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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.