In any language, the firm’s .45 Long Colt is a good Cowboy Action pick, better than Cimarron’s Model P, we think.
If you have a hankering for a dose of some old-time shooting action, then you need look no farther than any Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) get-together. Because SASS events blend elements of speed shooting with period dress and unusual courses of fire, increasing numbers of leather slappers, riflemen, and scattergunners are dusting off their 10-gallon hats, boots, and spurs and riding out to meet the challenge posed by circa-1870s practical shooting courses.
Cowboy action shooting events continue to draw handgun and long- gun competitors bored with the sameness of many other shooting games. Some of cowboy action’s appeal stems from its nonstandard course of fire, its use of three guns (handguns, rifles, and shotguns) whose designs must hail from before the turn of the century, and its implementation of period dress, including dusty cowboy hats, Paladin-like black clothing and shooting leather, and buckskin.
For the firearms aficionado, much of the game’s challenge is choosing and shooting gun designs long-ago supplanted by more modern technology. In the handgun games and mixed-gun events that employ sidearms, this means single-action revolvers chambered for hoary rounds like the .45 Long Colt and .44-40.
We recently tested two guns finding wide favor among cowboy shooters: Ruger’s Vaquero and Cimarron F.A.’s Model P series. We tested the Vaquero KBNV-45I, a high gloss–stainless version with a 7.5-inch barrel. The gun, chambered for the .45 Long Colt, also came with simulated ivory grips. It carries a suggested retail price of $470. The .45 Long Colt Cimarron Model P MP514 Pinched Frame we tested had a 7.5-inch blued barrel and walnut one-piece grips. It retails for $469.
Of the pair, we preferred the Vaquero over the Italian-made Cimarron. The silver gun was smoother and more accurate than the Model P, we thought, though the performance gap was pretty thin, as we describe below.
How We Tested
We acquired a selection of .45 Long Colt ammunition from four manufacturers. We used Federal Classic 225-grain Colt semi-wadcutter hollowpoints (45LCA), Remington’s .45 Colt 250-grain lead rounds (R45C), PMC .45 Long Colt 250-grain lead flat point cartridges (45LA), and Winchester’s .45 Colt 250-grain cast lead loading (CB45C), which was described on its packaging as having been “Designed in cooperation with SASS.” The gray-blue 50-round Winchester box was adorned with a galloping horseman image and a text description of the rounds being “Cowboy Action Loads.” To test for accuracy, we clamped the guns into a Ransom Pistol Rest with windage base. The rest was mounted on a 24-inch-square plywood base that was 1.4 inches thick. This platform was C-clamped to a 1-inch-thick steel sheet attached to a steel pipe planted in the ground and fixed in concrete. We shot all our test groups outdoors at 25 yards. We fired 10 five-shot groups to collect our accuracy data, spotting the rounds with a Nikon 20- to 60-power Field Spotting Scope. Using a Parker-Hale cleaning rod and jag, we cleaned the guns with Pro-Shot lead and powder solvent between lots and then fouled each gun before shooting the next test lot. We measured all the groups to the nearest tenth of an inch using a Neal Jones benchrest-scoring device.
We also did extensive range testing on reactive steel targets, following the design of recent cowboy shoots we’ve attended. Since the course of fire for cowboy events isn’t standardized—which is part of the game’s charm—we created our own stages to test the guns’ performance. In one trial, we started with a gun in a holster on each side, each gun loaded with five rounds. Traversing left to right, we moved down a wooden walkway until we reached a set of five gongs. We engaged those targets, then walked further down the course to engage five more targets. Then we swapped guns and tried the course again. Next, we sat in a chair with one loaded revolver on a table in front of us and a cup of coffee in one hand. We had to place the coffee on the table without spilling any, pick up the pistol, and engage five balloon targets. Then we had to reload two rounds and hit two other knock-down gongs. After this extensive testing, we were able to formulate what we liked and didn’t like about each gun. Here’s what we thought:
Ruger Vaquero KBNV-45I
Ruger has a long history of manufacturing revolvers, beginning with the Single-Six and then the single-action Blackhawk, which came into being in 1955, contemporaneous with the television series Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, and Wyatt Earp. In the 1970s, Ruger introduced a single-action black-powder “cap-and-ball” model, the Old Army, and in 1973, the New Model single actions, which introduced some of the safety features found in the company’s line today. Then came the Ruger Redhawk .44 Magnum in the 1980s. The Vaquero itself was introduced in 1993, and now there are 24 versions of the gun in 4.6-inch, 5.5-inch, and 7.5-inch barrels. Some models (the BNVs) have color case finishes and blued-steel barrels and frames. The Vaqueros are chambered for the .44/40, .45 Long Colt, and .44 Magnum cartridges. The guns with rosewood grips retail for $434. The guns with simulated ivory grips, like our KBNV-45I, retail for $470.
Physical Description. Our test Vaquero had a bright-gloss stainless finish on its 7.5-inch barrel and body. Simulated ivory grips accented the polished steel, making for a very attractive firearm, in our estimation. The six-shot gun weighed 2.9 pounds and measured 13.25 inches in overall length. The gun’s maximum height was 5.25 inches, and maximum width (at the bottom of the flared grip and across the cylinder) was 1.5 inches. The trigger broke between 2.75 to 3 pounds. The gun featured a rounded front sight blade, which settled into a U-shaped rear notch. The barrel/cylinder gap measured 0.006 inch. The cylinder chamber mouths measured 0.455 inches. The Vaquero had Ruger’s standard transfer-bar safety mechanism, which removed the need for a hammer-mounted firing pin like that found on the Cimarron. Fit and finish on all the parts was excellent.
Accuracy Evaluation. As the accompanying table shows, this gun shot well with three of four .45 Long Colt ammos, averaging 2.07-inch overall group size. The best ammo was the Federal Classic 225-grain semi-wadcutter hollow points, which amassed 1.69-inch groups on average and a best group of 1.32 inches. Remington’s 250-grain lead rounds were next with 1.95-inch average groups, and a best group of 1.34 inches, followed by Winchester’s 250-grain cast lead loading (1.97-inch average groups, 1.74-inch best group) and the PMC 250-grain lead flat point bullets, which shot 2.67-inch average groups in our tests and a best group of 1.70 inches.
Operation Evaluation. Handling the gun, we thought the Vaquero’s hammer movement and cylinder rotation were smooth, positive, and trouble free. Likewise, the buttery trigger broke cleanly between 2.75 and 3 pounds. The simulated ivory grips were attractive, but their slick surfaces didn’t help control the gun, we thought. Even with a two-handed grip on the gun, we felt the .45 Long Colt drive the muzzle up after each shot. Too bad some Old West gunsmith didn’t dream up porting barrels a hundred years ago. The large, square rear sight notch provided suitable light bars on each sight of the front blade. Loading the Vaquero under stress was more troublesome than on the Cimarron, we thought. If the shooter rotated the cylinder slightly past the loading gate when filling the gun, he couldn’t rotate the cylinder backward to fill the chamber. To get that slot filled, the shooter had to turn the cylinder another 270 degrees. The gun was comfortable to handle, due in some part to the beveled cylinder edges. At our testing distance of 25 yards, the Ruger shot about 2 inches high, which was easy to compensate for by holding slightly under targets. We had no malfunctions during testing.
There are good reasons why Ruger’s Vaquero is a cowboy favorite: The guns are accurate, durable, and true to the period. For single-action shooting, we would buy the Ruger Vaquero KBNV-45I.
Cimarron F.A. Model P
Cimarron F.A. Co., based in Fredericksburg, Texas, has made a name for itself in cowboy action shooting with its extensive single-action revolver line, offering several dozen models of wheelgun replicas. The guns are actually made by Armi San Marco in Italy, but like other clones of the Colt Single Action Army revolvers made by Uberti, the products are visually indistinguishable from domestically produced period products. Four similar Model P’s exist, with 3-, 4.75-, 5.5-, and 7.5-inch barrels. The guns retail for $469. They are chambered for the .32 WCF, .38 WCF, .357 Magnum, .44 WCF, .44 Special, .45 Long Colt, and .45 Long Colt/.45 ACP cartridges. The company’s catalog also lists the .22 LR cartridge among the Model P’s chamberings, but the cost for the rimfire gun isn’t included in the Cimarron retail price list. Also in the Model P line, the A.P. Casey U.S. Cavalry 7.5-inch-barrel .45 Long Colt (MP514C, $499) is a near-twin for the P-series MP514, as is the Rinaldo A. Carr Model P U.S. Artillery 5.5-inch .45 Long Colt. The Carr MP513A sells for $499, whereas the standard MP513 is $30 cheaper. The Model P’s are based on the blackpowder frames of the original Single Action Army guns. Their parts will interchange with 1st generation and 2nd generation 1873 Colts. The Model Ps have color case finishes on all surfaces except for the blued-steel barrels. We tested the MP514 .45 Long Colt, which had a 7.5-inch-long barrel.
Physical Description. Our Model P gun had a case finish on its frame, cylinder, and hammer. The 7.5-inch barrel and trigger pieces were blued. Stained walnut one-piece grips accented the dark steel; the firearm looked like it could have been hanging in a bunkhouse 130 years ago. The six-shot gun weighed 2.5 pounds and measured 13 inches in overall length. The gun’s maximum height, measured from the top of the sight to the bottom of the grip, was 5 inches, and maximum width (across the cylinder) was 1.5 inches. The trigger broke between 4.25 to 4.5 pounds. The gun featured a squared front sight blade, which settled into a shallow V-shaped “pinched frame” rear notch. The barrel/cylinder gap measured 0.007 inch. The cylinder chamber mouths measured 0.457 inches. The Cimarron safety mechanism consists of a long cylinder base pin. When the hammer is in the safe position, this pin protrudes out the back of the action, blocking forward movement of the hammer. When the gun is ready to fire, this pin moves forward, allowing the hammer-mounted firing pin to strike the cartridge primer. Fit and finish on all the metal parts was excellent, but the wood grips didn’t fit flush on the strap.
Accuracy Evaluation. Accuracy across all the loads was 2.45-inch average groups, slightly larger than the Vaquero’s 2.07-inch mark. Federal Classic 225-grain semi-wadcutter hollowpoints notched 1.86-inch groups on average and a best group of 1.39 inches. Remington’s 250-grain lead rounds ballooned to 3.69-inch average groups, and a best group of 2.95 inches. Rounds that shot 2-inch groups included Winchester’s 250-grain cast lead loading (2.13-inch average groups, 1.40-inch best group), and the PMC 250-grain lead flat point cartridges, which shot 2.11-inch average groups and a best group of 1.31 inches.
Operation Evaluation. Handling the gun, we thought the Model P’s hammer movement and cylinder rotation were smooth and properly timed. The trigger broke with a tiny bit of creep between 4.25 and 4.5 pounds, and we felt trigger vibration we didn’t like when the hammer fell. The wood grips were smart-looking, and they offered a better gripping surface than the Vaquero, we thought. The pinched rear sight notch didn’t provide as good a sight picture as the Ruger gun, in our estimation. Loading the Cimarron under duress was easier than loading the Ruger, we thought. When the shooter pulled the hammer back slightly, it freed the cylinder to turn in either direction. That made loading the gun easier. The Cimarron, like the Ruger, had beveled edges on the front of the cylinder that prevented the metal from cutting the shooter’s hand. At our testing distance of 25 yards, the Cimarron shot about 8 inches high, which was hard to compensate for by holding under targets. Fixing the gun’s point of aim would require adding metal to the front sight and filing it down—not an easy task. We had no malfunctions during testing.
Performance Shooter Recommends
There are good reasons to like the Cimarron F.A. Model P: It is period correct, and with the right ammo, it shot nearly as well as the Ruger Vaquero. But in this matchup, we think it comes up short because of its irritating trigger vibration, poor sight picture, too-high point of aim. For single-action shooting, we would buy the Ruger Vaquero KBNV-45I instead.