By Jim Krieger
Most, if not all of our readers know what a plinker is. For those who have recently joined the shooting sports family (and welcome, by the way) “plinker” refers to a handgun, typically chambered in .22 caliber, and mostly used for recreational shooting, such as at tin cans for instance, which make a “plink” sound when hit (hence the name “plinker”). There are many varieties of handguns out there that make good plinkers, and this series of articles will take a look at some of the most popular .22s among them.
There are many firearms companies that have manufactured .22 handguns suitable for sport and recreational shooting; however, there is only one company that was launched by such a gun: Sturm, Ruger & Co., known today simply as “Ruger”. In 1949, Bill Ruger and his business partner, Alexander Sturm, introduced the company’s first product, a .22 semiautomatic pistol called the Mark I. The Mk. I and its descendants have become the best-selling .22 pistols of all time.
Among semiautomatic pistols, the Ruger’s mechanical design is unusual in that it incorporates a cylindrical bolt moving inside a cylindrical upper receiver. This design borrows from the Japanese Nambu Type 14 pistol of WWII, with which Bill Ruger had become interested after receiving one as a gift from a returning GI. In addition, the external outline of the pistol mimics the distinctive shape of the grip frame, trigger guard and tapered barrel shared by the Nambu and the Luger P-08. Built entirely of steel save for its plastic grips, the Mk. I Standard was first introduced with a 4.75” barrel, fixed sights and a nine-round magazine. Using welded steel stampings for the lower receiver to reduce machining costs, the Mk. I sold for considerably less than its competitors from Colt and High Standard. In the 63 years since then, the basic design has gone through three iterations (the Mark III is the current version) and spawned several variants, the most recent being the polymer-framed 22/45.
In 1950, responding to customer requests, Ruger introduced the Mk. I Target model. This variant had a 6.9” heavy barrel, an adjustable wide-bladed trigger, a large and thick front sight blade undercut to reduce glare, and a rear sight adjustable for windage and elevation. Thirteen years later, in 1963, Ruger introduced a second Mk. I Target variant with a 5.5” bull barrel. It retained the wide trigger, ample front sight and adjustable rear sight, but dispensed with the adjustable-pull feature. Rugged, reliable, well-balanced and affordable, the bull-barreled Mk. I Target model became an instant hit with both recreational and target shooters, and its Mk. III descendant remains a popular item to this day.
All Mk. I variants have a combined safety / bolt release button on the left side of the frame that is easily manipulated by the shooting hand for right-handed shooters. The button is used to release the bolt, as well as lock it open, and it engages the safety as well. In the latter capacity, it also functions as a cocking indicator, as it will not engage unless the pistol is cocked. Despite using a bolt, the Mk. I is not striker-fired. It uses a fully-enclosed hammer that, when released, arcs up through a slot cut along the centerline of the bolt to strike the back of the firing pin.
The bull-barreled Mk. I is as reliable as a hammer, and almost as heavy, tipping the scales at a hefty 42 ounces. The pistol illustrated was purchased new in 1979, and the wooden grips were added several years later. It has fired many thousands of rounds over the past thirty-three years, and has had very few jams and stoppages. The trigger, which uses a drawbar to release the sear, does not have user-adjustable pull on the bull-barreled models, but the factory-set pull is perfectly adequate for most target work, and the substantial weight of the pistol reduces recoil to a minimum and enhances accuracy.
Shooting the bull-barreled Mk. I is a real pleasure. The combination of steadiness imparted by its weight, the generous sights, and the scant recoil provide a genuinely fun shooting experience. A day at the range won’t result in a case of “magazine thumb”, as the magazine follower has a button that protrudes from the side of the magazine with which the follower may be easily depressed for loading. The undercut on the front sight, while not at an acute angle, works well to keep the sight blade image crisp and free of glare.
As plinkers go, the bull-barreled Ruger Mk. I is one of the best.
Jim Krieger is a firearms writer who lives in Texas. © Copyright 2012 Jim Krieger