El Vaquero


John Dunn

Special thanks to AK Church for invaluable assistance

El Vaquero

Click on any thumbnail for a bigger image.

Getting An Education

I missed out on a lot when I was a kid. I’m going to admit that when Elmer Keith died, I hadn’t heard of him. Sorry, my family and friends weren’t shooters, and gunslicks weren’t what I read. I'm finding out as I get more and more interested in Cowboy Action Shooting that this is indeed my loss. I've got a lot of making up to do.

So it can be argued that I came to really want a Single Action Army because of other great men-Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, James Arness and countless other actors. When I was old enough to legally buy a handgun, I still wasn’t able to afford the fine old Colt. They brought more than the truck I was driving. That's when Miles Fortis began tutoring me on guns and educated me about the alternatives. There are of course the Ubertis, the Piettas, the Armi San Marcos...the whole range of Spaghetti Ordnance.

The other alternative was the (then) fairly new Ruger Vaquero.

My "lil Suzie"

"Lil Suzie" left and right

The Italians made Colt clones like Fiat makes cars--stylish, attractive, but mechanically twitchy. The Vaquero is like the Single Action Army by Navistar--blocky and significantly overbuilt, and coming in under budget. In the end, friends of mine with good Ruger experiences convinced me to go with the fixed sight Ruger. Yeah, it doesn’t have a half cock, but it’ll last a lot longer shooting 10 grains of Unique than any Uberti product.

My revolver isn’t a Colt clone, but I wanted it as close as possible to the Colt I had in my mind’s eye: Short barrel, case/blued, and chambered for nothing less than the legendary .45 Colt. When it arrived, I was in no respect disappointed. It looked great, felt great, and hopefully I would find out eventually that it shot great. Hopefully.

Serial is 57-00XXX, which is fortunate because early reports of the Ruger Vaquero, when it first went on the market with the 55-XXXXX series issue, indicated that they had a problem with the cylinder pin coming loose when fired. This problem was corrected in the 57-XXXXX series guns. It carries the faux case frame finish, a decent blue on the barrel and cylinder, and black anodizing on the grip frame and ejector housing which looks, well, like electroplated aluminum. It felt lively, and immediately had me take up gun-handling drills while watching The Man With No Name on TV. The love of it intensified, this gun feels carved-from-a-block solid.

During this time I decided to dip myself further into the water and got a lever rifle. My Winchester 94 Legacy HAD to chamber one round: .45 Colt. But that, of course, can wait for a different article.

Winchester 94

Lone Gunman's Winchester 94

I had many delays before I got it to the range.

Understand, again, I didn’t grow up in a family of shooters. Prior, the handguns I shot were cap and ball or .22LR and I didn’t step gradually up to the .45. My first time to the range was with a 255 semi-wadcutter load over either 8 or 8.5 grains of Hercules Unique. Not all the way up, but way above powder puff level. The first time to the range was a disappointment...I couldn’t hit much of anything @ 75 feet, and the recoil wasn’t something I had really anticipated. Later I would shoot it with a 260 Speer over 21 grains of 4227...but that was later.

So we did a fair bit of shooting using Cowboy Action level loads-the 250-255 RNL over powder puff little charges of Bullseye. Mid 700 fps stuff, just what I needed to get uncrossed with my revolver.

1-inch group, off hand, at 25 yds, courtesy of Miles himself

Shot off-hand by Miles at 25 yds, using Winchester factory SuperX (there are 5 shots there)


During the time I was getting over the mentals with my revolver, some cosmetics were installed. That itty bitty nub Ruger calls an "ejector rod button" had to go, so I bought a proper crescent headed ejector. Eventually I'll get around to putting a steel ejector rod housing on it (and maybe one o' them fancy Belt Mountain base pins) but for now it still has the aluminum factory original. Does the crescent button work better? A little, since I have big fingers. Does it look better? Oh, yeah.

Crescent button ejector rod

A good close-up showing ejector rod modification. Detail level also shows the mild holster wear Suzie has endured.

We suspect during this time the barrel was settling in a might, too. It leaded something fierce at first, but some jacketed stuff (honestly don’t recall the recipe) was rattled through the 4 5/8” tube, and appears to have polished it enough to notice. Leading is now MUCH reduced.

In the future, as finances allow, one last modification/upgrade will be installed: a half-cock conversion. Easiest way it seems to me to do this is with that new drop-in kit from Power Custom. 

Holsters And Such

Pride of ownership being what it is, I wanted to do some other peripherals. I came up with a Threepersons inspired holster for a 4 5/8” OM Blackhawk which, after a quarter of a century, fits my slightly larger framed NM gun just right. Made by an obscure but skilled, deceased Nixa Missouri maker named Myers, it's a deep black color and made for a right hand draw (logical, since I'm right- handed).

Trusty old leather

A perfect fit

Not much is known about the gentleman who made this holster. He served in the Marine Corps during WWII and in his later years made his living, at least in part, as a leather worker. All we seem to remember about Mr. Myers is that he was very talented and very cantankerous. This Threepersons rig was made from, I'm told, his standard grade shoe leather. If this job was his "standard grade" I can only imagine that his "deluxe" work must have been fine indeed. Here's a shot of the trademark stamp he put on it in the photo below.

"Myers Made 60 45"

"Myers-Made 60 45"

It has a top strap release that holds the gun in place, not to firmly, not too loose...just right.

top strap

"Grip view" showing top strap

I am still looking for a cowboy rig I like and can afford. My current off brand cartridge belt is quite sturdy and serviceable for the mid term, but will eventually be replaced with something "snazzier" for CAS costuming purposes. The holster it came with is a bit less desirable. Steel-lined and marginally okay for appearances, it is too tight and a bit too deep. I suspect the gentleman at the gun show who sold it to me originally fitted it for a Uberti or some such. It holds the gun so tightly that it drags the whole belt up when you draw the pistol rather than release the gun. In a quick draw duel I'd be in a real pickle! (Note: the staff of  milesfortis does not advocate the practice of quick draw duels. Do not try this at home.)

generic belt rig

The "Sheriff John" badge didn't come with it; this was a gag birthday present from the Gunman's kid sister.

In the meantime, it's not terribly unattractive, but feel free to judge for yourself in the image above. When budgetary concerns permit, it'll get replaced. Notice in the full-size image the wear and tear I've put on it...not being "formal wear" as explained above, it occasionally sees use out in the brushy woods.


Art fans: I did not forget you. I eventually got into the deepest darkest accessory pit of them all--grips. My initial set were a well fitted, plainly-finished, tissue thin set of factories made out of a wood no one could identify--the usual Ruger factory jobbies. I believe someone told me once they are made of rosewood but they felt more like balsa wood. They served to keep my hand off the mainspring and not much else. I over tightened the grip screw one time by 1/93 of a turn and they commenced cracking like sidewalk ice during spring thaw.

So I go to a gun show and find a set of Ajax ivory look-alikes and slapped them on. They fit pretty well, but in the end they fit my friend Sean’s own .45 Vaquero better, so...

gripmaker01.jpg (149125 bytes)

Gripmaker.com's basic "plain" Ruger Blackhawk grip panels, buffed and fitted

Third set of grips was from Gripmaker’s. Wonderfully colored and polished smooth, they have one malady: tiny air bubbles that made them unsuitable for scrimshaw. (This convinced me that the Ajax grips, which Miss Twyla prefers for most scrimshanding, needed to be on it again.) Fortunately they didn't hold the ink, leaving Gripmaker's product serviceable for day-to-day usage. They are nice and thick and are beveled (cast, not injection-molded); they fill your hand nicely. They became my "workin' grips" instead.

So set four is scrimshawed in a pattern I had drawn up to my peculiar tastes. The right panel carries my name in a scroll and the left carries a Revolutionary War style design with crossed flags, muskets and cannonballs (I had just seen the movie "The Patriot") with my initials within. Aren't they cool?

Yes, The Lone Gunman's real name is "John"

The right-hand side

Left hand side

The left-hand side


I have a few hundred rounds through my Vaquero at this point and am getting to where I can shoot it fairly well. The bluing is beginning to thin just a bit at the muzzle and the fake case color is also thinning. The casing may be bogus, but the highlights it’s acquiring are as honest as a Quaker. I prefer to call them "character marks". (However if anyone knows how to restore the case coloring without taking out a second mortgage, please email me.) Finally in my usual cheesy style I gave it a name: "Suzie", after another beautiful girl I once knew.

publish date was 5 June 2002

Hurt Lone Gunman’s feelings (emails posted here with permission):

From The Gunman's inestimable Cousin Rick of west Texas:

Hi Cuz,

That is a good looking hog leg you got there!  Those are some really nice grips you had made.  Sounds like you are really getting into the CAS, is there a group near you or a club?  I have thought about getting into it but I never seem to have the time anymore plus the expense of getting authentic gear can be out of this world.  I have seen holsters go for as much as $600.00.  One of these days I am going to put up a personal web page of my old gunfighting days with old photos of our shows and of all my hardware. Most of my hand guns show a lot more ware than yours but I have had some of them for 20 years or more, my favorite is of course is my Ruger Blackhawk .45.  It is a Bicentennial model 1976 bought new with a .45 LC and a .45ACP cylinder and I have never had to anything but clean it since I have had it.

This piece sums up the Vaquero experience very well and imparts a bit of cache'. I think it'll sell a few of them to future happy users and make current owners happy with their own guns.  Can't ask for a whole lot more than that.

Mike Cumpston

Added 22 January 2003:

Hi there,

I enjoyed your Vaquero page. I am currently figuring which version I want to buy. Although I love the blued finish I think I 'm going with the bright Stainless steel finish. Reminds me of the old nickel finish, only much more durable. I like the professional gunfighter fancy look. The grips I want for start are Ruger's ivory look (may change 'em for something else later). But the one thing that's really tough for me is barrel length. Caliber is a no-brainer 45 LC of course. I like 4 3/4 but am leaning towards 51/2 for less felt recoil. I am really having a tough time deciding this one and would appreciate any info. I'm a relatively skinny guy about 5'11 and 165lbs. I like to shoot guns that are comfortable for me to shoot.

Thanks for your time,
Bobby K.

Louisville, Kentucky