That wonderful year, 1956; Ike was in the White House, and I was looking forward to graduation and freedom from studies and also to having a job that would afford enough money to buy my first gun. A paper route through high school kept me in clothes and spending money and also allowed me to give my mother one week's pay per month. Graduation finally arrived and I invited the most beautiful woman I could find out for hamburgs, fries, and a milkshake at the local drive-in after the graduation ceremony. I got a lot of looks from others that night but then again I have never been one to follow the crowd. My grandmother accepted and we had a wonderful time. Girls are everywhere but grandmothers only come two to a customer. I would have had a double date had my paternal grandmother not gone Home while I was a freshman. Grandma never had much as far as this world’s goods go but her heart was even bigger than her 4’10” stature and she felt 10 feet tall that night. I think some of the guys were jealous when they realized they could have done the same thing and had a special evening with a special person instead of being stuck with their airhead dates.
Myself, I had just turned 17 and would soon have a real job and be able to buy my own rifle. The money would be no problem and in those wonderful days one only had to be 16 to buy a gun but 21 to vote. Wise men realized the vote was more dangerous than the gun. There were no guns in my house. My father, who did have guns, had died in an automobile accident before I reached my first birthday and the guns disappeared. Even my mother did not know who took them. Mom was a widow at age 19 in the days when government help and its attendant interference rarely existed. In late 1942 Mom re-married and my step-dad promptly went off to war. I was not very old but I still remember that dreadful morning when we received that terse telegram that said Missing In Action. It would be over a year before we knew if he was dead or alive as he spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp after being wounded in action and receiving no treatment but binding up his wounds himself. When my step-dad came home he had the usual liberated war trophies including a Luger and a P-38 that were promptly sold after he was released from the Veteran’s Hospital. The money was desperately needed. Guns were not to be in our house. My stepdad had seen enough of guns.
My first gun was purchased and my step-dad hit the roof. When I brought home the second one he only went as high as the ceiling. By the time of the third one, he wanted me to show my gun collection to everyone who came to the house and everything was O.K. It was quite a decision as to what that first gun would be. I had grown up reading the likes of Jack O'Connor and Elmer Keith but on my ninety-cent an hour wages, the first gun would have to be a .22, a .22 rifle. My uncle had taught me how to shoot using both .22 rifles and pistols, but I wanted a rifle, a real good-looking, swell-feeling rifle. That left only one choice in my young eyes. A Marlin Mountie.
If memory serves me right, that Marlin .22 cost me two weeks take home pay. It was worth every penny. I don't believe I have been any more enthralled with any new gun, rifle or sixgun, single-shot or semi-automatic, in the last five decades than I was with that Marlin .22. Saturdays were always spent with a couple of boxes of .22's, good friends, and that wonderful little levergun. For me the smell of powder smoke and Hoppe's #9 were a whole lot more appealing in those days than the smell of perfume. That would change in a few years; but only for a short time. The courtship lasted a little over three months. It is the only time in my life that my guns gathered dust. Fortunately for me the girl I picked has been totally supporting of my love for good guns.
I now had a grand .22 rifle. It was soon paid for and it became time to add a companion piece, a good .22 sixgun. A young fellow on the East Coast was making a reputation as a gun builder first with a semi-automatic .22 that sold for less than one weeks pay. But his new design beckoned even more. At $57.25 it would take some time to pay for but it was a sixgun, a single-action sixgun; a sixgun that looked much like the sixguns that I had seen on the screen from the front row as I watched so many Saturday afternoon matinees featuring the likes of John Wayne, Wild Bill Elliott, Hopalong Cassidy, and in glorious living color, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
No one knew it at the time, however, when that small ad appeared in the pages of the American Riflemen, a firearms dynasty was beginning. A young gun builder by the name of William Ruger, with financial backing from his partner Alexander Sturm, began offering a Luger-looking .22 semi-automatic pistol in 1949. Using what were then modern manufacturing methods, Bill Ruger was able to offer his Red Eagle .22 for the incredibly low price of $37.50. Ruger took on the much more expensive Colt Woodsman and shooters soon found that these little .22's coming from the Red Barn would actually outshoot the more expensive target grade pistols. The beginning may have been very small, however Ruger was on its way to becoming a major factor in the firearms industry.
One of the reasons Ruger has had such a positive effect both as to styles of firearms as well as manufacturing methods is the simple fact Ruger has always tried to produce the types of firearms that average shooters wanted combined with the desire to produce them at blue-collar prices. Bill Ruger not only had an uncanny ability to perceive what shooters really wanted he also had a great appreciation for history. Both of these attributes of the Grand Old Man would result in many benefits to shooters over the past five decades.
In the early 1950’s, the Colt Single Action Army had a great history behind it with the emphasis on behind. Colt had stopped manufacturing the Model P in 1940 with no thought of ever producing it again. In fact, with the coming of the modern double action revolver and the 1911 semi automatic pistol, both of which occurred before World War I, the Colt Single Action Army was in reality dead long before the funeral was held on the eve of World War II.
However, history does not always ride a straight freeway but rather has a habit of taking strange twists and turns. The single action sixgun may have been dead and buried in 1941 but it was not going to stay that way. Television, which started to appear in the late 1940s, was pretty widespread by the early 1950s. Our family was poor as poor could be, so much so we didn’t even know we were poor, but by 1950 we had a black and white television sitting in the corner cranking out hour after hour of old B Western movies from the 1930s. The quality of both movies and TV were pretty mediocre, but nevertheless they created a demand for single action sixguns. Bill Ruger knew if he built a quality .22 semi-automatic pistol, it would sell. Now four years later he combined the natural loves shooters had for both .22s and Western movies and single-handedly resurrected the single action sixgun.
Ruger was savvy enough to bring out a sixgun that operated and felt like a Colt Single Action Army but rather than chambering for an expensive-to-shoot centerfire cartridge, he instead scaled down everything but the grip frame to .22 size. The grip frame was virtually identical to the Colt Single Action, and although the new Single-Six was a traditional single action with a flat loading gate which opened to reveal the cylinder chambers to insert cartridges, and an ejector rod for shuckin’ empties, the lockwork was redesigned to use all coil springs eliminating the breakage- prone flat springs of the Colt. The action was so strong when a Single-Six was hooked up to a machine that would continuously cock and dry fire the single action .22 as a display at that year’s NRA Show, the machine finally broke. Bill Ruger now had a second winner on his hands.
During the 1920s and 1930s Elmer Keith had written several articles for the American Riflemen highlighting improved and custom single action sixguns. As Bill Ruger arrived at the Ruger Single-Six, he sent a letter to Keith telling him all about the new revolver and also how much Keith’s articles had influenced him, especially Sixgun Improvements which appeared in June 1932. Another article by Keith on Long Range Shooting pictures a custom Colt Single Action Army bearing a striking resemblance to Ruger's soon to be Super Blackhawk.
That first Ruger .22 Single-Six was purchased with my own money as a teenager in those wonderful bygone days when guns were truly accessible, in my area. As mentioned earlier, one only had to be 16 to purchase any firearm, and kids and guns were very rarely ever a problem. Those early days shooting that wonderful little single action .22 with the accompanying smell of Hoppe’s #9 after each shooting session stirred deep inborn emotions and sent me on the path to a lifelong enjoyment of single action sixguns. That .22 was the first Ruger single action I ever owned, however it was only the beginning. I feel I have grown-up with Ruger sixguns. In fact, in the 1950s there was a very popular TV show entitled “You Are There” which treated historic events as if they were happening before the TV cameras with reporters interviewing famous characters from the past. With Ruger single actions I feel very much as if I have been there almost from the very beginning.
Ruger's .22 Single-Six joined my modest, now up to two, gun battery along with a plain black Lawrence #120 Keith holster and matching cartridge belt. I was in Heaven with two great .22s and time to enjoy them. I would hate to count the number of jackrabbits and other varmints that have fallen to those .22s over the years, nor how many cans, rocks, and dirt clods have met their fate since 1956. An early advertisement for the Ruger Single-Six .22 featured a drawing of a hand holding a Single-Six superimposed over another drawing of a rattlesnake. Shooters got the message; this was definitely an outdoorsman's sixgun.
The original .22 Single-Six would be produced from 1953 to 1962, well at least officially. However, only 50 were produced in 1953 followed by more than 10,000 in 1954. By the time I purchased mine in 1956, the total production had reached well over 50,000. The early sixguns had a flat loading gate, a 5 1/2” barrel, a flat top frame with the rear sight in a dovetail to allow for windage adjustment, and a Colt-style front sight. The sight picture presented by the Single-Six was actually better than that found on the Colt Single Action as the rear notch was a square matching up well with a non-tapered front sight. In 1957, the Single-Six received a real contoured loading gate in place of the original flat gate. The original barrel length was soon joined by lengths of 4 5/8”, 6 1/2”, and 9 1/2” as well as Convertible Models with two cylinders chambered in .22 Long Rifle and .22 Winchester Rimfire Magnum.
In the late 1950s Ruger also produced some Lightweight 4 5/8” Single-Six Models with alloy frames. Some had alloy cylinders while others were fitted with steel cylinders. An engraved Single-Six was also offered at the then staggering price of $150.50. A wise man would have purchased as many as he could find. As far as I know none of these Single-Sixes in the first decade of production were fitted with adjustable sights. That would come in the next decade.
From 1963 to 1973 we have the second generation of Ruger Single-Sixes offered in both the original sight configuration, as well as the Super Single-Six with fully adjustable sights. Most of these were produced as Convertible Models and mostly with 5 1/2” and 6 1/2” barrel lengths. In addition to offering a .22 Single-Six with fully adjustable sights, Ruger also made another change, which is either inconsequential or of great concern, depending upon one's viewpoint of what a single action sixgun grip frame should feel like. The first decade of Single-Sixes had for all practical purposes a grip frame that was a dead ringer for the Colt Single Action Army. This was one of its great assets. In 1963, someone in their infinite wisdom changed the grip frame ever so slightly resulting in more knuckle room behind the trigger guard. For my hands and my shooting spirit I wish it had never been done.
The second generation, or Old Model, Single-Six would also last for one decade before being replaced by the New Model line of Ruger single actions. Until this time all single action revolvers were safe only when carried with the hammer down on an empty chamber. Some exceptions where cap and ball revolvers, including Ruger's Old Army, with a notch between cylinders allowing a safe resting place for the hammer even though the cylinder was fully loaded. All New Model Rugers are easily distinguished by a mainframe having two pins instead of three screws. In fact the Single-Sixes produced from 1953 to 1973 are often characterized as Three Screw Rugers with approximately one-half million being produced.
The New Model was, and is, safe to carry with a fully loaded cylinder as the hammer never rests on the primer of the cartridge case. Instead a transfer bar is fitted. When the hammer is cocked this bar slides into place between the hammer and the firing pin. Once the sixgun is fired, it retreats and the hammer no longer contacts the frame mounted firing pin. I was one who was not happy at the time with this change in the standard single action. However, after more than 30 years of its being used I am convinced it has prevented countless numbers of negligent discharges. In the old days virtually everyone knew how a traditional single action revolver should be treated; today, too many folks simply would not take the time to learn and they can thank Bill Ruger for simplifying matters for them.
By 1974 Ruger New Model Single-Sixes received a new look with the addition of a stainless steel version. Whether the Ruger Single-Six is one of the original flat-gates, the contoured gate model, the Old Model, or New Model, or even if it is blue or stainless, Ruger Single-Sixes have provided a half-century, and well over one million examples of the near perfect outdoorsman’s .22. It was made for rough use with nary a whimper. Even those found with most of the finish gone still have the near indestructible action Ruger is known for.
In 1984, Ruger took another excellent step in chambering the Single-Six in the then new .32 H&R Magnum. My early experiments with fully loaded .32 Magnums using jacketed hollowpoint bullets resulted in explosive results when shooting out-dated cans of split pea soup at 25 yards. The green spots on my red Bronco and also on myself proved to me this was no toy. Twenty years later, a third chambering would be offered in the Single-Six New Model, that being the .17 HMR, thus giving Single-Six shooters a very flat shooting varmint load. The first two decades of Single-Six production resulted in one-half million sixguns, and this figure was doubled over the next two decades. In all probability total production of Single-Sixes is now somewhere around one and one-half million. I call that quite a success story and a real tribute the vision of Bill Ruger.
Today Ruger offers both fixed sighted and adjustable sighted Single-Sixes with both the standard grip frame and the Bisley Model style grip. New Model Ruger Single-Sixes do not have the same feel as the Old Model Single-Six. They also are not as smooth in operation nor do they have the same Colt Single Action grip frame as they did until 1963 with the standard model having the “improved” grip frame and the Bisley is much like Elmer Keith’s #5SAA grip frame, although larger. The Ruger Bisley Model grip frame is actually a great improvement especially on the hard kicking centerfire models. The New Model .22s will shoot rings around my old Single-Six! They flat out shoot good, exceptionally good.
Both of Ruger's .22 sixguns, the New Model Single-Six and the New Model Bisley will do in a pinch for paper punching Bullseye style. I am not a Bullseye shooter by any stretch of the imagination. However, with both of these Single-Sixes, I can stand on my hind feet and keep all the shots in the black on a standard target at 25 yards.
With all the loads tested through both .22 Rugers at 25 yards, all the groups were 1 1/2" or less for five shots from a rest. They really go wild with Winchester's .22 offerings with groups averaging 7/8" with Winchester's Power Points, SX, and Wildcat loads. This from a single action un-tuned and out of the box in my hands, using my original eyes. I wonder what someone who could really shoot would get from these little sixguns? My old Single-Six is a fine shooter; the New Models are simply better!
Someday my original Marlin Mountie and Single-Six will go to one of my grandsons and hopefully, the new .22 Marlin Model 39 and Ruger New Model Single-Sixes in my workin’ gun battery will go to one of my grandkids' grandkids. I pray they will live in a world that will allow them the same enjoyment that I have had.
Selected Loads For The Ruger New Model .22 Single-Six
Bisley Model 6 1/2" Stainless Steel 6 1/2"
MV GROUP* MV GROUP*
CCI Blazer 986 1 1/2" 1,065 1 1/4"
CCI MiniMag HP 993 1 1/4" 1,019 1 1/8"
CCI SGB 959 1 1/8" 977 1 1/4"
CCI Stinger 1,188 1 1/2" 1,201 1 1/2"
Federal HP 984 1" 979 1 1/2"
Remington Yellow Jacket 1,045 1 1/8" 1,122 1 1/2"
Winchester PowerPoint 933 7/8" 1,051 7/8"
Winchester SX 961 1" 999 7/8"
Winchester Wildcat 988 7/8" 972 7/8"
*Five of six shots at 25 yards.