It is too easy to get so wrapped up in training for competition or working on drills for self-defense that we forget one of the essential parts of shooting: having fun. Working on a falling-plate rack (without a timer) or traditional old plinking can be a lot of fun, and something a new shooter is more likely to warm up to than an unforgiving tactical drill.
Enter the Heritage Manufacturing Barkeep. Heritage has taken its .22 LR line of single-action revolvers and trimmed the barrel down to 2 inches in length. This necessitates removing the ejector-rod assembly and, as a result, each Barkeep ships with a section of steel rod, to be used as an ejector. If you think you have seen this before, you most like have. This is not a new approach—Colt did it pretty much right from the beginning with the SAA, offering short barrels and no ejector assembly as Shopkeeper’s Specials or Sheriff’s Models.
Initially offered in two versions varied by finish, the Barkeep has a solid frame and fixed sights. The front blade is rounded and brazed into a slot in the barrel. The rear of the frame is machined with a notch as the rear sight, both completely traditional. Its six-shot cylinder rotates on a center pin that is held into the frame by means of a crossways, spring-loaded plunger assembly.
Knurling on the hammer spur offers ample purchase ∙ The plain front-sight blade sports a crescent profile for old-school flair ∙ An elongated trigger guard provides ample room for one’s finger ∙ A deep notch in the side of the frame provides access to the loading gate ∙ Fancy scroll work adorns the wooden grip panels for enhanced elegance ∙ The rear of the Barkeep features a hammer block for added safety ∙ Placing the hammer at half-cock frees the cylinder for loading ∙ Ejecting spent cases can be accomplished with the included tool.
Loading is in the traditional single-action manner, with a couple of added steps: Cock the hammer to the second click—the half-cock setting—where the cylinder rotates freely. Swing the loading gate open, rotate the cylinder (the “hand” will only permit rotation in one direction) and load each chamber in turn. Once loaded, to fire you simply pivot the hammer block down to the “Fire” position, fully cock the hammer, aim and press the trigger. Repeat cocking and pressing until the six rounds are gone.
At this point, you have two options for ejecting empties. One is to return the hammer again to half-cock, open the loading port and use the separate ejector rod to eject each empty in turn. The other is, once the hammer is at half-cock, to press the plunger on the front of the frame, freeing the center pin. Pull the pin forward and out of the frame. Now, remove the cylinder from the frame and use the rod to eject the empties. Reassemble the cylinder in the frame and reload.
If you wish to load the Barkeep, but not fire it immediately, then use the hammer block. With the hammer at the second click or half-cock setting, pivot the hammer block up to the “Safe” position, which will block the hammer’s forward travel and permit safely holstering the Barkeep with six rounds in the cylinder. When you want to fire, thumb the safety down (you’ll see a dot of red paint exposed) cock the hammer and press the trigger. The safety will stay down, in the “Fire” position, until you press it back up to Safe.
One might think that a revolver with a retail price of slightly more than $180 would have a horrendous trigger pull. Not so. Heritage managed to produce a very nice trigger with a pull weight of 3 pounds, 9 ounces.
For accuracy work, rather than crucify the Barkeep on the cross of 25-yard groups, I shot it at 15 yards in deference to its 2-inch barrel. I was expecting perhaps “minute of tin can” accuracy, but found the test gun to be quite the tack-driver. If your plinking is not as productive as expected, blame not the Barkeep.
As with all rimfires, the first empties would fall out of the cylinder with just a bit of jostling. As it got grubbier, even a fingernail would not readily remove them, but the ejector rod always worked. If shooting the Barkeep doesn’t cause all involved to have fun, you might want to check each of the group for a pulse. This is fun shooting.
A color-case-hardened-looking frame with a black-oxide-on-polished-steel barrel, cylinder, hammer and grip frame comprise the sample sent for testing. Grips panels are wood, with the gripping area given a scrollwork and fish-scale pattern. Also available at this time is a Gray Pearl model, where all the metal parts are done in polished black oxide and the grips are a synthetic material that mimics a pearl handle. An optional aftermarket cylinder, chambered in .22 WMR, offers a bit more power and more choices in bullet construction.
The Barkeep is not an ideal self-defense handgun in 2021, by any means, unless you are reenacting the Old West as part of your lifestyle. However, as a camp gun, a plinking gun or as a fun gun to get new shooters interested in—or, dare I say, hooked on—shooting, it is a perfect little companion: Simple, affordable, and reliable, with Old School charm.