Tag Archives: single-action revolver

Western Wednesday — Collectible 1973 Ruger Super Bearcat Shooting Review


Ruger Super Bearcat with box, manual, warranty card

It’s time for a Western Wednesday firearm review, and today’s shooting review is on a gun that Ruger made for less than three years (June 1971-January 1974)! I’ve already discussed Ruger’s alloy framed 1st edition Bearcat (see: Interesting Collectables: “Old” 1st issue Ruger Bearcats), in which I presented a rare ‘Alpha Cat’ Bearcat and one of the very first Bearcats (624th off the line) produced with oiled walnut grips rather than the previous rosen-impregnated rosewood grips. Here is an image of those early Bearcats:

Rare 1960 “Alpha Cat” (top); very early (1964) Bearcat with oiled walnut grips

‘Unmodified’ means that both of those Bearcats were never sent back to Ruger for the transfer bar modification that would make safe the loading all six cylinders. That is why I’m referring to these pistols as Old West-style firearms, as they adhere closely to the design of the Colt 1873 Single-Action Army ‘Peacemaker. Below shows a comparison of a copy of the original Colt 1873 design along with an old issue three-screw Ruger Single Six (also unmodified) and an old issue Bearcat, all of which are only safe when the hammer rest over an unloaded cylinder chamber (more on that below):

USFA Single-Action Army; unmodified 3-screw Ruger Single Six; 1960 Ruger Bearcat

These classics may have been called ‘Six-shooters’, but disregard what you saw on television and in the movies. Nobody in their right mind would holster one of these guns with all six chambers loaded.

1973 Ruger Super Bearcat with Super Bearcat box

That means, unless you are physically at the range, on the firing line, and preparing to fire the weapon, the cylinder should be loaded so that the hammer rests upon an empty chamber. How do you do that? Here’s a recap from my previous article on the original (1958-1970) Ruger Bearcat:

Proper (safe) loading sequence for any Single-Action Army-type pistol or unmodified (no transfer bar) Ruger single-action revolver:

  1. Count out and place five (for a six-round weapon) bullets before you
  2. Five rounds only!
  3. Put the rest of the ammunition out of reach
  4. Thumb back the hammer two clicks, to the half-cock position; this frees the cylinder for rotation by hand
  5. Open the loading gate
  6. Visually inspect all cylinder chambers, making certain no bullets are loaded, by rotating the cylinder while peering down through the open loading gate
  7. After verifying all chambers are empty, place one round in the chamber exposed through the open loading gate (we’ll call this “Chamber 5”)
  8. 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
  9. Continue loading the next three chambers in order (Chambers 2, 3, and 4)
  10. Close the loading gate
  11. Loaded Chamber 5 is next in line for the barrel, a.k.a., firing position
  12. Thumb back the hammer to the fully cocked position; doing this rotates loaded Chamber 5 away from the barrel
  13. Empty Chamber 6 is now in the firing position
  14. Holding the hammer back with your thumb, squeeze the trigger until the hammer releases
  15. 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.

1973 Ruger Super Bearcat

Production of Ruger’s alloy-framed Bearcat was terminated in 1970 as the company retooled production in favor of an all-steel frame, and in June of 1971 the Super Bearcat was introduced. Initially, the Super Bearcat retained the anodized aluminum trigger guard, but even this was converted to steel after old stock was exhausted. Here you can see the Super Bearcat with steel frame and trigger guard beneath two previous Bearcats with alloy frames and anodized trigger guards:

Ruger “Alpha” Bearcat (top); Bearcat (middle); SuperBearcat (bottom)

During Ruger’s two-year seven-month run of the Super Bearcat, approximately 64,000 were produced. Of that number, the first 37,000 used the previous anodized trigger guard. Thus, beginning in early 1972, only the last 27,000 Super Bearcats produced had trigger guards of blued steel.

Super Bearcat with blued steel trigger guard

Ruger’s roll marks between the Bearcat and the Super Bearcat differed slightly, with addition to the latter of the weapon’s caliber and an ® indicating a registered trademark:

Ruger Super Bearcat roll mark

The Super Bearcat retained the lightly stamped Ruger eagle medallion and oiled grips that began with the previous Bearcat line beginning in 1964.

Super Bearcat oiled walnut grip with stamped medallion

And one touch that started with the original 1st edition Bearcats in 1958, continued through the 2nd edition Super Bearcat era ending in 1974, and carried on beginning with the reintroduction of the 3rd edition Bearcat in 1993 through today is an engraved cylinder:

Engraved cylinder common to all three Bearcat editions

So, how does this weapon shoot? The trigger is incredibly light, and initially the breaking of the trigger took me by surprise, but I soon got past that. I set at 10 yards/9.1 meters a target printed onto 8.5×11-inch/216x279mm standard letter-sized paper. I then loaded up and fired three full cylinders’ worth of Remington 36-grain .22 LR Plated Hollow Points, for a total of eighteen total shots. Here are the results:

Eighteen rounds at 10 yards/9.1 meters

For additional reading on both the 1st edition Ruger  Bearcat and 2nd edition Super Bearcat, I highly recommend the following great articles:

Unmodified 1973 Ruger Super Bearcat

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Western Wednesday — American Western Arms Peacekeeper


American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

I’ve done a couple of articles on clones of the 1873 Colt ‘Single Action Army’/’Peacemaker’ line of guns:

But today I’m going to present something even more rare than the USFA listed above. The original American Western Arms (AWA) began importing single-action pistol parts from Italy around 1998-1999. They then finished assembly in the U.S. with rich blueing on the barrel and cylinder, case hardening on the frame, and a highly tuned trigger.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

So, Peacemaker vs. Peacekeeper. Starting to see a problem here? Colt did, because at the time Colt was also make a double-action/single-action revolver called the ‘Peacekeeper’. But if that wasn’t enough to get Colt’s legal department moving, these grips were:

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

They’re almost indistinguishable from a pair Colt used on a version of their Peacemaker, except on their grips the Colt is rearing, and the ‘E Pluribus Unam’ banner rides higher on the eagle. Even cocking the hammer is very reminiscent of the Colt; the four clicks are much more pronounced than on the Uberti El Patrón Competition or the USFA Rodeo.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

Colt were not amused, and their legal department sued on a point of trademark law called ‘Trade Dress,’ in which the copy is deemed too close in appearance to another company’s offering to the point that the aggrieved party can claim that the copy intentionally misleads the buying public or trades off the good name of the plaintiff.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

The AWA Peacekeeper was in production for only a few years, around 2003 or so, before Colt put a stop to it. Total production of this fine reproduction was about 2,000 copies, and many of those copies were abused in Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) and Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). Finding one of these in the condition shown here is not easy.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

The owner of my favorite local gun store, Paul Lee of Collector’s Gun Exchange, is an avid CAS participant, and he knows a good Colt replica when he sees it. When this particular weapon was placed with him on consignment, he decided to try it out. His verdict was that the AWA Peacekeeper is the most accurate 1873 he’s ever fired, and he’s fired a lot of them. Paul put three bullets into a target placed 20 yards/18 meters downrange. Two bullets went through the same hole, and the third was touching! Note: Paul is a lot better shooter than I’ll ever be.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

In my previous article on the USFA Rodeo, I called it the premier “Colt” Model 1873 Single Action, and it is when compared directly to Colt, I’m told. But, apparently, the AWA Peacekeeper has both beat in the accuracy arena.

USFA Rodeo (top); AWA Peacekeeper

Here’s a comparison of the Rodeo’s more correct conical firing pin and the Peacekeeper’s tapered version:

USFA Rodeo (top); AWA Peacekeeper

Removing the grips on the Peacekeeper reveals that the hammer is powered by the traditional leaf spring. Also, note that the grips are serially matched to the weapon.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

One feature that sets the Peacekeeper apart from either the original Colt design or the Rodeo is a two-notch cylinder base pin. I’ve seen this feature before in Italian copies of the 1873, particularly the Uberti El Patrón, so it’s not surprising to see it on another gun that was partially manufactured in Italy.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

This acts as a safety. Regardless of what you see in westerns, where the good guy peels off six shots (or more if the continuity editor isn’t doing his or her job), the 1873 is only loaded with five rounds. The hammer and firing pin are then placed over an empty cylinder chamber, as this is the only way to safely carry a single-action six-shooter unless it incorporates a modern transfer bar system, such as on the Ruger Vaquero.

If the cylinder base pin is inserted to the first notch, the gun can be fired.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

But if the base pin is pressed farther into the weapon, locking in at the second notch, the end of the base pin will protrude out the back of the frame. This keeps the hammer/firing pin from contacting the cylinder, thus making the weapon safe from unintentional discharge even with all six cylinders loaded.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

It’s an interesting idea, but not very practical in my view. It’s not very intuitive to activate, and even less so to deactivate. Better to just do it the way Paladin would have loaded his 7½-inch barreled Cavalry-model 1873 Colt — load one, skip one, load four, drop the hammer.

I hope you enjoyed today’s bit of western nostalgia. Tune in later this week for a really Fun Firearm Friday.

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