Here’s your firearm’s philosophy question-of-the-day: Is the Ruger Vaquero a big Bearcat, or is the Bearcat a small Vaquero? I can’t decide.
The origins of the Bearcat are nebulous, at best. The gun has come and gone from Ruger’s line-up. It is clearly based on the historical single actions that dominate wild west mythology. Ruger released the Bearcat before the Vaquero, but the original design for the rimfire revolver was borrowed from a late 19th century Remington design. The name for the Bearcat may have come from the F8F Bearcat, a WWII era navy fighter made by Grumman, or from the Stutz Bearcat, which was a popular roadster of the early 20th century. Or from a western or two that shared the name, or from the binturong, a Southeast Asian mammal that looks like a small cat-like bear, or maybe a bear-like cat. Regardless of the nomenclature, the Ruger Bearcat is a feisty rimfire single action, another branch on the single-action family tree, and much more than a novelty.
First I need to air my prejudice. I have an abiding respect for single action revolvers. Some of it is nostalgia I was just referring to. I learned to shoot under the tutelage of my grandfather, and he taught me with his old single actions.
He had a number of Rugers, too. I can remember plinking old tin cans with his Single Six back when I was just seven. By the time I was eleven, I had moved up to his well-worn 3 screw .357 Blackhawk. It was a couple more years before I was able to manage the Super Blackhawk in .44 Mag. I can still feel the pain in my hand and the grin on my face from the first time I pulled the trigger on that beast.
As with most of us, my “toys” have gotten bigger as I have gotten older. But the little Bearcat takes me back to when shooting tin cans with a .22 was the biggest thrill of my life. And in a lot of ways, it is still my favorite way to kill an afternoon.
Sometimes it is nice to slow down. It seems like we are rushed more and more, all the time in our “fast food” culture. Heck, that even applies to range time. It is a lot of fun to rapid fire a polymer pistol and rip through a 30 round mag on an AR. But sometimes you just need to take your time and enjoy some slow-motion at the range. The Ruger Bearcat makes you slow down.
This is a 6 shot single-action revolver. You load each cartridge one at a time into the cylinder, through a loading gate. And you eject them one at a time, too. It takes a bit to load and unload. And rimfire rounds aren’t as easy to load as .44 Magnums, or .45 Colts. They’re small, and the holes they go in are small. After taking some time to load up 6 rounds (and pick up the ones you drop), you tend to take your time shooting. You make your shots count. And this is .22 LR we’re talking about, which is still about as hard to find as…
The Ruger Bearcat is a small revolver. It weighs 24 ounces and is right at 9 inches long, though it feels much smaller in the hand. It comes with a barrel that is just over 4 inches. The sights are fixed. It is kind of like a mini Ruger Vaquero. Well, the Bearcat came first—so maybe the Vaquero is a big Bearcat. Either way, this is simplicity at its finest. The review model is blued steel with the traditional Ruger rosewood grips. It is a nice looking revolver. Ruger makes a stainless version as well.
Leather and Blued Steel
There’s nothing even remotely tacticool about the Bearcat, but it is right at home on the farm. This would make a great little barn gun for pesky critters in the feed room. When I picture a blued steel revolver, I usually think of a nice leather holster to go along with it. I had Leather Creek Holsters send me one of their Bearcat holsters. This is a very nice well made piece of leather. The hand-stamped basket-weave of the Leather Creek, especially in this deep red, accentuates the grips on the Bearcat. It fit the Bearcat nice and tight. The traditional hammer loop holds the revolver in tightly and I wouldn’t be afraid of it coming out while on a ride. Follow this link for a more in-depth look at Leather Creek Holsters.
The New vs. The Old
The Bearcat originally came out back in 1958. But when Ruger changed up their revolver line to use their new transfer bar safety mechanism, the Bearcat went out of production. Between 1975 and 1993 you couldn’t buy a brand-new Bearcat. In 93 Ruger reintroduced the Bearcat with the transfer bar safety. With a revolver as small as this one, Ruger must have needed time to get the design just right and to fit the extra pieces inside. It is a tight fit. But you can carry the New Bearcat with all 6 chambers loaded instead of 5 like on the old model.
At the Range
I shot the Bearcat on a number of different trips to the range. I used whatever 22 LR ammo I had (or could get my hands on). Some were fancy Federal match-grade rounds and some were 10-year-old CCIs I found in the bottom of a long forgotten range bag. One of the great things about a revolver is that it doesn’t care what type of ammo you shoot out of it. This was true for the Bearcat. Everything functioned, as it should, every time. This is a really fun little revolver. The recoil is extremely mild and would be great for teaching a first time shooter.
As fun as it is to shoot, I like to hit what I’m aiming at. Ruger makes some tack drivers. I’ve shot 10/22s, and 22/45s, and Mark IIIs that are dead on. Ruger understands how much it means to shooters, and even function test all of their guns before they leave the factory-and part of that function testing includes some basic accuracy evaluations. It is a lot more than most companies do. Yet this one needs some help.
The groups we shot with the Bearcat were not great. It didn’t matter what type of ammo we used. They were pretty wide. This revolver should be able to do much better. From 7 yards they were about .8 inches and opened up to over two inches around from 25 yards. You could look to the platform itself—rimfire revolvers aren’t, on the whole, as accurate as rimfire pistols. The sights on the Bearcat aren’t meant for surgical work. But there’s a bigger problem, and I am pretty sure I know what it is.
I am a big fan of Ruger revolvers and have shot a bunch of them over the years. Like some of my daughter’s potential boyfriends, this Bearcat trigger has some grit, some mush, and a touch of creep. It was also inconsistent. Sometimes it broke around 7 pounds, other times it was closer to 8. It even dropped to 6 pounds a few times. I have shot other Bearcats, new and old models, and none of them had a trigger that felt like this. If this were my personal gun, I would send it back to Ruger for repair. Ruger has great customer service and I have no doubt they would make this right.
And this is testament to a question we at GunsAmerica get from time-to-time. No, Ruger doesn’t cherry-pick the best guns to send to their reviewers. They pull one from the production models and send it on. Occasionally, though very rarely (especially with Ruger), a gun may have an issue that needs more attention.
The trigger isn’t enough to keep me from enjoying the gun. Yet there are some things that I’d like to do with a gun like this that I won’t, at least not until I get the trigger smoothed out. Think about the potential as a teaching tool. If I’ve learned anything about teaching kids, it is that you don’t buy the cheap-ass crap that they market to kids. Go for the best. Make the experience rewarding, and they’ll come back. The Bearcat is the ideal gun to introduce kids to handguns, or it can be. This one will be, after a little work.
If this Bearcat had a better trigger it would be a winner. Even with the bad pull, I did have fun with it. A better trigger would improve the accuracy. With such a small, light revolver, it can be a challenge to keep the gun on target. When the weight was coupled with the pull weight fluctuations, I found it almost impossible to know when the trigger was going to break.
Still, the Bearcat really is a nice little revolver. This quality is reflected in the price. The New Bearcat has an MSRP of $569. That puts this gun in line with a lot of the full-sized single action revolvers on the market (at least the imports). If it were a novelty, or just intended to be a fun-gun, it would have to come in at a much lower price point. But this revolver has higher aspirations. It is a fun range plinker that could also be a useful tool on the farm. I enjoyed the nostalgia of shooting some tin cans. Maybe that is the problem with the groups. The Bearcat doesn’t want to be a range queen. It wants to blast tin cans and protect the corn crib from rats, and it wants to be a quality teaching tool that will out-live you, but not the legacy you instill in your kids and grand-kids. The Bearcat is certainly up for that.