Ruger's .22 Single Action

Our Senior Sixgunner Chronicles A Classic Concept
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Ruger’s blued .22 Bearcat has been joined by a stainless steel version.

History is stranger than fiction and a whole lot more interesting. In the late 1940’s, television started spreading across the land. There were a lot of hours to fill up every day and much of that time was taken up by old movies in general, and especially B Westerns from the 1930’s and early ’40’s. A whole new generation discovered the Colt Single Action Army in the hands of such movie heroes as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy. When shooters started demanding single-action sixguns, there were none except those earlier Colts, which were now demanding collector prices. Bill Ruger had read the market correctly in 1949 when he brought out a .22 semi-automatic pistol, which sold for half the price of others and was every bit as good or better. But it was time for Ruger to take the next step.

Retro-cool: A 1956-vintage Single-Six with the original flat loading gate.

Ruger .22 Single-Six and early advertising guaranteed to make your heart beat faster.

The Single-Six

In 1953 Ruger brought out his second .22 handgun, a sixgun this time. He’d taken a good look at the Colt SAA and realized shooters not only wanted a single action, they would also go for one which would be inexpensive to shoot. The .22 Single-Six arrived looking much like a Colt, however, it was slightly downsized. Wisely, even though he made the Single-Six smaller than the Colt SAA, he maintained the same size and shape grip frame as found on the original Colt. Over the years this grip frame had proven to be the one most likely to fit most shooters. The icing on the cake was the use of coil springs to replace the flat springs used in the Colt — making the new Ruger .22 virtually indestructible.

In 1956, fresh out of high school and gone to work, I bought my first sixgun. And just like most young shooters then (and quite often today), I went with a Single-Six. It had a 5-1/2″ barrel, fixed sights (except for the fact the rear sight was drift adjustable for windage), and a flat loading gate. There is no way to exaggerate the pride of ownership this 17-year-old had in that first Ruger.

Now more than 60 years later I still have my original Single-Six and I have added others to it. A few years after they started manufacture, Ruger replaced the flat gate with a properly contoured loading gate. Other barrel lengths were added including 4-5/8″, 6-1/2″, and 9-1/2″.
In 1960 Ruger started offering the .22 Single-Six Convertible Model. Now the sixgun was set for double duty with the addition of a second cylinder chambered in .22 Magnum. By adding an auxiliary magnum cylinder, we now basically had .22 rifle ballistics in a revolver.

Quite often I see posts on the Internet from shooters complaining either the .22 Long Rifle cylinder or the .22 Magnum cylinder will not shoot accurately. I have been shooting Ruger .22/.22 Magnum Single-Sixes for nearly 60 years and I have yet to find one with one cylinder or the other which would not shoot accurately.

Just as with any .22 rimfire sixgun, pistol or rifle, it does require some effort to find the right load. This is not so easy in today’s market with .22’s being so hard to find, however, I’ve always figured it may take as many as 10 different LR loads and at least five different magnum loads run through any particular gun before you can say whether or not it is accurate. I have been following this method for a long time and I’ve always found the right load for the gun

Ruger’s first 15 years are represented by, from top right clockwise,
.22 Standard Model, .22 Single-Six, and a pair of .22 Super Single-Sixes.

Gary Reeder converts .22 Long Rifle Bearcats to .22 Magnum.

The Bearcat

Bill Ruger apparently always looked back into history to find inspiration for many of his projects. In 1958, probably after studying the Remington .31 cap-n-ball pocket pistol, Ruger did the same thing as he had done with the Single-Six. He brought out an up-to-date .22 version and called it “The Bearcat.” This name came from car history, not gun history this time. The little sixgun was named after the Stutz Bearcat automobile.

The cylinder is inscribed with a picture of both a bear and a mountain lion. The frame is one-piece with the grip frame monolithic to the mainframe, just like the old Remington, and the removable triggerguard is brass. Barrel length is 4″, sights are fixed, and although it looks like it was made to only fit very small hands, it actually manages to feel good in hands as large as mine.

Ruger made a very few Bearcats with extra .22 Magnum cylinders and Gary Reeder is now specializing in custom Bearcats in .22 Magnum, making the little sixgun even more versatile.

The Ruger 4-5/8" Single-Ten is a handy and very easy-to-pack item.

With the addition of the adjustable sights the Single-Six became the Super Single-Six.

Ruger’s latest stainless steel Single-Six is the Single-Ten.

Super Single-Six

By 1964, 10 years after the Single-Six first appeared, there were three versions available, .22LR, .22 Magnum-only, and a Convertible with both cylinders. How could they possibly make it any better? The obvious answer was to look to the sights. All versions available still had the rear sight in a dovetail allowing it to be drift adjusted for windage, while the front sight remained the standard Colt SAA blade-style. By now Ruger had a full line of centerfire Blackhawks, all with adjustable sights. It was time to bring the .22 Single-Six up to the same level. The result was the Super Single-Six, a Convertible Model, with both cylinders and offered mainly with a 5-1/2″ or 6-1/2″ barrel with the 4-5/8″ being rather rare.

Now (at least it seemed so at the time) there was nothing else we could ask for which would make the Ruger .22 sixgun any better. We were wrong. Ruger had other ideas.

Shooting the 9-1/2" Ruger New Model.

New Model Single-Six

In 1973 all Ruger cartridge-firing single actions were changed to the New Model configuration. Before this, all of them had three screws in the side of the frame and were only safe to carry with the hammer down on an empty chamber. The New Model changed all this with its safety transfer bar action, which prevented the hammer from ever resting on the firing pin. It was now safe to carry the cylinder fully loaded. This was a most ingenious solution to a problem over a century old. New Models are easily spotted by the fact the three screws in the side of the frame were now replaced with two pins.

Ruger soon made another change with the coming of the New Model. Now Ruger’s .22 Super Single-Six Convertible was also available in stainless steel. In addition to changing the entire production over to the New Model, Ruger also retrofitted “three screw” sixguns with a transfer bar. They not only did this at no charge, they also paid the shipping both directions.

One of my favorite New Model Super Single-Sixes is the 9-1/2″ version. I purchased my test gun and also found another one advertised in the paper. They are superbly accurate and well deserving of the “shoots like a rifle” description.

Ruger Special Edition Shootists stainless steel .22
Bisley Model issued in honor of Tom Ruger.

Bisley Model

In 1985 Ruger offered the Bisley Model in blued .22 Long Rifle/Magnum versions as well as others in .32 Magnum. The Bisley Model grip frame is certainly not necessary for shooting .22’s, however it has a very good feel. I have had Andy Horvath build me both blued and stainless .22 Bisley Models as well as standard versions, all with 3-1/2″ barrels. Gary Reeder also specializes in Custom Bisley Models. Thanks to his good work I have three custom Bisley Single-Sixes, one has a 9-1/2″ barrel with adjustable sights. The other two both have 7-1/2″ barrels, one with adjustable sights and one with standard sights. My Reeder guns happened to be .32 Magnums, however, he can do the same thing with .22’s.

This Ruger Hunter Model .22 Single-Six wears snakeskin pattern grips from Rio Grande.

Single-Ten cylinder compared to a standard Single-Six version.

Hunter Model

We had the Single-Six, we had the Super Single-Six, and we had the New Model in both stainless steel and blue. What else could Ruger possibly do? The answer came with the Hunter Model in 2004. This is a stainless steel 7-1/2″ heavy barreled .22/.22 Magnum patterned after the Super Blackhawk Hunter Model. It too has scallops to fit Ruger rings for mounting a pistol scope. Most of the time I use mine with the standard sights, as I like the way that long heavy barrel balances.

Nearly 60 years of Ruger .22’s are represented by three original Single-Sixes (left),
a Super Single-Six with extra .22 Magnum cylinder, and a stainless steel Single-Ten (right).

New Developments

In recent years Ruger has taken a good look at the steel in the cylinder of the .22 Single-Six and decided to come up with a Single-Ten in both blue and stainless and in .22LR only. The fans of the .22 Magnum were not forgotten and this cartridge is covered with the Single-Nine. With this move Ruger has upgraded the Single-Six significantly. In fact you could say the Super Single-Six has been “super-sized.” There are no Convertible Models offered of the Super Single-Six.

It is easy to spot this stainless steel Single-Ten by all the bolt slots in the cylinder. To provide for 10 shots in the same size cylinder requires a major change in geometry as far as the hand and the ratchet at the back of the cylinder. When cocking the Single-Ten, the cylinder completes its rotation to the next chamber long before the hammer completes its travel all the way to the rear. It is a totally different feel than found on the standard Single-Six.

The first Single-Ten I received is all stainless steel with a 5-1/2″ barrel and fitted with thoroughly modern sights. Instead of the adjustable standard black sights normally found on the Single-Six the Single-Ten has Williams fiber-optic sights consisting of a green dot on the front post and two green dots on the adjustable rear sight. The green is very brilliant and should be perfect for varmints or tree squirrels.

The Stainless Steel 5-1/2″ Single-Ten is available from Ruger. A second blued 4-5/8″ version is being offered from Ruger through Lipsey’s. I acquired one of these, immediately swapped out the fiber-optic sights for black ones and found I had a superbly shooting .22 single action.
The Single-Nine is the same basic sixgun as the Single-Ten except for the fact it’s chambered for the .22 Magnum instead of the .22LR and has one less round. It has the same green fiber-optic sights and the same very comfortable hardwood Gunfighter grips. The only major difference in appearance is the fact it has a 6-1/2″ barrel instead of a 5-1/2″ one.

I am notoriously attached to big-bore sixguns. However, I will freely admit that I can’t even imagine being without one or several .22 sixguns. When I get tired of being beaten up, I pull out the .22’s and relax. 

For more info: www.ruger.com

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