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The Ruger company has been producing Single action revolvers since the 1953 introduction of the Single Six, in 22 caliber. The Vaquero descends from the highly regarded Blackhawk series, details of which can be found on my Blackhawk page. Though the Blackhawks are great guns, superior to the old design of the Colt Single Action Army, after which they are modeled, they do not really look like the old cowboy guns. The reason for this is pretty simple. Bill Ruger was not making Colt Single Action Army revolvers, and saw no reason to follow the design exactly. Instead, he made some improvements, updated the design a bit, and simplified the action, while greatly strengthening the gun. These changes made the Blackhawk a better gun, in every way, than the old Colt; but they also gave it a look of it's own. Though it is a single action revolver, the Blackhawk is very much a gun of the twentieth century, rather than of the nineteenth century.
Bill Ruger built a large part of his company on the production of single action pistols which were fairly authentic, but just a little bit better than the originals, while being lower in cost. Ruger today offers a full line of pistols and rifles, including double action revolvers, and semi automatics. Bill Ruger attempted to produce the modern single action revolver as he conceived it might be produced today had the double action and semi auto not replaced it in service. These guns had adjustable rear, and ramp front sights, squared off top straps, squared off trigger guards, and other more subtle differences, when compared to the classic Colt. Though the Blackhawk was a great design for the hunter, or target shooter, cowboy shooters tended to deify the genuine Colt, and considered the Blackhawk to be a good second choice. For some shooters, there was magic in the name "Colt", while others just didn't care for the look of the Blackhawk, considering it to be inauthentic. In answer to these complaints, Ruger produced the Vaquero.
The Vaquero is Ruger's attempt to make a modern version of the single action revolver, which is aesthetically identical to the original. Though it has the modern safe action, and modern metals of today's guns, the styling and handling are as close as possible to that of the guns of over 100 years ago. These guns are targeted towards cowboy action shooters, and other recreational users. For hunters and sportsmen, Ruger still produces the blackhawk series of single action revolvers, or the Redhawk series of double action revolvers. The Vaquero has the rounded topstrap, the S shaped hammer, and the notch rear sight of the original Colt, as well as the skinny barrel with the big blade front sight.
The Vaquero was introduced in 1993. At the time that the original model was discontinued, in 2005, over 700,000 had been produced, more than the entire over hundred year production of the Colt. In point of fact, there are more Vaqueros used at the cowboy shooting events, than any other handgun. Thinking that this would be a model appealing to a limited segment of the shooting public, Ruger was taken by surprise, at the gun's popularity. Demand pushed the first year's production up to ten times the amount predicted. Ruger had another winner.
Why would such a popular gun be discontinued? Well, in truth the gun was not so much discontinued, as it was replaced. Ruger now makes the New Vaquero. The new gun is an even more authentic reproduction of the old Colt SAA. The original Vaquero is somewhat larger than the old Colt. This permits it to be hotloaded, and gives it a sturdiness that the originals never had. Realistically though, cowboy action shooters do not hot load. They also tend to prefer the 45 Long Colt caliber to the 44 Magnum. So for the sport of cowboy action shooting, which comprises by far the largest market for this gun, the Vaquero is larger and heavier than it needs to be. It's larger size also makes it still just a bit different from the "Real" cowboy guns made by Colt. The new guns are scaled down to match the size, and weight of the Colt design. For hunters, and target shooters, there is the Blackhawk series, which is still being built as heavy and as strong as ever.
The action on all of the Ruger single actions, is somewhat different from that of the classic Single action Colts. It does not possess the four clicks to cock lockwork. It also does not need to be put on half cock to unlock the cylinder for reloading. Opening the loading gate unlocks the cylinder, and there is no half cock at all. A look inside, reveals that the gun uses coil springs instead of the traditional leaf springs. Ruger also introduced the frame mounted firing pin, and uses a transfer bar for firing. These are all features which the Vaquero shares with the Blackhawk series.
The transfer bar is visible in the photo to the right. This is pretty much a standard feature on the modern revolver. It prevents accidental discharge, if the gun should be dropped, or the hammer should be struck a blow. The frame mounted firing pin, which can be seen just above the transfer bar, is of the rebounding type. This system permits the gun to be carried with all six chambers loaded, something which could not be done back in 1880. The trigger is smooth, and rather narrow, with a nice clean break, and a light pull; but with a fair amount of over travel.
Shooting the Vaquero is a real treat. As with most single action designs, the grip allows the gun to roll back in the hand during firing. This moderates recoil, and puts the hammer directly under the thumb for cocking. Though the simple notch sight, and curved topstrap do not give quite the sight picture of the Blackhawks' adjustable sight, and wide flat topstrap, the Vaquero sights are perfectly adequate, and at least as good as anything used in the 1880's. In the fashion of the movies, the Vaquero can be fanned, though this is something that actual cowboys and gunfighters of the time never did. Though it is available in many calibers, this particular example is chambered for the king of the cowboy cartridges --- the 45 Long Colt. With a standard load, and a 255 grain bullet, the recoil is not at all objectionable.
This gun would be a natural rustic companion for my 45 Long Colt lever action rifle. I am even considering getting into cowboy shooting. S.A.S.S. (Single Action Shooters Society), has competitions all over the country, and every year hosts it championship event, The End of the Trail Shoot-out, in California. Competitors carry single action revolvers, lever action rifles, and double barrel shotguns. This is a grown up version of the cowboy games which boys used to be allowed to play.
This is one of a trio of single action revolvers that I own, the other two being the Blackhawk, and the Hawes Marshall. Of the three, the Blackhawk is probably the best; but the Vaquero is the most fun. This is also one of a trio of Ruger revolvers that I own, along with the Redhawk, and the Blackhawk.
The original Colt Single Action Army revolver was in constant production for 68 years, from 1873, until 1941. Production resumed in 1956, in large part due to the resurgent popularity of the single action design, which was fueled by the introduction of the Ruger Blackhawk. As of this writing, the Blackhawk has been in production for 53 years. There is little doubt in my mind that it will still be offered in 2021, and capture the tittle of longest production run Single action revolver, from Colt. The Vaquero is already in it's second generation, and has overtaken the Colt in numbers produced and sold. Who can say how much the longer the Vaquero will remain in production. Like Samuel Colt, Bill ruger seems to have begun a tradition, and fostered a design which will far outlive him.