Recently I shot my Ruger Vaquero .44 Magnum at a reactive steel target and enjoyed it very much. That got me to thinking about getting a single action revolver in .45 Colt. I had just recently put my Colt New Service in that caliber out on consignment and had a bunch of ammunition and components with nothing to use them in. But which SA to buy? I had recently read very favorable reviews of the Beretta Stampede and the Taurus Gaucho, both newly on the market, and both clones of the Colt Single Action Army. (They were in gunzines, so of course they were favorable.) It wasn’t easy deciding between them, so I decided to get both of them. I’ve never shot in Cowboy matches, but have thought about it, and I thought I would enjoy getting to know those guns before doing it. So the lineup was the two .45s (Beretta Stampede and Taurus Gaucho) and the Ruger Vaquero in .44 Magnum, all with moderate lead bullet loads. All three guns have 5.5 inch barrels. Here’s how they look to me.
All three guns were more than acceptable. The blue on the Taurus is richer and deeper than the Ruger and the Beretta richer and deeper still. All have color case hardening, or at least the appearance of it. One of the reviews definitely said that the Taurus’s is genuine. It's the best looking of the three, and is alone in having the sides of the hammer with that finish; the hammers on the other two are polished. I’m no judge of fit, and I only saw one bad part: the bottom of the Beretta’s grip, composed of three panels, is badly matched, an obvious case of poor workmanship. The grips on the Ruger are attractive rosewood; the others black plastic. But they’re easy to change if you don’t like them.
All three guns have traditional notch rear sights and quarter circle front sights. The Taurus sights are the easiest to use because there is more light on both sides of the front sight. I was afraid the Beretta sights would be terrible because the notch is so shallow. On the range it was no problem because I was shooting from a darkened booth with good light down range, so the front sight was well-silhouetted. On field targets or CAS competition that could be a problem. I advise looking at this carefully before buying a Stampede.
The three guns look very traditional, even the Ruger which doesn’t pretend to be a Colt clone. But all three have transfer bar systems, which I think is a plus because of the safety factor. The Beretta and Taurus hammers, as clones, come back with four clicks, the Ruger with two. The Beretta is the easiest to load and unload because the cylinder turns smoothly with definite clicks so that it’s easy to get the chambers lined up quickly. The Taurus feels sloppier and requires some fiddling with it until it’s lined up right. Keep in mind that I’m a beginner with these guns: an old SA hand would find it more natural. The Beretta and Taurus hammers have to be brought back to the half-notch before the cylinder will turn for loading and unloading; that’s not true of the Ruger. The Taurus seems to have some internal roughness. Not only does the cylinder turn feel a bit uneven on it, but the ejector rod sometimes sticks in the back position and has to be moved forward by pushing on the tab in front.
The triggers are very good on all three guns, with Taurus the best. The hammer checkering on the Taurus is smoother than the other two and one would have to be more careful not to let a sweaty thumb slip off in the heat of the "gunfight."
The shooting was all standing, two-handed, unsupported at 15 yards, four 5-shot groups with each gun. I fired them in series so any fatigue that affected the groups would be spread among the three guns. Actually I was shooting better toward the end, probably because I was getting more used to the guns. The Ruger may have gotten a bit of unfair edge because I’d shot it a few hundred rounds before the test. I couldn’t detect more recoil from any of the guns compared with the others, and my skin abrades easily from shooting with hard grips. The Taurus averaged about 1.5" high and to the left at that distance; the Beretta about 1" high and to the left; the Ruger well-centered both directions. Here is the average of the four groups with each gun:
Since this was supposed to be a test of the guns and not the shooter I measured a different way to exclude one flyer from one group each of the Taurus and the Ruger, but not the Beretta. This on the grounds that I probably pulled those shots. Those revised measurements come out as follows:
Bullets for the .45 were 250gr LRNFP; for the .44 240gr LSWC, both commercial cast. The load for both calibers was 7.0gr W231. The .44 load chronographed for me one time at 905fps. Extrapolating from loading data, I estimate the .45 load at around 760, but it seems that it ought to be closer to the .44 velocity. In any case, I assume they both ought to be loaded down a bit for CAS.
There are variations in some of these guns for those who want to pay more for surface items. My three guns are all the basic models. List for the Beretta Stampede is $540 (I paid $400). List for the Taurus Gaucho is $510 ($365). List for the Ruger Vaquero is $555 (I stole it about 5 years ago for $200 LNIB.) Ruger is now selling a new, improved (?) version of the Vaquero for $583 list. I believe it’s more SAA-like with a smaller frame. Both old and new models are carried on the current web site.
What’s the best of these guns to buy? Well, there are limitations to a little test like this one. How typical of each brand is the particular gun I used? There’s no way to know. I think for whatever practical purpose guns like this have, the accuracy of all three is plenty good enough. Gungeeks like to have small round groups to look at, and all three gave me at least one of them. I would put the Taurus last of the three because the slight roughness of the cylinder turning and the ejector rod was a bit off-putting. Possibly they would wear in with use and become as smooth as on the other guns, but I can’t know that. The rear sight on the Beretta was the worst of the three, and I think a serious CAS competitor would want to have it opened up. I enjoyed shooting the Ruger more than the others, but that may be because of my familiarity with it. I’ve never fired a SAA or clone. I also would expect because of things I’ve read that the Ruger would be more rugged than any SAA clone. And the groups averaged smaller than the Beretta.
copyright 2005 by the author, all rights reserved.