During the past few years, Heritage Mfg., Inc. has grown into one of the largest revolver manufacturers in the United States, and the company’s success is due in no small part to the popularity of its affordably priced series of Rough Rider .22-cal. single-action wheelguns. While many of today’s .22 Long Rifle-chambered semi-automatic pistols are reasonably priced at around $300, the MSRPs for Rough Riders start at only $130, with the most expensive option listed at $225. With real-world prices as much as $50 lower, these sturdy little revolvers enjoy a quiet but loyal following. And if you want a boost in performance, most models (including this one) do accept Heritage’s drop-in .22 WMR conversion cylinder.
Another reason Rough Riders sell well is that Heritage continues to diversify the configurations that customers have to choose from, and, for 2021, the company has released its most compact offering yet—the snub-nosed Barkeep. Like its predecessors, this version of the Rough Rider is a scaled-down single-action revolver inspired by the famous Colt Single Action Army.
The Barkeep takes its design cues from the Colt Storekeeper, which was also unofficially referred to as a Banker’s Special or a Sheriff’s Model. These sixguns sported trimmed-down barrels shorter than 4" in length in order to be more easily concealed. But shortening the barrels to this degree precluded the installation of a spring-loaded ejector along the lower right side of the barrel. The Barkeep ships with a hand-held ejector rod in its place.
The Barkeep’s 2.68"-long, round-profile barrel and fluted six-shot cylinder are made of carbon steel with a matte-blue finish. Other blued-steel components include the knurled base pin (or cylinder pin), the base pin catch assembly, the trigger and frame screws. A historically influenced vintage sight system consists of a fixed-blade front and a trough along the topstrap that ends in a square notch that acts as the rear sight. The aluminum receiver is available in the customer’s choice of a black finish with faux gray pearl stocks or a simulated casehardened finish with wood stocks—our test sample was an example of the latter.
The swing-open loading gate is located at the rear of the receiver on the right side. Opening it exposes the rear face of the cylinder for loading fresh cartridges and ejecting spent cases. Opposite of the loading gate, on the left side of the receiver, Heritage has added a modern external safety lever that is easy for right-handed shooters to maneuver with the thumb of the shooting hand. The lever flips up into the Safe position, blocking the hammer from striking the firing pin.
The Barkeep’s stainless-steel hammer has a natural silver finish with a checkered spur for improved purchase. The choice to install a receiver-mounted safety lever, in place of a transfer bar safety, preserves the distinctive “clicks” of the classic single-action design. The hammer actually has a total of four positions—the first being fully forward with the hammer resting against the firing pin.
Pulling the hammer back slightly, until the first click is felt, locks up the trigger and cylinder so that the gun won’t fire. This is the original “safety” for this type of revolver. However, Heritage does not recommend using this hammer position as a safety on its own. In addition to placing the hammer in the safe position and engaging the manual safety, the company recommends carrying Rough Riders with the hammer over an empty chamber. Retracting the hammer back to the second click places it in the “half-cock” position. The trigger stays locked up but now the cylinder can be manually rotated clockwise for loading or unloading through the loading gate. Pulling the hammer all the way back will highlight the third and fourth clicks and fully cocks the revolver so that it is ready to fire.
The one-piece grip frame, which includes the square-profile trigger guard, is cast from aluminum alloy and treated to a slightly glossy black coating. Our test sample of the Barkeep came with a set of hardwood stock panels laser-engraved with fish-scale texturing and old-fashioned scroll work embellishments.
Cosmetically speaking, it’s not uncommon for Rough Riders to exhibit some minor finish flaws when they leave the factory. While these small cosmetic issues do not affect the reliability of these guns, they are one of the trade-offs that come with the models’ low costs. But, overall, the Barkeep exhibited proper fitting throughout and proved to be mechanically sound with a surprisingly smooth action for a budget-priced revolver. The hammer and trigger cycled cleanly, with the hammer exhibiting satisfyingly distinctive clicks and the trigger breaking crisply after a 2-lb., 5-oz., trigger pull.
The Barkeep proved to be utterly reliable with all of the ammunition tested at the shooting range, though accuracy wasn’t great. The ploughshare grip shape and short barrel give this model a handy, well-balanced feel that points naturally down range. One of the sometimes-overlooked advantages of .22 Long Rifle revolvers is their flexibility in regards to the ammunition they can reliably fire; this type of handgun doesn’t suffer from the ammunition sensitivity that can plague some rimfire semi-automatics. Because this revolver does not rely on the pressure developed by a fired cartridge to cycle the action, it can run reliably with a full range of bullet weights and velocities, including soft-shooting, low-noise and primer-only CB loads.
The Rough Rider series of single-action revolvers provides an enjoyable taste of Old West shooting at affordable prices, and the Barkeep’s short barrel makes it comfortable to carry in the field and easy to stow as a kit gun in a pack, bag or tackle box.