Gun Report

Bowen Mods on Bisley Vaquero

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In the April 2001, issue of GUN TESTSwe tested a Ruger Bisley Vaquero in.45 LC against an early Colt and aCabela's Millennium. Along the way,we discovered that the Ruger wasslow, and somewhat difficult, to reload.The reason was that when thecylinder was rotated back against itsclick-stop, the chamber didn't line upwith the ejection port in the frame.Another pair of Ruger Bisleys wetested, modified by Hamilton Bowenand John Linebaugh, had free-wheelingcylinders, which made reloadinga whole lot faster and more positive,if not quite as good as original Colts.Free-wheeling the cylinder seemed tobe the logical solution to our BisleyVaquero's problem.We sent that Ruger Bisley toHamilton Bowen, Bowen ClassicArms Corp., to have the freewheelingmodification done, and to havethe trigger tuned from 4.2 poundsdown to an acceptable 2.5 to 3.0pounds. We asked Bowen to installone of his oversize base pins and toensure the chamber mouths were allthe correct, uniform, size. Thesemodifications are all included in oneof Bowen "packages."We got the gun back with all theabove work done to our satisfaction.In addition, Bowen had beveled thefronts of the chambers, making thecylinder resemble an early black-powderColt, which both looks keen andis easier on the holster. It may havemade a bit more room for black-powderresidue, if that's your forte, butthe gun functioned perfectly withblack powder before we sent it off.Bowen had also reblued the cylinder.The oversize base pin had a large,knurled head for easier pulling. Thepin was secured into the gun by theoriginal spring-loaded cross pin, andalso by a screw threaded into thecross pin from the bottom. This screwhad a stud that engaged a smallhole Bowen had put into the bottom ofthe barrel. This is the same securingmethod used by Bowen and Linebaughon their .475 and .500 Linebaugh conversions,and it ensures the base pinwill never come loose from hot loads.That's the good part. The bad part isthat you need a screwdriver to get thebase pin out. If you are shooting lightloads, there's no tremendous need forputting the screw into the pin, exceptto prevent its loss.After Bowen's mods, there was nodiscernible looseness of the cylinderwithin the frame. There had been, beforewe sent the Ruger off. All six chambermouths showed signs of having hada reamer put through them. Where theyhad previously shown tool marks, theynow were smooth. Our measurement ofthem showed the holes to be perfectlyround, with a diameter of 0.455". Wefelt this was too big, and would havepreferred the hole to be 0.452, but shortof installing a new cylinder, there wasno way to accomplish that. They're allthe same size now. Before we sentBowen the gun, they were at least onethousandth out of round, with an averagesize of approximately 0.453.The new beveling on the fronts of thechambers was uniform, clean-edged, and very attractive. Except for the evidenceof the bevels, it was impossible to tellthe cylinder had been reblued.The new trigger pull measured 2.8pounds. There was a barely discerniblebit of creep. The overtravel was as Rugerhad made it, which we have found to beperfectly acceptable. The hammer wasmuch easier to cock after Bowen workedon the gun. It had significant drag abouthalfway back, and this was eliminated.The freewheeling feature is exactlywhat is needed for these modern Rugersingle-action revolvers. It makes thegun far more manageable, and we encourageall modern Ruger SA owners tohave this work done. Brownells sells thepart Bowen installed, which is calledthe Power Custom Ruger Free-SpinPawl. Price is $35, and it requires gunsmithinstallation.We shot the Ruger for accuracy withthree loads before and after the modifications,and could not see a clear advantageto the cylinder clean-up operation,though some groups were slightlysmaller. Bowen's work would not havecorrected, for instance, a misalignedchamber, or other items built into theRuger that might have had a detrimentaleffect on accuracy. His reamer followedthe existing hole through thechamber. If the chamber was drilled in-correctly by Ruger, so it would remain.We added a home remedy to theRuger package in the form of cuttingthe forcing cone to 11 degrees. Ourwork did little more than clean up somemachining burrs, but this give us asmooth and uniform entry for the bulletinto the barrel. We used Brownell’s forcingcone tool, available in several configurations,and we final-polished theforcing cone with emery paper wrappedaround the cutting mandrel.The fine work done by HamiltonBowen rates a Conditional Buy. Wethought the trigger job, freewheelingcylinder, and contouring of the cylinderto be very much worthwhile, though thelatter did nothing for performance.We thought the oversize base pin andthe cylinder-mouth reaming to be needlessfor a revolver of this class. The newbase pin was hard to get in and out ofthe cylinder because of the tight fit. Ifthe pin was slightly rotated while all theway forward, out of the cylinder, the pinbound against the bottom of the barreland refused to move rearward. As mentioned,the base pin now requires ascrewdriver, making field inspection difficultat best. The uniforming of thechamber mouths did not improve accuracyto an extent worth the work on thisordinary-production revolver. If this revolverhad a line-bored cylinder, perhapsthe work would be of value. But lineboredcylinder openings are typicallyvery uniform to begin with.Unfortunately, you can't get bitsand pieces of a tune-up job done byBowen. By the time he logs in yourgun and inspects it, he may have $50in time into it already. It's more efficientfor him to do a modification"package" to your gun. His basicpackage is $295, which includes atrigger job, oversize base pin, cylinderreaming for uniformity, a newBowen-made rear sight if your revolverhas an adjustable rear -- if not, youcan specify either cylinder chamferingor free-wheeling -- and rebluingthe cylinder even if he only cleans upthe chamber outlets. There are oneor two other items included, dependingon the specific gun you have, andBowen can clarify this for you.If you have a revolver you thinkneeds work and you're serious aboutit, and don't plan to sell the gun anytime soon, you many want to send itto Bowen. If you only want the freewheelingtask, any good local gunsmithought to be able to install it forwell under $75, short of rebluing,which may not be necessary. We'dpass on the big base pin and thechamber uniforming. Unless you'vegot a precision-made handgun and area precision shooter who can takeadvantage of every little aid, the basepin and cylinder uniforming don'tseem to be worth the cost.Bowen's work is absolutely topnotch,about as good as it gets inthe industr y, in our experience.However, at a cost that approachesthe original street price of the revolver,plus the fact that you'll neverget your money back for customwork if you decide to sell the gun,we have to say this after-marketmodification is work that only themost serious handgunners ought topursue. Bowen Classic Arms has agorgeous catalog that sells for $5.Contact Hamilton Bowen at (865)984-3583.Ray Ordorica

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Though it looks the same as it did a few months ago, this Ruger Bisley Vaquero has been "breathed on" by Hamilton Bowen. Only the beveled front edges to the chamber mouths on the cylinder give this away, but internal modifications are significant.
Arrow points to a screwdriver in the slot of a screw that positively holds the oversize base pin into the Ruger. The spring-loaded cross bolt is still functional. This pin will never shoot loose with any loads. Knurling helps get it out of the gun for cleaning, when needed.

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