Rare unmodified Ruger “Alpha Cat” Bearcat
Until recently the Ruger Bearcat wasn’t even on my radar, as the new production models are pricey (MSRP $639 blued; $689 stainless) and older models seldom come up in the market. So, when the above pictured Bearcat showed up at my favorite local gun store (Collector’s Gun Exchange) for what looked to be a relatively so-so price, I took a chance. The only reason I did was because this particular example had not been modified with the Ruger transfer block system. Thus, cocking the four-stage hammer gave me that very satisfying, nostalgic, Old West quadruple C-O-L-T click. The bore was clean, the rifling intact, the cylinder lock-up good. Several of those beautiful cocking sounds later I asked the salesman to stuff it behind the counter while I looked around the shop and thought it over.
Rare unmodified Ruger “Alpha Cat” Bearcat
After completing my rounds I headed back to that Ruger Bearcat and cocked it a few more times. By this time another collector whom I know had walked into the shop and told me if I didn’t take it, he would. So, it followed me home, whereupon I started doing research and found I’d inadvertently struck pay dirt. The shop thought this particular Bearcat was from 1971. It wasn’t. It was from 1960, the third year of a fourteen-year production (1958-1971) before the alloy frame was changed to steel (1971-1975). Not only that, this particular example was a rare “Alpha Cat”, which used a letter at the beginning of the serial number (A001 through Z999 excluding the letter “O” for obvious reasons). Additionally, this was a very late “Alpha Cat” on which the front sight had been reduced in height ¼-inch to improve aim. This modification probably started around serial number X165 and ran through Z999, continuing on through later numbering schemes until the end of “1st issue” production. Thus, at most, only 2,382 “Alpha Cats” were produced with that lowered sight.
Y293 — “Alpha Cats” X165 through Z999 had reduced height front sights
Where did I get all this wonderful Bearcat 1st issue information? From an article written by noted Ruger collector Bill Hamm and posted online at GunBlast.com. Here’s a link to that article: Ruger Bearcat 1958 to 1970. Thanks, Bill!
Reading up on values, I was pleased to see what I thought was only a so-so deal turned out to be $200 to the good on my side. Add another $75 if the darned thing had come with the original box and owner’s manual, which it didn’t. But then a funny thing happened exactly two weeks to the day later, same gun store, when I ran into another 1st issue Bearcat.
1964 Ruger Bearcat with lightly stamped “Ruger Eagle” on walnut grips
At first I thought this one had non-original grips, because these grips were oiled walnut instead of the shiny rosin-impregnated rosewood grips on the earlier Bearcat.
1964 Ruger Bearcat — early oiled-walnut grip variant
This post-Alpha Cat example was also unmodified, and so still had that wonderful Single Action quadruple click. But in this case it wasn’t the gun I was after, even though it was a beauty despite the shiny drag mark around the circumference of the cylinder. So, what was I really after? This:
Original Ruger Bearcat box and owner’s manual
Considering that the box and manual added about $75 to the value of the “Alpha Cat”, I figure I got are really good deal on this later oiled walnut Ruger with the “aftermarket” grips. Well, it turns out those oiled-walnut grips are factory, and that this particular example is one of the first ones to come out of the factory that way. Oiled walnut grips were used starting at serial number 35000 through the end of 1st issue production. This Bearcat is number 35623, meaning only 623 Bearcats with oiled walnut grips preceded it out of the Ruger factory door. It’s also one of only about 15,000 Bearcats in the 35000-to-114000 serial number range that retained the original steel ejector housing before Ruger switched to aluminum. Yes, I checked that with a magnet. It’s steel.
35623 makes this the 623rd Bearcat to come with oiled walnut grips
So, while the original Ruger box and manual came with this 1964 Bearcat, they are now paired with the “Alpha Cat”.
1964 Bearcat in its original box
Here is a comparison of the rosin-impregnated rosewood grips originally used on the early Bearcat next to the oiled walnut grips with lightly stamped Ruger Eagle medallion that first appeared in 1964:
Rare 1960 “Alpha Cat” (top); very early (1964) oiled-walnut Bearcat
1964 oiled-walnut Bearcat (top); 1960 rosin-impregnated Bearcat
The Bearcat is a smaller cousin to Ruger’s very popular Single Six (see: Six Shooter Week — Ruger Single-Six Convertible). In my previous article on the Single-Six I displayed a new engraved example next to a two-screw example from 1976. What wasn’t pictured is an unmodified (no transfer bar) three-screw example from 1971 that I acquired after that article was written. Because the three-screw is unmodified, it also comes with that nostalgia-inducing C-O-L-T click when cocked. The all-steel Single Six is big, though, and heavier than the original alloy frame Bearcat, as you can see here:
Size comparison — Ruger Single Six (top); Ruger Bearcat
Indeed, the Single Six is nearly as big as a full-size copy of Colt’s original 1873 Single Action Army pistol. Here is a comparison beneath a USFA Rodeo (see: U.S. Fire Arms Mfg. Co. — A Look at the Premier “Colt” Model 1873 Single Action) standing in for a Colt:
USFA Single Action Army; unmodified 3-screw Ruger Single Six; 1960 Ruger Bearcat
The “Alpha Cat” is now retired, reunited with an original Bearcat box and owner’s manual and potentially becoming too valuable to keep shooting. The 1964 Bearcat is well used, and will continue to see time at the range. Look for a firing review on that pistol, along with a direct comparison to its three-screw Single Six cousin, in a future article. For now, I’ll just close with observations about the pistol and how it handles. The original alloy frame Bearcat is light, well-balanced, and comfortable in the hand, more so on all counts than the Single Six. The trigger is a real gem—fairly light (not as light as an El Patron Competition, but lighter than the USFA Rodeo), and with a very crisp break with absolutely no play whatsoever. It should be a great shooter.
A word of warning about acquiring any early unmodified Ruger single-action revolver: These pistols do not have a trigger-activated transfer bar between the hammer and frame-mounted firing pin. As such, it is not safe to carry such “six shooters” with all six cylinder chambers loaded. For safety, the hammer must rest over an empty chamber. Failure to do this can result in an unintended discharge if the weapon is dropped or otherwise forcefully impacted in any manner. Bad things happen with unintended discharges, including damage to property, nearby people, or even the shooter.
Proper (safe) loading sequence for any Single Action Army-type pistol or unmodified (no transfer bar) Ruger single action revolver:
- Count out and place five (for a six-round weapon) bullets before you
- Five rounds only!
- Put the rest of the ammunition out of reach
- Thumb back the hammer two clicks, to the half-cock position; this frees the cylinder for rotation by hand
- Open the loading gate
- Visually inspect all cylinder chambers, making certain no bullets are loaded, by rotating the cylinder while peering down through the open loading gate
- After verifying all chambers are empty, place one round in the chamber exposed through the open loading gate (we’ll call this “Chamber 5”)
- Rotate the cylinder, bypassing the next empty chamber (Chamber 6) and proceeding to the second empty chamber (Chamber 1—why the skip will become evident in a moment); load one bullet into Chamber 1
- Continue loading the next three chambers in order (Chambers 2, 3, and 4)
- Close the loading gate
- Loaded Chamber 5 is next in line for the barrel, a.k.a., firing position
- Thumb back the hammer to the fully cocked position; doing this rotates loaded Chamber 5 away from the barrel
- Empty Chamber 6 is now in the firing position
- Holding the hammer back with your thumb, squeeze the trigger until the hammer releases
- Keeping the trigger pulled, gently lowering the hammer all the way to the frame with your thumb; failure to keep pulling the trigger will result in the hammer stopping at the half-cock loading position, which is not safe
You’re done. Your “six shooter” is now properly loaded with five bullets, and if you followed these directions the hammer is safely resting over an empty chamber and the weapon is safe to carry.