July 27, 2021
By Sam Wolfenberger
I realize handguns (and all guns for that matter) are serious subjects. But every once in a while, it’s good to tap into the fun side of firearms. In my opinion, that’s exactly what the .22 LR Barkeep single-action revolver from Heritage Manufacturing is all about, especially considering its low MSRP ($180.30 to $189.39 depending on the model).
Heritage is known for its single-action Rough Rider rimfire revolvers. They are often referred to as the best deal in terms of a frontier-style single action. The company offers .22 LR models and .22 Magnum/.22 LR convertibles, meaning those guns come with two interchangeable cylinders (one .22 LR and one .22 Magnum). Barrel lengths run from 3.5 to 16 inches. They come in a variety of finishes, and some have six-shot cylinders, while others have nine-shot cylinders. Heritage also markets a nifty Rancher revolving carbine in .22 LR. It comes with a wooden buttstock, a six-shot cylinder, and a 16.13-inch barrel. The company also has big-bore single-action revolvers in .357 Magnum/.38 Special and .45 Colt with 4.75-inch and 5.5-inch barrels.
The newest addition to Heritage’s revolver lineup is the .22 rimfire Barkeep.
The .22 LR Barkeep is available with a 2.68-inch barrel, and it utilizes a frame-mounted firing pin. The mechanism incorporates a manual hammerblock safety that prevents the hammer from striking the firing pin. Located on the left side of the frame near the hammer is the safety lever. With it in the up (“Safe”) position, the hammer can’t fall all the way down and strike the firing pin.
With the safety lever in the down position, the hammerblock is moved out of the way, allowing the hammer to strike the firing pin. A red dot is visible when the lever is down, in the “Fire” position.
The Barkeep’s cylinder holds six rounds of .22 LR, .22 Long, .22 Short, or .22 CB Caps. The cylinder chambers aren’t recessed for the cartridge rims, but the rear face of the cylinder is counterbored. The cylinder is held in place with a traditional cylinder base pin, and it is easily removed from the frame by first putting the hammer in the second cocking notch, opening the loading gate, pushing in the spring-loaded retainer, drawing the base pin out, and lifting out the cylinder.
The cylinder rotates clockwise, and cocking the hammer goes through the four clicks that Colt made famous. Speaking of Colt, the rimfire Barkeep is reminiscent of the centerfire ejector-less Colt Sheriff’s Model and Storekeeper single actions. An entire treatise could be written on the specifics of these old Colt guns; suffice to say they had barrel lengths ranging from 2.5 inches to 7.5 inches, and their production was pretty limited. Colt first produced them in the early 1880s and discontinued and then resurrected them with each generation of Single Action Army.
Loading the Barkeep revolver is done the traditional way. Bring the hammer back to the second notch, open the loading gate, and insert cartridges into the chambers while rotating it. Heritage recommends leaving one chamber empty if the Barkeep is to be carried loaded. That means load one chamber, skip one, and load four more.
Unloading live rounds and ejecting fired cases is not so traditional because due to the short barrel, there is no ejector rod mounted to the Barkeep like most single-action revolvers with longer barrels. Instead, to unload the snubnose Barkeep, an external ejector tool (supplied with each Barkeep) is used to push loaded rounds and empty cases out of each chamber one at a time. It’s a bit slower than a mounted ejector rod, but it’s easy to get used to. Heritage warns, for utmost safety, to keep hands and fingers away from the muzzle of the barrel when using the ejector tool.
The sights are your traditional fixed rear and plain blade front. The rear sight is a simple notched groove in the topstrap, with the notch measuring 0.09 inch wide. The front sight is not exactly a “half-moon” (the common term for the old original Colt Peacemaker front sights). It’s about the size of half of a dime, but it is not a perfect semicircle in shape. The face side (the side toward the shooter) is cut vertically and rounded at the top of the cut. The front blade is 0.07 inch thick and 0.21 inch tall. By the way, when the top of the front sight is aligned with the top of the rear notch, and the hammer is all the way down, the front sight is not visible by the shooter. This is not unusual for single-action revolvers with this type of sight setup, and I’m not complaining about it. I mention it only to be thorough.
As I said earlier, currently, the Barkeep is offered in two models: Gray Pearl and Scrolled Wood. The Gray Pearl model is finished in black oxide and comes with two-piece, gray, simulated pearl grips. The Scrolled Wood model has a simulated casehardened main frame, a black oxide barrel and grip frame, and scrolled wood grips. Grip circumference at the grip-retaining screw is 4.5 inches.
With its 2.68-inch barrel, alloy grip frame, alloy main frame, steel barrel, and simulated pearl grips, the Gray Pearl Barkeep weighs 27 ounces, unloaded, according to my digital scale. The Scrolled Wood model weighs 26.4 ounces. For both models, the overall length is 7.95 inches, the height is 4.86 inches, and the width is 1.43 inches.
Heritage warns against dry-firing the rimfire Barkeep, so I used plastic Pachmayr .22 rimfire snap caps to measure the trigger pulls on both models. The Gray Pearl model’s trigger pull averaged 2 pounds, 8 ounces for six measurements, while the Scrolled Wood model’s trigger pull averaged 3 pounds, 9 ounces. The trigger pulls on both samples were unexpectedly crisp and surprisingly consistent.
As I said earlier, the Barkeep safely fires .22 LR, .22 Long, .22 Short, and .22 CB Cap cartridges, so I fired five different .22 LR loadings and one load of each of the other types in both sample revolvers. Due to the Barkeep’s simple sights, I broke with convention and fired the revolvers at 15 yards instead of the usual 25 yards.
I assume all Shooting Times readers are familiar with the differences between .22 LR, .22 Long, and .22 Short cartridges because they are fairly common, but perhaps some haven’t heard of the more obscure .22 CB Cap. It has even less power than the .22 Short. CB stands for Conical Bullet, and the case is 0.148 inch shorter than that of the .22 Short cartridge (0.253 inch for the CB Cap case compared to 0.401 inch for the .22 Short case I used). According to Cartridges of the World, it probably originated sometime around 1888 and is not a transitional design that led to the .22 Short. There are also CB Short and CB Long cartridges that are based on the .22 Short and .22 Long cases respectively. The original powder charge for the CB Cap was 1.5 grains of blackpowder, but after 1920 smokeless powder was used. Small-game killing power of the CB Cap is considerably less than that of the .22 Short, and accuracy is generally no better, so I think you can see that it offers no advantage, which explains why it’s obscure. But since Heritage lists it in the company’s description of the Barkeep, I fired some in both sample guns. The CB Caps I fired for this report are made by Dynamit Nobel and distributed under the Acorn-Stoeger brand and are loaded with an 18-grain conical lead bullet.
Anyway, I dipped into my cache of .22 ammo to come up with all the different loads, and I freely admit that some of the ammo was old and now discontinued. I don’t know when some of it was made, especially the CB Caps and the .22 Longs, but they were at least 30 years old, probably older.
Shooting from a benchrest with the five .22 LR loads (Aguila Rifle Match 40-grain LRN, American Eagle High Velocity 40-grain LRN, CCI Mini-Mag 40-grain CPRN, Federal 40-grain Gold Medal #711 LRN, and Winchester High Velocity 40-grain CPRN), the combined average for three, five-shot groups with each load in the Gray Pearl Barkeep was 2.94 inches. Its most accurate .22 LR load was the Federal Gold Medal #711 40-grain LRN, and it averaged 2.00 inches. The combined average for the .22 LR loads in the Scrolled Wood model was 2.47 inches. Again, that’s for three, five-shot groups with each load at a range of 15 yards. Coincidentally, its best .22 LR load also was the Federal Gold Medal #711 40-grain LRN, and it averaged 1.50 inches.
The results of shooting the .22 Long, .22 Short, and .22 CB Cap loads are listed in the chart on the previous page along with the .22 LR results, but briefly, the .22 Long Remington High Velocity 29-grain CPRN load was the most accurate of those loadings in both models. It averaged 2.50 inches in the Gray Pearl Model and 2.00 inches in the Scrolled Wood model. Interestingly, its velocity was just 79 fps to 89 fps less than the fastest .22 LR load.
Just for kicks, I fired the five .22 LR loads in an old single-action revolver with a 5.5-inch barrel to see how much difference the 2.68-inch barrel had on velocity. On average, the snubnose Barkeep revolvers produced velocities between about 80 to 150 fps less than the 5.5-inch-barreled revolver for those loadings. That’s roughly between 28 fps and 53 fps less per inch.
I’m old enough that my first toy cap gun was a replica of a single-action revolver. I’m guessing a lot of you readers are about the same age, so perhaps you had a similar experience. Playing with such toys so much as a boy probably explains why I still have a fondness for single-action revolvers. And as a student of history, I also appreciate the heritage (no pun intended) of single actions. Granted, the rimfire Heritage Barkeep doesn’t exactly replicate any historical sixgun, and it doesn’t qualify as an heirloom, but I have to admit it sure is a lot of fun to shoot. The low prices definitely don’t reflect the amount of enjoyment I received from “working” with the two Shooting Times sample guns.
- TYPE: Single-action revolver
- CALIBER: .22 rimfire
- CYLINDER CAPACITY: 6 rounds
- BARREL: 2.68 in.
- OVERALL LENGTH: 7.95 in.
- WIDTH: 1.43 in.
- HEIGHT: 4.86 in.
- WEIGHT, EMPTY: 27 oz.
- GRIPS: Gray Pearl or Scrolled Wood
- FINISH: Black oxide or simulated casehardened
- SIGHTS: Fixed groove rear; blade front
- TRIGGER: 2.5-lb. pull (Gray Pearl as tested); 3.6-lb. pull (ScrolledWood as tested)
- SAFETY: Manual hammerblock
- MSRP: $189.39 (Gray Pearl); $180.30 (Scrolled Wood)
- MANUFACTURER: Heritage Mfg. Inc; heritagemfg.com