A bear of a little gun

A bear of a little gun

Clapp, Wiley

STURM, RUGER & COMPANY, INC. ANNOUNCES a new single-action revolver to be known as the RUGER BEARCAT

Since 1958, the diminutive Bearcat .22 Long Rifle revolver has appealed to the fun-loving and nostalgic side of American handgunners. Now, the blued New Model Bearcat has been joined by a stainless rendition of this classic Ruger revolver.

A shooter wandering through the products displayed at the NRA Annual Meetings has a chance to pick up, handle and generally enjoy every type and model of sporting firearm currently available. Some of the time, we are inclined to like or dislike a particular model on the basis of our own personal tastes and shooting interests. But there are certain guns that elicit the same positive response from nearly every shooter who handles them. These are rifles, shotguns or handguns with a universal appeal, and one of them is the subject of this story.

Only a rare shooter can pick up one of Bill Ruger’s neat little Bearcat revolvers and not smilingly mutter to himself: “I need to get one of these.” Some of the Bearcat’s appeal stems from the gun’s diminutive proportions and feathery weight, but more is from the Frontier single-action styling. Bearcats are guns that appeal strongly to our sense of the fun in shooting. They conjure up images of happy times– maybe popping pinecones off a log in some forest camp or teaching a young shooter the basics on a lazy Saturday morning. As a .22 rimfire, a Bearcat has enough power to take small game, and it is certainly useful in that role. But most of the ammo expended from Bill Ruger’s smallest singleaction goes downrange at improvised targets, just for the pleasure associated with shooting and hitting.

Sturm, Ruger & Co. introduced the Bearcat revolver in 1958. In those days, Ruger had already started a revolution of sorts in the firearm industry. After developing and producing a great little .22 semi-automatic pistol that got a lot of people shooting, the company introduced a line of single-action revolvers unabashedly styled after the Colt Frontier Model. The first of them was a .22 called the Single Six, followed by center-fire Blackhawks in several calibers. Much of the market for old-timey handguns came from the great interest in mid- 1950s films and TV shows about the Western frontier. It was an interest that waxed full for several years, then waned somewhat until Cowboy Action Shooting took the shooting world by storm in the past decade. In 1958, Bill Ruger wanted a little gun to get shooters started in single– action shooting, and the Bearcat was the answer.

It is an uncommonly attractive little revolver. Many shooters are unaware that the Bearcat style borrows more from early Remington caplock revolvers than from the products of Samuel Colt. As he did with the Single Sixes and Blackhawks, Ruger modernized his new product with topnotch coil springs and advanced metallurgy.

Although Bearcats are trim little guns, they are exceptionally rugged. Since the gun’s introduction almost a half– century ago, there have been a number of model variations and changes, but the general shape and style of the Bearcat is not materially different from the trim, 17-oz. rimfire of the Eisenhower years. Major components of the modern guns we shot for this article are made by the same investment casting process that Ruger developed for gunmaking so long ago.

Unlike all other Ruger single-actions before and after, the Bearcat has a one-piece butt and main frame. Original Colts and modern clones thereof have two-piece trigger guard and backstrap combinations. Even other Ruger single– actions use a one-piece butt and a trigger guard that’s held to the main receiver with several screws. But in the Bearcat, it is a single casting that forms the butt and the frame containing the lockwork. The cylinder fits into this frame and turns on a base pin that runs through its center. As with all other common single-action revolvers, the Bearcat’s barrel is screwed into the front of the frame. Like the early Remingtons from which Bearcat styling evolved, the trigger guard is a single, separate piece that fits into the underside of the revolver frame. On original Bearcats, the trigger guard was brass, but current guns use a cast unit of the same steel as the remainder of the gun.

Those original 1958-vintage Bearcats were mighty handy guns. The main frame of the little wheelgun was made of an aluminum alloy, as was the ejector rod housing. Use of the weight-saving alloy made for a revolver that weighed little more than a pound-17 ozs.

For various reasons, there are always some shooters who want a steel gun when the standard is aluminum (and vice versa). Ruger answered their request with the so-called “Super Bearcat” revolver in 1971. The Super is long out of production in its original form, but was essentially the same gun as the regular Bearcat, but crafted from carbon steel. The heavier material raises the gun’s weight by a half-pound to 25 ozs.

The Bearcat was a mainstay of the Ruger line from ’58 to ’73, at which time it was discontinued. Ruger took all single-actions out of production in order to replace them with the improved New Model guns. The Bearcat was not one of the models immediately replaced. In fact, it was more than 20 years later, in 1994, before we saw a New Model Bearcat.

The reason for the change was new and greatly improved lock– Those familiar with single-actions will be right at home with the Bearcat. From Its full-length ejector rod (above l.) to the familiar loading gate door (l.), the Bearcat is elegant in its simplicity. You can send your old Bearcat or any other Old Model Ruger single-action back to the plant, and it will perform the modification free of charge. Your old parts will be returned with the modified gun. It’s a win-win situation.

The year 1994 was one to please Bearcat fans, as the slim little singleaction returned to production. For a brief period, Bearcats were available with extra fitted .22 WMR cylinders. Technical difficulties caused them to be recalled, and remaining specimens in circulation are scarce. Although Ruger had made other pistols and revolvers in stainless steel, it didn’t get around to a stainless Bearcat until this year. The one shown with this article is one of the first shipped. If you like the Bearcat size and handiness for real world practical shooting, a stainless steel version is right up your alley. The gun’s resistance to corrosion makes it a fine choice for use in humid climates, or where fresh or salt water is apt to be splashed on the gun. It’s a long-overdue option.

In either blue or stainless steel, a Bearcat is an attractive little revolver. Like most single-actions, it has a typical frontier grip shape, with the familiar flared butt. Ruger makes the grip panels from an attractive hardwood with black and silver medallions. The butt is on the small side and does not begin to fill an adult hand. If you need more gun, step up to the Ruger Single Six series of .22s, which is larger. This one has been deliberately kept on the small side for handiness. The Bearcat barrel is 4″ long. It’s fitted with a front sight blade, matched to a plain slot in the top rear of the frame that forms the rear sight. The entire gun is made of either blue or stainless steel, with the exception of the housing for the ejector rod. That part is aluminum, anodized to match the color of the rest of the gun.

Markings are typical. The serial number is on the right side of the frame, well forward below the cylinder. The left side reads “Ruger New Bearcat” and the barrel inscription includes a version of the familiar Ruger admonition to read the manual before firing the gun. The chambering is also marked on the barrel. Like the 1958-vintage guns, our new Bearcat has a non-fluted cylinder. It is roll-marked in the manner of some early blackpowder revolvers of the Civil War era. Bearcat cylinder markings have a bear and cougar motif.

As much as the New Bearcat is a practical and efficient little revolver, it is also designed to have a certain nostalgic appeal. There are some styling touches that stand out. One of them is the graceful wide spur on the hammer. Also, the frame has a very pleasing forward taper at the lower front end. And in the manner of the Remington Police Model, the Bearcat trigger guard has been smoothly inletted into the contour of the bottom of the frame. The grip shape at the top of the frame is classic, mirroring the style of that early Remington. The gun’s appeal goes beyond size and handiness.

In order to get a handle on the Bearcat’s real world effectiveness, I went to the range with a pair of the guns, one stainless steel and one blue. Using an array of .22 Long Rifle ammunition, I worked my way through the standard American Rifleman protocol. That means shooting five consecutive, five-shot groups at 25 yds. I didn’t have Ransom Rest inserts for the gun, so all shooting necessarily was hand-held. This means you’ll have to allow for my personal human errors as a marksman. There is also the problem of ammunition quality. The .22 LR is manufactured by the millions of rounds every year, but most of it is made to serve the needs of plinkers and small game shooters. In my ammo lineup, I used a fairly diverse assortment of loads. The array included Federal’s Gold Medal and Eley’s venerable Tenex.

Almost immediately, two problems cropped up. Both guns had triggers that were perfectly safe, but full of creep.

This annoying feature prevented anything like a surprise break of the trigger. Both guns were a little tough to shoot well. I am told that a competent revolversmith can clean up Bearcat triggers in short order and I would plan on having that done. The other problem was my fault completely-I forgot to bring sight black to the range. The rounded top of the front sight caught the sun at the right angle, and I was shooting with a pronounced glare on my sight. Even then, I was able to pull a few decent groups out of the two guns, and the overall average was not bad. By sheer coincidence, the stainless steel gun seemed to be a little more accurate, but shot lower than the blue one. The shooting results are reported in a nearby table, and I believe the actual accuracy potential of these two Rugers is probably better than what I was able to make them do.

The uses of this gun are legion. It is sized and has features that make it an ideal beginner’s gun. It’s light enough to go backpacking and accurate enough to augment the wood’s larder with a squirrel or bunny. A stainless version is ideal for a fisherman’s kit. Either model conjures up memories of the classic period of Frontier arms. The Bearcat represents Bill Ruger’s practical side mated to his sense of nostalgia.

Copyright National Rifle Association of America Sep 2002

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