357 New model Vaquero Q's


catmath 1911
November 6, 2006, 07:19 PM
I am looking to get a 357 New model vaquero to keep my .32 Birdshead company. I have a few questions about this gun.

1. I know the New Vacquero in .45 colt isn't as "Strong" as the orginal vaquero. How does the 357 model compare? Will it handle a steady diet of heavy 357 magnums?

2. I would love to find a birdshead vaquero in 357, but I know the chances are slim. Anyone seen one for sale in a shop? I am in Georgia.


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November 6, 2006, 08:24 PM
The "new" vaqueros are similar to the original vaquero/blackhawks.
Up until recently the 357/44mag/45 colt were all from the same size frames and Ruger moved back to the original sizes for the purists.
The smaller sized frame was designed around the 357 so it should be fine.

November 6, 2006, 08:27 PM
AFAIK, Ruger isn't making New Vaqueros w/ birdshead frame.

However, a company called Qualite has been making brass and stainless steel birdshead frames which can be fitted to various Rugers. Not sure which model is applicable to the New Vaquero.

I can't find a website for them, but lots of discussion and retail sales of Qualite products for the Ruger.


November 7, 2006, 06:45 PM
They must meet specs for SAAMI ratings so yes a diet of .357s within SAAMI specs would be fine. It's when you go above SAAMI specs that there could possibly be an issue.
Have been told oa while back that Ruger had no intentions or producing any additional birdshead models as regualr catalog models.
Go the Qualite route or buy a birdshead gripframe direct if they're still available.

Jim March
November 7, 2006, 11:42 PM
I have a New Vaq in 357.

The gun is tougher than a late-model S&W K-Frame 357. It's probably about in the same strength ballpark as a six-shot S&W L-Frame. It's hard to judge. "Cylinder beef" is similar to an L-Frame (or GP-100), and in the New Vaq the cylinder bolt notches are offset from each cylinder bore in typical Ruger fashion - this aids strength as the notches aren't right on top of the thinnest part of the cylinder.

The New Vaq is in the same size class and a bit stronger than the Colt SAA 2nd or 3rd gen and that gun (and it's various clones) have been chambered in 357 for many years with no problems. The lockwork guts are compatible with the larger frame guns (which is why a SuperBlackHawk hammer dropped right into mine) so there's no issues there.

Can you break one? Sure. Stupid handloading of course. A huge diet of very hot 125gr stuff will accellerate wear in any gun. But they're NOT weak, they will eat the gnarliest Buffalo Bore or similar specialty hot loads without choking.

ONE CAVEAT: when fed heavy loads, all SAs have a weak point: the base pin can "jump latch" and loosen, and if you fire it again in that state it's bad news. There are two cures: install a heavier base pin latch spring (included with pretty much all "spring kits" of about $20) or buy a Belt Mountain replacement base pin ($25ish) with a "set screw". Or both. My gun wears the heavier cross-latch spring (and lighter action springs) and it's accurate enough now (2" @ 25yds with one of the six factory loads I've tried) that I don't see an urgent need for a BM pin. I have not jumped the latch so far and I've shot some pretty stiff rounds (not to BuffBore standards though).

With that one weakness fixed with home tools and less than $30 with shipping, I believe this gun will run for one HELL of a long time and be reliable enough to serve as a deep-back-country survival gun...and there's damned few guns I'd say that about.

Mine with some mods:


Jim March
November 7, 2006, 11:53 PM
On grip frame swaps:

The New Vaq is fundamentally compatible with all "New Model" grip frames. They would have to be "fitted" to your gun of course...basically a bit of polishing to clean up the frame/gripframe interface. Brass aftermarket grip frames will be easiest to work with hand tools; Brownell's has brass Bird's Head grip frames with panels at reasonable prices. You can also "bisleyize" them.

An interesting potential swap is to an aluminum grip frame off of a New Model Blackhawk. This would reduce weight by quite a bit...the panels would have to be swapped too of course but all sorts of panels are available for the "XR3-RED" grip frame...including Crimson Trace Lasergrips :D.

Any such grip frame swap also means swapping the mainspring, mainspring strut and mainspring "keeper", all of which are available at Brownell's or elsewhere.

This swap set will disable the Ruger internal keylock. Some gunsmiths won't do this swap because it "disables a safety". I personally disagree. The transfer bar safety will still work, so the gun will still be as safe as a recent model Blackhawk/SuperBlackhawk/Vaquero ("Old").

November 9, 2006, 12:11 AM
So how 'bout the .45 NM Vaquero? How do those hold up to heavier factory .45 loads for woods carry?

Jim March
November 9, 2006, 12:50 AM
There was a lot of discussion of what sort of loads the 45LC New Vaq could handle when it was first announced. See also the discussion from back then:


Nothing I've seen since changes my opinions. Cor-Bon and Buffalo Bore both have 200gr JHPs doing about 1,100fps, or Bufallo Bore has a plain lead hunter's load for SAA-class guns doing about 1,000fps. Those are the strongest loads I'd run in a 45LC gun in the same "strength class" as a 2nd or 3rd gen Colt SAA, or decent quality clone/nearclone.

Here's the Buffbore loads page:


Compare the power levels in their "standard pressure" and "heavy" 45LC sections. Also note the revised warnings for the heavy stuff:

These Heavy .45 Colt +P loads are safe in all LARGE FRAME Ruger revolvers.
(includes Blackhawk, Super Blackhawk, all pre-2005 Vaquero, Bisley, Redhawk)

These Heavy .45 Colt +P loads are NOT intended for the New Model Vaquero (small frame).

In contrast, BuffBore's milder 45LC are listed as OK for both 2nd and 3rd gen Colt SAAs, and we can guesstimate that between Ruger's metallurgy and a bit more cylinder beef, the Ruger New Vaquero is maybe 10% stronger than a Colt SAA (guesstimate ONLY!!! but you can bet it ain't weaker).

Oh, one thing I HAVE learned since that earlier thread: ditching the New Vaq's internal lock isn't quite as easy as I predicted back then :). You need to swap grip frame, mainspring and mainspring keeper.

Ralph Bryant
November 9, 2006, 02:07 PM
There were two models of the birdshead Vaquero in .357 magnum caliber in stainless steel:


and their blue steel counterparts:


The 34 had black micarta grips, the 34-I had white simulated ivory grips. All had 4 5/8 inch barrel lengths. You won't see them up for sale very often, even used ones, but I have seen a couple recently on GunBroker.

Jim is correct in his above post, that if you have worries about frame strength with heavier loads or "sustained" use of heavier loads, then you would be better off to concentrate on the early model Vaquero rather than the "New Vaquero" version. Early model Vaqueros are a "done deal" and no more will be produced, so they are disappearing from the shops for the most part. This is especially true of the 4 5/8 inch versions and the much harder to find Bisley and Birdshead versions.

I think early model Vaqueros will eventually become a hot collectors market due to the wide variation of barrel lengths and calibers offered, along with the three grip-frame variations. Some models had fewer than 100 piece production numbers, while the more popular and common calibers ranged into the many thousands.



Jim March
November 9, 2006, 03:47 PM
Right, the Ruger factory Bird's Head guns are all built on the 44Mag-class frame. Which in 357 is unbelievably strong...you can't really exploit that in factory ammo but you can in handloading, brewing up "357+P".

Gunsmith Gary Reeder came up with another way to exploit the strength of the larger-frame 357 Rugers (both Blackhawks and Vaqs on 44Mag-class-frames): he will hog out the cylinders to something called a "356GNR", a wildcat cartridge based on the 41Mag necked down to 357 and able to shoot through a standard 357 barrel. Some people who own "dual caliber/dual cylinder" Rugers with 357 and 9mm cylinders send the 9mm cylinder off for this. 158gr lead doing 1,700fps is NO joke and available with the larger case capacity. He also sells brass and dies.

You could do this to a New Vaquero as well but you'd be more limited in power over what the 44Mag-class frames can handle.


All that said, there IS a reason to go New Vaq and convert it to Bird's Head versus buy a 44Mag-framed factory version. The New Vaqueros are, on average, more accurate than most previous Ruger SAs on the 44Mag-class frame. Ruger has come up with a new cylinder manufacturing process for the New Vaq. Instead of drilling all six bore holes at once as with the old process, one drill bit is used and the cylinder is spun to it to have each bore done. The latter is a more accurate process. Old Vaqs and other large-frame guns are sometimes seen with variance in cylinder bore dimensions between holes in the same cylinder due to variances in the drill bits. The New Vaq process features drill bits that don't degrade anywhere NEAR fast enough to produce measurable changes between cylinder bores in the same cylinders. Being more uniform, these cylinders on the New Vaq (and it's mid-frame cousin, the 50th Anniversary 357 "flattop" Blackhawk) are more accurate on average.

Some large-frame cylinders are as accurate as the new midframe cylinders. Not all. Of the ones that aren't, many can be brought to up par by minor gunsmithing. But again, not all. Linebaugh talks about seeing Rugers come into his shop that are just "bad roll of the dice" guns - everything is "in tolerances" but in all the wrong directions, making for a gun that will never really be nice without a new line-bored cylinder. This is being seen less in the New Vaqs and 50th 357 "flattop".


I decided that I didn't need more than 357Mag horsepower levels. I wanted a Bird's Head, and knew that it would cost me $200ish to add it to a New Vaq using Qualite brass parts. To me, that $200 was worth it some time down the road because I get a smaller, handier gun that will need less tweaking to get max accuracy...esp. after I hand-picked mine from among three for perfect alignment via the checkout.

On the other hand: do a full checkout on an Old Vaq and you may get one as good as the best New Vaqs and get strength benefits plus a factory grip you like. It's all up to you.

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