April 26, 2011
By Rick Hacker
Bill Oglesby is an over-the-top shooter who flies under the radar. He doesn't have a company e-mail nor a website. And anyone trying to Google him may only find a few You Tube videos of his incredible shooting skills plus an American Pistolsmiths Guild posting that describes "William D. Oglesby" as a gunsmith who has been in business since 1970 and lists Oglesby & Oglesby of Springfield, Illinois, in this rather abbreviated manner:
"Custom handguns for IPSC and PPC plus custom revolvers and duty guns. Exotic one of a kind guns are our specialty; the wilder the better. We make parts and springs. Single action revolvers for cowboy action shooters, fast draw, and exhibition shooting a specialty."
That doesn't even come close to telling the story of "Badlands Bill" (his Single Action Shooting Society handle), a fourth-generation gunsmith who is one of the country's most accomplished trick shooters. Anyone who has seen Bill's single-action shooting exploits on "Guns & Ammo TV" or on the History Channel--which unabashedly described him as one "of the greatest exhibition shooters alive"--doesn't soon forget his exhibitions.
He's constantly traveling, often hard to reach and sometimes seemingly disappears from the planet altogether. Yet he's a riveting showman. Whether standing in front of an audience or in front of a camera, he commands attention as he draws his super-tuned sixguns with lighting speed and deftly breaks multiple clay targets, point shooting with both hands from the hip. And he can split the width of a playing card with a single bullet.
But shooting skills aside, Bill Oglesby is one of the most talented and innovative gunsmiths I have ever met, especially when it comes to Ruger single actions. He also works on Colt Single Action Armies and clones, as well as on 1911s, but from a personal standpoint, I've found few individuals as skilled as Oglesby with both Old Model and New Model Ruger thumb-cockers.
As an example, he can rework the innards of a New Model Vaquero so that it loads on half-cock, just like a Colt SAA. In addition, Oglesby has patented a one-piece grip for the New Vaquero. This is a previously unheard-of feature on Ruger single actions due to their coil mainsprings, which traverse through the center of the grip frame--thereby preventing a one-piece grip from being slipped onto the backstrap, as is customary with most non-Ruger single actions.
Oglesby has surmounted this problem with an ingenious use of six locking points within the grips, three of which are affixed to powerful magnets, which keep the grips firmly anchored to the frame.
I first met Bill at the Golden Boot Awards in Hollywood a few years ago, where some of our greatest B western and TV western stars are honored. To help raise money for the Golden Boot's sponsoring organization, the Motion Picture & Television Fund, Bill used to donate super-slicked-up and elaborately engraved Ruger Vaqueros, one of which I saw fetching $14,500 for this charity.
During a conversation with Oglesby following one of these events, I casually mentioned I had a Ruger New Model Super Blackhawk with a 45/8-inch barrel. It had been made for me as a special order back in 1985 by the late Bill Ruger's son, Tom, who was vice president of marketing at the time.
It was the first 45/8-barreled Super Blackhawk and had been built at my request. I wanted a shorter-barreled .44 Magnum to take to Africa as a backup. Fortunately, I never had to use it on the Dark Continent, because, as special as this gun was (Tom passed away in 1992, and this gun became the impetus for Sturm Ruger & Company making the shorter barrel a regular part of the Super Blackhawk line in 1994), it could not group six shots within a decent space on a target.
But I didn't want to sell the gun because of the memories it held, so I put it back in its black and yellow cardboard box and sequestered it in the darkest regions of my gun safe.
"Send the gun to me," Bill said.
A year later, I got it back. It did not look or shoot like my original Super Blackhawk. It was infinitely better. The most obvious external changes were the frame and hammer. Bill had given them a radiant, multicolored bone charcoal case coloring, a difficult feat due to Ruger's cast frames. The deeply blued black steel of the rest of the gun had been accented with Oglesby's Wet Oil/Hot Paraffin soft cloth polish, which is as labor-intensive as it sounds.
But there was more evidence of Oglesby's handiwork. The left side of the recoil shield had been scalloped away and cut through with an oval-shaped "cartridge viewing port" to enable the shooter to see if another cartridge was in line for a follow-up shot.
It would be a natural for fast-draw competition, although I doubt if it would be legal in SASS shoots. But I intended it to be a hunting and backup gun, and in that context Oglesby had added a white outline to the rear sight and put an easy-to-spot orange inset into the front ramp. He also textured the loading gate for ease of use with sweaty hands.
Other refinements were more subtle but became evident when shooting the gun. The sides of the hammer had been thinned to eliminate rubbing against the frame, thus speeding up lock time. An oversized cylinder base pin had been installed and fitted with an Allen wrench locking screw that firmly anchored it when firing full-house loads. Plus, the cylinder gap was tightened to .005 inch, and the lead-ins to the cylinder notches had been hand-fitted and polished to match an oversized Oglesby bolt, which had been timed to drop in fast and hit the notch dead center.
The gun had also been given a complete action job using Oglesby's proprietary springs and other parts, including an internal overtravel stop on the trigger, a hardened cylinder bushing, custom firing pin, spring and bushing and an oversized drawn and tempered hand.
I had also requested a 21/2-pound trigger pull, which ended up tripping my Lyman digital scale at exactly that let-off point--as crisp as snapping glass and with zero creep.
But all of these embellishments would have been money wasted if my Ruger couldn't shoot better than it had. To make sure this happened, the Oglesby folks re-rifled the bore, then lapped and polished it and gave it a handsome 11-degree "deep dish satellite" crown on the muzzle, in addition to putting an 11-degree taper on the forcing cone.
"I don't know what you'd been shooting in that Ruger," Bill chastised me after the gun was completed, "but it must have been some pretty hot loads along with a lot of unjacketed ammo, because that bore was leaded up so bad it was undersized."
Oglesby had test fired the slicked-up Ruger in a Ransom Rest, and it consistently punched one ragged hole at 50 yards. He sent me the target with the gun.
Now, I'm the first to admit that I'm no Ransom rest, but using a two-handed hold on a padded rest and firing 240-grain Winchester softpoint factory loads, I was able to get one to two-inch groups at 25 yards, which is pretty commendable for a .44 Magnum with a 45/8-inch barrel. And it certainly qualified my Super Blackhawk as a hunting handgun--something that I really couldn't say prior to having Oglesby's magic performed on it. In all, there were 38 individual upgrades on my gun, and needless to say I was now a believer.
A few years ago, I thought of Bill Oglesby's gunsmithing skills again after taking the inaugural Single Action Self Defense Course at the Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona. I had completed the course using two unique New Model Rugers--a 3½-inch stainless steel Montado in .45 Colt and a limited-edition Lipsey's .44 Special with a 45/8-inch barrel. The latter was built on the Ruger .357 Blackhawk Flattop frame, which, like the Montado, used the old pre-1963 XR3 grip frame.
Only 500 of the Lipsey Rugers were produced in 45/8-inch barrel length, and I was fortunate enough to have purchased one (an additional 500 were made with 5½-inch barrels). But having put 300 rounds through both Rugers at Gunsite, I felt I could improve their performance by having them slicked up.
I called Oglesby's shop and spoke with foreman Frank Wilson, who has been with Bill since 1972. I explained that I would be using the Montado for self-defense and competition but that the Lipsey's .44 Special would be a backup hunting gun. I therefore requested hunting sights on the .44 Special, similar to the sights Oglesby had put on my Super Blackhawk, and a 2½-pound trigger pull. I also asked for the trigger to be serrated to prevent slippage.
For the Montado, I requested that the front blade be serrated to prevent glare, the rear sighting notch in the top strap widened, and the trigger adjusted to break at a crisp two pounds.
Both guns came back as requested. The Montado's trigger broke at precisely two pounds, and the sights were as ordered. Moreover, Bill had gotten involved and had removed the internal locks (yes, that voids the warranty). In addition, noting the problems sometimes encountered with the Montado's short ejector rod hitting the cylinder base pin, Bill replaced it with a "button" cylinder base pin latch instead; just push it in and the cylinder base pin is released.
The Lipsey .44 Special held a surprise. In addition to the custom work I had asked for (tuned action, enhanced sights), Bill had given it a dual loading-gate function. Having grown up shooting a Colt Single Action Army, to this day I cannot pick up a Ruger to load it without my muscle memory kicking in and automatically trying to put the hammer at half cock.
In this case, there actually was a half cock on the New Model Ruger. But then I found that the cylinder would also free up when the loading gate was flipped open, in traditional New Model fashion. When I finally was able to track Bill down, I asked him how he came to design such an innovative feature.
"We had a fellow who would always come into the shop, but he would never buy anything," he told me. "We always keep a few custom guns on hand. One day he said he'd buy one of these Rugers, but he didn't like the loading gate feature. He preferred the half-cock of the Colt. So I built a Ruger that had a half-cock loading notch.
"The next time that fellow came in, he looked at the gun and said he actually preferred the Ruger system. So I went back and added that feature to the gun. They next time that fellow came in, I showed him that the gun could now be loaded either way--like a Colt or like a Ruger. 'Well,' he said, 'then I guess I'd better buy it.' And he did."
Oglesby does offer some standard packages for Rugers. At $305, the Los Vaqueros is the most popular and affordable. The tuneup includes trigger, custom springs, cylinder lapping and dressing and fitting the ejector rod. The Competition Grade, at $875, gets you all this plus a beveled forcing cone and custom crowned barrel and a whole passel of Oglesby custom-fitted parts, including adjustable over-travel on the hammer and an Oglesby speed bolt.
Then there is the Limited, for $1,500, which includes all of the above, plus a super-accurized cryogenically frozen barrel and other external and internal embellishments.
There are far more options than I have room to describe here. If you're interested in tuning up a favorite single action, give the folks at Oglesby & Oglesby a call at 888-800-6440. Their work is top notch, and when you get your Ruger back, it will shoot better than it did before. Plus depending on what you have done, you'll wind up with a gun sure to turn heads at the range.