When Sturm, Ruger introduced their marvelous Bearcat sixgun in 1958, they created the perfect Single-Action “Kit Gun”. The term “Kit Gun” refers generically to a lightweight and handy trail, camping, backpacking, and all-around woods-bumming gun, usually chambered in the universal and relatively inexpensive 22 Long Rifle cartridge. The Kit Gun is a gun that can be carried comfortably unnoticed, and easily put to a variety of uses in the field; no Single-Action sixgun has fit the definition of Kit Gun more perfectly than the Ruger Bearcat.
Originally offered with a 4″ barrel, lightweight aluminum alloy frame, and distinctive unfluted cylinder roll-marked with a “Bear and Cougar” scene along with the words “Ruger” and “Bearcat”, the diminutive Bearcat was a delight to carry and to shoot. The aluminum-framed Bearcat was offered from August 1958 to June 1970, and was replaced in June 1971 by the Super Bearcat, which was essentially the same in all respects except the material used for the frame, with steel supplanting the aluminum alloy of the original Bearcat, trading a slight increase in weight (from 17 ounces to 22.5 ounces) for added strength. The Super Bearcat proved to be very popular, with Super Bearcat production being extended until January 1974, while the rest of the “Old Model” Single-Action revolver line was discontinued in 1973 in favor of Ruger’s “New Model” line with its enhanced safety features.
There were no Bearcats produced after 1974, leaving a void in Ruger’s product line until the introduction of the New Bearcat in 1993. The New Bearcat is basically a Super Bearcat with Ruger’s automatic “Transfer Bar” safety, which prevents the hammer from contacting the firing pin unless the trigger is deliberately pulled. The Transfer Bar system allows the Bearcat (as well as all other New Model Ruger Single-Actions) to be safely carried with the cylinder fully loaded, rather than the old practice of carrying with the hammer down on an empty chamber to avoid a blow to the hammer accidentally igniting a cartridge (Please note that Ruger offers a free conversion of Old Model sixguns to the New Model safety system; details can be found on Ruger’s web site at https://www.ruger.com/pdf/safetyOfferAd.pdf). One significant, and welcome, difference between the New Bearcat’s lockwork and that of other New Model Rugers, is that the New Bearcat’s hammer is still pulled to the half-cock position for loading/unloading; this, to me, is just how a Single-Action sixgun “should” work. The New Bearcat is available in either blued carbon steel or stainless steel with a barrel length of 4.2 inches, as well as blued or stainless “Shopkeeper” models with 3.5-inch or 3-inch barrels and rounded “Bird’s Head” grip, which are available exclusively from Lipsey’s-affiliated dealers. Another wonderful Lipsey’s exclusive New Bearcat is a model featuring a 4.2-inch barrel and fully-adjustable sights. To say that the Bearcat is still alive and kicking, thanks in large part to the folks at Lipsey’s, would be an understatement.
In June of 2017, Lipsey’s announced what was, to me, the coolest version of a Bearcat to that date: a Lipsey’s-Exclusive New Bearcat with a 6-inch barrel. The longer barrel offers an extended sight radius, enhancing the potential for practical accuracy, and shifts the sixgun’s balance slightly forward, which creates less of a “wobble” on target.
The Lipsey’s-Exclusive 6-inch New Bearcat also features a unique cylinder treatment for a Bearcat: rather than the unfluted and decoratively-marked cylinder used on Bearcats from 1958 onward, the 6-inch New Bearcat sports a fluted cylinder, with a bit of a chamfer at the front. Coupled with the longer barrel, the overall appearance of the 6-inch New Bearcat is reminiscent of longer-barreled sixguns of the 19th Century, shrunk down to 22 size. In contrast to the nicely-executed blue finish, the hammer and trigger are polished stainless steel, yielding a very pleasing overall appearance.
The 6-inch New Bearcat features the standard Ruger Bearcat grip frame shape, small with a square butt, and attractive laminated wood grips sporting Ruger medallions. I have heard many shooters, most of whom have never actually fired a Bearcat, deride the Bearcat’s grip as “too small for a man’s hand”; I disagree strongly with this, as I have fairly large hands, and the Bearcat’s grip nestles into it securely, firmly, and comfortably.
Shooting the Lipsey’s-Exclusive 6-inch New Bearcat was a joy. Whether informally plinking at pine cones, ringing steel, or going after paper targets, the little sixgun performed flawlessly. The trigger pull on my example was excellent, breaking smoothly and cleanly at 2 pounds, 5.4 ounces on my Lyman Electronic Digital Trigger Pull Gauge. The quality of the factory trigger, coupled with the extended sight radius offered by the 6″ barrel, was a great aid to accuracy. Group sizes, fired standing offhand at 15 feet on playing cards, ranged from 1 inch (using CCI Standard Velocity 40-grain roundnose lead) to 1-1/8 inches (using Eley 40-grain roundnose lead) to 1-3/8 inches (using Federal Champion Bulk Pack 36-grain high-velocity copper-plated hollowpoint). This is about as well as I can shoot anything with my old eyes, standing on my hind legs; similar group sizes from a rest at 25 yards is easily achieved, making the 6-inch New Bearcat up to any task to which one might put a 22 sixgun.
When I received my 6-inch New Bearcat, I knew it deserved special leather. Therefore, I contacted my friend Mike “Doc” Barranti of Barranti Leather for a custom carved “Slim Jim” holster. Doc Barranti is far more than a skilled leather craftsman; he is nothing short of an Artist whose chosen medium is leather. His holsters are thoroughly modern, yet hold to traditional designs and methods, superbly and meticulously crafted. His Slim Jim holster for my 6-inch New Bearcat is exemplary of his work: tough, beautiful, and practical. The entire front of the holster is expertly hand-carved by Doc Barranti in a floral pattern, but the holster is as useful as it is gorgeous. The Slim Jim is a belt holster, but, as I seldom wear a belt with my ever-present overalls, a chest rig was in order, and my Barranti “Northwest Hunter” rig is perfect for such an application. The Northwest Hunter is a simple and comfortable design, featuring a generous padded shoulder pad, and I use it often to mount a variety of holsters. The Northwest Hunter rig comes with a holster that mounts to the rig using D-rings, but for maximum versatility and cost-effectiveness, Barranti offers an adapter for a conventional holster, similar to the one he provides with his Universal Chest Rig, that allows most conventional belt holsters to be used with the Northwest Hunter. The adapter basically consists of a short length of belt that accommodates a belt holster, doubles and snaps onto itself, and attaches to the Northwest Hunter’s straps; it is a slick, effective, comfortable, and affordable system, and I highly recommend it.
I make no secret of my affinity for the Ruger Bearcat; simply put, I consider the Bearcat to be the ultimate single-action Kit Gun; they are perfectly sized to the 22 Long Rifle cartridge (or the 22 Magnum, for that matter – I own a couple of custom 22 Magnum Bearcats converted by Hamilton Bowen, and for a time Ruger made the New Bearcat with a second cylinder in 22 Magnum, but these were recalled due to timing issues, and the few that were not returned to Ruger change hands at astronomical prices on the collector market). I consider the 6-inch New Bearcat to be one of the nicest Bearcats ever produced, and knowing of my love of Bearcats, my pal Jason Cloessner at Lipsey’s saw to it that I received the first example to leave the factory. Unfortunately, the market did not respond as positively as I would have thought, and the introduction of the popular Lipsey’s-Exclusive Shopkeeper model, coupled with the firestorm of economic and political uncertainty unleashed since 2020, saw to it that the 6-inch New Bearcat did not thrive. After the initial run, no more have been produced to date, and they are hard to find on the secondary and used markets; but a bit of perseverance and patience can still reward the outdoorsman with of one of the slickest little 22 sixguns ever produced.
Check out the New Bearcat line, along with other fine Ruger products, at https://ruger.com/.
To find a dealer of Ruger and other firearms in your area through Lipsey’s nationwide network of affiliated dealers, click on the DEALER FINDER at https://www.lipseys.com/.
To see Lipsey’s catalog of Exclusive products, browse past Exclusives, and view informative and entertaining videos relating to Lipsey’s-Exclusive products, go to https://lipseysguns.com/.
Check out Mike “Doc” Barranti’s exquisite leather goods at https://barrantileather.com/.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Boge Quinn is a life-long shooter, born and raised in the Great State of Tennessee. A co-founder of Gunblast.com (https://gunblast.com/) in the year 2000, along with his brother Jeff Quinn, Boge has continued on with Gunblast after Jeff’s passing in 2020. Boge serves on the Board of Directors of The Shootists (https://shootists.org/), an organization started by John Taffin in 1985, as did his brother Jeff. Boge appreciates firearms of all types, but his soul is particularly stirred by the “older style” guns: lever-action and single-shot rifles, along with Single-Action and Double-Action revolvers and 1911-style pistols. As a former professional artist, Boge appreciates the aesthetics of a fine gun, as well as its mechanical precision and practical application. His particular affinity lies in the world of handguns, and he has hunted mostly with handguns of all types since the mid-1970s. A regionally well-known musician, Boge is also a Deacon in the same Baptist Church where his brother Jeff formerly served as Deacon, and where their Dad finished his 50-year career as Pastor.