I have been a fan of the various Ruger Single Action revolvers since their inception and have in the past owned more than a few Super BlackHawks, Blackhawks, and of course, Bisley models.
I, like many other shooters find the idea and execution of the Bisley grip frame to be quite comfortable to shoot with the larger calibers. The release of the Stainless Steel (from here on referred to as STS), 4 5/8" barrel, fixed sight, Bisley Vaquero seemed to be cat's meow for a general purpose knockabout revolver.
I recently decided to acquire one in .45 Colt caliber to tinker with a bit and try to further improve on the general package only to discover to my dismay that the original Ruger Bisley Vaquero had been replaced by a "NEW Vaquero" which is slightly smaller in dimensions based on the original VERY OLD Model Blackhawk, and not the Super Blackhawk cylinder frame. This particular change is a great boon for the cowboy action shooters who desire a lighter, quicker handling "original feeling" revolver for use with mild loads.
I have already noticed warnings in some factory supplied .45 Colt reloading data such as Hodgdons labeled with "NOT for use in New Style Ruger Vaquero pistols" - probably applied due to thinner cylinder walls and the smaller frame size.
Of course, the STS Blackhawk is available in 4 5/8" barrel .45 Colt, but Ruger for whatever reason steadfastly refuses to make a regular factory production Adjustable sight STS (.45 Colt, or better yet a 5 shot .454 Casull or .480 Ruger) Bisley model.
Further I could not seem to readily find a Bisley Vaquero for sale on the information superhighway, nor wandering the local gun shop byways.
I was able to find a STS .45 Colt 4 5/8" "Old Model Vaquero" and decided that it would be my project platform. This project gun is to be a more or less refined minimalist "working" type handgun expected to get some nicks and dings while in the field being used.
The first task was to obtain a number of books and become even more familiar with Ruger Single Action Revolvers. The first two definitive tomes on this subject, Jerry Kuhnhausen' s "The Ruger Single Action Revolvers - A Shop Manual, Volumes 1 & 2" and Hamilton Bowen's "The Custom Revolver", were obtained and read cover to cover a number of times over the past couple of winters. There is very little technical information not covered between these two must-have books. John Taffin's various books on Single Action revolvers were also winter reading for the comprehensive data on history, hand loading, comparative accuracy, and tips for generally making a wheel gun more enjoyable to shoot.
I began to acquire the necessary parts to begin altering this revolver to fit my needs. While waiting for the parts to arrive, I began to shoot a number of .45 Colt factory loadings and handloads through the rock stock Vaquero to become familiar with its nuances.
Shooting the factory Remington and Winchester 255 gr. loads, and a few boxes of UltraMax 255 gr. and 200 gr. Ammo revealed no malfunctions of the revolver mechanism. Five shot groups from the bench and freehand hovered around 3" at 15 yards and rapidly depleted my wallet at over $25.00 per box...
Handloads were then deemed more economically appropriate, and a set of Hornady Titanium Nitride .454 Casull dies with two shell holders were purchased for the hand loading phase. The preliminary powders tested included Hercules Unique, Hercules 2400, Hodgdons TiteGroup, and IMR Trail Boss.
500 rounds later I had settled on two handloads to fit my specific purposes. The first is a 5.5 gr. charge of Hodgdons TiteGroup powder under a 255 gr. Oregon Trail Lead Semi-wadcutter bullet, and the second load using 5.5 gr. of Trail Boss under the same projectile. These are certainly not "Buffalo Killer" loads, but quite good for most of the general purposes a handgun is really put to. (These particular loads, and any handloads, are ONLY to be carefully worked up to, and are to be used in the Ruger Old Model Vaqueros, or Blackhawks!)
Both of these .45 Colt handloads seemed to hit where aimed pretty regularly at distances of 7 to 25 yards and minimized any regulating of the sights. Regulating, or filing of the front sight, is normally done at the range and much to the humor of the local gun club groupies in my case.
400 more hand loaded rounds shot in ten shot strings yielded group size averages that ranged around from 1 3/4" up to about 2 3/4" with chronographed velocities hovering around 780/800fps.
I also plan to experiment extensively with the .45 Scofield and the .45 Cowboy Special (A new proprietary .45 Colt casing trimmed to .45 ACP length) rounds in this handgun as I have time. Both should help with minimizing the extra case volume/capacity that is not being used with these very moderate loads.
The first package to arrive was from Brownell's and contained a STS Ruger Bisley Grip Frame Conversion kit, Brownell's Ruger S-A screwdriver kit, and a number of other components that I would be using as this project chugged along. The supplied grip frame is a semi finished casting and as such requires fitting to the existing cylinder frame. The process requires all of the internal parts be removed, and it's a good idea to take off the ejector rod housing as well.
The raw grip frame is then attached to the cylinder frame with the 3 lower OEM screws and 2 kit supplied rear allen head screws, and after checking the alignment, you begin to slowly remove metal from the grip frame only until the parts are matched up. I used wet/dry sandpaper and lot of elbow grease to match mine up to the cylinder frame. Take care here and be certain to work slowly.
The 2 rear grip frame screws provided with this conversion kit require the use of a hex wrench, and my past work with some other Ruger Bisleys yielded a 7/64" ball end driver from the tool box. The ball end driver allows for a slight articulation from straight on, and speeding the work.
I decided to radius the bottom of the grip frame into a quasi round butt design and traced a .970" diameter circle at the front and rear and carefully ground it to shape with a combination disc/belt sander. I then carefully buffed the grip frame surfaces with a soft felt wheel loaded with some #555 White polishing compound, and then thoroughly cleaned the parts with aerosol brake cleaner and a toothbrush to make sure none of the residue remained.
With this grip frame fitting pretty much finished up, a pair of Ajax simulated Ivory Stocks was installed and the edges hand sanded to match the now modified grip frame.
The Ajax supplied brass grip escutcheons and screw were replaced with the OEM bright silver versions and an extended length grip screw to better match the STS finish of the revolver. This was a matter of carefully tapping out the originals with a drift punch, swapping them, and then sanding them to flush with the grips. Since the grip finish was now altered, the side and top profiles were sanded down flush with the upper grip frame.
The Mainspring / hammer strut assembly was taken apart and all of the rough edges on the hammer strut carefully smoothed off and mirror polished. As a small additional touch, a piece of .075" diameter steel rod was cut to a length of .830" and slipped into the grip panel dowel/roll pin. This small rod is used to compress and remove the hammer strut assembly via a small hole drilled in the hammer strut.
Re-assembly of all the internal parts can be a bit daunting, especially when it is time to install the trigger/cylinder latch pivot pin. It is truly one of those get it the first time, or get progressively more frustrated situations. I have reached the point where acquiring a Ruger Single Action Gate Latch Spring clamp is far easier than again attempting to recreate a Three Stooges scenario with more bodies and additional helping hands.
I must have made some great atonements during the reassembly process because the drop in replacement Bisley Hammer and Trigger equipped with OEM springs gave a release weight of 2 3/4 pounds on my Chatillon recording scale.
The OEM cylinder latch pin spring was replaced with a Wolff Springs heavy duty version to preclude the cylinder pin from walking out under recoil. If you take this route make sure you obtain the special slotted screw bit to remove the cylinder latch. In the near future, the OEM cylinder pin may be replaced with a Belt Mountain Keith #5 style pin.
Next the OEM ejector assembly was replaced with a STS QPC cam cut housing and crescent style ejector rod. There is nothing the matter with the existing factory parts, I just like the look and more positive feel of the second generation Colt type much better. This did require some minor fitting of the ejector rod head into the ejector housing, but following the QPC supplied instructions took only the matter of about thirty minutes.
The last minor modification was made to the factory sights: The front was horizontally serrated at 40lpi and the area surrounding the rear sight notch lightly stippled with a fine engraver's punch to cut down the unwanted reflections.
For the time being I am very satisfied with the results of this recreational project, but now what will I do with that "extra" Bisley grip frame conversion kit that I ordered? Maybe finally get around to building an adjustable sight, .45 Colt, 4 5/8" barrel, STS Bisley Black Hawk.