Ruger Bearcat
 

by Bill Hamm

photography by Bill Hamm

November 30th, 2005

 

RUGER  BEARCAT

1958 to 1970

The Ruger “Bearcat” .22 single action revolver was first announced in the August 1958 issue of the National Rifle Association’s American Rifleman magazine.  Sturm, Ruger & Co. began shipping these fine little guns the same month.

The original Bearcat had a one-piece cylinder/grip frame made of an aluminum alloy that was blue anodized, a 4” steel barrel, six shot non-fluted steel cylinder that was roll marked with a “Bear and a Cougar” scene and with the words “Ruger” and “Bearcat”.  The gun had a Colt style fixed grooved rear sight and a ¼ inch tall fixed front sight with no base.  It also had a steel ejector rod housing, a concave faced ejector rod button, and a gold/brass colored anodized trigger guard.  The grip panels were rosin impregnated rosewood without a medallion.  The gun’s overall length was only 8-3/4 inches and it weighed in at a scant 17 ounces.  The suggested retail price was $49.50.

One of Bill Ruger's favorite automobiles was the Stutz Bearcat and it is said that he named this revolver after that automobile.  It is also believed that the 1858 Remington New Police percussion revolver inspired many of the styling characteristics that can be seen in the little Bearcat.  As you can see from pictures in this article, these two revolvers demonstrate an amazing similarity.

Gun enthusiasts and outdoorsmen quickly took a liking to this light, compact, quality made, dependable revolver and its introduction was a great success.  It quickly became a favorite sought after trail gun or backpack “kit” gun.

The Bearcat was so popular in fact, that due to favorable sales volumes, the August 1958 introductory price of $49.50 was reduced to $39.50 in March 1961.  It was not increased again until 1969 when the suggested retail price went to $44.00

During its production the gun had several variations, but its original design remained virtually unchanged during its 12 year production period.   Some of the most notable changes were the use of a shorter front sight (reducing the height from ¼ inch to 3/16 inch), changing the ejector rod housing from steel to anodized aluminum,  replacing the concave/dimpled ejector rod button with a flat faced button, and the use of oil filled grip panels with the trademark Ruger Eagle logo stamped into an aluminum medallion.

The Bearcat’s serial numbering is also a very interesting subject and has created much discussion over the years by collectors.  Varying opinions still exist today.

The Bearcat’s serial numbering began with number 1 and continued through 999.  These guns were first shipped beginning August 1958 and some in early 1959.     Then the so-called “Alphabet” Bearcat series was introduced.  The “Alphabets” had a 3-digit number preceded by a letter of the alphabet (i.e., A001, B458, C937…..Z999).  All of the letters of the alphabet were used in this numbering scheme except the letter “O”.  The first “Alphabets” were shipped in October 1958, during the same time that the first 999 guns were still being shipped, and continued until early 1960.  It is not known by this author exactly why the “Alphabet” numbering system was put into production.  Some believe that due to intense competition in the gun industry, Bill Ruger changed the numbering system to confuse the competition and conceal the actual number of Bearcats being made.  Maybe someday we will find out the real answer, but it sure makes for an interesting group of highly collectible and desirable Bearcats.

Discussions often center around just how many of the Alphabet guns were made by this relative small upstart of a company.  If 999 of each alphabet letter were produced this would be about 25,000 Bearcats produced in about 18 months.   One must remember that the company was also making the Standard Auto and Target model pistols, the Single-Six .22 revolver, the .357 Magnum Blackhawks, the .44 Magnum Blackhawks, and had just started production of the Super Blackhawk during this period.  Many collectors do not believe it would be possible to produce that many Bearcats in that short of a time and think that many blocks of numbers within the letters were skipped making it far less “Alphabets” made than one might think.  These “Alphabets” certainly make a very interesting and desirable variation of the “Cat” for the collector to peruse and obtain.  They will bring a premium when found in excellent condition.

In March 1960 a few special production guns were made in the serial number range 1000 to 1999.  Only a few are known to exist and are extremely rare.  Serial numbers from 2000 to 114730 were made March 1960 to December 1968.  The height of the serial number itself was changed at about serial number 35,000 from 1/16 on an inch to 1/8 inch. Then due to the “Gun Control Act of 1968”, all firearms manufactured had to have its own unique serial number…no two guns could be numbered the same number.  Thus Ruger introduced its “prefix” numbering system in January 1969.  The Ruger Bearcat had the prefix of “90” added to its serial numbers.  Known are serial numbers 90-00022 to 90-25622.

There are several very interesting and scarce/rare/very rare standard and non-standard variations of the Bearcat.  A collector can put together a fine and interesting collection if they can obtain many of these different standard and non-standard variations.

Estimates range from around 140,000 to 160,000 of these fine little revolvers being made in its 12 year lifetime from August 1958 through June 1970, when Bearcat production ceased.  They are great guns to collect and a handy “kit” gun to own and shoot.

SOME  OF THE  MAJOR  STANDARD  VARIATIONS

 S/N 1 - 999

All standard features of the first guns.  Also may have fluted or  non-fluted staked front sight or a capped or drilled through  base pin latch nut.

“Alphabets” S/N A001 – approx. M500

All standard features of the first 999 guns.  I believe these all have fluted staked front sights.

“Alphabets” S/N approx. M500 – X165

The concave/dimpled ejector rod button was changed to a flat faced button.

“Alphabets” S/N approx X165 –Z999

The front sight blade was shortened from ¼ inch to 3/16 inches to lower and improve the point of aim.

S/N 2000 - 35000

Flat faced ejector rod button, shortened (3/16") front sight blade.  Steel ejector rod housings (ERH) were used on most of these 1/16" serial numbered guns.  A few blue anodized aluminum housing can be found on some Bearcats beginning in the 33000 serial number range.  

S/N 35000 – 114000

The grips were changed to oiled walnut with a light stamped Ruger Eagle trademark logo medallion and the larger 1/8 of an inch serial numbers were put into use.  A mixture of steel  and blue anodized aluminum ejector rod housings were used on the guns at the beginning of this serial number range.  At about 50000 the aluminum housings took over almost totally.  It is estimated that about 15,000 or so of this variation had the steel housings.  Most of these guns had a “SR” intertwined inside of the Ruger eagle logo in the barrel address with about 5000 of the guns toward the end of the range not having it.

S/N 107000 – 114000

The medallion in the grip panel was changed to a heavy stamped trademark Ruger Eagle logo at the end of 1968/beginning of 1969.

S/N 90-00001 – 90-25622

In 1969 the serial number had a “prefix” of  “90” added due to the “Gun Control Act Of 1968” that required every gun manufactured to have a unique stand alone serial number.

SOME  OF  THE  MAJOR  NON-STANDARD  VARIATIONS

Duplicate serial numbered guns

These guns erroneously had serial numbers the same as other Bearcats.  When discovered they were stamped with a “D” prefix or suffix to the serial number.  Very few known.

Trade show samples and seconds

These guns were sold, probably at a discount to distributors and were stamped with a “S” on the bottom of the cylinder/grip frame or suffix to the serial number.  Very few known.

999XXX serial numbers

Out of sequence six digit serial numbers used in 1968.  May have been some type of duplicate numbering scheme?  Very scarce with only about 1200 believed made.

“Blackguard” Bearcat

Black anodized or “japanned” finished trigger guards, 109 believed made.  Highly sought after by collectors.

Trademark Application Guns

Two or three Bearcats were roll marked “Service-Six", "Speed-Six", and perhaps one "Security-Six”.  Used by Ruger to apply for trademark when beginning the double action “Six” Series of revolvers.  One of a kind guns.

Special Order “Gun Writer” gun

S/n 1000, a special order by Bill Ruger for writer Bob Wallack.  It has a tall front sight and a flat faced ejector rod button like the “L” to “X” series Alphabet Cats.  One of a kind gun.

Inscribed Bearcat

Inscribed on the grip frame backstrap, “To Herb Glass from Bill Ruger”.  This gun has two one of a kind features, a 3/16 inch brass front sight and a milled notch in the left side of the receiver so you could view a loaded cartridge case rim.  Only one made, s/n 16.

Engraved Bearcat

In the factory collection.  Engraved by John Warren on special order from Bill Ruger.  S/n 43813, the only Bearcat engraved by factory.

 

If anyone has any additional information on these little guns it would be most appreciated.  As you can see, the Bearcat has many interesting standard and non-standard variations that can keep a collector real busy for quite some time attempting to obtain good specimens.  These are great little guns….I suggest that you all get you a few!!

Bill Hamm

Read more about Bill on the "About Us" page.

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The Ruger Owners & Collectors Society is an active organization for all Ruger Owners, Shooters and Collectors.  Annual Membership includes a ROCS Logo Brassard, the latest Digest Magazine and an invitation to ROCS events.  There will be two Digest magazines published every year.  For more information and to apply for annual membership please visit www.Rugersociety.com on the web or write to ROCS, P. O. Box 1026, Killen, AL  35645-1026.  We welcome you!!

 

 

 

Click pictures for a larger version.

 

This is Ruger Bearcat #375 along with a 1858 Remington New Police.  I believe that Bill Ruger patterned the Bearcat after this percussion revolver, as you can see, they have a lot of similarities.

 

 

Advertisement for the new Ruger Bearcat from the back cover of the October 1958 issue of GUNS Magazine.

 

 

Close-up view of a Bearcat cylinder’s words “RUGER BEARCAT”.

 

Close-up view of the “Bear” on a Bearcat cylinder.

 

Close-up view of the “Cougar” or “Cat” on a Bearcat cylinder.

 

Top view of a Bearcat box top.

 

 

End and right side view of a Bearcat box top.

 

 

This advertisement from Klein’s of Chicago, IL would allow you to buy a Bearcat on a “Lay-away” plan…and they would mail it directly to you.  Ah, the good old days!!

 

 

This is Bearcat #19.  It is new in its original box and shipping carton.  It was originally shipped to Pete Kuhlhoff, Argosy Gun Writer.  Extremely rare Cat!!

 

 

Close-up view of #19’s serial number.

 

 

This is #19’s ¼” tall front sight and concave/”dimpled” ejector rod button found on the first early production guns.  This gun has a “non-fluted” staked front sight blade.  The blades could be fluted or non-fluted on the early one, two, and three digit guns.

 

 

Close-up view of a rare three digit Bearcat’s serial number, #375.

 

 

Close-up view of the first “Alphabet” series #A931.  The “Alphabets” all had a letter of the alphabet as a prefix to their 3-digit numeric serial number.  All letters of the alphabet were used except the letter ”O”.

 

 

View of Alphabet #A931’s tall ¼” “fluted” staked front sight and concave  ejector rod button.  These were found on the first variation of the Alphabet guns serial numbers A001 through approx. M500.

 

 

Close-up of Alphabet #L922’s serial number.

 

 

View of Alphabet #L922’s fluted tall ¼” front sight and the new “flat” faced ejector rod button.  The button change created the second variation of the Alphabet series.  Approx. M500 through X165.

 

 

This is Alphabet #Z448, one of the very scarce 3rd variation of the Alphabet series with it’s shorter factory 3/16” fluted staked front sight.

 

 

Close-up of Alphabet #Z448’s serial number.

 

 

View of #Z448’s shorter 3/16” fluted staked front sight and flat faced ejector rod button. 

 

 

Serial number 5085, one of the early Bearcats after the Alphabet series.  They had the same characteristics of the last Alphabets…3/16” fluted front sights and large flat ejector button.  This Kitty sports a nice old set of pretty stag grip panels.

 

 

 

Close-up view of #5085’s serial number.  The small 1/16” height numbers were used on the Bearcats up through approximately 35000.

 

 

This is Bearcat #53702, toward the end of a variation that has the larger 1/8” serial number and oiled grip panels with the light stamped medallion but still retains a steel ejector rod housing.  Almost all Bearcats had aluminum ERHs after serial number 50000.

 

 

Close-up view of #53702’s serial number and a portion of the steel ejector rod housing.

 

 

Serial number 68112, larger 1/8” height s/ns, aluminum ejector rod housing, oiled walnut grip panels with “light” stamped aluminum medallions. 

 

 

Close-up view of a “light” stamped medallion with the trademark Ruger Eagle.

 

 

Close-up of a Bearcat’s barrel address.  This address has the intertwined “SR” in the trademark Ruger Eagle logo.

 

 

Close-up view of a Bearcat’s barrel address that no intertwined “SR” in the trademark Ruger Eagle Logo.

 

 

This is a “prefix” serial number #90-17616.  The prefix was added in 1969 to individualize each gun’s serial number after the “Gun Control Act Of 1968” was passed with this requirement.

 

 

Close-up view of #90-17616 “prefix” serial number. 

 

 

Close-up view of the “heavy” stamped grip medallion on #90-17616.

 

 

Close-up view of one of the rare “six-digit” Bearcat's serial number.  This one is #990853.

 

 

 

Close-up view of one of the rare duplicate serial numbered Bearcats.  This is a ”D” prefix stamped Bearcat, s/n D98164.  There is a Bearcat out there somewhere numbered 98164 that needs to be paired up with this little bugger!

 

 

Close-up view of one of the rare duplicate serial numbered Bearcats with a suffix “ D” stamp.  S/n 80017D.  Anyone owning #80017 sure has a buyer if they want to sell it!! 

 

 

This is a very rare “second or used” Bearcat.  S/n 61686, few made.  It has a small “s” stamped under the cylinder/grip frame ahead of the trigger guard. 

 

 

Close-up view of #61686’s serial number and the small “s” stamped on the bottom of the cylinder/grip frame in front of the trigger guard.  Very rare gun. 

 

 

One of the highly sought after “Blackguard” Bearcats with the blue/black anodized or “japanned” trigger guards.  Very rare.

 

 

View of the one of a kind “Inscribed” Bearcat #16 laying in its box on top of its cardboard shipping carton.

 

 

#16’s original instructions and warranty card.

 

 

Original letter from Mr. Herb Glass telling about his testing of #16 for Bill Ruger.  He explains his requested modifications to the little gun when he returned it to Bill Ruger.

 

 

View of the inscription on the back strap of #16, “To Herb Glass from Bill Ruger”.  The box and shipper can be seen in the background.

 

 

Another view of #16’s inscription.

 

 

View of the one of a kind factory “milled notch” of the left side of the receiver of Bearcat #16.  This was done so you can see the cartridge rim of the case in the loaded chamber.  Bill Ruger performed this alteration at the request of Herb Glass after he had tested and returned the gun.  Bill also had the Bearcat  inscribed on its grip frame backstrap and later sent it back to Herb as a gift.

 

 

View of the other alteration requested by Herb Glass after testing #16.  A shorter 3/16” fluted staked “brass” front sight blade was installed.  This is the only Bearcat with these factory alterations.

 

 

Close-up view of #16’s serial number. 

 

 

Another close-up view of the back strap inscription on Herb Glass’ #16 Cat.

 

 

View of a rare British Proof marked Alphabet Bearcat that made it back to the States.  This one is R221 and you can see the small British Crown Proof mark on the cylinder.

 

 

This is a view of the Proof marking on the barrel and left side of the cylinder frame of Alphabet R221.

 

 

Close-up view of the small proof mark on Alphabet R221’s cylinder frame.