Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love
the diminutive Ruger Bearcat revolver. It is perfectly suited
for what is probably my all-time favorite cartridge, the 22 Long
Rifle. The Bearcat is to single-action sixguns what the Smith
& Wesson J-Frame 22 is to double-action sixguns: namely,
the perfect "Kit Gun", or what my friend and brother Shootist
John Taffin calls a PPP, or "Perfect Packin' Pistol".
The Ruger Bearcat has been around only a few
years longer than I have; introduced
in 1958, the Bearcat immediately found a home with many
shooters, both then and now. It was introduced as a lightweight,
aluminum-alloy-framed hunting companion, perfect for taking
vermin or small game for the pot. It soon became a favorite for
this use, and also found much favor as a youth's first sixgun,
or a much-appreciated piece for those like me who are charmed by
its perfection. It is estimated that Ruger sold over 150,000
Bearcats from its introduction in 1958 until its discontinuation
In 1971, Ruger rolled-out a new version of
the Bearcat, this time with a steel frame, and called it the Super
Bearcat. The Super Bearcat proved to be as popular as the
original Bearcat, with over 60,000 sold during the short 2-1/2
year life span of the model, 1971 to 1974.
The world had to struggle along without a
Bearcat in Ruger's lineup until Ruger finally saw the light and
introduced a somewhat-redesigned Bearcat
into their product line in 1993. Aptly named the New
Bearcat, this sixgun employs a steel frame like the Super
Bearcat, with a stainless steel
version following. The New Bearcat sports Ruger's patented
transfer bar safety system, which allows the New Bearcat to be
safely carried with a live round under the chamber. Like all
previous Ruger single-actions, and all previous single-actions
since Sam Colt first thought them up, the older Bearcat models
could fire if a live round was carried under the hammer, and the
sixgun was dropped. Ruger's transfer bar changed all that, and
all Ruger sixguns made since the New Model lockwork debuted in
1973 (except the Old Model Super Bearcat, which kept its
old-style lockwork until its discontinuation in 1974) are safe
to carry fully loaded. By the way, if the imagined lack of
safety of the Old Model lockwork concerns you, Ruger will
upgrade any Old Model with the transfer bar safety free of
charge; they even pay the shipping to and from the Ruger factory
for you. I do not take advantage of this offer, as I prefer the
Old Model lockwork, and I recognize that the only effective
safety device lies between the shooter's ears.
Our friends at Lipsey's distributors in Baton
Rouge, LA, have been instrumental in getting Ruger to run
special models that shooters like Jeff and me find most
desirable, and the Bearcat is no exception. In 2015, Lipsey's
nudged Ruger into making Bearcats
in blued and stainless steel with adjustable sights, making
a wonderful sixgun demonstrably better. Previous to this, an
adjustable-sighted Bearcat was an expensive custom proposition,
and over the years I have had several custom adjustable-sighted
Bearcats made: an original
lightweight 22 LR / 22 Magnum convertible made by Hamilton Bowen,
a steel-frame Bowen
"Perfected Bearcat", and a wonderful five-shot
steel-framed 32 Magnum Bearcat by Alan
Lipsey's was similarly responsible for Ruger
beginning production of what is simply one of the best little
production sixguns ever made: the Bearcat
Shopkeeper, introduced in stainless steel in 2013, and
followed-up by a blued version last year. The original stainless
Shopkeeper featured a round-butted "birds-head" grip
shape, along with a 3" barrel, shortened from the standard
Bearcat's 4" tube; this resulted in a much-different
sixgun, with magnificent handling qualities, and quickly became
one of my favorite around-the-farm carry pieces. The blued
version was slightly different: the birds-head grip shape was
retained, but the barrel length was increased to 3-1/2", in
order to allow for a more positive ejector rod stroke. I had
never experienced any problems with the 3" length
kicking-out empties, but the 3-1/2" length does punch them
out better, without significantly altering the Shopkeeper's
handiness. Another change to the blued version is that, for the
first time ever, a factory Bearcat became available with a
fluted cylinder, rather than the unfluted cylinder with
"Bear and Cat" roll engraving that had been standard
on every previous Bearcat model. I always liked the unfluted
cylinder, but I have to admit the fluted variation gives the
blued Shopkeeper a unique and pleasing look.
Bobby Tyler of Tyler Gun Works in Friona, TX,
has been one of the best-kept secrets in the firearms industry.
His little shop has done finish and gunsmithing work for
individual shooters, small shops, and major manufacturers. Tyler
has become known primarily for his finish work, and his is one
of a very few places where metal parts are properly color
casehardened. Color casehardening is a very old process by which
heat is used to harden the surface of steels, and dates back to
times when steel did not possess the hardness of modern steels,
and had to be hardened in order to be strong enough to contain
the pressures generated by gunpowder. When the older steels were
hardened using this tedious process, which is not just a finish
but penetrates and hardens the steel's surface, the beautiful
colors which are associated with the older guns of Colt and
others resulted. Color casehardening, in my opinion, results in
the most beautiful of guns; colors range from straws to browns
to purples, swirling and coalescing in a stunning fashion. Tyler
color-cases using the old, and best, methods, resulting in the
hues and patterns that are identical to the old Colt colors so
prized by collectors. Tyler has even discovered a way to
color-case stainless steel, which was always thought to be
impossible. He is, in short, a Master of his art.
Being a man of fine and refined tastes, Bobby
Tyler soon became enamored of the Bearcat Shopkeeper, and
decided to offer a limited run of a custom color-cased version.
He contracted with Lipsey's for a small number of Shopkeepers to
be sent to his shop, and the result of this collaboration
between Lipsey's and Tyler Gun Works are the sixguns featured
here: the Tyler Gun Works Ruger Bearcat Shopkeeper Color Cased
Limited Edition of 200.
Jeff and I ran into Bobby Tyler at the 2017
SHOT Show, where he showed us a sample of the Tyler
Shopkeeper. I was captivated by it, and ordered one on the spot.
Bobby went on to tell me about a Limited Edition within the
Limited Edition: of the 200 Tyler Shopkeepers to be produced, 20
were to be fully-engraved in Bobby's shop, and all but one were
already bespoke. An instant later, that last engraved Bearcat
had my name on it!
About a week ago, we received the pair: a
standard Tyler Color-cased Bearcat, ordered by my brother Greg,
and my engraved model. We couldn't be happier with them, both
aesthetically and mechanically; I knew Bobby would do a great
job with the finishing, but I had not seen the quality of
hand-engraving that Bobby's in-house engraver was able to
attain. To say I was pleased with the engraver's work would be
an understatement; the engraving was both well-designed and
well-executed. Another aspect of these sixguns which was
unexpected at the price, was that Bobby threw in some light
gunsmithing tweaks: Bobby receives the sixguns from Lipsey's
fully-assembled, and strips them for finishing. When he puts the
guns back together, he addresses details such as barrel/cylinder
gaps, trigger pulls, and timing to assure the best possible
While we are on the subject of price, let's
get to that: Tyler's standard color-cased Bearcat Shopkeeper
package is only $599.99. When you consider that a standard
Shopkeeper will run you about $500 for an average street price,
you can see that the Tyler Shopkeeper is a real bargain. For
only about $100 more, you get the beauty of color-casehardening,
in a strictly limited-edition sixgun, with the added benefit of
some light action tuning. You can purchase directly from Tyler
Gun Works, and the Bearcat will be sent to your friendly
favorite local dealer, where the transfer will be completed in
the usual manner.
Shooting the Tyler Bearcats was a joy - and
yes, I did shoot them both! I take care of my guns, but I do
shoot them, as that is the purpose for which they are intended.
Some might not want to actually use such an heirloom-quality
gun, but as my brother Jeff says, "Which do you think your
grandkids will want...a pristine, unused Safe Queen, or
Grandpa's old favorite sixgun?" If the answer is the
former, they deserve neither.
Anyway, the Bearcat Shopkeeper is not a
target revolver, and I did not treat these as such. Bearcats are
best suited for light, close-range target work, and for targets
of opportunity; in short, Bearcats are meant for FUN, and fun
they are. The fifteen-foot playing-card groups shown in the
pictures were as close as I got to formal target work, and the
CCI bulk ammo used for this shooting grouped very well, but
consistently low-left. Initially I thought this was consistent
shooter error, but both Bearcats shot dead-on to the sights with
Remington bulk ammo, and slightly low-center with Federal. The
Tyler Bearcat Shopkeeper proved minute-of-pine-cone accurate
beyond 25 yards, and that is good enough for the informal
plinking I intend to accomplish with these sixguns.
The Tyler Gun Works Bearcat Shopkeepers are
fun, beautiful, reliable, accurate, and a true bargain. I highly
recommend you get them while the getting is good.
As I often say, a fine sixgun deserves fine
leather; these are fine and rare sixguns, deserving of the best.
For this, my friend and brother Shootist Mike Barranti makes
just the thing. Barranti Leather offers a wide variety of styles
and options, and I found his Northwest Hunter shoulder rig,
coupled with a Shootist-stamped Bearcat holster I have had for a
few years, to be a perfect companion to my Tyler Shopkeeper.
Barranti also offers his Universal Strongside Holster Adapter,
which allows any of his chest rigs to use almost any strongside
holster from any maker, completing a beautiful, comfortable, and
extremely versatile carry system. Barranti's leather artistry is
second to none, past or present; while his leather is not cheap,
the best never is, and you never regret buying the best.
Order the Tyler Gun Works Limited Edition
Ruger Bearcat Shopkeeper at www.tylergunworks.com.
Check out the Ruger Bearcat series, along
with the wide and diverse Ruger line, at www.ruger.com.
To order the standard Bearcat Shopkeeper from
a dealer in your area, click on the DEALER FINDER at www.lipseys.com.
View Mike Barranti's leather artistry and
order Barranti Leather at www.barrantileather.com.
To buy 22 Long Rifle ammo online, go to www.midsouthshooterssupply.com
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