Ruger Vaquero Birds Head .44 Magnum/.44 Special – Review

Ruger Vaquero Birds Head .44 Magnum/.44 Special
Ruger Vaquero Birds Head .44 Magnum/.44 Special

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- Just when I thought I was done straining my wrists firing more .44 Magnum ammunition than a normal, sane person fires in a lifetime, I got a package at my FFL. Turns out I had one more to go. Now, I will tell you honestly that after 3,000 rounds of ole’ Elmer’s Special, I almost sent the Ruger New Vaquero packing back to the factory, but I have to say that I’m glad I didn’t.

I’ve written about a number of very powerful revolvers here on AmmoLand in the past. I have to say that I am at a point in my life when the words ‘forty-four’ and ‘magnum’ are used in the same sentence- or even the same conversation- my palms begin to twitch with the memory of the torturous two weeks where I dropped the hammer on some of most painful loads made by man.

Ruger Vaquero Birds Head .44 Magnum/.44 Special
Ruger Vaquero Birds Head .44 Magnum/.44 Special

Most people would have stopped after just a couple rounds of Buffalo Bore 340gr Hardcast +P+, but not me. I just sat down and essentially injured myself every day for fourteen days. At the end of that time, I developed a healthy respect for the .44 Magnum and a love of the .44 Special. You see, the experience I gained in that time showed me just how enduring the legend of the .44 bore is to us Americans.

There is always something special about seeing a person fire a full-house .44 Magnum for the first time. For many people, it is the most powerful handgun cartridge they ever fire. If you consider the .44 Magnum to be authoritative, then you would probably agree that the .44 Special is the equivalent of a stern suggestion.

Where this gun shines is when shooting .44 Special
Where this gun shines is when shooting .44 Special

The Ruger New Vaquero is not a gun that I enjoyed shooting with .44 Magnum ammo, although I did in the name of science for the purpose of recording group size and velocity. Where this gun shines is when shooting .44 Special and I bet that the vast majority of people who use this gun for fun or in competition will end up doing just that. With the right .44 Special load, this gun is an absolute hammer and it can be fired all day.

While it may look like an SAA revolver like the cowboys carried, the New Vaquero is what I would call a cosmetic-only copy. The revolver is made to externally resemble the guns of yesteryear, but it is entirely modern in materials and design. While overall similar to an old .45 Colt, the New Vaquero is about 10% larger in total dimensions and about 20% heavier at 39oz. The SAA and clones are lighter and thinner in most areas, but this is because they were designed around much lower pressure ammunition.

Added heft and modern construction make the New Vaquero an ideal platform for the .44 Special
Added heft and modern construction make the New Vaquero an ideal platform for the .44 Special

The added heft and modern construction make the New Vaquero an ideal platform for the .44 Special. The low recoil combined with easy handling makes it a pleasure to fire. Unlike the original SAA, the New Vaquero has an angular grip that makes it somewhat uncomfortable to hold under heavy recoil. The SAA has a smooth and sculptural feel, but the birdshead grip here sadly lacks that feeling. The squared edges on the rear of the grip curve dig into the hand and can be painful with the more powerful .44 Mag loads.

 

I tested several types of .44 Magnum and .44 Special ammunition in this revolver. I recorded velocity over my Oehler 35P chronograph at a distance of five feet from the muzzle. Accuracy is the result of three, five-shot groups at 25 yards.

  • SIG SAUER 240gr V-Crown——————————————1160fps, 2.5”
  • SIG SAUER 200gr V-Crown (.44 Special)————————–810fps, 3.75”
  • Hornady 180gr XTP (.44 Special)—————————————840fps, 3.0”
  • Hornady 165gr Critical Defense (.44 Special)————————861fps, 2.75”
  • Black Hills 240gr JHP————————————————–1183fps, 2.25”
  • Black Hills 160gr HoneyBadger————————————–1501fps, 3.75”
  • Black Hills 210 FPL (.44 Special)————————————–744fps, 3.1”
  • Black Hills 125gr HoneyBadger (.44 Special)———————–1212fps, 2.0”

The sights on the revolver are fixed and non-adjustable. Most SAA-type revolvers I have shot over the years have had front sights that are far too high out of the box. This is sometimes just a design oversight and other times it is intentional in that it allows a shooter to file the sight down to adjust elevation. The practice is not as common today with adjustable and modular sights being commonplace, but for the traditionalist, nothing is as good as a rugged fixed post and notch.

The sample gun I had here shot high, which was a surprise and something that I was not terribly excited about. If I were a cowboy competitor, I would have to add material to be able to zero or have the front sight removed and a dovetail cut to install a sight with windage adjustment, which would not be a fun process. The short 3.75” barrel leaves something to be desired as far as sight radius is concerned, but group sizes were on par for revolvers of the type.

SIG SAUER’s 200gr .44 Special V-Crown
SIG SAUER’s 200gr .44 Special V-Crown

My groups with both .44 Magnum and Special were centered, but high by about 7” at 25 yards. There is not that much difference between the two at that range, so it is not a case of the gun being set for .44 Special with the added bonus of being able to fire .44 Magnum. I suspect that the end user will settle on a load that gives them the best performance. The only load I had that shot to exact point of aim was SIG SAUER’s 200gr .44 Special V-Crown.

SIG SAUER’s 200gr .44 Special V-Crown
SIG SAUER’s 200gr .44 Special V-Crown

Firing the gun was an overall positive experience despite these minor issues. The gun was a dream with Black Hills lead cowboy loads and I was able to fire both fast and accurately on steel plates inside of 20 yards. The lowered hammer spur and nice trigger make the gun easy to operate one-handed and from a draw.

I think that the cowboy competitor would be well served with any of Ruger’s New Vaquero line. I have shot them in a number of chamberings and have always had a good experience. While not a true historical gun, it certainly captures the spirit of the day while bringing modern safety measures and materials to the table.

For more on the gun and ammo used in this review, go to www.ruger.com, www.sigsauer.com, www.hornady.com, and www.black-hills.com.


About Josh WaynerJosh Wayner

Josh Wayner has been writing in the gun industry for five years. He is an active competition shooter with 14 medals from Camp Perry. In addition to firearms-related work, Josh enjoys working with animals and researching conservation projects in his home state of Michigan.

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    Mr. Perfectidaho hikerBillGreg FallertGreg Recent comment authors
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    idaho hiker
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    idaho hiker

    I have the old vaquero in 44 magnum (stainless) and 45 colt (case hardened). Awesome guns. Heavy beasts, but good on recoil. Single actions are my favorite. First handgun I ever shot was a Super Blackhawk in 44 mag, 7 1/2″ barrel.

    Bill
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    Bill

    This guy is more of a fiction writer than gun reviews. Bla bla bla. Gun hurts shooting 285 grain bullets at 11600feet per second! Write about the guns not your personal life!
    P.s. where can I buy super fast ammo you shoot?

    Mr. Perfect
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    Mr. Perfect

    11,600 feet per second? Hmmm…..

    Greg Fallert
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    Greg Fallert

    very interesting, I’ve been shooting SA for years and did not know that. But it certainly makes sense, thanks,,

    Country Boy
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    Country Boy

    IG SAUER 240gr V-Crown——————————————11600fps, 2.5”

    By God Now there’s a helluva 44 cartridge right there. Was this fps achieved on the Moon in zer0 gravity or what ?

    ROFL ROFL.

    steve renberg
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    steve renberg

    Really 11,600 fps? You mean 1600 perhaps?

    Newell Anderson
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    Newell Anderson

    It is my understanding, that when the US Army wrote the specs for the first SA Army they specified point of aim to be 100 Yds. All SA’s copied that sight hight!! Thus all SA’s shoot high at shorter distances. The thinking at the time was to kill an Indian Pony @100 Yds.

    Greg
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    Greg

    very interesting, I’ve been shooting SA for years and did not know that. But it certainly makes sense, thanks,,

    Piller
    Guest
    Piller

    I handload for my Ruger Super Blackhawk, but have never come close to 11600 fps. No wonder it hurt to shoot.

    kerry purcell
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    kerry purcell

    at 11600 fps,, i bet that birdshead does come back hard,,

    Tom Marshall
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    Tom Marshall

    I will say it seems like revolvers have many enthusiastic gun owners. Some for many years. But, not being one myself I just don’t get it. To me they seem over priced and sort of “clunky”. Going to the range with one and, say, shooting perhaps 100 rounds as I do with one of my pistols would be more like a very hard day of work.

    To each his own, for sure. But, why? And, I’m sure my comment will genereate endless replies from enthusiasts.

    Tom

    Hubcap
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    Hubcap

    11,600fps no wonder it hurt your hands.

    Lee Himelfarb
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    Lee Himelfarb

    I am going to buy some of that SIG 240g V-Crown before they are forced to lower their loads to reduce the recoil from a 11600fps velocity. I am curious, was that measured in microgravity or here on earth?

    John
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    John

    I own and shoot an original Vaquero and several New Model Vaqueros, all in 45 Colt and have always observed tell warnings to not exceed SAAMI established pressure in the New Models due to their smaller size. I understand metallurgy can and probably is different between these revolvers, hence the 44 mag chambering. I can’t imagine the pain of firing heavy 44 mag loads in a revolver that light, 44 Special is another story. Hopefully Ruger will offer a chambering for the 41 Mag and it’s offspring the 41 Special in the months to come as a lighter recoiling alternative.… Read more »

    JD
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    JD

    41 Magnum isn’t a CAS legal cartridge and a 3.75″ barrel length & birdshead grip is a product for CAS shooters. This gun is a main match handgun for the cowboy whose persona is as a gambler that carries his two pistols in a double shoulder holster rig. Carrying two 5.5″ barrelled SA’s with plow or bissley grips is a clunky. Now if
    Ruger offered