Ruger Vaquero — Single-Action Revolver Perfection

an older Ruger Blackhawk in .357 Magnum

The Single Action Army (SAA) made a good name for itself and provided legendary performance in battlefields in the American desert, Mexico, and Africa. The SAA revolver was used by bad and good men alike. While I respect the original, shooters like me prefer the Ruger Vaquero — a modern rendition of the single-action revolver.

Metallurgy, accuracy, and ruggedness, favor this reliable revolver. Some say cowboy action shooting is keeping the single-action revolver alive. A generation or two ago, cowboy operas kept the revolver alive. Before that, they say it was fast draw competition. Well, maybe…

stainless-steel Ruger Vaquero single action army revolver, right profile
This is a stainless-steel Vaquero. They never had it so good in the old west.

Single-Action Popularity

I’m certain the Mexican Revolution kept the SAA going years past its prime. Some of us simply enjoy owning and handling the SAA, and occasionally firing the piece in a leisurely pursuit. Others, value reliability above all else. When all is said and done, the big Ruger is as reliable a handgun as was ever manufactured.

There are two Vaquero revolvers. The first was built on the Super Blackhawk frame. I have fired these with a mix of heavy loads. They are fully the equal of the Super Blackhawk or Redhawk in every way. The Vaquero has been offered in .44-40, .357 Magnum (which also fires the .38 Special), .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, and perhaps a few others.

I have examined an example in .40 S&W. Not a bad choice as it equals .38-40 performance, in a more compact and readily available cartridge. A variety of barrel lengths, case hardened frames, and plain, grain walnut grips with the Ruger logo were trademarks of the first Vaquero.

An important advantage over most single-action revolvers is the Ruger’s transfer bar ignition system. This provides an additional safety and allows the cowboy shooter to safely load six rounds. If in doubt as to the safety of your single action, don’t load six. Instead, load one, skip one, load four, cock the hammer, and then lower the hammer on an empty chamber. There is no need to place the hammer on half-cock to open the loading gate. The Ruger is loaded with the hammer down.

According to Ruger, the Vaquero has been offered in standard, birdshead, and Bisley grip variations. About 18 years ago, Ruger introduced the New Vaquero. This is a smaller-frame revolver, much closer in size to the original SAA revolver. These handle well — perhaps a little faster from leather than the original — and are just as strong and well made of good material. They are not as comfortable with heavy loads in .45 Colt. However, if you need a hunting .45, perhaps you really need a Blackhawk.

Blued Ruger Vaquero single action army revolver
Some prefer the deep blue finish that Ruger provides.

The Vaquero isn’t only for single-action shooting enthusiasts. A lot of folks who hike in rugged country like the idea of a revolver that doesn’t go out of time with heavy use, chambers a powerful cartridge, and offers a high degree of protection. The Vaquero offers this advantage in a relatively compact package.

A .45 caliber single-action revolver is more compact than a double-action revolver in a similar caliber. The fixed sights are (usually) properly regulated for standard bullet weights and don’t get out of zero. I often carry the Vaquero in a DeSantis Doc Holliday crossdraw holster.

This is as good as it gets for field carry. As for personal defense, a single action isn’t my first choice. However, for field use against dangerous animals… well, that is another story. I would not feel naked against an assailant when carrying a single action that I am familiar with.

Two boxes of ,45 Colt cowboy action ammunition
.45 Colt loads run from cowboy action to potent defense loads.

Cartridge Selection

I like the .45 Colt cartridge a great deal. Buffalo Bore offers a 250-grain hard-cast bullet load that exits the average 4.75-inch barrel Vaquero barrel at 1,000 fps. That is a lot of whomp against feral hogs or black bear at modest ranges.

Cowboy action loads are usually loaded to about 700 fps. This makes for mild shooting. The Remington 230-grain jacketed HTP load will break at just over 1,000 fps. This is a great for general defense use. That being said, there are other calibers that make a lot more sense for certain situations.

The .44 Special also offers a range of loads from mild to heavy hitting. The .44 Magnum accepts .44 Special loadings and offers a tremendous amount of wound potential for game use. The .44-40 is available only in cowboy action loads. That is a 750 fps load with a 200-grain bullet.

I enjoy the .44-40. With handloads, using a hard cast 200-grain bullet, I have reached 1,200 fps with the old WCF load. The tapered cartridge case makes it difficult to load. Just the same though, it has a lot of charm.

Noxes of Buffalo Bore ammunition
Buffalo Bore offers its hard-hitting Outdoorsman loads in several calibers, including the illustrated .45 ACP and .45 Colt.

The most practical caliber (by far) for the Vaquero is the .357 Magnum. The magnum Vaquero is a creampuff when loaded with .38 Special loads. Recoil is nil and accuracy is excellent. The .38 Special Buffalo Bore Outdoorsman loads are viable for outdoors use. The Remington 125-grain .357 Magnum breaks at 1,430 fps in the Vaquero. Buffalo Bore’s 180-grain hard cast will penetrate deep into dangerous animals. 1,334 fps is the average velocity.

Ruger Vaquero Accuracy

How accurate is the Vaquero? The most accurate, in my experience, are the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum example. A five-shot 2.5-inch group at 25 yards is average. Some will group better. The .45 Colt Montado put five Buffalo Bore wadcutter loads into 1.5 inches at 25 yards. The .44-40 with factory cowboy loads cuts a 3-inch group. The Vaquero may be a top choice for cowboy action but it’s also a fun gun for many uses.

It’s hard not be a Single Action Army fan, and the Ruger Vaquero is certainly among the top choices for cowboy action shooter. How about you? Are Vaquero fan? Share your review in the Comments section.

  • Cowboy action shooters in full regalia
  • Stainless construction and aftermarket grips mark this .45 caliber Vaquero among the top of its class
  • DeSantis Doc Holliday leather holster
  • 5.5-inch barrelled Ruger Vaquero Bisley, right profile
  • Two boxes of ,45 Colt cowboy action ammunition
  • Blued Ruger Vaquero single action army revolver
  • Ruger Montado revolver, left profile
  • stainless-steel Ruger Vaquero single action army revolver, with modified hammer
  • an older Ruger Blackhawk in .357 Magnum
  • Ruger Vaquero sing action army revolver with the hammer cocked
  • Noxes of Buffalo Bore ammunition
  • stainless-steel Ruger Vaquero single action army revolver, right profile
  • front post sight on a revolver barrel
  • old and well used Ruger Vaquero revolver

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (12)

  1. I have two vaqeros with seven and and half inch barrels in 45 colt for sass and have enjoyed them for years. I wanted their lengths due to several old several old westerns and have no complaints over their performance.

  2. Stephen Elliot:
    Go to the Ruger website and lobby for the.41. The CEO DOES read the letters.
    I’m pushing for take down lever actions. Including in the ballistically superior .41.

  3. i’ve got that exact S/S vaquero in .45 Colt, with the stock black polymer grip panels. that one looks very good, i think i’ll look for some of those wood panels.

  4. My name is Nancy lugo
    I did make order.I did get one thing.but I missing other thing can you check my order

    Nancy Lugo

  5. Have owned .45 stainless Vaquaro for approximately 20 years, Have loaded #6 shot shells,180gr thru 250 hand loads .the vaquero is just fun and functional. Great multi purpose weapon.

  6. I was fortunate enough to snag a large frame 45 Birdshead Vaquero. Among other things I enlarged the throats, which dramatically improved accuracy. And I installed a Bisley hammer to eliminate poking my skin and my shirts when I carry concealed, as I was just doing. And I installed a 45acp cylinder. Now I can shoot ‘Cowboy’ loads, 300 gr ‘bear’ loads and 45acp all to the same point of aim. And of course snake shot.

    I also got my daughter a mini-Vaquero AKA Bearcat and in an amazing circumstance obtained an original untouched .22 Magnum cylinder for that.
    She doesn’t realize how special that is.

  7. I am curious you give pressures that a SA colt clone would not be safe but when you talk about the Vaquaros you do not address the fact the new vaquaro has a lighter frame and not able to handle the pressures of the old Vaquaro

  8. CCI factory .45 shotshell works great.

    And yes sometimes gas checks did get stuck in the barrel!

    Bob Campbell
    thanks for reading

  9. Out of the box, 50 yards, 50 rounds, a 6″ circle, factory adjustable sights, elbows on a picnic table, 48 out of 50 inside the circle, the other 2 almost touching the circle. Kept that target until it just turned to dust. Olde eyes now, noticing new lever actions, in black, coming out with pic rails for red-dot mounts. A couple companies now make a red-dot mounting plate for a Ruger Blackhawk with adjustable sights, to replace the rear sight (front sight is welded on), add red-dot, then add Hogue black rubber finger grips, for kind of like a “back to the future” look on an old classic to compliment one of the new updated black lever rifles. If you think a red-dot improves your luck on a pistol, or a rifle, try one on a solid SSA like the Ruger. 🙂

  10. RE: ammo for the Vaquero / Blackhawk. A good friend (sadly, now deceased) created his own “snake shot” load for his 45Colt Blackhawk using bird shot encapsulated between two copper cast bullet bases. This worked well whenever I saw it used, but I was never convinced that one of the copper bases couldn’t flip 90 degrees and get jammed in the barrel, with obvious bad consequences.

    My comment is really a question: When will someone produce “shorty” .410 shotshells? These would make awesome varmint fodder in the Vaquero Colt 45.

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