Wednesday, March 20, 2013

True Blued - The New Ruger Vaquero

Handgun hunters, pistol competitors and cowboy action shooting folks are fans of the single action,  ideal for slow, deliberate shooting.  I was first exposed to them in the form of single action revolvers watching Westerns growing up. As a kid, I'd rather take a bullet  than watch the Brady Bunch and the Partridge Family, which were what was "new" on TV when I was little.  So I'd curl up with Loony Tunes and new and rerun classic Westerns, with a few  years of Gunsmoke and  Bonanza thrown in the mix.

The TV Western reigned supreme in the Fifties and Sixties. Unlike the post-war world in which they flourished, you could tell the good guys from the bad, and none of the guns were fully automatic. My favorites were Rifleman, Wanted Dead or Alive, and of course Have Gun Will Travel.

Even if the closest I've been to cowboys in the last few years are the ones that might wander over to the range when I make lasagna, I'm very fond of revolvers.  So when I was offered a chance  to try out and review Partner in Grime's Ruger Vaquero, stampeding cattle couldn't have kept me from the range (well at least until it quit snowing).

I already have a revolver (or maybe two :-) but adding another one, with  a price I can justify, when I already HAVE a couple, in todays economy,  is not something I'm adverse to. So here it comes, the Ruger Vaquero, introduced in the early nineties, becoming one of the more popular handguns used in the ever popular sport of Cowboy Action shooting.

It's also popular with others like me, who want a reliable and hardworking firearm for the outdoors or home defense. But it's not just any Vaquero, it's the NEW Vaquero.

You see, not long back, Ruger announced a major redesign of the popular firearm, coming up with the name "New Vaquero".  I'd hoped it was not like "New" Coke, where marketing came up with the concept without actually thinking about the taste of the target audience.  The one reviewed is the .357 version of the new Vaquero, though I understand it also comes in a .45 colt cartridge version, coming in bright stainless or blue case colored and varying barrel lengths from 4 and 5/8th or 5 and 1/2 inches (at least for the .357).

These are serious, hardworking guns, ( picture old cowboy action movie with tanks), feeding heavy loads that would have some firearms crying like a 3rd grader. Ruggedness and durability are keystones of Ruger firearms, an American company with a reputation for producing guns that can withstand heavy use without action parts breaking down like a cheap rental car.

The New Vaquero is built on the same size frame as Ruger’s beloved original .357 Magnum Blackhawk, the frame of which was discontinued with the advent of the new Model Black hawk in 1973 which was built on the same frame of the larger caliber revolvers out there. (Confused yet?). That 1970's version was NOT a small firearm, though it's a truly outstanding piece to own.

The New Vaquero has that small original frame size, making it much lighter and easier to handle than the original Vaquero.  I'd compare it, size wise, to the Colt Single Action Army revolver and similar replicas found on the field at Cowboy action shoots.  Smaller size in a six gun that will likely last foreve.  What's not to like?

What first caught my eye was the grip frame.  Not only is it pretty, it's a joy to handle  making your Glock grip feel like shooting a cast iron frying pan). This is as close to a return to the grip of the original XR3 grip used in the 1851 Colt Navy revolver as I've seen, though it's made of steel, and much better than the new and improved XR3-RED grip that debuted about the same time my folks debuted me (not yesterday).  The grip panels are that familiar checkered  pattern, with the iconic Ruger Eagle molded in.

If you put new and old Ruger  Vaqueros side by side you might notice a redesigned hammer that has a slightly longer swept back shape, with noticeable serrations, making for easy cocking. The action is flat out smooth, the trigger pull crisp as a Western morning, at just a tad less than 3 and a half pounds out of the box. The trigger, being Ruger, is further forward and wider than other revolvers I've shot to compare it with, such as a Colt SAA in .45 and a Cimarron Mod P., BP frame, in .357

The ejector rod button has also had a little tweak, more of a crescent shape than a round shape. It's easy on the hand and the eye, with the ejector rod  housing  made out of steel, just like the grip frame.

Sights - There's not a difference this untrained eye can see between old and new version, consisting of a squared notch rear and a rounded front sight, unlike the Blackhawk, which has an adjustable sight. I like the fixed sight though, good for intuitive shooting and you learn to shoot well by compensating your aim. 
You can always ruin a good gun fight at the corral with a lawyer.  But there are a number of states requiring firearms to have certain "safety" devices. Ruger has incorporated a key activated action lock into the new Vaquero. I won't even get started on why I don't think those are necessary for a lot of  responsible firearm owners, but at least it's designed so it's fairly discreet and doesn't clunk up the lines or frames of this firearm as many of them do (some of them being  the equivalent of  installing a cow catcher on a Triumph Spitfire) .

The lock itself is hidden beneath the grip panels with the key having a built in screwdriver to remove said right grip panel. One the panel is off, the key is used, well,  like a key.  (If you need instructions on using a key you are probably one of the folks the lawyers think own firearms). Insert, rotate  to lock. Use it or ignore it, as necessary.  The keys that come with it look like handcuff keys, though a handcuff key won't work in it (not that I tried that or anything).

Ruger has instructions for drilling a small hole in the right hand grip panel to access the lock without removing the grip panel, going as far as casting a little dimple on the inside surface or that panel so you know where to drill.  I cringe at the thought of drilling into any piece, but unless Barkley grows opposable thumbs I'm not worried about locking it.

One  actual useful safety feature is that the New Vaquero still has Ruger's transfer bar safety that allows the gun to be safely carried with a full half dozen rounds in the cylinder. This makes a vary nice personal defense weapon for that campsite or shop or work bench, if you are ready to pony  up and replace that 9 mm water gun for one shot stopping.

Ammo - You need to look for .357 Magnum .357 Mag and .38 SPL.  If you reload, you might wish to avoid those directions that say "Ruger Only" in the handloading manual. The cylinder walls of the New Vaquero are a bit thinner than those on the Original Vaquero's and .45 Blackhawks (though they are tougher than those on the Colt SAA) and a heavy load like the +P .45 Colt loads might be a bit much. (they are fine with loads to SAAMI specs). If in doubt, check with the maker of the ammunition in regarding suitability for the New Vaquero (I'd recommend calling Ruger, but not all manufacturer's have a tech rep available, you're more likely going to get someone that will read the manual to you, and I can do that). If  I've got the gun like this with me for self defense (shop, woods, etc) my loads are GDHP .38 spl. +P with 19 158 gr. 357 Hydra-Shok as back up.

I'm not sure if it's part of the overall redesign of the chambers, but they  seem to align better with the loading gate for easy loading and unloading of the cylinder (come on, you've all had that six gun that when you rotate it til it clicks it's actually gone too far and have to rotate the thing completely around again to align the chamber with the reloading gate, all while the bad guy targets are snickering at you). With a cylinder index button that's spring loaded and a retracting cylinder hand, the New Vaquero chambers like the old pre '73 Rugers.
Bonus Points for Pointability.  Accuracy is excellent, not all owing to this shooter, but a combination of weight, grip and chamber throats that allow the bullets to seat easily but snugly. With the longer barrel, it balances well, and to me, is steadier to aim, than the shorter barrels.  Recoil is minimal, even if you don't consider the .357 loads. With varying loads, you are still going to get in a good  point of aim grouping at 25 yards all day long unless you are using really lightly loaded bullets, which aren't going to do that well in any revolver anyway.  With a good load, your bullets are going to bitch slap one another for the same target hole even if you're not an expert shooter.

I love the Blackhawk, big tough boy that it is and I  found the original Vaquero a pleasure to fire.  But if you want a slightly smaller, lighter, and easily affordable revolver for fast and accurate cowboy action shooting, or simply taking with you to the garage late one night  for a cowboy action Lucas Wiring project, this New Vaquero is for you.