50 Years of the Ruger Bearcat:
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
We have admired the petite Ruger Bearcat since we first saw one. Being long time single action revolver fans, it is our idea of an ideal kit gun for tackle box or backpack.
Because 2008 is the Bearcat's 50th Anniversary, Ruger has offered a limited edition (2008 only) commemorative Bearcat. This very attractive little revolver (see photo below) features cocobolo wood grips, a gold-colored trigger guard (reminiscent of the original "Old Model" Bearcats), a gold-filled "50th Anniversary BEARCAT - 2008" on the top of the barrel and gold-filled bands around the cylinder. The "RUGER BEARCAT" legend roll stamped on the cylinder is also gold-filled. The serial numbers will have a special prefix and the revolver comes with a soft gun case and a Bearcat History booklet. These 50th Anniversary Bearcats carry a $758 MSRP.
William B. Ruger introduced the Bearcat in 1958, following his success with the Colt SAA inspired Single Six revolver. Bill Ruger's inspiration for the Bearcat, however, was not the Colt SAA, but the small frame Remington single action revolvers of the 19th Century. Specifically, the Bearcat is the same size and approximate configuration as a Remington .32 caliber Pocket Police revolver. It shares many Remington design features, including a one-piece grip and mainframe, two pivot screws (the Bearcat has always been a "2 screw" revolver), removable trigger guard that allows access to the lock work and Remington style grips. Naturally, Ruger updated the action design to use all music wire springs and, because the Bearcat is a cartridge revolver, eliminated the traditional Remington web under the barrel and added a loading gate and an ejector rod beneath the barrel.
One oddity about the New Bearcat is that its cylinder is long enough to permit the use of .22 Magnum length cartridges, although Bearcat revolvers are chambered only for .22 Long Rifle. The reason for this is that Ruger had planned to offer the New Bearcat as a Convertible revolver with both .22 LR and .22 WMR cylinders. ("Old Model" Bearcats had frames and cylinders too short for magnum cartridges.) A few very early New Bearcat Convertibles were in fact produced and sold with two cylinders. Unfortunately, some users failed to index the .22 WMR cylinder after loading and when fired slightly out of index, bits of bullet would be shaved and spit out the cylinder gap. Ruger quickly discontinued production of .22 WMR cylinders and Convertible Bearcats, but the revolver itself remains unchanged, so today's .22 LR New Bearcat has a slightly longer frame and cylinder than the original .22 LR Bearcat.
Unlike other New Model Ruger single action revolvers, opening the loading gate does not free the cylinder for rotation. Although the New Model Bearcat incorporates the famous Ruger transfer bar and frame mounted firing pin that makes it safe to carry with all six chambers loaded, to load or unload a Bearcat you bring the hammer back to its half-cock notch to free the cylinder for manual rotation in the traditional manner. The trigger return spring drives a plunger that acts directly against the rear of the trigger and the familiar "coil spring around a strut" powers the hammer, as per an original three-screw Single Six. The best of all possible worlds!
These simple features make it very easy for the revolver's owner to replace the stock springs with after-market springs or modify (cut coils from, but don't tell Ruger) the stock springs to reduce the force against the hammer and/or trigger as required. (Removing about three coils from the mainspring usually helps a lot.) If you go too far, a new spring restores the gun to original condition. Of course, Ruger absolutely does not recommend such practices and you and you alone are responsible for your actions and any unintended results.
Our test gun's hammer draw is far too stiff, causing the knurling on the hammer spur to abrade the pad of the shooter's thumb. The mainspring (hammer spring) certainly deserves some attention.
Deserving special mention is the shape of the Bearcat's hammer, which is not the same shape as the Single Six and Blackhawk hammers. Instead, it is a scaled down Super Blackhawk style hammer with a lower, wider and more comfortable spur. This is an altogether superior hammer design and it should be adopted across the line. A suggestion for improvement would be to "melt" the sharp edges of the hammer. As is, the edges of the hammer are very sharp and prone to "bite" any bit of flesh that gets in the way.
We were very pleasantly surprised by our test Bearcat's 2-7/8 pound trigger release, as measured by our RCBS Premium Trigger Pull Scale. The trigger pull is commendably clean, crisp with very little creep and inconsequential over travel. This is the best out of the box trigger that we have experienced from Ruger, or any other handgun manufacturer, in many years and we saw no reason to mess with the trigger return spring.
Spend a little time with the New Bearcat and it becomes clear that, except for its fixed sights, it is superior in many ways to the beloved New Model Single Six revolvers. How is it that the (relatively) inexpensive little Bearcat kit gun should have a superior action, trigger and hammer and the more expensive Ruger Single Action revolver models are left wanting? It makes us wish that (1) the Bearcat was available with an adjustable rear sight and (2) the Single Six was built on the Bearcat's modified Remington action instead of an improved Colt action.
The Bearcat's grips are made of rosewood and our test gun's grips show attractive dark streaks. The rest of the Bearcat appears to be made of investment cast stainless steel, which is externally polished to a smooth satin sheen. The exception is the ejector rod housing. The latter is a dull, silver-gray, cast aluminum part that does not match the rest of the gun. This seems a strange oversight on what is otherwise a very handsome little revolver. We suggest that Ruger replace the aluminum ejector rod housing with a stainless steel part or at least polish the aluminum housing to match the rest of the gun.
Here are the catalog specifications for the Ruger New Bearcat:
The New Bearcat is packaged in a useful plastic gun case and includes the usual extras, such as an Instruction Manual and gunlock. The Instruction Manual, typical of Ruger manuals for many years, is so larded with warnings and cautions as to be almost useless. An exception would be the pages on disassembly and reassembly, plus the exploded view (see below) and parts list. Fortunately, we are familiar with SA revolvers and got along fine without a readable manual.
Everyone was favorably impressed with the little Bearcat and anxious to get it to the range. When we finally did, Guns and Shooting Online Managing Editor Chuck Hawks, Editor Gordon Landers and Chief Technical Advisor Jim Fleck did the shooting for record. We brought along several types of .22 LR ammunition, which included high velocity Remington Golden bullet 36 grain HP, Federal American Eagle 38 grain HP, CCI Mini-Mag 40 grain RN, standard velocity Winchester T-22 40 grain LRN and hyper-velocity CCI Stinger 32 grain HP.
We did our shooting at the Izaak Walton outdoor range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility offers covered shooting benches and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards, but we only used the 25 yard range when shooting the Bearcat. All groups were fired from a bench rest with the gun stabilized over sandbags. The weather was partly cloudy with cool temperatures, but fortunately wind was not an issue. Following are the shooting results.
We found the Bearcat an easy little gun to shoot because of its very good trigger and user-friendly hammer shape. The Bearcat's grip is a little small to fill many men's hands, but it is ideal for many women's hands and young shooters. Certainly, the grip is at least adequate for most shooters and comfortably shaped.
Unfortunately, the fixed sights (the rear sight is a square notch machined into the rear of the frame) do not allow for any adjustment and all of our groups, regardless of the shooter or the ammunition, centered low and well to the right of the point of aim. On average, our bullets were hitting about 1" low and 3" to the right. This illustrates the problem with fixed sight guns and explains why we much prefer revolvers with a fully adjustable rear sight. In our considerable combined experience, fixed sights virtually NEVER shoot to point of aim.
The usual "fix" in this case would be to file down the front sight a little bit to raise the point of impact and file somewhat more metal off of the left side of the rear sight, unavoidably widening the notch, but moving the point of impact to the left. This is inexact work and if you remove too much metal you have ruined the pistol. On the other hand, a pistol that doesn't shoot to point of aim with the load you select is worthless in the field. The only good solution would be for Ruger to fit some sort of adjustable sights to the New Bearcat and they should do that immediately.
Other than the poor sights, we could not find much about the New Bearcat deserving of serious criticism. As mentioned above, the hammer's sharp edges should be melted for shooter comfort and the mainspring tension reduced.
Since the frame opening and cylinder length are adequate for the .22 Magnum cartridge, it is a shame that a .22 WMR version of the New Bearcat is not available. Perhaps something could be done to make that possible. If not, Ruger should shorten the frame and cylinder to the proper minimum length for .22 LR cartridges. As it stands now, the New Bearcat's frame and cylinder are simply larger and heavier than required for its cartridge's power, a definite disadvantage in a kit gun.
Overall, the New Bearcat is a very attractive revolver and it handles well. We carried it on a deer hunt (to engage grouse and squirrels, not deer!) in a cross draw holster and it was not a burden. Everyone who tried it enjoyed the New Bearcat Stainless and we are going to purchase our test gun. It is going to become a Guns and Shooting Online project gun. We will smooth some of the rough edges, so to speak, and report on the result (a "Super Bearcat Stainless"?) in a subsequent article.
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