October 08, 2021
By J. Scott Rupp
You can’t really talk about any single-action revolver without at least touching on Colt. And that’s certainly the case with the new Barkeep single-action .22 rimfire from Heritage Manufacturing because the Barkeep is based on the so-called Storekeeper’s variant of the Colt 1873 Single Action Army.
By most accounts, the Storekeeper’s Model name—sometimes also called Sheriff’s Model, and I’ve seen it referred to as Banker’s Model as well—was hung on it by collectors and never used by Colt itself. However, on one Colt collectors’ forum someone had posted Colt manufacturer authentication letters for two 1896 guns: one for a Storekeeper’s and one for a Sheriff’s. So who knows?
I’m not a Colt expert by any stretch of the imagination, and I’m sure more than a few readers will set me on the straight and narrow after reading this (be gentle), but the bottom line is the Storekeeper’s/Sheriff’s designation refers to a Single Action Army that lacks an ejector and therefore has no ejector housing. The resulting gun, typically with an abbreviated barrel in the three- to four-inch range, was less bulky and handier to conceal.
The Heritage Barkeep has a diminutive two-inch barrel, and it’s available in either “custom scroll” wood grips or gray “pearl” grips. As soon as I saw photos of the guns, I jumped on the gray pearl model, an option that boosts the price $9 to a low, low $189.
The barrel and cylinder are a steel alloy with a black oxide finish, which is well done. The aluminum frame is black oxide on the gray-pearl versions and simulated case-hardened on the wood-grip version. The standard SAA-style hammer is left in the white on both guns, and on my sample the spur serrations were just as sharp as they need to be.
The finish on the frame of my sample left a lot to be desired, though. The polishing is lacking, especially around the barrel, and overall it has a rough appearance. The finish itself has started to flake on the bottom edges of the trigger guard.
However, this revolver was one of the first out of the gate, and while I don’t normally give a gun a pass for being an early-production specimen, I own another Heritage .22 revolver, and the polishing and finish on the frame are much, much better. So if you find one of these at the gunshop, just give the finish a look and decide if it merits a price tag under $200.
The gray pearl synthetic grips are nicely done, with nary a flaw on the stocks themselves, and they are well fitted to the frame. They’re held in place by a black screw, the grip panels’ screw hole attractively protected by brass ferrules.
There is no transfer bar like you find on most modern single actions, and a drop could cause the hammer to strike the firing pin. Therefore the stamping on the barrel advises you to keep an empty cylinder under the hammer.
However, the Barkeep also incorporates a manual safety, which purists will decry, of course. Placing it in the Safe position rotates a lever that prevents the hammer from striking the firing pin.
So why the safety caution on the barrel? Well, besides the obvious legal reasons, most people will do like I did and leave the safety in the Fire position all the time and pretend it doesn’t exist. With the safety on Fire, a little red dot is there to remind you the gun is ready, willing and able to shoot.
Thumbing back the hammer to the second click drops the cylinder lock and allows you to rotate the cylinder for loading/unloading and safety checks. There isn’t a loading gate interlock like you’ll find on some single actions, so be mindful that you could in fact fire the gun with the gate open—something you want to avoid.
The cylinder holds six rounds of .22 Long Rifle. According to Heritage, the Barkeep will accept an optional .22 Magnum cylinder. As I mentioned, the attraction of this gun was the lack of an ejector and ejector shroud. So how, then, do you eject the spent cartridges or unload the gun? Full confession time.
On my first outing with the Barkeep, which preceded all the press materials, I just grabbed the gun out of the box, threw some ammo in the bag and went shooting. After firing the first cylinder, I flicked out empties with a fingernail, but of course, that became more difficult as the gun got dirtier. It never occurred to me that I could use the cylinder pin to shove out the empties, so I simply rummaged through my bag until I found something that would poke out the brass.
Later, while preparing to photograph the Barkeep, I discovered a handy little tool in the box for pushing out empties, complete with a nicely turned wood handle. Someday I will learn to be more thorough up front.
The original Sheriff’s/Storekeeper’s guns were chambered to the popular defensive cartridges of the day like .45 Colt and .44-40 Winchester. Conversely, as a short-barreled .22 Long Rifle with rudimentary sights, the Barkeep is the epitome of a fun gun with little practical value. Therefore, I decided a benchrest accuracy test would be kind of a waste of your time and mine.
Having said that, I did run a practical accuracy test from offhand using two-inch aiming circles and, initially, Remington Golden Bullets. Because I’m sure you still want to know how well the Barkeep is at perforating soda cans.
I started at one yard, which if you were an Old West bartender having to shoot someone across the bar would have been an appropriate distance. All shots went into a ragged hole. At three yards they dispersed just a bit, and it was here I discovered a one o’clock hold was necessary.
That was even more the case at five yards, where I put a couple out of the circle and had to start bearing down on the sights. Seven yards took more effort, but it still shot well, and I notched a 0.8-inch group with the Remington.
At 10 yards accuracy started to fall off markedly—or so I thought. I took a break for a bit and then put up another circle at 10 yards and proceeded to drill it almost as well as I had at five. Then I switched to the CCI Mini-Mag, and it produced a nice group of 1.9 inches.
Determining this was a good distance at which to try some different ammo, I then went to Lapua Midas +, which turned in a solid two-inch cluster but also had a few failures to fire. Rims had been struck by the firing pin, but the rounds failed to fire. Fiocchi shot well, too, turning in a 2.1-inch group at 10 yards.
Having decided Mini-Mags were the ticket with this particular sample, I started backing up. I ditched the aiming circle and simply shot at 8.5x11-inch sheets of paper stapled to a backer. I’m not even going to suggest the Barkeep as a personal protection gun, but I was able to hit that sheet of paper—often used as an economical “vital zone” target—at 25 yards with every shot. I had to hold the top-right edge of the paper, and the shots were printing on the lower-left area, but I think I proved to myself that if for some weird reason I found myself in a sticky situation, the Barkeep would be better than nothing.
For an inexpensive gun, it’s got a decent trigger, breaking at two pounds, 10 ounces on average. The sights are your basic grooved topstrap and blade front. The cylinder timing is excellent, nary a drag mark on the cylinder after 100 or so rounds. There was only 0.013 inch of cylinder end shake.
I wasn’t sure what to expect out of such a short-barreled single action in terms of handling, but I was pleasantly surprised. Some have commented that the original Storekeeper’s Model balanced differently, not only because of the barrel length but also because of the lack of the ejector rod and the extra steel loop on the right side of the frame to accommodate that ejector. That’s probably true, and I thought the Barkeep pointed naturally and balanced well.
I’m a sucker for revolvers, particularly single actions, and I truly enjoyed spending time with the Barkeep. It’s got Old West nostalgia going for it, shoots damn well for a revolver of its kind, and is as inexpensive a gun as you could ask for. It ain’t perfect—particularly the finish and the presence of the safety—but if you’ve got some change jingling in your pocket and you’re looking for a novel fun gun, you might as well just go ahead and belly up to the bar.
Heritage Barkeep Specifications
- Type: single-action rimfire revolver
- Caliber: .22 LR (takes optional .22 Mag. cylinder)
- Capacity: 6
- Barrel: 2 in.
- OAL/Height/Width: 8.0/4.9/1.5 in.
- Weight: 1 lb., 11 oz.
- Construction: black oxide-finished steel alloy cylinder and barrel; black oxide aluminum alloy frame (as tested)
- Grips: gray pearl synthetic (as tested)
- Sights: grooved topstrap, blade front
- Trigger: 2 lb., 10 oz. pull (measured)
- Safety: manual
- Price: $189 (as tested)
- Manufacturer: Heritage Manufacturing, HeritageMfg.com