Last year we took a closer look at a few of the budget-friendly rimfire Rough Rider revolvers made by Heritage Manufacturing, Inc. For 2022, the company has released two new models that are almost polar opposites of each other, called the Tactical Cowboy and the Barkeep Boot. Both guns were given a thorough workout at the shooting range with positive results.
The Heritage Rough Rider Tactical Cowboy (top) and Barkeep Boot (bottom).
Rough Rider Shared Features
Both of these new models are members of the Rough Rider 6-shot, .22 LR series of revolvers. These scaled-down rimfires are inspired by the features and profile of the iconic Colt Single Action Army made famous for its service during the settling of the Western United States.
This safety warning is stamped on either the barrel or the inside of the loading chamber of each Rough Rider.
Recognizable features include round-profile blued-steel barrels, fluted cylinders and rounded trigger guards. The Rough Riders ship with either “plowshare” (flat bottom) or “birdshead” (rounded backstrap) grip frames, both of which were used in the good ol' days. Because these are single-action wheelguns, the hammer must be manually cocked for each shot fired. These hammers have three positions. The first click is a safety position which locks up the trigger and cylinder. Pulling the hammer back two clicks, or to the half-cock position, allows the cylinder to rotate for loading and unloading. The third click is fully cocked and ready to fire.
A red dot is visible when the safety lever is in the Fire position.
On the right side of the aluminum alloy frame, or receiver, is a swing-out loading gate. Most Rough Riders have a spring-loaded ejector rod mounted to the right side of the barrel, but the super-short barreled Barkeep models do not. Instead, they ship with a handheld ejector rod.
To the left side of the hammer is a modern thumb-safety lever which flips down into the Fire position. Flipping it up into the safe position blocks the hammer from coming into contact with the firing pin. Nevertheless, Heritage engraves reminders on the Rough Riders, either on the side of the barrel or inside the loading gate, that the company recommends carrying these revolvers with the hammer resting over an empty chamber.
The “Practical” Tactical Cowboy
My first impression of the Tactical Cowboy (TC) was that this revolver needed a different name. These days the word “tactical” is used to describe the kind of handgun one would expect to find strapped to the Molle vests of elite S.W.A.T. teams preparing to repel from hovering helicopters into the heat of battle.
Here is the Tactical Cowboy in its factory configuration.
Instead, I thought this model should be called The Space Cowboy. This is because the co-mingling of 19th and 20th century firearms design with futuristic technology is a popular choice amongst sci-fi movie prop gun designers. With this in mind, I went ahead and had some fun dressing up the TC to look more like the kind of revolvers in the B-Movies and battle-for-the-galaxy TV shows I loved to watch on Saturday afternoons as a kid.
The TC is the 6.5" barrel version of the .22 LR Rough Rider with a few key changes. The front sight has been moved back half an inch so that the muzzle can be threaded (1/2-28" TPI) to accept a variety of modern muzzle devices including flash hiders, compensators and muzzle brakes. Many accessories designed for AR-15s will fit this barrel quite nicely. The revolver ships with a removable thread protector installed. Sticking with my Rocket Ranger theme, the TC was fitted with a top quality, square profile Tandemkross Game Changer PRO compensator. This is a flexible 22 LR device that's a great fit for competition grade semi-auto pistols (it ships with the new Taurus TX22 Competition SCR), precision rimfire rifles and for making the TC look cool.
The right-side loading gate shown in the open position.
The typical Western style front sight blade has been replaced with a target-shooting style fiber-optic sight. This sight is usually paired with an adjustable rear sight. But in this case, it lines up with a fixed square notch rear sight. The top of the frame is fitted with a 2.5" long, 6-slot aluminum Picatinny optics rail. Micro red-dot optics continue to grow in popularity as defensive pistol sighting systems because they provide an intuitive, quick-to-acquire sight picture. It may seem a bit silly to strap a red dot to a single-action revolver until you try it. It was a real treat to work with on this gun.
The TC was test fired using the Crimson Trace CTS-1300 (MSRP $339.99), a compact, open reflex sight with a broader field of view designed for use with rifles and shotguns. This particular red-dot costs more than the revolver but it’s one of my favorite optics to work with. For those who are on a budget, look around online and you'll find some solid red dot options for under $100, like the Bushnell TRS-25 ($79.99).
And here is the Tactical Cowboy with a muzzle device, red dot optic, silver cylinder and Star grip set installed.
The TC has a plowshare grip frame fitted with molded polymer grip panels sporting a dipped carbon fiber finish. This grip set is light weight and comfortable to work with. But I prefer the feel and heft of wood grip panels and Heritage offers a wide variety of affordable options on the shopheritagemfg.com website. The laminated hardwood Silver Star grips (GGHRWSTAR) for $29.99 were just the B-Western touch I was looking for.
The Heritage shopping website also offers a variety of drop-in replacement cylinders. With its 6.5" barrel, the TC is a great candidate for the company's .22 Magnum conversion cylinders. It's one of the least expensive caliber conversions available, with prices starting at $29.99. There are also a variety of decoratively engraved blued cylinders and other finish options, including the silver-finish .22 LR cylinder shown here that complements the star-spangled grip panels.
The Tandemkross Game Changer PRO compensator
What originally seemed to be the more whimsical features of the Tactical Cowboy earned it a third moniker at the shooting range: the Practical Cowboy. The fiber-optic front sight provided a bright, crisp sight picture that was easy to use. The Tandemkross compensator worked to stabilize the muzzle and reduce the already mild rimfire levels of felt recoil to just a hint of movement.
The Tightly Trimmed Barkeep Boot Gun
The 2021 release of the Barkeep series represented the smallest version of the Rough Rider to that point. But it looks like there was a bit more that could be trimmed off to make it even smaller. The Barkeep Boot gun has a 1.68" barrel, which is a full inch shorter than The Barkeep. It's short enough that Heritage decided to leave off the front sight. However, the receiver still has a rear sight notch and a groove along the top strap. It can be used as a “trench sight.” Frame the aim point on the target with the rear sight notch and make sure the groove is level. It's a rudimentary sight system at best but it works well enough for short-range shots.
The Barkeep Boot ships with a handheld ejector rod used to push spent cartridge cases out of the cylinder.
The plowshare grip frame has been replaced with a curved birdshead grip. The birdhead grip is the same height and thickness as the plowshare but the back strap has been rounded off. This frame shape was the concealment grip of its day since the trimmed down shape helped to reduce grip printing when carried under a coat. The Boot gun shown here has smooth, black laminated hardwood grips. For a few dollars more, customers can also choose from gray pearl polymer or snake-engraved laminated wood grips.
The Boot model is as trimmed down as the Rough Rider can get.
Heritage makes a note in the Boot gun's owner's manual regarding the company's drop-in .22 Mag. conversion cylinders. They will fit and safely fire in this model but they are not recommended. In-house testing has shown that .22 Mag. bullets show evidence of “keyholing” from the super short barrel. This means that the bullets are turning sideways or tumbling end over end when they hit the target instead of hitting nose first. This makes the bullets unpredictable in their performance and accuracy and should be avoided.
The Boot gun launched with three different grip options.
At The Range
I continue to be impressed by the light, clean feel of the triggers and actions the Rough Riders exhibit during range tests. The TC's trigger pull weighed in at 3 lbs. 1 oz. with the Boot gun's trigger rounding the bend at just 2 lbs. 12-oz. Some folks pay a good deal of money for gunsmiths to tune their center-fire revolver triggers to feel this light.
The Tactical Cowboy was tested at the shooting range using the factory original cylinder.
The Rough Riders merrily chambered, fired and extracted all of the practice-grade loads they were tested with, including bulk-box rounds provided by Federal Premium, Remington and Winchester. Three of the cartridges failed to fire with the first hammer strike, but two of them did go off the second time around. In other words, these were a few faulty primers which is par for the course when cranking your way through lots of box loads.
Bulk box .22 LR ammunition is a great choice for affordable casual plinking.
Most semi-automatic pistols chambered for .22 LR tend to be at least a little ammunition sensitive. I have yet to shoot one that would run reliably with every load available. What was interesting to see is that the Rough Riders had their preferences as well. I've used the Federal Champion load for many years in a variety of guns, in fact, it's one I often prefer for personal use. But the accuracy was not nearly as good as with the other two loads tested and there were some instances of keyholing when fired from the Boot gun. So, I'll continue to enjoy using Federal Champion with other guns but make a note that it's not the best fit for these revolvers. This is just a good reminder to always test gun and ammunition combinations at the range before taking them out in the field.
With regard to accuracy, I was looking for benchrested 5-shot groups of around 3" to 3.5" when shooting the 6.5" barrel TC at 25 yards using a red-dot optic. It met my expectations quite nicely with five-group averages ranging from 2.65" to 3.35", depending on the load fired. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the boot gun due to the quite short 1.68" barrel, the trench sight and having to be a bit creative when working from the bench rest. Because the barrel is so short the target was posted at 7 yards, the same distance typically used for testing pocket pistols. But I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The Boot gun kept group averages between 2.60" to 3.19" at this distance.
Heritage Rough Rider .22 LR revolvers provide an enjoyable shooting experience at affordable prices. In fact, the popularity of these little rimfires has helped the company to grow into one of the largest revolver makers in the U.S. I've handled half a dozen different models now and I see why they sell so well. They offer plenty of relaxing, enjoyable plinking without breaking the bank.
The subcompact Barkeep Boot gun offers a unique appearance and shooting experience. But due to the lack of a front sight, this is the one model of the Rough Rider I've tested which is not a good fit for beginners or first-time gun owners. It's a better fit for more experienced enthusiasts looking for a handy kit gun, a low-priced utility gun or an unusual model to add to the collection.
The Tactical Cowboy is an eminently practical model with useful features well suited to all skill levels. It's a flexible, multi-purpose .22 LR for those who are not too attached to historical revolver features. It can be dressed up with easy to install accessories or put to work right out of the box. It’s an ideal option for those who are just getting their feet wet in the shooting sports or looking for a more flexible Rough Rider to work with.
Manufacturer: Heritage Manufacturing, Inc.
Featured Rough Rider .22 Caliber 6-Shot Revolvers:
Model: Tactical Cowboy, 6.5" Barrel (RR22B6-TH)
Features: Black Frame, Threaded Barrel, Fiber Optic Front Sight, Picatinny Optics Rail, Plowshare Grip Frame, Polymer Grip Panels
Overall Length: 11.85"
Weight: 32 oz. (Unloaded)
Trigger Pull: 3 lbs. 1-oz.
Model: Barkeep Boot, 1.68" Barrel (BK22B1BHBD)
Features: Black Frame, Wood Handle Extractor, Birdshead Grip Frame, Smooth Laminated Hardwood Grip Panels
Overall Length: 6.38"
Weight: 24.8 oz. (Unloaded)
Trigger Pull: 2 lbs. 12 oz.
Tandemkross Game Changer Pro Compensator (TK00N0452) $74.99
Heritage 6-Shot .22 LR Cylinder, Silver PVD (331-0001-18) $34.99
Heritage Silver Star Grip by Premium Manufacturing (GGHRWSTAR) $29.99