Ruger Bisley Vaquero

by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn

Most everyone who is even slightly interested in handguns, and particularly revolvers, knows of the surge in popularity of Cowboy Action Shooting in recent years. As a result, we have seen a great proliferation of handguns, rifles, and shotguns produced to meet the demands of competitors in the sport. 

One such handgun is Ruger's Vaquero. The Spanish word "Vaquero" translates to "Cowboy" in English. The marketing people at Ruger were doing their job well when they named the gun.

In developing the Vaquero, Ruger used for the basis their excellent Blackhawk design, with a couple of changes. The most noticeable change was the front and rear sights. The Blackhawk has had, from its inception, a set of good adjustable sights. For the Cowboy competitor, the sights were a serious impediment to using the Ruger, as the spirit of the game calls for sights that were equal to the ones in use in the 1800s. Ruger changed the sights on the gun to resemble in appearance and function the ones on the Colt and Remington single actions of the period.

Shooters reaction to the Vaquero has been both positive and overwhelming, as it seems as if the supply of the guns still cannot meet the demand. 

It wasn't too long after the introduction of the Vaquero that Ruger mated its smooth-topped frame with the grip from their excellent Bisley model. The resulting Bisley Vaquero model is the subject of this article. The regular centerfire Bisley model proved to be a real good design from the viewpoint of the shooter. The Blackhawk and later Vaquero models were always good shooters for their intended purpose, but can be painful with the heaviest loads. Another limitation of the Ruger Bisley is that you can buy it in any barrel length you want, as long as it is 7 1/2 inches, and  any finish you want, as long as it is blued. The Bisley grip frame, as made by Ruger, goes a long way toward taming the recoil of heavy bullet loads in the .44 magnum and .45 Colt. The 7 1/2 inch barrel, however, while fine for accurate shooting, is a little too long for a good packin' pistol, in my opinion. The Vaquero can be had in 4 5/8", 5 1/2", or 7 1/2" inch barrel lengths. By combining the Bisley grip frame with the Vaquero design, Ruger gave us a good-handling, easy packin' revolver that was also comfortable with the heaviest loads.

The gun chosen for this test is a 4 5/8" stainless steel Bisley Vaquero with Ruger's ivory-polymer grips. The finish is, unlike the brushed finish on the stainless Blackhawks, highly polished to a mirror shine. This was done, I believe, to look much like the nickel finish on the old Colts but with all the advantages of stainless. The finish will not peel, chip, or wear off. The gun has a good balance and feel in my hand. I greatly prefer the handle on the old Flat top Rugers, the XR-3, to any grip that they have ever made,  including the grip on this gun. The only problem with the old Blackhawk grip is that with real heavy loads, it wears out the patience on my middle finger. The recoil with that grip causes the trigger guard to whack the heck out of that finger with every shot, when shooting the 300 grain .44 loads. The Bisley grip just doesn't deliver the recoil to the old finger as does the plowhandle design of the other Ruger single actions.

For this test, I fired the Bisquero with three different loads. One was Remington's UMC 180 grain jacketed soft points. The other two were handloads with 200 grain and 300 grain hard-cast flat point bullets. All testing was done at 25 yards and fired over a Pact Precision chronograph. The Remingtons moved out of the barrel at over 1500 feet per second and shot to point of aim at 25 yards, grouping into about 3 1/2 inches. The 200 grain loads, which I shoot mostly in my old Flat top, shot very low in the test gun, but could be regulated by carefully filing down the front sight. The reason, however for trying out this gun was to determine how it would shoot with the heavy 300 grain bullets loaded to about 1200 feet per second. The sights were dead on with this load at 25 yards. They actually chronographed at 1255 fps. The problem which surfaced during testing was related only to the finish on the sights. The front sight has the same high polish as the rest of the gun, and depending on the light can glare like the Sun, making a precise sight picture impossible. I realize that this gun isn't made for bull's-eye target shooting, but would still be much better with a non-glare finish on the front sight. I believe that if I decide to keep this gun, I will use a checkering file on the rear surface of the front sight. This would cure the only flaw that I could find with the gun, as I prefer properly regulated fixed sights to adjustable ones on a revolver of this type. Cutting the glare off the sights should tighten the groups considerably.

I think that in creating the Bisley Vaquero, Ruger has made a gun for much more than Cowboy action shooting. This gun seems more like a great, everyday, working gun than anything else. Cowboy shooting is moving more in the direction of light, soft-shooting loads for the most part. Where the Bisley Vaquero excels is in handling the heaviest loads for hunting, or protection from man or beast.

For complete specifications and list prices on Ruger products, click here.

Jeff Quinn


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The Ruger Stainless Bisley Vaquero











The Ruger Vaquero brings Ruger's legendary ruggedness, accuracy and quality to a gun any traditionalist will love












The Bisquero shows good off-hand accuracy at 25 yards - dulling the front sight should render off-hand accuracy even better