Ruger’s SASS Tricked-out Vaqueros —Cowboy Shooting

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The original 3 gun competition--only with 4 guns.

The original 3 gun competition–only with 4 guns.

Cowboy Action shooting is a growing part of our shooting sport. If you haven’t gone to check out a match, you should. While working on this review, I did just that. It was a blast with some super nice guys that have a genuine love for what they do and shooting sports in general. It is like old-school 3 gun but with revolvers, lever action rifles and double barreled shotguns. You know, what the cowboys used! But the guns that are used are really tricked out. Ruger is now offering a matched set of Vaqueros with some of the custom work already done. These twin Vaqueros are perfect for the aspiring pistolero.

A base line

Ruger Vaqueros are not exactly like what were carried in the Old West. They look like an old Colt Peace Maker, until you look closely. I’m referring to the 2 pins instead of the screws that are on the Colts and clones. Differences aside, the Vaqueros are one of, if not the most, common revolvers used in the Cowboy Action sport. There is a reason for that. They are very well made, American made, revolvers. They may be a bit anachronistic, but very few in the Single Action Shooting Society dwell on hardcore verisimilitude.

The silver-on-black scheme makes for a handsome, if not 100% historically accurate revolver.

The silver-on-black scheme makes for a handsome, if not 100% historically accurate revolver.

The standard Ruger Vaquero is a 6 shot revolver that is available in a number of calibers. The most notable thing that sets them apart from the Blackhawks is the fixed sights. The current version of the Vaquero is based on the mid frame size Blackhawk, the .357 sized one. There was an earlier version of the Vaquero that was on a heavier frame. The old Vaqueros are safe to shoot the hot “Ruger only” loads found in most reloading manuals. The new models are not. But that is OK for the Cowboy crowd that is mostly shooting very light target loads.

The New Vaquero also has a nice feature that helps with loading and unloading. Ruger calls it the Reverse Indexing Pawl that allows you to turn the cylinder back a bit if you missed the chamber in the window of the loading gate. If you have shot single action revolvers enough, you know what a pain in the butt it is if you spin a cylinder too far.

Cock with your left hand, shoot with your right. Note the transfer bar covering the pin.

Cock with your left hand, shoot with your right. Note the transfer bar covering the pin.

The Vaqueros also use Ruger’s transfer bar system. You can safely carry the revolver with all 6 chambers loaded, unlike the old Ruger, Colts and their clones which have the hammer resting on the firing pin, (or the Colts that have the firing pin on the hammer itself). However, this is not a benefit for SASS matches because you only load 5 rounds in your revolvers. Like the cowboys did. Except John Wayne when he knew trouble was brewing.

The Special SASS

SASS stands for Single Action Shooting Society. The review set of Vaqueros have a couple of special features including having their consecutive serial numbers starting with SASS. The other two features are both common to many of the tricked out guns used in this sport. This is a sport of taking what is an old design and tweaking it a bit to make it run faster and smoother. The SASS Vaqueros have special grips that have the SASS logo in place of the usual Ruger hawk. The grips have a nice checkering and are reminiscent of the old hard rubber Colt grips. Ruger makes these in a stainless finish chambered in .357 and .45 Long Colt. The .357 has a 4.62 inch barrel and the .45 has a 5.5. The suggested retail is $1,618 for the set. The review set is the .45 Colt model.

The rear sight channel is a groove down the top strap.

The rear sight channel is a groove down the top strap.

Another feature is a lower and wider hammer spur. After an action job, this is one of the first things that the SASS shooters will change out on their competition guns. They are shooting fast and using the offhand thumb to cock the revolver between each shot. The lower and wider trigger is a big help in picking up some split second times.

The other difference is that the rear sight has been enlarged. The rear sight on the Vaqueros is milled into the top of the frame. On the SASS set it is noticeably wider to help acquire a sight picture quickly. Most of the Cowboy Action stages are pretty close and the targets are almost exclusively steel plate. Sacrificing a little bit of accuracy with a bigger rear sights is an acceptable trade off in this application.

The kick from the stock Hornady shows why so many use light loads in .38.

The kick from the stock Hornady shows why so many use light loads in .38.

Shooting

The Ruger SASS set made a couple of trips to the range for normal testing purposes. They work and shoot like they should. That is the great thing about a single action revolver. As long as the timing and lock up is right, then they go bang every time. It takes a lot of abuse to screw one of these up. Not saying that it can’t be done, but this is the most reliable handgun platform there is. The SASS set revolvers are nice and tight. They are timed correctly and lock up like they should.

When poking holes in paper, the Vaquero’s accuracy was on par for a .45 long colt revolver with this barrel length. From 7 yards it was easy to get all 5 shots touching. It did open up from 15 yards and further quite a bit. I attribute this to the widened rear sight. It is wider than the front. Holding the front sight dead center in the groove at longer ranges was a bit harder than with the normal size. But it wasn’t that bad. Groups were in the 3-4 inch range which is well within most of the Cowboy Action target sizes. And most of the targets are not that far off.

The grip on this Vaquero has been modified to make it thinner and add more grip.

The grip on this Vaquero has been modified to make it thinner and add more grip.

We also took them out to the local Cowboy Actions club’s monthly shoot and shot some stages with them. I have shot a little bit of Cowboy Action in the past. Not to compete, but for fun. The guys at the local club were very friendly and welcoming. They let us use some of their gear and offered insight and instruction on the finer part of this shooting sport. If you haven’t, I strongly encourage you to go check out one of these matches. The speed these guys, and gals, have with revolvers, lever actions and double barrels is impressive. I would be willing to bet they will invite you to shot a stage or two to get the feel of this sport. It is a blast and I am finding it addictive.

Anyways, back to the review.

The Rugers ran great out of the box on the stages we shot. No problems were had and they proved to be accurate on the steel plates. I had 2 misses on one stage but I was rushing too much for my skill level. A miss is a 5 second penalty. I would have been better off taking 4 seconds to make sure I could see the front sight. I have no doubt that these revolver in the hands of a seasoned Cowboy Shooter would perform great. And since this is a sport of custom, tricked out guns they could make them run even better with a little bit of work.

Made for a 5.5" Vaquero. Says so right here. El Paso Saddlery makes some incredible leather holsters.

Made for a 5.5″ Vaquero. Says so right here. El Paso Saddlery makes some incredible leather holsters.

Leather

A nice set of revolvers also need a nice set of holsters. We had the fine folks at El Paso Saddlery make us up a rig for the Rugers. These are some the top-of-the-line leather holsters. This is the Hollywood Fast Draw Double Holster, and it is ornate. Read our review of it here. The leather work is beautiful and the stitching is strong.

Look at the pictures to get an idea of the quality of work here. It is hard to put into words how well made this leather gear is. These being new, the holsters were a little tight on the revolvers but they loosened up after a bit and would only get better with time. And they’re ready made for Hollywood, circa 1931 or so. They loo a bit strange with bluejeans, but would be perfect with rhinestones and woolly chaps.

You’ll need to work with them, regularly. Oil them up good, and get the guns moving in and out. Doing so will help build skills and mold the inside to the exact shape of the gun. Win win.

Shooting single actions, one in both hands, would seem like a lot of fun, but it is harder than it looks.

Shooting single actions, one in both hands, would seem like a lot of fun, but it is harder than it looks.

El Paso's holsters are ideal for the SASS set, and can be made flashy, like these, or more subtle.

El Paso’s holsters are ideal for the SASS set, and can be made flashy, like these, or more subtle.

The guns come in a solid case.

The guns come in a solid case.

A Little Bit More

So, what else could be done to these Vaqueros to make them perform better? There are a ton of different modifications that could be done. They make hammer kits that shorten the distance they travel when cocked. That would probably speed things up a bit. But the only thing this SASS set could benefit from would be an action job. I know my way around the inside of Ruger single actions pretty well. I wrote a DYI action job article not that long ago. This set is pretty good out of the box. But there is a little creep in the trigger and it could be lightened up a bit. They tested at 4.7 and 4.9 respectively,  and would benefit on being around 4-3.5. I wouldn’t go lighter than that, though. The other thing was one of the loading gates is very stiff. That is a pretty easy fix and would be the first thing I would do if these were my revolvers.

Final Thoughts

If you are interested in getting into the SASS shooting this set from Ruger would be a great starting spot. You need two revolvers to compete in this sport. They are strong and reliable and will hold up to the thousand upon thousand rounds you will put down the pipe. They have a couple of nice “custom” features ready to go and are a great platform for doing a bit more to.

Competition Ready?

So are the SASS set ready to go out of the box? The answer to that depends on you. The wide rear sight and the larger hammer spur really do help. But this is a sport of custom guns.

Most of the guys at the club were over 60--some were well over 60, but there isn't an age requirement. Anyone can shoot.

Most of the guys at the club were over 60–some were well over 60, but there isn’t an age requirement. Anyone can shoot.

I had a great time shooting with these old coots. They're fast, too--two shells in the air, and a third on the way.

I had a great time shooting with these old coots. They’re fast, too–two shells in the air, and a third on the way.

The Vaquero's case.

The Vaquero’s case.

The serial numbers begin with SASS.

The serial numbers begin with SASS.

The engraving on the Vaquero.

The engraving on the Vaquero.

The shark fin front sight is easy to see.

The shark fin front sight is easy to see.

Fear not the Ob-sacles in your path.

Fear not the Ob-sacles in your path.

Stainless, or blued. Pick your poison.

Stainless, or blued. Pick your poison.

The SASS emblem on the handle commemorates the sport.

The SASS emblem on the handle commemorates the sport.

Want to know why cowboys don't wear cowboy hats? This smoking hot piece of brass is about to arc down the back of my shirt, and I'm about to dance around like an idiot.

Want to know why cowboys don’t wear cowboy hats? This smoking hot piece of brass is about to arc down the back of my shirt, and I’m about to dance around like an idiot.

The Vaquero is balanced well, but it is completely different than the balance on the compact pistols I usually shoot.

The Vaquero is balanced well, but it is completely different than the balance on the compact pistols I usually shoot.

Ready...set...

Ready…set…

This target set didn't allow for misses. I missed more than I'd thought, too, as I tried to pick up speed.

This target set didn’t allow for misses. I missed more than I’d thought, too, as I tried to pick up speed.

Cock with your left hand, shoot with your right. Note the transfer bar covering the pin.

Cock with your left hand, shoot with your right. Note the transfer bar covering the pin.

This target set didn't allow for misses. I missed more than I'd thought, too, as I tried to pick up speed.

This target set didn’t allow for misses. I missed more than I’d thought, too, as I tried to pick up speed.

A two handed grip helps hold down the muzzle flip, which can be significant depending on the .45 load you are shooting.

A two handed grip helps hold down the muzzle flip, which can be significant depending on the .45 load you are shooting.

The stainless Vaqueros are handsome, without being ostentatious.

The stainless Vaqueros are handsome, without being ostentatious.

We were shooting stock Hornady cowboy loads, but everyone else was running .38 reloads that produced a kick slightly greater than a BB gun.

We were shooting stock Hornady cowboy loads, but everyone else was running .38 reloads that produced a kick slightly greater than a BB gun.

The gate flips down, and the Vaquero loads on the right.

The gate flips down, and the Vaquero loads on the right.

Many of the cowboy guns look less anachronistic.

Many of the cowboy guns look less anachronistic.

Loading is slow, as it has been for 142 odd years.

Loading is slow, as it has been for 142 odd years.

Some of the stages we shot began with the guns on a table rather than in a holster.

Some of the stages we shot began with the guns on a table rather than in a holster.

The Vaquero is easily operated with either hand.

The Vaquero is easily operated with either hand.

Some of the guns laid out at the practice session at Old Fort Gun Club in Fort Smith, Ar.

Some of the guns laid out at the practice session at Old Fort Gun Club in Fort Smith, Ar.

 

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • john smith February 13, 2016, 10:52 pm

    Yeah I’ve seen “Cowboy” action shooting , ………Silverado meets IPSC, squib -loaded raceguns , no smoke,noise or recoil ,
    The REAL “Cowboys” used the most powerful loads they could ,shot first if they could ,
    I like the refined actions of the short-stroke 73s ……but for hunting,defense & general use ; a 1,200fps 200gr. .44 slug hits hard,
    whether out of a 73’winchester or 73 frontier six shooter…….

  • john smith February 13, 2016, 10:50 pm

    Yeah I’ve seen “Cowboy” action shooting , ………Silverado meets IPSC, squib -loaded raceguns , no smoke,noise or recoil ,
    The REAL “Cowboys” used the most powerful loads they could ,shot first if they could ,
    I like the refined actions of the short-stroke 73s ……but for hunting & general use ; a 1,200fps 200gr. .44 slug hits hard,
    whether out of a 73’winchester or 73 frontier six shooter…….

  • David B. December 16, 2014, 9:57 am

    The comment about carrying 5 rounds “just like the real cowboys” is inaccurate. Nobody on the American frontier bought a six-shooter to carry five rounds or a five-shooter to carry four rounds. For those familiar with cap and ball pistols they had provisions for securing the cylinder half way between two chambers enabling a safe carry when fully loaded. This is how cartridge pistols were intended to be carried, with the firing pin resting between two case heads. As for how much our frontiersmen cared about safety, take Wyatt Earp as an example. He actually rarely carried sidearms and rarely bothered with holsters. One night he was carrying a revolver while dealing Faro. The pistol fell out of his belt and discharged upon striking the floor. In what fashion do you think he must have been carrying it?

    The other issue I have is “oiling” leather. Petroleum based oil causes leather to gradually break down. There are plenty of solutions made specifically for leather which are preferable. Mink oil is a good choice. Schnee’s makes a preservative oil that is excellent and I have used it for years. Solutions and creams made for saddles are also a good choice.

    Otherwise, I really enjoyed the article and was happy to see Ruger keeping up with popular trends.

    • Daniel Muniz July 29, 2016, 11:07 am

      That is not true. Believe me after shooting your self in the leg you will go to 5 rounds in the gun. That was pretty standard in those days. Cowboys were also smart not stupid.

  • Dirty Dad December 15, 2014, 2:43 pm

    Another nice touch is the manufacture info engraved under the barrel and out of sight. Photo with caption about grips shows a VQ next to BISLEY model. Is the caption compairing standard VQ to a SASS, or the SASS to the Bisley. Ruger TALO Birdhead grips have the same sight design, hammer and shorter barrel (and 45 ACP option. Unknown if SASS approved). Overall a good article.

  • Ruel Pitts December 15, 2014, 1:00 pm

    The Cowboy guns are real guns. Most of the others look and feel like crap.

  • Gerald December 15, 2014, 10:12 am

    If you buy two handguns in one transaction, the dealer must register them, and you, with the ATF and local law enforcement. It might be better to make arrangements with your dealer to purchase half the set and wait a couple weeks to purchase the other gun. This is perfectly legal, I believe. Check with your dealer.

    • Will Dryder December 15, 2014, 2:20 pm

      What draconian state reguires that? You can buy several firearms and use a single BATFE form for the background check. This is not registration either. You must be in a “one gun a month state”and the Police “registration” must be for a wavier or exemption to STATE OR LOCAL law.

      • Steve Jones December 23, 2014, 1:48 pm

        In the Southwest border states, the ATF requires me and other FFLs to report multiple handgun purchases and detachable box magazine rifle purchases made within a 5 business day period to ATF and the CLEO contact.

      • frank May 29, 2017, 2:09 pm

        It Must be the worst state in the Union, The state with more laws and reason to take you rights and money than any other “NEW JERSEY”

  • David Hartman December 15, 2014, 8:22 am

    The 30-30 round going down your neck made me laugh. At least you had a hat with a bill. I have had my son’s Winchester kick one between my glasses and my face. Now I too wear a hat.

    • Tom Herbert December 15, 2014, 9:32 am

      30-30 is not a legal caliber for SASS matches. It is much too powerful, and would result in dangerous ricochets from the steel targets, as well as possibly damaging the steel targets. SASS rules require a pistol caliber rifle, and most competitors use .38/357. There are also velocity limits placed on the ammunition, checked by chronograph, and the loads must use a soft lead bullet.

  • Rick Hacker December 15, 2014, 5:56 am

    The El Paso Hollywood holsters are extremely well made and are some of the best on the market. However they have nothing to do with “1931” – that is an older-styled buscadero design. The holsters you used from El El Paso are reminiscent of the Arvo Ojala fast draw holsters of the 1950s and ’60s, as seen on many TV westerns of that era. For more information on this, please read my article in the current 2015 issue of Gun Digest, – Rick Hacker

  • Mark N. December 14, 2014, 12:35 am

    The one thing I have never liked abut the Rugers is that they don’t look exactly like the 1873 Colt, and that bothers me. Other than that, the Ruger is a better designed and more reliable pistol than the Colt, particularly in the area of the hammer spring set up and the transfer bar. A worth selection indeed.
    however, the two major Italian manufacturers both build guns with a transfer bar. The Uberti model is the Horseman that was introduced about a year ago. Its older models are true to their Colt heritage. Pietta has had a transfer bar for a number of years, and to my inspection, it seems to be a lot sturdier design than the Uberti. Both also produce tuned handguns specifically for SASS that come with lowered hammers and action jobs. These run a couple hundred more than the traditional models, and are about $100 less than the Ruger. And on another note, you can get two of any of these guns for the price you’d pay for a single Colt.

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