Action revolver (Single Six) in 1953, followed in 1955 with the .357 Magnum Blackhawk. The two single action revolvers were a hit, they were well build and priced right.

Ruger Blackhawk

The year following the introduction of the Ruger Blackhawk, Colt reintroduced the Single Action Army, now known as the "second generation" model. 
Then it happened....from the late 1950's through the mid 1970's the market was flooded with copies of the Colt revolver, from West Germany, Spain, Italy and the U.S..

Ruger continued to produce the Blackhawk and had made some improvements. In 1973 Ruger introduced the New Model Blackhawk, built on the larger (an much stronger) .44 Blackhawk frame and featuring a new transfer bar safety system, which allowed the user to safely carry six cartridges in the cylinder.
Fast forward to the 1980's...Western movies were starting to gain a following among a new generation of Americans. The movies Pale Rider, Silverado and Young Guns were paving the way for another wave of popularity for the Western. These were followed in the '90's with blockbusters like Tombstone, Unforgiven, Wyatt Earp and Quigley Down Under.

There was something else, a new form of competitive shooting in which the competitors must use period correct equipment, which meant single action revolvers.

While the Ruger Blackhawk was still being produced, and was still selling well, it was not allowed in the competitions because of its rear adjustable sight. This was upsetting to a lot of Ruger owners, but the Blackhawk just didn't look the same as the old Colt. (S.A.S.S. has since created categories that allow Blackhawks to compete).

You can imagine that even in the 1980's a new Colt Single Action Army was pretty expensive and old ones were out of the price range of many shooters (not to mention many wouldn't want to shoot an original piece that was worth a thousand dollars or more).

Ruger, always quick to give the customer what they want, had his engineers get to work on revamping the New Model Blackhawk into a fixed sight version with a rounded frame. It took only four months from idea to production and in December of 1992, Ruger was showing his new cowboy gun to distributors at a show in Denver. The Ruger Engineers joked that this was " The Gun that would have Won the West"

While the Vaquero was more than 100 years too late to win the west, it did win was the hearts of the Cowboy Action Shooters, they now had a very rugged and very affordable choice....and the sport exploded as a result.

Ruger also produced a special edition for the S.A.S.S. (Single Action Shooting Society) with special grip medallions and a two gun set, consecutively numbered of course with an SASS serial number prefix.

The original Vaquero was larger (being built on the .44 New Model frame), was made of modern steel alloys which made it capable of much higher pressures than that of the Single Action Army.  

Another component that made the Rugers more durable was their use of coil springs, which had a life span many times that of the flat springs used by the Colt (and many of the Colt copies). Add all this to the fact that a Vaquero could be carried safely with 6 rounds in the chamber, due to its New Model transfer bar safety, (although superfluous in S.A.S.S. competition as they mandate a limit of 5 rounds) and you can see why the Vaquero became so popular.

Originally the Vaquero was only offered in two calibers and three chamberings: .44-40, .44 Magnum and .45 Colt. Later on a .357 Magnum model was offered as well as some special distributor exclusives.  

The distributor Davidson's offered three special convertible models that came with two cylinders in .357 Mag/9mm Luger, .45 ACP/.45 Colt, .38-40/.40 S&W.
In 1999 Davidson's also sold a special run of 500 each (stainless and blued/color case) Vaqueros with a barrel length of 3 3/4". They called it the "Sheriff's Model".  It has since become a standard catalog item.
There were numerous other special editions, and many more since the introduction of the New Vaquero.

Caliber(s): .357 Magnum, .44-40 Winchester, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt
Capacity: 6
Barrel Length(s): 4 5/8", 5 1/2", 7 1/2"
Overall Length(s): 10 1/4" - 13 1/8" depending on barrel
Weight(s): 39-41 ounces depending on caliber and barrel
Finish(es): Blued w/ Color Case frame or polished stainless
Grips: two piece rosewood with Ruger medallions
Sights: open notch rear, patridge front
Rifling:  6 grooves RH twist, 1 in 20 for .44 calibers and 1 in 16 for .45 Colt
Manufactured: 1993-2004 
Introductory Price: $394.00

When introduced the gun was well received and the only complaints were regarding the polished stainless finish, which didn't quite mimic the nickel plating of the original Colt. Ruger fixed the issue with different polishing procedures that resulted in a little less shine.

The second complaint was its size. Ruger had built the gun on the New Model Blackhawk frame, which was larger (and stronger) than the original Blackhawk (which was much closer in size to the original Colt). 

This was fixed with the introduction of the New Vaquero in 2005. The New Vaquero was built on the smaller .357 Blackhawk frame and is dimension-ally nearly identical to the Colt.

The issue of strength is not important to the Cowboy Action Shooters who use lead bullets and low power loads in their competitions. It is however important to those that carry a single action as a hunting/fishing/ranching side arm.
With an original Vaquero and some stout brass (like Starline), a Vaquero owner can load up his .45 Colt to .44 Magnum pressures.

I purchased my first Ruger Vaquero at a gun show around 2002. It had been fired but appeared to be new, with the box and paperwork. I paid $425 for it. It is blued with the color case frame, a 4 5/8" barrel and chambered in .45 Colt.

I got a second one, this time in .357 with a birds head grip frame in a trade for a double action revolver.

If you are looking for a Cowboy style gun you could do a lot worse than the Vaquero. 
Your options are plentiful: Taylor's, Cimarron, Uberti, Pietta, Beretta, Taurus, E.M.F., U.S.F.A.(no defunct) and old or new production Colts. Prices range from $350 to $3000, with a factory fresh New Vaquero somewhere in the $500-$600 range. If you keep your eyes open you can sometimes find deals to be had on the older, original Vaquero.

If you would like to see more on the Vaquero, follow the links below:

Vaquero Gun Porn
Vaquero mods
Vaquero Upgrades
Vaquero Upgrades el Segundo

Wilson, R.L., (2007), Ruger & His Guns, New York, NY: Chartwell Books, Inc.
John Taffin Ruger's Vaquero
American Rifleman