By Daniel English
One day soon after purchasing my first gun, I was at a local sporting goods storing purchasing .22LR ammo when a Heritage Rough Rider caught my eye. I was interested in getting a handgun, and the price tag fit my college student budget a little easier than just about everything else on the shelf, so I decided to give it a try. I expected to have fun with it, but I certainly didn’t expect that several years and many other firearm purchases later, it’d still be one of my favorite handguns to take to the range.
The Heritage Rough Rider is a single-action .22 revolver that will only set you back about $150. There are several models of the gun that provide different grip colors and styles, sight options, and even different chambering (some models include interchangeable cylinders for .22LR and .22 Magnum). The version here is a basic model with a 6.5” barrel, fixed sights, and a .22LR cylinder.
The Heritage Rough Rider looks like it belongs in an old Western, with a design reminiscent of the classic Colt Single Action Army revolver. The wooden hand grip, aluminum frame and steel barrel give the gun a substantial, sturdy feel.
Overall I’m impressed with the build quality, especially at this price point. After thousands of rounds and countless cleaning sessions, the finish is starting to wear off on the front of the cylinder on mine, but beyond that I have not had any issues with the gun’s long term durability.
It’s relatively small size, combined with the classic shape and style of the hand grip, make the Rough Rider decidedly less ergonomic than most of my more modern guns. It’s not especially hard to hold the gun correctly, but it doesn’t fall into my hand as naturally as I’d normally like for a handgun. I’m typically not a revolver shooter, so maybe that’s a learned taste.
Loading and Firing
Unlike modern revolver, the cylinder on the Rough Rider is fixed in place and doesn’t swing out for loading. Instead, to load the gun you first pull the hammer back to a half-cocked position that allows the cylinder to be rotated by hand. Then, you swing open a hinged loading gate on the right side of the frame and insert rounds one at a time, rotating the cylinder and repeating the process until all six chambers are full.
It sounds like a tedious process, and it could be for some, but I actually enjoy the mechanical actions necessary to load the Rough Rider. It’s a nice change of pace from the simple, utilitarian style of a semiautomatic handgun magazine. The main downside is that it’s time consuming and prevents the use of a speedloader for rapid reloads.
This is also a good time to mention that ejecting spent shells from the Rough Rider is a similarly mechanically intensive process. To unload the Rough Rider, you again bring the hammer back to the half-cocked position, open the loading gate, and pull a small spring-loaded plunger located under the barrel to eject each spent shell. To eject all six, you have to pull the plunger, release it, turn the cylinder, wash, rinse and repeat until the gun’s empty.
Suffice it to say that loading and unloading a Rough Rider isn’t an operation that you would want to perform when seconds count.
Once the Rough Rider’s loaded, it’s fairly easy to shoot. The gun has a manual safety lever to the left of the hammer; once it’s been flipped down to the firing position, you simply use your thumb to bring the hammer back to the fully cocked position and pull the trigger to let her fly.
The simplicity of a single-action design usually results in a decent trigger, and the Rough Rider is no exception. The pull weight is average (Heritage specs it at six pounds) but I was happy with the lack of take-up before the break. The trigger barely seems to move rearward before the gun fires, making it easy to shoot accurately.
The sights on my Rough Rider are built into the frame and consist of a small notch in the rear of the frame just forward of the hammer and a slim metal blade at the business end. Both the front sight and rear notch are the same color as the frame — basic black — and can be difficult to pick up in the dimly lit environment of an indoor range, especially when aiming at a dark target. The sights are non-adjustable and aftermarket sights can’t be mounted without some gunsmithing.
With its long sight radius, the Rough Rider’s plenty accurate. Even in the aforementioned shooting conditions at my local range and shooting bulk .22LR ammo at a fairly rapid rate, I was able to achieve a surprising level of accuracy at ten yards. The Rough Rider is easily accurate enough to make for a fun shooting experience.
Being chambered in .22LR and weighing almost two pounds, the Rough Rider has effectively zero recoil. Of course, being a single action only affair, you’ll need to to re-cock before launching each round, which will require you to realign the sights and generally limits the rate of fire.
But like the loading process, I found that I enjoyed the feeling of cocking the gun before each shot, probably because it made me feel like John Wayne. Even though I’m from Texas, I never felt the urge to wear a cowboy hat…until I started shooting the Rough Rider at the range, that is. It’s a fun gun to operate and shoot, and I think I just like the feel of manually operating the gun as a contrast to my semiautomatic handguns that only require me to squeeze a trigger.
Reliability and Cleaning
As .22 ammo is typically a bit more finicky than centerfire calibers, and I’ve experienced a number of failures to fire when shooting the Rough Rider. The frequency, though, is in line with every other .22 rifle or handgun I’ve fired, which suggests that the failures are due to inconsistencies in the ammo rather than the fault failing of the gun.
One advantage to a revolver over a semiautomatic .22 handgun or rifle is that there are no concerns about the gun reliably cycling with different brands of ammo. I’ve fed a wide range of .22 into the Rough Rider, from bulk boxes of Remington Thunderbolts to higher grade CCI Mini-Mags, and have achieved generally reliable performance with all of it.
Cleaning the Rough Rider is simple, as the cylinder can be removed by taking out a single pivot pin. Wiping down the exposed surfaces of the cylinder and frame and running a few swabs through each chamber and the barrel is sufficient to keep the gun operating smoothly. It’s also worth noting that Heritage provides a large range of replacement parts on their website, along with the .22 Magnum cylinder and replacement grips.
The Rough Rider has a number of plusses and minuses. It’s well-built and pays homage to a classic design, and you’ll probably have fun shooting it if for no other reason than that its manual operation is a change from most modern semiautomatic handguns. It’s accurate enough that you can hit what you’re aiming at, and it will work well with any brand of .22LR or .22 Magnum ammo you can find. I love it as a fun, casual gun to take to the range.
On the flip side, the sights aren’t wonderful, and the gun’s manual nature means you won’t be firing or reloading very rapidly if that’s a consideration. The Rough Rider would be a poor self defense weapon.
My primary use case for the Rough Rider is as a way to introduce new shooters to handgun shooting, a roll in which it really excels. Its appearance is fairly non-threatening too noobs compared to most semiautomatic handguns, and everyone I’ve taken to the range has enjoyed learning how to operate and shoot the gun.
The lack of recoil makes it more fun than scary to shoot for a novice, which is highly conducive to learning proper shooting fundamentals. For those reasons, it will always have a place in my collection, and it manages to find its way into my bag on just about every range trip.
Specifications: Heritage Rough Rider
Caliber: .22LR or .22 Magnum
Capacity: 6 rounds
Barrel Length: 6.5”
Barrel Material: 1215 Steel
Frame Material: Aluminum alloy
Grip: Laminate wood
Sights: Fixed, non-adjustable open style
Trigger Pull Weight: 6 lbs.
Weight: 33.4 oz. empty
MSRP: from $200 to 300 depending on model; as low as $150 in stores
Ratings (out of five stars):
Build Quality * * * *
Surprisingly high build quality for the price. The finish may wear off of the front of the cylinder after many cleanings, but the gun is rock-solid.
Loading and Firing Ergonomics * * * *
Four stars because it’s fun to load and shoot. The fixed cylinder makes ejecting spent shells and loading tedious, but somehow still enjoyable. It has a decent trigger, as well.
Accuracy * * * *
Despite the rudimentary sights the Rough Rider was plenty accurate in my testing.
Defensive Capability *
While you probably won’t want to use the Rough Rider for self-defense, it beats throwing a shoe at an attacker. Still, there are far better choices in defensive firearms.
Overall * * * * *
The Heritage Rough Rider is a great value for the price. It’s an amazingly fun range gun and a particularly good choice for introducing new shooters to the hobby. Highly recommended.