By John Taffin, American Handgunner Magazine
If there is any doubt these are definitely the best of times when it comes to firearms one only has to look at the offerings from Ruger. Sixty years ago Ruger offered a choice of two .22s, the Flat-Gate Single-Six and the .22 semi-auto in either the Standard Model or Mk I with adjustable sights. That was it and it would be many years before Ruger offered anything other than iterations on the standard .22 Single-Six or the .22 semi-auto. Today everything has changed, and in the last year or so alone Ruger has offered four somewhat radically new .22 handguns.
Trail Gun Bonanza
Ruger has recently come forth with what I feel are going to be very popular trail guns for anyone feeling a .22 is all they need. Add a few boxes of ammo, and you’re ready to go. The latter is what makes a .22 particularly appealing as a trail gun since an extra100 rounds adds very little weight. Try carrying 100 rounds of .44 Magnums!
Ruger’s new .22s consist of two very lightweight semi-autos and two all-steel, not-so-light sixguns. Three of these have a capacity of 10 rounds or 10+1, while the other is an 8-shooter. So not only can we carry extra ammunition quite easily but all of these handguns are well above the standard six rounds.
The Ruger SR22 is a compact pistol weighing only 17.5 ounces with a barrel length of 31/2″. The frame is black polymer, the slide is black-finished aluminum, while the barrel is stainless steel. Magazine capacity is 10 rounds and Ruger supplies two magazines with each pistol, along with finger extension buttpads for each magazine. The ambidextrous magazine release is found at the junction of the rear of the trigger guard and the front strap and is easily operated. The grip is quite different as it’s not molded as part of the frame, but rather is a grip sleeve fitting over a stud on the frame, held in place by two detents. Ruger supplies two of these grip sleeves, one slightly larger by having a more rounded backstrap.
To change these grip sleeves — and it does require some effort to override the detents — one grip sleeve is simply pulled off the frame and the other one is pushed into place. They provide a most comfortable feeling grip and are plenty big enough for my large hands. Sights are of the 3-dot variety with both front and rear being set in a dovetail, and the rear sight is fully adjustable. As 3-dot sights go, they are excellent. The aluminum slide has grooves on both sides below the front and rear sight for ease of operation of the slide.
The stainless steel barrel does not move, but is fixed to the frame. Takedown is quite easy with the takedown latch found in front of the trigger. When this is opened 90 degrees downward, the slide can be retracted and lifted off the frame. This is a double action pistol for the first shot, and then single action for following shots. The ambidextrous safety is easily reached with the thumb. Shooting the SR22 is most pleasurable as this is a fun pistol, which feels good in the hand, points naturally, and shoots well.
Years ago in a major departure from their standard semi-auto pistols, Ruger began offering the 22/45 which, as the name implies, is a .22 with a .45 feel. This is a another polymer-framed gun and the original version had an integrally molded grip frame without grip panels. Today’s version, the 22/45 Lite, not only has grip panels they are basically the same size as grip panels found on 1911s. The original 22/45s also had a steel upper, however the “Lite” comes from the fact this newest version has a lightweight barrel. Actually the barrel is a steel liner within an alloy shroud. With its 4″ barrel the 22/45 Lite weighs in at a feathery 22 ounces.
The upper of this .22 is a light gold-colored finish, and it mates up nicely with the flat black of the mainframe. Grips are double-diamond checkered rubber, with a Ruger medallion in the center of each panel. More and more shooters are going to suppressors, and this Ruger is threaded to accept a suppressor and features a round nut at the end of the barrel to protect the threads when not in use. Amusingly, Ruger never says the “suppressor” word, but simply says the barrel is threaded for “muzzle accessories.”
Sights are excellent, with the front sight being a post on a ramp and held to the barrel with a screw, while the rear sight is fully adjustable for windage and elevation. They are bold, square and black, just the way I like them. The top of the barrel shroud is tapped for a scope mount, which comes as standard equipment. For some reason the scope mount is about an eighth of an inch too long to fit in between the front of the back sight and back of the front sight ramp which means the front sight must be removed to use the scope base. However, if you want to keep the iron sights in place and still mount the scope base it is only necessary to mill enough material off the front of the base to allow it to fit in place.
There are large serrations on both sides of the “slide” with three below the rear sight and five below the front sight. It’s a real temptation to grasp these and try to retract the slide, but of course it’s not a slide as on a conventional 1911, but stationary, with the slide accessed at the rear. These large serrations may not serve any purpose except lightening the barrel shroud, however they are quite attractive.
The safety, slide stop and magazine release are all on the left side of the 22/45 Lite just as they are with standard models. Two magazines are supplied with this 22/45. I thought I really liked the SR22, and I do, however I like this one even more. The traditional grip frame feels good in my hand, and the 4″ barrel is just a little bit easier to shoot. I bought ‘em both!
In testing these two lightweight .22s I found the 22/45 was most accurate shooting American Eagle HPs, CCI Mini-Mag HP and Winchester Super-X High Velocity HPs with all groups right at 1″. The SR22 is not quite as easy for me to shoot with its slightly shorter barrel, however CCI Blazers shot into less than an inch.
Stainless Vs. Weather
Ruger’s third entry into the trail gun category is a double-action all-stainless steel .22 revolver. With its 4″ heavy barrel and shrouded ejector rod this one weighs in at 29 ounces so definitely does not pack as lightly as the others. This is Ruger’s latest version of the SP101, complete with an 8-shot cylinder. Grips are excellent, consisting of wraparound rubber fitting over the frame stud and have very attractive checkered wooden panels inlet into the rubber. The grip is on the smallish side but feels very comfortable.
Sights are a combination consisting of a fully adjustable black rear sight matched with a green fiber optic front sight set in a dovetail. I like this setup much better than three dots (more on this shortly) and I really like the way the front sight matches the rear sight notch. Even if the fiber optic should get broken, there is still enough of a frame on that front sight to make it usable.
This may not be a Super Redhawk but it’s probably just as rugged, and with its all-stainless steel construction, ready to face any weather. The most accurate loads I’ve found for this little sixgun are American Eagle HPs and Winchester Power Point HPs. The easiest ammunition to find around here is American Eagle, so it’s an extra added bonus when it shoots well.
I have previously covered the Ruger Single-Ten so here I’ll just point out I decided to swap out the 3-dot fiber optic sights, so I ordered regular Single-Six black sights. It took less than two minutes to install them and I was rewarded with groups 30 to 40 percent smaller with the new sights. I’ve been shooting Single-Sixes for more than 50 years and I like them all, and in fact have put back three 51/2″ Super Single-Sixes for my three grandsons. However this one is fast becoming a favorite. What’s not to like with all steel construction and a 10-shot cylinder? That’s double the capacity of my first Single-Six in 1956 (loading it correctly with 5+ an empty chamber). At 36 ounces it’s definitely quite a bit heavier than the other three here, however I can put up with the weight to carry such a fine single action .22.
The most accurate loads with the new sights installed proved to be American Eagle and Federal Classic HPs, which are also easily available locally, both at under 1″ for nine shots, while CCI Mini-Mag HPs, CCI Stingers and Remington Yellow Jacket HPs were just over 1″. It’s not always easy to find .22s that with shoot these latter two hypervelocity rounds well.
A Long Barrel
I will close by mentioning one other Ruger .22 Trail Gun, the 91/2″ Single-Six with two cylinders, in .22 Long Rifle and .22 Magnum. With its long barrel it certainly is not as easy to pack as any of the others however it fits nicely into a backpack or rides well in a half-flap belt holster I made up several decades ago for long-barreled single actions. I mention this sixgun for the simple reason it’s the closest to a rifle while still being relatively easy to carry.
Using the .22 Magnum cylinder gives a muzzle velocity increase of 600 fps or more over .22 Long Rifle rounds. This not only gives flatter trajectory but significantly increased killing power on varmints up to and including coyotes in size. In testing this brand-new production gun I used 13 different .22 long rifle loads and nine .22 Magnum loads. The long barrel Rugers are the easiest for me to shoot, however results were quite astounding, as both loads with both cylinders averaged 7/8″. The smallest for the Long Rifles was 5/8″ while the smallest Magnum load grouped at 3/4″. The largest loads measured out at 11/4″ and 1″ respectively. At my age these are most joyful groups. I hope Ruger sees fit to bring out the stainless steel Single-Ten with this longer barrel.