April 1998

Ruger Vaquero Stomped EMF .45 LC Single Action Revolvers

The Ruger’s workmanship and performance were clearly superior to the EMF 1894 Bisley, while the EMF 1875 Schofield fell apart.

Not counting variations in barrel length, centerfire calibers or Mason conversions, we added up the number of single action revolver models our readers could purchase. The total is 45. Since the gun most models are patterned after, Samuel Colt’s Single Action Army (S.A.A.), was a .45, that number seems appropriate, if oddly coincidental. Perhaps we missed one or two.

You could mosey in to a Cowboy Action shootout toting any one of those revolvers. Of course, you’d also have to participate under an alias and wear appropriate clothing. Getting yourself suitably decked out in the latter could cost more than the shooting iron. But even that hasn’t seemed to stunt the growth of these nostalgia-in-the-nineties events that have contributed so significantly to the increased popularity of the single action revolver.

We shouldn’t give Cowboy Action all the credit, however. The single action has never totally fallen from favor. Though Smith & Wesson abandoned all but double action revolvers long ago, Colt has made the S.A.A. since 1873. Ruger’s Single Six and Blackhawk have been in production since the 1950s. EMF, importer of two of the revolvers tested here, has been in business for over 40 years with the single action as their bread and butter.

The three .45 LC single action revolvers in this test are the Ruger Vaquero, the EMF Model 1894 Bisley and the EMF 1875 Schofield. Here are the results of our head-to-head examinations:

Ruger Vaquero
One of the most popular handguns in Cowboy Action shooting is the Ruger Vaquero. This six-shot single action revolver is a fixed-sight version of the manufacturer’s New Model Blackhawk. It is available in .44/40, .45 Long Colt, .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum. Options include two finishes, stainless steel or blued with a propriety “color case finish” frame, and three barrel lengths, from 4 5/8 to 7 1/2 inches. This model retails for $434.

Physical Description
We felt the fit and finish of our Vaquero was above average. The barrel, cylinder and grip frame had a uniform polished blue finish. The cylinder frame’s “color case finish” was well done, but our shooters said it was not as distinctive looking as a true color case hardened finish. The left edge on the white trigger’s face was sharp.

The only noticeable metal-to-metal fitting flaw was a minor gap between the front of the frame and the rear of the ejector housing. Minor gaps were present between the grip frame and hardwood grip panels. Both of the panels were slightly oversized in several areas, causing the wood to protrude above the surface of the grip frame.

Our Judgments
During live fire testing, the Vaquero functioned flawlessly with the three brands of ammunition we used. The ejector rod operated smoothly and pushed spent cases out of the chambers far enough to allow them to fall freely. Unlike the other revolvers tested, this one had a modern passive safety. It was an internal transfer bar system that prevented firing if the trigger wasn’t pulled all the way to the rear.

Movement of the ungrooved trigger was, in our opinion, satisfactory. Its pull released cleanly with 3 3/4 pounds of rearward pressure. There was a minor amount of take-up and overtravel.

This Ruger’s loading and unloading sequence was easy. When loading or unloading most single action revolvers, its hammer must first be thumbed back to the loading position to permit the cylinder to turn freely. This wasn’t needed, or even possible, on the Vaquero. Unlocking this revolver’s cylinder was a simple matter of opening the loading gate, which activated its interlock mechanism. When engaged, the interlock also immobilized the hammer and the trigger.

Although the Vaquero was the heaviest and longest of the three revolvers tested, these factors didn’t adversely effect its handling. Muzzle stability was good. Pointing and target acquisition were quick. All shooters said the wooden grips afforded a very good hand-filling hold, and their shape effectively help dissipate felt recoil. This .45 LC’s moderate muzzle jump was easy to control.

In our opinion, this Ruger’s fixed sights were by far the best of the test. The rear sight, a square notch in the top of the frame, was the easiest to acquire and see clearly. It and the quarter-moon-shaped front blade provided a well-defined sight picture.

We thought the Vaquero’s accuracy was average. At 15 yards, its five-shot groups averaged from 1.55 inches with Remington 225-grain lead semi-wadcutters to 2.08 inches with Black Hills 250-grain RNFP ammunition.

Average muzzle velocities ranged from 700 feet per second to 920 feet per second. This level of performance was, in our opinion, more than satisfactory for a .45 LC revolver with a 5 1/2-inch barrel.

EMF 1894 Bisley
Originally, the Bisley was a Colt target revolver named after a city in England where major shooting competitions were held during the late 1800s. It featured a distinctive humpback grip and a gracefully-styled hammer. A $600 replica of this handgun is the EMF Model 1894 Bisley, which is made by Armi San Marcos of Italy. This six-shot .45 Long Colt single action revolver is available with a 4 3/4-, 5 1/2- or 7 1/2-inch barrel. Other calibers, such as .32/20 and .38/40, are a special order item.

Physical Description
In our opinion, the Bisley’s workmanship was unsatisfactory for a $600 revolver. The cylinder frame and the hammer had a traditional color case hardened finish, while other metal parts had a shiny blue finish. Polishing marks were noticeable on all blued parts. Stamped markings had raised edges, indicating that the metal may have been softer than normal.

Poor fitting of the cylinder ratchet caused the action to index improperly on one of the cylinder’s six chambers. The cylinder had excessive front-to-back movement. The trigger had a lot of undesirable side-to-side play. Several screws had sharp, raised heads. Areas where the wooden grip and the metal frame mated were uneven and appeared mismatched. This resulted in numerous minor gaps between the grip and frame.

Our Judgments
This EMF revolver’s functioning wasn’t absolutely reliable. It fed and fired positively on five of the cylinder’s six chambers. However, when attempting to fire a round in the sixth chamber, we had to manipulate the hammer back and forth to get the hammer to fully cock and the cylinder to lock. The ejector rod’s movement wasn’t stiff. But, about 50 percent of the fired cases didn’t fall freely from the gun, so the shooter had to finish removing them.

We considered the ungrooved trigger’s movement to be acceptable. Although the pull initially had a gritty feel, it smoothed out after about 100 rounds. The trigger released at 4 pounds, according to our self-recording gauge, and had a minor amount of overtravel.

The Bisley operated in the same manner as all traditional single action revolvers. When the hammer was pulled back slightly to the first click, or safety position, its safety notch prevented the hammer from moving forward far enough to fire a chambered round. There were no other safety features. As noted in the instruction manual, this revolver should only be carried with an empty chamber under the hammer.

When the hammer was pulled back to the second click, or half-cock position, the cylinder unlocked and could be manually rotated for loading and unloading. The third hammer position, full cock, was used when firing the revolver.

A couple of our shooters didn’t like the Bisley’s humpback grip, but most said it was the main reason why this revolver had the best handling qualities of the test. The gun sat well in the hand. Pointability was excellent, making target acquisition the quickest. The wooden grip afforded a good grasp for people with large to average size hands. This .45 LC’s felt recoil was a little heavier than that of the Ruger Vaquero in this test, but muzzle jump was not excessive.

In our opinion, this EMF’s fixed sights were a big disappointment. The front blade, which tapered from 1/8 inch at the bottom to 1/16 inch at the top, didn’t match up well with the rear sight’s V-shaped notch. This resulted in a poorly-defined and inconsistent sight picture. Also, the sighting system’s point of aim at 15 yards was about 8 inches high and to the right of the bullet’s point of impact.

We felt the Bisley’s accuracy was below average, though the size of its groups were very consistent from load to load. Average five-shot groups at 15 yards measured 2.20 inches with both Winchester and Black Hills 250-grain Cowboy ammunition. Remington 225-grain LSWCs produced 2.23-inch groups.

This .45 LC revolver’s muzzle velocities were 119 to 201 feet per second slower than the velocities we obtained with the Ruger Vaquero in this test. Since the Bisley had a 3/4-inch shorter barrel, we thought this performance was acceptable.

EMF 1875 Schofield
The original Schofield was a Smith & Wesson top-break single action revolver that was modified by Major Schofield for the U.S. Cavalry. This model’s break-open action and self-extracting feature was intended to eliminate the single action revolver’s biggest disadvantage, slow reloading. EMF’s Italian-made replica of this model is the Model 1875 Schofield, which the importer also refers to as the 1875 Breaktop. Retailing for $950, this .45 LC six-shot revolver is available with a 5- or 7-inch barrel.

Physical Description
Fit and finish of the Schofield we acquired was, in our opinion, unacceptable for a $950 revolver. The trigger assembly, hammer and latch mechanism were color case hardened, while the rest of the revolver had a shiny blue finish. Numerous tool marks, some deep and unpolished, were present along the top and bottom of the barrel, around the muzzle, and at the frame-barrel pivot point.

This revolver’s lockwork was poorly fitted and had a large amount of play. The barrel and cylinder didn’t align properly on several chambers. The cylinder had an excessive amount of undesirable movement. At the start of the test, the barrel-to-cylinder gap was about 3 times larger than the industry’s maximum specification.

Our Judgments
This revolver’s poor fit lead to several functioning problems. The cylinder-to-barrel misalignment caused lead to be severely shaved from fired bullets, which was “spit” rearward, resulting in a minor injury to the face of one of our testers. After about 40 rounds, the action would not index or lock on three of the cylinder’s six chambers. About 10 rounds later, the extractor became sluggish. After about 100 rounds, the cylinder assembly flew off the frame when the action was opened. Evidently, the cylinder had loosened up enough to move past its retaining tabs, located on the underside of the locking plate above the cylinder. We stopped firing the Schofield at this point.

In our opinion, the ungrooved trigger’s movement was at least twice as heavy as it should have been. After a small amount of creep, the pull released with 8 1/2 pounds of rearward pressure.

When the Schofield worked properly, loading and unloading was by far the fastest and easiest of the test. Unloading was accomplished by partially retracting the hammer, pulling back on the locking latch (located on the top rear of the frame) and pivoting the barrel assembly downward to expose the cylinder chambers. When the action was opened, an internal cam automatically pushed the extractor upward, ejecting the fired cases. Like the EMF Bisley, this revolver’s only safety feature was a safety notch on the hammer.

Although this EMF was muzzle heavy, it balanced fairly well in the hand. Pointing and target acquisition were satisfactory. The comparatively thin wooden grips didn’t provided a secure handhold. Our shooters had to constantly readjust their grasp after each shot. This lessened our ability to control the muzzle during recoil and execute fast follow-up shots.

None of our testers liked the Schofield’s fixed sights. The front sight was a round 1/16-inch-wide blade pinned to the top of the barrel, while the rear sight was a notch in the top of the locking latch. The narrow front sight didn’t mate well with the rear sight’s wider V-shaped notch.

We rated the Schofield’s accuracy as well below average. However, like the Bisley in this test, its group sizes were very consistent from load to load. Average five-shot groups of 2.98 inches were produced with Remington 225-grain lead semi-wadcutters, while Black Hills 250-grain round nose flat points brought up the rear with 3.08-inch groups.

In our opinion, the Schofield’s muzzle velocities were low for a .45 LC revolver of this type. In fact, its average velocities were 55 to 143 feet per second slower than those of the EMF Bisley.