Ruger Bird's Head Vaquero 


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn


At the 2001 SHOT Show, Ruger introduced their .45 Vaquero with a "bird's  head" grip. After a few months of waiting for a production piece, the sixgun finally arrived. It was worth the wait. "Bird's Head" refers to the shape of the grip frame of the revolver. The revolver is otherwise practically the same as their other Vaquero models, the main variations being the cylinder base pin and the barrel length. 

The cylinder base pin has been modified to accommodate the shortened ejector  rod, giving maximum useful length to the ejection stroke without interference from the head of the base pin. That seems to be a thoughtful touch, and in no way detracts from the looks and feel of the sixgun. The barrel length is three and three-quarters inches. 

The new revolver is offered in both a blued / case-colored finish and in polished stainless steel, with the latter sent here for testing. Both sixguns are furnished with black micarta grip panels, and chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge. 

Fit and finish on the gun were absolutely perfect, with no flaws or tool marks observed. The fit of the grip panels were especially good; much better than I have come to expect on a production revolver.

The shape of the grip panels are slightly different, and in my opinion better, than the ones on the prototype guns at the SHOT Show. The grip of the little sixgun is both compact and hand-filling, resulting in a comfortable hold. The black micarta  panels are beautiful, with a black and silver Ruger medallion, and contrasts  nicely with the polished stainless grip frame. 

The overall look and feel of the Bird's Head evokes an image of a nineteenth century belly gun. While open carry of sixguns was a practice in some parts of the world in the latter part of the 1800s, much more common was the need to carry concealed. Many people, while going about their daily business, did not want to advertise the fact that they were going heeled. This resulted in the need for concealable handguns. Some carried Deringers and such other small weapons, while the more knowledgeable saw a need for a full-power revolver. In the late 1800s, just as today, if the need arises to  pull a handgun, one usually needs it to be both quick and powerful. It is easy to imagine that the Ruger Bird's Head would fit in nicely with a storekeeper or gambler in the Old West. While most eastern cities had higher murder rates than did the western towns of the nineteenth century, the single-action .45 will forever be associated with days of the western cowboy, gambler, and lawman of the Old West, and rightly so. The Bird's Head is a  good compromise of portability, concealability, and power in a single-action revolver. I predict that this gun will be extremely popular with the Cowboy Action Shooters. 

Weight of the Ruger Bird's Head is only 38 ounces with an overall length of nine and one-quarter inches. The gun has the standard Vaquero fixed blade front sight and square notch rear, and a capacity of six rounds. Having Ruger's patented transfer bar, the gun can be safely carried with a live round in each chamber. The Ruger is supplied with a hard plastic storage case, instruction manual, and cable lock. 

The balance and feel of the Bird's Head was excellent. The grip is long enough to accomodate all the fingers of my hand, with the hammer within easy reach of my thumb. The trigger pull was initially pretty good, but after performing a quick "poor boy's trigger job" (see Jeff's article at Poor Boy's Trigger Job), it was just about perfect. 

After much shooting at various objects, I settled down at the bench with my standard .45 Colt loads using both 200 and 250 grain bullets to shoot a few groups. I was very pleased to find that the front sight was high enough to place the heavier bullets at point-of-aim at 21 yards. The groups varied in size from 1-1/4 to 2-1/2 inches at 21 yards. The chamber throats were a bit under bullet size at .450", and accuracy might be improved a little with careful polishing to .452", but the accuracy of this little sixgun was pretty  good as is. 

Functioning was flawless throughout testing. Velocity loss was negligible in the short barrel, in part due to the well-fitted cylinder. Barrel / cylinder gap was a nice, tight .002".

Overall, I was very impressed with the little Bird's Head .45; much more so than with the prototype. The grip is comfortable in both handling and shooting qualities. The Bird's Head grip did an excellent job of handling the recoil of the .45 Colt round. 

For a new compact single action designed and built to withstand a lifetime of heavy loads, carry comfortably, and last  forever, I can think of none better than this little Ruger. With the added benefit of the fact that it is downright beautiful, well built, and backed by Ruger's excellent service, it is a bargain at the suggested price of $549.00. 

I like it. 

See this and all Ruger products at: 

Jeff Quinn 


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Given the great beauty of this particular sixgun, I have added links to higher-resolution pictures for your enjoyment. Click on the pictures below to see a higher-resolution version.

Boge Quinn


Ruger's Bird's Head Vaquero revolver is a beautiful and practical revolver. It will find great favor with Cowboy Action Shooters and those who love beautiful and nostalgic sixguns. 



The most distinguishing feature of the Bird's Head Vaquero is naturally the bird's head grip. The black micarta grip panels are a beautiful contrast to the brightly-polished stainless steel gun, and the fit of the grip panels is superb.



A noticeable improvement over the excellent prototypes displayed at the 2001 SHOT Show (SHOT Show 2001) and the 2001 NRA Show NRA Annual Meetings 2001), Ruger's version of the bird's head grip fits the hand extremely well and handles the recoil of the .45 Colt very comfortably. 



An ingenious touch is Ruger's modification to the cylinder base pin. The flattened head of the base pin allows a longer stroke for the shortened ejector rod, yet the base pin is still easy to remove.



The Ruger Bird's Head Vaquero comes equipped with Ruger's now-familiar gray plastic carrying case and cable lock.



Displaying acceptable accuracy for an Old-West belly gun, Ruger's Bird's Head Vaquero should appeal to sixgunners desiring real firepower in a handier, gorgeous package!