RUGERS FOR COWBOY ACTION SHOOTING

updated June 7, 2004

DISCLAIMER 1: Safe gunhandling is your responsibility. MAKE SURE THE FIREARM IS UNLOADED BEFORE HANDLING OR MODIFYING IT. THESE SUGGESTIONS ARE FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY FOR CAS COMPETITORS WHO ARE FAMILIAR WITH AND PRACTICE SAFE GUNHANDLING PRACTICES.

The Case for and against Rugers

For: 1. They're hell for stout. You'll never wear one out using Cowboy loads. The springs won't break. You might wear out some internal parts. I haven't yet. If I do, I'll list 'em.

2. Virtually everything that's necessary to modify them for CAS you can do yourself.

3. They're heavier than a Colt, meaning less felt recoil.

4. The hammer, when down, allows you to see the sights.

5. They're American made.

6. Parts and accessories are easily obtained.

7. Ruger warranty repair is legendary.

8. They don't cost much. Clones cost more and require gunsmithing to get the timing right (and replacing innards with Colt or Peacemaker Specialists' parts)

9. If you get a Colt or a clone you need a gunsmith to tune it for competition. Spring life is estimated at 5,000 rounds. Ideally you need 3 guns so that one can be at the gunsmith for its 5,000 round tuneup while you shoot the other two. I try to clean my Rugers thoroughly every 5,000 rounds.

Against: 1. They're not "authentic."

2. They're bigger than a Colt or clone.

If you have acquired a Ruger single-action, either a Blackhawk or a Vaquero, and want to go Cowboy Action Shooting, here's what you'll need to do.

1. Clean the weapon. Check the internal parts for burrs and rough spots. Make sure everything is properly assembled. Lubricate the internal parts. (Measure and record the trigger pull--with the weapon unloaded!)

2. Go shoot it-a lot. (Measure the trigger pull--with the weapon unloaded!)

Now it's ready for CAS.

A lot of competitors don't touch it after that. I've talked to two world class shooters who did little more than that. One disassembled the weapons and took one coil at a time off the hammer spring until cocking pressure was acceptable and bent the trigger spring to lower trigger pressure from 4 to 2.5 lb. That was it.

But then in the spirit of "It's not perfect till it's modified," here are some things with which you can improve it. What you will find here will answer most of the questions of the new Cowboy Action Shooter. The answers to the other questions are:

1. Call SASS with credit card in hand. Join. Get an alias approved over the phone. It's faster, and you'll know your alias immediately. They'll tell you it'll take 6 weeks to get your stuff. Ha!

2. That alias is already taken.

3. That alias is taken, too.

4. Yes, you need a gun cart. Build or buy something which keeps actions open, preferably which carries the long guns vertically. Or put slings on your long guns, get a pair of saddlebags, and you can carry your guns from stage to stage with your ammo and "stuff" in your saddlebags. You might be able to do it if without slings, with the saddlebags over one shoulder. Carry the guns muzzle up.

5. Blue jeans are okay. Take off the Jordache label. If you're playing a movie character, leave the belt loops. Otherwise, cut them off. Put on suspender buttons. Any kind of boots will do for a beginner, even urban cowboy lizard skins. Shoot first, costume later.

6. .38 is cheaper, less recoil. .45 Colt is more fun and more authentic, but more expensive. .44-40 and .38-40 are for people with a LOT of time for reloading. .44 magnum is the choice if you want to hunt with the weapon.

7. One strong side, one cross draw is most common. Leather lined, not suede lined. Buscadero rigs aren't period (exception Commodore Perry Owens, 1890's, Captain John Hughes, Texas Rangers, late 1890s into the teens), but nobody cares. Wear what you want. It's a fantasy sport. Be safe.

8. If you don't have all of your guns and gear, show up. Someone will take pity on you and loan you a/some guns. Get the gear when you can. We know the startup costs are expensive.

9. Period shooting glasses aren't safe. No side protection. This is an area where modern is best.

10. No, they're not really soiled doves. They're just playing them. They are not available for $2.00.

Before any modifications are done make sure the gun is mechanically as good as Ruger can make it. If you do an action job, or get one done, and then discover there is no way to make your Vaquero shoot to point of aim with any known ammunition, and you send it to Ruger, it will come back shooting to point of aim-with all factory parts aboard. There go your super-zoomy springs and/or hammer and sear.

If it doesn't shoot to point of aim with any known ammunition even when shot from a Ransom Rest, the cheapest thing to do is send it to Ruger with a test target showing range and ammunition used. If you want it to shoot a pet load to point of aim, send them a couple of boxes with the gun.

To determine if it's you or the gun, shoot braced, using both hands. If you get a 2" group at 25 yards that's 5" to the right and 6" low, all of the time, then that can be corrected. Do be aware it might shoot to a different point of aim in a pistol rest than hand held. You'll need to be able to shoot a small group hand held to get the sights properly adjusted to the way you'll shoot at a match.

Also be aware most CAS targets are within 15 yards. Thus I sight mine in at 15 yards, but I'm not religious about it. I made sure one gun is capable of hitting the rare long range bonus target at 25-30 yards. (One of my practice regimens is to shoot at the rifle targets with the pistol when the range is opened for practice.)

If it's a 6" group and it's all over the paper, it probably isn't the gun.

You should be able to shoot, one way or another, 3" groups at 15 yards in order to determine where it's really pointing.

Right handed shooters will often shoot low and to the left because they're pushing the trigger with the second finger joint instead of using the pad of the first section. Left handers will shoot low right. If you're right handed and you hand the gun to your left handed buddy and both of you shoot low right, it might be the gun. It's probably not, though. The third most popular beginner post on the SASS Wire is a complaint that the shooter's new Ruger shoots low and to the left.

(It's probably shooting low because Ruger thankfully and intelligently puts on a sight which is too tall for anything but full-house .250 gr. loads. It's much easier to take metal off than to put it on, so this is good.)

In other words, do all of the BASIC marksmanship things first to eliminate user error. It would be terrible to send one off to Ruger and have them move the point of aim 6" left and 5" up only to correct your shooting errors later and have to, with no little embarrassment, call them back. The first time will be free. The second time?

MAKE SURE THE GUN IS UNLOADED BEFORE HANDLING IT.

Don't file the sights until you've settled on a load and gotten small groups with it. See below.

Don't bend the front sight

Don't try to turn the barrel yourself--

--unless you're a gunsmith. Yes, you might be able to do it. If you must file the front sight to raise the point of impact, do a little at a time. Taking off more is easy. Putting it back is hard.

If it's shooting high, you can't add metal to the front sight. Send it to Ruger.

Filing the inside of the rear sight will move point of aim, too, and it might give a better sight picture. It's awfully narrow stock. Opening up the left moves it to the left. Opening it to the right moves it to the right.

I don't recommend it, though. You could mess it up.

If you must turn the barrel, turning it to the left, tightening it a tad, is doable. (This moves point of aim to the right.) Moving it to the right, loosening it, probably isn't a good idea. (This moves point of aim to the left.) Mike Venturino's book, "Shooting Colt Single Actions" shows how.

I don't recommend that, either.

Ruger will do it for free.

Duh. Free, no chance of messing up, vs. a chance of messing up. You decide.

Correcting for shooting low is about all I'm prepared to do at home. First, settle on a load. After shooting against guys using 125 gr. .38s at a few feet/sec. I decided 250 at 975 wasn't a good idea and went closer to 200 at 675. This gave me good small groups but L-O-O-O-W.

Usually, anything which will increase recoil will up the point of aim. If it's a less-recoiling load, it will impact lower. No, it's not that simple, but try it. It usually works.

Read Trailrider's Guide to Cowboy Action Shooting for instructions on sighting in, and, if you must do it yourself, filing/adjusting non-adjustable sights.

I would fire groups at the range, then bring the gun home, measure the height of the front sight with electronic digital calipers, tape up everything I didn't want file marks, then using the stones from a Lansky Knife Sharpening Kit lower the front sight .05" at a time, or less, until the groups were where I wanted them.

Now, it's shooting to point of aim with your choice of ammunition, and you've put at least 500 rounds through it or dry fired it a lot and put a couple of hundred rounds through it. (When dry firing a single action revolver, I was told, always use snap caps. So I do. But I can't see where a Ruger, with its transfer bar and frame-mounted firing pin, needs it. I do anyway. If you reload make some rounds with no primers or powder in them. Paint them some ghastly color so you won't confuse them with live ammunition. Put Silicone Seal in the primer pockets. Let dry overnight. Cheap snap caps. Good for reloading practice, too.)

Remember I told you to measure the trigger pull (WITH THE WEAPON UNLOADED)?

Do it again. My 2 Vaqueros, .45 Colt, 4-5/8" barrel, blued, 1998-99 production, came with 64 oz. and 58 oz. triggers new. After break in, one was 48, the other was 52. Frankly, that's pretty good. You can probably live with that. Crispness counts. If yours is mushy and you want crisp, you won't get there with springs. For that you need a gunsmith or possibly the Powers drop in hammer and trigger kit. We'll discuss that later.

But lighter? That's a spring thing.

I thought these weights were fine for the triggers, but the cocking pressure was 23 oz., and occasionally I would mess up and ALMOST cock the gun. With the transfer bar and no half-cock notch, the cylinder would rotate to the next cylinder, skipping the one you want to shoot. If this happens in a match, one hears, bang, bang, "#$%@&!" followed by bang, bang,, click, click, click, bang Those clicks take time.

They can be cured. There's an inexpensive cure and an expensive cure. Both result in better shooting guns. The inexpensive cure is the spring kit described below, and the expensive cure is the Power Custom Hammer and Trigger kit described further on. Neither completely cures the problem, meaning that if you really try, you can induce the problem, or Murphy can.

Disassemble the weapon completely. Check each part for burrs and rough spots. Such parts should be SLOWLY, CAREFULLY stoned or polished away. A Dremel polishing wheel and polishing compound is useful. Throw the grinder bits away. You might be tempted to use them.

When I did this I was pleasantly surprised. Both of my Ruger Vaqueros were quite smooth internally, with only the hammer spring strut being a rough stamping.

SPRING KIT

There are several kits available, some with just hammer and trigger springs, some with an extra power base pin spring. I got the Wolff kit #RSA-106 from Brownell's, their part # 080-665-106. It includes a choice of 17, 18, and 19 lb. hammer spring, 30% reduced power trigger spring, and extra power base pin spring. At time of writing, it's $18.11.

Before installing the 17 lb. hammer spring, I polished the edges of the hammer strut which rub against the groove in the hammer, and the edges which touch the spring, lest any rough edges snag anything and make it rough. I used a Dremel polisher and Dremel polishing compound and some flat stones. Yes, all of the blue was polished off.

Then I reassembled the gun with the new springs. The triggers had gone down to 32 oz. and 36 oz. Marvelous. They could be crisper, but that's about it.

I went and shot the weapons with match ammunition before going to a match with them. 17 lb. might be too light in your gun. You wouldn't want to be on the clock in a major match and hear CLICK.

The loudest sound on the battlefield is CLICK.

Trust me on this.

If you get an occasional CLICK with the 17 lb. spring, install the 18, then the 19. The kit is available with just the 19 lb. spring because that will almost always work. It costs less that way.

Now cocking is very light, and I seldom do a bang, click, "$#*@&!" bang, bang, bang, click, click, bang anymore.

REPLACING THE RUGER MAINSPRING

Try the method shown at this website: http://www.cylindersmith.com/Ruger-spring.html

Try the method. If that link isn't current, the method is to put the spring strut in a vise with the end with the hole in it out and the entire part where the spring goes visible. Put the spring on. Stick a hex wrench/wire/paper clip through the spring and through the hole. Using pliers rotate the spring until it is all compressed by the hex wrench/wire/paper clip. Now push the spring shoe on the end of the strut with a pair of pliers. Keeping inward pressure with the pliers, remove the hex wrench/wire/paper clip and push the spring shoe until you can reinsert the hex wrench/wire/paper clip. The first time is a bitch. After that it's easy. (If the link is broken, let me know.)

RELOADING DIFFICULTIES

Reloading under the clock is rare in some clubs, common in others. Reloading a single-action of any sort other than a Smith and Wesson is no picnic.

To make things easier three things need to be done to some guns, two to others.

First, to help get the rounds out of the cylinders, they should be flex-honed. This is something you can have your gunsmith do, and it isn't expensive. But if you're going to wind up with 2 4-5/8" blue guns, 2 4-5/8" stainless guns, 2 5-1/2" blued guns, 2 5-1/2" stainless guns, 2 7-1/2" blued guns, and 2 7-1/2" stainless guns, and maybe some Blackhawks, too, all of the same caliber, then it definitely becomes cheaper to flex hone the cylinders yourself.

The Brownell's part #s are, for fine grit:

38/357--#080-608-238

.41--#080-608-241

.44--#080-608-244

.45--#080-608-246

All are $21.22.

Also get the flex-hone oil. Don't use any other oil. #080-608-008 $7.63.

Put the cylinder in a padded vise, and, using your drill press at speeds below 750 rpm, polish all of the cylinders an equal amount of time. Stop frequently, clean the cylinders with Brake Kleen or Gun Scrubber and put it back in the gun. Try it with random empties and see if they drop out every time. Polish again. Take it slow. Don't overdo it.

When they do, stop. Clean, reassemble the gun. If, when you practice shooting and reloading you find that they don't drop free, do it again. If only one chamber doesn't, mark it and redo it slightly.

EJECTOR/BASE PIN MODIFICATION

With the long cartridges (ONLY), now you'll discover another problem. When you do have to eject a case, the ejector won't eject it all the way. There are two reasons.

1. The cylinder base pin knob sticks out too far and blocks the ejector rod knob from going all the way down.

2. If the base pin knob was short, the ejector spring would bind.

Solutions:

Use .38s instead of .357, even .38 Long Colts. They're shorter.

Use .45 Scholfield instead of .45 Long Colt. They're shorter

These aren't really good solutions. The gun should always use the same length round because:

a). There will eventually be a little ridge in the cylinder at the end of the case. Then a longer case will hang up.

b). Having special rounds just for reloading situations is just too gamey to be The Cowboy Way.

c). Ruger recommends against using .45 Scholfield in their .45 L-o-n-g Colt guns. The rim is .01 wider. You can make Scholfield length cases out of .45 Colt with a case trimmer, but that's WORK. I've successfully used Starline brass .45 Scholfield loads with no problems at all.

Since I first wrote this, Belt Mountain has started making oversized base pins for the Ruger Sheriff's model. One of these on a regular Vaquero cures the long base pin problem. If you don't want to buy Belt Mountain base pins for your guns, read on:

You can, however, cut the base pin knob down and make room for more complete ejection.

See the part below about the Belt Mountain oversized Base pins.

I had a machine shop cut one down even with the inside edge of the next to last groove so I could stick a fingernail in the groove to get a grip on the base pin for pulling it out. It isn't that hard to get out normally. They rounded off the end, and I cold blued it.

Later ones I cut off with a hacksaw and put the base pin in a drill and carefully rounded off the end on a belt sander then finer and finer stones until it was as smooth as the machined one. It was quicker and cheaper. Cold bluing again made it look good. (2 years later much of the bluing's worn off the gun in several places, so bluing missing from the end of the base pin is no big deal. If you're trying to keep your pistol looking like it just came out of the box, you're in the wrong sport.)

But the spring still bound up. So I took the ejector spring off and took off a half inch and tried it. It still bound up. I took off a quarter inch until it didn't. I got in a hurry with one and cut too much. Do it a quarter inch at a time.

It's at this point I mention that when I got my Rugers I took the parts list and ordered spares of every spring and every small part, everything I might drop and lose or break. The base pin I cut first was a spare. I perfected the technique before doing it on an expensive Belt Mountain Base pin.

With this length on a .45 Colt it almost ejects completely. Eject with force, and it will shoot the round out quite effectively.

Isn't this an external modification to gain an advantage and thus not SASS legal?

Apparently not, or so I have been told. I have stock parts just in case. The modified part looks like a Colt. If Colts already have the part, what's the advantage? If someone complains I suppose I could show up with a Scholfield for reloading stages. Now that's gamey.

(NOTE: May 2001, latest word in the Cowboy Chronicle is the rules committee considers this a legal modification. I've had no problems with mine anywhere including Winter Range, where they were ptetty picky about following all the rules.)

With a .45 Long Colt it's superfluous as the rounds will fall out if the cylinders are flex-honed. But .38s need all the help they can get.

BELT MOUNTAIN BASE PIN

The Belt Mountain Base Pin is .002 oversize, and the groove for the base pin catch is just on one side of the pin, not circumferential. It should be a drop-in part, or more accurately, lubricate and put in slowly and carefully. Sometimes the groove for the catch has to be filed deeper. If the pin is bigger than the hole in the frame, modify the pin, not the hole. Measure with calipers. Measure the hole. It can be lathe turned .0005 or so until it goes in.

Benefits include tighter cylinder fit, more precise cylinder/barrel alignment. Some shooters have said installation of one of these has corrected a point-of-aim problem. After using them for a couple of years I've tried one gun with them and one without and can tell no difference.

CRESCENT EJECTOR ROD.BUTTON

Colts and Colt clones have bigger ejector rod buttons. I've never had trouble finding the stock one, but a Crescent Ejector Rod Button, advertised as "SASS Legal" is available from Brownell's.

Part #737-400-001-blue- $33.00

Part #737-400-001-stainless-$33.00

Mine needed fitting.

EAGLE GUNFIGHTER GRIPS

If you wear medium gloves, these are a good idea. They come in rosewood, with and without checkering, buffalo horn with and without checkering, and "ultra" ivory without checkering. You pay's your money, and you takes your choice. With them you can expect more control over recoil and a bit more pointability. I have both wood and ivory and had problems with both. The ivory pair warped because the screw holding them in place was too tight. The wood ones broke because of that. I'm not that strong. For the replacement ivory ones (no charge) and the repaired wood ones, I fabricated a spacer to keep the screw from ovetightening. Very sophisticated--a Bic pen cut to .501" long cylinders.

Eagle Grips

POWER FREE SPIN PAWL

Rugers are easy to unload and reload because you don't have to go to half cock to open the loading gate. But the cylinder only rotates one way, and when it goes past a click, a round can get hung up coming out and delay your reload. The Free Spin Pawl enables it to spin either way. It will NOT click like a Colt or a stock Ruger. So counting clicks won't work when you load the 6th round and want to rotate 3 clicks.

It says, "Requires gunsmith fitting." I put two in without any trouble. Each required stoning at the same place. You must be comfortable disassembling and reassembling the weapon completely. You will need to several times. The instructions which come with them are quite complete and quite good. I won't repeat them here.

TAKE CARE NOT TO LOSE THE LITTLE WASHER! I've spent more time looking for the little washers than in installing the part. I mentioned the problem to the people at the Power Custom tent at Winter Range, and they sent me a bag with a dozen or so in it, a two lifetime supply I would think.

POWER CUSTOM HAMMER AND TRIGGER

The Power Custom Hammer and Trigger have a half-cock notch in the hammer so you can reload the gun like a Colt. The cylinder is lined up when you hear the click. Thus if you're reloading by feel, its much easier. The hammer also feels like a Colt when you cock it. You can just get the Hammer and modify the trigger, but the trigger is the inexpensive part, while the hammer is the expensive part, so I just got both. If you haven't already gotten the Wolff Spring Kit, you can get a kit with hammer, trigger, and spring kit. These are drop in parts, but, again, you should be familiar with disassembly of your Ruger. These should be put in BEFORE or WITH the Free Spin Pawl. I put in the Free Spin Pawl first, and when I added the hammer and trigger, I had to stone the Free Spin Pawl in order to cock the hammer on each revolver. Fortunately I needed to remove metal. If I had removed metal for a different hammer and trigger and didn't need to for this set, I couldn't have added it back.

The result? The same 32 and 36 oz. triggers, but VERY crisp, and with the neat half-cock notch. Now you can reload by opening the loading gate with the hammer down, spinning the cylinder as needed, or you can go to half-cock, then open the loading gate, and the cylinder will click 6 times as it rotates. This is useful if you're told to fire 5 rounds then load one. You load the empty chamber, of course, and count clicks, close the loading gate, cock the hammer, then fire. When you're reloading using this, when you hear the click, the cylinder is lined up so that the ejector is centered on the round, like a Colt.

Other Stuff:

If you have an older Vaquero with aluminum ejector housing and/or grip frame, replace them with steel parts for the extra weight.

That's it. I can't think of anything else you can do to a Ruger. If you need/want to ream the forcing cone to 11°, you probably should use a gunsmith. If you like the way a gunsmith's guns feel, you should use a gunsmith. Otherwise you can compete with a gun modified to the limit of the rules for just a few bucks more than the stock gun, and you can have the satisfaction of doing it yourself.

Don't try that in IPSC Open Class.

CLEANING

I use Bore Snakes as well as traditional cleaning rods. These give a fast cleanup of the bore. I'll "field strip" the Rugers after every couple of hundred rounds of smokeless or after every session with Black Powder Substitutes (See Using Cleanshot for Cowboy Action Shooting). Meaning I'll pull the base pin and cylinder and pressure clean with Gun Scrubber and/or Break-Free (for smokeless). I don't detail strip the Vaqueros very often. I've found they just don't need it. If I pull the grips and see something, then I'll detail strip the gun. Otherwise I can pressure clean and get to everything I need to. I also have an ammo can with solvent in it (Brake Cleaner), and I'll soak the revolver in it field stripped, then blow it out with compressed air and oil it.

USUAL DISCLAIMER 2: I put these modifications in for information purposes. You, and only you are responsible for any modifications you might do to your firearm and its ultimate safe usage. Suing me won't bring back your cat or your daughter or your left eye. Do NOT work on a loaded weapon. Cowboy Action Shooting rules require guns to be unloaded except when loaded at the loading table and used immediately in the stage. Another contestant verifies safe loading, and at the unloading table another contestant verifies that the weapons are unloaded.

1. Consider all guns always loaded. Do not pay lip service to this. Take it seriously.

2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. Even when it is "unloaded" follow this religiously.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.

4. Be sure of your target and what's behind it.

Violations of these rules can result in death or serious injury.