Limited Edition Ruger Bearcat Shopkeeper Sixguns from Tyler Gun Works

by Boge Quinn

photography by Boge Quinn

March 3rd, 2017


Click pictures for a larger version.







Fifteen-foot group, fired standing offhand.



Each Tyler Gun Works Limited Edition Bearcat Shopkeeper comes with an individually-numbered Certificate of Authenticity.



Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love the diminutive Ruger Bearcat revolver. It is perfectly suited for what is probably my all-time favorite cartridge, the 22 Long Rifle. The Bearcat is to single-action sixguns what the Smith & Wesson J-Frame 22 is to double-action sixguns: namely, the perfect "Kit Gun", or what my friend and brother Shootist John Taffin calls a PPP, or "Perfect Packin' Pistol".

The Ruger Bearcat has been around only a few years longer than I have; introduced in 1958, the Bearcat immediately found a home with many shooters, both then and now. It was introduced as a lightweight, aluminum-alloy-framed hunting companion, perfect for taking vermin or small game for the pot. It soon became a favorite for this use, and also found much favor as a youth's first sixgun, or a much-appreciated piece for those like me who are charmed by its perfection. It is estimated that Ruger sold over 150,000 Bearcats from its introduction in 1958 until its discontinuation in 1970.

In 1971, Ruger rolled-out a new version of the Bearcat, this time with a steel frame, and called it the Super Bearcat. The Super Bearcat proved to be as popular as the original Bearcat, with over 60,000 sold during the short 2-1/2 year life span of the model, 1971 to 1974.

The world had to struggle along without a Bearcat in Ruger's lineup until Ruger finally saw the light and introduced a somewhat-redesigned Bearcat into their product line in 1993. Aptly named the New Bearcat, this sixgun employs a steel frame like the Super Bearcat, with a stainless steel version following. The New Bearcat sports Ruger's patented transfer bar safety system, which allows the New Bearcat to be safely carried with a live round under the chamber. Like all previous Ruger single-actions, and all previous single-actions since Sam Colt first thought them up, the older Bearcat models could fire if a live round was carried under the hammer, and the sixgun was dropped. Ruger's transfer bar changed all that, and all Ruger sixguns made since the New Model lockwork debuted in 1973 (except the Old Model Super Bearcat, which kept its old-style lockwork until its discontinuation in 1974) are safe to carry fully loaded. By the way, if the imagined lack of safety of the Old Model lockwork concerns you, Ruger will upgrade any Old Model with the transfer bar safety free of charge; they even pay the shipping to and from the Ruger factory for you. I do not take advantage of this offer, as I prefer the Old Model lockwork, and I recognize that the only effective safety device lies between the shooter's ears.

Our friends at Lipsey's distributors in Baton Rouge, LA, have been instrumental in getting Ruger to run special models that shooters like Jeff and me find most desirable, and the Bearcat is no exception. In 2015, Lipsey's nudged Ruger into making Bearcats in blued and stainless steel with adjustable sights, making a wonderful sixgun demonstrably better. Previous to this, an adjustable-sighted Bearcat was an expensive custom proposition, and over the years I have had several custom adjustable-sighted Bearcats made: an original lightweight 22 LR / 22 Magnum convertible made by Hamilton Bowen, a steel-frame Bowen "Perfected Bearcat", and a wonderful five-shot steel-framed 32 Magnum Bearcat by Alan Harton.

Lipsey's was similarly responsible for Ruger beginning production of what is simply one of the best little production sixguns ever made: the Bearcat Shopkeeper, introduced in stainless steel in 2013, and followed-up by a blued version last year. The original stainless Shopkeeper featured a round-butted "birds-head" grip shape, along with a 3" barrel, shortened from the standard Bearcat's 4" tube; this resulted in a much-different sixgun, with magnificent handling qualities, and quickly became one of my favorite around-the-farm carry pieces. The blued version was slightly different: the birds-head grip shape was retained, but the barrel length was increased to 3-1/2", in order to allow for a more positive ejector rod stroke. I had never experienced any problems with the 3" length kicking-out empties, but the 3-1/2" length does punch them out better, without significantly altering the Shopkeeper's handiness. Another change to the blued version is that, for the first time ever, a factory Bearcat became available with a fluted cylinder, rather than the unfluted cylinder with "Bear and Cat" roll engraving that had been standard on every previous Bearcat model. I always liked the unfluted cylinder, but I have to admit the fluted variation gives the blued Shopkeeper a unique and pleasing look.

Bobby Tyler of Tyler Gun Works in Friona, TX, has been one of the best-kept secrets in the firearms industry. His little shop has done finish and gunsmithing work for individual shooters, small shops, and major manufacturers. Tyler has become known primarily for his finish work, and his is one of a very few places where metal parts are properly color casehardened. Color casehardening is a very old process by which heat is used to harden the surface of steels, and dates back to times when steel did not possess the hardness of modern steels, and had to be hardened in order to be strong enough to contain the pressures generated by gunpowder. When the older steels were hardened using this tedious process, which is not just a finish but penetrates and hardens the steel's surface, the beautiful colors which are associated with the older guns of Colt and others resulted. Color casehardening, in my opinion, results in the most beautiful of guns; colors range from straws to browns to purples, swirling and coalescing in a stunning fashion. Tyler color-cases using the old, and best, methods, resulting in the hues and patterns that are identical to the old Colt colors so prized by collectors. Tyler has even discovered a way to color-case stainless steel, which was always thought to be impossible. He is, in short, a Master of his art.

Being a man of fine and refined tastes, Bobby Tyler soon became enamored of the Bearcat Shopkeeper, and decided to offer a limited run of a custom color-cased version. He contracted with Lipsey's for a small number of Shopkeepers to be sent to his shop, and the result of this collaboration between Lipsey's and Tyler Gun Works are the sixguns featured here: the Tyler Gun Works Ruger Bearcat Shopkeeper Color Cased Limited Edition of 200.

Jeff and I ran into Bobby Tyler at the 2017 SHOT Show, where he showed us a sample of the Tyler Shopkeeper. I was captivated by it, and ordered one on the spot. Bobby went on to tell me about a Limited Edition within the Limited Edition: of the 200 Tyler Shopkeepers to be produced, 20 were to be fully-engraved in Bobby's shop, and all but one were already bespoke. An instant later, that last engraved Bearcat had my name on it!

About a week ago, we received the pair: a standard Tyler Color-cased Bearcat, ordered by my brother Greg, and my engraved model. We couldn't be happier with them, both aesthetically and mechanically; I knew Bobby would do a great job with the finishing, but I had not seen the quality of hand-engraving that Bobby's in-house engraver was able to attain. To say I was pleased with the engraver's work would be an understatement; the engraving was both well-designed and well-executed. Another aspect of these sixguns which was unexpected at the price, was that Bobby threw in some light gunsmithing tweaks: Bobby receives the sixguns from Lipsey's fully-assembled, and strips them for finishing. When he puts the guns back together, he addresses details such as barrel/cylinder gaps, trigger pulls, and timing to assure the best possible outcome.

While we are on the subject of price, let's get to that: Tyler's standard color-cased Bearcat Shopkeeper package is only $599.99. When you consider that a standard Shopkeeper will run you about $500 for an average street price, you can see that the Tyler Shopkeeper is a real bargain. For only about $100 more, you get the beauty of color-casehardening, in a strictly limited-edition sixgun, with the added benefit of some light action tuning. You can purchase directly from Tyler Gun Works, and the Bearcat will be sent to your friendly favorite local dealer, where the transfer will be completed in the usual manner.

Shooting the Tyler Bearcats was a joy - and yes, I did shoot them both! I take care of my guns, but I do shoot them, as that is the purpose for which they are intended. Some might not want to actually use such an heirloom-quality gun, but as my brother Jeff says, "Which do you think your grandkids will want...a pristine, unused Safe Queen, or Grandpa's old favorite sixgun?" If the answer is the former, they deserve neither.

Anyway, the Bearcat Shopkeeper is not a target revolver, and I did not treat these as such. Bearcats are best suited for light, close-range target work, and for targets of opportunity; in short, Bearcats are meant for FUN, and fun they are. The fifteen-foot playing-card groups shown in the pictures were as close as I got to formal target work, and the CCI bulk ammo used for this shooting grouped very well, but consistently low-left. Initially I thought this was consistent shooter error, but both Bearcats shot dead-on to the sights with Remington bulk ammo, and slightly low-center with Federal. The Tyler Bearcat Shopkeeper proved minute-of-pine-cone accurate beyond 25 yards, and that is good enough for the informal plinking I intend to accomplish with these sixguns.

The Tyler Gun Works Bearcat Shopkeepers are fun, beautiful, reliable, accurate, and a true bargain. I highly recommend you get them while the getting is good.

As I often say, a fine sixgun deserves fine leather; these are fine and rare sixguns, deserving of the best. For this, my friend and brother Shootist Mike Barranti makes just the thing. Barranti Leather offers a wide variety of styles and options, and I found his Northwest Hunter shoulder rig, coupled with a Shootist-stamped Bearcat holster I have had for a few years, to be a perfect companion to my Tyler Shopkeeper. Barranti also offers his Universal Strongside Holster Adapter, which allows any of his chest rigs to use almost any strongside holster from any maker, completing a beautiful, comfortable, and extremely versatile carry system. Barranti's leather artistry is second to none, past or present; while his leather is not cheap, the best never is, and you never regret buying the best.

Order the Tyler Gun Works Limited Edition Ruger Bearcat Shopkeeper at

Check out the Ruger Bearcat series, along with the wide and diverse Ruger line, at

To order the standard Bearcat Shopkeeper from a dealer in your area, click on the DEALER FINDER at

View Mike Barranti's leather artistry and order Barranti Leather at

To buy 22 Long Rifle ammo online, go to and

Boge Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.





Fifteen-foot group, fired standing offhand.



Barranti Leather Northwest Hunter rig.