There is often some confusion about the Ruger Blackhawk and Vaquero revolvers, the old and the new and the newer and which guns can be loaded to higher pressures than say an S&W or Colt. Well this controversy generally just applies to the 45 Colt caliber guns as any gun barrel stamped 44 magnum will safely shoot any 44 magnum ammunition as long it is loaded to SAAMI specifications. Ruger has been making center fire revolvers for well over fifty years. There have been few changes over these decades and these changes were done for various reasons. In the name of safety, market demand and manufacturing ease, to name a few. Here is a short rundown of the models of past and present.
The original Blackhawk, had what was designated the XR3 style alloy grip frame with hard rubber, checkered grips and a flat top cylinder frame with a Micro brand adjustable rear sight. We called it the Blackhawk but would later call it the Flat Top.
Then later Ruger made the Blackhawk with the XR3-Red (redesigned) grip frame (Manufacturing) with walnut grips and this was then called the Blackhawk. Previous Blackhawks were then called Flat Tops. Some were made with a flat top but most XR3-Red framed guns were with the familiar reinforced cylinder frame with humps around the rear sight. Then in 1973, we began to call it the Old Model Blackhawk because Ruger introduced the New Model Blackhawk with different lock work. (Safety)
Later, in the 1980’s Ruger introduced a fixed sight model named the Vaquero. (Market) It was a new model because of the lock work but it wasn't the New Model Vaquero because there never was an Old Model Vaquero.
But wait there is still more; most recently, Ruger has begun to make all Blackhawk and Vaquero models with the old style XR3 grip frame, with black hard rubber (synthetic) grips. These are called the New Style Blackhawk (Alloy frame) and New Style Vaquero (Steel frame), respectively. Not officially so named just used to differentiate from older New Model guns. But I'm not through. Ruger also, in the past few years, has remade the old flat top cylinder frames with the old Micro adjustable rear sights; these are flat tops and are called New Flat Top Blackhawks. They have the new, old XR3 frame and are made in 357 and in 44 magnum for the 50th Anniversary models of the 1950’s introduction of those calibers in Flat Top Blackhawks. Now, this same gun is also made in an old caliber that Ruger never before made, but in an old style of Ruger, a New Flat Top Blackhawk, in 44 special. Limited, 4 5/8" and 5 1/2" barrel lengths are available from a few shops.
Ruger's redesigned version of their Vaquero, this New Style Vaquero, with a lighter cylinder frame and an all steel XR3 style grip frame, are much lighter in weight and are not as strong as any variation of the original Vaquero. These new Vaqueros are what most of us call the New Vaquero or sometimes the New, New Vaquero, even though there never was an Old Style Vaquero…….until now. It is these newest Vaqueros that cause so much confusion about hand loads in the 45 Colt caliber guns. These newest or New Style or New Model Vaqueros cannot be loaded with the same higher pressure loads of the previous Vaquero (heavy frame) or Blackhawk models.
The new Flat Top Models have the same XR3 steel grip frame of the New Style Vaquero but have a much stronger cylinder frame of the Blackhawk but likely not as durable as the Blackhawk cylinder frame with the reinforced sight channel.
The New Model Vaquero, with its light and dainty steel grip frame is only made in 357 and 45 Colt. The older, heavy frame Vaquero was made in 45 Colt, 44 magnum, 41 magnum, and 357 magnum.
In the older, heavier Vaquero with the heavy cylinder frame, there is also a model with the Bisley style grip frame. These old Bisley Vaqueros are capable of taking the same loads as any of the new, New Model Blackhawks, the old New Model Blackhawks and the Old Model Blackhawks, too. It is just the new Vaquero, with the redesigned old grip frame, and milled down lighter cylinder frame that cannot use heavy 45 Colt loadings.
Now why do some think this is confusing??