January 2016

Bisley Revolvers Revisited

We match up two single-action revolvers with target shooting pedigrees. Would we prefer an original design, as found in the Uberti, or would we favor the Ruger’s more modern take?

Bisley Revolvers Revisited

The Uberti Cattleman Bisley (Model No. 346040, $609) is as close to an original Colt Bisley as you can get (top). The Ruger Bisley Vaquero (Model No. 5130, $835, bottom) is a modern take on the Bisley design.

In 1894 Colt debuted a target variation of its Single Action Army pistol (SAA) called the Bisley. This new revolver was named after the famous British shooting range in Surry, England. Colt manufactured more than 44,000 Bilsey revolvers in 18 different chamberings, with barrel lengths of 4.75, 5.5, and 7.5 inches, until 1915, when the company discontinued the line. A very small number had adjustable sights, but most had fixed sights like the SAA. The Bisley used the same frame, barrel, ejector-rod system, and cylinder, as well as the basic mechanism of the SAA, but the new gun also offered some distinct differences — namely the hammer, trigger, and grip, which were designed for the late-19th-century target shooter. Some internal parts like the mainspring, hand, racket, and others were also different. 

The shape of the Bisley grip is swept under and appears more vertical than the traditional SAA, and that’s for a reason: To accommodate a bent-arm single-hand hold, which for today’s shooter looks and feels archaic. Obviously, one can shoot a Bisley like any modern pistol by keeping the wrist locked with a one-hand or two-hand grip, like with modern semi-automatic pistols such as the 1911, Glock, and the ilk. But the Bisley’s grip doesn’t lend itself to this modern hold.

Also, the Bisley’s trigger is wider than the traditional SAA, the trigger guard is shaped differently, and the hammer spur was lowered to make it easier to cock without a shooter needing to loosen his grip. 

The shape of the Bisley grip is swept under and appears more vertical than the traditional SAA, and that’s for a reason: To accommodate a bent-arm single-hand hold, which for today’s shooter looks and feels archaic. Obviously, one can shoot a Bisley like any modern pistol by keeping the wrist locked with a one-hand or two-hand grip, like with modern semi-automatic pistols such as the 1911, Glock, and the ilk. But the Bisley’s grip doesn’t lend itself to this modern hold.

Also, the Bisley’s trigger is wider than the traditional SAA, the trigger guard is shaped differently, and the hammer spur was lowered to make it easier to cock without a shooter needing to loosen his grip.

Ruger refreshed the Bisley in 1984, introducing the Ruger Blackhawk Bisley with a similar unique grip, but not as tucked as the original Colt, and with target sights and an engraved unfluted cylinder. The Ruger Bisley grip design allows for less movement of the grip in hand when firing hot loads. Unlike a SAA grip style, which curls up in your hand when firing hot loads, the Bisley transfers the recoil into the palm of the hand, a more comfortable experience when shooting hot loads. A Bisley of one type or another has been in Ruger’s catalog ever since.

We wanted to take a look at an old-school Bisley and a modern Bisley to compare them side by side, so we acquired an Uberti Cattleman Bisley, which is a spitting image of an original Colt, and the more modern variant in a Ruger Bisley Vaquero, built on the New Vaquero frame. Our first task was to use a revolver range rod and rod-head combo from Brownells in 38 Special/357 Magnum (080-617-038WB, $40) to check each chamber for alignment with the bore, and we found everything to be in spec. Some older replica revolvers might have had the throat of a chamber opened up to accept a range rod during factory inspection, which means that particular chamber will shave and spit lead and be less accurate than other chambers. The range rod won’t pick up this issue. 

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