December 4, 2023
Ruger Vaquero Birds Head .44 Magnum/.44 Special
Ruger Vaquero Birds Head .44 Magnum/.44 Special

Just when I thought I was done straining my wrists firing more .44 Magnum ammunition than a normal, sane person fires in a lifetime, I got a package at my FFL. Turns out I had one more to go. Now, I will tell you honestly that after 3,000 rounds of ole’ Elmer’s Special, I almost sent the Ruger New Vaquero packing back to the factory, but I have to say that I’m glad I didn’t.

I’ve written about a number of very powerful revolvers here on AmmoLand in the past. I have to say that I am at a point in my life when the words ‘forty-four’ and ‘magnum’ are used in the same sentence- or even the same conversation- my palms begin to twitch with the memory of the torturous two weeks where I dropped the hammer on some of most painful loads made by man.

Ruger Vaquero Birds Head .44 Magnum/.44 Special
Ruger Vaquero Birds Head .44 Magnum/.44 Special

Most people would have stopped after just a couple rounds of Buffalo Bore 340gr Hardcast +P+, but not me. I just sat down and essentially injured myself every day for fourteen days. At the end of that time, I developed a healthy respect for the .44 Magnum and a love of the .44 Special. You see, the experience I gained in that time showed me just how enduring the legend of the .44 bore is to us Americans.

There is always something special about seeing a person fire a full-house .44 Magnum for the first time. For many people, it is the most powerful handgun cartridge they ever fire. If you consider the .44 Magnum to be authoritative, then you would probably agree that the .44 Special is the equivalent of a stern suggestion.

Where this gun shines is when shooting .44 Special
Where this gun shines is when shooting .44 Special.

The Ruger New Vaquero is not a gun that I enjoyed shooting with .44 Magnum ammo, although I did in the name of science for the purpose of recording group size and velocity. Where this gun shines is when shooting .44 Special, and I bet that the vast majority of people who use this gun for fun or in competition will end up doing just that. With the right .44 Special load, this gun is an absolute hammer, and it can be fired all day.

While it may look like an SAA revolver like the Cowboys carried, the New Vaquero is what I would call a cosmetic-only copy. The revolver is made to resemble the guns of yesteryear externally, but it is entirely modern in materials and design. While overall similar to an old 45 Colt, the New Vaquero is about 10% larger in total dimensions and about 20% heavier at 39oz. The SAA and clones are lighter and thinner in most areas, but this is because they were designed around much lower-pressure ammunition.

Added heft and modern construction make the New Vaquero an ideal platform for the .44 Special
Added heft and modern construction make the New Vaquero an ideal platform for the .44 Special

The added heft and modern construction make the New Vaquero an ideal platform for the .44 Special. The low recoil combined with easy handling makes it a pleasure to fire. Unlike the original SAA, the New Vaquero has an angular grip that makes it somewhat uncomfortable to hold under heavy recoil. The SAA has a smooth and sculptural feel, but sadly, the birdshead grip lacks that feeling. The squared edges on the rear of the grip curve dig into the hand and can be painful with the more powerful .44 Mag loads.


I tested several types of .44 Magnum and .44 Special ammunition in this revolver. I recorded velocity over my Oehler 35P chronograph at a distance of five feet from the muzzle. Accuracy is the result of three, five-shot groups at 25 yards.

  • SIG SAUER 240gr V-Crown——————————————1160fps, 2.5”
  • SIG SAUER 200gr V-Crown (.44 Special)————————–810fps, 3.75”
  • Hornady 180gr XTP (.44 Special)—————————————840fps, 3.0”
  • Hornady 165gr Critical Defense (.44 Special)————————861fps, 2.75”
  • Black Hills 240gr JHP————————————————–1183fps, 2.25”
  • Black Hills 160gr HoneyBadger————————————–1501fps, 3.75”
  • Black Hills 210 FPL (.44 Special)————————————–744fps, 3.1”
  • Black Hills 125gr HoneyBadger (.44 Special)———————–1212fps, 2.0”

The sights on the revolver are fixed and non-adjustable. Most SAA-type revolvers I have shot over the years have had front sights that are far too high out of the box. This is sometimes just a design oversight, and other times, it is intentional in that it allows a shooter to file the sight down to adjust elevation. The practice is not as common today, with adjustable and modular sights being commonplace, but for the traditionalist, nothing is as good as a rugged, fixed post and notch.

The sample gun I had here shot high, which was a surprise and something that I was not terribly excited about. If I were a cowboy competitor, I would have to add material to be able to zero or have the front sight removed and a dovetail cut to install a sight with windage adjustment, which would not be a fun process. The short 3.75” barrel leaves something to be desired regarding sight radius, but group sizes were on par for revolvers of the type.

SIG SAUER’s 200gr .44 Special V-Crown
SIG SAUER’s 200gr .44 Special V-Crown

My groups with both .44 Magnum and Special were centered but high by about 7” at 25 yards. There is not that much difference between the two at that range, so it is not a case of the gun being set for .44 Special with the added bonus of being able to fire .44 Magnum. I suspect that the end user will settle on a load that gives them the best performance. The only load I had that shot to exact point of aim was SIG SAUER’s 200gr .44 Special V-Crown.

SIG SAUER’s 200gr .44 Special V-Crown
SIG SAUER’s 200gr .44 Special V-Crown

Firing the gun was an overall positive experience despite these minor issues. The gun was a dream with Black Hills lead cowboy loads, and I could fire both fast and accurately on steel plates inside of 20 yards. The lowered hammer spur and nice trigger make the gun easy to operate one-handed and from a draw.

I think that the cowboy competitor would be well served with any of Ruger’s New Vaquero line. I have shot them in a number of chamberings and have always had a good experience. While not a true historical gun, it certainly captures the spirit of the day while bringing modern safety measures and materials to the table.

For more on the gun and ammo used in this review, go to,,, and

About Josh Wayner

Josh Wayner has been writing in the gun industry for five years. He is an active competition shooter with 14 medals from Camp Perry. In addition to firearms-related work, Josh enjoys working with animals and researching conservation projects in his home state of Michigan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *