Test: Ruger Vaquero revolver in .44 Magnum – Used, but still powerful when used properly

Under the label "Youngtimer", VISIER German gun magazine tests well-preserved utility guns from the last decades.

Eighteen years ago, the author asked himself which gun should replace his tried-and-true Ruger Blackhawk in .357 Magnum caliber, which he had left to a club mate. He chose a Ruger Vaquero. Caliber: .44 Magnum. Material: polished stainless steel with a short 4 5/8-inch barrel. For aesthetic reasons, the revolver was retrofitted with imitation pearl grips by Ajax, and the brass grip screw was silver-plated. 

ìThe Vaquero is not only a jewel from the outside, it also impresses technically. Internal action can only be described as very good. The trigger is simply outstanding from the factory, breaking like glass. Thanks to its excellent characteristics, trigger pull weight feels much lower than the measured 1400 grams.

Ruger Vaquero von rechts
The Ruger Vaquero: the Old Model presented here was available from 1993 to 2005, followed by the slightly modified New Model, which is still in production today.
Ruger Vaquero von links
The Ruger Vaquero with 4 5/8-inch barrel looks chic with a polished finish and mother-of-pearl-look grip panels – but these were added later.

However, the minimalist – not to say primitive – fixed sights do not make it easy to produce consistently tight groupings for target competitions. 

For "Police Pistol 1" and "Super Magnum" BDMP disciplines, the accuracy that can be achieved with this sight is sufficient. The inner ten (X) of the corresponding BDMP target has a diameter of just 2”/50 mm, but the "normal" ten measures 3.34”/85 mm in width and 5.9”/150 mm in height. 

On this target, the author recently succeeded again with the hard-loaded Remington ammo (bullet: 240 grains Softpoint) in shooting a six-shot group of 2”/50 mm in diameter free-hand. In general, the Vaquero often seems to shoot more accurately with hard loads than with weaker ammunition. 

A Vaquero, but in .44 Magnum caliber – Why?

So, why a typical Western revolver in this caliber? Even though more powerful handgun cartridges are available today, the .44 Magnum has a special appeal for dedicated handgun shooters. This is due to the "Dirty Harry" movies starring Clint Eastwood, which made the caliber a legend – the author is also a fan of this caliber and that star. However, Eastwood not only played the role of "Dirty Harry", but before that starred in three films of the Italo-Western icon Sergio Leone. So, for fans of these movies, a revolver in the style of the Colt Single Action Army (SAA) but in the more modern .44 Magnum caliber combines the film genres of Western and action thriller in an almost ideal way. Then, the performance spectrum of the .44 Magnum, together with its two significantly weaker sister cartridges, the .44 Special and .44 S&W Russian, offers the reloader a wide field of activity. In addition, factory ammunition is available in almost every power class. 

From very mild loads for western shooting to medium-weight for target disciplines to extremely hard stuff for the BDMP "Super Magnum" discipline – it's all there. The latter discipline requires a bullet energy of at least 1200 joules. According to our own measurements, the PMC ammunition (240 grains truncated cone soft point, TCSP) from this Vaquero achieved a velocity of 406 m/s and thus a sufficient energy of 1281 joules. The IMI cartridge, also loaded with 240 grains of heavy TCSP bullet, even reached 413 m/s and thus a respectable 1326 joules despite the short barrel. 

Consequently, this Ruger Vaquero provides unforgettable experiences and never lets boredom arise. The author was forewarned by his .357 Ruger Blackhawk to have to retighten all screws after longer strings of shots. The cartridge case ejector housing screw in particular must be constantly checked and tightened again and again, despite threadlocker. Nevertheless, a funny event occurred with the Vaquero. After only ten shots with the very hard-loaded IMI ammunition, said screw loosened and flew forward with the case in a high arc several meters away. The parts found themselves again, but the laughter of the spectators is still ringing in the ears of the author. After some time, the revolver suddenly shot about 20 centimeters to the left. 

The check showed that the soldered-in front sight had tilted sharply to the right, probably due to the great heat generated by the hard charges. After the repair, the Vaquero shot straight again. But not for long. Barely half a year later, the revolver again shot about 15 centimeters to the left and the cylinder suddenly could not be removed. The problem was that the barrel had twisted in the frame, and as a result the ejector housing was at an angle. This meant that the cylinder axle could not be pulled forward far enough to remove the cylinder. The Vaquero had to be repaired again. 

The Ruger Vaquero likes hot loads

Schussbild 1
Top results in the accuracy test: target group for IMI load. 

And despite all the fun, if you want to shoot with it you should not be squeamish. Due to the short barrel and the typical rounded, quite small grip, the Vaquero shows a sharp recoil and crisp behavior depending on the type of ammunition. Despite the higher muzzle energy, shooting with a Desert Eagle in .50 AE caliber seems smoother in a direct comparison. The gas escaping through the barrel gap of the Vaquero is also not to be sneezed at. 

The author recalls how, in a enclosed shooting range, after firing IMI ammunition, said gas pressure caused a clock hanging about six meters next to him and three meters behind him to fall off the wall. Once again, he had the laughs on his side. The stand neighbors had less to laugh about. Some have already complained about the "slaps in the face" that the vaquero hands out to the shooters standing next to him when firing hard loads. 

Ruger Vaquero: accurate despite fireballs and sharp recoil

Schussbild 2
With the Remington cartridges (240 grains HTP Soft Point) on the BDMP target.

To eliminate shooter errors due to the sights taking some getting used to, the Vaquero underwent an accuracy test from the Ransom Rest shooting machine. The factory cartridges used covered the aforementioned .44 Magnum spectrum almost completely. 

The IMI 240-gr TCSP has been the author's favorite cartridge for years. Recoil is huge. Muzzle flash and fireball from the barrel gap are at least as impressive. Therefore, the first five-shot series from the Ransom Rest was a complete surprise: 1.18”/30 mm, by far the best group – and this with the most powerful cartridge. 

In the second five-shot series, which was quickly tackled, nothing worked after the third shot. The trigger no longer released the cocked revolver. It had to be completely disassembled on the shooting range in order to decock the hammer and remove the remaining ammunition from the cylinder. 

The internal safety transfer bar had loosened and jammed the action. After disassembly and careful reassembly, everything was back in working order. Surprisingly, the Vaquero doesn't grumble anymore since then. It is unimpressed by even the hardest loads and shoots reliably and very accurately.

Ruger Vaquero im Kasten
The Ruger Vaquero looks smart with a polished finish and pearl-look grip panels. The green velvet of the presentation box accentuates that.

The Ruger Vaquero plays to its strengths in .44 Magnum

Our conclusion: even older guns can be a lot of fun to shoot, and they are on par with newer, more modern versions in terms of workmanship and precision. 

So it doesn't always have to be the latest model. You can look around on the used gun market if a gun purchase is pending. 

The .44 Magnum caliber has lost none of its appeal. It poses a challenge for many shooters and for some guns, depending on the load. Admittedly, one is more than compensated by the accuracy achievable and the fun of shooting it. 

The author would not give up his Ruger Vaquero of this caliber under any circumstances. And maybe one or the other gun owner will be inspired by this article to present one of his treasures as well.

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